Tiled Façade of Carmo Church, PORTO

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It is quite unjust to refer to the individuals below without including others of equal merit. However, this list is not intended to be exhaustive and simply includes some figures from this small, friendly country who have achieved international fame.

Vasco da Gama(1469-1524)
The most famous of the Portuguese explorers and navigators, he chose the Portuguese caravel, which at the end of the 15th. century was the most advanced vessel of the age, for his expedition to discover a sea route to India. The voyage, during which he rounded the coast of Africa, lasted approximately two years. To us, this seems a long time, but in fact it replaced a journey that would have taken many more years by land. It also connected Europe to the East, forging trade links and bypassing the Arab civilisation that lay in between. There can be no doubt that the expeditions made by the Portuguese to all the far corners of the world marked the beginning of what is nowadays called globalisation: the movement of people, goods and ideas on a global scale.


Luís de Camões (1524-1580)
The national poet par excellence. He led a remarkable life, being both an adventurer and a scholar. As an explorer, he lived through various uprisings and was involved in several military expeditions, losing an eye in a battle against the Moors. He lived in Goa, in India where, according to legend, he composed the Lusíadas in a grotto. Shipwrecked near the River Mekong, he saved his manuscript with one hand, whilst keeping himself afloat with the other. He fell foul of the authorities, having injured members of the royal household and was imprisoned several times for his erratic behaviour, particularly with regard to debts. He wrote a long narrative poem, "Os Lusíadas", in ten cantos which told the story of the Portuguese Discoveries as an adventure of epic, spiritual and civilisational proportions. “Cease the ancient muse to sing”, is a line from the opening of the Lusíadas, meaning that the muse that had made Virgil and Homer sing should now desist, since the feats of the Portuguese were greater than those of the heroes of classical civilisations. The main hero of the narrative is the navigator Vasco da Gama. At the end of the poem, he is allowed to see a miniature working model of the universe in which the celestial orbs are perfectly interconnected. In other words, although it describes earthly conquests, the poem also deals with the conquest of knowledge. The companions of da Gama were given an island populated by nymphs where they could delight in the most luxurious of pleasures. For anyone interested in reading this classic of world literature, it is available in almost every language. In addition to some plays that are of minor interest, Camões mainly wrote lyrical poems. His love poems are amongst the finest expressions of the passion that one human being can feel for another. Camões died in the year in which Portugal relinquished its independence to Spain (for a period of sixty years).

Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935)
If Prague is the city of Kafka and Dublin the city of James Joyce, then Lisbon is the city of Pessoa. He was educated in South Africa and was originally bilingual but went on to become the greatest writer of the 20th. century in the Portuguese language and one of the most interesting poets of all time on an international level. His work is divided amongst four heteronyms (fictitious authors with their own individual styles). Thus Fernando Pessoa was able to invent a dramatis personae of poets, which simultaneously were and were not the author himself and generated an "entire literature". The extraordinary thing about the heteronyms is that they are, in fact, stylistically, ideologically and aesthically all very different. An important part of his work is dedicated to the occult and to esoteric speculation. He was a friend of the English magus and Satanist Aleister Crowley. The last sentence he wrote before he died was “I do not know what tomorrow will bring”.

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Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999) 
The national diva of fado and the greatest performer of this authentically Portuguese form of music, Amália was born into a humble Lisbon family living in a traditional neighbourhood in the city. Early in life she was accustomed to hearing the popular songs of the street vendors and washerwomen. She was employed in various jobs at an early age, including working as a fruit seller. By the time she was fifteen her exceptional voice was recognised in the street as she sang out her wares. She met and married an amateur guitarist and began singing in fado houses and appearing in plays. She was supported by Portuguese Modernists, such as Almada Negreiros and António Ferro and gradually built up not only a career, but also a legend for herself. In September 1952 she made her first appearance in New York and remained top of the bill for 14 weeks. She was invited to move there but preferred to remain in Lisbon where she had her roots. From this time onwards she achieved international fame through her iconic performances on stages throughout the world. She reinvented fado by singing the traditional songs with a certain urbane verve. Amália considered that living from and for fado was a "strange way of life". She is buried beside national heroes in the National Pantheon.

José Saramago (1922 - 2010 )
Born in 1922, this writer began to publish his work relatively late in life. He mainly wrote novels but also some plays and chronicles. His work always problematises history, beliefs and the way in which human relationships are influenced by power structures. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first time it had ever been awarded to a Portuguese language writer . His "Evangelho segundo Jesus Cristo" (“The Gospel According to Jesus Christ”) proved very controversial in Portugal, since it told the story of Jesus as if narrated by him. The famous American critic Harold Bloom considered Saramago to be a new Shakespeare.

Álvaro Siza Viera (1933 - ) 
He was born in the outskirts of Porto and when training as an architect was influenced by the legendary founders of international Modernism, such as Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Adolf Loss and Frank Lloyd Wright. His works of architecture feature clean design and pure shapes, whose volumes and surfaces intersect with the clarity of the dividing lines between light and shade. He displays an exceptional sense of space that is rare on an international level. The surfaces are usually white or concreted and extend in an extreme decorative purity that conveys a sensation of total architectural plasticity. His works can be found all over Europe. In Portugal some are of unusual interest, such as the Pavilhão de Portugal in the eastern area of Lisbon, the Baixa-Chiado metro station, the Aveiro University campus and the Serralves Museum in Porto.

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António Damásio (1944 - ) 
A doctor and scientist whose work focuses on the structure of the brain and its relationship to human behaviour. He published an international best-seller entitled "Descartes’ Error - Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain" in 1995. The book discusses the most advanced discoveries in the field of neurology up to the date of publication and was followed by a similar work entitled "The Feeling of What Happens ". Damásio’s thesis is that reason is not autonomous, as it had been considered in the west for centuries, but rather a cognitive category that connects perfectly with the entire emotional performance of the brain. He works in the United States and in Portugal and has spoken at conferences throughout the world.

Maria João Pires (1944 - )
A pianist who has achieved international recognition in the field of symphony music, she gave her first piano recital at the age of five and was playing works by Mozart by the time she was seven. She studied piano in Portugal, at the Conservatório, and afterwards in Germany under Rosl Schmid and Karl Engel. She became famous worldwide as a performer when she won an international award in 1970 on the occasion of the bicentenary of the death of Beethoven. Her main recordings and live performances feature works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms and Chopin and she has given world tours of classical music.

Cristiano Ronaldo (1985 - ) 
He was born in 1985 on the island of Madeira to a humble family who lived outside the main centre and he soon revealed an unusual talent for football. He began playing for an obscure local club but was quickly snapped up by bigger clubs. Having been discovered by a talent scout, at the age of 11 he was sent to Sporting, one of the top three Portuguese clubs, where his training was completed, triumphing in various regional and international championships. He has played valiantly for the Portuguese national squad and joined Manchester United and the most competitive championship football in the world in 2006, where he has been a key figure in the club’s attack strategy. His attacking style, with his sights set firmly on the goal posts, has made him famous, in addition to his talent for dribbling the ball past the opposition.