Portugal has an old-fashioned charm with a beautiful coastline, medieval castles and picturesque villages. Learn about Portugal's people, history and more.
Portugal is a country in southwestern Europe that is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and south and by Spain on the north and east. It is also known as the Portuguese Republic. It is the western most part of Europe and also includes the Azores and Madeira Islands which are strategically located along the western sea approaches to the Strait of Gibraltar.
The country has an area of 92,090 square kilometres (35,645 square miles) and is roughly 218 km wide and 561 km long. The capital city is Lisbon which is situated near the mouth of the Tagus River. It is the westernmost large city in Europe and is also the largest city in Portugal. It is an important container port and economic centre as well as the home of many important historical attractions.
Population of Portugal
The population of Portugal was estimated at 10.7 million people in July 2010, and 59% of the population live in urban areas. About 2 million live in Lisbon and its suburbs and about 1.5 million people live in the second largest city of Porto in the north. More people live in the coastal regions than the inland areas. The average life expectancy is 75 years for men and 81.7 years for women. 66.1% of the population are aged between 15 and 64 years of age.
The official language is Portuguese but many people can also communicate in English, Spanish and French. Mirandese is also an official regional language locally used in parts of northeastern Portugal and about 5,000 speakers remain. Portuguese is spoken by about 200 million people worldwide and is the third most spoken European language in the world being used in Brazil, East Timor and the African countries of Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and SÃ£o TomÃ© e PrÃncipe. Almost 85% of the Portuguese population are Roman Catholic.
Economy of Portugal
Portugal joined the European Community in 1986 and has moved away from the more traditional industries of textiles, clothing, footwear, cork and wood products to an increasingly service-based economy. There has been significant privitisation and liberalization of the economy to focus on high-tech industries and the financial and communications sector.
The country is part of the European Monetary Union (EMU) and adopted the euro currency from 1 January 2002. Portugal is the largest producer of cork in the world and has a strong fisheries sector. Travel and tourism are important to the economy but its poor education system has been an obstacle to growth. In recent years corruption has become a major political and economic issue.
Geography and Climate of Portugal
Portugal is divided by the Tagus River which runs from east to west. The northern part of the country has mountains in the interior with plateaus dissected by river valleys. The south is mainly rolling plains. The highest point in the mainland is in the Serra da Estrela mountains (1,991m) where snow falls in winter. The highest point in Portugal is Pico Alto on Ilha do Pico in the Azores (2,351m).
The climate varies from one region to another but is mainly temperate Mediterranean. The climate is warm and sunny with mild winters. The south is generally warmer and drier than the north and the influence of the sea keeps summer temperatures lower in the coastal areas. The climate in the Azores and Madeira Islands is mild year round due to the influence of the Gulf Stream.
History of Portugal
The Iberian Peninsula has been inhabited for at least 30,000 years as evidenced by ancient Palaeolithic inscriptions. The Romans arrived in southern Portugal in 210 BC and established a capital at Olisipo (Lisbon) in 60BC. It is one of the oldest nations in Europe and gained independence in the 12th century from other Iberian kingdoms. In the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to sail to Africa, the distant Orient and South America and they established a long-lived global empire.
The Lisbon earthquake of 1755, French occupation during the Napoleonic Wars and the loss of Brazil in 1822 reduced Portugals status. In 1910 a revolution overthrew the monarchy and Portugal became a republic. This was replaced by a dictatorship but in 1974 democracy was restored and independence was granted to the African colonies. In 1999 the last overseas territory of Macau was handed over to China. Portugal joined the European Union in 1986 and is a democratic republic.
The flag of Portugal was officially adopted by Portuguese government in 1911. There are two vertical bands of green and red with the red taking up 60% of the width. The national coat of arms is centre d between them which features the Portuguese shield. The colour green symbolises hope while red represents the blood of those defending the nation.
Portuguese Food and Drink
Portuguese cuisine is related to Mediterranean cuisine and is rich and filling. It uses a variety of spices and herbs including vanilla, cinnamon, saffron, coriander and parsley. Fish is a staple food and many recipes are based on cod. Standard desserts include rice pudding sprinkled with cinnamon, caramel custard and rich egg-based desserts. Wine is the traditional drink as well as port wine, madeira and strong tasting brandies.
Main Attractions in Portugal
Portugal is a beautiful country. The capital Lisbon and the northern city of Porto are magical places to visit with cobblestone streets, riverside areas, magnificent cathedrals and rattling trams. There are historical villages and towns like the university town of Coimbra and Lord Byrons favourite haunt of Sintra.
There are flower covered rolling hills and a long coastline with sun-drenched beaches like Cascais and Sagres. It's a country where you can still escape the crowds and visit places where you can feel as if you are making a new discovery. There are parks and reserves and Portugal is an important stopover for migrating birds flying between Europe and Africa while the coastal waters are high in biodiversity. It is a developed country with a rich history and plenty of historic buildings and medieval castles to link the present to the past.
2010 World Atlas