The land within the borders of the current Portuguese Republic has been continuously settled since prehistoric times. After a period of Roman rule followed by Visigothic and Suebian domination, in the 8th century most of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Moorish invaders professing Islam, who were later expelled by the Knights Templar.
During the Christian Reconquista, Portugal established itself as an independent kingdom from Galicia in 1139, claiming to be the oldest European nation-state. In the 15th and 16th centuries, as the result of pioneering the Age of Discovery, Portugal expanded western influence and established the first global empire, becoming one of the world’s major economic, political and military powers. In addition, the Portuguese Empire was the longest-lived of the modern European colonial empires, spanning almost 600 years, from the capture of Ceuta in 1415 to the handover of Macau in 1999 and granting of sovereignty to East Timor in 2002. The empire spread throughout a vast number of territories that are now part of 53 different sovereign states.
However, the country’s international status was greatly reduced during the 19th century, especially following the Independence of Brazil, its largest colony. After the 1910 revolution deposed the monarchy, the democratic but unstable Portuguese First Republic was established, itself being superseded by the “Estado Novo” authoritarian regime. Democracy was restored after the Portuguese Colonial War and the Carnation Revolution in 1974.
Portugal is a developed country with a very high Human Development Index, the world’s 19th-highest quality-of-life as of 2005. It is one of the world’s most globalized and peaceful nations: a member of the European Union and the United Nations, and a founding member of the Latin Union, the Organization of Ibero-American States, OECD, NATO, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, the eurozone and the Schengen Agreement.
The staple diet is one of fish, meat, vegetables and fruit. Although Portugal’s waters abound with fresh fish, the dried, salted codfish known as ‘bacalhau’, often imported, is considered the national dish. In some countries, at Christmas time, people eat turkey, in Portugal people eat boiled ‘bacalhau’, with olive oil, potatoes, grain and cabbages. In many areas, meat is seldom eaten, although the Alentejo region is known for its pork and Trás-os Montes for cured meats. Breads and sweets – the latter a legacy of Moorish occupation – take a variety of forms, with many regional specialities. Wine is the ubiquitous table beverage.