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Portuguese History

History of Portugal

Early Portuguese History

Belem Tower.

Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and the Romans successively occupied the area now called Lisbon. The natural harbour of the Tagus River (Tejo) was an obvious attraction. From 210 BC onwards the Romans gradually extended their control over what is now present-day Portugal from their main power base in Spain. Lasting legacies of Roman domination of the area are: the Portuguese language, which directly derives from Latin and the production of wine. Christianity begins to spread in the area from the first century AD.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Visigoths from central Europe establish control on the Iberian peninsula.

711: The Moors arrived from Morocco and establish hegemony over most of Spain and Portugal. In Portugal their influence is most seen in the al-Gharb (the present day Algarve). The Moorish occupation was mostly tolerant of their Christian and Jewish subjects, with noted advances in agriculture and the increase in size of urban centers such as Lisbon and Evora.

Statue of Afonso III, Faro, Algarve.
Statue of Afonso III, Faro, in front of the Infante Dom Henrique Archeological Museum and the Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Assuncao

1147: The Moors were gradually ousted by the Christians - led by King Afonso Henriques, who styled himself as the first King of Portugal with control over most of the country except for the Algarve region. The Knights Templar were rewarded for their efforts in the Reconquest of Portugal by the granting of large tracts of land. This religious order of Christian Knights built their headquarters, the Convento de Cristo (Convent of Christ) in the town of Tomar.

1255: Lisbon became the capital of the country under Afonso III and the new nation of Portugal begins to expand its trade of wine, olive oil, and salt fish to Spain and northern Europe. Portugal's first university is founded in Lisbon and subsequently moves to Coimbra in 1290, with subsequent moves between the two cities until 1537 when the university is permanently established in Coimbra.

1385: Victory of the Portuguese against the Castilians from Spain at the battle of Aljubarrota is celebrated by the building of the Abbey of Batalha and ends the threat of Spanish domination of Portuguese affairs for a time. Portugal enters into a long-standing alliance with England through the Treaty of Windsor in 1386 and marriage of the victorious King João I to Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt.

Convent of Christ, Portugal.
The exterior of the Charola, Convent of Christ, Tomar, Portugal
Vasco da Gama.
Vasco da Gama

The Age of the Discoveries

1400s-1500s: Portugal's Kings begin to expand their territory into North Africa and beyond taking Tangier in 1471 as well as Madiera (1419) and the Azores (1427). Portuguese explorers (including Henry the Navigator and Vasco da Gama) utilizing new developments in ship-building, navigation and cartography brought new-found prosperity to Portugal via the main ports of Lisbon and Porto. Vasco da Gama discovers the overseas trade route to India. The age of discovery & overseas expansion in South America, Africa and Asia sees Portuguese trading posts established in Goa in India, Galle in Sri Lanka, Malacca in Malaysia, Ormuz in the Middle East and Macau in China. Portugal is heavily involved in the lucrative slave trade between West Africa and its fledgling colony in Brazil. However the vast profits of the new trade, which enriched the monarchy and ruling classes as well as financing the construction of such grandiose projects as the monastery and tower in Belem did not filter down into general society. Eventually the costs of empire led to inflation at home and economic decline. A process sped by the expulsion of a large percentage of the Jewish community, who were influential in the country's financial system, under pressure from the Inquisition.

1580-1640: The death of the childless King Dom Sebastião on a reckless military adventure in Morocco in 1578 lead to the Spanish conquest of Portugal and rule by Spain. Philip II of Spain became King of Portugal and his successors controlled the country's affairs until 1640 when the Duke of Bragança staged a palace coup and took the throne as João IV.

1755: A huge earthquake - felt as far away as the Caribbean and Scotland! - followed by a huge tsunami and raging fires destroyed Lisbon. The city is rebuilt under the aegis of the reforming chief minister Marques de Pombal using new construction techniques that helped buildings survive future earthquakes. However, the Portuguese empire never recovers from the financial effects of the disaster.

1807: Napoleon's army under General Junot invaded Portugal and the Portuguese royal family fled to Brazil.

1811: Napoleon is finally defeated by Anglo-Portuguese forces lead by the British generals Wellington and Beresford. Britain is granted free trade with Brazil as a reward for its defeat of Napoleon. Political instability and economic fluctuations continued to destabilize the monarchy in the later part of the nineteenth century.

Early 1900s: A number of coups d'état and political assassinations finally lead to the overthrow of the by now discredited monarchy in 1910. Economic problems in the country are exacerbated by Portugal's decision to enter World War I on the side of the Allies in 1916.

1926: António de Oliveira Salazar became prime minister, holding the position until 1968! He established a quasi-fascist state with rigid suppression of politcal opposition, strict press censorship and an active secret police (PIDE). The latter part of Salazar's rule was marked by wars of independence in Portugal's far-flung colonial territories. India seized Goa in 1961 and guerilla wars broke out in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau.

1970s: A (nearly) bloodless coup lead by leftist officers in the army - the Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA), known as the 'Revolution of the Carnations' ended the authoritarian régime in 1974. Portugal granted independence to most of its colonial territories, though instability and civil war were to be the lot of post-colonial Angola and later in Mozambique. East Timor, after nine days of independence, was invaded by Indonesia following Portugal's withdrawal in 1975. The revolutionary situation in Portugal ended in 1975 with the election of Colonel Eanes as President after yet another failed coup.

Recent Portuguese History

1986: Portugal joined the E.U. under the leadership of the moderate socialist Mario Soares as President and large-scale EU funding lead to increased economic growth, though the nation remains one of western Europe's poorer countries.

1990's: Portugal's last colony in Asia, Macau was handed back to China in 1997 and two years later, East Timor finally gained its independence after a Portuguese-backed UN referendum.

2000: Portugal joined the Euro zone of currencies in 2002 and successfully staged the 2004 European Football Championships, with the home team disappointingly losing in the final 0-1 to Greece.

2005: Portugal is increasingly troubled by the longest drought in its recorded history and raging summer forest fires.

2007-: Portugal holds the rotating EU presidency. However by 2010 Portugal is caught in the escalating Eurozone debt crisis as unpopular domestic cost-cutting measures come into effect.

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