The Iberian Peninsula has been inhabited for at least 30,000 years. If you want to see the earliest evidence of human habitation in Portugal, check out the ancient Palaeolithic inscriptions near Vila Nova de Foz Côa in the Alto Douro. For Neolithic ghosts, head for the atmospheric fortified hilltop settlements, dating from 5500 BC, in the lower Tejo (Tagus) valley.
In the first millennium BC Celtic people started trickling into the Iberian Peninsula, settling northern and western Portugal around 700 BC. Dozens of citânias (fortified villages) popped up, such as the formidable Citânia de Briteiros. Further south, Phoenician traders, followed by Greeks and Carthaginians, founded coastal stations and mined metals inland.
When the Romans swept into southern Portugal in 210 BC, they expected an easy victory. But they hadn’t reckoned on the Lusitani, a Celtic warrior tribe based between the Rio Tejo and Rio Douro that resisted ferociously for half a century. Unable to subjugate the Lusitani, the Romans offered peace instead and began negotiations with Viriato, the Lusitanian leader. Unfortunately for Viriato and his underlings, the peace offer was a ruse, and Roman agents, posing as intermediaries, poisoned him. Resistance collapsed following Viriato’s death in 139 BC.
By 19 BC the Romans had eliminated all traces of Lusitanian independence. A capital was established at Olisipo (Lisbon) in 60 BC, and Christianity became firmly rooted in Portugal during the 3rd century AD. For a vivid glimpse into Roman Portugal, you won’t see a better site than Conimbriga, near Coimbra, or the monumental remains of the so-called Temple of Diana, in Évora.
By the 5th century, when the Roman Empire had all but collapsed, Portugal’s inhabitants had been under Roman rule for 600 years. So what did the Romans ever do for them? Most usefully, they built roads and bridges. But they also brought wheat, barley, olives and vines; large farming estates called latifúndios (still found in the Alentejo); a legal system; and, above all, a Latin-derived language. In fact, no other invader proved so useful.
The gap left by the Romans was filled by barbarian invaders from beyond the Pyrenees: Vandals, Alans, Visigoths and Suevi, with Arian Christian Visigoths gaining the upper hand in 469.
Internal Visigothic disputes paved the way for Portugal’s next great wave of invaders, the Moors – North African Muslims invited in 711 to help a Visigothic faction. They quickly occupied large chunks of Portugal’s southern coast.
Southerners enjoyed peace and productivity under the Moors, who established a capital at Shelb (Silves). The new rulers were tolerant of Jews and Christians. Christian smallholding farmers, called Mozarabs, could keep their land and were encouraged to try new methods and crops, especially citrus and rice. Arabic words filtered into the Portuguese language, such as alface (lettuce), arroz (rice) and dozens of place names (including Fatima, Silves and Algarve – the latter stemming from the Arabic El-Gharb (‘the west’) – and locals became addicted to Moorish sweets.
Meanwhile in the north, Christian forces were gaining strength and reached as far as Porto in 868. But it was in the 11th century that the Reconquista (Christian reconquest) hotted up. In 1064 Coimbra was taken and, in 1085, Alfonso VI thrashed the Moors in their Spanish heartland of Toledo; he is said to have secured Seville by winning a game of chess with its emir. But in the following year, Alfonso’s men were driven out by ruthless Moroccan Almoravids who answered the emir’s distress call.
Alfonso cried for help and European crusaders came running – rallying against the ‘infidels’. With the help of Henri of Burgundy, among others, Alfonso made decisive moves towards victory. The struggle continued in successive generations, and by 1139 Afonso Henriques (grandson of Alfonso VI) won such a dramatic victory against the Moors at Ourique (Alentejo) that he named himself Dom – King of Portugal – a title confirmed in 1179 by the pope (after extra tribute was paid, naturally). He also retook Santarém and Lisbon from the Moors.
By the time he died in 1185, the Portuguese frontier was secure to the Rio Tejo, though it would take another century before the south was torn from the Moors.
In 1297 the boundaries of the Portuguese kingdom – much the same then as they are today – were formalised with neighbouring Castile. The kingdom of Portugal had arrived.
During the Reconquista, people faced more than just war and turmoil: in the wake of Christian victories came new rulers and settlers.
The Church and its wealthy clergy were the greediest landowners, followed by aristocratic fat cats. Though theoretically free, most common people remained subjects of the landowning class, with few rights. The first hint of democratic rule came with the establishment of the cortes (parliament). This assembly of nobles and clergy first met in 1211 at Coimbra, the then capital. Six years later, the capital moved to Lisbon.
Afonso III (r 1248–79) deserves credit for standing up to the Church, but it was his son the ‘Poet King’ Dinis (r 1279–1325) who really shook Portugal into shape. A far-sighted, cultured man, he took control of the judicial system, started progressive afforestation programmes and encouraged internal trade. He suppressed the dangerously powerful military order of the Knights Templar, refounding them as the Order of Christ. He cultivated music, the arts and education, and founded a university in Lisbon in 1290, which was later transferred to Coimbra.
Dom Dinis’ foresight was spot-on when it came to defence: he built or rebuilt some 50 fortresses along the eastern frontier with Castile, and signed a pact of friendship with England in 1308, the basis for a future long-lasting alliance.
It was none too soon. Within 60 years of Dinis’ death, Portugal was at war with Castile. Fernando I helped provoke the clash by playing a game of alliances with both Castile and the English. He dangled promises of marriage to his daughter Beatriz in front of both nations, eventually marrying her off to Juan I of Castile, and thus throwing Portugal’s future into Castilian hands.
On Fernando’s death in 1383, his wife, Leonor Teles, ruled as regent. But she too was entangled with the Spanish, having long had a Galician lover. The merchant classes preferred unsullied Portuguese candidate João, son (albeit illegitimate) of Fernando’s father. João assassinated Leonor’s lover, Leonor fled to Castile and the Castilians duly invaded.
The showdown came in 1385 when João faced a mighty force of Castilians at Aljubarrota. Even with Nuno Álvares Pereira (the Holy Constable) as his military right-hand man and English archers at the ready, the odds were stacked against him. João vowed to build a monastery if he won – and he did. Nuno Álvares, the brilliant commander-in-chief of the Portuguese troops, deserves much of the credit for the victory. He lured Spanish cavalry into a trap and, with an uphill advantage, his troops decimated the invaders. Within a few hours the Spanish were retreating in disarray and the battle was won.
The victory clinched independence and João made good his vow with Batalha’s stunning Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória (aka the Mosteiro da Batalha or Battle Abbey). It also sealed Portugal’s alliance with England, and João wed John of Gaunt’s daughter. Peace was finally concluded in 1411.
João’s success had whetted his appetite and, spurred on by his sons, he soon turned his military energies abroad. Morocco was the obvious target, and in 1415 Ceuta fell easily to his forces. It was a turning point in Portuguese history, a first step into its golden age.
It was João’s third son, Henry, who focused the spirit of the age – a combination of crusading zeal, love of martial glory and lust for gold – into extraordinary explorations across the seas. These explorations were to transform the small kingdom into a great imperial power
The biggest breakthrough came in 1497 during the reign of Manuel I, when Vasco da Gama reached southern India. With gold and slaves from Africa and spices from the East, Portugal was soon rolling in riches. Manuel I was so thrilled by the discoveries (and resultant cash injection) that he ordered a frenzied building spree in celebration. Top of his list was the extravagant Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém, later to become his pantheon. Another brief boost to the Portuguese economy at this time came courtesy of an influx of around 150, 000 financially savvy Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.
Spain, however, had also jumped on the exploration bandwagon and was soon disputing Portuguese claims. Christopher Columbus’ 1492 ‘discovery’ of America for Spain led to a fresh outburst of jealous conflict. It was resolved by the pope in the bizarre 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, by which the world was divided between the two great powers along a line 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. Portugal won the lands to the east of the line, including Brazil, officially claimed in 1500.
The rivalry spurred the first circumnavigation of the world. In 1519 the Portuguese navigator Fernão Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan), his allegiance transferred to Spain after a tiff with Manuel I, set off in an effort to prove that the Spice Islands (today’s Moluccas) lay in Spanish ‘territory’. He reached the Philippines in 1521 but was killed in a skirmish there. One of his five ships, under the Basque navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano, reached the Spice Islands and then sailed home via the Cape of Good Hope, proving the earth was round.
As its explorers reached Timor, China and eventually Japan, Portugal cemented its power with garrison ports and trading posts. The monarchy, taking its ‘royal fifth’ of profits, became stinking rich – indeed the wealthiest monarchy in Europe, and the lavish Manueline architectural style symbolised the exuberance of the age.
It couldn’t last, of course. By the 1570s the huge cost of expeditions and maintaining an empire was taking its toll. The expulsion of commercially minded refugee Spanish Jews in 1496 and the subsequent persecution of converted Jews (marranos, or New Christians) during the Inquisition, which began in the 16th century under João III, only worsened the financial situation.
The final straw came in 1557, when young idealistic Prince Sebastião took the throne, determined to take Christianity to Morocco. He rallied an 18,000-strong force and set sail from Lagos only to be disastrously defeated at the Battle of Alcácer-Quibir. Sebastião and 8000 others were killed, including much of the Portuguese nobility. His aged successor, Cardinal Henrique, drained the royal coffers ransoming those captured.
On Henrique’s death in 1580, Sebastião’s uncle, Felipe II of Spain (Felipe I of Portugal), fought for and won the throne. This marked the end of centuries of independence, Portugal’s golden age and its glorious moment on the world stage.
Spanish rule began promisingly, with Felipe vowing to preserve Portugal’s autonomy and attend the long-ignored parliament. But commoners resented Spanish rule and held on to the dream that Sebastião was still alive (as he was killed abroad in battle in Morocco, some citizens were in denial); pretenders continued to pop up until 1600. Though Felipe was honourable, his successors proved to be considerably less so, using Portugal to raise money and soldiers for Spain’s wars overseas, and appointing Spaniards to govern Portugal.
An uprising in neighbouring Catalunya gave fuel to Portugal’s independence drive (particularly when the Spanish King Felipe III ordered Portuguese troops to quell the uprising), and in 1640 a group of conspirators launched a coup. Nationalists drove the female governor of Portugal and her Spanish garrison from Lisbon. It was then the duke of Bragança reluctantly stepped forward and was crowned João IV.
With a hostile Spain breathing down its neck, Portugal searched for allies. Two swift treaties with England led to Charles II’s marriage to João’s daughter, Catherine of Bragança, and the ceding of Tangier and Bombay to England.
In return the English promised arms and soldiers: however, a preoccupied Spain made only half-hearted attempts to recapture Portugal, and recognised Portuguese independence in 1668.
Moves towards democracy now stalled under João’s successors. The Crown hardly bothered with parliament, and another era of profligate expenditure followed, giving birth to projects like the wildly extravagant monastery-palace in Mafra.
Into the ensuing economic chaos of the 18th century stepped a man for the moment – the Marquês de Pombal, chief minister to the epicurean Dom José I (the latter more interested in opera than affairs of state). Described as an enlightened despot, Pombal dragged Portugal into the modern era, crushing opposition with brutal efficiency.
Pombal set up state monopolies, curbed the power of British merchants and boosted agriculture and industry. He abolished slavery and distinctions between traditional and New Christians, and overhauled education.
When Lisbon suffered a devastating earthquake in 1755, Pombal swiftly rebuilt the city. He was by then at the height of his power, and succeeded in dispensing with his main enemies by implicating them in an attempt on the king’s life.
He might have continued had it not been for the accession of the devout Dona Maria I in 1777. The anticlerical Pombal was promptly sacked, tried and charged with various offences, though never imprisoned. While his religious legislation was repealed, his economic, agricultural and educational policies were largely maintained, helping the country back towards prosperity.
But turmoil was once again on the horizon, as Napoleon swept through Europe.
In 1793 Portugal found itself at war again when it joined England in sending naval forces against revolutionary France. Before long, Napoleon threw Portugal an ultimatum: close your ports to British shipping or be invaded.
There was no way Portugal could turn its back on Britain, upon which it depended for half of its trade and protection of its sea routes. In 1807 Portugal’s royal family fled to Brazil (where it stayed for 14 years), and Napoleon’s forces marched into Lisbon, sweeping Portugal into the Peninsular War (France’s invasion of Spain and Portugal, which lasted until 1814).
To the rescue came Sir Arthur Wellesley (later Duke of Wellington), Viscount Beresford and their seasoned British troops, who eventually drove the French back across the Spanish border in 1811.
Free but weakened, Portugal was administered by Beresford while the royals dallied in Brazil. In 1810 Portugal lost a profitable intermediary role by giving Britain the right to trade directly with Brazil. The next humiliation was João’s 1815 proclamation of Brazil as a kingdom united with Portugal – he did this to bring more wealth and prestige to Brazil (which he was growing to love) and in turn to him and the rest of the royal family residing there. With soaring debts and dismal trade, Portugal was at one of the lowest points in its history, reduced to a de facto colony of Brazil and a protectorate of Britain.
Meanwhile, resentment simmered in the army. Rebel officers quietly convened parliament and drew up a new liberal constitution. Based on Enlightenment ideals, it abolished many rights of the nobility and clergy, and instituted a single-chamber parliament.
Faced with this fait accompli, João returned and accepted its terms – though his wife and son Miguel were bitterly opposed to it. João’s elder son, Pedro, had other ideas: left behind to govern Brazil, he snubbed the constitutionalists by declaring Brazil independent in 1822 and himself its emperor. When João died in 1826, the stage was set for civil war.
Offered the crown, Pedro dashed out a new, less liberal charter and then abdicated in favour of his seven-year-old daughter Maria, provided she marry uncle Miguel and provided uncle Miguel accept the new constitution. Sure enough, Miguel took the oath, but promptly abolished Pedro’s charter and proclaimed himself king. A livid Pedro rallied the equally furious Liberals and forced Miguel to surrender at Évoramonte in 1834.
After Pedro’s death, his daughter Maria, now Queen of Portugal at just 15, kept his flame alive with fanatical support of his 1826 charter. The radical supporters of the liberal 1822 constitution grew vociferous over the next two decades, bringing the country to the brink of civil war. The Duke of Saldanha, however, saved the day, negotiating a peace that toned down Pedro’s charter, while still radically modernising Portugal’s infrastructure.
The latter half of the 19th century was a remarkable period for Portugal, and it became known as one of the most advanced societies in southern Europe. Casual visitors to Lisbon like Hans Christian Andersen were surprised to find tree-lined boulevards lined with gas-lit street lamps, efficient trams and well-dressed residents. Social advances were even less anecdotal. The educational reformer João Arroio dramatically increased the number of schools, doubling the number of boys’ schools and quadrupling the number of girls’ schools. Women gained the right to own property; slavery was abolished throughout the Portuguese empire, as was the death penalty; and even the prison system received an overhaul – prisoners were taught useful trades while in jail so they could integrate into society upon their release.
Professional organizations, such as the Literary Guild, emerged and became a major impetus to the advancement of ideas in public discourse, inspiring debate in politics, religious life and the art world.
As elsewhere in Europe, this was also a time of great industrial growth, with a dramatic increase in textile production, much of it to be exported. Other major works included the building of bridges and a nationwide network of roads, as well as a flourish of major architectural works like the Pena Palace above Sintra.
However, by 1900 the tides of discontent among workers began to grow. With increased mechanisation, workers began losing jobs (some factory owners began hiring children to operate the machines), and their demand for fair working conditions went unanswered. Those who went on strike were simply fired and replaced. At the same time, Portugal experienced a dramatic demographic shift: rural areas were increasingly depopulated in favour of cities, and emigration (especially to Brazil) snowballed.
Much was changing, and more and more people began to look towards socialism as a cure for the country’s inequalities. Nationalist republicanism swept through the lower-middle classes, spurring an attempted coup in 1908. It failed, but the following month King Carlos and Crown Prince Luis Filipe were brutally assassinated in Lisbon.
Carlos’ younger son, Manuel II, tried feebly to appease republicans, but it was too little, too late. On 5 October 1910, after an uprising by military officers, a republic was declared. Manuel, dubbed ‘the Unfortunate’, sailed into exile in Britain where he died in 1932.
After a landslide victory in the 1911 elections, hopes were high among republicans for dramatic changes ahead, but the tides were against them. The economy was in tatters, strained by an economically disastrous decision to join the Allies in WWI. In postwar years the chaos deepened: republican factions squabbled, unions led strikes and were repressed, and the military grew powerful.
The new republic soon had a reputation as Europe’s most unstable regime. Between 1910 and 1926 there were an astonishing 45 changes of government, often resulting from military intervention. Another coup in 1926 brought forth new names and faces, most significantly António de Oliveira Salazar, a finance minister who would rise up through the ranks to become prime minister – a post he would hold for the next 36 years.
Salazar hastily enforced his ‘New State’ – a corporatist republic that was nationalistic, Catholic, authoritarian and essentially repressive. All political parties were banned except for the loyalist National Union, which ran the show, and the National Assembly. Strikes were banned, and propaganda, censorship and brute force kept society in order. The sinister new secret police, Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado (PIDE), inspired terror and suppressed opposition by imprisonment and torture. Various attempted coups during Salazar’s rule came to nothing. For a chilling taste of life as a political prisoner under Salazar, you could visit the 16th-century Fortaleza at Peniche – used as a jail by the dictator.
The only good news was a dramatic economic turnaround. Through the 1950s and 1960s Portugal experienced an annual industrial growth rate of 7% to 9%.
Internationally, the wily Salazar played two hands, unofficially supporting Franco’s nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, and allowing British use of Azores airfields during WWII despite official neutrality (and illegal sales of tungsten to Germany). It was later discovered that Salazar had also authorised transfer of Nazi-looted gold to Portugal – 44 tonnes according to Allied records.
But it was something else that finally brought bought the Salazarist era to a close – decolonisation. Refusing to relinquish the colonies, he was faced with ever more costly and unpopular military expeditions. In 1961 Goa was occupied by India, and nationalists rose up in Angola. Guerrilla movements also appeared in Portuguese Guinea and Mozambique.
Salazar, however, didn’t have to face the consequences. In 1968 he had a stroke, and died two years later.
His successor, Marcelo Caetano, failed to ease unrest. Military officers sympathetic to African freedom fighters - the officers had seen the horrible living conditions in which the colony lived beneath the Portuguese authorities – grew reluctant to fight colonial wars. Several hundred officers formed the Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA), which on 25 April 1974 carried out a nearly bloodless coup, later nicknamed the Revolution of the Carnations (after victorious soldiers stuck carnations in their rifle barrels). Carnations are still a national symbol of freedom.
Despite the coup’s popularity, the following year saw unprecedented chaos. It began where the revolution had begun – in the African colonies. Independence was granted immediately to Guinea-Bissau, followed by speedy decolonisation of the Cape Verde islands, São Tomé e Príncipe, Mozambique and Angola.
The transition wasn’t smooth: civil war racked Angola, and East Timor, freshly liberated in 1975, was promptly invaded by Indonesia. Within Portugal, too, times were turbulent, with almost a million refugees from African colonies flooding into Portugal.
The country was an economic mess, with widespread strikes and a tangle of political ideas and parties. The communists and a radical wing of the MFA launched a revolutionary movement, nationalising firms and services. Peasant farmers seized land to establish communal farms that failed because of in-fighting and poor management. While revolutionaries held sway in the south, the conservative north was led by Mário Soares and his Partido Socialista (PS; Socialist Party).
It took a more moderate government, formed in 1975, to unite the country after a coup by radical leftists was crushed. At last, the revolution had ended.
Portugal was soon committed to a blend of socialism and democracy, with a powerful president, an elected assembly and a Council of the Revolution to control the armed forces.
Soares’ minority government soon faltered, prompting a series of attempts at government by coalitions and nonparty candidates, including Portugal’s first female prime minister, Maria de Lourdes Pintassilgo. In the 1980 parliamentary elections a new political force took the reins – the conservative Aliança Democrática (AD; Democratic Alliance), led by Francisco Sá Carneiro.
After Carneiro’s almost immediate death in a plane crash (of which evidence of foul play later surfaced), Francisco Pinto Balsemão stepped into his shoes. He implemented plans to join the European Community (EC).
It was partly to keep the EC and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) happy that a new coalition government under Soares and Balsemão implemented a strict programme of economic modernisation. Not surprisingly, the belt-tightening wasn’t popular. The loudest critics were Soares’ right-wing partners in the Partido Social Democrata (PSD; Social Democrat Party), led by the dynamic Aníbal Cavaco Silva. Communist trade unions also organised strikes, and the appearance of urban terrorism by the radical left-wing Forças Populares de 25 Abril (FP-25) deepened unrest.
By mid-1985 the government collapsed over labour-reform disagreements, and the PSD emerged a narrow winner in subsequent elections. But this wasn’t the end of Soares. In the February 1986 presidential elections the veteran socialist became the country’s first civilian head of state in 60 years.
In 1986, after nine years of negotiations, Portugal joined the EC. Flush with new funds, it raced ahead of its neighbours with unprecedented economic growth. The new cash flow also gave Prime Minister Cavaco Silva the power to push ahead with radical economic reforms. These included labour law reforms that left many disenchanted workers; the 1980s were crippled by strikes – including one involving 1.5 million workers – though all to no avail. The controversial legislation was eventually passed.
The PSD, now also stricken by corruption scandals, suffered massive losses in municipal elections but still managed to hold onto power. The electorate may have been disgusted by scandals, unemployment, inflation and public-sector shortcomings, but they were wooed nonetheless by the PSD’s promises of growth.
It was soon obvious that these promises would be hard to fulfil. In 1992 EC trade barriers fell and Portugal suddenly faced new competition. Fortunes dwindled as recession set in, and disillusionment grew as Europe’s single market revealed the backwardness of Portugal’s agricultural sector.
Strikes, crippling corruption charges and student demonstrations over rising fees only undermined the PSD further, leading to Cavaco Silva’s resignation in 1995.
The general elections in 1995 brought new faces to power, with the socialist António Guterres running the show. Despite hopes for a different and less conservative administration, it was business as usual, with Guterres maintaining budgetary rigour that qualified Portugal for the European & Monetary Union (EMU) in 1998. Indeed, for a while Portugal was a star EMU performer with steady economic growth that helped Guterres win a second term. But it couldn’t last. Corruption scandals, rising inflation and a faltering economy soon spelt disaster. Portugal slipped into economic stagnation. The result saw a political swing to the centre-right, with Guterres resigning just before his party was squashed in the 2002 general elections by the PSD.
Things were far from rosy for the new prime minister, José Manuel Durão Barroso, who had to form a coalition government with his former foe, the radically right-wing Centro Democrático Social-Partido Popular (CDS-PP; Popular Party). Like his predecessors, Durão had the unenviable job of tackling Portugal’s financial and budgetary crisis, in hopes of promoting growth and productivity. Under his watch, he faced rising unemployment and stiff rigours for meeting EU fiscal requirements.
Perhaps, given the obstacles, it’s not surprising that he would resign – taking over, instead, as head of the EC – Portugal’s first appointee to that post. This caused a flurry of political shuffling that brought Lisbon mayor Pedro Santana Lopes to Portugal’s top post.
On the international stage, Portugal received some worldwide criticism for hosting the Iraq War Conference in the Azores in 2003 (attended by George Bush, Tony Blair and Spain’s José María Aznar). Initially, Portugal contributed a small force to Iraq (later withdrawn in 2005), which made then prime minister Lopes extremely unpopular at home and ultimately contributed to his political downfall.
Meanwhile, 2004 was a time for Portugal’s success as host nation in the European Football Championships, and the refocus on sport did wonders for the country’s morale, despite its 1–0 loss in the final to Greece.
Unfortunately, Lopes proved unprepared for the transition to national politics and, by the end of 2004, President Sampaia lost confidence in Lopes’ government, dissolved parliament and called for new elections.
Parliamentary elections in 2005 brought to power socialist José Socrates, who models himself on Blair and Spain’s José Luís Zapatero. Still early in his tenure, he’s sought to reposition the PS as part of the modern left – one that is more fiscally prudent and committed to IMF reforms (including pension reform and privatisation of public services – contentious topics among many citizens). At the same time, Socrates has tried to stay true to his supporters – vowing to slash unemployment and create jobs.
In 2006 another old face returned to the stage, with the unprecedented election of Cavaco Silva, a former PSD prime minister, who won with just a hair over 50% of the vote. The new government has the same problems to face: ballooning budget deficits, rising unemployment and stagnant growth. The 2004 enlargement of the EU hasn’t helped, as countries with much lower labour costs have overturned Portugal’s former competitive advantage.
Despite its attention to domestic problems, Portugal continues to play an active role in the EU and in deepening relations between Europe and Africa. Portugal is proving to be a driving force in the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, and has announced proposals to achieve a drastic reduction of poverty among member countries by 2015.
Like French, Italian, Romanian and Spanish, Portuguese is a Romance language derived from Latin. Its pronunciation is quite different to other Romance languages, but the similarities are clear when you see it in the written form.
The pre-Roman inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula were responsible for Portuguese’s most striking traits, but the influence of the vulgar Latin of Roman merchants and soldiers gradually took over from indigenous languages and caused a strong neo-Latin character to evolve.
After the Arab invasion in AD 711, Arabic became the prestige cultural language in the Peninsula and exerted a strong influence on the Portuguese language. This connection was significantly weakened when the Moors were expelled in 1249.
Portuguese underwent several changes during the Middle Ages, mostly influenced by French and Provençal (another Romance language). In the 16th and 17th centuries, Italian and Spanish were responsible for innovations in vocabulary.