Search this website:

This web page location:

home page  >   Europe  >   Portugal



Portus Cale, Douro River, African colonies, Madeira Islands, Iberian Peninsula

Deeper web pages:

>  Land and Resources

>  People and Society

>  Culture

>  Economy

>  Government

>  History

Portugal, nation in southwestern Europe, occupying the western portion of the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal lies south and west of Spain, with which it shares the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal’s long coastline faces the Atlantic Ocean. Portuguese territory also includes two autonomous archipelagos, the Azores (Acores) and the Madeira Islands, both located in the Atlantic. Lisbon (Portuguese Lisboa) is Portugal’s capital and largest city.

Roughly rectangular in shape, Portugal covers an area approximately as large as the state of Maine. To the north, the mainland is mountainous and lush, with plenty of rain and cool weather. The area is noted for its vineyards, especially the valley of the Douro River, which produces grapes for port, Portugal’s most famous wine. The central and southern parts of Portugal are warmer and drier, but they support many forms of agriculture, including vineyards, wheat fields, and groves of cork oaks and olives. To the far south is the Algarve, a region famous for its hot summers and miles of sunny beaches.

Portugal became part of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century bc. The name Portugal is derived from Portus Cale, a former Roman settlement at the mouth of the Douro River. After the collapse of Roman rule in the 5th century ad, Portugal was colonized by Germanic peoples, who came overland from Europe. Portugal was then conquered by Muslims from North Africa, before coming under the control of Spanish kings. Portugal became an independent kingdom in the 12th century.

In the 15th century Portugal emerged as the foremost center of maritime exploration in Europe. Over the next century, Portuguese sailors explored the world and dominated the sea trade. These sailors helped Portugal build the first great European overseas empire, with colonies in Africa, Asia, and South America. Today, Portuguese is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, a legacy of Portugal’s once-vast empire. By the late 16th century, however, Portugal’s power and resources were exhausted, and most of the country’s Asian colonies were lost. Portugal kept its largest colony, Brazil, until the 19th century and its huge African empire until the late 20th century. Despite its extensive possessions, Portugal remained one of Europe’s least developed nations.

Monarchs governed Portugal until 1910, when the first Portuguese republic was proclaimed. A period of great instability followed. In 1926 a coup d’etat installed a dictatorship that ruled Portugal for nearly five decades. A series of costly colonial wars in Africa beginning in the 1960s drained Portuguese resources and weakened the national economy. Partly as a result of the dictatorship’s stubborn prosecution of the wars, a revolution occurred in Portugal in 1974, and a military junta came to power. The following year Portugal granted independence to all of its African colonies. A new constitution in 1976 established a democratic system of government. Since that time, Portugal has forged new ties to Europe and worked to modernize its economy. Portugal joined the European Community (EC, a forerunner of the European Union) in 1986, and in 1999 adopted the euro, the EU’s common currency. Macao, the last remnant of Portugal’s colonial empire in Asia, was returned to China in 1999.


For younger readers

Blauer, Ettagale, and Jason Laure. Portugal. Scholastic, 2001. For readers in grades 6 to 9.

Champion, Neil. Portugal. Thomson Learning, 1995. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

Portuguese and Brazilian literature

Baden, Nancy T. Muffled Cries: The Writer and Literature in Authoritarian Brazil, 1964-1985. University Press of America, 1999. A disturbing study of cultural repression.

Bell, Aubrey. Portuguese Literature. Oxford University Press, 1922, 2001. Classic treatment of the life and works of writers from 1185 to 1910.

Chabal, Patrick, and others. The Post-Colonial Literature of Lusophone Africa. Northwestern University Press, 1996. Collection surveying the contemporary literature of Portuguese-speaking Africa.

Echevarria, Roberto Gonzalez, and Enrique Pupo-Walker, eds. The Cambridge History of Latin American Literature. 3 Vols. Cambridge, 1996. Vol. 3 - Brazilian literature, including its history from earliest writing to modern Portuguese language traditions.

Perrone, Charles. Seven Faces: Brazilian Poetry Since Modernism. Duke University Press, 1996. Poetry and lyric writing of 1950 - 1990.

Tamen, Miguel, and Helena C. Buescu, eds. A Revisionary History of Portuguese Literature. Garland, 1998. Traces the evolution of Portuguese literature from medieval times to the present.


Anderson, James Maxwell. The History of Portugal. Greenwood, 2000. A concise history of the political, social, and cultural forces that have shaped Portugal.

Kaplan, Marion. The Portuguese: The Land and Its People. Viking, 1992. Art, architecture, politics, and history of Portugal.

Saramago, Jose. Journey to Portugal: In Pursuit of Portugal's History and Culture. Harcourt, 2001. From a Nobel Prize-winning author.

Unwin, P. T. Portugal. ABC-CLIO, 1987. A bibliographical guide to the geography, political structure, culture, and history of Portugal.

Wheeler, Douglas L. Historical Dictionary of Portugal. Scarecrow, 1993. Dictionary with entries and essays on the history of Portugal.


Eaton, Marlin David, B.A., Ph.D. Lecturer in Human Geography and European Regional Development at the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland. Expert in Iberian geography and member of the Anglo- Portuguese Society.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

Article key phrases:

Portus Cale, Douro River, African colonies, Madeira Islands, Iberian Peninsula, Acores, sea trade, Portuguese republic, military junta, state of Maine, wheat fields, Algarve, Roman Empire, dictatorship, Azores, European Community, common currency, forerunner, cool weather, national economy, Monarchs, Atlantic Ocean, olives, Macao, new constitution, grapes, North Africa, European Union, Lisbon, Muslims, largest city, spoken languages, Portugal, capital, Brazil, China, South America, power, revolution, Europe, time, Asia, rain, independence, world, Today, mouth, country, mainland, result, area, shape, valley, decades, nations, resources

Search this website: