Our long history and unique culture are full of curiosities, achievements, and interesting facts. Some are positive, others not so much! This article will introduce you to some of the most interesting facts about Portugal, covering a little about history, culture, economics, and much more. This article was written for those who are thinking of moving or traveling to Portugal or simply want to know more about Portugal.
Facts about Portugal
- Official name: Portuguese Republic;
- Capital: Lisbon;
- Population: 10 295 909 (2019);
- Total area: 92 212 Km2, divided into 18 districts and 2 autonomous regions;
- Official language: Portuguese;
- Currency: Euro (Founding member);
- GDP per capita: 23,132 USD;
- Foundation: 1143;
Facts about Portugal – historical
#1 Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe
After winning the decisive battle of Ourique, D. Afonso Henriques declared independence in 1130, becoming the first king of Portugal. However, only with the Zamora treaty signed on October 5, 1143, was he recognized as king by Afonso VII of Castile and Leon. Thus, Portugal became officially independent. In 1179, Pope Alexander III recognized Portugal’s independence in the famous Papal Bull, Manifestis Probatum.
#2 Portugal’s borders are almost 800 years old
At independence, the Portuguese territory was much smaller than the current one, but when the Treaty of Alcanizes was signed in 1297, the Portuguese borders were defined. Thus, with only a few minor exceptions (such as the Olivença issue), Portugal’s borders are among the oldest in Europe.
#3 Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Europe
Lisbon is older than Rome, much older… about 4 centuries. Founded by the Phoenicians around 1200 BC, Lisbon is older than almost all European capitals. Only Athens was founded earlier than Lisbon.
Obviously, Lisbon is much more than an old city; it is the center of the whole Portuguese World and one of the main tourist destinations in Portugal and Europe. Check our guide here for 3 days in Lisbon!
#4 Portugal once crowned a dead queen
The Pedro and Inês legend is one of the most famous stories in Portugal. Inês de Castro was murdered at the behest of the king, who did not accept her relationship with Pedro, the heir. When he was crowned king, D. Pedro I ordered Inês de Casto’s body to be exhumed, crowning her as the Queen of Portugal, even after death. However, the whole story is quite interesting and very complex. You can learn about the story of Pedro and Inês here.
#5 Portugal shared the world with Castile
In 1494, Portugal and Castile (Spain did not yet exist) signed the Tordesillas treaty dividing and claiming half the world for each. Portugal would keep the lands that would become Brazil, Africa part of Asia, and Castile with the rest. This treaty’s aim was mainly to avoid future conflicts, but it also demonstrates the enormous ambitions and power of the two Iberian kingdoms in the 15th and 16th centuries.
#6 The Portuguese empire was the first global empire in history
The Portuguese colonial empire is considered the oldest of the European colonial empires, covering almost 6 centuries, from 1415 (when it conquered Ceuta) until 1999 (when it delivered Macau to China). It is thus also one of the longest. During this period, the empire spread to territories that currently correspond to 53 different countries. Interestingly enough, throughout its history, Portugal has never called itself an empire.
# 7 Portugal has the oldest alliance in the world
The alliance between Portugal and England is the oldest in the world, lasting since 1373 when the Luso-English treaty was signed and later reinforced with the Windsor treaty in 1386. As incredible as this may seem, this alliance has been invoked several times during the 20th century. Both countries went to war to defend each other and their mutual interests. England entered the peninsular wars to defend Portugal, even after our king’s escape to Brazil and Portugal entered the 1st world war on the English side. During the Second World War, Portugal remained officially neutral at the request of England.
# 8 In 1755 an earthquake almost completely destroyed Lisbon
On November 1, 1755 (All Saints’ Day), an earthquake of magnitude 9.0, followed by a tsunami, and numerous fires due to the falling candles that lit the churches on that day, destroyed Lisbon. It is one of the most striking events in the city of Lisbon as it caused the death of around 100 000 inhabitants and the destruction of 85% of the buildings.
# 9 Portugal played a key role in the slave trade for the Americas
Not all curiosities presented here are positive or reasons for pride, and Portugal’s role in the so-called triangular trade in the Atlantic is one of them. In this infamous trade, Portuguese ships transported millions of slaves from Africa to the Americas. It needs to be mentioned Portugal was not alone in this business, as it was also carried out by other colonial powers such as Spain, England, France, and the Netherlands.
# 10 However, it was also a pioneer in the abolition of slavery
Led by the Count of Oeiras (future Marquis of Pombal), Portugal took the first steps towards abolishing slavery in 1761, more than half a century before the other colonial powers with Spain, France, England, and even the USA. However, we must clarify this was only the first of many steps, and it was only for new slaves arriving in the metropolis. Only in 1854, by decree, were all freed slaves freed, and in 1869 the “practical” and complete abolition of slavery throughout the Portuguese Empire.
# 11 The Reconquista is considered the longest war in the world
The Iberian (and not just Portuguese) “Reconquista” is considered the longest war in humanity. It started in 716 with the battle of Covadonga and only ended in 1492 with Granada’s fall. This war lasted almost 800 years! The Portuguese “Reconquista” was much shorter but still lasted a few centuries.
# 12 The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Japan
In 1543 the Portuguese António Mota, Francisco Zeimoto, and António Peixoto arrived at the island of Tanegashima at the southern tip of the archipelago and became the first Europeans to reach Japan. The Portuguese introduced firearms into Japan and lots of other knowledge in the most different areas – medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and of course, navigation. In 1587, diplomacy took a turn, and the Jesuits were expelled from Japan, ending the huge commercial relationship and cultural exchange that was being created. This even led Japan to close completely in 1635 for almost 250 years.
# 13 The Portuguese discovered Australia
Although not a universally accepted theory, there is plenty of evidence that the Portuguese arrived in Australia well before the British and the Dutch. The Cristóvão de Mendonça fleet probably reached Australia in 1522, having even explored a good part of the east coast. There is also the thesis that Gomes de Sequeira in 1925 should have reached what is now the York peninsula.
Fun facts about Portugal – Culture
# 14 Portuguese – one of the most spoken languages in the world
Portugal is a tiny country, with only 10 million inhabitants, but Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language globally with 220 to 240 million native speakers. It is the official language in nine countries and on five continents. In addition to being a widely spoken language, it is also a growing language on the Internet. Much of this success is obviously due to Brazil, the largest Portuguese-speaking country.
# 15 Portugal was a pioneer in the abolition of the death penalty
One of the most important curiosities of this list is that Portugal was one of the pioneers in abolishing capital punishment for civil crimes. The first step towards abolishing the death penalty was taken in 1846; in 1852, it was abolished for political crimes, in 1867 for civil crimes (except war treason), and in 1911 it was abolished entirely. Note that it is also one of the few EU countries that have abolished life imprisonment.
# 16 The University of Coimbra is one of the oldest in Europe
Founded in 1290 in Lisbon and transferred permanently to Coimbra in 1537, the University of Coimbra is one of the oldest in Europe and the World. Its importance was recognized by UNESCO in 2013 when declared it a World Heritage Site. Besides, Paço das Escolas and the Joanina Library, in particular, are extraordinarily beautiful. More information about the University and Coimbra here.
# 17 The Portuguese are fatalists
One of the most curious traits of the Portuguese people is their attraction to fatalism, and nothing reflects this better than Fado, the most traditional Portuguese music. This music style is characterized by sadness and mournful tunes and lyrics, often related to the sea, poverty, and a certain sense of resignation and melancholy. UNESCO recognized fado as an intangible World Heritage in 2011.
# 18 One of the most peaceful countries in the world
According to the “global peace index” of the international organization “vision of humanity,” Portugal is the third most peaceful country in the world, just behind Iceland and New Zealand (in 2020). This index measures 22 quantitative and qualitative indicators to measure the country’s internal and external security. These indicators include crime, wars, imprisoned population, political stability, terrorism, among others.
Curiosities about Portugal – Food
# 19 Tempura has Portuguese origin
When the Portuguese arrived in Japan, they took a very traditional dish with them, the famous “peixinhos da horta” (fish from the garden). The Japanese adopted it, improved it, and transformed it into Tempura – now a famous dish worldwide.
# 20 Portuguese introduced chilies and tomatoes in India and Thailand
Although Portuguese food typically uses few hot species, the Portuguese introduced chilies (and tomatoes) to two of the hottest cuisines in the world, Indian and Thai. It is almost unthinkable to imagine these cuisines without their famous spicy dishes! Interestingly the famous vindaloo also originates from the very Portuguese “vinha d’alho.”
# 21 Portuguese people love cod
Portugal is one of the biggest consumers of cod in the world. We eat cod, boiled, roasted, grilled, and even raw! Cod is called the “faithful friend” because it is always present. It is even said that there are 365 cod dishes, one for each day of the year. From its introduction by the Vikings to the Estado Novo (20th-century dictatorship) cod campaigns, the history of cod in Portugal is long and extremely interesting.
# 22 Portugal is the third-largest consumer of fish in the world
With an average consumption of 61.5 kg of fish per inhabitant, Portugal only trails behind South Korea and Norway. It is thus the largest consumer in the EU and one of the largest in the world. Cod is an important part of this fish consumption, but sardines, tuna, and all the fish on our coast also contribute to this very high fish consumption.
#23 A Portuguese made tea fashionable in England
Catarina de Bragança, princess of Portugal and then Queen of England, took the habit of consuming tea from Portuguese to English court. Note that she did not introduce tea in England but made it fashionable and later a custom, one of the country’s most famous customs. Apparently, she was also one of the main responsible for the English start using forks to eat.
#24 The demarcated Port wine region is one of the oldest in the world
Port wine is one of the most famous Portuguese wines but also one of the oldest exports in the country. Portugal has been exporting Port wine in large quantities since the time of the Methuen Treaty in 1703. First to England, then to the rest of the world. The area where this wine is produced has been demarcated since 1756 by the initiative of the Marquis of Pombal. Since then, it can only be produced in the beautiful terraces of the Douro Valley.
Other facts about Portugal
# 25 Half of the world’s cork is produced in Portugal
Portugal has the largest cork oak forests in the world (the montados), and their cork is protected by law. In fact, the cork oak is the national tree of Portugal! In recent years, cork has become increasingly popular with diverse uses. This soft, spongy material can be used in almost everything, from the usual bottle stoppers to yoga mats.
#26 The biggest wave in the world was surfed in Nazaré
In October 2011, on the northern beach in Nazaré, Garret McNamara caught the biggest wave ever surfed. This wave was over 30 meters high, but this record has already been broken in the meantime, also in Nazaré, by several surfers. Anyway, Portugal and Nazaré, in particular, have become the mecca for giant wave surfers.
#27 A Portuguese saved thousands of Jews in World War II
During the second world war, Aristides Sousa Mendes, Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, issued thousands of visas to Jews who sought to escape Nazi persecution. Defying direct instructions from the Portuguese government not to do so and risking his career and life, it is estimated that Aristides Sousa Mendes may have saved thousands of lives.
#28 The oldest bookshop in the world is in Lisbon
The Bertrand bookshop was founded in 1732, however, it was completely destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. In 1773 it was rebuilt in the Chiado area, and today it is considered the oldest in the world still in operation. Bertrand has now dozens of stores in the country, but it was the original that received some of the greatest figures in Portuguese literature such as Eça de Queirós, Alexandre Herculano, Aquilino Ribeiro, Fernando Namora, Urbano Tavares Rodrigues, and José Cardoso Pires.
#29 Portugal is 95% water
As we have already mentioned a few times, Portugal is a very small country, being only the 110th with an area of only 92 212 Km 2, if we only include the land area. However, one of the most curious Portuguese territory characteristics is its huge exclusive economic zone with 1 720 560 Km 2. The maritime area is almost 19 times larger than the land area, making Portugal the 20th country globally and the 3rd largest in Europe.
# 30 Football is the national sport
Football is part of Portuguese culture and unity. The Portuguese love football and they are quite good at it! Portugal was the European champion in 2016, and both SL Benfica and FC Porto have already been European club champions twice. Some of the best current and historical players are Portuguese, like Cristiano Ronaldo, Luís Figo, and of course, Eusébio.
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