The Archipelago of the Azores is composed of nine volcanic islands situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean approximately 1500 km from the European coast and 3900 km from the North American coast. The Archipelago extends along a south east-north-west strip and is encompassed by the longitude of 25º to 31º-15” West and a latitude of 36º-55” to 39º 45” North.
The archipelago is the western border of the European Economic Community and occupies a total area of 2,333 km2. Due to the geographical dispersion of the islands it encompasses an Exclusive Economic Zone of approximately 940,000 km2. The resident population of the nine islands totals 237,000 people.
Due to the geographical location of the islands they are divided into three groups based on their relative proximity: the Eastern group including Santa Maria and São Miguel, the Central group including Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico and Faial and the Western group including Flores and Corvo. The minimum distance between two islands is 6 km (Pico and Faial) and the maximum distance, approximately 600 km, divide Santa Maria and Corvo.
In 1976 the Azores was granted the status of an Autonomous Region. Self government was instated through an amendment to the Constitution of the Republic of Portugal. The area is now governed by a Regional Government located in the city of Ponta Delgada, São Miguel, and by a Regional Assembly located in the city of Horta, Faial. Members of the Assembly and Government are elected by popular vote. The Portuguese Government is represented by the Minister of the Republic who maintains residency in the city of Angra do Heroismo on the island of Terceira.