Alentejo plains, ALENTEJO

ABOUT PORTUGAL
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ABOUT PORTUGAL
THE HISTORY OF PORTUGAL

Prehistory
From 1000 BC onwards the Peninsula began to be inhabited by the Celts, who arrived there from northern and central Europe. They intermarried with the local inhabitants who were descended from the first Indo-European migrations.

Photo: rock engravings, Foz Côa

To see Foz Côa Tours, click here. 

 

 

The Roman era (3rd. century BC to 4th. century AD)
From the 3rd. Century BC, after some resistance on the part of the Lusitanians, the whole of Iberia became part of the Roman Empire for many centuries. As a Neo-Latin language, Portuguese is a legacy of these times (and is nowadays the sixth most widely-spoken language in the world). During this time, present-day Portugal was part of Roman Iberia and, as in the rest of the Empire, the inhabitants became Roman Christians.

Break-up of the Roman Empire (4th. and 5th. centuries)
The whole of the western Roman Empire was occupied by Germanic tribes who were, to a greater or lesser extent, violent invaders and established themselves in various areas of the country. They eventually adopted Christianity and some earlier Roman customs and intermarried with the existing local populations.

The Visigoth period
The Suevi established a kingdom that had its seat in Braga and included the territory of Galicia (the present day Galicia, to the north of Portugal) and most of Lusitania. A rival kingdom was founded by the Visigoths who, in 585, conquered Braga and destroyed the Suevi kingdom. From this time onwards, the whole of the Iberian Peninsula was unified under the Visigoths until the arrival of new invaders.

The Arab era (8th. – 12th. century)
After the death of the prophet Mohammed, a spectacular movement of conversion and Arab conquest began, which had its epicentre in Arabia and spread westwards, capturing the whole of the Maghreb and, in 711, the Iberian Peninsula. The Peninsular Arab civilisation, which had its seat in Andalusia (in Spain), was sophisticated, scientifically advanced and tolerant in terms of religion. It lasted from 711 to around 1189, when Silves, in the Algarve, was captured (Cordoba and the kingdom of Granada were only taken by the Spanish in 1492). The Arab presence was densest in the south of the Iberian Peninsula.

The founding of the nation and the Medieval period (Ist. dynasty, 12th. – 15th. centuries)
After 1139 Portugal became an independent kingdom, occupying the area between the Castilians to the west and the Arabs to the south. It therefore stood in the front line between the two different religious civilisations (Christian and Islamic). To the south lay the Moors, to be conquered with the aid of other Christian crusaders from the north of Europe. Portugal established its borders very early on in its history and they have remained virtually unaltered to this day.

The Second Dynasty
Following a dynastic crisis, the independence of the country was seriously threatened and Portugal was almost absorbed into the kingdom of Castile. After the Crisis of 1383-85, a leader appeared who would eventually become the king of Portugal, Prince João, the Master of Avis, later crowned King João I (photo). Portugal did not experience feudalism in the same way as Central Europe as the kingdom was not divided into fiefdoms. The Middle Ages was a period of (slowly emerging) economic and military prosperity that would come to fruition in a subsequent phase involving the seafaring adventures of a small country that would eventually control a large part of world trade for almost a century and give birth to globalisation.

 

 

The Discoveries (15th. and 16th. centuries)
Expansion southwards in the direction of the Algarve was continued overseas, firstly in Morocco, where many outposts such as Ceuta were secured, and afterwards by sailing round Africa in the direction of India. Portugal had always belonged to Europe but, being heavily influenced by its extreme westerly location, had, from the outset, also looked to the Atlantic. Following the latest discoveries in the art of navigation, many of which had been invented by scholars of the Portuguese court, men set sail for the open seas. They discovered a sea route to India in 1499 (led by Vasco da Gama) and to Brazil in 1500 (led by Pedro Álvares Cabral) and were also the first Europeans to arrive in n Japan in 1543. Thus, for half a century the Portuguese controlled the spice trade with the East and in the process built trading posts and fortresses in Morocco, Cabo Verde, Guiné, Angola, Mozambique, Moçâmedes (the present-day Namibia province in Angola), Daman, Diu, Goa, Malacca, Macao and Timor. Goa, in India, was particularly influenced by Portuguese architecture and was often referred to as the Rome of the East. Another Portuguese sailor, Fernão de Magalhães, led the first circumnavigation of the world (under the Spanish flag).

King Sebastião (photo)
The twilight of the most brilliant period in Portuguese history was marked by a king who was a dreamer with the mindset of Dom Quixote, a medieval king born out of his time who led Portugal to disaster at Alcácer Quibir, in Morocco, in 1578. There, a large Portuguese army was defeated by the Moors, the Sultans’ troops. This defeat led to the loss of Portuguese independence, since the king had left no heir and the lifeblood of the nation had vanished in the sands of the desert. In any psychoanalysis of Portugal, this represented a national trauma. It also marked the beginnings of saudosismo and a certain national melancholy.

 

 

 

The third dynasty: the Spanish kings (1580-1640)
For dynastic reasons and as a direct result of the events at Alcácer Quibir (photo), the crown passed to the Spanish royal family in 1580. Three Castilian kings in succession ruled over two kingdoms at the same time (using the title "the Second of Spain and First of Portugal"). It was not an era of total oppression but the Portuguese people nevertheless wanted to be free of Spain. Nationalist feelings prevailed and in 1640, under the leadership of D. João (who would become the first king of the next dynasty), the crown was restored to Portugal.

 

The fourth dynasty: the Restoration (1640-1680)
Battles with the neighbouring Spanish as a result of the restoration of the throne to the Portuguese lasted for decades. Portugal always managed to resist although often in precarious circumstances. The country was exhausted. This was the period in which many buildings were designed in the so-called "estilo chão" (plain style), a term used to describe the art of building well with few resources. Many military establishments were built during this period, which can still be seen here and there all over mainland Portugal, particular in the border areas, with their sturdy walls and forts designed, by necessity, for modern warfare and artillery.

The Baroque era (1680-1800)
The crowning of King João V marked the dawn of the monarchist and ultramontanist regime and was the second era of great splendour in architecture and related disciplines. The Portuguese royal family lived in great pomp due to the wealth derived from the Brazilian mines. It was also a period marked by a tragic event, the 1755 earthquake, which destroyed the Algarve and the capital. From the ruins emerged a resolute figure, the Marquis of Pombal (photo), who, with his pragmatic, authoritarian and rationalist mind, reconstructed Lisbon and endowed it with an network of urban buildings. The Pombaline baixa area was the first series of buildings to incorporate anti-seismic features.

The French Invasions (1807, 1809, 1810)
Following the capitulation of Germany at the start of the 19th. century, Napoleonic France set it sights on Iberia and Portugal could not escape its expansionist plans. The country suffered three successive invasions during what became known as the Peninsular Wars. The fighting was fierce and the resistance stubborn, aided by Portugal’s traditional ally, England. The Portuguese royal family moved to Brazil, together with thousands of members of the court and led the resistance and international political negotiations from there. It was a unique case in world history of a court commanding operations in the metropolis from one of its colonies.

The Civil War (1820-1834)
The king did not return from Brazil immediately after the French had been routed and discontent with a certain domination by the English began to be felt. The French had left the spirit of the French Revolution behind them and popular and liberal sedition was the order of the day. In 1820 there was an uprising in Porto, followed by another in Lisbon. The people wanted the court and the king to return and to sign a constitutionalist charter inspired by the French Constitution of 1791. The two heirs, D. Pedro and D. Miguel, fought for the throne on opposing sides. The former wanted a modern, liberal monarchy whilst the latter wanted an absolutist state. The country was laid waste by a civil war in which D. Pedro finally triumphed, following a battle fought in the outskirts of Évora in 1834. After this Portugal was ruled by a monarchy that remained liberal until the end of its days.

End of the 19th. Century

From the middle to the end of this century, Portugal experienced a period of reasonable stability during which an embryonic process of industrialisation took place in certain areas of the country. However, the English Ultimatum was delivered in 1890 (Portugal had wanted to link Mozambique to Angola, clashing with the interests of the English, who wanted to link South Africa with Egypt). The people wanted to take up arms but the king shrewdly refused to go to war over the issue. Republican movements began to acquire a strong presence in the country and there was a Republican revolt in Porto in 1891. This and other social tensions led to the assassination of King Carlos in 1908 (photo). The monarchy fell two years later, ending the fourth dynasty of Portuguese kings.

 

 

The First Republic (1910-1926)
Portugal has been a republic for one century. The first (of the three) Republics was very confused and unstable. Several governments followed in succession and from time to time there were bombings and shootings, monarchist uprisings, strikes and artillery fire. In 1917 the Portuguese Expeditionary Force took part in the First World War under English command in Flanders. The Germans launched a massive offensive that included the lines where the Portuguese were stationed. They were crushed by the vastly superior forces but managed to hold out long enough to ensure that the lines were not breached. After the First World War, the situation in Portugal began to deteriorate. After 16 years and 50 governments the country was in a profound state of unrest.

The Estado Novo (“New State” 1926-1974)
In 1926 there was a military uprising in protest against the chaotic state of the First Republic and a coup d’état took place, leading to the longest dictatorship in the whole of Europe (1926-1974). The coup gave way to a more long-term form of government after 1933. In Coimbra a university professor emerged who promised to organise the country’s finances and managed to succeed in doing so. His name was Salazar (photo)and he was, without doubt, the figure who made the greatest mark on 20th. century Portugal. His regime was authoritarian, pro-Catholic and inspired by a comparatively mild form of fascism. His great slogan was "God, Fatherland and Family ". The high point of the Estado Novo occurred in 1940 when the Exhibition of the Portuguese World was held in Belém (the Padrão dos Descobrimentos – Monument to the Discoveries - still remains and is now part of the national and Lisbon identity). Portugal remained neutral during the Second World War and afterwards the regime attempted to redefine itself but became progressively more isolated on the international scene, particularly with the advent of the Colonial Wars which lasted from 1961 to 1974. The people of Angola, Mozambique and Guiné revolted against Portuguese occupation and began the wars of liberation. These guerrilla wars led to a kind of Portuguese Vietnam that was fought on three fronts. An entire generation was mobilized to fight in Africa and the never-ending wars provided one, if not the major, reason for the collapse of the Estado Novo. In 1968 Salazar fell from his chair and injured his head. He was replaced by his right-hand man Marcelo Caetano whose attempts to open up the regime proved disappointing and contradictory, pleasing neither those who wanted reforms nor those who were more conservative.

Democracy (1974 to the present day)
On 25 April 1974 the regime fell in a peaceful revolution that was supported by the majority of the population. The economy almost collapsed and until the 1980s the country entered into a period of increasing instability and economic crisis. The great fear of the United States and many other countries in the west was that Portugal would turn into a kind of European Cuba. It initially experienced a climate of near civil war but by the end of the 1970s society had stabilised. Many of the inhabitants of the ex-colonies (Portuguese or descendants of the Portuguese) returned and were absorbed into society within a few years. In 1985 Portugal joined the European Union and most Portuguese are pro-European. Today, in spite of the usual problems experienced in a democracy, the country enjoys a stable and lasting rule of law in which the two central parties alternate in power, with or without entering into alliances with other parties. In the 1980s and 1990s Portuguese society underwent a series of major, profound and rapid changes, moving from a country whose economy was based on agriculture to one based on services. Literacy rates have improved greatly in recent decades and improvements in living conditions, including the infant mortality rate, have been spectacular. Nowadays it may be said that, although it still has some structural problems, Portugal has the characteristics of a developed country. Not to mention 800 years of history as a nation state.