Islands of Excellence
The Azores have sought to establish themselves as islands of quality and excellence, where what is genuine and unique marks the difference and imposes itself in a globalized world, contributing to the development of the region’s natural and cultural heritage. The classification by UNESCO of the historical centre of Angra do Heroísmo and of the Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture as world heritage sites is an important recognition, as is the classification of the islands of Graciosa, Flores and Corvo as Biosphere Reserves.
In other areas, the archipelago stands out as a prime tourist destination that respects environmental and socio-cultural values. Different initiatives and national and international awards have attested this, and they include the election of the Sete Cidades Lake and of the Pico Volcanic Landscape as Natural Wonders of Portugal, as well as the distinction of "second best islands in the world in terms of sustainable tourism", where along with the friendliness of the people, a successful environmental preservation and an harmonious tourism development are praised. The Azores Geopark joined the European Network and Global Geoparks Network in March 2013 under the sponsorship of UNESCO.
The architecture is one of the main things to see in the Azores. As for the churches, convents, manor houses, and rural homes spread throughout the archipelago, there is a contrast of colours between their white walls and their black basalt, ignimbrite and trachyte stonework. Windmills and watermills, wrought iron balconies, ovens and chimneys, streets, alleys and lanes, and houses with dark stone walls are the other elements that make each island so typical. Angra do Heroísmo, in Terceira, is a special repository of the architectural identity of the Azores, not to mention the unexpected rainbow colours of the façades of some buildings.
If you are looking what to see in Azores, then the Azorean museums store various ethnographic collections that reflect a history that is deeply connected with the land, cattle breeding, handicrafts and fishing. Whale hunting was most intensive on the islands of Pico and Faial, as per the objects and tales of an era filled with courageous men. Various museum rooms are dedicated to collections of religious artefacts, but most of the pieces are still kept in the churches.
Throughout the centuries, the Azorean people has shown a highly political conscience, which helped to mould the first President of the Portuguese Republic, Manuel de Arriaga, and his successor, Teófilo Braga. The local tradition for social activism was reinforced by literary and poetic writings, with some lyric tones as in the work of Antero de Quental, Vitorino Nemésio and Natália Correia. In other artistic fields, the works of Domingos Rebelo and Canto da Maya stand out.
There are flowers arrangements made with fish scales, scrimshaw, dolls made with corn leaves and miniatures from fig tree pith. These are four samples of the Azorean creativity in using natural resources to create artistic pieces. As for ceramics, weaving and embroideries, the bright colours are mixed with white to achieve various singular patterns.
The local guitar viola da terra, inherited from the times of the first settlers, is still played – and made – in various locations in the archipelago. Presently, the Azorean music conservatories teach how to play this guitar, as it requires a specific technique.