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Flag of Portugal
Capital Lissabon
Inhabitants 10.617.575
Language(s) Portuguese

Portugal is the westernmost country of continental Europe. It lies on the Iberian Peninsula. Spain - Portugal's neighbor to the east and north - covers most of the peninsula.

Western and southern Portugal face the Atlantic Ocean. Lisbon is the country's capital and largest city.

Following its heyday as a world power during the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal lost much of its wealth and status with the destruction of Lisbon in a 1755 earthquake, occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, and the independence in 1822 of Brazil as a colony.

A 1910 revolution deposed the monarchy; for most of the next six decades repressive governments ran the country. In 1974, a left-wing military coup installed broad democratic reforms.

The following year Portugal granted independence to all of its African colonies. Portugal entered the EC in 1985.



Ancient and medival Portugal

Various tribal groups inhabited Portugal from about 10,000 to 5000 BC. Celts settled in the area after 1000 BC. A Celtic federation, the Lusitani, resisted the advance of the Romans until the assassination (c.140 BC) of Viriathus, its leader, made quick Roman victories possible. The Romans imposed their administration, language, and farming, mining, and road-building techniques on the conquered region, which they called LUSITANIA. Christianity was introduced into the area in the 3d century AD.

After the disintegration of the Roman Empire in the West in the 5th century AD, two Germanic tribes, the Suevi and the Visigoths, vied for control of Lusitania. Muslims (Moors) invaded (711) from North Africa but concentrated their settlements south of the Tagus River. The Christian reconquest of Portugal from Islam paralleled that of Spain, with the impetus coming from the north. In the 10th century Portugal was attached to the kingdoms of Leon and Castile, whose ruler, ALFONSO VI, named Henry of Burgundy, the husband of his daughter Teresa, as count of Portugal in 1095. In 1128 their son, Alfonso Henry, aided by Portuguese barons, exiled his mother and soon began calling himself King ALFONSO I. His kingship was recognized by the pope in 1179. During his long reign Alfonso pushed the frontiers of his kingdom south to the Tagus River and attracted settlers to his new lands.

The war against the Muslims as well as periodic disputes with Leon continued under Alfonso's successors, Sancho I (c.1154-1211; r. 1185-1211) and ALFONSO II. Both monarchs sought to strengthen the crown against the church and the nobility. They established royal commissions to recover illegally held church lands. Both suffered retaliation from a newly aggressive papacy, however. Alfonso II was excommunicated, and the chaotic reign of his son Sancho II (c.1209-48; r. 1223-1245) ended when Sancho was deposed by Pope Innocent IV.

Alfonso III, brother of Sancho II, conquered the southernmost province of Algarve in 1249, ending the Portuguese reconquest from the Moors, and moved the capital from Coimbra to Lisbon. His son Dinis developed the country's agriculture and founded the first university (1290; at Lisbon, later at Coimbra). Portuguese replaced Latin as the court's written language. During this period the monarchy's power was weakened by court intrigue and civil war. Unsuccessful wars with Castile--one under Dinis, seven under his son Alfonso IV (1291-1357; r. 1325-57)--gave the Castilians a claim to the Portuguese throne. Meanwhile, northern Portugal became a land of small farmers, while the Alentejo province to the south was settled by peasants working on large estates.

The house of Avis (1385-1580) In 1383 a war broke out between John of Avis, illegitimate son of King Peter I of Portugal, and John I of Castile and Leon (1358-90; r. 1379-90), who claimed the throne by marriage. The support of the people of Lisbon and the military victory of Nuno Alvares PEREIRA at Aljubarrota (1385) gave the throne to John of Avis (as JOHN I). The house of Avis was soon recognized by Burgundy and by England in a political alliance (Treaty of Windsor, 1386) still in force. John revived the reconquest of territory from the Moors, extending it into Africa with the capture (1415) of Ceuta in Morocco.

John's successors included the remarkable John II, who curbed the power of the great nobles and deemphasized land war in Africa in favor of maritime expansion. He sought to guarantee the integrity of his new empire by maintaining good relations with Spain through matrimonial alliances and treaties. Manuel I reaped the benefits of Portugal's new empire in the east. During his reign culture flourished, and Lisbon became a great city. Manuel expelled the Jews from Portugal in 1497, and in 1506 many Jewish converts to Christianity were slaughtered during a riot in Lisbon. Manuel's son, JOHN III, dominated by Catholic and Spanish influences, established an Inquisition and encouraged the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The closer ties with Spain, fruit of their common imperial and religious interests, culminated in a dynastic union. In 1580, Philip II of Spain, claiming the Portuguese throne by marriage to John III's daughter, Maria, invaded Portugal and became King Philip I of Portugal.

The discoveries and the empire

Portugal's leadership in Europe's overseas expansion was a remarkable achievement for so small and poor a country. Portugal was relatively isolated from Europe's dynastic conflicts but was favorably situated on the sea route between southern and northern Europe. The reconquest of Moorish-held lands supplied an initial impulse for discovery and trade inasmuch as the Portuguese wanted to outflank their Muslim adversaries. Eventually they combined a scientific interest in maritime exploration with a desire to capture the SPICE TRADE of the East Indies, spread Christianity, and exploit islands in the Atlantic for profit.

Prince Henry The Navigator, a son of John I, was the first guiding spirit of the Portuguese discoveries. From 1418 to 1460 he sent ships almost every year into the Atlantic. Madeira (discovered in 1419) and the Azores (1427) soon became valuable sources of sugar. In 1434, Gil Eanes passed Cape Bojador. In the 1440s a new ship, the caravel, allowed Portuguese seamen to sail to Senegal; by 1460 they had reached Sierra Leone. Portuguese ships began to carry precious metals back to Europe.

In the 1480s, King John II took up the cause of exploration. New knowledge of the sea allowed captains to venture far from land, and explorations proceeded rapidly. Diogo CAM reached the Congo in 1482, and in 1488, Bartholomeu DIAS rounded the Cape of Good Hope. In 1494 a treaty with Spain (see Tordesillas, treaty of) confirmed Portugal's rights to explore the sea route to the East Indies and to lay claim to lands to the east of a line running north and south through the bulge of South America. Spurred by the discoveries of Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama set sail, reaching India in 1498; and in 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered Brazil, claiming it for Portugal. Soon large Portuguese fleets were sailing yearly into the Indian Ocean and contact was made with China. Francisco de Almeida and Afonso de Albuquerque established fortified trading stations from Ormuz to Malacca. Although the Portuguese were too few to conquer many of these new territories, the superiority of their ships and guns and the daring of their sailors allowed them to defeat their Muslim enemies and dominate the Indian Ocean and the spice trade. In the 16th century they were Europe's leading dealers in the products of the Orient. In the Atlantic, meanwhile, they pioneered the slave trade from Africa to America. The great discoveries quickly enriched Lisbon and the court but depopulated the countryside as generations of hardy men ventured out, never to return. Almost none of the new wealth was reinvested in Portugal, nor was it spread outside the small circles of the court and the merchant community.

The old regime (1580-1811) Union with Spain dragged Portugal into Spain's wars after 1580. The Dutch proceeded to usurp Portuguese control of the eastern trade, to take some of the colonies in the East Indies, and to occupy parts of Brazil. Eventually, Portuguese resentment of Spanish wars and taxes and Spanish indifference to local interests resulted in the national revolution of 1640, during which the Spanish were expelled and the duke of Braganca became King JOHN IV. After years of intermittent fighting, Spain recognized Portuguese independence in 1668.

During the 18th century relative peace and considerable, if ephemeral, prosperity returned. The discovery of large reserves of gold and diamonds in Brazil enriched the monarchy and reinforced its absolutist tendencies. The Methuen Treaty (1703) guaranteed a market for Portuguese wine, but it also gave English merchants a dominant position in Portugal's commerce and marked the beginning of Portugal's political subordination to England. In 1755 a terrible earthquake destroyed Lisbon. The task of rebuilding the city concentrated extraordinary powers in the hands of King Joseph's (1750-77) minister, Sebastiao Jose de Carvalho Melo, later Marques de Pombal, who ruled Portugal with an iron hand until the king's death. A model 18th-century "enlightened despot," Pombal expelled (1759) the Jesuits, reformed education, and established chartered companies for fishing, trade, and manufacture. He limited British control over national commerce but was successful in getting British military aid against a Spanish invasion (1762) during the Seven Year's War. Although there was some sympathy for the French Revolution among the Portuguese, the government of the melancholic Maria I (1734-1816; r. 1777-1816) joined (1793) England and Spain against the revolutionary power. After the Spanish made peace with the French, they invaded (1801) Portugal and seized part of the Alentejo. Napoleon then pressured the Portuguese to end their alliance with England, and in 1807 his armies invaded the country. The British evacuated the royal family and court and transported them to the Portuguese colony of Brazil. British-Portuguese forces fought the French on Portuguese soil repeatedly from 1808 until the final French retreat in 1811. The French occupation devastated the country, leading to widespread unrest.

The constitutional monarchy (1811-1910)

During the 19th century, Portugal, like the rest of Europe, experimented--but not very successfully--with the institutions of liberal constitutional government. After the French withdrew, the British general William Carr Beresford was in command of Portugal. The royal family remained in Brazil; despite the pleas of his subjects, John VI did not return until 1821. One year after his arrival, Brazil declared its independence under one of his sons, who became Emperor PEDRO I. At the same time John had to accept (1822) a liberal constitution, which he immediately sought to circumvent. Nonetheless, a challenge from absolutists under his younger son Miguel (1802-66) forced the king to side with the liberals. After John VI's death (1826) Pedro (Peter IV of Portugal) passed the Portuguese throne on to his daughter, MARIA II. Civil war ensued between Miguel's followers and those of Pedro and Maria; the latter was not secured on the throne until 1834. Maria's reign (1826-53) was marked by popular uprisings, military meddling in politics, and foreign intervention. By mid-century, however, Portugal had achieved some stability under a succession of short-lived and unrepresentative parliamentary governments.

After 1880, Portugal, wary of the designs of other European powers, turned its attention to Africa, claiming a large share of the continent in order to connect its possessions in Mozambique and Angola. The British blocked these ambitions, causing deep resentment, but Portugal still acquired more territory than either Germany or Italy. Colonial adventures, however, helped to exhaust the treasury and contributed to the rise of republican sentiment, already thriving on popular dissatisfaction with royal extravagance and the corruption of monarchist politicians.

The income from the colonies benefited only royalty and foreign merchants, contributing little to the development of the Portuguese economy. Agriculture remained stagnant. In 1908, King CHARLES was assassinated, and two years later a republican uprising of civilians and soldiers forced his son and successor, Manuel II (1889-1932), into exile.

The Republic: Salazar and after

The republican politicians expelled the monarchy, introduced wide-ranging anticlerical legislation, and wrote a new democratic constitution. They did little, however, to solve Portugal's social inequities or economic backwardness and soon fell to bickering among themselves, leading to the active involvement of the military in politics. From 1910 to 1926, Portugal experienced political violence and a procession of short-lived governments, from radical-democratic to dictatorial. Portugal, loyal to its English alliance, joined the Allies in World War I but gained little from its participation.

In 1926 army officers took over the government, and after a succession of heads of state, Antonio Oscar de Fragoso CARMONA became president on July 9. Unable to deal with the financial crisis, the new government was forced to call on an economics professor, Antonio de Oliveira SALAZAR, for aid. Salazar--who was officially minister of finance (1928-40) and premier (1932-68)--received virtual dictatorial powers and proceeded to balance the budget and reform the administration. His government, known as the New State, was an expression of Catholic-corporatist principles; it relied on a secret police and a large military force. Although considerable sums were spent on public works, the Portuguese people remained the poorest and least educated in Western Europe. The country was neutral in World War II.

In the 1960s, Portugal lost its enclaves in India, and insurrections broke out in its African possessions. Salazar suffered a stroke in 1968 and was replaced by Marcello Caetano (1906-80). Meanwhile, the army grew restive after years of futile warfare in Africa. In April 1974 a revolution brought independence for the colonies and the return of democracy under a military junta. Portuguese politics, however, immediately became polarized between the left and right. The constitution of 1976 committed the country to socialist goals, and from July 1976 to July 1978 a minority socialist government under Mario SOARES was in power. Lack of support in parliament led to its fall and that of several short-lived successors. In December 1979, Francisco Sa Carneiro became premier, heading the Democratic Alliance, a right-centrist coalition with a parliamentary majority. He was soon locked in conflict with President Antonio dos Santos Ramalho EANES and the left-wing revolutionary council, the constitutional watchdog of the military. The Democratic Alliance, led by Premier Francisco Pinto Balsemao after Sa Carneiro's death (December 1980) in an air crash, succeeded in eliminating the revolutionary council by revising (August 1982) the constitution. Discontent with the government's failure to revitalize the economy led to its defeat at the polls (April 1983) and the return to office of Mario Soares, whose coalition government remained in office until July 1985. Days before the government's fall, the parliament ratified a treaty approving Portugal's entry into the European Community. The Socialists returned to power under Soares from 1983 to 1985; they were replaced by a new coalition under the right-of-center Social Democrat Anibal Cavaco Silva, who won a second victory at the polls in 1987. Soares succeeded Eanes as president in 1986.


Folk culture

Traditional folk dancing remains popular in rural towns. The nation's best-known musical form is the melancholic fado (songs believed to have originated from the pinings of 16th-century sailors).


Portugal's rich literary tradition also has its origins in the 16th century, with the publication of works by the dramatist Gil Vicente and the poet Luís de Camões. Arguably the country's finest poet and dramatist to emerge in the 20th century is Fernando Pessoa.


Portuguese food is cheap, delicious and served in gut-expanding portions. Classic Portuguese meals include sardinhas asadas (charcoal-grilled sardines), pastéis de bacalhau (cod fishcakes) and caldo verde (a soup of cabbage and potatoes). Seafood dishes such as linguado grelhado (grilled sole) and bife de atúm (tuna steak) are appetising staples. Meals can be washed down with Portugal's good-quality wines (vinhos) or port - the drink synonymous with Portugal.


Portugal's architecture is renowned for its Moorish and surrealist flourishes, culminating in the development during the 16th century of the Manueline style characterised by the extravagant use of twists, turns, spirals and nautical themes for decoration. The most striking craft is the making of decorative tiles known as azulejos, a technique the Portuguese learnt from the Moors.


Christmas is celebrated in much the same way in Portugal as it is in Spain. The Portugese enjoy an additional feast, called consoada, in the early morning hours of Christmas Day. They set extra places at the table for alminhas a penar ("the souls of the dead"). In some areas crumbs are left on the hearth for these souls, a custom that derives from the ancient practice of entrusting seeds to the dead in hopes that they will provide a bountiful harvest.


coming soon...

National holidays

  • Jan 1: New Year's Day
  • Feb 12: Carnival
  • Apr 25: Liberty Day
  • May 1: May Day
  • May 20: Espirito Santo Day (Azores Only)
  • May 30: Corpus Christi
  • Jun 10: Portugal Day
  • Jun 13: St. Anthony's Day (Lisbon Only)
  • Jul 1: Regional Day (Funchal Only)
  • Aug 15: Assumption Day
  • Oct 5: Proclamation of the Portuguese Republic
  • Nov 1: All Saints' Day
  • Dec 1: Restoral of Portugal's Independence
  • Dec 8: Feast of Immac. Conc.
  • Dec 25: Christmas Day Dec. 25
  • Good Friday
  • Easter Sunday