Corvo (17 km2) is the smallest island in the Azores. Along with Flores, it comprises the westernmost group of the archipelago, which is located over the North American tectonic plate, on the other side of the Mid-Atlantic ridge. Maximum altitude is 718 m (Morros dos Homes), quite considerable given the relationship between size and surface area, making it one of the highest islands in the Atlantic. The flattest part lies to the south, while the north sector houses a sizable volcanic edifice, the caldera de Caldeirão. Inside, two barely separated lakes measure 2 km in diameter and are broader in a north-south than an east-west orientation. Another three volcanic edifices lie to the south of this caldera, breaking the monotony of the landscape. The coastline is particularly rugged on the western side, where cliffs can exceed 400 m above sea level, the external walls of caldera de Caldeirão being a fine example. The east coast has a more gently sloping profile and the lowest section is part of the southern platform, where Vila do Corvo, the capital and only urban centre, is located. This is an area of more recent volcanic filling, which contrasts with the towering cliffs along the rest of the coast.
Corvo is not usually affected by large earthquakes, since it lies outside the systems of transform faults associated with the Mid-Atlantic ridge, However, Atlantic cyclones do leave their mark on occasion, and the island can be cut off for several days.
Average annual rainfall is 1055 mm and is highest in February and lowest in June, much the same as the rest of the archipelago. Rains are supposedly heavier the higher the altitude, but there is no specific information to confirm this phenomenon, although it has been demonstrated on other islands in the Azores. The sun index, as is the norm, increases from winter to summer, peaking in July and August, with an annual average of 1622 days of sun. In contrast, cloud cover is frequent and widespread, a phenomenon that is mainly linked to the relief, location and northern latitude of the island. Cloud cover is highest between January and June, less pronounced between July and September, and slowly increases from October on. The average annual temperature is 17.6 °C, with maximums in August (22.7 °C) and minimums in February and March (14 °C). Corvo is frequently battered by strong westerly winds.
Corvo is home to around 430 inhabitants (2011), less than half the population of 1095 residents in 1864. Emigration, which began in the early 19th century, is the reason behind this considerable decline. The rise of whaling in the 18th and 19th centuries also left its mark, as many men left to join whaling ships.
Because this island is markedly isolated and tourist infrastructure is scarce, the local economy has depended and continues to depend on traditional activities, such as agriculture, stockbreeding and fishing. Wheat and sweet potatoes are the main crops and are best grown in low-lying areas. Garlic, cabbages, tomatoes, beans, millet and maize are also cultivated. Cattle are currently the most important livestock, as well as goats, pigs and donkeys. In 1830, however, there were no fewer than 3000 sheep grazing on the island. Dairy herds play a vital role in the economy and much of the produce is exported to Portugal. The coastline of Corvo plunges to great depths not far from the shore. Fishing is therefore a primary activity, particularly the deep-sea fishery. Another interesting occupation began in the 1960s and involved the harvesting of seaweed for export. Nowadays tourism is very much on the increase, despite the limited accommodation available. Visitors are usually nature lovers, in search of peace and quiet, who regard Corvo as the last frontier of Europe and a great place to spend a few days’ holiday away from noise and crowds.
Corvo was one of the last islands to be discovered around 1450 and was not colonized until a hundred years later. The first permanent settlement dates back to 1832 and was located in the same spot as the modern capital, the most habitable area on the island. Like many other islands in the Azores, Corvo suffered several pirate attacks, and in 1857 was sacked by English corsairs. High emigration to North America and Brazil is a more recent phenomenon, but hardly surprising on a such a small island, whose remoteness and tough climate make for difficult living conditions.