36 Interesting Facts About Portugal, Ancient And Modern

Interesting Portugal facts

Portugal is one of the most interesting countries in Europe. Join us as we explore this enchanting country and unpack its history with interesting Portuguese facts. 

From historic cities with cobblestone streets to sun-soaked beaches along the Atlantic coast, Portugal impresses with its rich heritage, diverse landscapes, and vibrant culture. 

General Portugal Facts

1. Portugal is the westernmost country in Europe. It is located in Southern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Spain borders it to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Portugal’s location on the Atlantic Ocean has influenced many aspects of its culture.

2. Portuguese is the official language of Portugal. More than 95% of the population speaks Portuguese, which is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.

A hill facing the sea in Lisbon and covered with orange-roofed houses
Lisbon, the capital of Portugal

3. The vast majority of the Portuguese population are Roman Catholics (81%). Other common religions include Protestantism and Christianity.

4. Portugal’s diverse geography ranges from lush forests and rolling hills to golden beaches and rocky cliffs. However, most of Portugal’s population lives in bustling cities like Lisbon and Porto.

5. Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, is older than Rome. Lisbon was established in 1200 BC, making it the oldest city in Western Europe and almost 400 years older than Rome

6. Portugal was founded in 1143 when Zamora’s Treaty was signed. The treaty agreed that Portugal would be recognized as an independent kingdom. Portugal’s independence was confirmed in 1179 by Pope Alexander III. 

Interesting Facts About Portuguese History

7. The region of modern-day Portugal was first inhabited by humans 400,000 years ago. The oldest human fossil ever found in the country was called Aroeira 3 H. It is believed to be more than 400,000 years old. 

8. A rare archeological find in the 1960s provides evidence that mummification took place in ancient Europe. The 8,000-year-old human remains found in Portugal are the oldest evidence of Mesolithic mummification in Europe. They could be the earliest evidence of mummification anywhere in the world.

9. The Lusitanians were a group of ancient peoples who inhabited the region that is now Portugal. They were known for their fierce resistance against Roman conquest and are often considered symbols of independence and resilience.

Some ruins of stone columns
Roman ruins in Portugal

10. The Vikings made contact with Portugal in the Middle Ages. Runic inscriptions, which were symbols used by the Vikings, have been found in several places in Portugal. The Romans made it to Portugal, too.

11. One of the oldest universities in the world is in Portugal. The University of Coimbra was established in 1290, less than 200 years after Oxford University was established. The university was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.

12. Portugal holds the world record for the longest and shortest-reigning monarchs. King Afonso I Henrique ascended the throne in 1112 before reigning for 73 years. On the other hand, King Luis Filipe was technically only king for 20 minutes in 1908.

13 . Between 1350 and 1450, Prisoners of War in Portugal were tortured for information. Some prisoners would be punished with 500 lashes, while others would have their hands chopped off. 

14. The Portuguese empire was one of the 10 largest empires in history. This expansion movement saw the country’s language and culture spread across the world, over an area spanning 4 million square kilometers. Today, more than 230 million people speak the Portuguese language.

White old buildings at University of Coimbra in Portugal
University of Coimbra

15. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan was the mastermind behind the first expedition to circumnavigate the world. Magellan left Portugal in 1519. However, the voyage returned 3 years later without him. Magellan died during the expedition. The Strait of Magellan in Chile is named after him.

16. Portuguese explorers exclaimed Isla Formosa, or “Beautiful Island” when they laid eyes on Taiwan. The name Formosa stuck for centuries and is still a nickname of the country today.

17. Found in Chiado, Livraria Bertrand holds the Guinness World Record for being the oldest operating bookstore in the world. Founded by Peter Faure, the small store opened in 1732 and has more than 290 years of history behind it.

18. Portugal’s capital city suffered one of the largest natural disasters in the world. In 1755, an earthquake hit Lisbon, killing up to 60,000 people and destroying most of the city.

A old Portuguese ship at sea with flag
An old Portuguese ship, like those that would have sailed long distances

19. Portugal was one of the pioneering countries behind the abolishment of capital punishment. Executions haven’t taken place in the country since 1846 and capital punishment was officially abolished in 1867.

20. The Ukulele, though associated with Hawaii, has origins in Portugal. Portuguese migrants to Haiwaii made it there as an adaptation of some other traditional instruments from their homeland.

Fun Facts about Modern Portugal

21. The population of Portugal is around half of the population of Florida. Portugal has a population of 10.2 million, while Florida has a population of 21.7 million. That makes it the 90th most populated country in the world, close to the middle among countries, between Greece and Azerbaijan. 

22. When it opened in 1998, the Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon was the longest in Europe. Crossing the River Tagus, the bridge is over 17 kilometers long. For a while, the Crimean Bridge in Russia was longer, but now that that bridge was bombed, the one in Lisbon is the longest again.

A very long bridge curving in the distance over water
The super-long Vasco da Gama bridge

23. In 2021, Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalize all drugs. This included drugs like cocaine and heroin. However, possession of drugs for personal use is still legally prohibited.

24. Portugal is one of the most peaceful countries in the world. Portugal ranked 7th on the Global Peace Index in 2023, dropping 3 places from 4th in 2021. Portugal is also the 6th safest country in the world.

25. Portugal has one of the oldest populations in the world. The country sits 4th in the world when it comes to countries with the largest percentage of older adults. Over 21% of the population is older than 65. 

26. Pig testicles are a traditional delicacy in Portugal. This dish is called Túbaros. The testicles are marinated in vinegar and cold oil and then fried.

27. Portuguese custard tarts are now famous all over the world. In Portugal, these are called Pastel de nata or Pastel de Belém. Many countries colonized by Portugal still enjoy the tarts today, such as Macau.

Close up of custard tarts that are browned on the top after being baked
Delicious Portuguese tarts

28. Portugal is known around the world for its national drink – Port. This sweet, strong red wine is produced exclusively in the country’s Douro Valley. The wine first became popular in the 18th century. Douro Valley is one of the oldest protected wine regions in the world.

29. Portugal is also the world’s largest producer of cork. It is home to the largest cork forest in the world, where almost half of the world’s cork is produced.

30. Fado, a melancholic genre of music, is from Portugal. It is an integral part of Portuguese culture that originated in the 1820s. It often features themes of longing, nostalgia, and saudade (a sense of longing or melancholy). It was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2011.

31. In the town of Santarém, an annual festival called “Festival do Ovo” (Egg Festival) takes place. The festival celebrates Portugal’s unique culinary tradition of cooking giant omelets in massive pans.

32. The Portuguese city of Aveiro is home to a unique tradition called the Feast of São Gonçalinho. It involves a unique tradition of throwing sweets and cake from balconies to the crowd below. 

Expansive view of a beach with large waves
Giant waves sometimes form at Nazare Beach in Portugal

33. São João da Madeira is home to the world’s only museum dedicated to the straw hat industry. The Hat Museum showcases the history and craftsmanship of traditional hat-making.

34. Portugal holds the record for the world’s largest Santa Claus parade. In 2013, over 14,000 people dressed as Santa Claus participated in the event in Porto.

35. The record for the biggest wave ever surfed was broken in Portugal. In 2020, German surfer Sebastian Steudtner surfed a wave in Nazaré that was 26.2 meters (86 feet) tall. That’s the equivalent of an eight-story building. 

36. In 2017, forest fires in Pedrógão Grande killed 66 people and injured a further 250. More than 500 homes were destroyed and 24,000 hectares of land was burned.

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