PEOPLE & LIFESTYLE
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The Azores count about 250,000 inhabitants and most people refer to their identity primarily as Azorian and only in a second step as Portuguese. Family and friends are the center of everyday life and many people have never left the Azores.
Just over 1 Mio Azorians live abroad. During the 17the century, people immigrated to Brazil, later primarily to the US and Canada, where there were close ties through whaling and seafaring. Those ties to their homeland still show in the amount of immigrants returning home for the many festivities taking place on the islands over the year.
A rural lifestyle centered around family and religion has shaped Azorian lifestyle for centuries, even though old structures have been breaking up to form a more open and cosmopolitan society over the past decades. Catholicism is pervasive on all the islands and religious festivities and events play an integral part in the Azorian calendar.
ARTS & CULTURE
As a result of the isolated location, the artistic development on the Azores was relying on the cultural import from the mainland for a long time. This lead to a delay in contemporary influences, but supported unique local cultural developments, which especially show in musical traditions.
You will find a colorful mix of different style and adapting them to the unique character of the islands. Fortified churches from the Gothic period and exotic ornaments reflecting the Manuelin era of expeditions can be found all across the islands. Angra do Heroismo on Terceira has been built in a symmetric baroque and renaissance style and today is classified as UNESCO world heritage. Exuberantly decorated altars carved from wood and coated with gold are found in many churches that can be dated to the baroque era. ‘Azulejos’, painted tiles telling the stories of local saints, are also a common feature of that time.
One of the most significant pieces of religious paintings are the five scenes of the passion cycle from the 16th century in the Matiz de Santa Cruz on Graciosa island. They are believed to have been painted by Cristovao de Figueiredo, one of the court painters of King Manuel I.
High quality religious statues arrived from Flanders over the 15. and 16. century, which can today be admired in the Se Cathedral of Angra do Heroismo, the museum of Horta and the Nucleo de Arte Sacra do Museu Carlos Machado in Ponta Delgada.
One of the most influential painters was the naturalist painter Duarte Machado Faria e Maia, who created empathic portraits set in the beautiful landscape of the Azores during the 19. century.
Traditional music took a unique local development on each island and is still kept alive by folklorist groups today. ‘Samacaio’ is a singing stand-off accompanied by drums, guitars and triangles from Terceira, ‘chamaritta’, a thrilling version of the Spanish fandango, is still common on Pico while the ‘sapateia’, a traditional dance, is kept alive on all islands and lyrics often tell stories about everyday life on the Azores.
Pottery is widely common on Sao Miguel, but you will find some variety based on the area. While you will find rustic and practical pottery around Vila Franca do Campo, the pieces from Lagoa are more decorative. Traditional and nostalgic embroidery can be found in Angra do Heroismo on Terceira while crafts people in Santo Amaro on Pico create arrangements made from fish scales or thin slices of hortensia and fig tree bark. You can still sporadically find traditional weaving on Sao Jorge, weaving tapestries and quilts on traditional wooden looms.
The scrimshaw museum in Horta or the Museu dos Baleeiros in Lajes on Pico showcase some extraordinary pieces of art, dating back to the whaling era. Tiny rills were carved into sperm whale teeth and filled with ink to create artistic pictures of sailing boats, beautiful women and wild marine animals. The scrimshaw art declined after the prohibition of whaling in 1983.