Bem-vindo to our guide to the fascinating country of Portugal! As avid travelers, we were thrilled to discover this small but mighty nation on the southwestern edge of Europe. Portugal may be compact, but it’s bursting with vibrant culture, delicious food, and a unique way of life. We’ve compiled a list of 10 intriguing facts about Portugal that we think will surprise and delight you. From the historical explorations of Vasco da Gama to the traditional music of fado, there’s so much to learn about this captivating country. So, join us on a journey of discovery as we uncover the top 10 interesting facts about Portugal.
Portugal is not just among the world’s oldest countries but also, perhaps, the oldest state in all of Europe. Its borders were established back in 1139. Known as “a raia” in Portuguese and “La Raya” in Spanish, both of which translate to “streak” in English, the names refer to the border that separates Portugal and Spain. Around 1200 BC, the Phoenicians landed in Lisbon thanks to its advantageous trading location. Portugal also possessed one of the largest and longest-lasting empires, spanning from Brazil to China. From the conquest of Ceuta in 1415 to the transfer of Macau in 1999, even Rome is supposedly four centuries younger than Lisbon. It should be no surprise that there are over 236 million Portuguese speakers worldwide and that the language is the official language of nine nations.
The cork, together with the bacalhau and the Barcelos Rooster, is one of the most recognizable symbols of Portugal. One of the fascinating aspects of Portugal is that it is the site of the largest cork forest in the world and accounts for more than 70 percent of the country’s cork exports. Therefore, you can go shopping for stunning cork handbags and coasters at a Portugal street market. You might even find surfboards made of cork! The cork tree, known locally as the “sobreiro,” is well-protected in Portugal. The culture there appears to have developed over time to find as many applications for cork as possible. Many well-known brands, like Moet Chandon, Rolls Royce, Airbus, and NASA, incorporate Portuguese cork in their products. Cork sourced from Portugal was also included in the construction of the spacecraft that the European Space Agency sent on its journey to Mars.
Apart from being the capital of Portugal, Lisbon also served as the capital of a kingdom in the past. It is similar to Rome in the sense that it is built on seven hills and spans along the Tagus river. The earthquake that struck Lisbon on November 1st, 1755, was responsible for the destruction of practically the entire city. According to seismologists, the earthquake is thought to have had a magnitude of 7.7 or higher. The earthquake triggered a tsunami that was 6 meters high, which led to the drowning of thousands. Considered one of the harshest earthquakes in human history, the death toll in Lisbon ranged between 12,000 and 60,000 persons, making it the worst earthquake to hit Portugal. The Lisbon Earthquake illustrates Portugal’s complex connection with the ocean since its establishment.
Livraria Bertrand, which can be found in Chiado and was established in 1732, has the Guinness world record for being the world’s oldest bookstore that is still in business. The first shop was leveled by an earthquake in 1755. However, in 1773, it was reconstructed at the present site. The Bertrand, which has a history dating back more than 250 years and was initially a little business owned by Peter Faure, was a popular gathering place for Portuguese intellectuals across the decades. In 2010, the bookstore was incorporated into the Porto Editora group, and shortly after that, outlets were opened across the nation. Out of all, the branch located in Lisbon is an important historical and cultural site for readers.
The University of Coimbra was founded in 1290 in Portugal by the the king, Dom Dinis. It has earned the status of one of the world’s oldest universities. The university soon attained some reputation throughout Europe, and Portuguese physicians were frequently found in the palaces of European rulers. In 2013, the university was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can now go there to see the Royal Palace and the Joanine Library. The university has the most extensive science department in the nation and is incredibly well-liked among students studying technology and science. Over 21,000 students attend the university. Ten percent of those students come from outside of Portugal, making it one of the universities with the highest percentage of international students in Portugal and contributing to the city’s reputation as a cosmopolitan center. The institution places equal importance on tradition as on modernity and innovation in keeping up with its long and illustrious history of 700 years.
Traditional azulejo tiles come in blue and white, making them a staple of Portuguese architecture. The streets, houses, and monuments of Portuguese cities are often decorated with these ceramic tiles with a blue finish that date back to the 14th century. Azulejos are frequently seen in Portuguese private residences and public spaces like railway stations, hotels, and fountains. To protect the city’s cultural legacy, it became illegal in 2013 to demolish any building in Lisbon that had an exterior decorated with these tiles. These tough tiles were not first made for their aesthetic value but to serve the practical aim of preventing damage to the walls of homes due to cold weather.
Nazaré is the place to surf enormous waves in Portugal. It has broken world records and permanently earned a position on the World Surf League Big Wave Tour. Rodrigo Koxa of Brazil presently holds the title of the largest wave surfer in history, having caught a wave about 25 meters tall in 2017 at Praia do Norte in Nazaré, beating the previous record of Garrett McNamara set at 23.77 meters or 78 feet. Portugal has a mild temperature and 800 kilometers of the Atlantic coastline. Monster waves are frequent due to the geography and climate of the region, drawing surfers from around the world.
The Vasco da Gama Bridge is a cable bridge that spans the Tagus River and can be found in the city of Lisbon. A Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama inspired the name of the bridge. Its construction began in 1995, and it was finished in time for the global exhibition held in the city in 1998. Since it was built to resist wind speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour, the bridge’s expected lifespan is 120 years. With a total length of 17185 meters, the Vasco da Gama Bridge stands on top of the list of the longest suspension bridges in Europe.
The dictatorship of Salazar in Portugal was the longest fascism to ever exist in Europe since it lasted for a total of 41 years. The regime which lasted from 1932 until 1974, was founded on a one-party system and extensively used the paramilitary organization known as PIDE as its primary instrument of brutality and persecution against political opponents. The “Carnation Revolution,” a nonviolent military coup, successfully overthrew the government on April 25th, 1974. The day, well celebrated and also known as “Liberdade” among the locals, marks the end of Portuguese colonization and decades of persecution and torture at the hands of PIDE. After the fall of the government, numerous system relics were eradicated to fulfill the desire of the people to call an end to this gloomy period.
The history of port wine is extensive and interesting. In the 18th century, the English developed a huge demand for Port wine due to its richness, and it started serving as a dessert wine. In case you are unaware, port Wine is a delicious, sweet red wine that is only made in Douro Valley, located in northern Portugal. The region has now become a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the third-oldest preserved winery in the world. There are numerous superb Port wines that are highly prized and worth several hundred dollars, but the majority of the wine we find in the supermarket is of ordinary standard. Owing to the demand for this delicious wine, Portugal is listed as the world’s ninth major wine exporter.