ANCIENT BEGINNINGS -- Starting in 210 B.C., the Romans colonized most of Iberia. They met great resistance from the Celtiberian people of the interior. The Lusitanian (ancient Portugal was known as Lusitania) leader, Viriatus, looms large in Portuguese history as a freedom fighter who held up the Roman advance; he died about 139 B.C. The Romans were ultimately unstoppable, however, and by the time of Julius Caesar, Portugal had been integrated into the Roman Empire. The Roman colonies included Olisipo (now Lisbon).
Christianity arrived in Portugal near the end of the 1st century A.D. By the 3rd century, bishoprics had been established at Lisbon, Braga, and elsewhere. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, invaders crossed the Pyrenees into Spain in 409 and eventually made their way to Portugal. The Visigothic Empire dominated the peninsula for some 2 centuries.
INVASIONS FROM NORTH & SOUTH -- As Roman power waned, the Iberian Peninsula filled with Germanic folk. The Suevi ruled northern Portugal for 150 years. They were ousted in 588 by the Visigoths, who built a Christian kingdom covering Spain and Portugal, and made Braga a major religious center.
In 711, a force of Moors arrived in Iberia and quickly advanced to Portugal. They erected settlements in the south. The Christian Reconquest -- known as the Reconquista -- to seize the land from Moorish control is believed to have begun in 718.
In the 11th century, Ferdinand the Great, king of León and Castile, took much of northern Portugal from the Moors. Before his death in 1065, Ferdinand set about reorganizing his western territories into Portucale.
Portuguese, a Romance language, evolved mainly from a dialect spoken when Portugal was a province of the Spanish kingdom of León and Castile. The language developed separately from other Romance dialects.
Portugal is Born -- Ferdinand handed over Portugal to his illegitimate daughter, Teresa. (At that time, the Moors still held the land south of the Tagus.) Unknowingly, the king of Spain had launched a course of events that was to lead to Portugal's development into a distinct nation.
Teresa was firmly bound in marriage to Henry, a count of Burgundy. Henry accepted his father-in-law's gift of Portugal as his wife's dowry, but upon the king's death, he coveted Spanish territory as well. His death cut short his dreams of expansion.
Following Henry's death, Teresa ruled Portugal; she cast a disdainful eye on, and an interfering nose into, her legitimate sister's kingdom in Spain. Teresa lost no time mourning Henry and took a Galician count, Fernão Peres, as her lover. Teresa's refusal to conceal her affair with Peres and stay out of everyone else's affairs led to open strife with León.
Teresa's son, Afonso Henríques, was incensed by his mother's actions. Their armies met at São Mamede in 1128. Teresa lost, and she and her lover were banished.
Afonso Henríques went on to become Portugal's founding father. In 1143, he was proclaimed its first king, and official recognition eventually came from the Vatican in 1178. Once his enemies in Spain were temporarily quieted, Afonso turned his eye toward the Moorish territory in the south of Portugal. Supported by crusaders from the north, the Portuguese conquered Santarém and Lisbon in 1147. Afonso died in 1185. His son and heir, Sancho I, continued his father's work of consolidating the new nation.
Successive generations waged war against the Moors until Afonso III, who ruled from 1248 to 1279, wrested the Algarve from Moorish control. The country's capital moved from Coimbra to Lisbon. After Portugal became independent in the 11th century, its borders expanded southward to the sea.
The Moors left a permanent impression on Portugal. The language called Mozarabic, spoken by Christians living as Moorish subjects, was integrated into the Portuguese dialect. The basic language of today, both oral and written, was later solidified and perfected in Lisbon and Coimbra.
Castile did not recognize Portugal's borders until the reign of Pedro Dinis (1279-1325). Known as the Poet King or the Farmer King (because of his interest in agriculture), he founded a university in Lisbon in about 1290; it later moved to Coimbra. Dinis married Isabella, a princess of Aragon who was later canonized. Isabella was especially interested in the poor. Legend has it that she was once smuggling bread out of the palace to feed them when her husband spotted her and asked what she was concealing. When she showed him, the bread miraculously turned into roses.
Their son, Afonso IV, is remembered today for ordering the murder of his son Pedro's mistress. During Pedro's reign (1357-67), an influential representative body called the Cortes (an assembly of clergy, nobility, and commoners) began to gain ascendancy. The majority of the clergy, greedy for power, fought the sovereign's reform measures, which worked to ally the people more strongly with the crown. During the reign of Pedro's son, Ferdinand I (1367-73), Castilian forces invaded Portugal, Lisbon was besieged, and the dynasty faced demise.
In 1383, rather than submit to Spanish rule, the Portuguese people chose the illegitimate son of Pedro as regent. That established the house of Avis. João de Avis (reigned 1383-1433) secured Portuguese independence by defeating Castilian forces at Aljubarrota in 1385. His union with Philippa of Lancaster, the granddaughter of Edward III of England, produced a son who oversaw the emergence of Portugal as an empire -- Prince Henry the Navigator.
Henry Builds a Maritime Empire -- Henry's demand for geographical accuracy and his hunger for the East's legendary gold, ivory, slaves, and spices drove him to exploration. To promote Christianity, he joined the fabled Christian kingdom of Prester John to drive the Muslims out of North Africa.
To develop navigational and cartographic techniques, Henry established a community of scholars at Sagres, on the south coast of Portugal. He was responsible for the discovery of Madeira, the Azores, Cape Verde, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, and he provided the blueprint for continued exploration during the rest of the century. In 1482, Portuguese ships explored the mouth of the Congo, and in 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope. In 1497, Vasco da Gama reached Calicut (Kozhikode), on India's west coast, clearing the way for trade in spices, porcelain, silk, ivory, and slaves.
The Treaty of Tordesillas, negotiated by João II in 1494, ensured Portugal's possession of Brazil. Using the wealth of the whole empire, Manuel I (the Fortunate; reigned 1495-1521) inspired great monuments of art and architecture whose style now bears his name. His reign inspired Portugal's Golden Age. By 1521, the country had begun to tap into Brazil's natural resources and had broken Venice's spice-trade monopoly. As the first of the great maritime world empires, Portugal dominated access to the Indian Ocean.
João III (reigned 1521-57) ushered in the Jesuits and the Inquisition. His son, Sebastião, disappeared in battle in Morocco in 1578, leaving Portugal without an heir. Philip II of Spain claimed the Portuguese throne and began 60 years of Spanish domination. In the East, Dutch and English traders undermined Portugal's strength.
The House of Bragança -- A nationalist revolution in 1640 brought a descendant of João I to the throne as João IV. That began the House of Bragança, which lasted into the 20th century. João IV forged an English alliance by arranging his daughter's marriage to Charles II. For her dowry, he "threw in" Bombay and Tangier. In 1668, Spain recognized Portugal's independence with the Treaty of Lisbon.
On All Saints' Day in 1755, a great earthquake destroyed virtually all of Lisbon. In 6 minutes, 15,000 people were killed. The Marquês de Pombal, adviser to King José (reigned 1750-77), later reconstructed Lisbon as a safer and more beautiful city. Pombal was an exponent of absolutism, and his expulsion of the Jesuits in 1759 earned him powerful enemies throughout Europe. He curbed the power of the Inquisition and reorganized and expanded industry, agriculture, education, and the military. Upon the death of his patron, King José, he was exiled from court.
In 1793, Portugal joined a coalition with England and Spain against Napoleon. An insane queen, Maria I (reigned 1777-1816), and an exiled royal family facilitated an overthrow by a military junta. A constitution was drawn up, and Maria's son, João VI (reigned 1816-26), accepted the position of constitutional monarch in 1821. João's son, Pedro, declared independence for Brazil in 1822 and became a champion of liberalism in Portugal.
From Republic to Dictatorship -- Between 1853 and 1908, republican movements assaulted the very existence of the monarchists. In 1908, Carlos I (reigned 1889-1908), the Painter King, and the crown prince were assassinated at Praça do Comércio in Lisbon. Carlos's successor was overthrown in an outright revolution on October 5, 1910, ending the Portuguese monarchy and making the country a republic.
Instability was the watchword of the newly proclaimed republic, and revolutions and uprisings were a regular occurrence. Portugal's attempt to remain neutral in World War I failed when -- influenced by its old ally, England -- Portugal commandeered German ships in the Lisbon harbor. This action promptly brought a declaration of war from Germany, and Portugal entered World War I on the side of the Allies.
The republic's precarious foundations collapsed in 1926, when a military revolt established a dictatorship, headed by Gomes da Costa. His successor, António Óscar de Fragoso Carmona, remained president until 1951, but only as a figurehead. António de Oliveira Salazar became finance minister in 1928 and rescued the country from a morass of economic difficulties. He went on to become the first minister, acting as (but never officially becoming) head of state. He was declared premier of Portugal in 1932, and he rewrote the Portuguese constitution along Fascist lines in 1933.
In World War II, Salazar asserted his country's neutrality, although he allowed British and American troops to establish bases in the Azores in 1943. After Carmona's death in 1951, Salazar became dictator, living more or less ascetically and suppressing all opposition. He worked in cooperation with his contemporary, the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.
In 1955, Portugal joined the United Nations. Salazar suffered a stroke in 1968 and died in 1970. He is buried in the Panteão Nacional in Lisbon.
Modern Portugal Wrestles with Democracy -- Dr. Marcelo Caetano replaced Salazar. Six years later, following discontent in the African colonies of Mozambique and Angola, revolution broke out. The dictatorship was overthrown on April 25, 1974, in a military coup dubbed the "flower revolution" because the soldiers wore red carnations instead of carrying guns. After the revolution, Portugal drifted into near anarchy. Finally, after several years of turmoil and the failures of 16 provisional governments from 1976 to 1983, a revised constitution came into force in the 1980s.
In 1976, Portugal loosened its grasp on its once-extensive territorial possessions. The Azores and Madeira gained partial autonomy. All the Portuguese territories in Africa -- Angola, Cape Verde, Portuguese Guinea, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe (islands in the Gulf of Guinea) -- became independent countries. Portugal also released the colony of East Timor, which Indonesia immediately seized.
From the time of the revolution until 1987, Portuguese governments rose and fell much too quickly for the country to maintain political stability. Moderates elected Gen. Ramalho Eanes as president in the wake of the revolution, and he was reelected in 1980. He brought the military under control, allaying fears of a right-wing coup to prevent a Socialist takeover. However, Eanes appointed a Socialist, Mário Soares, prime minister three times.
In the 1985 elections, the left-wing vote was divided three ways, and the Socialists lost their vanguard position to the Social Democratic Party. Their leader, Dr. Aníbal Cavaco Silva, was elected prime minister. In January 1986, Eanes was forced to resign the presidency. He was replaced by Soares, the former Socialist prime minister, who became the first civilian president in 60 years.
Although his administration had its share of political scandal, President Soares won a landslide victory in the January 1991 elections. With the elections of 1995, constitutional limitations forced Soares to step down. He was replaced by Jorge Sampaio, the former Socialist mayor of Lisbon.
As president, Sampaio didn't make great waves, focusing on moderation. He did oversee the return of the Portuguese island of Macau to China in December 1999, and he also championed the cause of independence for East Timor, another former Portuguese colony. Most editorial writers in Lisbon called the presidency of Sampaio "remarkably uneventful."
That said, Portugal took a major leap in 1999 when it became part of the euro community, adopting a single currency, along with other European nations such as Spain, Italy, Germany, and France. On February 28, 2002, the nation of Portugal formally assigned its longtime currency, the escudo, to permanent mothballs and started trading in euros. This officially launched Portugal, along with 11 other European nations, into the European Monetary Union.
Portugal Today -- In 2006, Sampaio was succeeded in office by Aníbal Cavaco Silva, the politician he defeated in 1996. In office, the eco-friendly Silva has stressed the environment, not only protecting it in his own country but in all E.U. countries as well. In 2006, Portugal's sleepy southwestern shore became Europe's latest coastal preserve, as 200,000 unspoiled acres were set aside for the enjoyment of future generations. Southwest Alentejo and Costa Vicentina Natural Park, farmland since Roman times, is now under severe building restrictions which will maintain its pristine beauty. The area begins in the town of Sines, a 2-hour drive south of Lisbon, and stretches for 60 miles (91km) of dunes, beaches, and black basalt cliffs.
Since taking office in 2006, Silva has also positioned himself as a firm believer in globalization and counterterrorism and has worked to promote economic growth and to deal with unemployment in Portugal.
Although elected as a center Right candidate, Silva has disappointed many of his backers. He is a practicing Roman Catholic and a self-described believer in the Fátima apparitions, yet, critics claim, he has not vetoed legislation proposed by the Left. For example, he signed into law a bill legalizing abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. With low voter turnout in 2008 -- 58% did not vote -- abortion was legalized.
In other developments, however, Portugal, unlike Spain, has upheld the country's ban on gay marriage. Even so, Portugal's constitution forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Pedro & Inês: A Medieval Love Story
Centuries before Shakespeare gave us Romeo and Juliet, Portugal was gripped by its own tale of star-crossed lovers.
Seeking Spanish alliances, King Afonso IV in 1339 married off his son and heir, Pedro, to Constance, a Castilian princess. Nineteen-year-old Pedro promptly fell in love with one of his new wife’s ladies-in-waiting, a noblewoman named Inês de Castro. They began a very public affair and Inês bore Pedro three children.
King Afonso was outraged, frightened of offending the Castilians and worried about the influence of Inês’ ambitious brothers. He pleaded with Pedro to break it off, then banished Inês to the Santa Clara Monastery in Coimbra. When all that failed to cool Pedro’s passion, Afonso had Inês murdered. In Coimbra today, beneath the clear spring water that bubbles to the surface at the spot where she was decapitated, there’s a red rock, supposedly forever stained by her blood.
Grief-stricken, Pedro revolted against his father. He captured two of the killers and personally ripped out their hearts. Pedro became king when Afonso died in 1357 and announced that he’d secretly married Inês before her death. On the day of his coronation, Pedro ordered Inês’ corpse removed from its tomb, dressed in a regal gown, and crowned queen beside him. Portugal’s nobles lined up to kiss the hand of the woman slain 2 years before.
The story has inspired poets, painters, and musicians from Camões to Ezra Pound. Today, Pedro and Inês lie side by side in ornate tombs within the great medieval monastery at Alcobaça.
THE AGE OF DISCOVERY With its frontiers secured, Portugal started looking overseas. In 1415, João I opened the era of maritime expansion when he captured the city of Ceuta on the coast of North Africa. João’s son, Henry, fought at the battle to win Ceuta from the Moroccans. He never voyaged farther, but would change the face of world history and be forever known as Henry the Navigator.
Henry gathered sailors and scholars on the windswept southwestern tip of Europe at Sagres to brainstorm on what may lay beyond. Using new navigational technology and more maneuverable boats, the Portuguese sent out probing voyages that reached Madeira Island off the coast of Africa around 1420 and the mid-Atlantic Azores 8 years later.
A breakthrough came in 1434, when captain Gil Eanes sailed around Cape Bojador, a remote Saharan promontory that had marked the limits of European knowledge of the African coast. Eanes showed the sea beyond was not boiling and monster-filled, as was believed. The way was opened to Africa and beyond.
Four Navigators Who Changed World Maps
From 1415 to 1580, Portuguese explorers opened up the world for Europe, discovering new routes to Africa, Asia, and the Americas. They created a global empire and redrew world maps.
Bartolomeo Dias (ca. 1450–1500) was 38 and from a family of navigators when he led an expedition of three boats down the coast of West Africa in 1487. He failed in his mission to find the mythical Christian kingdom of Prester John, but became the first European to sail around the southern tip of Africa into the Indian Ocean. Dias was killed in a shipwreck off the Cape of Good Hope in 1500, while serving with Pedro Álvares Cabral on the expedition that reached Brazil.
Vasco da Gama (ca. 1460–1524) wasn’t the first European to explore India— wealthy Europeans had been spicing their food with its cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg for centuries—but the trade was controlled by price-hiking Venetian, Turkish, and Arab middlemen. By discovering the sea route in 1498, da Gama opened up direct trade between Europe and Asia. His adventures are celebrated in Portugal’s national epic, Os Lusíadas, by swashbuckling 16th-century poet Luís de Camões. The two men are buried near each other in Lisbon’s Jerónimos monastery. Da Gama died of malaria in 1524 in Kochi on his third voyage to India. Western Europe’s longest bridge, an Indian seaport, and a leading Brazilian soccer club bear his name.
Brazil was first reached by accident in 1500, when the fleet of 13 ships commanded by Pedro Álvares Cabral (ca. 1467–1520) sailed too far west while heading down the coast of Africa on the new route opened by da Gama. At least that’s the official story. Some believe the Portuguese already knew about Brazil but kept it quiet until they had concluded the 1492 Treaty of Tordesillas with Spain to divide the world along a line halfway between Portugal’s Cape Verde outpost and the newly discovered Spanish territories in the Caribbean. Brazil was clearly in the Portuguese sphere. Cabral didn’t stay long, but sailed on to Africa and India, becoming the first man to visit four continents. His birthplace in the pretty village of Belmonte and tomb in Santarém are much visited by Brazilian travelers.
In 1519, Fernão de Magalhães (ca. 1480–1521) was a 39-year-old veteran of the Portuguese Discoveries. He’d served 8 years in India, fighting against Turks, Arabs, and Indian states. He played a key role in the capture of Malacca, a hub for Portuguese power in southeast Asia, and was wounded at the siege of Azemmour in Morocco. Despite all this service, he managed to annoy King Manuel I. There were rumors he went AWOL, had rustled cattle, and engaged in shady deals with the Moroccans. Unable to get a ship in Lisbon, he went to Spain, where his stories of Spice Island riches convinced Emperor Charles V to send him on a mission to reach Asia by sailing west—avoiding the Portuguese-controlled eastern routes. Now known as Ferdinand Magellan, he led the fleet into the Pacific as far as the Philippines, where he was speared to death in a battle with local warriors. What was left of the expedition sailed on. Only one of the five ships made it back to Spain, the first to sail around the globe. In 2019, the 500th anniversary of his voyage was marked by a brief tiff between Portugal and Spain over which country can claim the glory of his legacy.
In the years that followed, Portuguese navigators pushed down the West African coast looking for gold, ivory, spices, and slaves. By 1482, Diogo Cão reached the mouth of the Congo River. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias sailed past Africa’s southern tip: He called it the Cape of Storms, but the name was quickly changed to Cape of Good Hope to encourage further voyages. That worked. Vasco da Gama traded and raided up the coast of east Africa before reaching India in 1498. World trade would never be the same. Over the next 4 decades, Portuguese explorers moved into southeast Asia, up the coast of China, and eventually into Japan. Along the way they set up trading posts and colonies. Portugal grew rich by dominating East-West exchanges and forging the first global empire. But the Portuguese also destroyed cities reluctant to submit to their power and frequently massacred civilians.
There were setbacks. In the 1480s, King João II rejected repeated requests to finance the westward exploration plans of a Genovese seafarer named Christopher Columbus, who eventually claimed the New World for his Spanish sponsors. And King Manuel I took a dislike to veteran Portuguese sea dog Fernão de Magalhães. Piqued, he crossed the border with his plans to reach Asia by sailing west and ended up leading the Spanish fleet that became the first to sail around the world. Later historians called him Ferdinand Magellan.
The Portuguese also moved west. Six years after Spain and Portugal agreed to divide up the world with the 1492 Treaty of Tordesillas, Pedro Álvares Cabral landed in Brazil, which conveniently lies on the eastern Portuguese side of the dividing line.
A small arched building in the Algarve coastal town of Lagos has a grim past. It is reputed to be the site of Europe’s oldest African slave market, first used in the early 15th century. Early Portuguese settlers in Brazil began using captured natives as slaves, but as demands of sugar plantations and gold mines grew in the 17th and 18th centuries, more and more slaves were shipped from Africa. Slavery was abolished in Portugal itself in 1761, but it continued in its African colonies until 1869 and in Brazil until 1888, 66 years after the South American country’s independence. Historians estimate Portuguese vessels carried almost 6 million Africans into slavery.
Portugal’s Jewish Heritage
In 1497, King Manuel I, the monarch behind the golden age of Portugal’s Discoveries, married a Spanish princess, a political move designed to improve relations with the powerful neighbor. Spain’s condition: Portugal had to get rid of its thriving Jewish community, as Spain had done 5 years before. Manuel agreed, ordering all Jews to convert to Catholicism or leave. Many fled, finding refuge in the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, France, and the Netherlands, where they built Amsterdam’s splendid Portuguese Synagogue. Others stayed and became “New Christians.”
They were still not safe. In 1506, a riot over Easter led to the murder of up to 2,000 conversos in what became known as the Lisbon Massacre. Manuel I had some of the perpetrators executed, but 30 years later the state institutionalized persecution when it set up a Portuguese branch of the Inquisition, tasked with hunting down heretics—especially converts suspected of maintaining Jewish practices in secret. The Inquisition ordered almost 1,200 burned at the stake over the next 2 centuries and was only abolished in 1821. Nevertheless, some crypto-Jews managed to cling to their faith. A community in the remote village of Belmonte practiced in secret into the 1980s. There is now a small but open community there with their own rabbi.
Jews began returning to a more tolerant Portugal in the 19th century. During World War II, neutral Portugal became a haven for many fleeing the Nazis. Although dictator António Oliveira Salazar tried to prevent Jewish refugees arriving in 1940 as Hitler’s troops marched into France, the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, defied orders and handed out visas, saving up to 30,000 lives. Salazar ruined his career and plunged his family into poverty, but Sousa Mendes is today regarded as a national hero.
President Mário Soares formally asked for forgiveness for past persecution in 1989. In 2015, Portugal’s parliament passed a law offering citizenship to the descendants of Jews expelled from the country. Today there are small Jewish communities, mostly in Lisbon, Porto, and Madeira Island, but recent genetic studies suggest that up to 20% of Portugal’s population may have Jewish ancestry.
INDEPENDENCE LOST & RESTORED In 1578, Portugal overreached. King Sebastião I, an impetuous 24-year-old, invaded Morocco. He was last seen charging into enemy lines at the disastrous Battle of Alcácer Quibir, where a large slice of the Portuguese nobility was wiped out. Sebastião had neglected to father an heir before he set off. An elderly great-uncle briefly took over, but he was a cardinal known as Henry the Chaste, so when he died in 1580, Portugal was left without a monarch. King Philip II of Spain decided he could do the job. His army marched in, crushed local resistance, seized a fortune in Lisbon, and extinguished Portuguese independence for the next 60 years.
The Iberian union made Philip ruler of the greatest empire the world had ever seen, controlling much of the Americas, a network of colonies in Asia and Africa, and European territories that included the Netherlands and half of Italy. Spanish rule strained Portugal’s old alliance with England: The Spanish Armada sailed from Lisbon, and Sir Francis Drake raided the Portuguese coast. By 1640, the Portuguese had had enough. While Spain was distracted fighting France in the 30 Years War, a group of nobles revolted and declared the Duke of Bragança to be King João IV. It took 28 years, but the Portuguese eventually won the War of Restoration. An obelisk in one of Lisbon’s main plazas commemorates the victory.
Meanwhile a new enemy, the Dutch, had seized some of Portugal’s overseas territories. Malacca and Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka) were lost. Faced with such threats, João IV strengthened Portugal’s British alliance by marrying his daughter Catherine of Bragança to King Charles II. Her dowry included Tangiers and Mumbai. Perhaps more significantly for the British, she introduced them to marmalade and the habit of drinking hot water flavored with a new-fangled Asian herb they called tea. In return, the British named one of their North American settlements in her honor: Queens.
Fortunately for the Portuguese, they managed to hang on to Brazil through these turbulent times. At the end of the 17th century, huge gold deposits were found inland from São Paulo. The gold rush made King João V the richest monarch in Europe. He used it to build the vast palace at Mafra and to line baroque churches up and down the country with glimmering gilt carvings.
DISASTER & DECLINE On All Saints’ Day in 1755, churches were packed when Lisbon was struck by a great earthquake. The tremor was followed by a tsunami and raging fire. Much of the city was destroyed and up to 50,000 people are believed to have died. Reconstruction was led by Prime Minister Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, later Marquis of Pombal. He laid out Lisbon’s downtown, or Baixa, in the grid pattern of sturdy, four-story buildings that remains today, although the Gothic ruins of the Carmo Convent were left overlooking the city as reminder of the quake’s destructive force.
Pombal also battled to modernize the country. He curbed the powers of the Inquisition and expelled the Jesuit order. Foreign experts were brought in to expand industry and agriculture. Education and the military were reorganized.
Still, Portugal’s days as a great power were already long gone when French troops marched in as part of Napoleon’s grand design for European domination. The French met little resistance and the royal family fled to Rio de Janeiro. Harsh French rule, however, saw uprisings in Spain and Portugal. Eventually Portugal’s old ally was able to land troops in support, and after a long campaign, the Duke of Wellington led a combined British and Portuguese army that drove Napoleon’s forces back to France in 1814.
Portugal was much weakened. The decline was compounded when Brazil declared independence in 1822 and civil war broke out in the 1830s between the liberal King Pedro IV (also Emperor Pedro I of Brazil) and his conservative brother, Miguel I.
As Europe pushed ahead with industrialization in the 19th century, Portugal fell further behind, dogged by political instability and slipping into economic backwardness. Government debt mounted, pushing the state toward bankruptcy.
Unrest grew. In 1908, King Carlos I and his oldest son were assassinated in Lisbon’s Praça do Comércio. Two years later, Lisbon erupted in revolution, the monarchy was overthrown, and the last king, Manuel II, left for exile in London.
The change of regime did little to ease Portugal’s economic woes or political tensions. Over the next 16 years, there were no less than 49 governments. Portugal entered World War I in 1916 on the side of its old ally, Britain. Around 8,000 soldiers were killed fighting the Germans in France and Africa. Instability continued until a military coup in 1926 put an end to the first Republic.
DICTATORSHIP & DEMOCRACY The junta appointed António de Oliveira Salazar as finance minister in 1928. He became the dominant figure in Portugal’s 20th-century history, establishing a dictatorship that ruled with an iron hand for over 4 decades. Prime minister from 1932, Salazar constructed a Fascist-inspired regime, the Estado Novo, or New State. He brought some order to the economy and managed to keep Portugal neutral during World War II. Dissent was suppressed and censorship strict. A secret police force—the PIDE—spread fear; opponents were jailed or worse.
In 1961, the regime was shaken by an Indian invasion of Goa, Daman, and Diu, Portugal’s last colonies in South Asia. That same year, pro-independence forces launched attacks in Angola, starting a war across Portugal’s African empire. Salazar struck back, dispatching ever more conscripts to fight rebel movements in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau. Proportionally, Portugal suffered more casualties in the colonial wars than the U.S. in Vietnam. The fighting drained the economy and left Portugal internationally isolated. Hundreds of thousands of Portuguese emigrants fled poverty, oppression, and conscription, mostly to France, Switzerland, and Luxembourg.
Salazar suffered a stroke in 1968 and died 2 years later, but the regime limped on. On April 25, 1974, a group of war-weary officers staged a coup and the people of Lisbon rose up to support the troops. Flower sellers in Rossio square handed out spring blooms to the young soldiers and sailors, so the uprising was immortalized as the “Carnation Revolution.” Censorship was lifted, exiles returned, and political prisoners were released to joyous scenes.
The revolutionaries, however, faced enormous difficulties. The wars were ended and independence hastily granted to the African colonies. Portugal then had to organize the evacuation and integration of a million refugees fleeing the new nations. Investors retreated as radical leftists ordered the nationalization of banks, industry, and farmland. For a while the country looked like it would veer toward communism.
Then, in 1976, the first presidential elections brought a moderate, General António Ramalho Eanes, to office. Socialist Party leader Mário Soares was elected prime minister the same year. Together they steered Portugal on a proWestern course. It remained a loyal NATO ally and joined the European Union along with Spain in 1986. The previous year, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, leader of the center-right Social Democratic Party, won a landslide election on a pledge to free up the economy. The combined impact of EU membership and stable, business-friendly government led to an economic boom and rapid modernization. In 1999, Portugal handed Macau back to China, ending almost 600 years of overseas empire. Women’s rights made giant strides. The successful hosting of the EXPO [‘]98 World’s Fair in Lisbon symbolized Portugal’s emergence as a successful European democracy.
However, problems lay ahead. The rise of China and the EU’s inclusion of new members from Eastern Europe exposed the Portuguese economy to competition it was ill-equipped to handle. The global financial crisis of 2008 hit hard. As the economy tanked and debt soared, the government was forced in 2011 to seek a bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund to stave off bankruptcy. In exchange for a 78€-billion rescue package, creditors demanded tough measures to bring state finances under control. The economy stabilized, but at a high cost in unemployment, cuts to public services, and increased poverty. After elections in November 2015, a new Socialist government was narrowly elected under Prime Minister António Costa, promising to ease up on austerity.
In July 2016, spirits received an enormous boost from the victory of Portugal’s national soccer team in the European championships. The first major success for a soccer-crazy nation triggered country-wide celebrations.
The last few years have seen an economic recovery fueled in a large part by tourism, which has taken off big time. An improved international financial climate has boosted exports and a thriving start-up scene has seen the emergence of strong new tech companies such as online fashion retailer Farfetch, which was valued at $5.8 billion when it was floated on the New York Stock Exchange in 2018. Symbolizing the economic comeback is the 2016 decision of Web Summit, the world’s biggest tech event to make Lisbon its home.
Clouding the upbeat feeling were the forest fires that swept across the country in 2017, killing more than 100 people and leaving the country traumatized. Despite criticism of government handling of the fires, Costa’s left-of-center government won big victories in local elections in 2017 and European Parliament elections in 2019.
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