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A Brief History of Portugal

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by Samuel Lyons

Let’s enter Portugal as far back as we can and see how it unveils a captivating história (history) that weaves through various cultural and imperial epochs. From the echoes of Celtic linguagem (language) in modern Portuguese, to the Roman legacy of castanha trees and vinhas, and the Moorish oliveiras, azulejos, and culinary arts, Portugal’s past is a mesmerizing blend of influences.

The invasões that shaped Portugal’s early history—Romans (2nd century BC), Visigoths (5th century AD), Vandals, followed by Moors (8th century AD), and European crusaders (12th century AD)—raise an intriguing question: did these alter the population or just shift the ruling powers? It’s a fascinating puzzle for anyone seeking to enter Portugal and delve into its past.

The Greeks first called the Iberian Peninsula, home to both Portugal and Spain, Iberia, but it was the Romans who named it Hispania or Lusitania. They established Olisipo (Lisboa) as a significant city, embedding the Latin raízes of the Portuguese language and laying down estradas (roads) that are precursors to today’s modern highways.

The arrival of the Mouros in 711 AD marked a new chapter, lasting until Dom Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king, reclaimed Lisbon in 1147. This victory initiated the gradual integration of Moorish culture into Portuguese society, especially evident in Lisbon’s Moorish quarter, the birthplace of the soulful Fado music—an essential experience for those looking to enter Portugal.

By the 12th century, Portuguese merchants were engaging in comércio with English and Italian partners, attracting a cosmopolitan mix of traders to Lisbon. This era set the stage for Portugal’s Age of Discoveries, which would redefine global trade and exploration.

The epoch of Descobrimentos (Discoveries) marks a pivotal era in Portuguese exploration, beginning with Bartolomeu Dias’ monumental voyage in 1488, when he became the first European to sail around the southern tip of Africa, opening the route to Asia. This milestone was followed by Vasco da Gama’s historic journey in 1497, reaching India and establishing a sea route that connected Europe directly with the Asian subcontinent.

Arch Shadow at Azulejo Wall
Arch Shadow at Azulejo Wall

The subsequent discovery of Brazil in 1500 further expanded Portugal’s global influence. However, this age of exploration also led to the initiation of the transatlantic slave trade, a dark chapter in history that had lasting repercussions.

The late 16th century witnessed the tumultuous reign of King Sebastian, whose Moroccan campaign led to a temporary union under Spanish rule. This era ended with the Treaty of Lisbon in 1668, a pivotal moment for those wishing to enter Portugal and explore its rich history of resilience and independence.

The 14th-century Treaty of Windsor, an alliance with England, not only fostered trade but also played a crucial role during the Napoleonic invasions. This alliance is a testament to Portugal’s long-standing global connections, a key aspect for anyone looking to enter Portugal and understand its international significance.

The 19th-century Liberal Revolution mirrored France’s revolutionary zeitgeist, catapulting Portugal into an era of political reform and eventual stability. Despite the loss of its Brazilian colony, Portugal sought new colonial ventures in Africa, leading to conflicts with British colonial interests.

colonial ambitions.

In 1890 Britain issued an ultimatum to Portugal over Central African heartlands that Cecil Rhodes was claiming. Portugal capitulated leading to countrywide demonstrations and a discrediting of the government. Proletarian uprisings, of both democrats and anarchists, eventually led to the toppling of the monarchy and the declaration of a liberal republic in 1910. However, unable to satisfy the demands of the rising proletariat and the middle classes, the liberal republic was soon overthrown in the military coup of 1926.

For the following fifty years, Portugal was ruled by an authoritarian conservative dictatorship known as the “Estado Novo” (The New State). Although the New State was essentially a fascist regime, Portugal remained neutral during the Second World War. Because of its anti-communist platform, the dictatorship was tolerated by the Allies following the end of the war. After a long period of economic recession Portugal experienced a rapid increase in wealth as a result of renewed vitality in its African colonies and the large expansion in the European market for Portuguese migrant workers.

In 1986, under President Mario Soares, Portugal joined the European Community, aligning itself with a more moderate and integrated European stance. The economic expansion of the 80s and 90s has since leveled, but EU membership continues to shape Portugal’s political and economic trajectory.

The story of Portugal, with its diverse cultural influences and historical milestones, offers a rich tapestry for those looking to enter Portugal. It’s a journey through time, culture, and change, encapsulating the essence of a nation that continues to evolve and captivate.

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