30 facts about Portugal
Here is a mix of informative and interesting facts to prepare you for life in Portugal, or test yourself on how well you know the Portuguese.
1. Portugal holds the records for the longest, and shortest, reigning monarchs in the world – the first ruler Alfonso I Henrique of Portugal reigned for 73 years, 220 days; Crown Prince Luís Filipe was technically King of Portugal for 20 minutes after his father Dom Carlos I was assassinated on 1 February 1908 and before he was wounded in the same attack and died shortly afterwards.
2. Portugal is the oldest nation-state in Europe – it became the kingdom of Portugal in 1139, and Portugal's borders have barely changed since 1297 when the Portuguese and Spanish signed a treaty handing over the Algarve to Portugal. The first king, Alfonso I Henriques, came to power in 1143 and the country remained a kingdom for the next 800 years up until 1910, when it became a republic.
3. Portugal’s official name República Portuguesa (the Portuguese Republic) is named after the country’s second largest city of Porto. Today, Portugal consists of mainland Portugal, the Azores and the Madeira Archipelago. The nine islands of the Azores are situated about two hours’ flight from the mainland in the Atlantic Ocean. The Madeira Archipelago, which consists of Madeira, Porto Santo and two uninhabited islands which are nature reserves, lies about 500km off the African coast.
4. Portugal's dictatorship for almost half of the 20th century is considered the longest in Europe – the authoritarian regime was in power from 1926 to 1974, with Antonio de Oliviera Salazar in control for most of that time. First was the Ditadura Nacional (National Dictatorship), followed by the Estado Novo (‘New State’). A bloodless coup known as the ‘carnation revolution’ overthrew the authoritarian regime on the 25 April 1974. This day is commemorated every year with the public holiday Freedom Day. Portugal became a democratic republic in 1976.
5. Portugal was the world’s first maritime power, and birthplace to some of the world's first explorers. It was at the forefront of European exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries: During the Age of Discovery, Ferdinand Magellan was the first person to circumnavigate the globe; Vasco de Gama discovered the sea route to India; Bartholomew Diaz was the first to sail around the southern tip of Africa, which he called the Cape of Good Hope; and Álvares Cabral and others discovered new lands, including Brazil, parts of Africa and the Far East – and claimed them for Portugal.
6. Portugal’s colonial empire spanned 600 years, the longest-lived of the modern European empires. At its height it included what are now 53 different countries. Brazil got independence in 1822, all of Portugal’s African colonies were independent by the end of 1975 and the last Portuguese colony, Macau, was handed over to China in 1999.
7. Portuguese is the official language of eight other countries outside of Portugal – as a result of its colonisation, Portuguese is spoken in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, as well as Goa in India and Macau. It’s the 6th most spoken first language in the world with around 203 million speakers (2014).
8. Portugal was first European nation to engage with the transatlantic slave trade – taking slaves from West Africa to the New World. It was also the first colonial power to abolish slavery, some 50 years before Britain, Spain, France and the United States.
9. Portugal is a founding member of NATO and an EU member – it joined the European Economic Community (EEC), now the European Union (EU), in 1986. Portugal was awarded a 78 billion EUR EU/IMF bailout by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2011 on the understanding that the government would adopt austerity measures.
10. Portugal was one of the first countries to adopt the euro but you can still exchange Portuguese escudo banknotes for euros: it officially gave up its own currency, the Portuguese escudo, in favour of the euro in 1999. Euro currency was introduced in 2002 and the Banco de Portugal (Central Bank of Portugal) will continue to exchange escudo banknotes until 28 February 2022.
11. The earliest recorded hot air balloon ascent was in Portugal – a model hot air balloon invented by Father Bartolomeu de Gusmão (1685–1724) ascended on 8 August 1709 at the Casa da India, Terreiro do Paço, Portugal.
12. Lisbon is older than Rome, and among the oldest cities in Europe – archaelogical finds dating back to 1200BC reveal Phoenecian populations in and around Portugal's capital city.
13. Around 81 percent of Portugal’s population are Roman Catholics – Christianity came to Portugal when it was part of the Roman Empire. Church and state have been separate since the days of the First Republic (1920–26) but Catholic moral and legal codes have a foundation, and most traditional festivals and fairs have religious origins.
14. Monks and nuns are credited for creating some of Portugal's tastiest traditional treats – you can eat a nun’s belly (barrigas de freira), an angel’s double chin (papos de anjo) and fat from heaven (toucinho do céu) in Portugal; they are all delicious pastries. The monks and nuns in Portugal’s many monasteries and convents used egg whites to starch their habits and preserve wine, and made cakes and pastries with the leftover egg yolks.
15. Women in Portugal live six years longer than men – a gender gap greater than in most other OECD countries. According to the OECD 2014 statistics, life expectancy at birth in Portugal is 77.3 years for men, and 83.6 years for women.
16. Portugal was the sixth country in Europe to allow same-sex marriage in 2010 – Portugal has come a long way since homosexuality was outlawed and punishable by imprisonment under the fascist Estado Novo regime. It also ranks 10th out of 49 countries worldwide for its record on LGBT human rights in the 2015 Ilga-Europe Rainbow Country Rankings.
17. The longest bridge in Europe is in Portugal – the six-lane, cable-stayed Vasco de Gama bridge crossing the Tagus River to the north of Lisbon is over 10 miles long.
18. The Portuguese are fatalists – Portugal has a tradition of fado, the idea that one’s fate or destiny cannot be escaped, and it’s the name given to a form of traditional Portuguese singing that’s been given UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage status. You’ll often hear fado in bars, cafes and restaurants – melancholic songs of love, loss, hopefulness and resignation – accompanied by soulful guitars, mandolins and violins. Fado also appears in in everyday speech: people often use the expression oxalá which means ‘hopefully' or ‘if only’, from the Arabic inshallah = ‘god willing’.
19. Portugal’s most famous export and its national drink is Port – it is fortified wine made by adding grape spirit, or brandy, to the wine before fermentation ends, making it sweet and very alcoholic at around 20 percent proof. The wine is then aged in oak barrels or steel containers for between two and six years before bottling. Port wine grapes are only grown on the steeply terraced hillsides of the Douro valley near Porto, one of the world’s oldest established wine producing regions and UNESCO World Heritage site.
20. Portugal is Europe's most westernly point – the westernmost point on mainland Europe is the Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca) in Portugal.
21. The biggest wave ever surfed was in Portugal – an underwater canyon in the area makes this part of the Portuguese coastline the world’s biggest wave generator. In February 2011, Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara rode a gargantuan wave of 23.77m (78ft) off the coast of Nazaré in Portugal – and created a new world record.
22. The oldest diplomatic alliance in the world is the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance – signed by England and Portugal back in 1373, and is still in force today.
23. The Livraria Bertrand (Bertrand Bookshop) in Lisbon is the world’s oldest bookshop – founded in 1732. Sadly it was one of the many casualties of the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, which scored 8.5 on the Richter scale and left around 60,000 dead. The bookshop set up shop on Rua Garrett in 1773, where it still stands. There are around 50 branches of Livraria Bertrand throughout Portugal.
24. Sport Lisboa e Benfica is considered the world’s most widely supported football club – according to the Guinness Book of World Records, with 160,389 paid-up members as at 9 November 2006.
25. Japanese tempura is credited to Portuguese traders – this dish of battered, deep-fried vegetables and seafood was invented by Portuguese traders and missionaries in the 16th century.
26. Over half the world’s cork comes from Portugal – Portugal has the largest cork oak forests (montados) in the world and its cork oak (Quercus suber L) is protected by law. Cork is stripped from the trunk of the cork oak every nine years without damaging the tree.
27. Football icon Cristiano Rinaldo is Portuguese – he was born Cristiano Rinaldo dos Santos Averio in Funchal, the capital of the autonomous regions of Madeira in 1985.
28. The town of Olivenza and its seven surrounding villages is one of the last disputed territories in western Europe – located on the border between Portugal and Spain. It was under Portuguese sovereignty for 500 years until the beginning of the 19th century, after which it came under Spanish rule – Portugal has been trying to get it back ever since.
29. Portugal is a world leader in renewable energy – by July 2014 around 70 percent of its energy came from renewable sources such as wind, hydro and solar power. One of the world’s largest photovoltaic farms is near the town on Moura in south-east Portugal. Innovative projects include a floating wind farm (the WindFloat) and WaveRoller, which converts the movement of ocean waves to energy and electricity.
30. The world’s largest omelette was made in Portugal – in Santerém on 11 August 2012. It took 55 people, six hours, 145,000 eggs, 880lbs of oil and 220lbs of butter to make the 6,466kg omelette.
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