8 fun facts about Portugal you never knew - Google Arts & Culture (2023)

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Entrance procession of Monsignor Giorgio Cornaro in Lisbon in 1693 (17th century) by unknown authorNational Coach Museum

Discover what makes this country so unique

One of the oldest nations in Europe, Portugal emerged in 1139. Its borders have changed little since 1297, when the Portuguese and Spanish signed a treaty giving the Algarve to Portugal. The first king, Alfonso I Henriques, came to power in 1143 and the country remained a kingdom for the next 800 years until becoming a republic in 1910.

Portugal is a special country full of character, quirks and traditions that make it a place that welcomed 12.7 million tourists in 2017 alone. Whether you've already visited and explored its rich history or are new to its sunny climes, here are ten fun facts about Portugal that will show that there's still so much to learn about this fascinating country.

Portuguese is the official language of 9 countries

Once a global empire, it's no surprise that Portuguese as a language has migrated beyond the shores of Portugal. In fact, over 236 million people worldwide are said to be native speakers of Portuguese.

Portuguese is not only the official language of Portugal, but also of Brazil, Cape Verde, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Principe, Sao Tome and Equatorial Guinea. The language is also spoken in Goa in India, Macao on the south coast of China and East Timor in Southeast Asia.

Lisbon was nearly destroyed by an earthquake, followed 40 minutes later by a tsunami

On November 1, 1755, the holy celebration of All Saints' Day, at 9:40 a.m. Lisbon was hit by a violent earthquake that almost destroyed the city. According to contemporary reports, the earthquake lasted between three and six minutes, opening cracks five meters wide in the city center. About 40 minutes after the earthquake, a tsunami engulfed the port and downtown and tumbled up the Tagus. The speed at which this happened was so rapid that people riding horseback were forced to gallop as fast as possible in order not to be swept along. Two more waves followed.

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To add to the injury, candles that had been lit in homes and churches across the city on All Saints' Day were knocked over in the path of the earthquake. As the tsunami receded, the city began burning furiously for hours, suffocating people up to 100 feet from the blaze. It's unclear how many people died as a result of the disaster, but it's believed to be in the tens of thousands. Around 85% of Lisbon's buildings were destroyed, including famous palaces and libraries, as well as most examples of Portugal's characteristic 16th-century Manueline architecture. The earthquake also had economic and political repercussions. After years of building Lisbon into a vibrant capital city, it was completely destroyed in one day and it took decades to rebuild what it is today.

The Entry Procession of Monsignor Giorgio Conaro in Lisbon in 1963 (From the collection of the National Coach Museum)

Lisbon Earthquake Illustrations (from LIFE Photo Collection)

The oldest bookstore in the world is in Lisbon

If you take a trip to the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, you'll see a plethora of independent bookshops crowding the tiled streets. As a nation of book lovers, it's not surprising that the oldest bookshop in the world can be found in the city. Bertrand Chiado on Rua Garrett dates back to 1732 and is the oldest bookshop still in operation, a record made official by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2011.

The original bookshop was opened by Pedro Faure on Rua Diereito do Loreto. He had hoped that his bookshop would become a center for intellectual and artistic events. Faure was successful, but in 1755 the great Lisbon earthquake virtually destroyed the business. Faure belatedly sold his bookshop to the Bertrand brothers, who temporarily relocated the shop but returned 18 years later to the Baixa de Lisboa area and rebuilt it. Over the years, the Bertrand brand has become a national name and is now the largest bookstore chain in Portugal, with more than 50 stores.

Bertrand Chiado on Rua Garrett, Lisbon, Portugal

More than half of the world's cork comes from Portugal

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The cork tree is one of the few native trees still found in Portugal and the country uses it to its advantage, producing 70% of the world's cork exports. The main importers of Portuguese cork are Germany, Great Britain and the USA.

Portugal has the largest cork oak forest in the world and it is actually illegal to fell a cork tree without government approval. The cork oak tree thrives in Portugal because of the steady rainfall, short dry spells, mild winters and the country's blessed days of sunshine, which provide ideal conditions for these trees.

Neue Cortica-Fabrik, Sao Bras de Alportel, Portugal

Japanese tempura is credited to Portuguese merchants

Tempura, the bites of breaded, fried vegetables and seafood, is one of many gastronomic delights associated with Japanese cuisine. In fact, however, it was brought over by Portuguese traders and missionaries in the 16th century. Frying has been a standard method of preparing fish in Portugal and Spain for hundreds of years, with recipes for battered fried fish appearing in Spanish-Arabic cookbooks as early as the 13th century.

The story goes that in 1543 a Chinese ship with three Portuguese sailors on board headed for Macau, but went off course and ended up on the Japanese island of Tanegashima. Antonio da Mota, Francisco Zeimoto and Antonio Peixoto - the first Europeans to ever set foot on Japanese soil - were dubbed "southern barbarians" by locals. However, the Japanese were in the midst of a civil war and eventually began trading with the Portuguese, mostly in arms. This led to a Portuguese trading post in Japan, starting with firearms and then other items such as soap, tobacco, wool and even recipes including of course tempura which immediately became a staple.

The first Portuguese cakes were said to have been made by monks in the 13th century

Pastéis de nata are Portugal's favorite dessert and have been since the 13th century, when rumor has it they were first made by monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon. The monks are said to have lived in France, where they were inspired by the delicious baked goods on offer. Need a way to use up the separated egg yolks they used to use to starch clothes, what better way than to rustle up some custard tarts?

After the Liberal Revolution in 1820, the monastery was threatened with closure, so the monks began selling pastéis de nata to a nearby sugar refinery. Finally, in 1834, their monastery was closed and the recipe was sold to the sugar refinery mentioned above. Three years later, the refinery owners opened Pastéis de Belém, which is still open today and is run by descendants of the original owners. So if you're in the area, make sure you grab one of their famous cinnamon tarts (or five) before you go!

Hieronymus Monastery, Lisbon, Portugal

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Pastéis de Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

In 2010, Portugal became the sixth country in Europe to legalize same-sex marriage

Thankfully, Portugal has come a long way since homosexuality was banned and punished with imprisonment under the fascist Estado Novo regime, although it's important to note that many other countries had outlawed same-sex activity around the same time. When Portugal allowed same-sex marriage in 2010, it was an important step for LGBT rights.

A year after the law came into force, around 380 same-sex marriages were contracted in Portugal and this number has been rising rapidly ever since. Portugal was the sixth country to legalize same-sex marriage and currently ranks tenth out of 49 countries worldwide for its LGBT human rights record in the Ilga-Europe Rainbow Country Rankings.

Portugal has its own genre of music

Fado music is a form of Portuguese singing that dates back to the 1820s and can often be heard in pubs, cafes and restaurants. It is widely known for how expressive it is and for having a strong melody. In general, in fado music, the singer sings about the harsh realities of daily life, balancing both resignation and hope. It can be described with the Portuguese word "saudade", which means "longing" and represents a feeling of loss and melancholy.

Fado music often features a 12-string guitar or two, a viola or two, and sometimes a small 8-string bass. There are different styles depending on what area of ​​Portugal you are in, and in 2011 fado was inscribed on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Famous fado singers include Dulce Pontes, Carlos do Carmo, Mariza, Mafalda Arnauth and Amália Rodrigues (below), the so-called "Queen of Fado".

Amália Rodrigues von Silva Nogueira, Fotografia Brasil, LisbonNational Theater and Dance Museum

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Amália Rodrigues (aus der Sammlung des Museu Nacional do Teatro e da Dança)

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Discover Portugal through its museums, palaces and monuments


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What are 10 interesting facts about Portugal? ›

10 interesting facts about Portugal
  • Portugal is one of the oldest nation-states in Europe. ...
  • Portugal is Europe's most westerly point. ...
  • The sun (very nearly) always shines in Portugal. ...
  • Home to the world's oldest bookshop. ...
  • A rich heritage of cuisine. ...
  • Europe's longest bridge. ...
  • A wealth of history and nature.
Oct 17, 2022

What are some facts about Portugal culture? ›

Portugal is a predominantly Roman Catholic country with a close-knit family ethic. Its rich culture results from many influences, including Celtic, Lusitanian, Phoenician, Germanic, Visigoth, Viking, Sephardic Jewish, and Moorish.

What is Portuguese culture famous for? ›

The Portuguese participate in many cultural activities, indulging their appreciation of art, music, drama, and dance. Portugal has a rich traditional folklore (Ranchos Folclóricos), with great regional variety. Many cities and towns have a museum and a collection of ancient monuments and buildings.

What is unique about Portuguese culture? ›

The Portuguese have an open-minded society but place a greater importance on religious values than those in other western European nations. In Portuguese culture, people and relationships are considered more important than time, so punctuality is not as emphasized.

What is the best thing about Portugal? ›

Portugal has a lot going for it: an agreeable climate, historical cities, beautiful beaches, and excellent wines including the finest Port wine in the world. Another undeniable national treasure is delicious Portuguese food.

Where is Portugal known for? ›

Portugal is associated with so many things, including landmarks, dishes, and museums. In addition, Portugal is known for its monumental castles, golden sandy beaches, and hidden caves. So what is Portugal famous for when it comes to landmarks and museums? Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and hosts several landmarks.

What animal is Portugal known for? ›

The Official National Animal of Portugal. While Portugal does not have a national animal, many residents think of the rooster as the national symbol. Legend says that a horrible crime had been committed. A stranger passing through the town was condemned for a crime that he did not commit.

What is Portugal's real name? ›

Portugal, officially Portuguese Republic, Portuguese República Portuguesa, country lying along the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe.


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