There is a theory that suggests people from the Azores were living on the archipelago 700 years before what was previously thought. This is because of new findings in archeology, anthropology and genetics. It’s been found that there are similarities between this group of islands and other Portuguese settlements in North Africa, namely Madeira and Cape Verde. There are many unanswered questions about how these settlers arrived on the island but it does show that they have been here for much longer than we first thought.
The archipelago was discovered around 1341 by Genovese explorer, Zarco. Legends have it that the island was discovered during a mass baptism celebration on the beach of Vila Franca do Campo.
One of these legends tells about three men who were doing this honourable event when one of them noticed a white shadow in the distance, they looked again and it was no longer there. The three men were looking for this shadow and found it on Santa Maria island. These men were Joao de Castela, Pedro Correia and servant Vasco Gil Sodre. They decided to explore the island and stayed a night at a bay called Enseada dos Meninos. In the morning, they saw how the sun rose from the sea and discovered that this was an island.
The first colonists were brought here by Goncalo Velho Cabral on his voyage of exploration.
It is believed that it took seven years to reach Santa Maria Island. After three months at sea, the sailors decided to find land. They reached Santa Maria island on 22nd March 1432. The colonists stayed here for six months and built temporary shelters using wood from palm trees. A few weeks later they had built permanent homes with stone walls which were covered in straw roofs.
During the following years, they continued to explore other islands like São Miguel and Terceira, which many people now live on.
The first settlement was Santa Maria island, but the larger landmass of São Miguel was soon discovered by Diogo de Teive and then settled by nobleman Joao Soares de Albergaria in 1444. In the 15th century, settlers from other islands would go on to spread their knowledge of fire-fighting and irrigation.
The first official record of the Azores Islands was in 1439, by Afonso Goncalves Zarco on his exploration voyage for Henry the Navigator. This new territory provided many opportunities for sailors, navigators and adventurers alike. It is said that Joao Goncalves Zarco was the first colonizer of Santa Maria island. The island was given this name because it was discovered on the Feast of the Assumption (August 15).
The capital city of Santa Maria island is Vila do Porto, where there is a harbour and airport. This town has everything you can need, from an ATM to bakeries and even a beautiful view of the neighbouring island of São Miguel.
There is evidence that tests made on skeletons, teeth and artefacts found in the Pico da Vara area show settlement between 1450-1550 by people from places like Madeira and other Portuguese areas such as Alentejo and Minho .
On Terceira island, in the town of Praia da Vitória you can visit Lajes do Pico museum where there are many interesting findings. The most significant being a Guan vessel which was believed to have come from China in the 15th century and then passed through São Jorge, Graciosa and Terceira before reaching Pico. The Guan is a type of Chinese earthenware, most widely distributed in the 15th and 16th centuries under the Ming Dynasty .
There are many archaeological sites that show signs of human occupation on Azores islands. Although we cannot say for certain how long they have been here, we can say that they have been through many different periods of identity and change.
The Azores remains a crossroads of cultures, it is possible to find evidence of Portuguese, Spanish and even North African influences on the islands. Visitors can still see this today with their variety of festivals and interesting architecture.