Portugal, which is formally called the Portuguese Republic, lies on the Iberian Peninsula in southwest Europe. This is the most western country in continental Europe. The country borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south with Spain to the east and north. The border between Portugal and Spain is 1,214 km long and is considered the longest unbroken border in the European Union. It also includes two autonomous regional areas, Azores and Madeira, which are both with their own regional governments.
The territory of present-day Portugal has been continuously colonised, conquered and disputed since prehistoric times. The Precelts, Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans were followed by the invasions of the Visigoths and Germanic Swedish tribes. In 711, the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by the Moors and for the following centuries Portugal was part of the Muslim Al Andalus. Portugal emerged from the Christian Reconquista and in 1139 Afonso Henriques was proclaimed King of Portugal, firmly establishing the country’s independence.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal established the first world empire and became one of the most important economic, political and military powers in the world. During this period, Portuguese explorers were the pioneers of the Age of Discovery, notably under the royal patronage of Prince Henry the Navigator and King João II, with notable discoveries such as Vasco de Gama’s sea route to India (1497-98), the discovery of Brazil (1500) and the reaching of the Cape of Good Hope. During this period, Portugal dominated on the spice trade, while the Portuguese empire was expanding through military campaigns in Asia. After the destruction of Lisbon by an earthquake in 1755, followed by the occupation of the country at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, in addition to the independence of Brazil (1822) as well as the liberal wars (1828-34), these events have left Portugal powerless in the war and reduced its global power.
After the revolution of 1910 deposed the monarchy, the first Portuguese Republic, democratic but unstable, was established, later replaced by the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novoright. After the Portuguese colonial war and the 1974 Carnation Revolution, democracy was restored. Independence was granted to almost all overseas territories shortly afterwards, marking the end of the oldest colonial empire. Portugal has left behind a profound cultural and architectural influence throughout the world and a heritage that is today spoken by more than 250 million Portuguese.
Portugal is a developed country with an advanced economy with high incomes and a high standard of living. It is the fifth most peaceful country in the world and has a unitary, semi-presidential and republican form of government. It ranks 18th in the world in terms of social progress, placing it ahead of other Western European countries such as France, Spain and Italy. A founding member of NATO and the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, it is also a member of many other international organisations, including the United Nations, the European Union, the Eurozone and the OECD.
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.