Portugal is a country in southwestern Europe, located alongside Spain on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country in Europe, shares its land borders with Spain, and is bordered to the south and west by the Atlantic Ocean. Portugal’s territory also includes the island of Madeira, located in the Atlantic Ocean off the Portuguese coast. Portugal’s Mediterranean climate is somewhat variable, with more arid weather near the Spanish border, and a wetter coastal climate in the south and west. In the winter Portugal’s average daytime temperature peaks at around 16 degrees Celsius; in the summer, the maximum temperature averages around 25 degrees over the entire country, but in the warmer regions temperatures often top 35 to 40 degrees.
Portugal is famous for several beverages, including port wine, a sweet fortified wine, and Madeira, a particular kind of fortified wine originally made on the Portuguese island, and unique in that it is heated during production.
Portugal is also known for the fatalism inherent in its culture. The Portuguese call it “fado”, and the trait is so strong that it inspired an entire genre of music, and has earned UNESCO status as an “intangible cultural heritage”. Tangential to this is the Portuguese word “saudade”, or longing, which represents the feeling of permanent loss and its consequences.
Portugal’s early history includes a period of Roman conquest, followed by invasion by Germanic tribes, and Arab occupation in the 8th century CE, which lasted until 1249.
During the Medieval era Portugal’s power increased with the establishment of colonies in Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique; however, after King Sebastian I died in 1578 the country was left without an heir to the throne. Its vulnerable position allowed Prince Philip II of Spain the opportunity to claim the throne. The subsequent Restoration War restored the throne to Portuguese rule.
Portugal was able to re-establish its independence in 1812, which it retained even after a brief period of Brazilian invasion. In the early 20th century a long period of isolationism was established under the dictatorship of Antonio Oliveira de Salazar, as a result of which Portugal had little involvement in either world war. The end of this dictatorship came in 1974 with a peaceful military coup which came to be known as the Carnation Revolution. Portugal became a democratic country and held its first elections in 1975, and joined the EU in 1986.
Although Portugal has been inhabited by humans for many thousands of years, there are still considerable stretches of ancient Mediterranean forest, a very rare phenomenon in Europe. Within these forests, ancient trees and large populations of native wildlife still exist. These include wild boar, roe deer, the Iberian wild goat, wolves, foxes, Iberian red deer, the rare Iberian lynx, the brown bear and all manner of small mammals—rabbits, hares, weasels, mongoose, and civet cats. Native trees include the cork oak, Pyrenean oak, Portuguese oak, and several species of pine. Also within Portugal are around 200 species of plant which are found nowhere else in the world, including species of heather, ivy, bellflower, and the Pride of Madeira, a species of Echium which is native to Madeira, and produces large flowerheads covered in blue blossoms.
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