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Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Portugal

It’s no secret that Portugal is a beautiful country. With its gorgeous architecture and breathtaking scenery, it’s the perfect place to sit back and relax, taking in the sights and enjoying a few freshly-baked Pastel de nata tarts (or maybe more than a few).

Home to unique customs and culturally rich heritage, Portugal has attracted travellers from all over the world for generations, with much to offer. You can dance in the music-filled streets of Lisbon, swaying in tune to the Fado music, or sipping wine in Portugal’s colorful second-largest city, Porto. Or maybe you’re just looking for somewhere to lounge by the seashore? You can pick the most optimal sunbathing spot in one of the many praia (beaches) situated along the Algarve Coast.

There’s a lot to learn and love about Portugal,That’s why we’ve taken the liberty of putting together a list of some of the most interesting facts about this fascinating European country. By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll mark Portugal as a must-visit destination for sure!

Ten surprising facts you might not know about Portugal:

1. Portugal is considered one of the oldest European nation-states

Because of its excellent location perfect for travel and trade, people have been coming in and settling into Portugal for thousands of years. In fact, Portugal is considered one of the oldest countries in Europe, not to mention the world! It was proclaimed the kingdom of Portugal the moment King Alfonso Henriques was proclaimed king, in 1139.

Another fun fact to note is that while Rome is world-renowned as one of Europe’s oldest cities, Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, is actually older than Rome by four centuries! The past truly comes to life while visiting this capital’s impressive array of striking castles and historical monuments.

2. Some of the world’s longest-reigning monarchs (and some of the shortest) are a part of Portugal’s history

Throughout Portugal’s history, you’d notice various monarchs setting records left and right for the span of their reigns! The founding father of Portugal, King Alfonso Henriques, governed the country for more than 70 years. In comparison, in 1908, Crown Prince Luis Felipe of Portugal basked in the glory of kingship for a brief moment, until he passed away from the injuries he had sustained in the same attack that assassinated his father and gave him his kingly title twenty minutes prior.

3. The Portuguese language is lively and vivacious!

Portuguese history is one that is vibrant and rich in storytelling, and this is no more apparent than in their effervescent way of expressing themselves.

For instance, the phrase “Ir com os porcos”, which translates to “go with the pigs” in English, usually refers to the ending, or “death” of something or someone. However, this idiom can also be used among friends to refer to someone who’s being particularly annoying!

More fun Portuguese phrases include “Engolir sapos”, to swallow a frog, meaning to hold your tongue, and “Estar com a pulga atrás da orelha”, to have a flea behind your ear, meaning that you feel curiosity or suspicion about something.

This zesty, zippy Romance language has some beautiful words as well, such as “Saudade”, which is used to express a nostalgic, melancholy feeling of longing for something or someone you love.

4. The world’s oldest bookstore is based in Lisbon

Livraria Bertrand is the oldest bookstore in the world still in operation, founded in 1732 by Pedro Faure. You can visit it in Lisbon’s Chiado neighbourhood, but if you’re not in the area, various Bertrand bookstore branches can be found throughout Portugal!

5. One of the world’s oldest universities can be found in Coimbra, Portugal

Yet another “one of the oldest in the world” landmarks for Portugal, the University of Coimbra first opened its door in Lisbon in 1290. Then, almost three hundred years later, it moved permanently to Coimbra in 1537, which is nearer to the country’s centre. It holds its spot as one of the oldest universities in the world, just behind six other universities, some of which include the University of Bologna in Italy and the University of Oxford in England.

6. Portugal is an eco-friendly country

Over the past few years, Portugal has made it its goal to become a more environmentally-friendly nation as the risk of climate change grows higher and higher, and currently ranks as one of the world’s most eco-friendly countries. One impressive feat Portugal has accomplished in its green-collar mission was in 2016, in which the country was able to successfully run on renewable energy for four whole days! It also holds the title of the “European Green Capital”, given in 2020. Portugal has not stopped to rest and continues its efforts to create long-term sustainability.

7. The origins of Fado music can be traced back to the streets of Portugal

In a working-class neighbourhood in Lisbon in 1820, the streets were filled with expressive, emotional to the point of being melancholic, music. And thus, Fado music was born, in which performers would often sing of the troubles of everyday life for the everyday man. In addition to its poignant, mournful spirit, the term Fado also means “fate” or “destiny” in English.

8. Portugal experienced one of the most powerful earthquakes in European history when Lisbon was hit in the mid-1700s

On November 1st, 1755, an earthquake whose magnitude was nearing 9.0 destroyed the city of Lisbon. What should have been a celebration of All Saints Day turned into devastation throughout Portugal’s capital. Fires (caused by holiday church candles) and tsunamis only served to further the damage. The natural disaster killed tens of thousands of the city’s population, and the entire city had to be rebuilt.

Today, sections of what the city once was can be found in the ruins of the Carmo Convent, a famous visitor’s spot for Lisbon walking tours.

9. The world’s largest producer of cork? It’s Portugal!

As the home to the largest forest of cork in the world, it’s only fitting that Portugal is also the largest producer of cork in the world––in fact, it’s responsible for producing more than half of the world’s supply of cork!

Aside from serving as wine bottle stoppers, visitors of Portugal will be pleased to find an assortment of toys and trinkets made out of cork in shops and flea markets across the country that they can take home as souvenirs.

10. Portugal is world-renowned for their famous port wine

Port wine is the true epitome of the nation as its most famous export. A rich and sweet red wine, port wine finds its origins in the Douro Valley of Portugal. Enjoying a few glasses of port wine while visiting Portugal is surely an experience you wouldn’t want to miss out on.

And that concludes our list of fascinating facts about one of the world’s loveliest nations. But of course, lists can only go so far. To truly experience the charm and beauty of Portugal, you have to experience it in person! If Portugal was on your bucket list before, we hope our own list inspires you to take those steps towards living your dream!

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