Portuguese History

Modern Portugal's history starts in the 12th century when (with the help of a variety of Crusaders) the Christians in the north of the Iberian Peninsula finally began to evict the Moors. The new Portugal was anxious to be recognised as a proper country by the Vatican, so the border between Spain and Portugal was ratified on the basis that Portugal agreed not to take any Spanish land. It’s now one of the oldest and longest borders in Europe.

The Portuguese Empire was the first of ‘global’ proportions, and also the longest. Blessed with natural explorers and seafarers like Henrique the Navigator, Bartolomeu Dias, Pedro Álvares Cabral and Vasco da Gama, the country fast became very wealthy. During this period Portugal became a leading trading nation and experienced high levels of growth resulting in some fine Manueline (late Portuguese Gothic) architecture incorporating maritime details. But the disastrous earthquake of 1755 that severely damaged the capital wiped much of this away and marked a cardinal point in the decline of Portugal's trade and influence. Although the Marquês de Pombal was the leading light in the rebuilding of Lisbon, he couldn't stop the slow decline of the country into poverty.

During the Peninsular Wars, when Napoleon Bonaparte's tyranny over-ran Europe, the British came to beat him in Portugal. Built in secret, the Duke of Wellington’s visionary defensive lines are named after the town of Torres Vedras.

The early years of the 20th century saw a global rise in tension, resulting in the First World War; Portugal was firmly aligned with the Allies. Subsequently, weak governments and a revolution in 1926 resulted in the rise of António de Oliveira Salazar. He remained in power as a virtual dictator from 1932 until 1968.

During the Second World War, Portugal assumed a neutral status, which resulted in Lisbon becoming a hotbed of intrigue as the Embassies and spies from the combatant countries vied for information, trade and raw materials from Portugal.

Portugal became one of NATO’s founding members, gaining admission to the United Nations in 1955. Over the next 20 years, Portugal's colonial policies, criticised both internally and internationally, resulted in the revolution of 1974. Political, social and economic upheavals continued until 1986 when Portugal joined the European Union and elected a civilian government, marking the beginning of a much more stable era.

 

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