About Portugal



Portugal is located on the Iberian Peninsula (which it shares with neighboring Spain) in the southwestern part of Europe. It occupies the western portion of the Iberian Peninsula — facing the Atlantic coast. Along with the country’s mainland, Portugal includes the Azores (a string of nine islands located 1,500 km west of Lisbon), as well as Madeira (located 980 km off of mainland Portugal).

Portugal’s history goes back to the Roman era, when it (like neighboring Spain) was a western province of the Roman Empire. The Romans were also responsible for bringing the Romantic language system to the local population (resulting in the creation of Galician-Portuguese, which evolved into modern-day Portuguese by the medieval period).

Like Spain, portions of Portugal were subject to Moorish rule. However, unlike Spain, whose remaining Muslim stronghold fell to Christian Spain in 1492, the Portuguese (under a campaign known as the Reconquista) ended the Moorish presence in that country by 1249). By the time Spain was a united country in 1492, Portugal was already building its seafaring empire – first establishing its colonial presence in the Azores, Madeira and Cape Verde, and eventually setting up colonies in African countries now known as Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau. That, as well as the Latin American colony that became Brazil, and trading posts in far-flung destinations such as Goa (India), Ormuz in the Persian Gulf, Malacca (Malaysia), and Macau (in China).

Those visiting Portugal will likely come across sights from these periods, as well as others from the country’s medieval period. With the Portuguese Empire rising and falling in South America, Africa and elsewhere by the late 20th century, the country went through political changes with the fall of the country’s right-wing military dictatorship in 1974. Within that year, Portugal’s transition to democracy led the way to the decolonization of its last overseas possessions (Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique), and by 1999 the Portuguese enclave of Macau was turned over to Chinese rule.

With Portugal joining the European Union (EU) (as part of its efforts to economically integrate itself with that continent), the country’s tourism sector has grown over the years. Portugal has succeeded in offering fun and (almost year-round) sun to those from colder parts of the European continent and elsewhere, making it (along with countries like Spain, USA and France) one of the largest tourism destinations in the world. That also explains why tourism is 10% of Portugal’s GDP (gross domestic product).