A Brief History of Portugal
Portugal emerged as a nation state in the early 12th century, and ranks as one of the world’s longest established countries. In 1143 Portugal was raised to the status of a kingdom. Dom Afonso Henriques became King of an independent Portugal. He had taken three quarters of the present day Portugal from the Muslims, including Lisbon. After his death in 1185 the conquest was completed by his successors. Afonso III expanded this Kingdom southward to the Algarve in 1249, and under João I, Portuguese sailors began to explore the African and the Atlantic coastline. Its boundaries have been unchanged since the 13th century.
Portugal is the westernmost point in Europe. It was from this little country that Prince Henry the Navigator financed expeditions that led to the discovery of the New World. From his School of Navigation in a little town called Sagres, ships departed on their exploration of the boundless seas and the unknown world beyond – Portugal turned to the Ocean, in it defining its destiny.
The Fifteenth Century was Portugal’s age of Discovery. First it was Madeira Island, then the Azores, Cape Bojador and Cape Verde. Then the Portuguese explorers reached Africa rounded the Cape of Good Hope giving Portugal it’s own route to India. Vasco de Gama reached India, establishing Portuguese colonies, and Pedro Cabral discovered Brazil. Other Portuguese explorers reached the Far East, China and Japan. For that brief moment in time, Portugal was the richest country in Europe.
The Republic of Portugal encompasses mainland Portugal and the islands groups of Madeira and the Azores. The mainland is about 325 miles long and 135 miles wide.
The Azores are situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, about 2 hours flying time from Lisbon (about 900 miles) and consists of nine islands: São Miguel, Santa Maria, Terceira, Graciosa, São Jorge, Pico, Faial, Flores and Corvo. It was on Santa Maria that Columbus stopped to pray in the small Chapel of Anjos, dated 1467, on his return from discovering America.
Madeira is situated about 550 miles southwest of Lisbon and consists of four islands: Madeira, Porto Santo, Selvagens and Desertas.
Portugal’s two remaining territories, Macau in China, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1999, and Timor-Leste in Indonesia. Indonesia invaded Timor. The UN or Portugal does not recognize the invasion.
For most travelers, Portugal’s history and culture are equally unknown. So if you missed Lisbon in 1995 when it was designated as Europe’s Cultural Capital, plan on visiting it this year, or next. In 1998, Expo 98 was held (“The Oceans as a resource for the Future” –from May 22 to September 30, 1998). It was very appropriate that Expo 98, whose theme was the Oceans, be held in a country whose mariners defied the sea and gave to the world a New World in the way of discovery.