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Information about Portugal

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Information about Portugal

Facts about Portugal

The (national) flag
Official name Official name: Republica Portuguesa (Republic Portugal)
Surface 92.391 km², about 2x as big as the Netherlands
Inhabitants 10.8 million (2016)
Population density 117 people per km²
Capital Lisboa (Lisbon)
Currency The euro since 2002. 1 € is about $1.17 (2017)
Road network With support of the EU the Portuguese are working hard to improve their road network. A lot of small roads in the interior are still in poor shape.
Fuel prices For actual fuel prices in all European countries see Autotraveler.ru.
Code licence plate P
Telephone countrycode 351
Internet countrycode .pt
Time difference GMT; 1 hour earlier than in the Netherlands

Geographic data

Portugal is part of the Iberian peninsula, bordering only to Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. The surface of Portugal is 92.391 square kilometers. The country is quite different from Spain and is split by the river Tagus. Almost half of the area north of the Tagus lies above 400 m.
South of the Tagus the land only reaches that height at a few places. The north is hilly and mountainous and reaches heights from 500-800 meters. The highest summits, almost 2000 meters, can be found in the central Serra da Estrela, a mountain range going from northeast to southwest leading to the mouth of the Tagus. The valley of the Tagus is a flat area. The coast line (800 kilometers) is mostly flat and sandy, often hemmed with dunes. Near Lisbon at Cabo the Roca, the most western point of Europe, and at Cabo the São Vicente there are rocky beaches.
The longest rivers, the Minho, the Douro, the Tagus and the Guadiana, originate in Spain. The Mondego and the Sado are the main rivers that flow entirely within the country borders.
The Azores stretch over 547 km in the Atlantic, and consist of nine islands with a total area of 2.335 square km. Madeira, consisting of two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, and two groups of uninhabited islands, lies in the Atlantic about 861 km southwest of Lisbon.

PopulationNaar boven

Portugal has just over 10 million inhabitants (2002). Many Portuguese live abroad, for economical reasons. After the decolonisation of Angola and Mozambique hundred of thousands so-called retornado returned to their mother country. The growth rate of the population was negative between 1984 and 1994 (-0.1%) but is now at a level of plus 0.1%. The density of the population varies much in different areas. Large population concentrations are in and around Lisbon (680.000 people living in the city), Porto (350.000) and on Madeira. Still, Portugal is a sparsely populated country with an average density of 108 people per square kilometer.

LanguagesNaar boven

The official language is Portuguese. Portuguese is a Latin language and closely relative to Spanish. The pronunciation is quite different, though. Portuguese has a unique sound and is very easily recognizable. When you hear Fado-music, you recognise the rawness as well as the melancholy of the language. Portuguese is a world language (also spoken in Brazil and still in some African former colonies) and more than 160 million people speak it worldwide.

HistoryNaar boven

This is only a short introduction to Portuguese history. When you search on the internet you will find much more extra information.

Prehistory, 8000 BC - 1200 BC
The first traces of human inhabitation and of culture date back to 8000 BC. At the end of the Paleolithic period, about 7000 BC., the valley of the Tagus River (in Portuguese: Rio Tejo) was inhabited by hunters and fishermen, who lived at the mouths of the river's tributaries. Huge kitchen middens containing the remains of shellfish and crustaceans, as well as the bones of oxen, deer, sheep, horses, pigs, dogs, and cats, have been found. About 3000 BC., Neolithic peoples constructed simple settlements and began living of agriculture. They used polished stone tools and made ceramics. They also practiced a cult of the dead and build many funerary monuments called dolmens. By the end of the Neolithic period, about 2000 BC., regions of cultural differentiation began to appear among the Stone Age inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula, one of these being the western Megalithic culture. Present-day Portugal is rich in Megalithic monuments, the best known being at Palmela, Alcalar, Reguengos, and Monsaraz.
The Paleolithic and Neolithic periods were followed by the Bronze Age and the Iron Age (between 1500 and 1000 BC.). During this time, the Iberian Peninsula was colonized by various peoples. One of the oldest were the Lígures, about whom little is known. Another were the Iberos, thought to have come from North Africa. The Iberos were a sedentary people who already used a primitive plow, wheeled carts, had writing, and made offerings to the dead.

Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians, 1200 - 140 BC
In the twelfth century BC., Phoenicians arrived on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula in search of metals and founded trading posts at Cádiz, Málaga, and Seville. They traded with the peoples of the interior, taking out silver, copper, and tin and bringing in eastern trade goods. Between the eighth century and sixth century BC., successive waves of Celtic peoples from central Europe invaded the western part of the peninsula, where the topography and climate were well suited to their herding-farming way of life. They settled there in large numbers and blended in with the indigenous Iberos, giving rise to a new people known as Celtiberians. Their settlements were hilltop forts called castros, of which there are many vestiges in northern Portugal.
Later, during the seventh century BC., Greeks arrived and founded several colonies, including Sargunto on the Mediterranean coast and Alcácer do Sal on the Atlantic coast. During the fifth century BC., the Carthaginians replaced the Phoenicians and closed the Straits of Gibraltar to the Greeks. The Carthaginians undertook the conquest of the peninsula but were only able to permanently occupy the territory in the south originally controlled by their Phoenician and Greek predecessors. The Carthaginian occupation lasted until the defeat of Carthage by the Romans in the third century BC.
The Romans made the former Carthaginian territory into a new province of their expanding empire and conquered and occupied the entire peninsula. This invasion was resisted by the indigenous peoples, the stiffest resistance coming from the Lusitanians who lived in the western part of the peninsula. The Lusitanians were led by warrior chieftains, the most powerful of whom was Viriato. Viriato held up the Roman invasion for several decades until he was murdered in his bed by three of his own people who had been bribed by the Romans. His death brought the Lusitanian resistance to an end, and Rome relatively quickly conquered and occupied the entire peninsula. The Portuguese have claimed Viriato as the country's first great national hero.

Roman Age, 140 BC - 406 AD
The Roman Empire conquered the region in about 140 BC. and stayed for more than 600 years. In 27 BC., August divided the Iberian Peninsula into three provinces: Tarraconensis (east and north), Baetica (south) and Lusitania (west). The latter included also Portugal. A senate was established at Ebora (present-day Évora); schools of Greek and Latin were opened; industries such as brick making, tile making, and iron smelting were developed; military roads and bridges were built to connect administrative centers; and monuments, such as the Temple of Diana in Évora, were erected. Gradually, Roman civilization was extended to northern Portugal, as well. The Lusitanians were forced out of their hilltop fortifications and settled in bottom lands in Roman towns. Traces of the Romans can still be found, like remainders of bridges and roads and places like Evora and Conimbriga. The Portuguese language springs from Latin.

The Visigoths, 406 - 711 AD
In 406 the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by Germanic peoples consisting of Vandals, Swabians, and Alans, a non-Germanic people of Iranian stock who had attached themselves to the Vandals. Within two years, the invaders had spread to the west coast.
With large parts of the peninsula now outside their control, the Romans commissioned the Visigoths, the most highly Romanized of the Germanic peoples, to restore Rome's hegemony in 415. The Visigoths forced the Vandals to sail for North Africa and defeated the Swabians. The Swabian kings and their Visigothic overlords held commissions to govern in the name of the emperor; their kingdoms were thus part of the Roman Empire. Latin remained the language of government and commerce. The Visigoths, who had been converted to Christianity in the fifth century, decided to organize themselves into an independent kingdom with their capital at Toledo. The kingdom was based on the principle of absolute monarchy, each sovereign being elected by an assembly of nobles. The Visigoth empire lasted until the eighth century, when the Iberian Peninsula fell under Muslim domination.

Muslim rule, 711 - 1143 AD
Internal struggle of the Visigoths made some of them ask the Muslims from Northern Africa for help, but they had their own plans. The Muslim troops crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and defeated the Visigoth king Rodrigo at the battle of Guadalete in 711 AD. Muza ben-Nosair completed the Muslim conquest in 712 In Cordoba the Caliphate of Cordoba was proclaimed, indepent of Damascus. Shortly after they also invaded Portugal. Within ten years the Moors were lord and master of the Iberian Peninsula, except for some inhospitable areas in rocky Asturias which remained under Christian control. The muslims were rulers for more than four centuries and they had a great influence on the development of Portugal and it's culture. Al Andalus, as Islamic Iberia was known, flourished for 250 years, under the Caliphate of Córdoba. Nothing in Europe approached Córdoba's wealth, power, culture, or the brilliance of its court. The caliphs founded schools and libraries; they cultivated the sciences, especially mathematics; they introduced arabesque decoration into local architecture; they explored mines; they developed commerce and industry; and they built irrigation systems, which transformed many arid areas into orchards and gardens. Food and architecture still have Moorish features. Muslim domination introduced more than 600 Arabic words into the Portuguese language. Algarve is a Moorish word meaning the west.
Internal struggles broke up the unity of the Caliphate of Cordoba, weakening the country.

The House of Burgundy, 1143 - 1383 AD
After much fighting and with help from crusaders, Lisbon was captured in 1147 and the country freed of Moorish Spain. Afonso Henriques had gained control of the province of Portucalense, or Portugal, and after conquering most of the country he announced himself king, the first of Portugal and was recognised after much frictions by Castile and Rome. His successors, alternately named Sancho and Alfons, expanded their territory and could assert themselves as soevereign monarchs. In 1249, Alfons III conquered the last bastions of the Moorish in the Algarve. By this Portugal got it's present borders. But the ruling family died out for lack of a male heir to the throne.

The House of Avis, 1383 - 1580 AD
During the turmoil after the death of the last Burgundy ruler, Fernando, neighbouring countries saw Portugal as a prize to win. But some nobles and the middle class resisted and saved Portugal from Castile by supporting João, the master of the Order of Avis and illegitimate son of Fernando's father, Pedro I. After the defeat of the Castilians in 1384 by army commander Nuno Alvares Pereira, João I could assume rulership in 1385, the beginning of the House of Avis. João I distrusted the old aristocracy that had opposed his rise to power and promoted the growth of a new generation of nobility by confiscating the titles and properties of the old and distributing them to the new, thus forming a new nobility based on service to the king.
One of his sons, Henrique the the Navigator, has build the basis for the Portuguese imperium. He was a leading figure in the discoveries at sea and the expansion of the kingdom with new territories. When Prince Henry died in 1460, the Portuguese had explored the coast of Africa down to Sierra Leone and discovered the archipelagoes of Madeira, the Azores, and the Cape Verde Islands.
Portugal had become the main maritime superpower of Europe. The most important explorers were Vasco da Gama (he found the way to India, where he arrived in 1498) and Pedro Alvares Cabral (he discovered Brazil in 1500. This was during the rule of Manuel I (1495-1521). After this period the empire slowly deteriorated. Portugal's empire in Asia made its monarchy the richest in Europe and made Lisbon the commercial capital of the world, but this prosperity was more apparent than real, however, because the newfound wealth did not transform the social structure, nor was it used to lay the basis for further economic development. There never came a healthy middle class and the ruling class determined whether the empire was strong or weak. A Portuguese expedition against the Moors in Maroc in 1578 totally failed and the king, Sebastião, was probably killed. When his successor, Henrique, died in 1580, a powerful Spanish army invaded Portugal and marched on Lisbon. Portugal was annexed by Spain, and Philip II was declared Filipe I of Portugal.

Spanish rule, 1580 - 1640
Philips II recognised Portuguese autonomy to a great extent, but the enemies of Spain considered Portugal now as their enemy as well and large parts of the Portuguese empire in the east were conquered, as parts of Brazil. Portugal was also dragged into the wars of Spain with other European countries which exhausted the country economically and socially. The successors of Philps II, Philips III and IV, didn't have the same attitude towards Portugal; they considered it just a province of Spain and resistance against the Spanish rulers grew. A small group of conspirators arrested Portugal's Spanish governor, the duchess of Mantua, a cousin of the king of Spain. Five days later, the duke of Bragança arrived in Lisbon and was crowned as João IV (r. 1641-56), thus restoring the Portuguese monarchy and founding a new ruling dynasty, the House of Bragança.

The House of Bragança, 1640 - 1910
By the time independence was regained, Portugal's empire was greatly reduced, having lost its commercial monopoly in the Far East to the Dutch, and in India to the English. Only the resolute action of Portuguese settlers had saved Brazil from the Dutch, who had attacked Rio de Janeiro and Baía, and occupied Pernambuco. João IV consolidated and restored the monarchy by making peace with former enemies and defeated Spanish attempts to reincorporate Portugal into the Iberian Union. At least the independence of Portugal had been saved.
But Portugal didn't succeed in changing into a modern nation. The Brazilian gold was used by João V on pompous buildings. His successor, José I (r.1750-77), placed the reins of government into the hands of Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, later the Marquês de Pombal, a typical representative of Enlightenment.
On the morning of November 1, 1755, a violent earthquake shook Lisbon and demolished most of the city. Thousands were killed in the subsequent fire and tidal wave. Pombal energetically took appropriate measures. He decided to rebuild the city after a survey of the ruins. The old city center was cleared of rubble and divided into squares of long avenues and cross streets. Lisbon thus emerged from the earthquake as Europe's first planned city. For his prompt and efficient action, Pombal was elevated to chief minister, which allowed him to consolidate his power. Desiring to destroy all forces within the society that could oppose his plans for modernizing Portugal, he began to systematically annihilate them, beginning with the nobility. Jos I died in 1777 and was succeeded on the throne by his daughter Maria I (r.1777-92), who dismissed Pombal and banished him to the village of Pombal. She immediately freed hundreds of prisoners, restored the old nobility to it former status, revoked laws against the clergy, abolished many of the state companies, and generally dismantled Pombal's dictatorship. The strong, secular society that Pombal hoped to create did not materialize, and the old social and economic order quickly restored itself.
After the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, Portugal first fought with the Spanish against France, then the Spanish allied themselves with France and Napoleon signed a treaty with Spain, according to which France and Spain agreed to invade Portugal and partition the country, one-third going to France, one-third to Spain, and one-third to Spain's chief minister, Manuel de Godoy. The French invaded Portugal three times, but with the help of the English the Portuguese were able to withstand the French.
After a revolution in 1820, indirect elections were held for a constitutional cortes, which convened in January 1821. The deputies were mostly constitutional monarchists. They elected a regency to replace the provisional junta, abolished seigniorial rights and the Inquisition, and, on September 23, approved a constitution. At the same time, João VI decided to return to Portugal, leaving his son Pedro in Brazil. Upon his arrival in Lisbon, João swore an oath to uphold the new constitution. After his departure from Brazil, Brazilian liberals, inspired by the independence of the United States and the independence struggles in the neighboring Spanish colonies, began to agitate for freedom from Portugal. Brazilian independence was proclaimed on October 12, 1822, with Pedro as constitutional emperor.
The king's younger brother, Miguel, who had refused to swear to uphold the constitution, led a new revolt (the Abrilada) which sought to restore absolutism. João exiled Miguel to France. The constitution of 1822 was suspended, and Portugal was governed under João's moderate absolutism until he died in 1826.
After his death Miguel returned to Portugal, nullified the constitution and became Miguel I, absolute ruler of Portugal.
More revolutions took place but the monarchy survived, until 1910, with a rather liberal constitution. But the people in rural areas kept living in feudal circumstances and there were many scandals among the ruling parties. A great colonial empire was build in Africa, but Portugal always lost when there was a conflict with other powerful countries.
In 1878 the Republican Party was founded. In 1908 king Carlos I (1889-1908) and his successor were killed after an attack by the Republicans. The young Manuel II had to flee to England after a rebellion in 1910. The same day the Republic was announced and the writer Teófilo Braga became first president.

The first Republic, 1910 - 1926
Political instability continued under civilian government. A small-scale civil war erupted in northern Portugal as monarchists led by Henrique Paiva Couciero attempted to r store the monarchy. A wave of violence swept the country, and leading republican figures, including the prime minister, were murdered. This instability and the violence brought economic life to a standstill. The middle class, which had initially supported the republic, began to turn toward traditional values as liberal and republican ideals were increasingly discredited. Between 1910 and 1926 Portugal had no less than 44 governments, twenty coup d'etats and twelve presidents.
British pressure forced Portugal in 1916 to participate in World War I. The country suffered considerable losses in Frankrijk and in Mozambique and was bankrupt after the war. During the last thirteen months of the republic, there were three attempts to overturn the regime. The last of these was successful. On May 26, 1926, a right-wing nationalistic revolution broke out and General Manuel Gomes da Costa took power three days later. The First Republic was ended.

Carmona and Salazar, 1926 - 1974
On March 25, 1928, General Carmona was elected president of the republic.
Carmona named António de Oliveira Salazar, a professor of political economy at the University of Coimbra, as minister of finance. Salazar accepted the post on April 27, 1928, only after he had demanded and had been granted complete control over the expenditures of all government departments. In his first year at the Ministry of Finance, he not only balanced the budget but achieved a surplus, the first since 1913. He accomplished this feat by centralizing financial control, improving revenue collection, and cutting public expenditures. In 1932, Salazar became prime minister. Salazar came to embody the financial and political solution to the turmoil of the military dictatorship. Portugal's young intellectuals and military officers identified with his authoritarian, antiliberal and anticommunist view of the world. He was also welcomed by the upper classes of landowners, businessmen, and bankers, who were grateful for his success in stabilizing the economy after the financial crisis of the First Republic. He died in 1969.
Portugal was able to stay neutral in World War II and joined the United Nations and the NATO after the war without changing it's regime. The opposition was silenced as it was before the war.
Colonial wars broke out and Portugal was isolated internationally. The economy stagnated and domestic resistance grew rapidly.

The revolution of 1974 and democracy, 1974 - present
The revolution on April 25, 1974, was carried out without spilling blood. The 'New State' collapsed, but the developments were more than the MFA (the military organisation who committed the coup) had aimed for. Several social movements wanted more reforms and after a few years of political turmoil Portugal finally got a real democracy, for the first time in it's history. But it had a long way to go and was years, even centuries behind, compared with other European countries. In the nineties of the 20th century Portugal begin to catch up with other European countries, in democracy and in it's rapidly growing economy.

ClimateNaar boven

Despite the influences of the relative cold Atlantic Ocean the climate is mostly mediterranean. Cool, rainy winters are alternated with hot and dry summers, with a clear difference between the north and south. In the north, on mountain slopes, which are turned towards the western winds, there is a noticeable rain shadow effect and an average of 2540 mm precipitation a year. South of the Tagus this is about 800 mm, and in the east of Algarve less than 406 mm. In general, the wind blows from the west and there is often a fog on the sea along the northern coast (in the province Minho). Comparing the average temperatures of the coast and the inland, contrasts are big. Winter temperatures along the coast are between 10 and 12 °C (higher in the south) and more interior between 4 and 7 °C. Summer temperatures along the coast are an averagely 20-24 °C and in the northern interior about 18 °C. The hottest month is August when temperatures are sometimes in the low 40°Cs.

Flora and faunaNaar boven

The type of soil, climate and the height have a big influence on the vegetation. That is why vegetation in Portugal is very varied.. In the mountains and on the high plateau's in the north the most common trees are: birch, chestnut, oak and maple. Vegetation mainly consists of thorn-bushes, heather and fern.
In the south one can find cork-oak, eucalyptus and olive trees. Portugal is the largest producer of cork and cork-products. 30% of all the cork-oaks of the world are in Portugal. Common herbs are rosemary, thyme, lavender and many others.
The fauna of Portugal is like the fauna of Spain, but also has some Africam elements, with animals like the chameleon and mongoose. Most common mammals are, amongst others, the wild boar and the feral cat. Deforestation, erosion and inadequately regulated hunting have decimated innumerable big animals (wolf, lynx, fallow deer, roe deer) or even made them become extinct (brown bear, monk seal). Protection of nature, environmental care and conservation are still in their infancy. The seas around Portugal, which are teeming with fish, have been exploited with great success for centuries (sardine, anchovy, codfish). Portugal is an important stop over place voor migratory birds. Stilts, avocets, curlews and black-tailed godwits are the main birds of passage. Apart from them, there are eagles, owls, buzzards and guillemots.

EconomyNaar boven

After the revolution of 1974, a large number of industrial companies and banks were nationalised, but in most cases this was undone again at the end of the seventies. The new constitution of 1982 made more liberalization of the economy possible. Some of the sectors were now open for bussiness. From 1985 on, after two years of recession, the economy recovered somewhat. Joining the European Union in 1986 was a very positive step for the economy of the country. Since then the average yearly economical growth is about 4.6%. Thereby it is he fastest growing economy of the EU. The formerly very high rate of unemployment dropped to 7.2% in 1995. Drawbacks of the economic recovery are the high inflation rate and the growing deficiency on the trade balance.

Ariculture, forestry and fishing
Agriculture makes up 5% of the Gross National Product and supplies work to 12% of the working population. Portugal receives financial support from the EU to modernise the agricultural sector. The objective is to raise productivity and farmers are urged to form co-operatives. In the north there are small farms, to the south there are a lot of large landowners. Especially the southern soil is very fertile, but a underdeveloped technology and a poor infrastructure prevent the area from being self supporting. Many foods have to be imported. Main agricultural products are: grain, corn, beans, rye, rice, potatoes, olive oil and wine. Winegrowing is mostly concentrated in the valleys of the rivers Minho (Vinho Verde), the Douro (port) and the Tagus. Cattle breeding is mostly concentrated in the north of the country. Along the coast, in the provinces south of the Tagus, there are farms where sheeps and pigs are bred.
About 40% of the surface is covered with moss. Portugal provides for more than half of the cork-oak which is needed worldwide. Fishing is also an important sector, not only for providing the domestic market but also for export. Sardines, tuna and crustaceans are most important for the coastal fishing industry. But the Portuguese also go further onto the sea, for codfish for example (Bacalhau), which is the national food par excellence.

Portugal has some supplies of raw materials, but the exploitation is not very profitable. Of concern are only the production of tungsten, copper, tin, lead, coal and iron ore (iron content 50%).

The industrial sector contributes 39% to the GNP and provides work for 33% of the working population. Compared with other West European countries the industry is quite poorly developed. Small bussinesses prevail. Lisbon, Porto, Setubal and Sines are the most important centres of industrial activity. Important branches are fabrics and canned fish industries, all industries connected to winegrowing, shipbuilding (Lisbon), the petrochemical industry and car assembly.

The hydroelectric power stations in the north and middle of Portugal are very important for the energy supply. But still Portugal has to import a large amount of mineral oil to provide for it's energy needs.

Export mainly consists of clothing and fabrics, wine, canned fish, cork, timber and paper. Most important customers are the United States, Spain, Germany and the other countries of the European Union.
Mineral oil, petroleum products, machinery, iron and steel are the products Portugal has to import. Again the United States and the EU are the most important trade partners.
Almost all trade travels by sea. For a long time Portugal has been a maritime nation, with Lisbon and Porto being the most important harbors.

The total road network amounts to about 70.000 kilometers and is well maintained, but the infrastructure is still insufficient. Portugal has no extensive railroad network and is only 3.500 kilometers. Shipping is of great importance. The national airlines is Air Portugal. The most important airports are Lisbon, Porto and Faro.

TourismNaar boven

Tourism is becoming an important contributor to Portuguese economy. Ten to twenty million people visit Portugal every year. Of course this is very good for the economy, but it also makes Portugal very dependent of this sector.
The mild climate, the historical monuments and the entirely unique character of Portugal make it into a very attractive tourist destination. Portugal is also one of the cheapest countries to live; prices are less than in most countries of the European Union. Portugal has many different sorts of accommodation, from campings and simple accommodations to the 'pousada's' (mostly old castles or palaces administered by the state). The Algarve, Lisbon and Porto are the places most visited. But mass tourism has also changed a lot in these areas. Still there is enough to enjoy and many areas are still unspoiled. Lisbon is a good place from which to visit other coastal places (with nice beaches) around the mouth of the Tagus, like Cascais and Estoril. Between Porto, splendidly located between the steep banks of the river Douro, and Lisbon there are many places worth seeing: Coimbra (an old university city), Nazare and Fatima (place of pilgrimage) are the most well-known. North of Porto, bathing places like Póvoa the Varzim and Viana do Castelo can be found. More inland are Braga and Guimarães, where the first king of Portugal, Alfons I the Conquerer, was born in 1109.

The actual weather

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