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Portugal is one of the oldest nation states in Europe with its borders practically staying unchanged for almost eight entire centuries. The Romans arrived in the region in 216 BC, calling the area between the Tagus and Douro rivers with the name of Lusitania, after the Celtic tribe living there. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the whole peninsula was ruled by the Germanic tribes first and then by the Moors coming from North Africa. During the process of Reconquista by the Christian kingdoms, the small county of Portucale was declared independent by its ruler Afonso Henriques in 1139. The small kingdom recaptured Lisbon in 1147 and then expanded south to the Algarve, while the Portuguese explorers started to colonise Ceuta (1410), Madeira (1419), the Azores (1439), then establishing trading posts along the coast of Africa later in the 15th century. In 1498, Vasco da Gama reached India, and in 1500 Pedro Álvares Cabral, en route to India, discovered Brazil and claimed it for Portugal. The golden age of Portugal reached its peak with the reign of Manuel I. Profitable trade with the East brought incredible wealth to the nation. Spain managed however to invade the country in 1580 and ruled it for about 60 years. The loss of its main colony, Brazil, in 1825 was a hard stroke to the Portuguese economy, which was also the root cause of the political instability persisting in the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. The so-called Carnation Revolution ended the dictatorship in 1974 and democracy was fully restored in 1976, giving the start to a period of rapid economic growth and modernization. The colonial past of Portugal had another severe hit in 1999 when even the last of its colonies in the East, Macau, was returned to Chinese sovereignty.

For the small size of the country, the regions of Portugal are extremely variegated. In the South, the Algarve with its astonishing sandy beaches and its warm climate has been a famous summer destination since ever, even for the Portuguese themselves. Popular stops include Faro, Albufeira and Lagos.

At the estuary of the river Tagus it is located the capital, Lisbon, which is a cosmopolitan city with a fresh vibe and a rich multicultural lifestyle. The city is well renowned for its multitude of architectural styles (gothic, romanesque, baroque, modern and its unique manueline) and for the richness of historical heritage. Having the chance to visit Lisbon, it is important to take apart at least a couple of days to explore its numerous museums and art galleries. The city is also home to two of the most beautiful sites listed by UNESCO: the Belem Tower and the Jeronimos Monastery. Not to be missed is also a view to the longest bridge in Europe, the Vasco da Gama Bridge (17.2 km), inaugurated in 1998.

Oporto is another very interesting city. The world-famous Port wine (also known as “Porto”), a sweet Portuguese fortified wine from the Douro Valley, has been imitated in several countries. Little curiosity about the wine world at this point: it really sounds unbelievable (also considering the small dimension of the country) but nearly half of the cork produced globally comes from Portugal!

 

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