Sat. Jul 20th, 2024


Portugal is a fascinating country with a proud history that can be felt throughout each of its cities, from its bustling capital right down to its tiny, picture-perfect villages. I’ve been living in Portugal for a few years now and have learned loads of fascinating facts about its culture and history.

Are you planning on visiting Europe’s westernmost country soon? Do you have Portuguese roots and want to learn more about your ancestors and cultural heritage? Whatever the case may be, I hope you enjoy these 12 facts about Portugal and what makes it unique.

The Portuguese Empire was huge—its former territories are annotated in green on this map.

1. Half of the “New World” Once Belonged to Portugal

In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed. This document essentially gave Portugal the eastern half of the “New World,” including Brazil and parts of Africa and Asia. The Portuguese Empire was actually the first global empire in history. It was also one of the longest-lived colonial powers, lasting for almost six centuries from when Ceuta was captured in 1415 until Macau (now China) was handed over in 1999.


In 1808, Dom João, the King of Portugal, moved to Brazil and proclaimed a single state that included Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves. The single state was called the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves 

and was effective from 1815 to 1822. The new capital of the kingdom was Rio de Janeiro. The kingdom was disestablished in 1822 after the king returned to Portugal in 1821, leaving his son, Prince Dom Pedro, to rule Brazil. In turn, the country soon declared independence from Portugal.

2. Portuguese Is the Official Language of Nine Countries

Over 236 million people worldwide are native Portuguese speakers. Portuguese is the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Principe, Sao Tome, and Equatorial Guinea. Portuguese is also spoken in Goa (India), Macao, and East Timor. This stems from Portugal’s colonial past. These lands have their mother tongues, too; however, Portuguese is an official language.

3. Portugal Is the Oldest Country in Europe

Portugal has had the same defined borders since 1139, making it the oldest nation-state in Europe. Afonso Henriques was proclaimed the first King of Portugal in 1139, and the country remained a kingdom for almost 800 years thereafter until a successful 1910 revolution by the Portuguese Republican Party.

Lisbon's Bertrand bookstore has been around since 1732.

Lisbon’s Bertrand bookstore has been around since 1732.

4. The Oldest Bookstore in the World Is in Portugal’s Capital

Bertrand bookstore, or Livraria Bertrand (pictured above at the corner), was established in 1732 and is located in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city. This makes it the oldest still-operational bookstore in the world. Moravian Book Shop, the next oldest, opened in Pennsylvania in 1745.

5. Portugal Is the Largest Cork Producer in the World

Portugal produces 70% of the world’s cork exports. This makes sense, as the country also boasts the world’s largest cork forest. The primary importers of Portuguese cork are Germany, the U.K., and the United States.

University of Coimbra is one of the oldest universities in Europe.

University of Coimbra is one of the oldest universities in Europe.

6. One of the Oldest Universities in Europe Is in Portugal

The University of Coimbra was established in 1290, making it one of the oldest universities on the European continent. The school now has over 20,000 students and has been named an official World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It was founded by King Dinis, a monarch remembered for his contributions to Portugal’s literary and agricultural legacies.

Vasco da Gama Bridge was the longest in Europe until 2018.

Vasco da Gama Bridge was the longest in Europe until 2018.

7. Portugal Has the Longest (Uncontroversial) Bridge in Europe

The Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is 7.6 miles (12.3 kilometers) long. It was the longest bridge in Europe for about 20 years until in 2018 the 12 miles (19 kilometers) Crimean Bridge joined Crimea with Russia, following Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. I suspect the Crimean Bridge, aka Kerch Bridge will not be around very long given that it joins sovereign Ukrainian territory with Russia. Parts of the Crimea Bridge were destroyed in October 2022 and as Ukraine continues liberating its territories from Russia following Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine, this bridge is senseless and Portugal’s Vasco da Gama Bridge will once again be the longest in Europe.

8. Portugal and England Have the Oldest Diplomatic Alliance in the World

The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance was signed in 1373 and is still in force to this day. Both countries have entered wars to defend the other. Notable examples include the United Kingdom entering the Iberian Peninsular War and Portugal entering World War I. Talk about having someone’s back!

Portugal is known for its long, surfable coast. This image shows a surfer riding a wave at Praia da Poça near Estoril, Portugal.

Portugal is known for its long, surfable coast. This image shows a surfer riding a wave at Praia da Poça near Estoril, Portugal.

9. Portugal Is One of the World’s Top Surf Spots

Portugal has a coastline that spans 497 miles (800 kilometers) and it’s known to have 364 days of surf per year. This makes it a popular destination for surfers and beach-goers from all over the world.

10. Lisbon Was Hit by One of the Most Powerful Earthquakes in European History

On the 1st of November in 1755, Lisbon was struck by an approximately 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which was followed by a tsunami and fires that reduced much of the city to rubble. The earthquake struck on All Saints Day, a major holiday that involved churches being filled with burning candles. When the earthquake struck, many of these candles toppled and caused major fires. 275,000 residents were killed, and 85 percent of the city’s buildings were destroyed. Locals talk about the devastating natural disaster to this day.

11. Portuguese Fado Music Is an Intangible Cultural Heritage

Fado (fate in Portuguese) is a genre of music that originated in urban Lisbon sometime before 1820. Fado is a mournful and heart-touching style of folk music typically sung by common people and passed down through generations orally. The musical genre was added to the World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2011 by UNESCO.

12. Portugal Was the First Colonial Power to Abolish Slavery

Despite having been heavily involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade, Portugal abolished slavery all the way back in 1761—that’s half a century before other European powers like Britain, France, and Spain and over a century before the United States.



By Lala