Portugal is a country in southern Europe. Situated on the west side of the
Iberian Peninsula, its geographic location along the Atlantic coast soon
determined its vocation to the sea. The mainland is located at the
extreme southwest of the Iberian Peninsula and has an area of 91.985
square kilometres. It is bounded to north and east by Spain and to west
and south by the Atlantic Ocean. Portuguese territory also includes the
archipelagoes of the Azores and Madeira.
The Madeira archipelago lies in the Atlantic Ocean about 556 miles
southwest of Lisbon and is constituted by the islands of Madeira, Porto
Santo, Desertas and Selvagens. The Azores archipelago lies in the
Atlantic Ocean 760 miles from Lisbon and 2110 from New York. It is
constituted by nine islands and a few islets: Santa Maria, São Miguel,
Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo.
In 1415, the Portuguese set sail on an epic voyage that would make them
the first to discover the ocean routes to India,
Brazil, China and
Japan, and at the same time founded settlements on the east and west
coasts of Africa. Following its heyday as a world power during the 15th
and 16th centuries, Portugal lost much of its wealth and status with the
destruction of Lisbon in a 1755 earthquake,
occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, and the independence in 1822 of
Brazil as a colony. The beginning of the twentieth century was marked by
an unstable political environment which led to the establishment of the
Republic in 1910. Portugal took part in the I World War alongside the
Allies but by the mid-twenties the country's economic and financial
situation was very serious, situation that eventually brought about the
so called "New State" marked by corporatism and authoritarianism, with
democratic liberties being suppressed. In 1974, a left-wing
military coup installed
broad democratic reforms. The following year
Portugal granted independence to all of its African colonies. A
member-country of the European Union since 1986, Portugal currently
enjoys a steady economic growth.
Traces of this worldwide historic presence may be seen as trademarks of
the Portuguese genius. The Portuguese language became one of the most
widely spoken in the world, and the Portuguese people were privileged
for being exposed to so many different civilizations. The vast
monumental, artistic and archaeologic heritage does witness not only the
850 years of history of encounters with distant cultures, but also the
presence in the territory of more ancient peoples (Celts, Suevians,
Visigoths, Romans and Arabs).
The natural advantages of a sunny country with such diverse geographic
features have turned Portugal into a chosen destination for many
holidaymakers, an ideal place for practicing water sports and playing
golf, offering modern tourism facilities, and quaint and personalized
means of accommodation, such as turismo de habitação (privately owned
homes ranging from wonderful farmhouses to manor houses), hotéis de
charme or pousadas.
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal
and has approximately two million inhabitants counting those in the
city's outskirts. The history of Lisbon goes back more than twenty
centuries. As well as being a modern and
cosmopolitan city, Lisbon also
shows the typical life of the old quarters, with distinctive medieval
architecture, narrow streets where the old houses stand side by side
with old palaces and imposing churches. Lisbon has been the scene for
some international cultural festivals and in 1998 hosted the last World
Exposition of the century of which the subject was "The Oceans: a
heritage for the future".
At the mouth of the river Douro is the country's
second largest city, Porto, with an
historic centre recently classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
Much of the city's reputation comes from the wine that bears the same
name (Port wine). Porto has strong typical characteristics and is known
for the dynamic nature of its business and cultural life.