Portugal - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Portugal: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Portugal, nation in southwestern Europe, occupying the western portion of the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal lies south and west of Spain, with which it shares the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal’s long coastline faces the Atlantic Ocean. Portuguese territory also includes two autonomous archipelagos, the Azores (Açores) and the Madeira Islands, both located in the Atlantic. Lisbon (Portuguese Lisboa) is Portugal’s capital and largest city.

Roughly rectangular in shape, Portugal covers an area approximately as large as the state of Maine. To the north, the mainland is mountainous and lush, with plenty of rain and cool weather. The area is noted for its vineyards, especially the valley of the Douro River, which produces grapes for port, Portugal’s most famous wine. The central and southern parts of Portugal are warmer and drier, but they support many forms of agriculture, including vineyards, wheat fields, and groves of cork oaks and olives. To the far south is the Algarve, a region famous for its hot summers and miles of sunny beaches.

Portugal became part of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century BC. The name Portugal is derived from Portus Cale, a former Roman settlement at the mouth of the Douro River. After the collapse of Roman rule in the 5th century AD, Portugal was colonized by Germanic peoples, who came overland from Europe. Portugal was then conquered by Muslims from North Africa, before coming under the control of Spanish kings. Portugal became an independent kingdom in the 12th century.

In the 15th century Portugal emerged as the foremost center of maritime exploration in Europe. Over the next century, Portuguese sailors explored the world and dominated the sea trade. These sailors helped Portugal build the first great European overseas empire, with colonies in Africa, Asia, and South America. Today, Portuguese is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, a legacy of Portugal’s once-vast empire. By the late 16th century, however, Portugal’s power and resources were exhausted, and most of the country’s Asian colonies were lost. Portugal kept its largest colony, Brazil, until the 19th century and its huge African empire until the late 20th century. Despite its extensive possessions, Portugal remained one of Europe’s least developed nations.

Monarchs governed Portugal until 1910, when the first Portuguese republic was proclaimed. A period of great instability followed. In 1926 a coup d’état installed a dictatorship that ruled Portugal for nearly five decades. A series of costly colonial wars in Africa beginning in the 1960s drained Portuguese resources and weakened the national economy. Partly as a result of the dictatorship’s stubborn prosecution of the wars, a revolution occurred in Portugal in 1974, and a military junta came to power. The following year Portugal granted independence to all of its African colonies. A new constitution in 1976 established a democratic system of government. Since that time, Portugal has forged new ties to Europe and worked to modernize its economy. Portugal joined the European Community (EC, a forerunner of the European Union) in 1986, and in 1999 adopted the euro, the EU’s common currency. Macao, the last remnant of Portugal’s colonial empire in Asia, was returned to China in 1999.


The total area of Portugal, including the Azores (2,247 sq km/868 sq mi) and the Madeira Islands (794 sq km/307 sq mi), is 92,090 sq km (35,556 sq mi).

Portugal covers about one-sixth of the Iberian Peninsula. Although small in size, Portugal is geographically diverse. Portugal’s eastern interior encompasses the westernmost slope of the Meseta Central, a high, mountainous plateau that covers most of Spain. To the north the land is rugged and hilly. Peaks rising to more than 1,200 m (4,000 ft) above sea level extend from the edge of the Meseta Central across the northern interior. To the west and south the mountains descend to a large coastal plain. This plain is intensively cultivated and increasingly urbanized. Portugal’s two largest cities, Lisbon and Porto (Oporto), are located here.

In the central interior region are the lofty ridges that form the country’s backbone. Portugal’s highest mountain, Malhão de Estrela, is found here. The peak, a part of Portugal’s highest mountain range, the Serra da Estrela, has an elevation of 1,991 m (6,532 ft) above sea level. The ridges of central Portugal descend in a southwesterly direction to the hills near Sintra, which drop to the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Roca, near Lisbon. South of the Tajo (Tejo) are gently rolling lowlands that extend to the plains of Portugal’s Baixo Alentejo region. The Serra de Monchique, a range of hills stretching to the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Saint Vincent, separate these plains from the southernmost region of Algarve.

Many of Portugal’s major rivers originate in the highlands of the Meseta Central. The Tajo, with Lisbon at its mouth, is the longest river, followed by the Douro (Duero), with Porto at its mouth. The Miño (Minho) flows south from the mountains of Spain’s Galicia region and forms part of Portugal’s northern border. These rivers all cut narrow gorges through the mountains and widen as they empty into the Atlantic Ocean. The Guadiana, which originates in central Spain, flows south and forms part of Portugal’s southeastern frontier with Spain. In 2002 Portugal closed the gates of the newly completed Alqueva dam on the Guadiana in the southern region of Alentejo; the reservoir behind the dam created the largest artificial lake in western Europe. The Mondego, which flows through the west central city of Coimbra, is the longest river whose source is in Portugal.

The broad estuaries formed by rivers flowing to the west indent the coastline of Portugal, as do a series of saltwater lagoons. However, much of Portugal’s coastline, which extends about 800 km (about 500 mi), is straight and sandy. Good natural harbors are found at Aveiro, Porto de Leixões, Lisbon, Porto, and Setúbal. Sines is an important deep-water port used for petroleum and natural gas imports.

Climate in Portugal

Portugal has a maritime temperate climate that varies according to elevation and proximity to the ocean. The heaviest precipitation occurs in northern Portugal. The northern coast receives about 152 cm (about 60 in) of rain annually. Rainfall increases with altitude, and the western slopes of the northern mountains receive about 2,300 mm (about 90 in) annually—the heaviest rainfall in western Europe. Precipitation decreases toward the south, and in the extreme south, in Algarve, rainfall averages only about 38 cm (about 15 in) a year.

In southern Portugal summers are long and hot and winters are moderate. In the northwest summers are shorter and wetter, while winter temperatures are generally mild and moderated by maritime influences. In the northeast summers can be scorching and winters are typically long, cold, and snowy. The mean annual temperature north of the Douro River is about 10°C (about 50°F); between the Tajo and Douro, about 16°C (about 60°F); and in the valley of the Guadiana, about 18°C (about 65°F).

Natural Resources of Portugal

Portugal is rich in mineral resources, a variety of which are extracted, processed, and exported. Much of this mineral wealth was not commercially exploited until after World War II (1939-1945). Among the most important mineral resources are copper, gold, iron ore, kaolin, marble, halite (rock salt), tin, uranium, and wolframite, which is a source of tungsten. Portugal also has abundant waterpower in its rivers and dammed lakes (called barragems), which the nation is continuing to develop. However, Portugal lacks significant fossil fuel resources and is heavily dependent on imports to meet its energy needs.

Forests cover about two-fifths of Portugal’s land area, and many areas, especially in the mountains, are well suited to forestry. However, Portugal is not well endowed with agricultural resources. Portuguese soils tend to be sandy and acidic and are generally volcanic in origin. An exception is the loamy and fertile alluvial soil of the lower Tajo valley.

Plants and Animals in Portugal

The plants and animals of Portugal are virtually identical to those of Spain. The most abundant trees are the pine, beech, cork oak, evergreen oak, eucalyptus, and olive. The vegetation patterns in Portugal reflect the climate. In northern Portugal are forests of beech and pine. In the vast undulating lowlands of south central Portugal, large tracts of cork oak and olive can be found. Farther south, especially toward the coastline, vegetation becomes sparser, and there are wide expanses of grassland. The trees give way to a Mediterranean-type shrub land called maquis, composed largely of scattered shrubs and evergreen brush.

Wild animals include the wolf, lynx, wildcat, fox, wild boar, wild goat, deer, and hare. In the south the genet and the European chameleon, typical of northern Africa, are also present. Portugal occupies an important bird migration route, and many species of birds can be found at various times of the year, including the cormorant, egret, black-winged stilt, greater flamingo, stork, European bee-eater, and griffon vulture. More than 200 kinds of fish, notably small fish such as pilchards (sardines) and anchovies, and tuna, abound off Portugal’s coasts.


The Portuguese people reflect the influence of diverse ethnic groups. Since prehistoric times the Iberian Peninsula has been settled by many peoples, including Iberians, Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, and later, Muslim Arabs and Berbers. Centuries of assimilation, however, have imbued the Portuguese people with a remarkable degree of homogeneity. In recent decades, immigrants from Africa, Brazil, and Asia have given Portugal a more multicultural character.

Population in Portugal

The population of Portugal, including the Azores and Madeira Islands, is 10,707,924 (2009 estimate). The overall population density is 117 persons per sq km (302 per sq mi).

Portugal is a rapidly urbanizing country, although more than one-third of the population is still rural—a large percentage compared to other countries in western Europe. In 2005 some 56 percent of Portugal’s population lived in urban areas. The population is densest along the northern and central coastal areas and in the far south.

Portugal has a long history of emigration. By the early 20th century, Portuguese emigrants went mainly to the Americas, especially to Brazil, in search of better lives. During the 1960s, many Portuguese migrated to nearby industrialized European countries in search of work. Others emigrated to avoid conscription by the Portuguese military to fight against independence movements in Portugal’s African colonies. From 1960 to 1972 Portugal’s population fell by 3 percent. Later in the 1970s emigration declined sharply after the African colonies won their independence. Hundreds of thousands of emigrants returned to the Portuguese mainland, along with many thousands of African and mixed-race immigrants. For the first time in decades, Portugal had more immigrants than emigrants. Most immigrants came from Portugal’s former colonies, including Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, and Guinea-Bissau, in addition to a growing population of retirees from the United Kingdom.

Principal Cities of Portugal

Lisbon (population, 2003 estimate, 1,962,000), the capital and largest city, is the leading administrative and services center of Portugal. It is also the nation’s principal port, a crossroads of road and rail routes, an international air hub, and home to many industries. The city’s rich architecture, numerous museums, and famously pleasant weather attract visitors from around the world.

Other important cities include Porto (263,131), the second largest city, a seaport and industrial center; Coimbra (148,474), an educational and administrative center; Setúbal (113,937), a seaport and industrial center; Funchal (103,962), the capital of the Madeira Islands; and Faro (58,051), in the Algarve resort area.

Religion in Portugal

Portugal is a Roman Catholic country by history and tradition. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, however, and the Catholic Church receives no direct financial support from the state. Church attendance has declined in recent decades, especially in urban areas and in the south, but Catholicism remains central to Portuguese life, especially in rural interior areas. Portugal has many local saints who are celebrated in popular festivals, and annual pilgrimages are well attended. The village of Fátima, where the Virgin Mary is reported to have appeared to three children in 1917, remains a popular pilgrimage site, attracting both Portuguese and large numbers of Spaniards.

Protestants, Muslims, and Jews make up a small percentage of the Portuguese population. Jewish and Muslim populations have remained small since the late 15th century, when the Inquisition in Portugal forced them to convert or leave the country.

Languages spoken in Portugal

The official language of the country is Portuguese. In recent years English has replaced French as the most common second language taught in Portuguese schools.

A Romance language, Portuguese is derived from Latin, as is Spanish, which it resembles in the written form. Portuguese contains Arabic and Germanic words as well as some words from the languages of Asian groups with whom Portuguese explorers and traders came into contact.

Education in Portugal

Elementary education is free and compulsory between the ages of 6 and 14. Secondary education is voluntary for students who have reached the age of 15, and it lasts for three years. Students may pursue two types of secondary education: general or vocational. Courses of study are developed by the ministry of education.

Portugal’s system of higher education includes universities, which offer undergraduate and graduate degrees, and regional polytechnic schools, which offer degrees in technical subjects, management, education, and fine arts. The oldest university in Portugal is the University of Coimbra, which was founded in 1290 in Lisbon. In the 1500s the university permanently moved to Coimbra. Lisbon regained a university in 1911, when the University of Lisbon was created from the merger of several older institutions. Other large universities in Portugal include the University of Porto and the Technical University of Lisbon.

Since the mid-1980s Portugal has made significant strides in reducing adult illiteracy. This has been accomplished mainly through government programs for adult education and through the expansion of school facilities. Today, 94.9 percent of the Portuguese population aged 15 or older is defined as literate.

Social Structure of Portugal

Portugal retained a traditional hierarchical social structure well into modern times. For much of the 20th century, Portuguese society was dominated by a small, wealthy upper class. Wealth and power, based mainly on land ownership, were largely inherited; social mobility was limited. A large lower class was composed mainly of farm workers and manual laborers. For the lower class, work began at an early age, and little time was given to education. Portugal’s middle class, made up of merchants, bureaucrats, and artisans, remained small and politically weak. The Roman Catholic Church retained its influential status, especially in rural areas, where priests held important roles in education, government administration, and social life.

During Portugal’s 1974 revolution, the old social order was overthrown, and many of the social elite fled the country. Political parties emerged that promised reforms, and by the late 1970s a number of important changes had occurred. Many workers joined labor unions, land reforms divided extensive holdings in the countryside, and a variety of industries were nationalized. At the same time, thousands of immigrants from Portugal’s former colonies increased the country’s cultural and ethnic diversity.

Changes in Portugal’s social structure in the 1980s were driven by continued economic growth and by Portugal’s acceptance into the European Community (EC), a forerunner of the European Union (EU). Portugal’s growing economic and cultural links with Europe and the world encouraged greater social mobility and rising expectations among the lower classes. By the mid-1990s, a significantly larger, more prosperous middle class had emerged. Accompanying this growth were improvements in health, education, and welfare, and an expansion in civil liberties. Together, these factors have increased opportunities for many Portuguese.

Way of Life in Portugal

Portugal’s way of life has been rapidly changing. The growth of industry and the expansion of the service sector have led many Portuguese to move from rural areas to cities in search of employment, especially in Lisbon and Porto. However, many Portuguese continue to live in small towns and villages where traditional fishing and farming methods are still practiced. In rural areas daily life centers on the home and family, and multiple generations of a family often share the same dwelling.

The influence of Roman Catholicism remains strong in Portugal. Religious festivals and processions are among the main diversions for rural communities, along with regional fairs and local feasts. Romarias (pilgrimages to local shrines) are a regular feature of weekend recreation, and they often include an atmosphere of celebration.

The most important meals in Portugal are lunch and dinner, which traditionally feature a variety of dishes consumed in a leisurely manner. Meals frequently include fish, poultry, pork, or beef, in addition to hearty portions of rice and potatoes. Meat is often served with piri-piri, a hot chili sauce. An especially popular dish is bacalhau, a form of dried, salted codfish. Charcoal-grilled sardines (sardinhas assados) and chicken (frango assado) are also popular, as are many kinds of sausage. Olive oil and vinegar are used in many dishes, and wine commonly accompanies meals.

The most popular spectator sport in Portugal is soccer (futebol). Portugal shares with Spain a fondness for bullfighting, a sport that is especially popular in the Ribatejo region, where bulls are raised. In Portugal, the bull is not killed in front of spectators, as it is in Spain, but subdued by a group of men on foot and led from the ring. Other popular sports include basketball, handball, and roller hockey. Portugal’s long coastline and sandy beaches attract many beachgoers.


Portuguese culture is closely related to Spanish culture, with which it shares many historical influences. These include the eras of Roman, Visigoth, and Islamic rule, evident in Portugal’s distinctive architectural and archaeological legacy. A golden age of literary and artistic expression occurred in the 15th and 16th centuries, inspired by the maritime exploits of Portuguese explorers.

Literature in Portugal

Portugal has a long literary tradition, especially in lyrical poetry, which dates from the 12th century. Perhaps Portugal’s greatest poet was the adventurer Luís de Camões, best known for his epic The Lusiads (Os Lusíadas, 1572), a poem written in celebration of the Portuguese spirit. An important poet of the early 20th century was Fernando Pessoa, who created three distinct poetic voices, each different from his own. Lyrical poetry remains an important literary style in Portugal.

In the 20th century, the long dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar suppressed creativity and freedom of expression. The revolution in 1974 ended censorship, leading to a new outpouring of literary expression, much of it containing political themes. Two Portuguese novelists who received widespread literary acclaim in the post-Salazar period were José Saramago and António Lobo Antunes. In 1998 Saramago received the Nobel Prize in literature, becoming the first Portuguese writer to win the honor.

For a more detailed discussion of the literature of Portugal, see Portuguese Literature.

Architecture in Portugal

Architectural ruins in Portugal, among other relics, date from prehistoric times. Stone megaliths and burial chambers called dolmens, built during the Stone Age between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, have been found across Portugal. The most impressive is the Anta Grande do Zambujeiro (Great Dolmen of Zambujeiro), near the southern city of Évora, the largest dolmen in Europe.

Many of Portugal’s most important architectural monuments—including roads and bridges, and towns with aqueducts, villas, and temples—were constructed during the period of Roman rule (2nd century BC to 5th century AD) (see Roman Empire). The Temple of Diana in Évora, with its elaborately carved Corinthian columns, is one of the best-preserved Roman temples in the Iberian Peninsula. Other well-known Roman ruins include the town of Conimbriga, near Coimbra, and the bridge of Chaves in Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro in the northeast. Subsequent occupation by the Visigoths in the 5th century and by the Muslims in the 8th century can be seen in the styles of many of Portugal’s buildings and churches, especially in the Algarve region.

A distinctively Portuguese style of architecture evolved in the late 15th century, during the reign of King Manuel, who sponsored many artists. The highly decorative Manueline style emerged during Portugal’s age of maritime greatness and discovery. Cathedrals and churches were decorated with towering spires, columns resembling twisted ropes, and flamboyant carvings of anchors, coral, waves, and other seafaring themes. This style is exemplified by the ornate Monastery of Jeronimos in Lisbon and by the Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória in Batalha.

Visual Arts in Portugal

Sculpture has found rich expression in Portugal over the centuries. From the 12th to the 14th century, sculptors carved ornate limestone tombs, including notable monuments such as the tombs of the kings at Alcobaça. Following the extraordinarily inventive Manueline period, during the Renaissance and baroque periods, sculptors in Portugal did their finest work for the church, producing finely carved reliefs, altarpieces, and pulpits.

Painting in Portugal dates from prehistoric times. Some of southwestern Europe’s finest Paleolithic cave paintings can be seen at Escoural. The foremost painter of Portugal’s golden age was Nuno Gonçalves, whose powerful realism was widely influential. In the 20th century Portuguese-born abstract painter Maria Elena Vieira da Silva achieved international renown.

Music in Portugal

Musical expression is an important part of Portuguese culture. Especially influential is the country’s rich heritage of folk music, the origins of which can be traced to medieval troubadours. Portuguese folk music ranges from lively songs and dances to sad laments. Today, the distinctive musical art form of fado remains popular, especially in urban areas. Fado, a Portuguese word that means “fate,” embodies the quintessential expression of saudade, a melancholy mood of longing or loss. Fado is typically sung by a performer called a fadista who is accompanied by two guitars. There are two main styles of fado, one associated with Lisbon and the other with Coimbra. Fado, especially as it is performed in Lisbon, has been compared to the blues in North America, with its traditional emphasis on life’s daily struggles.

Libraries and Museums in Portugal

Lisbon has a number of important libraries, including the Library of the Academy of Sciences, the Ajuda Library, the National Library, and the Military Historical Archives. The National Archives of Torre do Tombo, also in Lisbon, is noteworthy for its collection of historical documents dating from the 9th century. The provincial libraries in Porto, Évora, Braga, and Mafra contain many rare old books and large manuscript collections. Various specialized libraries are attached to the universities.

Museums of archaeology, art, and ethnography are found in the principal cities and towns of each district. The art museum in Coimbra is famous for its collection of 16th-century sculpture; the museum in Évora is known for Roman sculpture and 16th-century paintings. The National Museum of Ancient Art, in Lisbon, houses decorative art and paintings from the 12th to the 19th century. Also in Lisbon are the Chiado Museum (formerly the National Museum of Contemporary Art); the National Museum of Natural History; the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, with a collection of fine art dating from 2800 BC to the 20th century; the Ethnographical Museum; and the Archaeological Museum. Other cultural sites in the capital include the Belém Cultural Center, which houses the Design Museum, and the Lisbon Oceanarium, Europe’s largest aquarium.



While the Portuguese economy has undergone remarkable changes since the 1970s, Portugal remains among the least developed nations in western Europe. Two events in the late 20th century profoundly affected Portugal’s economic development—the 1974 revolution and Portugal’s entry into the European Community (EC), a predecessor of the European Union (EU), in 1986.

Prior to the revolution, industrial, agricultural, and financial resources remained concentrated among a few wealthy families. Portuguese industry and agriculture were inefficient and labor-intensive, and the nation’s financial investments were directed mainly toward the profitable African colonies. The revolutionary government first undercut the old elite’s economic power by granting independence to the African colonies. It also expropriated landed estates in central and southern Portugal and established communal farms. Banks and insurance companies, followed by most of the country’s heavy and medium-sized industries were nationalized, with the exception of foreign-owned enterprises. Most of the new state-owned firms, however, proved highly inefficient and contributed to large deficits and growing public debt. By the early 1980s many Portuguese favored the privatization of state-owned enterprises, a reduction in communal agriculture, and Portugal’s rapid entry into the EC.

Portugal joined the EC in 1986 and, following a transition period lasting until 1992, adopted the organization’s key policies. These included dropping protectionist tariffs and eliminating all barriers to the movement of goods and capital between Portugal and other member states. The EC also required Portugal to phase out subsidies to public enterprises and to adopt agricultural reforms. Membership in the EC, which formally became the EU in 1993, reshaped Portugal’s economy. Portugal revised its tax structure, expanded its social welfare system, and privatized many nationalized industries. In addition, as a prerequisite to adopting the EU’s single currency, the euro, Portugal was required to reduce its annual budget deficits and to adopt other economic reforms. Portugal’s economy benefited from increased trade ties to Europe and from EU financial aid aimed at improving the country’s infrastructure, including recent EU grants funding a significant portion of the costs of the massive Alqueva dam project on the Guadiana River.

Portugal has made great strides in raising its living standards since the mid-1980s, and the country’s per capita income is gradually approaching that of its EU partners. However, Portugal still faces many challenges. A sustained period of economic expansion in the late 1990s slowed toward the end of the decade. By 2004, following a period of recession and rising unemployment, Portugal’s economic growth fell well below the European average. Portugal’s economic development has also been highly uneven. Manufacturing and services, along with much of the country’s population, are concentrated in coastal areas in the west and south. The northern and eastern interior regions continue to experience economic stagnation and decline, as well as population losses due to steady out-migration. Portugal’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007 was $223 billion.

Economic Sectors in Portugal


Farms in Portugal range in size from tiny holdings in the north to huge estates in the south, where wheat is the main crop. Tomatoes, corn, sugar beets, oats, barley, rice, and potatoes are grown in irrigated areas. Groves of olive, orange, apple, and pear trees are widely cultivated. Many varieties of grapes, used mainly for wine, thrive in Portugal’s soils. The most important exported wines are port, produced in the region around Porto, from which the wine got its name, and Madeira, from the Madeira Islands. Sheep, goats, hogs, fowl, and cattle, including a special breed of black bulls for bullfighting, are raised.

Forestry and Fishing

About two-fifths of Portugal is wooded, and the country’s forests provide timber, chestnuts, and raw cork (made from the bark of the cork oak). Pine forests yield resin and turpentine. Portugal is one of western Europe’s leading producers of pulp and paper products.

Commercial fishing is in decline but remains important to the Portuguese economy. Pilchards (sardines), caught along the coast, are the leading catch, followed by mackerel, Atlantic redfish, octopus, cod, and halibut. Aquaculture is of growing importance in Portugal. Lisbon, Setúbal, Matosinhos, and Portimao are the main fishing ports and fish-processing centers.


Portugal has commercially important deposits of tin and copper and one of the world’s major reserves of wolframite, from which tungsten is derived. Minerals extracted in smaller quantities in Portugal include kaolin, silver, uranium, and zinc.


Manufacturing is of major importance to the economy of Portugal. Manufactures include processed food and beverages; textiles, clothing, and footwear; machinery and automobiles; chemicals and pharmaceuticals; lumber, cork, and glass; refined petroleum; building materials; and electronic goods. Shipbuilding, once a major economic activity in Portugal, is in decline, but ship repair remains an important source of employment in some coastal areas. Products of cottage industries, such as linen and lace, pottery, and colorful ceramic tiles, called azulejos, are world famous.


Much of Portugal’s recent economic growth has centered on the construction industry. Especially noteworthy are major public works projects, including the 1998 World’s Fair site in Lisbon; the Vasco da Gama Bridge over the Tajo; the Alqueva Dam on the Guadiana, one of the biggest dams in the Iberian Peninsula; and the construction of new housing complexes and transportation infrastructure.

Currency and Foreign Trade

The monetary unit of Portugal is the single currency of the European Union (EU), the euro. Portugal’s former national currency, the escudo, ceased to be legal tender in 2002.

Portugal’s principal imports include fossil fuels, machinery and transportation equipment, chemicals, and food and livestock. Principal exports include machinery, automobiles, clothing and footwear, textile yarns and fabrics, and wood, cork, and paper products. The countries of the EU are Portugal’s leading trade partners. Foreign exchange receipts from tourism help compensate for the country’s generally large trade deficit.

Services and Tourism

Of all economic sectors, services employ the largest percentage of the Portuguese labor force and contribute the most to Portugal’s GDP. The most important services include retailing, telecommunications, financial services, and tourism. Portugal’s rich cultural heritage and hospitable climate draw millions of visitors annually. The majority of Portugal’s tourists come from Spain, with most of the remaining visitors arriving from elsewhere in Europe. The main tourist destinations include the southern region of Algarve, Lisbon, and the Madeira Islands.

For many Portuguese, the 1998 World’s Fair in Lisbon offered an important symbol of the nation’s domestic revival. The fair attracted millions of visitors and helped reestablish Portugal as a leading international tourist destination. Today, the site, rechristened as the Park of Nations, is an important focal point for commercial, administrative, and cultural activities in Lisbon.



The military coup d’état of April 1974 ended a long era of dictatorship in Portugal. After the coup, a series of interim military governments controlled Portugal, and much of the economy was nationalized. A new political era dawned with the drafting of Portugal’s current constitution, issued in 1976 and amended in 1982 to complete the transition to a full civilian government. The preamble of the constitution initially called for the creation of a “classless society” based on public ownership of land, natural resources, and the principal means of production; this socialist language was struck in 1989. The constitution was revised in 1992 to accommodate the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty), and again in 1997 to permit national referenda to be held.

Portugal is a republic with a president and a unicameral (single-chamber) legislature. The constitution guarantees all citizens a variety of basic rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and the right to strike. Censorship and capital punishment are prohibited. Portuguese citizens aged 18 or older have the right to vote.

Executive of Portugal

Executive power in Portugal is shared by a president and prime minister. The president of Portugal is popularly elected to a five-year term as head of state. A president may serve a maximum of two consecutive terms in office. The president appoints and dismisses the prime minister and can veto legislation passed by the legislature. The president sets election dates, directs foreign policy, and serves as commander in chief of the armed forces.

The person who is appointed prime minister is usually the leader of the political party with the most seats in the parliament. The prime minister leads the government, which is composed of a cabinet of ministers. The prime minister and cabinet formulate government policy, draw up the budget, and supervise public administration. The prime minister and cabinet are responsible to the parliament for the content of public policy.

Legislature of Portugal

Legislative power is vested in a unicameral (single-chamber) parliament, the Assembly of the Republic. Members of the assembly, called deputies, are directly elected under a system of proportional representation and serve four-year terms. The assembly makes the laws and approves the budget. The assembly can override a presidential veto by a two-thirds vote.

Judiciary in Portugal

The judicial system in Portugal is headed by the Supreme Court, the highest court of appeals in the land. The Supreme Court is composed of a president and judges who are appointed for life. Below the Supreme Court are four regional courts of appeal, as well as many local and district courts.

Local Government of Portugal

For administrative purposes Portugal is divided into 18 districts (distritos) and two autonomous regions—the Azores and the Madeira Islands. The 18 districts are Aveiro, Beja, Braga, Bragança, Castelo Branco, Coimbra, Évora, Faro, Guarda, Leiria, Lisbon, Porto, Portalegre, Santarém, Setúbal, Viana do Castelo, Vila Real, and Viseu. Each district is administered by a centrally appointed governor. The districts are divided into municipal councils (concelhos), each with a popularly elected assembly.

Under the constitution, the Azores and the Madeira Islands are autonomous regions of Portugal. Each region has its own government with an elected legislative assembly. The assemblies have the right to regulate a wide range of local affairs, levy taxes, and administer local institutions.

Political Parties of Portugal

The leading political parties in Portugal are the centrist Social Democratic Party (PSD, or Partido Social Democrata); the center-left Socialist Party (PS, or Partido Socialista); the center-right Popular Party (PP, or Partido Popular), formerly the Social Democratic Center Party; and the leftist Unitary Democratic Coalition (CDU, or Coligação Democrática Unitária). The CDU coalition includes the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP, or Partido Comunista Português) and the Green Party (PEV, or Partido Ecologista Os Verdes), an environmentalist group.

International Organizations in Portugal

In addition to NATO, Portugal is a member of the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), the Western European Union (WEU), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the Council of Europe.

In 1996 Portugal and six of its former colonies—Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe—formed the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (known by its Portuguese acronym, CPLP) in Lisbon. The CPLP seeks to preserve the Portuguese language and culture, coordinate diplomatic efforts, and improve cooperation among its members.


Portugal developed as a separate state in the 12th century. Until that time, the history of Portugal is inseparable from that of the Iberian Peninsula. Present-day Portugal became a part of the Roman province of Lusitania in the 2nd century BC. The prefix Luso is still used to mean Portuguese and derives its name from the Lusitani, a fierce tribe of the western Iberian Peninsula that resisted Roman rule. The chieftain Viriatus, leader of the Lusitani, is one of the country’s earliest national heroes. Christianity was established in the peninsula by the middle of the 4th century AD. Roman occupation ended in the 5th century with the invasions of Germanic tribes. One of these tribes, the Visigoths (see Goths), came to dominate the peninsula for more than 200 years.

Muslim Domination and the Christian Reconquest

In 711 Muslims invaded the Iberian Peninsula from Africa and deposed the Visigothic monarchy. Several small Christian kingdoms in the north of the peninsula, however, resisted Muslim expansion. In 997 the territory between the Douro and Miño rivers (now northern Portugal) was captured from the Muslims by Bermudo II, king of León. By 1064 the Christian struggle to reclaim lands from the Muslims, known as the Christian reconquest, was completed as far south as present-day Coimbra under Ferdinand I, king of Castile and León. The reconquered districts were then organized into a feudal county, composed of fiefs loyal to Spanish kings.

In 1093 Alfonso I, the Christian king of Castile (who also ruled León as Alfonso VI), called on the assistance of a French nobleman, Henry of Burgundy, to help defeat a siege of Muslims at Toledo in what is now central Spain. In gratitude Alfonso named Henry count of Portugal and awarded Henry land on the Atlantic seaboard between the Douro and Miño rivers. This land, named Portus Cale (later called Portucale) after a former Roman settlement on the Douro, became the basis of modern Portugal.

On the death of Alfonso in 1109, Count Henry, and later his widow, Teresa, refused to continue feudal allegiance to Castile and León. Henry invaded the Spanish kingdom and began a series of peninsular wars, but with little success. In 1128 Henry’s son, Afonso Henriques, rebelled against Teresa and defeated her in battle. Afonso Henriques declared Portugal independent from Castile and León in 1139 and proclaimed himself Afonso I, the first king of Portugal. Eight years later Afonso, assisted by Christian Crusaders bound for the Holy Land, seized Lisbon from the Muslims (see Crusades). In 1179 Afonso obtained papal recognition of the title of king, placing the Portuguese kingdom under the protection of the Holy See. Afonso, as founder of the Portuguese monarchy, remains a Portuguese national hero.

Kingdom of Portugal

Afonso I, aided by military religious orders—crusading organizations of knights sworn to fight the Muslims—extended the border of the new kingdom as far south as the Tajo. These orders, including the Knights Templar and the orders of Calatrava and of Avis, were granted large feudal estates for assisting the monarchy during the reconquest. Afonso’s son, Sancho I, who reigned from 1185 to 1211, encouraged Christians to settle in conquered areas by establishing self-governing municipalities there. The Cistercians, a Roman Catholic monastic order, occupied the largely deserted lands along the southern frontier and promoted efficient farming practices. Muslim influence remained, however, in implements, textiles, architecture, and some local customs, and many Arabic words entered the Portuguese language.

In the late 12th century the Almohads, an Islamic dynasty from North Africa, temporarily halted the Christians’ southward movement. However, the Almohads suffered a crushing defeat in 1212 at the hands of Christian forces in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, and the Christian reconquest continued. King Afonso III, who reigned from 1248 to 1279, completed the expulsion of the Muslims from the southernmost region of Algarve.

National Consolidation

A period of national consolidation followed, during which Afonso III moved the capital of Portugal from Coimbra to Lisbon. Formerly a provincial outpost, Lisbon began its transformation into the political and economic center of the new nation. Afonso began the practice of governing with the aid of a cortes (a representative assembly), which included members of the nobility, clergy, and citizenry, and he asserted the power of the monarchy to regulate property owned by the Catholic Church. His son Diniz extended the kingdom’s power by nationalizing the wealthy military religious orders and seizing their assets. In 1290 Diniz founded what later became the University of Coimbra, Portugal’s first university, and Portuguese replaced Latin for official use. Diniz encouraged agriculture and founded the Portuguese navy, planting the royal pine forest at Leiria to promote shipbuilding. Portugal’s land borders were formalized in the 1297 Treaty of Alcanices with Castile, and they have remained largely intact up to the present day.

Diniz’s successor, Afonso IV, joined with Alfonso XI of Castile to defeat the last major Muslim invasion in 1340, at the Battle of the Salado River. In this period the royal houses of Castile and Portugal frequently intermarried, repeatedly raising the possibility that one of the kingdoms might be absorbed by the other. Internally, Portugal endured great hardship in the mid-14th century. A series of devastating earthquakes struck Lisbon, and the Black Death, an outbreak of bubonic plague, ravaged the Portuguese population in 1347 and 1348. As a result of the deaths, much of the country’s farmland lay fallow, and many people starved. Ferdinand I, who inherited the throne in 1367, took measures to encourage food production, including the promulgation of a decree that required landowners to cultivate unused lands and those without occupations to work in the fields. He also promoted maritime trade and the construction of larger ships.

The death of Ferdinand I in 1383, the last legitimate descendant of Henry of Burgundy, precipitated a civil war in Portugal. Ferdinand’s Castilian widow, Leonor Teles, assumed the regency. However, many Portuguese opposed the move, fearing Leonor would claim the crown for Castile and León. Her main rival was Ferdinand’s illegitimate half brother, John I, who was backed by Lisbon’s wealthy merchants. Leonor, supported by most of the landed nobility, called on the king of Castile and León for help. John raised an army and successfully defended the kingdom against attack. In 1385 John defeated Castile and León decisively in the Battle of Aljubarrota and secured the Portuguese throne. The battle was won with the assistance of English archers and helped establish the independence of Portugal. In 1386 England and Portugal allied themselves permanently by the Treaty of Windsor, initiating a friendship pact that would last for centuries.

The Reign of John I

The reign of John I, the first king of the Burgundian line known as the house of Avis, was one of the most notable in Portuguese history. John distrusted the old landed nobility, which had opposed his regency, and he seized many properties and titles for distribution to his urban supporters. In doing so John promoted the growth of a new noble class based on service to the Portuguese crown. John’s administrative reforms, including the creation of a class of skilled bureaucrats, enhanced the reach of royal power and further weakened the old aristocracy.

John’s reign is best known for the work done under the direction of his son Henry the Navigator, prince of Portugal, in exploring the African coast for an eastward route to the Indies. Henry was patron and director of a school of navigation at Sagres, where maritime expeditions were scientifically planned. John’s reign initiated a century of exploration during which Portugal emerged as the greatest colonial power in the world.

The Age of Expansion

A desire for conquest and trade, especially the lucrative trade in Asian spices, was a key motivation behind Portugal’s early maritime expansion. Portugal, with its navy, advanced nautical knowledge, and advantageous location on the far southwestern edge of Europe, sought a sea route to Asia to circumvent the Muslim-dominated overland routes long used to bring spices and other fine goods to the Mediterranean. Tied to these expansionist aims were the aspirations of Portuguese kings to spread Christianity and extend the crusade against Muslims.

In 1415 a Portuguese military expedition captured the wealthy Muslim city of Ceuta in North Africa, a western depot for the spice trade. Within ten years Portugal began colonizing the islands of Madeira, and in 1427 Portuguese navigators discovered the Azores archipelago. The Madeiras and the Azores rapidly became important centers of sugar production, and the capture of Ceuta gave Portugal a foothold in North Africa, stimulating further exploration of the African coast. Using the caravel, a new type of light sailing vessel specially adapted for Atlantic voyages, Portuguese mariners sailed as far south as the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa in 1444, and by 1460 they had reached Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, John I’s successors, King Duarte and Afonso V, sent further expeditions to Morocco, capturing the cities of Tangier and Arzila (Asilah) in 1471.

John II

King John II, a son of Afonso V, reigned from 1481 to 1495 and was one of Portugal’s ablest rulers. At home he attacked the prerogatives of the landed nobility and he imposed a new oath by which nobles swore homage to the crown. John’s defense of royal power firmly established the supremacy of the monarchy over the nobility. John’s foreign policy was based on expansion and trade, and under his direction the crown intensified its search for a sea route to Asia. In 1482 John founded a Portuguese stronghold at Elmina (in present-day Ghana) and established relations with the kingdom of the Kongo (in present-day Angola). Five years later John sponsored an expedition commanded by navigator Bartolomeu Dias to explore the coast of western Africa. In 1488 Dias became the first European to sail around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, demonstrating that Asia could be reached by sea.

In 1492 Italian Spanish navigator Christopher Columbus reached the Americas and claimed the new lands for Castile. John II disputed this claim, and by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 Spain and Portugal reached agreement on the division of the undiscovered world. The agreement gave Portugal all undiscovered lands east of a line 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. This included much of Brazil, probably still unknown to Europeans, but excluded the Canary Islands, which were already controlled by Spain. See Demarcation, Line of.

Manuel I and the Peak of Portuguese Power

Portuguese power reached its height under King Manuel I, who reigned from 1495 to 1521, when Portugal entered its golden age of exploration and culture. Manuel sponsored the daring voyage of Vasco da Gama, who from 1497 to 1499 led an expedition around the Cape of Good Hope and pioneered a sea route to India. Manuel then commissioned a series of trading expeditions to secure Portugal’s commercial dominance in Asia. Portugal soon consolidated its control over the trade in spices and other luxuries. In a few short years Portugal created the first great European overseas empire. The Portuguese monarchy became the wealthiest in Europe, with Lisbon serving as the empire’s commercial capital.

In 1500 Pedro Álvares Cabral, leading a trading expedition to India, sailed farther westward than previous Portuguese navigators and sighted the coast of Brazil, which he claimed for Portugal. Portuguese fleets soon reached Madagascar and established posts in East Africa. In 1509 Portuguese naval vessels succeeded in destroying a large Muslim fleet in the Indian Ocean, opening the way for Portugal’s further expansion eastward. In 1510 the Portuguese occupied Goa, on the southwestern coast of India. Using Goa as a base, Portuguese navigator and statesman Afonso de Albuquerque extended Portugal’s trading empire east to Malacca (now Melaka) on the Malay Peninsula in 1511 and to the Moluccas, or Spice Islands (in present-day Indonesia), from 1512 to 1514. In 1515 Albuquerque claimed for Portugal the island of Hormuz, which controlled trade in the Persian Gulf. His successors reached Japan in 1542 and founded a colony in China at Macao in 1557.

Portugal’s intellectual life flourished during Manuel’s reign. The crown patronized architecture, evident in the elaborate maritime and floral motifs of the Manueline style, and sent many students to France and Italy. Gil Vicente, the founder of the Portuguese theater, devised entertainment for the lavish court in Lisbon. In poetry Francisco de Sá de Miranda, among others, introduced influential forms of Italian verse. Many nobles became dependent on the crown. Portugal’s legal system was made uniform, but the cortes, whose influence began to wane under John I, was consulted less frequently.

As other Portuguese monarchs had done, Manuel dreamed of uniting Portugal and Spain under his rule and he successively married two daughters of King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella I. Under pressure from his Spanish relations, he followed their example by expelling Jews and Muslims who refused to convert to Christianity from Portuguese domains in 1497. The expulsions proved costly for Portugal; they deprived the kingdom of many skilled workers and much of its middle class.

Imperial Decline

Under John III, Manuel’s son, who ruled from 1521 to 1557, the resources of the state proved inadequate to meet Portugal’s obligations. The French, and later the English, increasingly challenged Portugal’s trading monopoly, and revenues declined as prices for Asian goods fell in Europe. At the same time, the enormous costs of mounting expeditions and manning a chain of posts and bases from Brazil to China burdened the Portuguese crown with debts. Portugal’s extravagant court drained national resources, and few funds were invested in internal development. John III encouraged the colonization of Brazil, which rapidly became the center of a new trade in sugar. However, the exuberant days of Portugal’s expansion and conquest were over.

John’s reign coincided with the emergence of the Counter Reformation, the Roman Catholic response to the Protestant Reformation in Europe. The Counter Reformation reached Portugal in the first decades of the 16th century. In 1531 John III introduced the Inquisition in Portugal—a key tool of the Counter Reformation to enforce religious uniformity and root out heresy. The Jesuits, a religious order founded to promote the cause and teachings of Catholicism, gained influence with the crown and over education, and began missionary work in Portugal’s overseas possessions.

By the time John III died in 1557, Portugal was in decline as a political and commercial power. This trend continued under Sebastian, John’s son, who in 1578 organized an army to fight Muslims in Morocco. Sebastian and most of the Portuguese army perished at the hands of the superior Muslim forces, leaving Portugal largely defenseless and without an heir to the throne. The crown fell to Sebastian’s aged uncle, Henry. At Henry’s death in 1580 the Avis dynasty came to an end.

The Habsburg and Braganza Dynasties

Union with Spain

When Henry died, seven pretenders laid claim to the Portuguese crown. The most powerful was Philip II, Habsburg king of Spain. Philip invaded Portugal, defeated rival forces, and in 1580 became Philip I of Portugal. As king of Portugal, Philip vowed to preserve Portuguese national institutions, including the military, cortes, coinage, and legal system. However, the joining of the two crowns deprived Portugal of a separate foreign policy, and Spain’s enemies became Portugal’s. The Spanish war with the Dutch and English led to the closing of the port of Lisbon to Portugal’s former trading partners. The Dutch and other powers then attacked Portuguese settlements in Brazil, Africa, and Asia. After 1600 Portuguese domination of trade with South Asia was lost to the Dutch and the English.

Under Philip I, Portugal enjoyed considerable autonomy, but his successors, Philip II (Philip III of Spain and Naples) and Philip III (Philip IV of Spain, Naples, and Sicily), treated Portugal as a Spanish province, provoking widespread discontent. After unsuccessful revolts in 1634 and 1637, Portuguese conspirators with the support of France won independence for their kingdom in 1640, ending the so-called Sixty Years’ Captivity. John, duke of Braganza, grandson of a former pretender to the throne, was elected John IV, first king of the house of Braganza. For the next century John and his successors waged wars with a hostile Spain and tried to salvage the Portuguese empire.

Restoration and Revival

John expelled the Dutch from Brazil, which they had occupied in 1630, and renewed Portugal’s traditional ties with England. Portugal further solidified its alliance with the English in 1662, when Catherine of Braganza, John’s daughter, married Charles II, king of England. Charles supplied troops to strengthen the Portuguese frontier, and his diplomats finally achieved Spanish recognition of Portugal’s independence in the 1668 Treaty of Lisbon.

Portugal recovered a measure of prosperity in the late 17th and 18th centuries, after gold, and then diamonds, were discovered in Brazil. From 1683 to 1750, during the reigns of Pedro II and John V, Portugal developed close economic ties with England. By the Treaty of Methuen of 1703, England agreed to favor Portuguese wines in trade in exchange for Portugal’s preference for English woolens. In the early 18th century the inflow of Brazilian treasure to Portugal financed a commercial and cultural revival. Lisbon, which regained its importance as a trading center, expanded rapidly and by the mid-18th century had a population of 190,000. John V patronized the arts, established academies and libraries, and provided public works; great emphasis was given to civil and religious architecture. However, the Portuguese monarchy grew more despotic and the cortes fell into disuse. On John’s death the crown passed to his son, Joseph Emanuel, who reigned from 1750 to 1777.

Joseph Emanuel had little inclination to rule, and he appointed as chief minister Sebastião José de Carvalho e Mello, marquês de Pombal, considered one of the most influential statesmen in modern Portuguese history. Although a ruthless dictator, he worked to modernize many aspects of Portuguese life. Pombal attacked the power of the privileged nobility and the church, and he expelled the Jesuits from Portugal and its overseas possessions. Pombal seized the Jesuit schools and introduced educational reforms, and he implemented protectionist policies to promote Portuguese industries. In 1755, after a disastrous earthquake had destroyed most of Lisbon, Pombal directed energetic measures to rebuild the city and the nation’s economy. Pombal was dismissed, however, at the accession of Joseph Emanuel’s daughter Maria I in 1777. Maria restored the power of the nobility and the church and revoked Pombal’s industrial policies. However, her health subsequently declined and power was transferred to the prince regent, later John VI.

Napoleonic Wars

In 1807, during the Napoleonic Wars, French forces of Napoleon I invaded and conquered Portugal. Four years earlier France had renewed its conflict with Britain—the key ally in the coalition opposing Napoleon’s wars of conquest. Napoleon had imposed a continental blockade against British goods in an effort to bankrupt the country, and he hoped to close Portuguese ports to British ships. Portugal, wishing to preserve the Anglo-Portuguese alliance, proclaimed its neutrality in the struggle. In the meantime, Napoleon conspired with Spain to attack and partition Portugal. As French troops marched across Spain toward Portugal, the Portuguese royal family withdrew to Brazil and made Rio de Janeiro the seat of the monarchy.

In 1808 the Peninsular War began, a conflict that involved Britain, Portugal, and Spanish guerrillas against Napoleonic France. A French army occupied Portugal but was defeated by British forces under Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of Wellington. By the Convention of Sintra (August 30, 1808), the French left the country, but they reinvaded a year later. Wellington again checked the advance, and by 1811 Portugal was free of French influence, but the fighting left Portugal devastated. The Portuguese royal family chose to remain in Brazil, which in 1815 was made a separate kingdom equal to Portugal. In 1816 John VI succeeded to the two thrones, ruling Portugal from Brazil through a council of regency headed by British general William Beresford, commander of the Portuguese army.

The Constitutional Monarchy

The council of regency was opposed by a liberal movement in Lisbon that sought Beresford’s removal and a more representative government. In 1820 the Portuguese army backed a popular revolt designed to bring about a constitutional government. John VI agreed to return to Portugal as constitutional monarch and he left his elder son, Dom Pedro, to govern Brazil. The Brazilians opposed John’s departure and proclaimed their independence in 1822. Pedro was made constitutional emperor of Brazil and he assumed the title of Pedro I. In one swift move Portugal lost its largest colony and much of its income. In Portugal, meanwhile, an elected cortes in 1822 adopted the country’s first constitution, which asserted that sovereign power resided in the people.

Supporters of absolute monarchy fiercely opposed the new constitution. Pedro’s younger brother, Dom Miguel, appealed to anticonstitutionalists to overthrow the regime. An insurrection led by Miguel almost succeeded on April 30, 1824. John managed to remain in power, however, and Miguel was exiled to Vienna.

When John died in 1826, the two crowns of Portugal and Brazil passed to Pedro I, who succeeded to the Portuguese throne as Pedro IV. Pedro then abdicated in favor of his seven-year-old daughter, Maria II, called Maria da Gloria, on the condition that she marry his brother Miguel and that Miguel accept a constitution prepared by Pedro in 1826. This document, known as the Constitutional Charter, reasserted the limited sovereignty of the monarchy. Miguel returned to Portugal from Vienna in 1828, only to bar Maria from landing, repudiate the Constitutional Charter, and declare himself absolute king. A period of acute civil strife followed, in which absolutists, who drew strength from rural areas, fought an urban-based liberal movement. With the help of Britain, France, and Spain, the absolutists were defeated. Maria was restored to the throne in 1834 and the Constitutional Charter was reimposed.

Continued political conflict characterized Maria II’s reign, despite the defeat of the absolutists. Liberals were increasingly divided between radicals, who supported the 1822 constitution, and moderates, who favored the Constitutional Charter, which reserved wider powers to the crown and provided for an appointed rather than an elected upper house. A series of government collapses and revolts triggered by power struggles between these factions pushed Portugal to the brink of another civil war.

Political strife lessened under Maria’s successors—Pedro V, who reigned from 1853 to 1861, and Louis, who reigned from 1861 to 1889. During this time stable political parties developed. The radicals were transformed into the Historicals, or Progressives, the main opposition party, and the moderates became the Regenerators. A relatively stable system of rotating governments evolved in which alternating factions regularly exchanged power, a system called rotativismo. With political stability at home, Portugal intensified its colonial activities in Africa, launching a series of expeditions of the African interior. By the 1890s, however, the rotativismo system began to disintegrate. A republican party demanding an end to the monarchy was founded in 1878 and rapidly gained support during the reign of Carlos I, which lasted from 1889 to 1908. Meanwhile, the two monarchist parties split and deadlocked, with neither side able to gain a majority.

The First Republic

In 1906, with the government paralyzed, Carlos I gave dictatorial powers to prime minister João Franco. A supporter of the monarchy, Franco initiated a bold program of economic and administrative reforms. However, Franco’s dictatorship was widely condemned, and in 1908 Carlos and his eldest son were assassinated in Lisbon by radical republicans. Carlos’s younger son, Manuel, ascended the throne as Manuel II at the age of 18. In an attempt to save the monarchy, Manuel held new elections for the cortes, but bitter factionalism prevented the formation of a stable government. In October 1910 the army and navy backed a republican revolution that deposed Manuel and established a provisional republican government. A liberal constitution was put into effect in 1911 that abolished the monarchy, separated church from state, and granted workers the right to strike. Manuel José de Arriaga was elected first president of Portugal’s First Republic.

Political Instability

The new republic failed to bring stability, however. The republican party, which was initially unified, soon splintered into radical and moderate factions. Portugal was shaken by political chaos as rival factions bickered and changes of government rapidly succeeded one another. Monarchist factions attempted several revolts to restore the monarchy. The military, increasingly disenchanted with the republic, imposed several periods of military rule.

Early in 1916 during World War I (1914-1918), Portugal, honoring its alliance with Britain, seized German ships in the harbor of Lisbon. Germany responded with a declaration of war against Portugal. Thousands of Portuguese troops fought valiantly in France and in Africa against German forces. On the domestic front, however, disorder and political feuding intensified. In 1917 a military coup d’état brought to power the authoritarian regime of Major Sidónio Pais, a German sympathizer. The regime collapsed with Pais’s assassination the following year. Political turbulence continued following the restoration of civilian rule, with constant strikes and demonstrations, waves of violence, military insurrections, and changes of government. In May 1926 a military revolt led by General Gomes da Costa entered Lisbon, almost unopposed, and deposed the civilian government in a bloodless coup. The First Republic had ended.

Military Dictatorship

The military leadership had no clear plan of reform, and after various changes, General António de Fragoso Carmona was selected to head the new government. In 1928 Carmona was elected president in an election in which he was the sole candidate. In the same year he appointed António de Oliveira Salazar, a professor of economics at the University of Coimbra, as minister of finance.

Salazar was given extraordinary powers to put Portuguese finances on a sound basis, and he largely succeeded in this task. His fiscal reforms produced a balanced budget, stabilized the currency, and reduced the national debt, and new monies were put toward public works, defense, and social services. Profoundly religious, Salazar restored much of the power of the Catholic Church. In 1930 he founded the União Nacional (National Union), a political organization that supported the authoritarian government. In 1932 Salazar became prime minister and with other Coimbra academics drafted the constitution of 1933, which established the authoritarian Estado Novo (New State) regime.

The New State

Under Salazar’s New State regime Portugal and its overseas possessions became a unitary state with a planned economy. The avowed purpose of the New State was to end political and social unrest and to encourage national collaboration. In reality, the government was a repressive dictatorship, and no opposition was countenanced. Political parties were outlawed and replaced with the National Union. Thousands were arrested and imprisoned at the hands of Salazar’s secret police and a network of informers.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Salazar, along with the fascist regimes in Italy and Germany, supported the forces of General Francisco Franco. In 1939 Portugal signed a friendship and nonaggression pact with Spain, which had then come under Franco’s control. In 1940 a protocol was added to the pact to ensure the neutrality of both countries during World War II (1939-1945). Portugal subsequently engaged in an uneasy balancing act, maintaining its neutrality while also supplying tungsten to Germany, the keystone of the Axis powers coalition. In October 1943, however, when the Axis powers were weakening, Portugal allowed the Allied powers to base airplanes and ships in the Azores.

Portugal emerged from the war relatively unscathed, and the wartime trade with Britain allowed Portugal to accumulate large reserves of British currency. With this capital, Portugal began to modernize its communications; expand its merchant marine; and develop irrigation, hydroelectric power, and industry. Internationally, Portugal aligned itself with the West, becoming a charter member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. During the 1950s, Portugal developed close relations with the United States and joined the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Shortly afterwards Portugal became a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), now the World Trade Organization (WTO); the International Monetary Fund (IMF); and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank).

Significant domestic opposition to the dictatorship appeared in the 1958 presidential election, when Salazar permitted opposition candidate Humberto Delgado to run. Delgado was defeated by the government’s candidate, Admiral Américo Deus Tomás. However, Delgado gained impressive support in the election and was subsequently exiled. Tomás was reelected in 1965 and 1971.

Colonial Wars

Beginning in the 1960s Portugal’s hold on its overseas territories came under attack. In 1961 India seized Portuguese Goa, Damān (formerly Damão), and Diu, the last remnants of Portuguese India. In Africa, rebellion broke out in Angola in early 1961, in Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) in late 1962, and in Mozambique in the fall of 1964. Portugal mounted intensive military campaigns against each African rebellion. Heavy fighting continued throughout the decade and into the 1970s. During these years the United Nations (UN) condemned Portugal for waging brutal “colonial wars.”

In the mid-1960s a number of foreign loans helped to finance major irrigation and construction projects in Portugal, and some economic growth was gradually realized. Despite these efforts, the colonial wars placed a severe strain on the Portuguese economy and military establishment and undermined Portugal’s standing in the international arena. Discontent manifested itself in student demonstrations during this period, but political opposition to the Salazar regime remained uncoordinated and weak.

The Dictatorship After Salazar

In September 1968 Salazar was incapacitated by a stroke and succeeded by longtime associate Marcello Caetano, who was named prime minister. Caetano eased police repression and called for limited reforms when he took office. However, he continued most of Salazar’s repressive policies, including the colonial wars in Africa, which by the late 1960s were consuming about 40 percent of the national budget and stalling domestic economic development. Hundreds of thousands of Portuguese nationals emigrated to avoid conscription by the military to fight in the colonial wars. Student demonstrations continued, and dissenting voices in the army grew louder.

G. Revolution

On April 25, 1974, the Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA; Movement of the Armed Forces), a group of military officers seeking to end the African wars, overthrew Caetano’s government in a bloodless coup d’état known as the Revolution of the Carnations. A junta under General António de Spínola was installed that promised democracy at home and peace for the African territories. The new regime appealed for cease-fires in Africa and restored many democratic liberties, including toleration of a wide range of political parties. Socialists and communists came out of hiding. Widespread upheavals took place as workers used their new civil liberties to seek better wages and working conditions.

In May 1974 an interim government was established with Spínola as president and members of the Socialist Party (PS) and Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) in the cabinet. But real power remained with the MFA, which was increasingly dominated by leftist officers allied with the PCP and other Marxist-Leninist groups (see Communism). Spínola, however, resisted MFA plans to quickly dismantle the empire and to institute leftist reforms. In July the MFA forced Spínola to name Vasco Gonçalves, a pro-communist, as prime minister, and in September Spínola was replaced by General Francisco da Costa Gomes. Independence pacts were soon negotiated with nationalists from the African territories. The whole African empire was freed by the end of 1975. Portugal also withdrew from the Southeast Asian colony of Portuguese Timor (now known as East Timor), which was forcibly annexed by Indonesia in 1976. (East Timor gained full independence in 2002.) Hundreds of thousands of retornados (returning troops and settlers) were subsequently either absorbed into Portuguese society or allowed to emigrate again, mainly to Brazil.

In March 1975, after another rightist effort to seize power, the MFA established a new supreme governing body, the Revolutionary Council. Dominated by pro-communists and led by Gonçalves, it nationalized most banks and many industries, expropriated and redistributed large agricultural holdings, and made the communist-led trade union confederation the sole representative of workers. The Revolutionary Council scheduled elections in April 1975 for a constituent assembly, charged with the task of writing a new constitution for Portugal. However, to participate, the major parties had to agree to continued rule by the Revolutionary Council for at least five years.

Elections to the constituent assembly indicated waning support for the MFA, with the Socialist Party (PS) and their allies capturing a large majority of votes; the Portuguese Communist Party finished a distant third. Gonçalves was installed as prime minister and formed a new government, but it proved unstable, and the Socialists soon resigned. Public disaffection with the leftist dictatorship became widespread. After a campaign of anticommunist demonstrations in the north, and growing pressure from the military to resolve the crisis, Gonçalves was ousted. A new cabinet, led by Socialist prime minister Vice Admiral José de Azevedo, was installed, reflecting the outcome of the April election. The Azevedo government restored a degree of stability and adopted a new investment policy to attract foreign investment. Western credits, withheld while the pro-communist MFA faction held power, were renewed. In November 1975 MFA moderates defeated a leftist coup attempt and then expelled leftists from the Revolutionary Council. Soon after, the moderates agreed to cede power to an elected government. The revolution was over.

Constitutional Government

In 1976 the constituent assembly approved a new constitution for Portugal. The document committed future governments to democratic principles and socialist policies, including the creation of a “classless society.” The constitution also declared the earlier nationalizations and land appropriations irreversible. In the parliamentary elections held in 1976, the Socialist Party (PS) won a plurality of the vote, and party leader Mário Soares became prime minister. Later that year General António Ramalho Eanes was elected president of Portugal.

Soares attempted to restore stability to the economy, and in 1977 Portugal applied for membership in the European Community (EC), a forerunner of the European Union (EU). Soares resigned in late 1977 after failing to win support for an austerity program. After the fall of two successive interim governments, the conservative Democratic Alliance—a coalition of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Social Democratic Center Party (CDS)—won a clear majority in parliamentary elections held in 1979. The Democratic Alliance backed several important constitutional reforms, including the abolition of the Revolutionary Council, which had retained veto power over legislation and blocked moves toward liberalizing the economy. It also developed plans to privatize certain state-owned industries.

Parliamentary elections brought Soares back to power as prime minister in 1983. Soares’s government, with support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), introduced an austerity program and conducted negotiations leading toward Portugal’s eventual entry into the EC. The government’s belt-tightening measures proved unpopular, however, and the government collapsed in 1985 amid disagreements over labor and agricultural reforms. Subsequent elections led to the formation of a minority government under PSD leader Aníbal Cavaco Silva. Silva held the post for the next ten years, leading his party to parliamentary victories in 1987 and 1991. Soares was elected president in 1986 and again in 1991.

Portugal formally joined the EC in 1986. The country subsequently experienced unprecedented economic growth, in part because the EC (and its successor, the European Union) began to funnel large financial transfers to Portugal for economic modernization and infrastructure development. Silva’s administration continued to privatize industry, backed reforms in agriculture and education, and embraced high levels of foreign investment.

Confidence in the government diminished in the early 1990s amid an economic downturn, a wave of strikes in support of higher wages, student demonstrations protesting against higher tuition fees, and corruption allegations. Following the 1995 general election Socialist Party leader António Guterres became prime minister. Guterres and his party were returned to power in 1999.

Economic and Political Shifts

Portugal’s successful transition to democratic rule in the late 20th century greatly contributed to its success in approaching the economic and social development of other EU members, after many decades at the margins of Europe. An important indication of Portugal’s newfound economic strength was its ability to meet the strict economic criteria required to adopt the euro, the single currency of the European Union (EU), which entered use for accounting and financial transfers in 1999. Portugal’s preparations for adoption of the euro strongly influenced the nation’s economy after 1996. The government reduced interest rates, and increasing investor confidence and strong consumer demand led to a pronounced economic expansion. During the late 1990s, Portugal’s annual economic growth consistently outpaced the European average, further narrowing the gap in per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) between Portugal and its wealthier western European neighbors. In 1999 Portugal was among the first group of EU members to meet the economic criteria required for adoption of the euro. A period of continuity in political leadership contributed to Portugal’s economic success.

After 1999, however, Portugal’s economy faltered. Portugal entered recession, and budget deficits and unemployment rose. Unpopular cuts to some public services followed, further undermining support for the government. Already mired in corruption charges, the government took responsibility in 2001 for a bridge collapse that killed 70 people. Guterres resigned in late 2001 after the Socialist Party fared badly in local elections. The Social Democrats failed to capture a majority in 2002 elections and entered a governing alliance with the conservative Popular Party. Social Democrat leader José Manuel Durão Barroso was named prime minister and pledged to reduce corporate taxes and lower public spending by encouraging private investment in public services. Nevertheless, the economy continued to weaken, and by 2004 Portugal’s economy was among the poorest performing in Europe.

Durão Barroso resigned as prime minister in 2004 to become president of the European Commission, the highest administrative body of the European Union (EU). The government of his successor, former mayor of Lisbon Pedro Santana Lopes, proved ineffective from the start. Four months into Santana Lopes’s term Portugal’s president announced he would dissolve parliament and call new elections in 2005. The episode capped a period of political instability that began with the economic downturn after 1999, during which no prime minister managed to complete a full term in office.

The 2005 parliamentary elections delivered a crushing defeat to the Social Democrats, giving the Socialists an absolute majority in parliament—something no party had achieved since 1991. The Socialists, led by José Sócrates, a former environment minister, vowed to promote economic growth and to reduce Portugal’s budget deficit by shedding public sector jobs through attrition. Former prime minister Aníbal Cavaco Silva was elected president in 2006. Many challenges remained for Portugal. To maintain a robust economy and continue to provide public services, the government worked to increase its international competitiveness by modernizing industry and infrastructure and improving the country’s education system.

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