Portugal, formally the Portuguese Republic, is a nation in Southwestern Europe located on the Iberian Peninsula. It is the westernmost nation on the European continent. It is bounded on the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the east and north by Spain. The Portugal–Spain border is 1,214 kilometers (754 miles) long and is regarded the European Union’s longest continuous border. Additionally, the republic encompasses the Azores and Madeira archipelagos, both of which are independent entities with their own regional administrations.
Since prehistoric times, the area of modern Portugal has been continually inhabited, invaded, and fought over. Following the Pre-Celts, Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans, the Visigothic and Suebi Germanic peoples invaded. In 711, the Moors conquered the Iberian Peninsula, and for the next centuries, Portugal would be a member of the Muslim Al Andalus. Portugal was established as a consequence of the Christian Reconquista, and in 1139, Afonso Henriques was crowned King of Portugal, thus securing Portugal’s independence.
Portugal created the world’s first empire in the 15th and 16th centuries, becoming one of the world’s main economic, political, and military powers. Portuguese explorers pioneered maritime exploration during this period, most notably under the royal patronage of Prince Henry the Navigator and King Joo II, with such notable discoveries as Vasco da Gama’s sea route to India (1497–98), the discovery of Brazil (1500), and the reaching of the Cape of Good Hope. During this historical period, Portugal monopolized the spice trade, while the Portuguese Empire grew via military operations in Asia. However, Lisbon’s devastation in a 1755 earthquake, the country’s occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, Brazil’s independence (1822), and the Liberal Wars (1828–34) all left Portugal wounded by conflict and reduced in global influence.
After the monarchy was overthrown in 1910, the democratic but unstable Portuguese First Republic was formed, only to be succeeded by the right-wing authoritarian dictatorship of the Estado Novo. After the Portuguese Colonial War and the 1974 Carnation Revolution, democracy was restored. Shortly afterwards, virtually all of its foreign colonies gained independence, thus ending the world’s longest-lived colonial empire. Portugal has a significant cultural and architectural impact on the rest of the world, as well as a legacy of over 250 million Portuguese speakers.
Portugal is a developed nation with a developed economy and a good quality of life. It is the world’s fifth most peaceful nation, with a unitarysemi-presidential republican system of government. It ranks 18th in the world in terms of social progress, surpassing other Western European nations such as France, Spain, and Italy. NATO and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries are also founder members, and it is also a member of a number of other international organizations, including the United Nations, the European Union, the eurozone, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Geography of Portugal
The Portuguese territories comprise an area of the Iberian Peninsula and two archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean: the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores.
Continental Portugal is divided by its main river, the Tagus, which comes from Spain and flows into Lisbon at the Tagus estuary before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. The landscape in the north is mountainous towards the interior, with several plateaus interspersed with river valleys, while the south, which includes the Algarve and Alentejo regions, is characterized by undulating plains.
Portugal’s highest peak is the eponymous Mount Pico on the island of Pico in the Azores. This ancient volcano, 2,351 m high, is a landmark in the Azores, while the Serra da Estrela on the mainland (the peak is 1,991 m above sea level) is a major seasonal attraction for skiers and winter sports enthusiasts.
The archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores are scattered across the Atlantic Ocean: the Azores lie on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at a triple tectonic junction and Madeira along a mountain range formed by the geology of the plate’s hot spots. From a geological point of view, those islands have been formed due to volcanic and seismic events. In 1957-58, Capelinhos was last volcanic eruption on land and sporadically smaller earthquakes occur, generally of low intensity.
Portugal’s Exclusive Economic Zone, a maritime area in which the Portuguese have special rights for the exploration and exploitation of marine resources, covers 1,727,408 km2. The Portuguese Exclusive Economic Zone is the 3rd biggest in the EU and the 11th biggest in the world.
Demographics of Portugal
The Portuguese Statistical Office (INE – Instituto Nacional de Estatística) estimates the population at 10,562,178 inhabitants (52% women and 48% men) according to the 2011 census. This population has been relatively homogenous for most of its history: a single religion (Catholicism) and a single language have contributed to this ethnic and national unity, following the expulsion of the Moors and Jews. Nevertheless, a considerable number of Moors and Jews remained in Portugal, provided they converted to Catholicism. They were later called Mouriscos (former Muslims) and Cristãos Novos (new Christians or former Jews), some of whom may have continued to practice rabbinic Judaism in secret, as in the case of the secret Jews of Belmonte, who now openly practice the Jewish faith. The distinction between old and new Christians was abolished by decree after 1772. Famous Portuguese New Christians include the mathematician Pedro Nunes and the physician and naturalist Garcia de Orta.
The Portuguese are an Iberian ethnic group whose ancestry is very similar to that of other peoples of Western and Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, particularly the Spanish, followed by some French and Italian regional people, with whom they share a common ancestry, history and cultural proximity.
The most important demographic influence among the modern Portuguese seems to be the oldest; the current interpretation of Y chromosome and mtDNA data suggests that the Portuguese have their origins in the Palaeolithic peoples who began arriving on the European continent around 45,000 years ago. All subsequent migrations have left an impact, genetically and culturally, but the main source of population of the Portuguese is still the Paleolithic. Genetic studies show that Portuguese populations are not significantly different from other European populations.
The total fertility rate (TFR) in 2015 has been estimated at 1.52 children born/woman, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1. Like most western countries, Portugal also faces a low fertility rate: since the 1980s, the birth rate has been below the replacement rate.
The structure of Portuguese society is characterised by increasing inequality, which currently (2015) places the country in the bottom third of the European Union’s social justice index.
Portugal’s colonial history has long been a cornerstone of its national identity, as has its geographical location in south-western Europe, facing the Atlantic Ocean. It was one of the last colonial powers in Western Europe to renounce its overseas territories (including Angola and Mozambique in 1975), handing over the administration of Macao to China at the end of 1999. As a result, it has been both influenced and affected by the cultures of the former colonies or dependencies, leading to immigration from these former territories for both economic and personal reasons. From being a country of emigration for a long time ( the large majority of Brazilians have Portuguese origin), the country became a source of net immigration, not only of the last overseas territories of India (Portuguese until 1961), Africa (Portuguese until 1975) and Far East Asia (Portuguese until 1999). Approximately 800,000 Portuguese returned to Portugal after the country’s African colonies became independent in 1975. In 2007, Portugal had a population of 10,617,575, of which approximately 332,137 were legal immigrants.
Several new waves of Ukrainians, Brazilians, people from the former Portuguese colonies in Africa and other Africans have moved to the country from the 1990s, alongside a construction boom. Romanians, Moldovans, Kosovars and Chinese have also chosen Portugal as a destination. Portugal’s Roma population is estimated at around 40,000.
In addition, a number of EU nationals, mainly from the United Kingdom, other Northern European countries or Nordic countries, have settled permanently in the country (the British community being mainly composed of retired people who have chosen to live in the Algarve and Madeira).
Religion in Portugal
According to the 2011 census, 81.0% of the Portuguese population is Roman Catholic. The country has small communities of Protestants, Latter-day Saints, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’is, Buddhists, Jews and Spiritualists. The influences of traditional African religion and traditional Chinese religion are also felt by many people, especially in areas related to traditional Chinese medicine and African sorcerers. About 6.8% of the population reported being non-religious, and 8.3% did not specify their religion.
According to a 2012 study conducted by the Catholic University, approximately 79.5% of the Portuguese population declared that they consider themselves Catholics, while 18% regularly go to church. These figures represent a decrease from the 86.9% of Catholics in 2001, while in the same period the number of people who declared that they had no religion fell from 8.2% to 14.2%.
Many Portuguese festivals, celebrations and traditions have a Christian origin or connotation. Although relations between the Portuguese state and the Roman Catholic Church were generally friendly and stable from the early years of the Portuguese nation, their relative power has fluctuated.
The growth of the Portuguese overseas empire made its missionaries important agents of colonisation, playing a major role in the education and evangelisation of the populations of all inhabited continents. The growth of liberal and aspirational republican movements in the periods leading up to the establishment of the first Portuguese Republic (1910-26) changed the role and importance of organised religion.
Portugal is a secular state: Church and state were formally separated during the First Portuguese Republic and later reaffirmed in the Portuguese Constitution of 1976. Apart from the Constitution, the two most important documents concerning religious freedom in Portugal are the Concordat of 1940 (later amended in 1971) between Portugal and the Holy See and the Religious Freedom Law of 2001.
Economy of Portugal
Portugal is a developed, high-income country whose GDP per capita was 78% of the EU27 average in 2014, compared with 76% in 2012. Portugal’s currency is the euro (€), which replaced the Portuguese escudo, and the country was one of the first member countries in the euro area. The Portuguese central bank is the Banco de Portugal, which is part of the European System of Central Banks. Most industries, companies and financial institutions are concentrated in the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Oporto – the largest economic centres outside these two areas are Setúbal, Aveiro, Braga, Coimbra and Leiria. According to the World Travel Awards, Portugal was the top golf destination in Europe in 2012 and 2013.
Since the Carnation Revolution of 1974, which marked the end of one of Portugal’s most remarkable periods of economic expansion (which began in the 1960s), the country’s annual economic growth has changed considerably. After the turbulence of the 1974 Revolution and the PREC period, Portugal has sought to adapt to a changing modern global economy, a process that will continue into 2013. Since the 1990s, Portugal’s economic development model, based on public consumption, has slowly been transformed into a system focused on exports, private investment and the development of the high-tech sector.
In the second decade of the 21st century, the Portuguese economy suffered its worst recession since the 1970s, leading the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to bail out the country. The rescue plan, agreed in 2011, required Portugal to implement a series of austerity measures in exchange for €78bn in financial support. In May 2014, the country emerged from the rescue plan but reaffirmed its commitment to maintain its reform momentum. By the time the rescue plan was withdrawn, the economy had contracted by 0.7% in the first quarter of 2014 and unemployment, although still high, had fallen to 15.3%.
The average wage in Portugal is 910 euros per month (net), excluding the self-employed, and the legal minimum wage is 530 euros per month (paid 14 times a year).
The Global Competitiveness Report for 2014-2015, published by the World Economic Forum, places Portugal in 36th place in the economic index, a sharp increase from the 51st position Portugal held in 2013-2014.
In 2005, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Quality of Life Index ranked Portugal 19th among the countries with the best quality of life in the world. This is despite the fact that Portugal remains one of the countries in Western Europe with the lowest GDP per capita.