Portugal has a long history full of stories, great achievements and interesting moments. In this article, we collected some of the most interesting, funny, important and weird facts about Portugal and its history. Some of these things about Portugal are well-known others not so much… Our favorites are the 11th and 21st. Enjoy! 🙂
First, some basic facts about Portugal
Official designation: Portuguese Republic
Population: 10,309,573 – 2017 estimate
Land Area: 92.212 Km2
Currency: Euro (founding member of Eurozone)
GBP per capita PPP: $30,193 – 2017 estimate (40th)
Timezone: WET/GMT UTC (Azores UTC-1)
1. Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe
King Afonso, I declared independence in 1139 and Portugal has the same defined borders since 1249, almost 800 years ago. The name Portugal first appears in 868, during the Reconquista over the Muslims. A county was formed around the city of Porto (Portus Cale in Latin), from which “Portugal” is derived.
2. Lisbon is older than Rome
Roughly 4 centuries older to be more accurate. It was settled by the Phoenicians around 1200 BC and it’s the second oldest European capital after Athens.
3. The Romans took 200 years to conquer Portugal
The Romans took around 200 years to conquer Lusitania, from 219 BC to 19 BC. There’s a famous old expression used by the Romans: In Iberia, there is a tribe that neither governs itself nor lets itself be governed.
4. Viriathus is the first National Hero of Portugal
According to historians, the Celtic King of Lusitania was the worst nightmare of the Roman Empire Soldiers and one of the top enemies Rome ever faced, making them lose the equivalent of 9 legions during the wars against the Lusitans.
5. Portugal owned half of the “new world”
In 1494, Portugal and Spain divided the world in two, by signing the treaty of Tordesillas giving Portugal the eastern half of the “New Word”, including Brazil, Africa, and Asia. The Portuguese Empire was actually the first global empire in history! It was also one of the longest-lived colonial powers, lasting for almost six centuries from when Ceuta was captured in 1415 until Macau was handed-over in 1999 to China.
6. Portuguese is one of the most spoken languages in the World
The Portuguese language is the 6th most spoken language in the world with 220 to 240 million native speakers around the world. It’s the official language of 9 countries, and is spoken in the 5 continents!
7. Portugal was one of the earliest colonizing nations of Europe
The Portuguese Empire would rule, among others, over Brazil, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, Goa, Daman, Diu, Kochi, Malacca, and Macau. The African colonies were granted independence only in 1975 after the collapse of the dictatorship. Macau, the last Portuguese colony, was handed over to China in 1999.
8. Portugal had a main role in Slavery trading
Portugal played a leading role in the infamous Triangular Atlantic Slave Trade, which involved the mass trade and transportation of slaves from Africa and other parts of the world to the American continent. Also, Lagos’ slave market, built-in 1444, was Europe’s first slave market!
9. Though, Portugal was also the first colonial power to abolish slavery
Portugal was the first colonial power to abolish slavery, all the way back in 1761 – that’s half a century before Britain, France, Spain, or the United States.
10. Portugal was a pioneer abolishing Death Penalty
In 1846 Portugal started the process of abolishing the Death Penalty and the formal abolishment of capital punishment for civil crimes occurred in 1867. Furthermore, Portugal and Spain are the only countries in EU to have abandoned life imprisonment.
11. Portugal once had a dead Queen
When Pedro I was crowned King of Portugal in 1357, he proclaimed his lover, Ines de Castro, Queen despite the fact that she had died 2 years before, in 1355. Legend says he ate her killers’ hearts when he caught them. And that she was exhumed to be coronated. That’s true romance there, Game of Thrones style.
12. Over half of the world’s cork is produced in Portugal
Portugal has the largest cork oak forests (montados) in the world and its cork oak is protected by law. The various uses of the soft, spongy bark of the cork tree have made Portugal the largest producer of cork products in the world, producing 70% of the world’s cork exports. The main importers of Portuguese cork are Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.
13. Portugal and England are very old friends
Portugal and England have the oldest diplomatic alliance in the world. The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance was signed in 1373 and is in force until this day! Both countries entered wars to defend the other, including the United Kingdom entering the Iberian Peninsular War and Portugal entering World War I. Talk about having someone’s back!
14. Lisbon was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes in European history
In 1755, Lisbon was struck by about a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which was followed by a tsunami, and fires that destroyed the city! Furthermore, the earthquake struck on All Saints Day, a major holiday when the churches were filled with burning candles. The earthquake struck, toppling the candles, causing major fires. Up to 100 000 residents were killed and 85% of the buildings were destroyed!
15. Portuguese are fatalists
Fatalism is an essential trait of Portuguese culture. One of the most obvious expressions of it is the traditional music Fado. This is characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a characteristic sentiment of resignation, fatefulness, and melancholia. It has been recognized by the UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.
16. The biggest wave ever surfed was in Portugal
In October 2011, Garrett McNamara caught the biggest wave (+30 m / 90 ft) ever surfed to date at Praia do Norte in Nazaré. Portugal has a coastline that spans 800 kilometers and it’s known to be one of the world’s top surf spots!
17. Portugal has one of the world’s oldest universities
The University of Coimbra was established in 1290. Although it was first established in Lisbon, later it was transferred (a few times back and forth) to Coimbra.
18. A Portuguese brought the habit of drinking tea to England
19. The Portuguese were the first European people to reach Japan
In 1942 Portuguese reached the island of Tanegashima first establishing contact with Japan. So, the Japanese culture was exposed to several new European technologies and cultural practices in the military area (the arquebus, European-style cuirasses, European ships), religion (Christianity), decorative art, and culinary (the Portuguese introduced the tempura and above all the valuable refined sugar). Even in the language, the Japanese word for thank you “Arigato” comes from is the Portuguese word “Obrigado”.
20. A Portuguese saved more Jews than Oskar Schindler
Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese consul who used his position early in WWII to save Jewish people. He granted visas to Jews despite having orders from Portuguese government (at the time a dictatorship) not to do it. It’s estimated that he helped saving up to 10 000 Jews.
21. Portugal had a huge influence on world cuisine
Portuguese Jesuit missionaries invented tempura (dish of battered, deep-fried vegetables and seafood) in Japan.
The Portuguese invented Piri-Piri sauce.
Portuguese introduced chili pepper potatoes and tomatoes to India and Thailand, without which curry wouldn’t exist!
Not to mention, we also brought coffee to Brazil and the ukulele to Hawaii.
We created the “pastel de nata” or “pastel de Belém”, the famous and delicious Portuguese custard tart…
22. Europe’s longest bridge is in Portugal
The Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is 17 kilometers long, making it the longest in Europe. Though, this isn’t the only record that the bridge brought to Portugal, much more importantly: The world record for the largest dining table was set when around 15 000 people were served lunch on the bridge as part of the inauguration celebrations.
23. The Portuguese eat a lot of cod
We have more than a thousand recipes to cook cod, though we have to import it all from other countries like Norway or Iceland. Interestingly (or maybe not) I must be one of the few Portuguese that doesn’t really appreciate Cod!
24. Port wine is one of our most famous Export
Portugal produces the famous Port wine, a sweet fortified wine from the Douro Valley. Port wine grapes are only grown on the steeply terraced hillsides of the Douro valley near Porto, one of the world’s oldest established wine producing regions. However, it has been imitated in several countries – notably Australia, South Africa, India and the United States.
25. Bertrand bookstore is the oldest in the world
The oldest bookstore in the world is in Portugal’s capital of Lisbon. Bertrand Bookshop was established in 1732, while the original store was destroyed in an earthquake in 1755 and rebuilt in its current location in 1773.
26. Portugal is 95% water
Portugal ranked the 110th country with only 92.212 Km2 of land. However, if you include the jurisdiction over the maritime area of around 1.720.560 Km2 Portugal ranks in the top 20 and top 3 of Europe! This ocean area is about 18.7 times the land area, so almost 95% of the country is water.
27. Portugal has 15 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list
Portugal has 15 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list, 14 of these cultural sites and 1 of the natural (in Madeira Island). It’s one of the 20 most visited countries in the world with more than 13 million tourists visiting each year.
28. Portugal invented the pirate code
Bartholomew Portugues created the first Pirate code in the 17th century, which English pirates later adopted.
29. The Portuguese love football
The most popular sport in Portugal is football. We are the current European Champions and our national team finished 3rd in the 1966 World Cup, 2nd in Euro 2004, and 4th in 2006 World Cup.
30. People from Porto are called ‘tripeiros’, or ‘tripe eaters’
Back in the 15th century, to help out the military Porto gave all the meat they had – except for the stomachs. Well, afterward they got creative with their cooking and with time it became one of the most famous features of the cuisine of the city. Furthermore, it became the nickname of the citizens of Porto, the ‘tripeiros’!
Bonus: Portugal has a few funny/weird world records
- In December 2010, the world’s largest Santa Claus parade took place in Porto. 14,963 people donned Santa outfits, beating the record of the previous years for the same parade.
- In 2012, the largest firework rocket ever produced was used at the 12th International Symposium on Fireworks in Oporto and Gaia on 13th October 2010. It weighed 13.40 kg.
- The world’s largest omelet was made in Portugal – in Santarém on 11 August 2012. It took 55 people, six hours, 145,000 eggs to make a 6,466 kg omelet.
- And of course the above referred largest dining table in the World!
- Finally, the most number of dishes wished with one liter of detergent… can you guess when? Obviously after the meal in the longest dining table in the world during the inauguration of the longest bridge in Europe! 🙂
After all these fantastic facts about Portugal, you can only be inspired to come and visit Portugal!
If we did, these are our Recommended Travel Guide Books For Portugal!
Lonely Planet Portugal (Travel Guide)
Rick Steves Portugal
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Portugal
What’s your favorite fact about Portugal?