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Portugal Travel Guide:

            Facts on Portugal

Flag of Portugal
History   Geography    People    Economy    Communications    Transportation

Map of Portugal and its largest cities

Map of Portugal and its major cities


History   Top of Page
  Portugal is one of the oldest states in Europe. It traces its modern history to A.D. 1140 when, following a nine-year rebellion against the King of Leon-Castile, Afonso Henriques, the Count of Portugal, became the country's first king, Afonso I. Afonso and his successors expanded their territory southward, capturing Lisbon from the Moors in 1147. The approximate present-day boundaries were secured in 1249 by Afonso III.

By 1337, Portuguese explorers had reached the Canary Islands. Inspired by Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), explorers such as Vasco da Gama, Bartolomeu Dias, and Pedro Alvares Cabral made explorations from Brazil to India and Japan. Portugal eventually became a massive colonial empire with vast territories in Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome) and Latin America (Brazil), and outposts in the Far East (East Timor, Macau, Goa).

Dynastic disputes led in 1580 to the succession of Philip II of Spain to the Portuguese throne. A revolt ended Spanish hegemony in 1640, and the House of Braganca was established as Portugal's ruling family, lasting until the establishment of the Portuguese Republic in 1910.

During the next 16 years, intense political rivalries and economic instability undermined newly established democratic institutions. Responding to pressing economic problems, a military government, which had taken power in 1926, named a prominent university economist, Dr. Antonio Salazar, as finance minister in 1928 and prime minister in 1932. For the next 42 years, Salazar and his successor, Marcelo Caetano (appointed prime minister in 1968), ruled Portugal as an authoritarian "corporate" state. Unlike most other European countries, Portugal did not play a combatant role in World War II. It was a charter member of NATO, joining in 1949.

In the early 1960s, wars against independence movements in Portugal's African territories began to drain labor and wealth from Portugal. Professional dissatisfaction within the military, coupled with a growing sense of the futility of the African conflicts, led to the formation of the clandestine "Armed Forces Movement" in 1973.  The following year, Portugal granted independence to all of its African colonies. Portugal entered the EC (now the EU) in 1986.
Geography   Top of Page
Location Southwestern Europe, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Spain  
Geographic Coordinates 39 30 N, 8 00 W  
Area Total: 92,391 sq km
Land: 91,951 sq km
(Note: includes Azores and Madeira Islands )
water: 440 sq km
Area - Comparative Slightly smaller than Indiana  
Land Boundaries Total: 1,214 km
Border countries: Spain 1,214 km
Coastline 1,793 km  
Climate Maritime temperate; cool and rainy in north, warmer and drier in south  
Terrain Mountainous north of the Tagus River, rolling plains in south  
Elevation Extremes Lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
Highest point: Ponta do Pico (Pico or Pico Alto) on Ilha do Pico in the Azores 2,351 m
Natural Resources Fish, forests (cork), tungsten, iron ore, uranium ore, marble, arable land, hydropower  
Geography Note Azores and Madeira Islands occupy strategic locations along western sea approaches to Strait of Gibraltar  
Natural hazards Azores subject to severe earthquakes  
People   Top of Page
Population 10,605,870 (July 2007 est.)  
Age Structure 0-14 years: 16.5% (male 915,604/female 839,004)
15-64 years: 66.3% (male 3,484,545/female 3,544,674)
65 years and over: 17.2% (male 751,899/female 1,070,144) (2006 est.)
Nationality Noun: Portuguese (singular and plural)
Adjective: Portuguese
Ethnic Groups Homogeneous Mediterranean stock; citizens of black African descent who immigrated to mainland during decolonization number less than 100,000; since 1990 East Europeans have entered Portugal )  
Religions Roman Catholic 92%, Protestant 4%  
Language Portuguese (official), Mirandese (official - but locally used)  
Literacy Definition: age 15 and over can read and write
Total population: 93.3%
Male: 95.5%
Female: 91.3% (2003 est.)
Government   Top of Page
Country Name Conventional long form: Portuguese Republic
Conventional short form: Portugal
Local long form: Republica Portuguesa
Local short form: Portugal
Government Type Parliamentary democracy  
Capital Lisbon  
Administrative Divisions 18 districts (distritos, singular - distrito) and 2 autonomous regions* (regioes autonomas, singular - regiao autonoma); Aveiro, Acores (Azores)*, Beja, Braga, Braganca, Castelo Branco, Coimbra, Evora, Faro, Guarda, Leiria, Lisboa, Madeira*, Portalegre, Porto, Santarem, Setubal, Viana do Castelo, Vila Real, Viseu  
Independence 1143 (independent republic proclaimed 5 October 1910)  
Flag Description Two vertical bands of green (hoist side, two-fifths) and red (three-fifths) with the Portuguese coat of arms centered on the dividing line  
Economy   Top of Page
Overview Portugal has become a diversified and increasingly service-based economy since joining the European Community in 1986. Over the past decade, successive governments have privatized many state-controlled firms and liberalized key areas of the economy, including the financial and telecommunications sectors. The country qualified for the European Monetary Union (EMU) in 1998 and began circulating the euro on 1 January 2002 along with 11 other EU member economies. Economic growth had been above the EU average for much of the past decade, but fell back in 2001-05. GDP per capita stands at two-thirds that of the Big Four EU economies. A poor educational system, in particular, has been an obstacle to greater productivity and growth. Portugal has been increasingly overshadowed by lower-cost producers in Central Europe and Asia as a target for foreign direct investment. The government faces tough choices in its attempts to boost Portugal's economic competitiveness while keeping the budget deficit within the eurozone's 3%-of-GDP ceiling.  
Currency Euro  
Currency Code EUR  
Communications   Top of Page
Telephone System General assessment: undergoing rapid development in recent years, Portugal's telephone system, by the end of 1998, achieved a state-of-the-art network with broadband, high-speed capabilities and a main line telephone density of 53%
Internet Country Code .pt  
Transportation   Top of Page
Railways total: 2,850 km
broad gauge: 2,576 km 1.668-m gauge (623 km electrified)
narrow gauge: 274 km 1.000-m gauge (2005)
Roadways total: 72,600 km
paved: 62,436 km (including 1,700 km of expressways)
unpaved: 10,164 km (2002)
Waterways 210 km (on Douro River from Porto) (2003)  
Ports and Harbors Aveiro, Funchal (Madeira Islands), Horta (Azores), Leixoes, Lisbon, Porto, Ponta Delgada (Azores), Praia da Vitoria (Azores), Setubal, Viana do Castelo  
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