Portugal is a country in southern Europe. Situated on the west side of the Iberian Peninsula, its geographic location along the Atlantic coast soon determined its vocation to the sea. The mainland is located at the extreme southwest of the Iberian Peninsula and has an area of 91.985 square kilometers. It is bounded to north and east by Spain and to west and south by the Atlantic Ocean. Portuguese territory also includes the archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira. The Madeira archipelago lies in the Atlantic Ocean about 556 miles southwest of Lisbon and is constituted by the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo, Desertas and Selvagens. The Azores archipelago lies in the Atlantic Ocean 760 miles from Lisbon and 2110 from New York. It is constituted by nine islands and a few islets: Santa Maria, São Miguel, Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo.
In 1415, the Portuguese set sail on an epic voyage that would make them the first to discover the ocean routes to India, Brazil, China and Japan, and at the same time founded settlements on the east and west coasts of Africa. Following its heyday as a world power during the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal lost much of its wealth and status with the destruction of Lisbon in a 1755 earthquake, occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, and the independence in 1822 of Brazil as a colony. The beginning of the twentieth century was marked by an unstable political environment which led to the establishment of the Republic in 1910. Portugal took part in the I World War alongside the Allies but by the mid-twenties the country’s economic and financial situation was very serious, situation that eventually brought about the so called “New State” marked by corporatism and authoritarianism, with democratic liberties being suppressed. In 1974, a left-wing military coup installed broad democratic reforms. The following year Portugal granted independence to all of its African colonies. A member-country of the European Union since 1986, Portugal currently enjoys a steady economic growth.
Traces of this worldwide historic presence may be seen as trademarks of the Portuguese genius. The Portuguese language became one of the most widely spoken in the world, and the Portuguese people were privileged for being exposed to so many different civilizations. The vast monumental, artistic and archaeologic heritage does witness not only the 850 years of history of encounters with distant cultures, but also the presence in the territory of more ancient peoples (Celts, Suevians, Visigoths, Romans and Arabs).
The natural advantages of a sunny country with such diverse geographic features have turned Portugal into a chosen destination for many holidaymakers, an ideal place for practicing water sports and playing golf, offering modern tourism facilities, and quaint and personalized means of accommodation, such as turismo de habitação (privately owned homes ranging from wonderful farmhouses to manor houses), hotéis de charme or pousadas.
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and has approximately two million inhabitants counting those in the city’s outskirts. The history of Lisbon goes back more than twenty centuries. As well as being a modern and cosmopolitan city, Lisbon also shows the typical life of the old quarters, with distinctive medieval architecture, narrow streets where the old houses stand side by side with old palaces and imposing churches. Lisbon has been the scene for some international cultural festivals and in 1998 hosted the last World Exposition of the century of which the subject was “The Oceans: a heritage for the future”. At the mouth of the river Douro is the country’s second largest city, Porto, with an historic center recently classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Much of the city’s reputation comes from the wine that bears the same name (Port wine). Porto has strong typical characteristics and is known for the dynamic nature of its business and cultural life.
Where to go:
- The Algarve