Discover the southwest of Europe


Mainland Portugal is the most south-westerly country in Europe, and one of its great tourist destinations.

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With almost 1000 kilometres of coastline, mainland Portugal is a country with plenty of room for the millions of tourists who fly in each year from all over Europe and beyond. And with a history stretching back to prehistoric times, it is also a country with a fabulous heritage – historic cities such as Lisbon,  Oporto and Coimbra, the great vineyard areas of the Douro and northern Portugal, with their eponymous wines including Port (named after Porto or   Oporto, from where it has long been exported worldwide). Among hundreds of other historic sites are the great medieval Cistercian monastery at Alcobaça, the Roman walls and mosaics at Conimbriga, near Coimbra in the Central region, and the Roman temple in the town of Évora, capital of the Alentejo region. .

Map of Portugal    Occupying most of the western side of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal has a land border with only one other country, Spain. In Roman times, today's Portugal was part of the province of Lusitania, which also included the part of Spain known as Extremadura, where its capital city, Merida, was located. After the breakup of the Roman Empire, Portugal, like Spain, was occupied by the Visigoths, from the north, and then by the Moors from the south. When the Christians began to take back the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors in the ninth century,  the county of Portugal - corresponding to the northern half of today's Portugal, became part of the Kingom of Léon, before gaining independence as the Kingdom of Portugal with the Treaty of Zamora (1143).  The southern half of Portugal, From the level of Santarém down to the Algarve, was reclaimed from the Moors between 1139 and 1249, giving the new Kingdom of Portugal more or less the borders that it has kept to this day... making it the world's most long-established country in terms of territorial identity.

Facing resolutely westwards towards the Atlantic and beyond, Portugal has alsways been a land of seafarers, and during the Age of Discovery, its great sea captains, such as Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, were among the most famous names of the age. Indeed, surprising as it may seem to many people today, Portugal in the early sixteenth century was Europe's greatest maritime power, building up an empire in South America and the Far East before countries like France and England had even got off the starting blocks. The historic university at Coimbra was (and still is) one of Europe's  great centres of learning, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Over the ensuing four centuries, the Portuguese empire rose and fell as the country was victim to wars and rivalries in Europe and around the world, and conflict at home. The Portuguese king and heir were assassinated in 1908, and in 1910 the monarchy was overthrown in the Revolution of 5th October. The democracy that followed lasted only until 1926, when it was overthrown by the "National Dictatorship", a regime that evolved into the ultra-conservative and authoritarian Estado Novo, led for over 30 years by Antonio Salazar.

   It was not until after Salazar died in 1968 that Portugal finally emerged as a modern European democracy

Lisbon tram
Lisbon's iconic trams are a popular tourist attraction


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Photo tp of page by Pcdazero
Lisbon tram by Alec Eratti

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