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Portugal

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Continent:Europe National flag
National flag: Portugal
Capital city:Lisbon
Area:92,389 km2 ( 109. )
Population:10,566,212 Person ( 75. )
People density:114 Person / km2
GDP per capita:6,320 $ / Person ( 44. )
GDP:66,778,459,840 $
Currency:euro
Official language:portuguese

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Portugal is an astonishingly beautiful country; the rivers, forests and lush valleys of the north are a splendid contrast to its contorted southern coastline of beaches, cliffs and coves. If you’ve come from the arid plains of central Spain, Portugal’s dry southern Alentejo region doesn’t promise any immediate relief, but – unlike Spain – you don’t have to travel very far to witness so total a contrast that it’s hard, at first, to take in. Suddenly the landscape is infinitely softer and greener, with flowers and trees everywhere. Life also seems easier-paced and the people more courteous; the Portuguese talk of their nation as a land of brandos costumes – gentle ways.

For so small a country, Portugal sports a tremendous cultural diversity. There are highly sophisticated resorts along the coast around Lisbon and on the well-developed Algarve in the south, upon which European tourists have been descending for over forty years. Lisbon itself, in its idiosyncratic, rather old-fashioned way, has enough diversions to please most city devotees; the massive development projects that accompanied the 1998 Lisbon Expo firmly locked it into modern Europe without quite jettisoning its most endearing, ramshackle qualities. But in the rural areas – the Alentejo, the mountainous Beiras, or northern Trás-os-Montes – this is often still a conspicuously underdeveloped country. Tourism and European Union membership have changed many regions – most notably in the north, where new road building scythes through the countryside – but for anyone wanting to get off the beaten track, there are limitless opportunities to experience smaller towns and rural areas that still seem rooted in the last century.

In terms of population and customs, differences between the north and south are particularly striking. Above a roughly sketched line, more or less corresponding with the course of the Rio Tejo (River Tagus), the people are of predominantly Celtic and Germanic stock. It was here, in the north at Guimaraes, that the Lusitanian nation was born, in the wake of the Christian reconquest from the North African Moors. South of the Tagus, where the Roman, and then the Moorish, civilizations were most established, people tend to be darker-skinned (moreno) and maintain more of a Mediterranean lifestyle (though the Portuguese coastline is, in fact, entirely Atlantic). Agriculture reflects this divide as well, with oranges, figs and cork in the south, and more elemental corn and potatoes in the north. Indeed, in places in the north the methods of farming date back to pre-Christian days, based on a mass of tiny plots divided and subdivided over the generations.

More recent events are also woven into the pattern. The 1974 Revolution, which brought to an end 48 years of dictatorship, came from the south – an area of vast estates, rich landowners and a dependent workforce – while the later conservative backlash came from the north, with its powerful religious authorities and individual smallholders wary of change. But more profoundly even than the Revolution, it is emigration that has altered people’s attitudes and the appearance of the countryside. After Lisbon, the largest Portuguese community is in Paris, and there are migrant workers spread throughout France, Germany and North America. Returning, these emigrants have brought in modern ideas and challenged many traditional rural values. New ideas and cultural influences have arrived, too, through Portugal’s own immigrants from the old African colonies of Cape Verde, Mozambique and Angola, while the country’s close ties with Brazil are also conspicuously obvious.

The greatest of all Portuguese influences, however, is the sea. The Atlantic dominates the land not only physically, producing the consistently temperate climate, but mentally and historically, too. The Portuguese are very conscious of themselves as a seafaring race; mariners like Vasco da Gama led the way in the discovery of Africa and the New World, and until comparatively recently Portugal remained a colonial power, albeit one in deep crisis. Such links long ago brought African and South American strands into the country’s culture: in the distinctive music of fado, blues-like songs heard in Lisbon and Coimbra, for example, or the Moorish-influenced Manueline or Baroque Discovery, the style of architecture that provides the country’s most distinctive monuments.

This "glorious" history has also led to the peculiar national characteristic of saudade: a slightly resigned, nostalgic air, and a feeling that the past will always overshadow the possibilities of the future. The years of isolation under the dictator Salazar, which yielded to democracy after the 1974 Revolution, reinforced such feelings, as the ruling elite spurned influences from the rest of Europe. Only in the last two decades or so, with Portugal’s entry into the European Union, have things really begun to change and the Portuguese are becoming increasingly geared toward Lisbon and the cities. For those who have stayed in the countryside, however, life remains traditional – disarmingly so to outsiders – and social mores seem fixed in the past. Women still wear black if their husbands are absent, as many are, working in France, or Germany, or at sea.

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Map of country Portugal

Map of country  Portugal

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