What is Portugal? Is Portugal a Country?

(Last Updated On: February 19, 2019)
What is Portugal? Is Portugal a Country?

In this post, we’ll discuss all things Portugal as we attempt to answer the following questions: What is Portugal in the first place? Is Portugal a country? What is the history of Portugal? And just where is Portugal located on a map?

What Is Portugal? Is Portugal a Country?

Officially known as the Portuguese Republic, Portugal is a country in southwestern Europe. It has an area of about 35,603 sq mi (92,212 km2) and a total population of just over 10 million people. The capital and largest city of Portugal is Lisbon, which is located on the Atlantic coast and is mainland Europe’s westernmost capital city.

Portugal is not only a country, but it is actually one of the oldest countries in Europe. The territory around Portugal has been settled since prehistoric times, and has a long history of being invaded and fought over. The Celts, Carthaginians, Romans, and Visigoths all have staked claim to the land at one point or another.

Today, Portugal is a much more stable nation. The country is a member of the United Nations and the European Union. They were a founding member of NATO and the eurozone, and are consistently ranked as an advanced economy with high living standards. The country also ranks high in democracy, prosperity, freedom, and peace.

Where Is Portugal? Finding Portugal on a Map

Located primarily on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal is the westernmost country on mainland Europe. To the west and south of Portugal is the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Spain to the north and east. Portugal also has territories in the Atlantic ocean, two archipelagos of islands known as the Azores and Madeira. Both share a large degree of autonomy.

Portugal’s mainland is split by the Tagus River, which flows from Spain and enters the Atlantic near Lisbon. To the north of the river is a mountainous interior dotted with plateaus and river valleys. Southern Portugal is known more for its rolling plains.

Portugal has been described as having a Mediterranean climate. While named for the Mediterranean Basin, this sort of climate is actually found in many western coasts of continents, and is characterized by rainy winters and dry summers.

Portugal on a Map.

The History of Portugal

We mentioned that Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe. In fact, humans have inhabited the region for millenia. It is thought that Homo sapiens arrived in Portugal some 35,000 years ago. Pre-Celtic tribes lived in the region until about 1,000 BC, when a wave of Celts from Central Europe invaded and intermarried with the local populations.

The Romans invaded Portugal in the 3rd century BC, and would stay for centuries, establishing Roman provinces and completing various engineering projects, like the construction of baths, temples, bridges, and roads. After the fall of Rome, Germanic tribes would fill the void, controlling the territory from the 5th to 7th century. With the Visigoths in control, a new nobility class would emerge, and it was around this time that the Church also began to exert its influence over the state.

Starting in 711 AD, the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate, comprised of Berbers from North Africa and Arabs from the Middle East, began their invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, eventually overtaking the Visigoths.

Much of Iberia would remain under Umayyad rule for centuries, but not all of the Peninsula was conquered. Kingdoms in the northwest endured, and in the 9th century, a small county was established under King Alfonso III of of León, Galicia and Asturias. This county would grow in size and importance, coming to be called “Portugal”.

By the 11th century, Portugal had gained de facto independence, a sovereignty defended by the Burgundian knight Henry, who became count of Portugal. His son Afonso would declare himself King of Portugal in 1143. In 1179, the papal bull of Pope Alexander III officially recognised Afonso I as king. Portugal’s borders have remained more or less unchanged since the 13th century.

The Age of Discovery and Beyond

Being located on the Atlantic coast, the Portuguese have a long and storied history as navigators and explorers. The nation would emerge as a world power during the 15th and 16th centuries and the “Age of Discovery”, as Portugal gained various territorial possessions across the globe. Over time, the Portuguese Empire would include land in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. However, in the centuries to follow, others like the French, English, and Dutch would compete for resources and Portugal would gradually lose some of its wealth and status.

The country would continue a slow decline in the 18th and 19th centuries. Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, and soon after, the Napoleonic wars would ravage the nation. In 1822, Portugal would lose its largest colony, Brazil.

In 1910, a revolution in Portugal would despose the monarchy. The nation suffered through a period of corruption and economic woes. Eventually, a military coup would install a dictatorship that would last from 1926-1974. In 1975, a new government would bring about many democratic reforms, including granting independence to all of Portugal’s African colonies.

Today, Portugal’s long and influential history is reflected in the food, culture, and architecture of the country. Portugal remains a popular tourist destination and key member of many intergovernmental organizations. The breathtaking scenery isn’t bad either.

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