The Azores archipelago is a Portuguese autonomous region composed by nine islands, several islets and the surrounding seafloor, located in the Atlantic Ocean, between 36° and 41° North Latitude and 24° and 33° West Longitude. All of volcanic origin, these oceanic islands are distributed in three groups: the Eastern Group (São Miguel and Santa Maria islands), the Central Group (Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial islands) and the Western Group (Flores and Corvo islands). The archipelago has an administrative area of 2,324 sq. km, with 19 municipalities, 156 civil parishes and a population of 246,772 inhabitants (year 2011).
Despite the small size of the Azorean islands, the territory has a wide range of landscapes, forms and structures, closely linked to the dynamics of the Planet Earth, in particular the volcanism and geotectonics of the Azores Plateau region, at the triple junction of the North American, Eurasian and African tectonic plates.
The Azores archipelago has a rich and considerable geodiversity, and an important geological heritage composed by several sites of scientific, educational, cultural, aesthetic and touristic value that, at the aim of the Azores Global Geopark strategy promotes the well-being of the population, while maintaining the respect for the environment and a close attention on geoconservation policies.
Given the insular nature of the region, the Azores Global Geopark is supported on a network of 121 geosites located in all the nine islands and the surrounding seafloor, with a total area of 12,884 sq. km (including the 2,324 sq. km of the emerged territory). That network of terrestrial and marine geosites, including the 6 geosites of international relevance: i) ensures the representativeness of the geodiversity that characterizes the Azorean territory, ii) reflects its geological and eruptive histories of about 10 million years, iii) has common conservation and promotion strategies, and iv) is based on a decentralized management structure, supported in the “Azores Geopark Island Delegation”, on all the islands.
Among the Azorean geosites, 57 were selected as priority for the development of geoconservation strategies and for the implementation of valuing actions namely through geotourism under the umbrella of the geopark: volcanoes, calderas, lakes, lava fields, fumaroles, hot springs and thermal waters, volcanic caves, fault scarps and marine fossil deposits, among many others are, thus, characteristic elements of geodiversity in these geosites.
The Azorean culture, ethnography and architecture are strongly influenced by the geology of the islands. Since the settlement (in the fifteenth century), the Azorean people learned to live with its volcanoes and earthquakes, taking advantage of its fertile soils (e.g. winery landscapes), their geological resources (e.g. thermal areas) and beautiful geolandscapes, to promote their socio-economic development. The “geological footprint” can be foreseen either in the regional architecture (use of different ornamental rocks depending on outcrops available), in the food (with the famous “Furnas geo-cook”), and also in the immaterial heritage. In the later stands out the “Holy Spirit Festivities”, the biggest Azorean testimony of faith, associated with the catastrophic earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that feared the Azorean people.
The rich geodiversity of the islands, and also the other natural and cultural values present in the territory are the basis for the implementation of a geotourism strategy in the Azores Global Geopark, which is supported on inter-islands circuits or routes: the Volcanic Caves, the Belvederes, the Walking Trails, the Thermal, the Science and Interpretation Centers, the Littoral, and the Urban Georoutes.
Many of these routes are also important educational approaches and resources offered to students, the general population and visitors, namely in guided tours. Together with specific educational resources for teacher's and children's (e.g. guides, games and books), those products contribute to environmental and geoconservation awareness.
There are other values of reference in the archipelago, such as its rich biodiversity and the architectural, cultural, ethnographic and immaterial heritage of undeniable value. The Azores is one of the richest areas of biodiversity in Europe, supporting a significant number of endemic species of flora – nowadays protected under the scope of the Island Natural Parks – as well as several marine species (such as turtles and whales) and numerous species of birdlife.
The 4 Biosphere Reserves of Corvo, Flores, Graciosa and S. Jorge islands, the World Heritage Sites of the “Historic Centre of Angra do Heroísmo“ (on Terceira Island) and the "Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture", as well as the 12 RAMSAR sites, are UNESCO designations in the Azores Islands that, together with the Azores UNESCO Global Geopark, highlight the archipelago´s excellence and commitment with high quality standards.