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St Michael's Island

ST MICHAEL'S ISLAND (Sao Miguel), the largest island in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. Pop. (1900), 121,340; area, 297 sq. m. The east end of St Michael's rises from a headland 1400 ft. high to the inland peak of Vara (3573 ft.), whence a central range (2000 to 2500 ft.) runs westward, terminating on the south coast in the Serra da Agoa do Pau, about halfway across the island. The range gradually declines in approaching its last point, where it is not more than 100 ft. high. The middle part of the island is lower, and more undulating, its western extremity being marked by the conspicuous Serra Gorda (1572 ft.); its shores on both sides are low, broken and rocky. The aspect of the western portion of the island is that of a vast truncated cone, irregularly cut off at an elevation of about 800 ft., and falling on the north, south and west sides to a perpendicular coast between 300 and 800 ft. high. In the highest parts an undergrowth of shrubs gives the mountains a rich and wooded appearance. Like all volcanic countries, the island has an uneven surface with numerous ravines, and streams of semi-vitrified and scoriaceous lava which resist all atmospheric influences and repel vegetation. Heavy rains falling on the mountains afford a constant supply of water to four lakes at the bottom of extinct craters, to a number of minor reservoirs, and through them, to small rapid streams on all sides.

Hot springs abound in many parts, and vapour issues from almost every crevice. But the most remarkable phenomena are the Caldeiras ("Cauldrons"), or Olhos ("Eyes"), i.e. boiling fountains, which rise chiefly from a valley called the Furnas (" Furnaces "), near the western extremity of the island. The water rises in columns about 12 ft. high and dissolves in vapour. The ground in the vicinity is entirely covered with native sulphur, like hoar-frost. At a small distance is the Muddy Crater, 45 ft. in diameter, on a level with the plain. Its contents are in a state of continual and violent ebullition, accompanied with a sound resembling that of a tempestuous ocean. Yet they never rise above its level, unless occasionally to throw to a small distance a spray of the consistence of melted lead. The Furnas abounds also in hot springs, some of them of a very high temperature. There is almost always, however, a cold spring near the hot one. These have long been visited by sufferers from palsy, rheumatism, scrofula and similar maladies. Bath-rooms and other buildings have been erected.

The plains of St. Michael's are fertile, producing wheat, barley and Indian corn; vines, oranges and other fruit trees grow luxuriantly on the sides of the mountains. The plants are made to spring even from the interstices of the volcanic rocks, which are sometimes blasted to receive them. Raised in this manner, these fruits are of superior quality; but the expense of such a mode of cultivation necessarily restricts it. The western part of the island yields hemp.

The principal town and seaport is Ponta Delgada (g.r.), with 17,675 inhabitants in 1900. The other chief towns are Arrifes (5644), Lagoa (7950), Povoacao (5093), Ribeira Grande (8496) and Villa Franca do Campo (8162). (See also AZORES.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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