São Jorge

São Jorge (246 km2) is one of the central group of islands of the Azores. It is long (65 km) and very narrow (8 km), like a knife. The highest point is Pico da Esperança at 1053 m, and Velas, the capital, is situated on the south coast. The two extremes of the island are Ponta dos Rosais, in the west, and Topo, in the east. One of the most striking features of São Jorge is its magnificent coastal relief. Towering cliffs can reach 300-425 m, particularly on the north flank, which is rather more precipitous than the south side. Fajãs or low platforms usually form at the foot of the cliffs and often contain lagoons that may be supratidal or tidal. Two fine examples are the fajãs of Santo Cristo and Cubres, on the northern flank. Another interesting feature is the alignment of volcanoes from the west to the centre, which forms the structural axis of the island. There have been several episodes of historical volcanism down the centuries; the highest regions have a gentler relief and several areas of quite extensive flatland, in stark contrast with the coast.

The climate is similar to other islands in the central group. Average rainfall exceeds 1000 m in low-lying areas and increases with altitude, and the average sun index is low. The rugged nature of the terrain and the oceanic location—also true for many islands in the Azores—frequently leads to dense fog formation. Rainfall is more than sufficient to maintain green pastures all year round.

In 2011, around 9.000 inhabitants lived mainly in Velas. The capital was founded in the mid-15th century, although it did not develop until much later. Coastal villages came under pirate attack, as did the rest of the Azores. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions have also seriously affected the population throughout history. The most important seismic events occurred in 1580, 1757 and 1808. For decades, São Jorge was remote and isolated. In 1982, however, an airport, in addition to improvements to the island port, provided an opening to the world.
The local economy is essentially based on cattle raising and fishing. The high quality island cheese is known throughout the archipelago, which is also true of other traditional foods. In the past, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, oranges were grown for export to England. Today tourism, chiefly associated with hiking and nature activities, is gradually taking root, as São Jorge is one of the most beautiful islands in the Azores. And, in recent years, this kind of tourism has also been promoted throughout the archipelago.

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