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Azores and Madeira

The Azores and Madeira are two groups of islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The Azores, an archipelago of nine islands stretching over 360 miles of sea, are about 900 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal. Madeira, a group of four islands, is slightly less than 600 miles southwest of Lisbon. Though collectively smaller than the state of Connecticut, these strategically located islands played a crucial role in the colonization of the Americas by Europeans. The role of the Azores and Madeira in European colonization began in the early years of the fifteenth century, when Portugal’s Prince Henry (often referred to as “the Navigator”) commissioned a number of voyages to explore the coast of Africa. On one of these voyages, perhaps in 1418, returning mariners were blown far off course and discovered Madeira. In the 1420s or 1430s, Portuguese sailors ventured even farther west before turning east toward home, and this voyage hit the eastern edge of the Azores chain. At the time of their discovery, neither island group was inhabited. The Portuguese, sensing Madeira’s strategic importance, began to colonize the islands in 1425. Madeira quickly became a profitable sugar colony, with the earliest African slaves arriving to cultivate this crop in 1443. The quality and quantity of sugar produced in Madeira wreaked havoc on the European sugar market, and, as early as 1498, Portugal’s Manuel I was forced to limit the amount of sugar that could be exported. These two groups of islands were remarkable fertile, and the Portuguese also were able to grow and export wheat and wine. In fact, Madeira wine grew famous throughout the Atlantic world within a few years of the island’s settlement. Much later, the rise of the great Brazilian and Caribbean sugarproducing colonies dwarfed Madeira’s relative modest production, and, in the seventeenth century, wine became Madeira’s major export. The wine that made up most of Madeira’s exports was akin to today’s red table wines. The highest class of Madeira wine was a sweet, fortified dessert wine, and its chemical makeup rendered it impervious to the perils of sea travel, temperature change, and even extreme age. The colonization of the Azores took on a different character. The Portuguese introduced sheep to the islands in the 1430s, hoping that they would provide food to later Atlantic voyagers. Settlement began in the 1440s, but the number of settlers remained small for several decades. Sheep, cattle, goats, and wheat became the main products of the Azores. By the sixteenth century, the Azores had become an integral part of Portugal’s Atlantic empire, and Azoreans served in Portugal’s army and navy. The Azores’ location might at first glance appear to make them an ideal stopping-off point on long trans-Atlantic voyages. But prevailing winds made that a treacherous choice for early sailors, and the Azores were initially better known in the context of the exploration of the coast of Africa. The colonization of the Cape Verde Islands after the 1450s gave European mariners a better departure point for crossing the Atlantic; advances in shipbuilding would lead to the Azores playing a similar role in trans-Atlantic commerce. As English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish traffic to the Americas increased in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Azores rose to prominence as a way station. Azorean ports experienced growth in population and prosperity. With the emergence of Boston and New York as serious Atlantic ports in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, trade with the Azores continued to grow. American elites grew particularly fond of wines produced in Madeira, and, to a lesser extent, in the Azores. American and English ships did not always unload their cargoes in the Azores, but trading vessels did stop there for fresh water, food, and repairs. French and Dutch merchants also set up shop on the islands. Portugal’s 1974 revolution resulted in decolonization for much of the nation’s empire. While the Azores and Madeira each has its own parliament, both remain part of the Republic of Portugal. Matthew Jennings See also: Alcohol; Atlantic Ocean; Exploration; Trade. Bibliography Duncan, T. Bentley. Atlantic Islands: Madeira, the Azores, and the Cape Verdes in Seventeenth-Century Commerce and Navigation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972. Parry, J. H. The Age of Reconnaissance. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1963. Rogers, Francis M. Atlantic Islanders of the Azores and Madeiras. North Quincy, MA: Christopher Publishing House, 1979. Madeira & Azores | ABOUT PORTUGAL | GeoStar International Escape to Madeira & The Azores 2016: RHS Garden Holidays / RHS … Political Map of Morocco, the Canary Islands, Madeira, and the …

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