Portugal is one of Europe’s best-hidden gems, and reading fun facts about Portugal is the best way to start uncovering it. No, I know Portugal is sort of a popular tourist destination but compared to the European heavyweights such as Spain, France, or Italy, it’s completely overshadowed.
And the country deserves so much more praise; it’s ridiculous. It has some of the older cities on the continent; it’s full of signature authentic charm, everybody speaks English, there are tons of beaches and at least 300 days of sunshine per year. What more can you want from a country?
From their cork mania to the peculiar bookshops, it’s time to explore the country of explorers with 20 Portugal facts you (most likely) didn’t know.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
Portugal is old
Let’s start from the beginning; I’m pretty sure that when you think of an old European country, Portugal is not on your mind. I guess you will be as surprised as I was when you find out that Portugal is one of the oldest countries on Earth.
With its borders were defined almost a thousand years ago (1139 CE), Portugal’s first king – Afonso Henriques, started a Kingdom that would last 800 years until 1910 (when it became a republic).
And if you think Portugal is old, wait until you hear about Lisbon. Historians have proved that the Portuguese capital is at least four centuries older than Rome itself. Yup, four centuries! It turned out, due to its excellent location, the Phoenicians settled in what we know as Lisbon today, as early as 1200 BC.
Portugal is tough
Being as old as it is, it’s not surprising that Portugal had to fight many wars to remain among the top dogs in Europe. And the Portuguese fought them exceptionally well.
One of the greatest armies in the history of humanity, the Roman Empire, needed the mindblowing 200 years to conquer Portugal. A combination of rough terrain and the relentlessness of the local people saw the Romans struggling for two centuries in their Portuguese quest.
Portugal is curious
We continue our fun facts about Portugal with a curious one. Well, more like a fact about curiosity. The Portuguese curiosity that shaped the modern world that is.
The Portuguese are among the most famous and accomplished explorers of all time. During the Portuguese golden age (early 15th century to late 16th), brave navigators like Vasco da Gama (found the sea route to Asia), Ferdinand Magellan (completed the first circumnavigation of Earth), and Pedro Álvares Cabral (discovered Brazil) changed the world forever.
At one time, half of the New World belonged to Portugal, including the eastern part of South America and parts of Africa and Asia. Today Portuguese is the official language of nine countries, with more than 236 million native speakers.
The dark history of Portugal
I know I promised you fun facts about Portugal, and this one is not fun at all, but there are things we should know just so we don’t repeat them.
Being a big and powerful colonizer nation during a large part of their history, the Portuguese were pioneers in plenty of things, some of them as horrible as slavery. Having territories on most continents, the Portuguese were heavily involved in trading people as goods for centuries.
To be fair, they did abolish slavery as early as 1761, which is like half a century earlier than the other top colonizers.
See Also: Top 20 Curious Facts About Greece
Portuguese love cork
We’re back to the fun Portugal facts with a cork one.
Portugal is responsible for around 50% of the world’s cork production, and it’s one of the country’s top exports. Oh, and Portuguese just love the stuff.
While most people are used to seeing cork only in wine bottles, you can find everything from this stuff in Portugal. From glass coasters and magnets to furniture and clothes. Absolutely everything.
Portugal used to be ruled by a dead queen
Being a monarchy for like eight centuries, you can safely bet that at times there were some weird rulers on the Portuguese throne. Probably the weirdest one was… a dead queen.
This peculiar event happened in 1357 when King Pedro I named his lover, the Galician noblewoman Ines de Castro, to be his queen. The problem was, the new queen was killed two years ago. This didn’t stop the (presumably mad) king who exhumed her remains and coronated her as Queen Ines de Castro.
Portugal is a surfing paradise
Portugal is THE place in Europe to go surfing. No, really, no other country can come even close in this category. Its 800-something km coastline (500 mi) and the mild climate have been drawing surfers from all over the world for years.
To make it extra special, Portugal is also home to the Nazaré resort town. You may have never heard of it, but I’m pretty sure there’s no surfer on the planet who’s not dreaming of hitting the mythical Nazaré waves.
It’s was in Nazaré where Garrett McNamara set the record for the biggest wave ever surfed, catching a 23.8m (78 feet) monster.
We continue our fun facts about Portugal with a Japanese one. The two countries have nothing in common at first glance, right? One is far in the east while the other is in Western Europe; one has samurais while the other have pastel-colored castles; one had a dead queen while the other had an emperor send from heaven. Like I said, nothing in common.
Their history, however, is intertwined. Portuguese, being the curious explorers they are, were the first to discover Japan to the western world. This happened back in the 16th century, and they managed to leave their mark on the island nation quite strongly.
Some words in modern Japanese have Portugal origins (like koppu, which comes from the Portuguese copo and means cup). The Portuguese also introduced guns and modern weaponry to Japan which played a significant part in the Sengoku civil war period.
See Also: 20 Fun Facts About Spain
Land of port-wine
If you’re a wine enthusiast, you probably already know that, but for all the others, I have an exciting wine fact for you – Portugal is the land of wine. Their national drink, the Port Wine, is made in a magical UNESCO-recognized valley and can be found pretty much everywhere.
No, seriously, everywhere. Just stroll around any town, and beside the fast-food joints, you can also see fast-wine ones. And yes, they serve other kinds of wine too. If you’re a fan of the sacred red elixir, Portugal is the place for you.
Portugal is a bookshop country
From a fact about wine, we go to a book one or more precisely a bookshop one. Portugal is one of those countries full of book enthusiasts, and they have quite the love story with their bookshops.
The oldest bookshop in the world was found in Lisbon. Bertrand Bookshop was established in 1732, destroyed by an earthquake in 1755, and rebuild once again in 1773. And you know what, it’s still open today! How crazy is that?
The Pirate Code
Ahoy, Me Hearties! Show me your letter of marque or walk the plank! That’s probably something the famous Portuguese pirate Bartholomew Portugues used to say (not in English, though).
Other than sending people down the plank, Bartholomew Portugues is known for establishing the first set of rules for pirates. Yup, pirates may have been criminals, but they did have their code of conduct.
Bartholomew’s code had some interesting articles, including voting rights for the crew members and a strict gambling ban. Them pirates sure had strong unions back in the day.
The Portuguese love to set records. Weirder they are, the better! Instead of listing them as separate Portugal facts, I grouped them all here. We already mentioned the larger wave ever surfed, so here are the others:
- Smallest newspaper in the world (2cm by 2,5cm)
- Largest Aletria (traditional dessert, the record was set with a 357kg/ 787lb one)
- Most espressos made in an hour (21,000)
- Largest human image (made out of 34,309 people)
- Largest decorated egg (15m/ 50ft tall)
- Largest Santa Claus parade (14,963 Santas)
- Largest omelet ever made (145,000 eggs became a 6,4-ton omelet)
- Most piano hits in a minute (824 times)
Portugal is mostly water
Have you watched Kevin Costner’s movie Waterworld? It’s pretty old, so probably not. Well, in Waterworld, 95% of the planet was covered in water. Why am I telling you this? Because Waterworld may have just as easily been talking about Portugal, where 95% of the country’s territory is water.
Technically the ocean area of 1.720.560 Km2 is not exactly Portuguese, but it’s still under its jurisdiction. The vast maritime resource is also home to the largest artificial underwater park and reef in Europe – The Ocean Revival Underwater Park. This incredible diving treat is situated just off the coast of Algarve and features four decommissioned navy warships and tons of wildlife.
See Also: 20 Interesting Facts About Italy
Portugal is England’s BFF
Did you know that Portugal and England have been BFFs for more than 600 years now? I sure didn’t. It turned out the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance was signed in 1373 and is still in force today.
In those years, both countries supported each other in war conflicts, conducted Royal marriages, and exchanged a lot of culture. It was the Portuguese princes Catharine of Braganca who introduced the tea-drinking ritual to England. She even made it fashionable to use a fork at dinner. Must have been quite the influencer that one!
A bridge fact
We interrupt out fun facts about Portugal for a minute to learn the not-so-fun fact that the Iberian country is the proud owner of the second-longest (used to be the longest for 20 years) bridge in Europe – Vasco da Gama.
There is a peculiar story here, though. When the bridge was inaugurated, the city served lunch for all 15,000 people on it, which accidentally (or not) set a world record for the largest dining table.
The flag of Portugal
Time to talk about the Portuguese flag. Quite distinctive and unique, the flag is in use since 1911, and just like most flags, it has plenty of symbolics in it.
The red part represents the blood spilled during the wars Portugal had to fight to defend its territory, while the green one symbolizes hope for the future. Where the two colors meet, you can see the coat of arms of Portugal. The five blue shields in it represent the five Moorish kings who were defeated by the first King of Portugal.
Land of sunshine
Portugal is one of the most sun-kissed countries in Europe. In fact, only the tiny islands of Cyprus and Malta get more sunshine hours than Portugal.
With more than 300 sunny days per year and countless beaches to explore, Portugal is definitely a prime contender for your beach vacation.
See Also: Top 20 Fun Facts About Morocco
The chef monks of Portugal
Have you heard of the battle monks? The ones you can find in Asia who know all kinds of martial arts and ancient techniques? Well, you can’t find those in Portugal.
What you can find, however, are chef monks. During the centuries, many Portugal dishes were invented and established by monks. The most popular is the national sweet – Pastel de nata. Created in the 18th century by monks of the Jerónimos Monastery in Santa Maria de Belem, those tiny drops of heaven can be found everywhere in the country today.
If you want to try the best ones, go to the original bakery next to the Jeronimos monastery. You may have to wait in line for a bit, but trust me, it’s worth it!
The Lisbon earthquake
We have to pause our fun facts once again to learn more about the history of Lisbon. We already established that the city is among the oldest on the continent, but we still haven’t talked about the most significant event in its history – the great earthquake of 1755.
It happened on the morning of November 1 and destroyed pretty much everything in the city. It was estimated the magnitude was between 8.5 to 9, which makes it one of the biggest earthquakes in human history.
It was pretty unfortunate to hit a historical city such as Lisbon in its prime. The Portuguese capital was one of the most beautiful ports on the continent, rocking a very distinct gothic style of architecture. Today, you can see some of the old Lisbon’s remains in the Carmo Archaeological Museum and appreciate how much humankind lost on this dark November day.
Virgin Marry once visited Portugal
We finish our fun facts about Portugal with a religious one. Did you know that Portugal is so awesome that even Virgin Marry decided to visit once? I sure didn’t.
The miracle happened in May 1917 in the town of Fátima. It was witnessed by three shepherd children who reported a meeting with “a Lady more brilliant than the Sun”. The news spread around, and a vast crowd gathered in the hope of another miracle.
And the miracle happened! Apparently, the crowd observed the sun dancing in an unusual zig-zag while immediately drying their rain-soaked clothes. The event was named the “Miracle of Fatima”, and it’s even recognized by the Vatican.
That’s all from me, I hope you enjoyed my 20 fun facts about Portugal.
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