Overview

Portugal


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A west European country on the Atlantic west coast of the Iberian peninsula, flanked by Spain on the north and east. The Atlantic archipelago of the Azores and Madeira are also part of Portugal.

Physical.

Half of the country lies on the edge of the high and ancient Iberian plateau, in a region of rugged hills, lakes, and deep gorges. Much of the region is covered with forests, and from it flow three great rivers – the Douro, Tagus, and Guadiana – which water the flat coastal plain, where vineyards, cereals, and citrus fruits flourish.

Economy.

One of the poorest countries in Western Europe, Portugal has a mixed economy, with a large agricultural sector. Fishing is important and Portugal is the world's largest producer of cork. Pyrites forms the country's main mineral resource, although there are also deposits of several other metallic ores. Manufacturing industries include clothing, machinery, footwear, textiles, and chemicals. Portugal has also benefited from EU development aid.

History.

Portugal was settled by Celtic tribes from c.500 bc, and during Roman domination was known as ‘Lusitania’. Periods of Gothic and Moorish control followed the collapse of the Western Roman empire, and Portugal struggled to develop a distinct identity until the papacy recognized the kingship of Alfonso I in 1179. In 1249 the Portuguese completed the reconquest of their country from the Moors. Then, after a series of unsuccessful wars against Castile, peace was at last concluded in 1411, and under the ruling house of Avis (1385–1580) the vast overseas Portuguese empire took shape. On the expiry of the Avis dynasty, Philip II of Spain became king by force. The Spanish union lasted until 1640, when the native House of Braganza was swept to power by a nationalist revolt. During the relatively peaceful and prosperous 18th century, close links were established with England. In the wake of the disastrous Lisbon earthquake (1755) the dynamic minister Pombal exercised the powers of an enlightened despot. During the Napoleonic Wars the Prince Regent John (King John VI from 1816), together with the Braganza royal family, fled to Brazil. Here he met demands for political and economic freedom, Brazil emerging peacefully as an independent empire in 1822. Through most of the rest of the 19th century there was considerable political instability until 1910, when a republic was established. In 1926 there was a military coup which was followed in 1932 by the establishment of Salazar as Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, and virtual dictator (1932–68), strongly supported by the Roman Catholic Church. Portugal supported the Allies in World War I and in World War II remained theoretically neutral while allowing the Allies naval and air bases. Goa, Diu, and Damao were lost to India in the 1960s, but Macao in South China was retained. Salazar's autocratic policies were continued by Marcello Caetano until a military coup in 1974. Increasingly bitter guerrilla warfare had developed in Portuguese Africa, especially in Angola and Mozambique. These gained independence in 1975, although both experienced civil war, while the state of Guinea-Bissau was created in 1974. After two years of political instability at home, a more stable democracy began to emerge following the election of Antonio Eanes as President in 1976. Moderate coalition governments both left and right of centre have alternated, all struggling with severe economic problems. President Mario Soares was elected in 1986, having been Prime Minister since 1983. He was re-elected President in 1991, with Anibal Cavaço Silva of the Social Democrat Party as Prime Minister. Portugal joined the European Community in 1986. In the general election of 1995, the Socialist Party under António Guterres won power. He resigned in 2001 and, after elections in 2002, José Manuel Barroso of the Social Democrat Party became Prime Minister. He was succeeded in 2004 by Pedro Santana Lopez, who lost the 2005 election to the Socialist Party under José Sócrates. Portugal adopted the euro as its currency in 2002.

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Subjects: History.


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