Corvo Island, History

Corvo Island (PortugueseIlha do Corvopronounced: [ˈiʎɐ du ˈkoɾvu]), literally the Island of the Crow, is the smallest and the northernmost island of the Azoresarchipelago and the northernmost in Macaronesia, with a population of approximately 468 inhabitants (in 2006) constituting the smallest single municipality in Azoresand in Portugal.

The history of the Azores is linked to non-official exploration during the period of the late 13th century, resulting in maps, such as the Genoves Atlas Medici from 1351, mentioning obscure islands in an undefined Atlantic archipelago. The Medici Atlas refers to an Insula Corvi Marini (Island of the Marine Crow; Marine Crow is the literal translation of “Corvo Marinho”, which is the Portuguese name for Cormorant), in a seven island archipelago, but it is improbable that it refers specifically to Corvo, although the island’s name could have originated from this atlas. It is likely that the name referred to the two islands of Corvo and Flores, which also appeared on the later Aragonese Mapa Catalão of 1375.

The navigator Diogo de Teive discovered both islands of the Western Group on his 1452 return from the Banks of Newfoundland following his second voyage of exploration. Subsequently, the Portuguese Court when referring to the new Ilhas das Flores(Islands of Flowers) began to identify Corvo as Ilha de Santa Iria (Island of Saint Irene), but other nautical charts continued to refer to this island as Ilhéu das Flores (Islet of Flowers), Ilha da Estátua (Island of the Statute), Ilha do Farol (Island of the Lighthouse) or Ilha de São Tomás (Island of Saint Thomas). For a while it was also known as Ilha do Marco (Island of the Mark), which was attributed to its reference as a geographic marker for sailors, or, likely, the location of a small promontory where a marker was placed, which received the name Ponta do Marco.

Settlement of the island occurred unsuccessfully in the intervening years; it was not until 1580 when a permanent settlement became viable.

A religious parish of Corvo was finally constituted in 1674, and then on 20 June 1832, integrated into a functioning civilian administration.

There is one urban center on the island: Vila do Corvo. Principally, it is a collection of many residential homes, interspersed with commercial businesses located on the southern one-third of the island. Functionally, by law, Vila do Corvo is the only Portuguese top-level municipality without a civil parish. The urbanized area is divided between the village, the Corvo Aerodrome, and the island’s ports (being the primary links to the other islands in the archipelago). The lands immediately around the settlement are small zones along the eastern coast (Quintas and Fojo) that can sustain cultivation of some crops and fruit trees, and where some older trees have survived settlement; the best pasture-lands are located in the north in the zone of Terras Altas.

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