10 Things You Might Not Know About: Portugal

Portugal is known for its beautiful beaches, port wine, and a great passion for football. Besides that, it’s also the westernmost country and one of the oldest national states of Europe. Portugal has around 10.3 million inhabitants and looks back on a glorious past as a maritime nation and a colonial power since its capital Lissabon was one of the world’s economic centers in the 15th century. But there are still some facts that are less known to most…

1) 3,000 km / 1,864 miles of Coast

It may sound strange, but while the country is quite small, it has thousands of kilometers of coastline. The reason: In addition to the mainland (~950 km / 590 miles of coastline), the islands of Madeira (~250 km / 155 miles) and the Azores (~670 km / 416 miles) also belong to Portugal.

2) Rio de Janeiro once was Portugal’s Capital

In 1807 the Portuguese court of King John VI. fled to the colony of Brazil, more precisely to Rio de Janeiro, to seek refuge from Napoleon’s troops. So from 1808 to 1821, Brazil’s lively city was the capital of Portugal.

3) The Reason for England’s “Tea Time”

Without Katharina von Braganza, the typical British tea time would probably not exist. Katharina brought her beloved tea to the island in the 17th century when she was sent there to marry the English King Charles II.

4) Portugal and England have the Oldest Diplomatic Alliance in Europe

The two countries allied as early as 1373, which led to the Treaty of Windsor in 1386 and is still in force today. In addition to “eternal” friendship, the Portuguese and English assured their support in many other areas, such as military and economic issues.

5) Left-Hand Traffic Until 1928

Source: Cassia Tofano

Portugal’s traffic rules were also highly influenced by England, which led to left-hand traffic in the whole country. Back at that time, right-hand traffic in Europe was only slowly introduced in those countries occupied by the French under Napoléon’s rule. Portugal didn’t switch to right-hand traffic until June 1, 1928.

6) The World’s Oldest Book Store

The “Livraria Bertrand” opened in Lisbon in 1732 and has been in operation ever since. This also brought the bookstore in the Chiado district an entry in the Guinness Book. Over the years, the Bertrand brand has become a national name and is now the largest bookstore chain in Portugal, with more than 50 shops.

7) Benfica Lisbon is the Second-Largest Football Club in the World

For a long time, the Portuguese capital city team was once among the football clubs with the largest number of members in the world. That was until another club with red and white club colors overtook Benfica: FC Bayern Munich, which now has almost 293,000 members, whereas the Portuguese association “only” has around 231,000.

8) Inventors of Hot Air Balloons

Even though it were two French men (François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes) who performed the first human-crewed hot-air-balloon flight, the very first model of a hot-air-balloon was first invented in Portugal. The prominent inventor was Father Bartolomeu de Gusmão, who let his first hot-air-balloon fly on August 8, 1709. 

9) Tiles As Far As The Eye Can Reach

Credits: Diego Garciá

It’s difficult not to notice them wherever you are in Portugal. The tiles of Portugal permeate various styles and expressions of all ages, adding color to any walk or visit. Due to the extensive use of tiles for wall and floor designs in Portugal, it is also known as the “country of tiles.” Portugal even has a National Tile Museum in Lisbon, where you can learn about the history of tiles and their evolution over time.

10) Chapels of Bones

Source: Capela dos Ossos

Portugal is not the only country that owns chapels made out of or ornamented with real human bones. But the “Capela dos Ossos” in Evora took it to a whole new level since it’s made entirely out of human bones. The very walls of the chapel have bones in them, with cement holding everything together. Even the pillars supporting the ceiling have skulls running up and down them. The “goal” was to point out how short life is and how you should embrace and enjoy it as much as you can. The poem at the chapel’s entrance emphasizes this, saying: “Where are you going in such a hurry, traveler? You have no greater concern than this one. … Recall how many have passed from this world, reflect on your similar end. Our bones that are here await yours.”