Portugal is a beautiful country located in southwestern Europe, bordering Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. With a rich history, vibrant culture, and stunning natural beauty, Portugal has a lot to offer to visitors. In this article, we’ll explore 10 fun facts about Portugal that you may not have known before.
1. One of the oldest countries in the world
The country we know as Portugal has been continuously settled, invaded, and fought over since prehistoric times. It was first inhabited by pre-Roman and Celtic peoples. It was later ruled by Romans, Visigoths, and others. The country officially gained its independence as the Kingdom of Portugal in 1143.
Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, is the second-oldest capital city in Europe. (Athens is the oldest, in case you’re wondering.)
2. Portuguese Design
Everyone has a healthy fear of something, but have you ever heard of being afraid of a blank canvas?
When the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 777, they conquered Southern Portugal. They brought with them a concept called “horror vacui” or the fear of empty space. They were unnerved by empty walls and wide open spaces, which is likely why ancient cities like Lisbon are so decorative and enclosed.
Bright colors, distinctive tiles, stone sculpture-clad buildings, and cobblestone streets make Lisbon one of the most walkable and beautiful European cities to explore.
And if photographing embellished doors is a favorite hobby, get ready to expand your collection, Lisbon is dotted with some of the most ornate doors you’ve ever seen.
In July, as part of the Ágitagueda Art Festival in Portugal, hundreds of brightly colored umbrellas are suspended over the streets of Águeda. The exhibition runs from July 1 – September 30 and was created to bring joy and happiness to the city.
You can also find this beautiful umbrella display in December with a series of Christmas lights hung from the umbrellas.
4. Déjà vu
Have you ever traveled somewhere and felt an overwhelming sense of Déjà vu? If you’ve traveled around Europe and parts of South America, you might feel that when you touch down in Portugal.
Because the Portuguese were such avid explorers and were exposed to and had influence over so many different empires around the world, you might find yourself looking at their buildings and thinking you’ve seen this before in Italy, Greece, Northern Africa, Indonesia, Brazil, and countless others.
5. Blue Tiles
If you’ve ever walked into someone’s home and noticed blue tiles with an elaborate floral pattern, they were probably inspired by a trip to Portugal. “Azulejos”, the Portuguese word for tiles, are the most recognizable components of Portuguese architecture.
They were originally brought during the reign of King D. Manuel I in the 15th and 16th centuries.
With a Moorish aesthetic, the blue tiles quickly became the most sought-after design for everything from palaces, cathedrals, noble houses, and even ships.
Because of their expense, and the fact that the color was associated with royalty, only wealthier families were able to incorporate azulejos into their home designs.
Lisbon loves its viewpoints so much that it has a special name for them – Miradouros are a network of terraces that span the city, providing the most breathtaking views of different neighborhoods in the city.
Pictured below, Miradouro Das Portas Do Sol is Lisbon’s most beloved city viewpoint. It overlooks the orange-tiled 11th-century neighborhood of Alfama.
Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte is another favorite with both tourists and locals alike.
It’s Lisbon’s highest viewpoint and offers a beautiful aerial layout of the city, and it’s also considered one of the most romantic spots in the city.
7. The Douro River
The Douro River is a historically significant river of the Iberian Peninsula, creating a magnificent waterway for river cruise ships. The Douro River cruises run from Porto, Portugal to Vega de Terron, Spain. Most cruises are round-trip from Porto. The most eminent structure on the river, the Dom Luis I Bridge, stretches 951 feet long.
You get a variety of Portugal and Spain on Douro River Cruises, meaning excellent Paella from Spain and Port wines from Portugal, along with Flamenco dancers and Portuguese pingo (like espresso).
The tourists often herald the town of Aveiro as being the Venice of Portugal.
The cityscape is crisscrossed by canals that you can navigate on painted gondola-style boats known as Moliceiros. The Romans were the first to recognize Aveiro as a harbor. The harbor is the best-sheltered harbor on the Iberian Peninsula’s western side.
9. Lisbon’s Trams
Trams first appeared in Lisbon in 1873. They were called Carros Americanos and were first built in the United States.
It was on the 31st of August 1901 that the first electric tram (Eléctricos) departed from Cais Sodré towards Algés.
Green and red trams are specifically for tourists. The green ones were added to the system in May 2015. Inside, the Cobrador had two roles: to validate the ticket and to get rid of the penduras, people who climbed the tram for a free ride.
Around Christmas, you might spot the Christmas Tram with Santa in the driver’s seat.
Portuguese Fado is a traditional genre of music that originated in Lisbon in the early 19th century. Fado means “fate” in Portuguese and it is characterized by mournful melodies and lyrics that speak of loss, longing, and sadness. The music is usually performed by a solo singer, accompanied by a classical guitar and a Portuguese guitar.
Fado has a rich history and has been associated with the Portuguese working class, particularly sailors and port workers. In 2011, Fado was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List, which recognizes cultural practices and expressions that are passed down through generations and considered to be important to humanity’s cultural heritage. Today, Fado remains a popular music genre in Portugal and is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.
Portugal’s contributions to the world of language, music, and culture continue to be celebrated and appreciated today. Whether you’re interested in exploring the past, enjoying the outdoors, or simply relaxing in the sunshine, Portugal is a destination that’s sure to leave a lasting impression.
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