The Azores are subdivided into three administrative districts named after their chief towns, i.e. Ponta Delgada, the capital of St Michael's; Angra, or Angra do Heroismo, the capital of Terceira; and Horta, the capital of Fayal. St Michael's and St Mary are included in the district of Ponta Delgada; Terceira, St George and Graciosa, in that of Angra; Pico, Fayal, Flores and Corvo, in that of Horta. Four members are returned by Ponta Delgada to the parliament in Lisbon, while each of the other districts returns two members. Roman Catholicism is the creed of the majority, and Angra is an episcopal see. For purposes of military administration the islands form two commands, with their respective headquarters at Angra and Ponta Delgada. Besides the frequent and regular services of mails which connect the Azores with Portugal and other countries, there is a cable from Lisbon to Villa Franca do Campo, in St Michael's, and thence to Pico, Fayal, St George and Graciosa. Fayal is connected with Waterville, in Ireland, by a cable laid in 1901. At Angra and Ponta Delgada there are meteorological stations.
The principal seaports are Angra (pop. 1900, 10,788), Ponta Delgada (17,620), and Horta (6574).
The trade of the Azores, long a Portuguese monopoly, is now to a great extent shared by the United Kingdom and Germany, and is chiefly carried in British vessels. Textiles are imported from Portugal; coal from Great Britain; sugar from Germany, Madeira and the United States; stationery, hardware, chemicals, paints, oils, etc., from the United Kingdom and Germany. The exports consist chiefly of fruit, wine, natural mineral waters and provisions. The trade in pineapples is especially important. No fewer than 940,000 pineapples were exported in 1902 and 1903, going in almost equal quantities to London and Hamburg. The fruit is raised under glass. Pottery, cotton fabrics, spirits, straw hats and tea are produced in the district of Ponta Delgada; linen and woollen goods, cheese, butter, soap, bricks and tiles, in that of Angra; baskets, mats, and various ornamental articles made from straw, osier, and the pith of dried fig-wood, in that of Horta.
The largest and most populous of the Azores is St Michael's, which has an area of 297 sq. m., and in 1900 had 121,340 inhabitants. Graciosa (pop. 8385; area, 17 sq. m.) and St George (16,177; 40 sq. m.) form part of the central group. Graciosa is noteworthy for the beauty of its scenery. Its chief towns are Santa Cruz de Graciosa (2185) and Guadalupe (2717). The chief towns of St George are Ribeira Seca (2817) and Velas (2009).
It does not appear that the ancient Greeks and Romans had any knowledge of the Azores, but from the number of Carthaginian coins discovered in Corvo it has been supposed that the islands must have been visited by that adventurous people. The Arabian geographers, Edrisi in the 12th century, and Ibn-al-Wardi in the 14th, describe, after the Canaries, nine other islands in the Western Ocean, which are in all probability the Azores. This identification is supported by various considerations. The number of islands is the same; the climate under which they are placed by the Arabians makes them north of the Canaries; and special mention is made of the hawks or buzzards, which were sufficiently numerous at a later period to give rise to the present name (Port. Açor, a hawk). The Arabian writers represent them as having been populous, and as having contained cities of some magnitude; but they state that the inhabitants had been greatly reduced by intestine warfare. The Azores are first found distinctly marked in a map of 1351, the southern group being named the Goat Islands (Cabreras); the middle group, the Wind or Dove Islands (De Ventura sive de Columbis); and the western, the Brazil Island (De Brazi) - the word Brazil at that time being employed for any red dye-stuff. In a Catalan map of the year 1375 Corvo is found as Corvi Marini, and Flores as Li Conigi; while St George is already designated San Zorze. It has been conjectured that the discoverers were Genoese, but of this there is not sufficient evidence.
It is plain, however, that the so-called Flemish discovery by van der Berg is only worthy of the name in a very secondary sense. According to the usual account, he was driven on the islands in 1432, and the news excited considerable interest at the court of Lisbon. The navigator, Gonzalo Velho Cabral - not to be confounded with his greater namesake, Pedro Alvarez Cabral - was sent to prosecute the discovery. Another version relates that Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal had in his possession a map in which the islands were laid down, and that he sent out Cabral through confidence in its accuracy. The map had been presented to him by his brother, Dom Pedro, who had travelled as far as Babylon. Be this as it may, Cabral reached the island, which he named Santa Maria, in 1432, and in 1444 took possession of St Michael's. The other islands were all discovered by 1457. Colonization had meanwhile been going on prosperously; and in 1466 Fayal was presented by Alphonso V. to his aunt, Isabella, the duchess of Burgundy. An influx of Flemish settlers followed, and the islands became known for a time as the Flemish Islands. From 1580 to 1640 they were subject, like the rest of the Portuguese kingdom, to Spain. At that time the Azores were the grand rendezvous for the fleets on their voyage home from the Indies; and hence they became a theatre of that maritime warfare which was carried on by the English under Queen Elizabeth against the Peninsular powers.
One such expedition, which took place in 1591, led to the famous sea-fight off Flores, between the English ship "Revenge," commanded by Sir Richard Grenville, and a Spanish fleet of fifty-three vessels. Under the active administration of the marquis de Pombal (1690-1782), considerable efforts were made for the improvement of the Azores, but the stupid and bigoted government which followed rather tended to destroy these benefits. Towards the beginning of the 19th century, the possession of the islands, was contested by the claimants for the crown of Portugal. The adherents of the constitution, who supported against Miguel the rights of Maria (II.) da Gloria, obtained possession of Terceira in 1829, where they succeeded in maintaining themselves, and after various struggles, Queen Maria's authority was established over all the islands. She resided at Angra from 1830 to 1833.
For a general account of the islands, see The Azores, by W. F. Walker (London, 1886), and Madeira and the Canary Islands, with the Azores, by A. S. Brown (London, 1901). On the fauna and flora of the islands, the following books by H. Drouet are useful: - Eléments de la faune açoréenne (Paris, 1861); Mollusques marins des îles Açores (1858), Lettres açoréennes (1862), and Catalogue de la flore des îles Açores, précédé de l'itinéraire d'une voyage dans cet archipel (1866). The progress of Azorian commerce is best shown in the British and American consular reports. For history, see La Conquista de las Azores en 1583, by C. Fernandez Duro (Madrid, 1886), and Histoire de la découverte des îles Azores et de l'origine de leur dénomination d'îles flamandes, by J. Mees (Ghent, 1901).