What Should I Know About Portugal?

Brendan McGuigan

Portugal is a mid-sized country in Western Europe. It covers 35,600 square miles (92,300 sq. km), making it a bit smaller than the state of Indiana. It borders Spain and has coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.

Brazil was once a territory of the Portuguese Empire before declaring independence in 1822.
Brazil was once a territory of the Portuguese Empire before declaring independence in 1822.

The Iberian people settled modern-day Portugal many millennia ago, and later intermingled with immigrating Celts in the first millennium BCE. Around 200 BCE the Romans invaded the peninsula, conquering the entire region by the year zero. The Romans held the peninsula until the 5th century, when various Germanic tribes invaded and conquered the region. In the 6th century yet another Germanic tribe, the Visigoths, came in and re-conquered most of what is now Portugal.

Portugal borders Spain in the Iberian Peninsula.
Portugal borders Spain in the Iberian Peninsula.

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At the beginning of the 8th century the Moors came in and took the lands from the Visigoths. Many of these Goths fled to the north to plan a counterattack and reclaim their lands. Eventually most of the lands were reclaimed, various kingdoms were unified, and Portugal eventually declared what most consider to be its modern independence in 1128, an independence formally recognized in 1143. In the mid-13th century the last Moorish strongholds were conquered, unifying Portugal in a form that conforms relatively closely to its modern borders.

Portugal is located in Western Europe.
Portugal is located in Western Europe.

At the beginning of the 15th century, the Portuguese Empire began its rise, continuing through the 16th and into the 17th century. During this period Portugal grew its territories enormously, with outposts in Brazil, the Caribbean, India, Mozambique, and many other regions throughout the world. More than just conquerors, the Portuguese Empire also opened trade with nations throughout the world, including Japan. The Portuguese trading routes served as the backbone for an empire that quickly became one of the wealthiest in all of Europe.

From the end of the 16th century to the middle of the 17th, Portugal was under the rule of a Spanish king, following a dynastic crisis at home. This, along with consistent attacks by the British and Dutch on their territories abroad, led to a decline in the power of the Portuguese Empire. By the 18th century Portuguese strength had definitely waned, and although the monarchy had been restored, Portugal would never regain its former position in Europe. In 1822 Brazil claimed independence, robbing Portugal of its most powerful territory abroad.

In 1910 Portugal was swept with democratic revolution, leading to the creation of the First Republic, and a spate of anti-Catholic acts and laws. This First Republic would last for less than two decades, before a coup led to the formation of the Second Republic in 1926, which would soon become the New State of António de Oliveira Salazar in 1933. This New State was in many ways a Fascist one, and during World War II leaned heavily in favor of the Axis powers. Salazar’s state was strongly dictatorial, with the brutal repression of dissent, strong censorship and electoral controls, and a militant attitude towards Africa. After Salazar died in 1970 his successor continued to run the government in a similar manner.

This harsh repression eventually led to the Carnation Revolution in 1974. This revolution was, for the most part, without bloodshed, and led by the left wing of the country. The revolution implemented the Third Republic, reintroducing democracy, granting independence to all African colonies of Portugal, and releasing political prisoners. Since the Carnation Revolution Portugal has flourished, with the economy rebuilding rapidly, and Portugal becoming a part of many international organizations, including the European Union.

Portugal is a wonderful European nation, with plenty for visitors to do. The beaches are a particular draw during the summer months, with miles of sand and clear water, and plenty of beach towns, such as Lagos, with infrastructure built to support tourists. Many UNESCO World Heritage Sites can also be found throughout the country, and the nation’s Catholic past offers a number of amazing architectural achievements. Perhaps the best thing about Portugal, though, is the laid back pace of life and the genuine love of good things that the Portuguese possess. Amazing food, amazing dancing, and beautiful conversation await all who visit.

Flights arrive daily in Lisbon from all major airports throughout the world, and buses and trains are constantly coming and going from Spain and the rest of Europe.

Beaches are a popular draw in Portugal during the summer months.
Beaches are a popular draw in Portugal during the summer months.

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