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Portugal was the world’s first maritime power and the birthplace to some of the world’s first explorers

Portugal was at the forefront of European exploration in the 15 th and 16 th centuries. During the Age of Discovery, Ferdinand Magellan became the first person to circumnavigate the globe. Vasco de Gama discovered the sea route to India, and Bartholomew Diaz was the first to sail around the southern tip of Africa he called this the Cape of Good Hope. Finally, Álvares Cabral and others discovered new lands, including Brazil, parts of Africa, and the Far East – and claimed them for Portugal.

Vasco da Gama Monument, Lagos, Portugal

Portugal’s colonial empire spanned 600 years, the longest-lived of the modern European empires

At its height, Portugal’s empire stretched across what are now 53 different countries. Brazil achieved independence in 1822, while all of Portugal’s African colonies were independent by the end of 1975. Portugal transferred its last colony, Macau, to China in 1999 after 442 years of occupation.

Portugal was the first European nation to participate in the transatlantic slave trade

As a major colonial power, Portugal was a major player in the global slave trade, taking slaves from western Africa to the Americas. It was also the first colonial power to abolish slavery, some 50 years before Britain, Spain, France, and the United States.

Lisbon is older than Rome and among the oldest cities in Europe

Lisbon has been a Portuguese city since 1147, but its history predates Portugal by a couple of thousand years. Archaeological finds dating back to 1200BC reveal that the Phoenicians had settlements across what is now Lisbon, meaning Lisbon has been continuously inhabited for over 3,000 years.

Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Portugal is Europe’s most westerly point

On the mainland of continental Europe, the westernmost point is at Cabo da Roca a cape located in the town of Sintra. If you include continental Europe’s islands, Portugal is still the westernmost country the westernmost place on the Eurasian Plate is Capelinhos, a volcano in the Azores.

Although Portugal is home to the westernmost points in Europe, it isn’t the most westerly point in the European Union. That honor lies with France, whose overseas collectivity of Saint-Martin lies in the Caribbean.

The country of Portugal emerged in the tenth century during the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula: first as a region under the control of the Counts of Portugal and then, in the mid-twelfth century, as a kingdom under King Afonso I. The throne then went through a turbulent time, with several rebellions. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries overseas exploration and conquest in Africa, South America and India won the nation a rich empire.

In 1580 a succession crisis led to a successful invasion by the King of Spain and Spanish rule, beginning an era known to opponents as the Spanish Captivity, but a successful rebellion in 1640 led to independence once more. Portugal fought alongside Britain in the Napoleonic Wars, whose political fallout led to a son of the King of Portugal becoming Emperor of Brazil a decline in imperial power followed. The nineteenth century saw civil war, before a Republic was declared in 1910. However, in 1926 a military coup led to generals ruling until 1933, when a Professor called Salazar took over, ruling in an authoritarian manner. His retirement through illness was followed a few years later by a further coup, the declaration of the Third Republic and independence for African colonies.

The Fall of the Empire

1807: Napoleon invaded Portugal. In order to protect the royal family, the Portuguese court was moved to Brazil.

1815: The Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves became the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves. This allowed the King to move the capital of Portugal to Rio de Janeiro. Interestingly, this was the only time in history that a kingdom was ruled from one of its territories.

1820: Brazilian rebels forced the return of the Portuguese capital to Lisbon.

1821: Official end of the Portuguese Inquisition.

1822: Portugal ratified its first constitution. That year, Brazil also declared independence, marking the beginning of a two-year war for freedom.

1824: Portugal surrendered to Brazil.

1825: Portugal officially recognized the Empire of Brazil.

  • OFFICIAL NAME: Portuguese Republic
  • FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Republic, parliamentary democracy
  • CAPITAL: Lisbon
  • POPULATION: 10,355,493
  • OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: Portuguese, Mirandese
  • MONEY: Euro
  • AREA: 35,516 square miles (91,985 square kilometers)


Portugal is the westernmost point of Europe and lies on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The long Atlantic coastline is popular with visitors and locals alike. Surfers are drawn to the strong surf in the west, and the warm, sandy beaches in the south are a haven for tourists.

Most people live along the coast, with a third of the population living in the large metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto.

Map created by National Geographic Maps


Portuguese cities still retain their historic character and many of the old buildings remain intact. Lisbon hasn't changed much since the late 18th century. The natural environment is well preserved and there is no serious pollution.

The art of tile painting and glazing, known as azulejos, is one of the most popular art forms in Portugal. The technique was first introduced by the Moors and was adopted by the king in the 1500s and the use of the blue and white tiles spread across the country and is practiced by artisans today.

Eight out of ten Portuguese people are Roman Catholic. Saints' days and religious festivals are very popular events. Although the country has been modernized thanks to the money it receives from richer European countries, the people are still quite poor compared to those in other countries.


Most of Portugal was once covered by forests. Today, only a quarter of the country remains forested. While some native species, such as the cork tree are still common, many plants are foreign species and were introduced by humans.

Farming and hunting have reduced the numbers of wild animals living in Portugal. The common animals are boars, wild goats, fallow deer, foxes, and Iberian hares. The Iberian lynx is the most endangered cat species in the world. Portugal and Spain are working together to create open space to allow the remaining few hundred lynxes to roam freely.

The coastline is a rich habitat for crabs, clams, and oysters, and tuna, bonito, and sardines are a common catch for Portuguese fisherman.

Many migratory birds stop in Portugal while on their journey to and from central Europe to Africa and beyond.

The History of Portugal

P ortugal is Europe's oldest nation-state. This is its story.

The First Inhabitants

Homo Sapiens appeared in what is now Portugal during the Old Stone Age. It is believed they got there from what is now Southern France prior to 10,000 B.C., by entering through the low passageway between the shore and the west end of the Pyrenees. They settled in the north, and later in 2000 B.C. , another group (who came to be known as "Iberians") settled in the south. The origin of these Iberians is unknown, but it is likely to be North Africa.

Where to see Prehistoric Portugal: A memorable prehistoric site is outside the city of Evora. That's the Almendres Cromlech, a circle of some 95 monoliths which is the finest in Iberia. Also near Evora is the Great Dolmen of Zambujeiro, the largest in Europe, with six stones, each 6 meters high, forming a huge chamber. Nearby is also a 7 tonne phallic monument, standing as the centerpiece in the Xerez Cromlech, a group of some 50 menhirs.
The world's largest outdoor gallery of prehistoric stone art is found close to Lamego in Côa Valley.

Celtic Portugal

The Celts arrived thousands of years later, and brought a small group of Germans with them. They settled mostly in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, especially in what is now the north of Portugal and the Spanish province of Galicia. Celtic languages spread from Southern France throughout most of the north of Iberia, and extended southward to include central Portugal. These Celts were both agriculturists and pastoralists, and introduced the type of Central European wagon that is still used in Galicia and northern Portugal. In the northern forests of Iberia they found everything necessary for their animals, and evidence of the importance of herding to them is found in the large number of granite sculptures of certain animals, especially pigs, present in the area. These pigs are said to have been associated with fertility, authority and power. The veneration of animals was not unique to the Iberian Celts, since Irish Celts also kept sacred cattle, and "royal" oxen, swine and sheep. They lived in villages of round stone houses which can still be seen in northern Portugal, and eventually they established contact with their kinfolk in Brittany and the British Isles for tin trade.
These Celts, which came to be known as "Lusitanians," had a similar culture to the groups already in Iberia, which allowed them to settle in amity and cooperation. In certain areas, these Celts mixed with the other population, and created groups that were named "Celtiberians." At about the same time, the Phoenicians founded little fishing and salting settlements throughout the south of Portugal, and were followed by the Greeks and Carthaginians.

Where to see Celtic Portugal: The best examples of the Celtic settlements (called "Castros") are found in the northern Minho province, notably Citania de Briteiros close to the city of Guimarães. Here are well-preserved ruins and several buildings (stone dwelling huts that were built in circular or elliptical shapes) that have been restored. One of the most arresting artifacts recovered from Briteiros is a slab of carved stone thought to have been the front of a funerary monument, and can be seen, together with other sculptural remains, in Guimarães' Martins Sarmento Museum. Closeby is the region of Terras de Basto, where there are statues believed to represent Celtic warriors. Another site is Sanfins de Ferreira, close to the city of Porto, where there are traces of a triple ring of defensive walls around 100 huts and a small museum. In the town of Viana do Castelo are also traces of a Celtiberian settlement by the Hill of Santa Luzia, with remains of walls and circular stone huts. Town names ending in "briga" (like Conimbriga or Mirobriga) also date back to these times, as well as more than 200 granite pigs or boars (some up to 6ft/2 meters in length), found throughout the Tras-os-Montes province.

Roman Portugal

The Romans overran Gaul (today's France) in seven years, but it took them almost two centuries to completely take over Iberia. The leader of the Lusitanians, Viriathus, led his people in a triumphant campaign against the Romans, which led to his death at the hands of hired assassins. After Viriathus' death, the Romans were able to take over, and the Lusitanians withdrew to hilltop villages of the rural northwest and maintained resistance for several generations, with occasional raids on the settled territory. The Romans settled everywhere, but their numbers in the north was comparatively small. The south was more to their liking, which was better for growing wheat, olives, and grapes. They eventually imposed their language upon the entire peninsula, and their code of law was applied, which was also ultimately the basis of the Portuguese legal code. Forums, temples and lawcourts were built in the cities, large-scale agriculture was conducted, and the plow was introduced. Roads and bridges (still in evidence throughout Portugal) were created, as well as a system of large farming estates called Latifundios still seen in the area of Alentejo. Under Decimus Junius Brutus and Julius Caesar, a capital was established at Olisipo (Lisbon), and around 25 BC, Augustus divided the peninsula into several provinces, naming much of the area that eventually became Portugal "Lusitania."

Where to see Roman Portugal: In the city of Evora are the impressive remains of the 2nd century Temple of Diana, with 14 Corinthian columns. The Roman town of Conimbriga, founded in the 2nd century B.C., has some of the best preserved Roman ruins in Iberia, with remains of walls, columns used for structural or decorative purposes, classical ornamentation, an aqueduct, fountains and baths with magnificent mosaics, some of which can also be seen at the site museum. There are also Roman remains at Estoi in central Algarve, with some tentalising fragments of fish mosaics in a former bathing chamber, as well as a Roman villa at Pisões near the city of Beja showing extensive floor mosaics and fragments of decorated walls, baths, a bathing pool, and hypocaust. There are also remains of Roman buildings in Beja, and a Roman bridge in the town of Chaves.

Germanic Portugal

The weakening of the Roman Empire enabled various Teutonic peoples to invade Gaul. They eventually crossed the Pyrenees and entered Iberia. The Suevi (or Swabians), who mostly stayed in the northwest, made Bracara Augusta (now the Portuguese city of Braga) their capital. These new German rulers did not altogether sweep away Roman civilization, which they had learned to admire, and styles of dress remained different. The Germanic groups wore their hair long, while the Romans clipped theirs. However, they blended easily with the Romans, as well as with the Celts, whose culture was not too different from theirs. The great contribution of the Swabians was in the use of land, and the introduction of the quadrangular plow. They preferred to settle in the north and northwest of Iberia, which are areas that had a climate more suitable to their crops. Other Germanic groups such as the Vandals and Alans also crossed the Pyrennes, and spread to the western edge of the peninsula. The Alans, at the time the strongest of the tribes, took a large area in the center and south, approximately the area of Roman Lusitania. The Luso-Romans offered no effective opposition to their settlement.

Where to see Germanic Portugal: The Visigoths built a few temples, some of which have been restored over the centuries. Examples include the São Gião Church near Nazare, the São Pedro de Balsemão Chapel in Lamego, the Santa Amaro Church (also serving as part of the Visigothic Museum) in Beja, and the Byzantine-style chapel of São Frutuoso near Braga. The Visigoths also rebuilt the Roman town of Idanha-a-Velha near Castelo Branco and parts of its cathedral date from this time. Also, many of the 92 villages of the Montesinho Natural Park in the Tras-Os-Montes province still bear distinctly Germanic names such as Fresulfe or Sernande, memorials to the Visigoths who founded them.

Moorish Portugal

The Prophet Mohammed preached his new religion, Islam, in Arabia, and when he died in 632, his successors undertook a program of world conquest in the name of Allah and Islam. By 700, their forces swept across North Africa and subdued Morocco. They crossed into what is now Spain in 711, and over the years subjugated almost the entire peninsula with incredible speed. However, as opposed to the previous invaders of Iberia, these Muslims (who were named "Moors" by the Christians), chose to settle mostly in the south. In the area of present Portugal, their presence was stronger mostly in today's Alentejo and Algarve provinces. The Moors from Egypt settled mostly in today's Beja and Faro, while the Syrians settled between Faro and the Spanish city of Seville. The Moors fortified several cities, works of irrigation from Roman days were restored and perfected, and the use of linen paper made the multiplication of books much easier than in the days of parchment rolls. As a result, literacy was widespread.

Where to see Moorish Portugal: Unlike Spain, Portugal has no complete buildings left from the Moorish period, but in the south of the country there is still a rather strong Moorish influence. The styles of the typical chimneys in the Algarve are often ascribed to Moorish influence, as are the whitewashed houses with wrought-iron work of Alentejo. There are also several Moorish castles, with the most famous being the Castelo dos Mouros in Sintra. There are also remains of Moorish quarters, particularly in Alentejo in the towns of Moura and Mertola, the site of a church that retains many Moorish features. Mertola also has a small museum housing the country's best collection of Islamic art, including ceramics, coins, and jewelry.
The Sintra National Palace also features Moorish decoration, although that dates from the 16th century, long after the Moors had been expelled from the country.

Christian Reconquest and the Emergence of Portugal

Christians continuously tried to get rid of the Moors, and the first attempt is said to have been as early as ten years after their invasion. This was when a man named Pelagio won the first Christian victory against the hated invaders in the north of Iberia. Though the military significance was small at the time, it lifted Christian morale. Over the years, the Christians reconquered several areas from north to south of the peninsula (the north was reconquered earlier, with the Portuguese cities of Oporto back in Christian hands by 868 and Coimbra by 1064).
Several Christian Kingdoms were formed. In 1095, Alfonso VI, the ruler of the kingdom of Leon and Castile established the County of Portucale between the rivers Douro and Mondego. In 1139, the ruler of this county, Afonso Henriques won a battle over the Moors, and declared Portucale a separate kingdom, with himself as king. Four years later, Alfonso VII of Leon-Castile recognized Portucale as a separate, independent kingdom, as did Pope Alexander III in 1179. Afonso Henriques continued to capture land from the Moors, and by 1147 he reconquered Lisbon with the help of English, Flemish, German, and French crusaders. Evora was retaken in 1166, and the Algarve in 1249. At this point, Portugal's conquest was complete, and Portugal became Europe's first state to reach the limits of its territorial expansion, which remain unchanged to this day.

Where to see Medieval Portugal: Of the numerous castles built or rebuilt after the Reconquest, the most impressive are at Guimarães, Almourol, Bragança, Leiria, and Obidos. The cathedrals in Porto, Lisbon, Evora, Braga and Coimbra also date from this time, as well as many smaller churches throughout the country. This was also when the monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha and the Templar's Castle in Tomar, which are three of the country's most impressive monuments, were built.

The Age of Discovery

After Portugal was able to expel the Moors, neighboring Castile (Spain) tried to do the same, achieving that goal in 1492. But over those years it also tried to take over Portugal. There were several invasion attempts, ending with a Portuguese victory in the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, during King João's rein. His rein then saw the beginning of Portugal's colonial expansion in Africa and the voyages of discovery which made Portugal rise as the leading maritime and colonial power in western Europe, and Lisbon develop into a major commercial city. In 1415 the trading post of Ceuta in Morocco was captured. Years later, João's son, Prince Henry the Navigator promoted voyages of discovery, and his "school of navigation" in Sagres was founded. At this point, the "Portuguese caravel" was created. This ship was rounder and better suited for the Atlantic, moved entirely by lateen or square sails, and requiring a smaller crew than the previous ships. As a result, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to open the way into the Atlantic (discovering the islands of Madeira, Azores, and Cape Verde), to sail down western Africa (reaching the mouth of the Congo in 1482), to cross the Equator, to round and name the Cape of Good Hope (Bartolomeu Dias), to reach India by sea from the west (Vasco da Gama), to set a foot in South America (with the discovery of Brazil by Pedro Alvares Cabral), and were the first westerners in Ceylon, Sumatra, Malacca, Timor and the spice islands of the Moluccas, the first Europeans to trade with China and Japan (establishing a trading post in Macao, which was the first European settlement in China and part of Portugal until 1999), and to see Australia two hundred years before Captain Cook. The Corte-Real brothers also reached Newfoundland in 1500, and sailing for Spain, Portuguese explorer Magellan (Magalhães in Portuguese) was the first to circumnavigate the globe, and Cabrilho was the first to explore the coast of California. Thanks to worldwide trade, Portugal enjoyed an upsurge of prosperity, making it the wealthiest country in Europe. During this period, King Manuel I marked the exuberance of the age with the lavish Manueline style of architecture (still seen today throughout Portugal, especially in Lisbon's Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery).

Where to see Portugal's Golden Age: The unique Manueline Style of architecture developed during the time of Portugal's Golden Age. The most impressive buildings are the Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery (where explorer Vasco da Gama is burried) in Lisbon's Belem area, famous for being where ships departed from and returned to after their voyages. The pavement in front of the Discoveries Monument shows a map with the routes of the discoverers in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Maritime Museum by the monastery illustrates the rapid progress in shipbuilding with navigational instruments, astrolabes, 16th-century maps, replicas of caravels, etc. Another area famous for its role during the Discoveries is the town of Sagres in the Algarve province, where there is a giant pebble wind compass 43m (141ft) in diameter, said to have been used by Prince Henry the Navigator.

60 Years of Iberian Union

In the late 16th century, King Sebastião was determined to take Christianity to Morocco. He rallied a force of 18,000 but was killed in the battle along with 8000 others. His successor, Cardinal Henrique took over the throne. In 1580, when Henrique died, Sebastião's uncle, Phillip II of Spain, claimed the Portuguese throne. Phillip promised a purely personal union that would leave his new kingdom as independent as before, guaranteed the separation of the two governments, and promissed that the Portuguese language and laws should be used in the governance of the country. Phillip's rein lived up to his promise, but under his son and grandson, Spain let the English and the Dutch strip Portugal of valuable foreign possessions, and Lisbon declined as a commercial center with competition from the harbors in England and Holland. This marked the end of Portugal's golden age. In 1640, leading personalities staged a well-planned rising in Lisbon and easily overpowered the sentinels guarding public buildings. In the absence of any force capable of suppressing the rising, a new ruler was acclaimed and the "Iberian Union" ended. Later, a treaty of friendship and commercial cooperation with Britain ensured Portugal's restored crown, but also guaranteed British predominance in Portugal. Two years after the treaty, Portugal's Catherine of Braganza (Bragança), married England's Charles II.

The French Invasion

In 1755 a devastating earthquake shattered Lisbon, killing thousands of people and destroying most buildings. The prime minister at the time, the Marquis of Pombal, directed the rebuilding of the city. By the turn of the century, the country went through better times. Much of Lisbon had been rebuilt, the peasant class was stable, the middle class was prospering, all presided over by the relatively considerate government of Queen Maria I. At about this time however, events in other European countries threatened Portugal. In France, Napoleon declared a blockade of English trade, and the English responded with a continental blockade. The French insisted that the Portuguese close their ports to the English, open them to Spanish and French ships and arrest all Englishmen in the country and confiscate their property. Not to meet these demands would result in invasion. Portugal had always had a friendly relationship with England, so the government procrastinated. France and Spain then signed the Treaty of Fountainebleau, which gave Napoleon the right to invade Portugal through Spain. They agreed that after the invasion, Portugal would be divided between France and Spain. The French occupied the country in 1807, and the Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil. About 50,000 French and Spanish troops roved the countryside arresting, killing, plundering and raping as they pleased. In 1808 Portugal got help from the British, their oldest allies. With their help (headed by General Sir Arthur Wellesley), defensive lines were built around Lisbon. When Napoleon reached the fortifications, he retreated. After the war a new constitution was proclaimed and Brazil was given independence. The years that followed were marked by political confusion.

Where to see 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries Portugal: Examples of buildings from the 17th century are Lisbon's São Vicente de Fora Church and Fronteira Palace, the Sé Nova in Coimbra, and the Palace of the Dukes in Vila Viçosa. From the 18th century are several Baroque churches found throughout the country, many with ornate interiors of gilded wood such as the São Francisco and Santa Clara in Porto. The Mafra and Queluz palaces and Porto's Clerigos Tower also date from this time, as well as many elegant country houses such as the Palacio de Mateus. Lisbon's Baixa district was also mostly rebuilt during this time, following the 1755 earthquake. The 19th century was dominated by Neo-Classicism, as can be seen in Lisbon's Ajuda Palace and in several other buildings in the capital. Other impressive buildings from this time are Sintra's Pena and Monserrate Palaces. Lisbon's Rossio and Porto's São Bento stations, Lisbon's Santa Justa Elevator, and Porto's bridges also date from this century.

The 20th Century

The beginning of the 20th century was marked by a radical, nationalist republican movement. In 1908, the king and crown prince were assassinated, and in 1910, after an uprising by military officers, Portugal was declared a republic. During WWI Portugal joined the Allies, and in the postwar years, political chaos deepened. Between 1910 and 1945 there were 45 changes of government, often brought about through military intervention. In 1932 Antonio Salazar became prime minister, and during WWII, Portugal was declared neutral. Salazar ruled the country for 36 years, banning political parties and workers' strikes. Censorship, propaganda and force kept society in order. A secret police force used imprisonment and torture to suppress opposition. Salazar also refused to give up Portugal's colonies but India occupied Portuguese Goa in 1961, and local nationalists rose up in Angola. Similar movements happened in Portuguese Guinea and Mozambique. As a result, there were costly military expeditions. In 1968, Salazar suffered a stroke and Marcelo Caetano was his successor. Military officers grew reluctant to serve in colonial wars, and several hundred of them carried out a bloodless coup on April 25, 1974. The African colonies were then given independence, and a new constitution committed Portugal to a blend of socialism and democracy. There were several governments after that, and the country was only considered officially stable in the mid-1980's. In 1986 Portugal joined the European Economic Community (later renamed European Union in 1992). With EU funds, Portugal went through a dramatic change -- it became the EU's fastest growing country (recording an unprecedented 4.5% to 5% annual economic growth rate).

Portugal Today

Today Portugal is a stable country well integrated in the European Union. It's on the list of the countries with "Very High Human Development" and attention in future years will focus on bringing the country's level of skilled jobs and educational achievements closer to the European average.
In 1998 Lisbon hosted the World Fair Expo 98, leading to major infrastructure and urban regeneration projects. A year later, the country adopted the Euro as its official currency along with ten other countries of the European Union, and in 2004 it hosted the Euro2004 championship. In July 2007 it took over the European Union presidency when EU members signed the Lisbon Treaty which revised the EU's constitutional framework. Despite the current economic and financial crisis of the Euro zone which has greatly affected the country, Portugal is now a country looking to the future, while never forgetting its long, remarkable past.

Where to see 20th century and modern Portugal: One of Portugal's most photographed monuments, the Discoveries Monument in Lisbon, was built in the last century (in 1960) to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. Lisbon's 25 de Abril Bridge was built shortly after. The other bridge over the Tagus River (Vasco da Gama Bridge) was built later in 1998 just in time for Expo98, the area of which (now called Parque das Nações) is now the best example of the modern and future Portugal. The buildings that first represented modern Portugal however, were the Amoreiras buildings in Lisbon, built between 1980 and 1987.
Porto's Casa da Musica is the best, most recent example of 21st century architecture.

History in Portugal

ANCIENT BEGINNINGS -- Starting in 210 B.C., the Romans colonized most of Iberia. They met great resistance from the Celtiberian people of the interior. The Lusitanian (ancient Portugal was known as Lusitania) leader, Viriatus, looms large in Portuguese history as a freedom fighter who held up the Roman advance he died about 139 B.C. The Romans were ultimately unstoppable, however, and by the time of Julius Caesar, Portugal had been integrated into the Roman Empire. The Roman colonies included Olisipo (now Lisbon).

Christianity arrived in Portugal near the end of the 1st century A.D. By the 3rd century, bishoprics had been established at Lisbon, Braga, and elsewhere. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, invaders crossed the Pyrenees into Spain in 409 and eventually made their way to Portugal. The Visigothic Empire dominated the peninsula for some 2 centuries.

INVASIONS FROM NORTH & SOUTH -- As Roman power waned, the Iberian Peninsula filled with Germanic folk. The Suevi ruled northern Portugal for 150 years. They were ousted in 588 by the Visigoths, who built a Christian kingdom covering Spain and Portugal, and made Braga a major religious center.

In 711, a force of Moors arrived in Iberia and quickly advanced to Portugal. They erected settlements in the south. The Christian Reconquest -- known as the Reconquista -- to seize the land from Moorish control is believed to have begun in 718.

In the 11th century, Ferdinand the Great, king of León and Castile, took much of northern Portugal from the Moors. Before his death in 1065, Ferdinand set about reorganizing his western territories into Portucale.

Portuguese, a Romance language, evolved mainly from a dialect spoken when Portugal was a province of the Spanish kingdom of León and Castile. The language developed separately from other Romance dialects.

Portugal is Born -- Ferdinand handed over Portugal to his illegitimate daughter, Teresa. (At that time, the Moors still held the land south of the Tagus.) Unknowingly, the king of Spain had launched a course of events that was to lead to Portugal's development into a distinct nation.

Teresa was firmly bound in marriage to Henry, a count of Burgundy. Henry accepted his father-in-law's gift of Portugal as his wife's dowry, but upon the king's death, he coveted Spanish territory as well. His death cut short his dreams of expansion.

Following Henry's death, Teresa ruled Portugal she cast a disdainful eye on, and an interfering nose into, her legitimate sister's kingdom in Spain. Teresa lost no time mourning Henry and took a Galician count, Fernão Peres, as her lover. Teresa's refusal to conceal her affair with Peres and stay out of everyone else's affairs led to open strife with León.

Teresa's son, Afonso Henríques, was incensed by his mother's actions. Their armies met at São Mamede in 1128. Teresa lost, and she and her lover were banished.

Afonso Henríques went on to become Portugal's founding father. In 1143, he was proclaimed its first king, and official recognition eventually came from the Vatican in 1178. Once his enemies in Spain were temporarily quieted, Afonso turned his eye toward the Moorish territory in the south of Portugal. Supported by crusaders from the north, the Portuguese conquered Santarém and Lisbon in 1147. Afonso died in 1185. His son and heir, Sancho I, continued his father's work of consolidating the new nation.

Successive generations waged war against the Moors until Afonso III, who ruled from 1248 to 1279, wrested the Algarve from Moorish control. The country's capital moved from Coimbra to Lisbon. After Portugal became independent in the 11th century, its borders expanded southward to the sea.

The Moors left a permanent impression on Portugal. The language called Mozarabic, spoken by Christians living as Moorish subjects, was integrated into the Portuguese dialect. The basic language of today, both oral and written, was later solidified and perfected in Lisbon and Coimbra.

Castile did not recognize Portugal's borders until the reign of Pedro Dinis (1279-1325). Known as the Poet King or the Farmer King (because of his interest in agriculture), he founded a university in Lisbon in about 1290 it later moved to Coimbra. Dinis married Isabella, a princess of Aragon who was later canonized. Isabella was especially interested in the poor. Legend has it that she was once smuggling bread out of the palace to feed them when her husband spotted her and asked what she was concealing. When she showed him, the bread miraculously turned into roses.

Their son, Afonso IV, is remembered today for ordering the murder of his son Pedro's mistress. During Pedro's reign (1357-67), an influential representative body called the Cortes (an assembly of clergy, nobility, and commoners) began to gain ascendancy. The majority of the clergy, greedy for power, fought the sovereign's reform measures, which worked to ally the people more strongly with the crown. During the reign of Pedro's son, Ferdinand I (1367-73), Castilian forces invaded Portugal, Lisbon was besieged, and the dynasty faced demise.

In 1383, rather than submit to Spanish rule, the Portuguese people chose the illegitimate son of Pedro as regent. That established the house of Avis. João de Avis (reigned 1383-1433) secured Portuguese independence by defeating Castilian forces at Aljubarrota in 1385. His union with Philippa of Lancaster, the granddaughter of Edward III of England, produced a son who oversaw the emergence of Portugal as an empire -- Prince Henry the Navigator.

Henry Builds a Maritime Empire -- Henry's demand for geographical accuracy and his hunger for the East's legendary gold, ivory, slaves, and spices drove him to exploration. To promote Christianity, he joined the fabled Christian kingdom of Prester John to drive the Muslims out of North Africa.

To develop navigational and cartographic techniques, Henry established a community of scholars at Sagres, on the south coast of Portugal. He was responsible for the discovery of Madeira, the Azores, Cape Verde, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, and he provided the blueprint for continued exploration during the rest of the century. In 1482, Portuguese ships explored the mouth of the Congo, and in 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope. In 1497, Vasco da Gama reached Calicut (Kozhikode), on India's west coast, clearing the way for trade in spices, porcelain, silk, ivory, and slaves.

The Treaty of Tordesillas, negotiated by João II in 1494, ensured Portugal's possession of Brazil. Using the wealth of the whole empire, Manuel I (the Fortunate reigned 1495-1521) inspired great monuments of art and architecture whose style now bears his name. His reign inspired Portugal's Golden Age. By 1521, the country had begun to tap into Brazil's natural resources and had broken Venice's spice-trade monopoly. As the first of the great maritime world empires, Portugal dominated access to the Indian Ocean.

João III (reigned 1521-57) ushered in the Jesuits and the Inquisition. His son, Sebastião, disappeared in battle in Morocco in 1578, leaving Portugal without an heir. Philip II of Spain claimed the Portuguese throne and began 60 years of Spanish domination. In the East, Dutch and English traders undermined Portugal's strength.

The House of Bragança -- A nationalist revolution in 1640 brought a descendant of João I to the throne as João IV. That began the House of Bragança, which lasted into the 20th century. João IV forged an English alliance by arranging his daughter's marriage to Charles II. For her dowry, he "threw in" Bombay and Tangier. In 1668, Spain recognized Portugal's independence with the Treaty of Lisbon.

On All Saints' Day in 1755, a great earthquake destroyed virtually all of Lisbon. In 6 minutes, 15,000 people were killed. The Marquês de Pombal, adviser to King José (reigned 1750-77), later reconstructed Lisbon as a safer and more beautiful city. Pombal was an exponent of absolutism, and his expulsion of the Jesuits in 1759 earned him powerful enemies throughout Europe. He curbed the power of the Inquisition and reorganized and expanded industry, agriculture, education, and the military. Upon the death of his patron, King José, he was exiled from court.

In 1793, Portugal joined a coalition with England and Spain against Napoleon. An insane queen, Maria I (reigned 1777-1816), and an exiled royal family facilitated an overthrow by a military junta. A constitution was drawn up, and Maria's son, João VI (reigned 1816-26), accepted the position of constitutional monarch in 1821. João's son, Pedro, declared independence for Brazil in 1822 and became a champion of liberalism in Portugal.

From Republic to Dictatorship -- Between 1853 and 1908, republican movements assaulted the very existence of the monarchists. In 1908, Carlos I (reigned 1889-1908), the Painter King, and the crown prince were assassinated at Praça do Comércio in Lisbon. Carlos's successor was overthrown in an outright revolution on October 5, 1910, ending the Portuguese monarchy and making the country a republic.

Instability was the watchword of the newly proclaimed republic, and revolutions and uprisings were a regular occurrence. Portugal's attempt to remain neutral in World War I failed when -- influenced by its old ally, England -- Portugal commandeered German ships in the Lisbon harbor. This action promptly brought a declaration of war from Germany, and Portugal entered World War I on the side of the Allies.

The republic's precarious foundations collapsed in 1926, when a military revolt established a dictatorship, headed by Gomes da Costa. His successor, António Óscar de Fragoso Carmona, remained president until 1951, but only as a figurehead. António de Oliveira Salazar became finance minister in 1928 and rescued the country from a morass of economic difficulties. He went on to become the first minister, acting as (but never officially becoming) head of state. He was declared premier of Portugal in 1932, and he rewrote the Portuguese constitution along Fascist lines in 1933.

In World War II, Salazar asserted his country's neutrality, although he allowed British and American troops to establish bases in the Azores in 1943. After Carmona's death in 1951, Salazar became dictator, living more or less ascetically and suppressing all opposition. He worked in cooperation with his contemporary, the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

In 1955, Portugal joined the United Nations. Salazar suffered a stroke in 1968 and died in 1970. He is buried in the Panteão Nacional in Lisbon.

Modern Portugal Wrestles with Democracy -- Dr. Marcelo Caetano replaced Salazar. Six years later, following discontent in the African colonies of Mozambique and Angola, revolution broke out. The dictatorship was overthrown on April 25, 1974, in a military coup dubbed the "flower revolution" because the soldiers wore red carnations instead of carrying guns. After the revolution, Portugal drifted into near anarchy. Finally, after several years of turmoil and the failures of 16 provisional governments from 1976 to 1983, a revised constitution came into force in the 1980s.

In 1976, Portugal loosened its grasp on its once-extensive territorial possessions. The Azores and Madeira gained partial autonomy. All the Portuguese territories in Africa -- Angola, Cape Verde, Portuguese Guinea, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe (islands in the Gulf of Guinea) -- became independent countries. Portugal also released the colony of East Timor, which Indonesia immediately seized.

From the time of the revolution until 1987, Portuguese governments rose and fell much too quickly for the country to maintain political stability. Moderates elected Gen. Ramalho Eanes as president in the wake of the revolution, and he was reelected in 1980. He brought the military under control, allaying fears of a right-wing coup to prevent a Socialist takeover. However, Eanes appointed a Socialist, Mário Soares, prime minister three times.

In the 1985 elections, the left-wing vote was divided three ways, and the Socialists lost their vanguard position to the Social Democratic Party. Their leader, Dr. Aníbal Cavaco Silva, was elected prime minister. In January 1986, Eanes was forced to resign the presidency. He was replaced by Soares, the former Socialist prime minister, who became the first civilian president in 60 years.

Although his administration had its share of political scandal, President Soares won a landslide victory in the January 1991 elections. With the elections of 1995, constitutional limitations forced Soares to step down. He was replaced by Jorge Sampaio, the former Socialist mayor of Lisbon.

As president, Sampaio didn't make great waves, focusing on moderation. He did oversee the return of the Portuguese island of Macau to China in December 1999, and he also championed the cause of independence for East Timor, another former Portuguese colony. Most editorial writers in Lisbon called the presidency of Sampaio "remarkably uneventful."

That said, Portugal took a major leap in 1999 when it became part of the euro community, adopting a single currency, along with other European nations such as Spain, Italy, Germany, and France. On February 28, 2002, the nation of Portugal formally assigned its longtime currency, the escudo, to permanent mothballs and started trading in euros. This officially launched Portugal, along with 11 other European nations, into the European Monetary Union.

Portugal Today -- In 2006, Sampaio was succeeded in office by Aníbal Cavaco Silva, the politician he defeated in 1996. In office, the eco-friendly Silva has stressed the environment, not only protecting it in his own country but in all E.U. countries as well. In 2006, Portugal's sleepy southwestern shore became Europe's latest coastal preserve, as 200,000 unspoiled acres were set aside for the enjoyment of future generations. Southwest Alentejo and Costa Vicentina Natural Park, farmland since Roman times, is now under severe building restrictions which will maintain its pristine beauty. The area begins in the town of Sines, a 2-hour drive south of Lisbon, and stretches for 60 miles (91km) of dunes, beaches, and black basalt cliffs.

Since taking office in 2006, Silva has also positioned himself as a firm believer in globalization and counterterrorism and has worked to promote economic growth and to deal with unemployment in Portugal.

Although elected as a center Right candidate, Silva has disappointed many of his backers. He is a practicing Roman Catholic and a self-described believer in the Fátima apparitions, yet, critics claim, he has not vetoed legislation proposed by the Left. For example, he signed into law a bill legalizing abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. With low voter turnout in 2008 -- 58% did not vote -- abortion was legalized.

In other developments, however, Portugal, unlike Spain, has upheld the country's ban on gay marriage. Even so, Portugal's constitution forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Pedro & Inês: A Medieval Love Story

Centuries before Shakespeare gave us Romeo and Juliet, Portugal was gripped by its own tale of star-crossed lovers.

Seeking Spanish alliances, King Afonso IV in 1339 married off his son and heir, Pedro, to Constance, a Castilian princess. Nineteen-year-old Pedro promptly fell in love with one of his new wife’s ladies-in-waiting, a noblewoman named Inês de Castro. They began a very public affair and Inês bore Pedro three children.

King Afonso was outraged, frightened of offending the Castilians and worried about the influence of Inês’ ambitious brothers. He pleaded with Pedro to break it off, then banished Inês to the Santa Clara Monastery in Coimbra. When all that failed to cool Pedro’s passion, Afonso had Inês murdered. In Coimbra today, beneath the clear spring water that bubbles to the surface at the spot where she was decapitated, there’s a red rock, supposedly forever stained by her blood.

Grief-stricken, Pedro revolted against his father. He captured two of the killers and personally ripped out their hearts. Pedro became king when Afonso died in 1357 and announced that he’d secretly married Inês before her death. On the day of his coronation, Pedro ordered Inês’ corpse removed from its tomb, dressed in a regal gown, and crowned queen beside him. Portugal’s nobles lined up to kiss the hand of the woman slain 2 years before.

The story has inspired poets, painters, and musicians from Camões to Ezra Pound. Today, Pedro and Inês lie side by side in ornate tombs within the great medieval monastery at Alcobaça.

THE AGE OF DISCOVERY With its frontiers secured, Portugal started looking overseas. In 1415, João I opened the era of maritime expansion when he captured the city of Ceuta on the coast of North Africa. João’s son, Henry, fought at the battle to win Ceuta from the Moroccans. He never voyaged farther, but would change the face of world history and be forever known as Henry the Navigator.

Henry gathered sailors and scholars on the windswept southwestern tip of Europe at Sagres to brainstorm on what may lay beyond. Using new navigational technology and more maneuverable boats, the Portuguese sent out probing voyages that reached Madeira Island off the coast of Africa around 1420 and the mid-Atlantic Azores 8 years later.

A breakthrough came in 1434, when captain Gil Eanes sailed around Cape Bojador, a remote Saharan promontory that had marked the limits of European knowledge of the African coast. Eanes showed the sea beyond was not boiling and monster-filled, as was believed. The way was opened to Africa and beyond.

Four Navigators Who Changed World Maps

From 1415 to 1580, Portuguese explorers opened up the world for Europe, discovering new routes to Africa, Asia, and the Americas. They created a global empire and redrew world maps.

Bartolomeo Dias (ca. 1450–1500) was 38 and from a family of navigators when he led an expedition of three boats down the coast of West Africa in 1487. He failed in his mission to find the mythical Christian kingdom of Prester John, but became the first European to sail around the southern tip of Africa into the Indian Ocean. Dias was killed in a shipwreck off the Cape of Good Hope in 1500, while serving with Pedro Álvares Cabral on the expedition that reached Brazil.

Vasco da Gama (ca. 1460–1524) wasn’t the first European to explore India— wealthy Europeans had been spicing their food with its cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg for centuries—but the trade was controlled by price-hiking Venetian, Turkish, and Arab middlemen. By discovering the sea route in 1498, da Gama opened up direct trade between Europe and Asia. His adventures are celebrated in Portugal’s national epic, Os Lusíadas, by swashbuckling 16th-century poet Luís de Camões. The two men are buried near each other in Lisbon’s Jerónimos monastery. Da Gama died of malaria in 1524 in Kochi on his third voyage to India. Western Europe’s longest bridge, an Indian seaport, and a leading Brazilian soccer club bear his name.

Brazil was first reached by accident in 1500, when the fleet of 13 ships commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral (ca. 1467–1520) sailed too far west while heading down the coast of Africa on the new route opened by da Gama. At least that’s the official story. Some believe the Portuguese already knew about Brazil but kept it quiet until they had concluded the 1492 Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain to divide the world along a line halfway between Portugal’s Cape Verde outpost and the newly discovered Spanish territories in the Caribbean. Brazil was clearly in the Portuguese sphere. Cabral didn’t stay long, but sailed on to Africa and India, becoming the first man to visit four continents. His birthplace in the pretty village of Belmonte and tomb in Santarém are much visited by Brazilian travelers.

In 1519, Fernão de Magalhães (ca. 1480–1521) was a 39-year-old veteran of the Portuguese Discoveries. He’d served 8 years in India, fighting against Turks, Arabs, and Indian states. He played a key role in the capture of Malacca, a hub for Portuguese power in southeast Asia, and was wounded at the siege of Azemmour in Morocco. Despite all this service, he managed to annoy King Manuel I. There were rumors he went AWOL, had rustled cattle, and engaged in shady deals with the Moroccans. Unable to get a ship in Lisbon, he went to Spain, where his stories of Spice Island riches convinced Emperor Charles V to send him on a mission to reach Asia by sailing west—avoiding the Portuguese-controlled eastern routes. Now known as Ferdinand Magellan, he led the fleet into the Pacific as far as the Philippines, where he was speared to death in a battle with local warriors. What was left of the expedition sailed on. Only one of the five ships made it back to Spain, the first to sail around the globe. In 2019, the 500th anniversary of his voyage was marked by a brief tiff between Portugal and Spain over which country can claim the glory of his legacy.

In the years that followed, Portuguese navigators pushed down the West African coast looking for gold, ivory, spices, and slaves. By 1482, Diogo Cão reached the mouth of the Congo River. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias sailed past Africa’s southern tip: He called it the Cape of Storms, but the name was quickly changed to Cape of Good Hope to encourage further voyages. That worked. Vasco da Gama traded and raided up the coast of east Africa before reaching India in 1498. World trade would never be the same. Over the next 4 decades, Portuguese explorers moved into southeast Asia, up the coast of China, and eventually into Japan. Along the way they set up trading posts and colonies. Portugal grew rich by dominating East-West exchanges and forging the first global empire. But the Portuguese also destroyed cities reluctant to submit to their power and frequently massacred civilians.

There were setbacks. In the 1480s, King João II rejected repeated requests to finance the westward exploration plans of a Genovese seafarer named Christopher Columbus, who eventually claimed the New World for his Spanish sponsors. And King Manuel I took a dislike to veteran Portuguese sea dog Fernão de Magalhães. Piqued, he crossed the border with his plans to reach Asia by sailing west and ended up leading the Spanish fleet that became the first to sail around the world. Later historians called him Ferdinand Magellan.

The Portuguese also moved west. Six years after Spain and Portugal agreed to divide up the world with the 1492 Treaty of Tordesillas, Pedro Álvares Cabral landed in Brazil, which conveniently lies on the eastern Portuguese side of the dividing line.

A small arched building in the Algarve coastal town of Lagos has a grim past. It is reputed to be the site of Europe’s oldest African slave market, first used in the early 15th century. Early Portuguese settlers in Brazil began using captured natives as slaves, but as demands of sugar plantations and gold mines grew in the 17th and 18th centuries, more and more slaves were shipped from Africa. Slavery was abolished in Portugal itself in 1761, but it continued in its African colonies until 1869 and in Brazil until 1888, 66 years after the South American country’s independence. Historians estimate Portuguese vessels carried almost 6 million Africans into slavery.

Portugal’s Jewish Heritage

In 1497, King Manuel I, the monarch behind the golden age of Portugal’s Discoveries, married a Spanish princess, a political move designed to improve relations with the powerful neighbor. Spain’s condition: Portugal had to get rid of its thriving Jewish community, as Spain had done 5 years before. Manuel agreed, ordering all Jews to convert to Catholicism or leave. Many fled, finding refuge in the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, France, and the Netherlands, where they built Amsterdam’s splendid Portuguese Synagogue. Others stayed and became “New Christians.”

They were still not safe. In 1506, a riot over Easter led to the murder of up to 2,000 conversos in what became known as the Lisbon Massacre. Manuel I had some of the perpetrators executed, but 30 years later the state institutionalized persecution when it set up a Portuguese branch of the Inquisition, tasked with hunting down heretics—especially converts suspected of maintaining Jewish practices in secret. The Inquisition ordered almost 1,200 burned at the stake over the next 2 centuries and was only abolished in 1821. Nevertheless, some crypto-Jews managed to cling to their faith. A community in the remote village of Belmonte practiced in secret into the 1980s. There is now a small but open community there with their own rabbi.

Jews began returning to a more tolerant Portugal in the 19th century. During World War II, neutral Portugal became a haven for many fleeing the Nazis. Although dictator António Oliveira Salazar tried to prevent Jewish refugees arriving in 1940 as Hitler’s troops marched into France, the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, defied orders and handed out visas, saving up to 30,000 lives. Salazar ruined his career and plunged his family into poverty, but Sousa Mendes is today regarded as a national hero.

President Mário Soares formally asked for forgiveness for past persecution in 1989. In 2015, Portugal’s parliament passed a law offering citizenship to the descendants of Jews expelled from the country. Today there are small Jewish communities, mostly in Lisbon, Porto, and Madeira Island, but recent genetic studies suggest that up to 20% of Portugal’s population may have Jewish ancestry.

INDEPENDENCE LOST & RESTORED In 1578, Portugal overreached. King Sebastião I, an impetuous 24-year-old, invaded Morocco. He was last seen charging into enemy lines at the disastrous Battle of Alcácer Quibir, where a large slice of the Portuguese nobility was wiped out. Sebastião had neglected to father an heir before he set off. An elderly great-uncle briefly took over, but he was a cardinal known as Henry the Chaste, so when he died in 1580, Portugal was left without a monarch. King Philip II of Spain decided he could do the job. His army marched in, crushed local resistance, seized a fortune in Lisbon, and extinguished Portuguese independence for the next 60 years.

The Iberian union made Philip ruler of the greatest empire the world had ever seen, controlling much of the Americas, a network of colonies in Asia and Africa, and European territories that included the Netherlands and half of Italy. Spanish rule strained Portugal’s old alliance with England: The Spanish Armada sailed from Lisbon, and Sir Francis Drake raided the Portuguese coast. By 1640, the Portuguese had had enough. While Spain was distracted fighting France in the 30 Years War, a group of nobles revolted and declared the Duke of Bragança to be King João IV. It took 28 years, but the Portuguese eventually won the War of Restoration. An obelisk in one of Lisbon’s main plazas commemorates the victory.

Meanwhile a new enemy, the Dutch, had seized some of Portugal’s overseas territories. Malacca and Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka) were lost. Faced with such threats, João IV strengthened Portugal’s British alliance by marrying his daughter Catherine of Bragança to King Charles II. Her dowry included Tangiers and Mumbai. Perhaps more significantly for the British, she introduced them to marmalade and the habit of drinking hot water flavored with a new-fangled Asian herb they called tea. In return, the British named one of their North American settlements in her honor: Queens.

Fortunately for the Portuguese, they managed to hang on to Brazil through these turbulent times. At the end of the 17th century, huge gold deposits were found inland from São Paulo. The gold rush made King João V the richest monarch in Europe. He used it to build the vast palace at Mafra and to line baroque churches up and down the country with glimmering gilt carvings.

DISASTER & DECLINE On All Saints’ Day in 1755, churches were packed when Lisbon was struck by a great earthquake. The tremor was followed by a tsunami and raging fire. Much of the city was destroyed and up to 50,000 people are believed to have died. Reconstruction was led by Prime Minister Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, later Marquis of Pombal. He laid out Lisbon’s downtown, or Baixa, in the grid pattern of sturdy, four-story buildings that remains today, although the Gothic ruins of the Carmo Convent were left overlooking the city as reminder of the quake’s destructive force.

Pombal also battled to modernize the country. He curbed the powers of the Inquisition and expelled the Jesuit order. Foreign experts were brought in to expand industry and agriculture. Education and the military were reorganized.

Still, Portugal’s days as a great power were already long gone when French troops marched in as part of Napoleon’s grand design for European domination. The French met little resistance and the royal family fled to Rio de Janeiro. Harsh French rule, however, saw uprisings in Spain and Portugal. Eventually Portugal’s old ally was able to land troops in support, and after a long campaign, the Duke of Wellington led a combined British and Portuguese army that drove Napoleon’s forces back to France in 1814.

Portugal was much weakened. The decline was compounded when Brazil declared independence in 1822 and civil war broke out in the 1830s between the liberal King Pedro IV (also Emperor Pedro I of Brazil) and his conservative brother, Miguel I.

As Europe pushed ahead with industrialization in the 19th century, Portugal fell further behind, dogged by political instability and slipping into economic backwardness. Government debt mounted, pushing the state toward bankruptcy.

Unrest grew. In 1908, King Carlos I and his oldest son were assassinated in Lisbon’s Praça do Comércio. Two years later, Lisbon erupted in revolution, the monarchy was overthrown, and the last king, Manuel II, left for exile in London.

The change of regime did little to ease Portugal’s economic woes or political tensions. Over the next 16 years, there were no less than 49 governments. Portugal entered World War I in 1916 on the side of its old ally, Britain. Around 8,000 soldiers were killed fighting the Germans in France and Africa. Instability continued until a military coup in 1926 put an end to the first Republic.

DICTATORSHIP & DEMOCRACY The junta appointed António de Oliveira Salazar as finance minister in 1928. He became the dominant figure in Portugal’s 20th-century history, establishing a dictatorship that ruled with an iron hand for over 4 decades. Prime minister from 1932, Salazar constructed a Fascist-inspired regime, the Estado Novo, or New State. He brought some order to the economy and managed to keep Portugal neutral during World War II. Dissent was suppressed and censorship strict. A secret police force—the PIDE—spread fear opponents were jailed or worse.

In 1961, the regime was shaken by an Indian invasion of Goa, Daman, and Diu, Portugal’s last colonies in South Asia. That same year, pro-independence forces launched attacks in Angola, starting a war across Portugal’s African empire. Salazar struck back, dispatching ever more conscripts to fight rebel movements in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau. Proportionally, Portugal suffered more casualties in the colonial wars than the U.S. in Vietnam. The fighting drained the economy and left Portugal internationally isolated. Hundreds of thousands of Portuguese emigrants fled poverty, oppression, and conscription, mostly to France, Switzerland, and Luxembourg.

Salazar suffered a stroke in 1968 and died 2 years later, but the regime limped on. On April 25, 1974, a group of war-weary officers staged a coup and the people of Lisbon rose up to support the troops. Flower sellers in Rossio square handed out spring blooms to the young soldiers and sailors, so the uprising was immortalized as the “Carnation Revolution.” Censorship was lifted, exiles returned, and political prisoners were released to joyous scenes.

The revolutionaries, however, faced enormous difficulties. The wars were ended and independence hastily granted to the African colonies. Portugal then had to organize the evacuation and integration of a million refugees fleeing the new nations. Investors retreated as radical leftists ordered the nationalization of banks, industry, and farmland. For a while the country looked like it would veer toward communism.

Then, in 1976, the first presidential elections brought a moderate, General António Ramalho Eanes, to office. Socialist Party leader Mário Soares was elected prime minister the same year. Together they steered Portugal on a proWestern course. It remained a loyal NATO ally and joined the European Union along with Spain in 1986. The previous year, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, leader of the center-right Social Democratic Party, won a landslide election on a pledge to free up the economy. The combined impact of EU membership and stable, business-friendly government led to an economic boom and rapid modernization. In 1999, Portugal handed Macau back to China, ending almost 600 years of overseas empire. Women’s rights made giant strides. The successful hosting of the EXPO [‘]98 World’s Fair in Lisbon symbolized Portugal’s emergence as a successful European democracy.

However, problems lay ahead. The rise of China and the EU’s inclusion of new members from Eastern Europe exposed the Portuguese economy to competition it was ill-equipped to handle. The global financial crisis of 2008 hit hard. As the economy tanked and debt soared, the government was forced in 2011 to seek a bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund to stave off bankruptcy. In exchange for a 78€-billion rescue package, creditors demanded tough measures to bring state finances under control. The economy stabilized, but at a high cost in unemployment, cuts to public services, and increased poverty. After elections in November 2015, a new Socialist government was narrowly elected under Prime Minister António Costa, promising to ease up on austerity.

In July 2016, spirits received an enormous boost from the victory of Portugal’s national soccer team in the European championships. The first major success for a soccer-crazy nation triggered country-wide celebrations.

The last few years have seen an economic recovery fueled in a large part by tourism, which has taken off big time. An improved international financial climate has boosted exports and a thriving start-up scene has seen the emergence of strong new tech companies such as online fashion retailer Farfetch, which was valued at $5.8 billion when it was floated on the New York Stock Exchange in 2018. Symbolizing the economic comeback is the 2016 decision of Web Summit, the world’s biggest tech event to make Lisbon its home.

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Struggle for Royal Dominance 1211-1223

Pedro Perret/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

King Afonso II, son of the first King of Portugal, faced difficulties in extending and consolidating his authority over Portuguese nobles used to autonomy. During his reign he fought a civil war against such nobles, needing the papacy to intervene to aid him. However, he did institute the first laws to affect the whole region, one of which barred people from leaving any more land to the church and got him excommunicated.

Bailout exit

2014 May - Portugal exits international bailout without seeking back-up credit from its lenders.

2014 August - The government bails out the stricken lender Banco Espirito Santo - Portugal's largest private bank - to the tune of 3.9bn euros in order to avert a possible wider economic collapse.

2014 November - Interior Minister Miguel Macedo resigns in wake of corruption inquiry linked to allocation of fast-track residence permits, many of which have gone to foreigners willing to invest large sums in Portuguese property.

Former Socialist premier Jose Socrates is remanded in custody on suspicion of corruption, tax fraud and money laundering.

2015 January - The government approves rules allowing descendants of Jews who were expelled from the country centuries ago to claim Portuguese citizenship.

2015 March - The head of the tax collection authority resigns amid claims that he tried to shield the files of influential figures from scrutiny.

2015 November - Following inconclusive parliamentary elections, Socialist leader Antonio Costa forms centre-left government committed to relaxing some austerity measures.

2016 October - Former prime minister Antonio Guterres is appointed UN Secretary General.

2017 February - Portugal drops complaint to the EU over Spain's plan to build a nuclear waste storage facility which environmentalists fear could affect the River Tagus, which flows into Portugal. In return Spain agrees to share environmental information and organise consultations over the facility.

Sport and Games

Football is definitely the most popular sport in Portugal and also the most practised. The national team is amongst the higher-rated teams in both Europe and the world and many talented players like Ronaldo and Figo come from Portugal

Portugal also has a great tradition in athletics and has achieved remarkable performances in this sport as well as water sports like windsurfing, kayaking, sailing and kite surfing.

Amongst the older generation, traditional games like Jogo do Sapo (Toad Game) and Jogos de Queijos (Cheese Game) are a popular way to keep active. The traditional games are a friendly and cultural gathering where the main objective generally is to have fun.

There are also still some bullrings left in Portugal, but the passion for bullfighting is not as widespread as earlier or as with their Spanish neighbours.