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Coins discovered in the 17th century suggest that the ancient Phoenicians regularly visited the islands, and the Azores are featured in navigation maps from the 14th century. The islands were officially discovered in 1437 by Diogo de Silves, who was charged with finding the end of the world on behalf of the legendary Henry the Navigator. To be more precise, his mission was to discover shipping routes to Africa and Asia. De Silves mapped Santa Maria and Sao Miguel and the islands were gifted to Henry the Navigator. Since the Netherlands were part of the Duchy of Burgundy at the time, Portuguese as well as Flemish peasants were sent to populate the islands in the middle of the 15th century.
After the discovery of the Americas, the Azores became an important harbor for discoverers in their voyages to North and South America. Christoph Columbus came to the Azores on his return voyage in 1493. Agriculture initially was the most important economic activity of the islands, but the invention of cloth dyeing in the early modern period brought a boom of the necessary plants. The islands almost experienced a famine because no more food was being grown. Later, the Azores became a significant base for whaling. Numerous islanders took work as crew members on American ships and many emigrated to the U.S.
In 1893, the first transatlantic cable between Europe and the U.S. was installed via the Azores.
The location of the archipelago between continents always played an important role. After the discoverers came steam ships, causing the construction of enormous coal storage warehouses. These were followed by the early transatlantic flights of water planes that landed in the Azores for refueling.
In 1944, the Americans built a huge airport on Santa Maria with a 3,000 meter runway. It exists to this day, but was never finished because the war in Europe was over before the work could be completed.
Today, the nine islands are home to 250,000 people. In addition to agriculture, tourism is an important source of income. The Azores draw vacationers from Scandinavia and German-speaking countries, who enjoy the diverse natural settings of the islands. Whale watching plays an important role for tourism.
The Azores continue to be Portuguese territory and are therefore part of the EU.