Portugal is a stunning country with an elegant history that can be felt throughout the whole country. The Portuguese language is spoken by about 230 million of people around the globe and is the official language of 9 countries.
It is also the country of the best football player of the year: Cristiano Ronaldo. Therefore, you must have heard about this charming country and a number of its major cities, specially Lesbon.
If you are planning to visit this westernmost country in Europe soon, or have Porteguese roots that you want to learn more about, here are thirteen of the most fascinating facts that are sure to impress anyone about Portugal.
1. Half of the "New World" once belonged to Portugal
In 1494, the Treaty or Tordesillas was signed giving Portugal the eastern half of the New World, including Brazil, Africa and Asia. Besides being one of the longest-lived colonial powers, standing for almost six centuries from when when Ceuta was captured in 1415, until China (then called Macau) was honaded-over in 1999, the Portuguese Empire was the first in the world.
In 1808, Dom João, King of Portugal, decided to move to Brazil and proclaimed a single state including Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves which was called United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves (brilliant, isn't it?). The state lasted between 1815-1822.
The kingdom's new capital was Rio de Janeiro. The kingdom was distablished in the year 1822 after the return of the King in 1821, linving his son, Prince Dom Pedro to rule Brazil who ended up declacing its indepence from Brazil.
2. Portugal is the oldest country in Europe
Since 1139, Portugal has had the exact same defined borders making it the oldest nation in Europe. The first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, was proclaimed in 1139 and the country remained a kingdom for almost 800 years afterwards, until 1910, about a century ago.
3. The oldest bookstore in the world is in Portugal's capital
The Bertrand Bookstore in Lisbon, Portugal has been open since 1732. That’s right, 282 years. It was opened by Peter Faure to be a hub of Lisbon’s art and intellectual scene, and has, over time, become the cornerstone of the Bertrand bookstore chain. It amazingly has more than 50 stores throughout Portugal.
Now, it hasn’t been at this location since 1732, just since 1755 when the original store was destroyed in the great earthquake that leveled much of the city (and was the inspiration for Voltaire’s Candide).
Faure turned the store over to the Bertrand Brothers a few decades after opening it, and the Bertrands got their own printing press, held workshops on printing and writing, and even have their own font.
Located in Lisbon, Portugal, established in 1732, the Bertrand bookstore is the world's oldest.
Inside the Bertrand bookstore.
4. Portugal is the largest cork producer in the world
Portugal is a major cork-grower. Nearly one-third of the total cork oak area, estimated to 2,150,000 hectares in in the country, which produces about 70% of the cork harvested annually in the world, being near to 310,000 tons.
The quality and intensity of cork production in Portugal vary depending on the different producing zones. The species, covering about 8% of the total area of the country, constitutes 28% of its forests and relatively grows best in the central and southern regions.
5. One of the oldest universities in Europe is in Portugal
Established in 1290, it is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world, the oldest university of Portugal, and one of its largest higher education and research institutions.
6. Portugal has the longest bridge in Europe
Located in Lisbon, the Vasco de Gama bridge is 10.5 miles (17 kilometers) long, making it the longest in Europe.
7. Portugal and England have the oldest diplomatic alliance in the world
Signed in 1373, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance is still alive. Both countries entered wars in order to defend the other. Two of these situations were when the United Kingdom entered the Iberian Peninsular War and when Portugal entered the World War I. I admit, I am pretty much impressed.
8. Portugal is one of the world's top surf spots
Portugal has a coastline that spans 497 miles (about 800 kilometers) and it's known to have 364 days of surf! (that's a whole year minus your birthday).
9. In 1755, Lisbon was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes in European history
It seemed like a normal day, the 1st of November 1755, when Lisbon was struck by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. The massive disaster was soon followed by a tsunami, and a load of fires that brought the city to rubble. The major cause of the fires is that the earthquake happened on All Saints Day, a major holiday to Christians where the churches were filled with burning candles.
These candles unfortunately generated major fires causing the death of 275,000 residents and the destruction of 85% of the buildings! Although, the disaster happened more than two centuries ago, you can still hear the residents of Lisbon talking about every now and then. It was horrible.
10. Portuguese Fado was classified as world cultural heritage by UNESCO
Fado, which means fate in Portuguese, is a music genre that originates in urban Lisbon. It's a type of mournful and heart-touching folk music usually sung by the common people. The music genre was recently added to the World's Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
11. Portugal was the first colonial power to abolish slavery
Portugal abolished slavery all the way back in 1761 - that's half a century before Britain (which was the first country to do so in 1833), France, Spain, or the United States. The last country to so was Mauritania, my own country, in 1981, which I'll be covering in a different article.