PORTUGAL has been called “the last old place.” It is the least known corner of Europe—“Iberian, but not Spanish; Latin, but not Mediterranean; cosmopolitan, but not crowded.” The people are melancholy, conservative, religious and prudent, but they also have a flair for the exotic and enjoy being different. Portuguese people are passionately proud of their country. Everything about their culture speaks of the nostalgia they feel about their unique place in world history.
The first world revolution, before the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century and the Information Revolution of the 20th, was the Geographic Revolution of the 15th century. It was begun and lead by the Portuguese. Always a seafaring people, the Portuguese, under the patronage of Prince Henry, began a navigation school. By 1500, Vasco da Gama, Bartolomeu Dias and numerous other Portuguese explorers had reached the coasts of Africa, the Arabian and Malay peninsulas, the East Indies, and the Orient. They had become the most powerful nation of the world. The Portuguese jokingly say, “We never intended to rule the world, but rather, to buy it cheap and sell it dear.” History has shown that in actuality, the price was very dear and the “selling” very cheap. In 1999, Portugal gave up its last colony, Macao.
Sharing only a fifth of the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, Portugal is a small country—about the size of Indiana. Situated on the west coast of the Peninsula, facing the Atlantic, 350 miles from north to south, Portugal’s topography is as varied as its population. Most of Portugal’s 10 million inhabitants live in rural fishing and farming villages, while Lisbon, the capital, claims a fifth of the population.
Portugal is a matriarchal society, “spoiled” with a lot of personal freedom and not much discipline. Its people favor patience to perseverance, and tolerance is considered the prime virtue. They have grown up with only the vaguest sense of time constraints, and generally with a streak of independence and an unsinkable self-esteem. Nevertheless, friendliness, especially to foreigners, is Portugal’s greatest asset.
The economy of Portugal is still based on the time-honored skills of fishing, farming and hand crafts. Ceramic tiles and pottery, needle work, cork products, wine, olive oil, tomato paste, sardines and cod have long been the staples of trade, but the last decade has seen great growth in the service industries, including tourism. In 1986, Portugal joined the European Community as its poorest member. It is now the fastest growing nation in the European Community and in the summer of 1998, Portugal will host the World’s Fair.
The recorded history of Portugal began 5,000 years ago. Phoenicians, Celts, Greeks and Carthaginians all conquered and settled in Iberia. The Romans claimed the peninsula in 201 B.C. and named the Portuguese portion of the empire Lusitania. They built cities and linked them with their system of roads. Latin became the root of both the Portuguese and Spanish languages.
During the A.D. 400’s, Germanic tribes took over until the Muslim armies arrived from North Africa in 711. By the mid-1200’s, the Crusaders had driven out the Muslims and Castile (Spain) officially recognized Portugal’s border, the oldest in Europe.
The monarchy was overthrown in 1910 and Portugal became a republic. However, after the instability of 45 different governments, the army overthrew the civilian government sin 1926 and put Oliveira Salazar in control. Within a few years, Salazar became dictator. Modern Portugal came into being in 1974, when the military leaders again overthrew the government–this time Salazar’s fascist regime, and returned the country to a republic with a parliament and a president elected by the voters.