Corvo Europe’s most isolated island
Corvo, with 17 sq. km (about 6 km long and 4 km wide) the smallest and also the northernmost island of the archipelago, originated from only one volcano, which was active for the last time about two million years ago. The distance to its southern neighbour Flores is about 24 km, about one hour with a speedboat. Since 1993, when its tiny airport with a runway that measures just about 850 m was built, it can also by reached by small inter-island planes from Flores or Faial.
With its circumference of about 3,5 km, the Caldeirão, one of the most impressive craters of the archipelago, dominates the island’s north. Long extinct, the crater reaches its highest point at the Morro dos Homens (718 m), representing at the same time the island’s highest peak. The steep walls hid the crater bottom at a depth of 300 m. Towards the north, west and east coast the crater slopes down precipitously and only towards the southern tip, where Vila Nova do Corvo is located, its slopes become more softly undulated, creating land where cattle and some wild horses graze all year round and the cultivation of vegetables, maize and melons is possible. Corvo’s coastline is extremely rocky, with its more or less high and steep cliffs hardly allowing any small bays to be formed, and marked by tiny islets and shoals, which became disastrous for several ships during the island’s history… even if some ship-wrecking was caused by the islanders themselves!
Corvo’s discovery is closely linked with that of its bigger sister Flores, which is said to have taken place around 1450. Yet, its settlement only started in the 16th century, as the island was too isolated and in lack of a secure harbour. Over the centuries, Corvo became known as a favourite refuge for corsairs, as, for a matter of survival, the inhabitants provided water and food and repaired their ships in exchange for their protection. Vila Nova do Corvo, the island’s administrative centre, is the smallest community Europe’s with a town charter, which it received in 1832 from King Pedro IV in gratitude for their support during the conflicts between the Liberals and the Absolutists.
Different times for the islanders started when during the 19th century more and more American whalers appeared at Corvo’s shores and recruited young men who had a reputation of being particularly courageous to work on their ships. This meant at the same time the start of a big emigration wave, which continued until the 1970s, and with the emigrants to America sending money back home to support their families, a long tradition of bartering came to an end and it was not unusual for the islanders to own more Dollars than Escudos.
Only in 1963, the island received electricity and the first telephone cables were laid in 1973. Up to then communication with the neighbour island… when a priest, a doctor or other help was needed… was done by radio, and before that even by means of smoke signals!
Even if unimaginable today but during the island’s heydays at the end of the 19th century, it counted more than 1,000 inhabitants. The main income sources for the remaining approx. 400 inhabitants are still agriculture and cattle raising, with the resulting cheese production leading the list today. As a matter of fact, the number of cows living on the island outnumbers by two and a half times the population. The people of Corvo are genuinely friendly and regard the arrival of a stranger as a welcome interruption in their daily monotony. As everybody knows everybody and nobody can hide anything, doors are generally not even locked!
Due to their isolated position, the inhabitants of Corvo have kept their very own dialect, larded with Old Portuguese words and they developed a strong feeling of togetherness, where everybody helps everybody… very unusual in the world most of us live in.