Hispanic Division: Back to Portuguese Role in Exploring and Mapping the New World

The Azore Islands

As the Portuguese ventured out into the Atlantic Ocean, they encountered the Azores, a group of islands more than 900 miles west of their homeland. Around 1427 Portuguese sailors had reached the islands. By the middle of the century, Portuguese immigrants had established a flourishing peasant agriculture. Initially, these farmers produced sugar and wine, but eventually they turned to wheat and other foodstuffs, providing vital supplies for ships returning from Africa, Asia, and the Americas. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the islands had become overpopulated, the Azores (rather than mainland Portugal) provided more than 70 percent of the Portuguese immigrants to the United States.

There are nine volcanic islands extending over 350 miles in the middle of the Atlantic that comprise the Azores group. The individual islands are depicted and named on this mid-sixteenth-century map, which appeared in the later editions of Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. This engraving was based on a map, originally prepared by Luís Teixeira, a noted Portuguese cartographer, whose family included several generations of mapmakers.


"Açores Insulae," from Abraham Ortelius. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. Antwerp: [1594?]. Hand-colored engraving. Geography and Map Division, Title Collection, Atlantic Ocean-Azores (2).


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Portugal during the Age of Discoveries

The Azore Islands

The First Circumnavigation of the Globe

Portuguese Exploration along the Northeast Coast of North America

Cabrilho's Discovery of California

Portuguese View of the World at the Beginning of the Seventeenth Century