…these interesting tidbits about Portugal?
I periodically come across really interesting facts about Portugal and thought it would be fun to do some additional research and see what else I could learn. I have pulled them all together to share with you.
Let’s start with an “oldie, but goodie” just in case this fact has escaped a few people. Did you know that the westernmost point of continental Europe is located in Portugal? It is true. I covered this in my post “Cabo da Roca – The Very Edge of Europe”. Click here to learn more and see additional pictures.
I am going to correct an error that I have read many times and inadvertently perpetuated, which I have already gone back and corrected in my very first blog post. While Lisbon predates other modern European capitals by centuries (Lisbon is said to be four centuries older than Rome), Lisbon is NOT the oldest capital in Europe, that honor goes to Athens. Lisbon is the second oldest.
BUT! Portugal is the oldest nation-state in Europe. Portugal has maintained its firm borders since they were defined in 1139 CE, making it one of the most identifiable and oldest countries in the world and the oldest in Europe. So there.
Did you know that Portugal shares the oldest treaty in the world with England? The Treaty of Windsor is a diplomatic alliance signed between Portugal and England on 9 May 1386 at Windsor and sealed by the marriage of João I de Portugal to Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster. The Treaty of Windsor established a pact of mutual support between the countries and remains in place to this day. The original document is preserved at the Portuguese National Archives.
Portugal is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Another 19 have been nominated and placed on the UNESCO tentative list. Go Portugal! Won and I have been to six of the 17 official sites and three of the nominated sites. These locations play an important role in bringing tourists to Portugal. Of the 17 confirmed sites, here are the six we have visited. Below from l-r, Sintra, Belém Tower, Palace of Mafra (King’s Gallery).
Below from l-r, Guimarães (10th c. castle), Porto (looking across the Duoro river at Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia), Évora (1st century Roman temple).
And, speaking of tourism, according to a 2019 global ranking by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Portugal came in at number 17 with 22.8 annual million visitors. Pretty cool considering there are only 10.2 million residents.
Did you know that the Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Japan in the 16th century? While they were there they left their linguistic mark on the country. Words such as pan (from the Portuguese pão meaning bread) and sabato (from the Portuguese sabado meaning Saturday) are good examples.
And, speaking of Japan, I was surprised to learn that tempura, a fritter-cooking technique, was introduced to the Japanese by the Portuguese. It is thought that the name tempura may originate from the Portuguese word tempêro, meaning seasoning.
As a nation of book lovers, it is not surprising that the oldest bookstore in the world can be found in Lisbon’s Chiado neighborhood. For nearly three centuries, the Livraria Bertrand, as it is known today, has served Lisbon’s bibliophiles. It has also been a space for intellectual and cultural conversations. Opened in 1732, it holds the Guinness record as the world’s oldest bookstore still in operation. Impressive!
Did you know that the word coconut comes from the Portuguese word “coco” which means head or skull? (There is a pun in there somewhere, but it is escaping me and driving me nuts!)
Portuguese academics established the University of Coimbra in 1290, making it one of the oldest universities in the world. The University achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2013. Today, you can visit its Royal Palace and the Biblioteca Joanina, considered a priceless national monument.
Did you know that Portugal is investing heavily in renewable energy? In 2016 the entire country ran for almost five consecutive days entirely on renewable energy powered by wind, sun and water. One of the world’s largest photovoltaic farms is near the town of Moura. Innovative projects include a floating wind farm (the WindFloat) and WaveRoller, which converts the movement of ocean waves to energy and electricity. Portugal’s goals for the future are also extremely ambitious: to achieve 80% of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and to completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the generation of electricity by 2050. And all this hard work has not gone unrewarded; Lisbon was announced as the 2020 European Green Capital Award winner. Parabens, Lisboa!
Portugal has 800km (497 miles) of stunning Atlantic coastline and its temperate climate makes surfing possible all year long. Many world records for big wave surfing have taken place in Praia do Norte, Nazaré. And, when I say big, I mean B. I. G! Click here to see a video from 2019 that will make you pucker up (if you know what I mean). Seeing this in person is on our list of things to do this year.
Portugal takes caring for their beaches very seriously. In 2020, it was awarded 372 Blue Flag designations. The Algarve topped the list with 91 (87 beaches and four marinas). The Blue Flag program is a global initiative of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) and has the support of the European Commission (EC). A Blue Flag designation means that a beach, marina, or boat operation and facilities have met exacting criteria regarding water quality, environmental management and education, safety, and cleanliness standards.
Did you know that there are 62 museums in Lisbon and a little more than 300 in the entire country? (Just for grins I decided to look up how many museums there are in the United States…drum roll please…35,000!!!)
Circling back to the topic of flags…did you know that the present Portuguese flag (Bandeira Nacional) was adopted in 1911? The flag consists of two unequal rectangles of green and red with the yellow Portuguese coat of arms and shield in the center. The red and green colors are associated with the Portuguese Republican Party, which overthrew the monarchy in 1910. The color green represents hope and the color red represents the blood of sacrifice. The armillary sphere symbolizes the triumphs of navigation of the “Age of Discoveries” when Portuguese ships set out on voyages to South America, Africa and the Far East from the 15th century onwards.
Here’s a throwback fact from your school-age days, do you recall that Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521) a Portuguese explorer, is credited with masterminding and executing the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe? (I hear you saying, “Oh right…I remember that…”)
Did you know that Portugal is the number one source of cork in the world? The country is responsible for more than 50% of all global cork production, producing more than 100,000 tons of cork annually. The main importers of Portuguese cork are Germany, the UK, and the USA. The cork oak tree, which is native to Portugal and has been legally protected since the Middle Ages, is considered a national heritage. Cutting it down is strictly prohibited. The trees can only be cut down if they are dead or diseased, and even then, only with written permission of the authorities.
Portuguese is the official language of not just Portugal, but also Brazil, Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Principe, Sao Tome, and Equatorial Guinea. The language is also spoken in Goa (India), Macao (China), and East Timor (southeast Asia).
Did you know that Portugal holds the record for the shortest-reigning monarch in the world? Crown Prince Luís Filipe was the King of Portugal for a total of 20 minutes after his father Carlos I was assassinated on 1 February 1908. After suffering injuries in the same attack, Luís Filipe also died and the title of king was transferred to Manuel II, Luís Felipe’s younger brother, who ended up being the last King of Portugal.
The largest artificial underwater park and reef in Europe is located off the coast of the Algarve in Portugal. The Ocean Revival Underwater Park has four decommissioned Portuguese navy ships nestling on the seabed, home to an ever evolving eco-system and major attraction for divers from all around the world. Suit up and come see it!
Did you know that Portugal is home to the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge? I know a few of you are aware because you forwarded articles on this topic to me. For everyone else, the 516 Arouca Bridge, which opened just a few weeks ago, is 516 meters long (1,692 feet) and is suspended 175 meters (575 feet) above the ground. It connects the Paiva River banks and has stunning views of Paiva Gorge and the Aguieiras Waterfall. Won and I are already planning to cross it a little later this year. And when we do, I promise to tell you all about it (assuming my heart is strong enough to survive the crossing).
And finally, if you have not read my post called, “How Progressive is Portugal?”, click here. It is full of fascinating facts on where this country stands on a wide range of topics like gun rights, LGBTQ rights, drug use, the death penalty, etc.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about Portugal. Were there any facts that were surprising to you? For me, writing this post was a little like a treasure hunt; I enjoyed the process immensely and ended up with a few gems!
As always please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,