The Republic of Portugal is located on the west of the Iberian Peninsula: its land borders are with Spain and it has a long Atlantic coastline. The islands of Madeira and the Azores (a group of nine islands) belong to Portugal.
Portugal’s capital city is Lisbon. Oporto or Porto is the second city and a major port.
Northern Portugal is mainly wild and rugged. The country’s principal rivers are the Minho, which marks the northern border with Spain, the Douro and the Tagus. To the south of the Tagus there are wild areas of flat land which are the country’s main crop-growing region. The coastline, though rocky in places, is well supplied with sandy beaches, particularly in the south.
Portugal’s climate is temperate; the temperature depending on altitude and distance from the sea. There are long winters in the north with the south being milder. Rain is plentiful, so except for parts of the far south the countryside is green and fertile. The Island of Madeira is subtropical: the Azores have a number of volcanoes and parts of the mainland are subject to earthquakes.
Portugal’s original natural forests are found in the mountains but a wide variety of trees grow throughout the country. These include eucalyptus, maple, cork oaks, pines, poplar, chestnuts and olives. Among the flowering plants are mimosa, orchids, broom, lavender, rosemary and thyme.
In the forests of northern Portugal the wildlife includes foxes, chamois, wild boars, wolves, lynx and golden eagles. Wildfowl and other water-loving birds, including flamingoes, are common on the coastal lagoons of the south.
A number of areas are on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Paul do Boquilobo is also a UNESCO MAB Biosphere Reserve There are parks and nature reserves.
Some of the hill forts built by the Celts remain as examples of Portugal’s earliest architecture. Little is left from the Roman occupation, or from the Moorish period.
The prosperity that came from Portugal’s overseas ventures in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries produced a heavily decorated style of architecture known as Manueline (after King Manuel). Much of the country’s wealth went into the construction of religious buildings, in particular the huge monastery/palace of Mafra.
Two particularly Portuguese architectural items are pelourinhos – decorated stone columns erected in towns and villages as a symbol of the local authority – and azulejos – glazed tiles used to decorate palaces, churches, houses and other buildings.
The great earthquake of 1755 led to the rebuilding of much of Lisbon to a carefully designed plan of avenues and squares. In the late nineteenth century Gustave Eiffel, famous for his tower in Paris, built a two-storey bridge over the Douro in Porto.
The population was estimated at 10,676,910 in 2008. Since the independence of the former colonies in the 1970s, Portugal has accepted many people from former Portuguese countries.
Portuguese is spoken not only in Portugal, Madeira and the Azores but also in the former colonies in Africa and Asia. It is the official language of Brazil. The language is closely related to Spanish.
The largest percentage of the population is Roman Catholic. There are small numbers of Protestants, Jews and Muslims. As in neighboring Spain, Jews and Muslims were expelled after the conquest of the Moors.
Given its long coastline it is not surprising that seafood plays a major part in Portugal’s cuisine. Bacalhau, dried and salted cod, is almost the national dish; sardines are also popular. Oporto is famous for its tripe dishes; other meat is often served with a hot chili sauce called piri-piri. Some of the rice dishes and various types of sweets recall the Moorish heritage. Examples of the cuisines of former colonies include those of Angola, Brazil, Goa and Mozambique.
The most famous wines of Portugal are the fortified port and madeira. Vinho verde is called green because it is drunk when still young.