Portugal is a small Western European nation with a large, distinctive past replete with both triumph and tragedy. One of the continent's oldest nation-states, Portugal has frontiers that are essentially unchanged since the late 14th century. The country's unique character and 850-year history as an independent state present several curious paradoxes. As of 1974, when much of the remainder of the Portuguese overseas empire was decolonized, Portuguese society appeared to be the most ethnically homogeneous of the two Iberian states and of much of Europe. Yet, Portuguese society had received, over the course of 2,000 years, infusions of other ethnic groups in invasions and immigration: Phoenicians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Suevi, Visigoths, Muslims (Arab and Berber), Jews, Italians, Flemings, Burgundian French, black Africans, and Asians. Indeed, Portugal has been a crossroads, despite its relative isolation in the western corner of the Iberian Peninsula, between the West and North Africa, Tropical Africa, and Asia and America. Since 1974, Portugal's society has become less homogeneous, as there has been significant immigration of former subjects from its erstwhile overseas empire.
   Other paradoxes should be noted as well. Although Portugal is sometimes confused with Spain or things Spanish, its very national independence and national culture depend on being different from Spain and Spaniards. Today, Portugal's independence may be taken for granted. Since 1140, except for 1580-1640 when it was ruled by Philippine Spain, Portugal has been a sovereign state. Nevertheless, a recurring theme of the nation's history is cycles of anxiety and despair that its freedom as a nation is at risk. There is a paradox, too, about Portugal's overseas empire(s), which lasted half a millennium (1415-1975): after 1822, when Brazil achieved independence from Portugal, most of the Portuguese who emigrated overseas never set foot in their overseas empire, but preferred to immigrate to Brazil or to other countries in North or South America or Europe, where established Portuguese overseas communities existed.
   Portugal was a world power during the period 1415-1550, the era of the Discoveries, expansion, and early empire, and since then the Portuguese have experienced periods of decline, decadence, and rejuvenation. Despite the fact that Portugal slipped to the rank of a third- or fourth-rate power after 1580, it and its people can claim rightfully an unusual number of "firsts" or distinctions that assure their place both in world and Western history. These distinctions should be kept in mind while acknowledging that, for more than 400 years, Portugal has generally lagged behind the rest of Western Europe, although not Southern Europe, in social and economic developments and has remained behind even its only neighbor and sometime nemesis, Spain.
   Portugal's pioneering role in the Discoveries and exploration era of the 15th and 16th centuries is well known. Often noted, too, is the Portuguese role in the art and science of maritime navigation through the efforts of early navigators, mapmakers, seamen, and fishermen. What are often forgotten are the country's slender base of resources, its small population largely of rural peasants, and, until recently, its occupation of only 16 percent of the Iberian Peninsula. As of 1139—10, when Portugal emerged first as an independent monarchy, and eventually a sovereign nation-state, England and France had not achieved this status. The Portuguese were the first in the Iberian Peninsula to expel the Muslim invaders from their portion of the peninsula, achieving this by 1250, more than 200 years before Castile managed to do the same (1492).
   Other distinctions may be noted. Portugal conquered the first overseas empire beyond the Mediterranean in the early modern era and established the first plantation system based on slave labor. Portugal's empire was the first to be colonized and the last to be decolonized in the 20th century. With so much of its scattered, seaborne empire dependent upon the safety and seaworthiness of shipping, Portugal was a pioneer in initiating marine insurance, a practice that is taken for granted today. During the time of Pombaline Portugal (1750-77), Portugal was the first state to organize and hold an industrial trade fair. In distinctive political and governmental developments, Portugal's record is more mixed, and this fact suggests that maintaining a government with a functioning rule of law and a pluralist, representative democracy has not been an easy matter in a country that for so long has been one of the poorest and least educated in the West. Portugal's First Republic (1910-26), only the third republic in a largely monarchist Europe (after France and Switzerland), was Western Europe's most unstable parliamentary system in the 20th century. Finally, the authoritarian Estado Novo or "New State" (1926-74) was the longest surviving authoritarian system in modern Western Europe. When Portugal departed from its overseas empire in 1974-75, the descendants, in effect, of Prince Henry the Navigator were leaving the West's oldest empire.
   Portugal's individuality is based mainly on its long history of distinc-tiveness, its intense determination to use any means — alliance, diplomacy, defense, trade, or empire—to be a sovereign state, independent of Spain, and on its national pride in the Portuguese language. Another master factor in Portuguese affairs deserves mention. The country's politics and government have been influenced not only by intellectual currents from the Atlantic but also through Spain from Europe, which brought new political ideas and institutions and novel technologies. Given the weight of empire in Portugal's past, it is not surprising that public affairs have been hostage to a degree to what happened in her overseas empire. Most important have been domestic responses to imperial affairs during both imperial and internal crises since 1415, which have continued to the mid-1970s and beyond. One of the most important themes of Portuguese history, and one oddly neglected by not a few histories, is that every major political crisis and fundamental change in the system—in other words, revolution—since 1415 has been intimately connected with a related imperial crisis. The respective dates of these historical crises are: 1437, 1495, 1578-80, 1640, 1820-22, 1890, 1910, 1926-30, 1961, and 1974. The reader will find greater detail on each crisis in historical context in the history section of this introduction and in relevant entries.
   The Republic of Portugal is located on the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula. A major geographical dividing line is the Tagus River: Portugal north of it has an Atlantic orientation; the country to the south of it has a Mediterranean orientation. There is little physical evidence that Portugal is clearly geographically distinct from Spain, and there is no major natural barrier between the two countries along more than 1,214 kilometers (755 miles) of the Luso-Spanish frontier. In climate, Portugal has a number of microclimates similar to the microclimates of Galicia, Estremadura, and Andalusia in neighboring Spain. North of the Tagus, in general, there is an Atlantic-type climate with higher rainfall, cold winters, and some snow in the mountainous areas. South of the Tagus is a more Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry, often rainless summers and cool, wet winters. Lisbon, the capital, which has a fifth of the country's population living in its region, has an average annual mean temperature about 16° C (60° F).
   For a small country with an area of 92,345 square kilometers (35,580 square miles, including the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and the Madeiras), which is about the size of the state of Indiana in the United States, Portugal has a remarkable diversity of regional topography and scenery. In some respects, Portugal resembles an island within the peninsula, embodying a unique fusion of European and non-European cultures, akin to Spain yet apart. Its geography is a study in contrasts, from the flat, sandy coastal plain, in some places unusually wide for Europe, to the mountainous Beira districts or provinces north of the Tagus, to the snow-capped mountain range of the Estrela, with its unique ski area, to the rocky, barren, remote Trás-os-Montes district bordering Spain. There are extensive forests in central and northern Portugal that contrast with the flat, almost Kansas-like plains of the wheat belt in the Alentejo district. There is also the unique Algarve district, isolated somewhat from the Alentejo district by a mountain range, with a microclimate, topography, and vegetation that resemble closely those of North Africa.
   Although Portugal is small, just 563 kilometers (337 miles) long and from 129 to 209 kilometers (80 to 125 miles) wide, it is strategically located on transportation and communication routes between Europe and North Africa, and the Americas and Europe. Geographical location is one key to the long history of Portugal's three overseas empires, which stretched once from Morocco to the Moluccas and from lonely Sagres at Cape St. Vincent to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is essential to emphasize the identity of its neighbors: on the north and east Portugal is bounded by Spain, its only neighbor, and by the Atlantic Ocean on the south and west. Portugal is the westernmost country of Western Europe, and its shape resembles a face, with Lisbon below the nose, staring into the
   Atlantic. No part of Portugal touches the Mediterranean, and its Atlantic orientation has been a response in part to turning its back on Castile and Léon (later Spain) and exploring, traveling, and trading or working in lands beyond the peninsula. Portugal was the pioneering nation in the Atlantic-born European discoveries during the Renaissance, and its diplomatic and trade relations have been dominated by countries that have been Atlantic powers as well: Spain; England (Britain since 1707); France; Brazil, once its greatest colony; and the United States.
   Today Portugal and its Atlantic islands have a population of roughly 10 million people. While ethnic homogeneity has been characteristic of it in recent history, Portugal's population over the centuries has seen an infusion of non-Portuguese ethnic groups from various parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Between 1500 and 1800, a significant population of black Africans, brought in as slaves, was absorbed in the population. And since 1950, a population of Cape Verdeans, who worked in menial labor, has resided in Portugal. With the influx of African, Goan, and Timorese refugees and exiles from the empire—as many as three quarters of a million retornados ("returned ones" or immigrants from the former empire) entered Portugal in 1974 and 1975—there has been greater ethnic diversity in the Portuguese population. In 2002, there were 239,113 immigrants legally residing in Portugal: 108,132 from Africa; 24,806 from Brazil; 15,906 from Britain; 14,617 from Spain; and 11,877 from Germany. In addition, about 200,000 immigrants are living in Portugal from eastern Europe, mainly from Ukraine. The growth of Portugal's population is reflected in the following statistics:
   1527 1,200,000 (estimate only)
   1768 2,400,000 (estimate only)
   1864 4,287,000 first census
   1890 5,049,700
   1900 5,423,000
   1911 5,960,000
   1930 6,826,000
   1940 7,185,143
   1950 8,510,000
   1960 8,889,000
   1970 8,668,000* note decrease
   1980 9,833,000
   1991 9,862,540
   1996 9,934,100
   2006 10,642,836
   2010 10,710,000 (estimated)

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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