Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Highlights of Portugal

Portugal is a country on the Iberian Peninsula, located in southwestern Europe. It is the westernmost country of mainland Europe, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south and by Spain to the north and east.

Throughout the 15th century, Portuguese explorers sailed the coast of Africa, establishing trading posts for several common types of tradable commodities, ranging from gold to slaves, as they looked for a route to India and its spices, which were coveted in Europe. In 1498, Vasco da Gama finally reached India and brought economic prosperity to Portugal and its then population of one million residents.

The early history of Portugal, whose name derives from the Roman name Portus Cale, is shared with the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. The region was settled by Pre-Celts and Celts, giving origin to peoples like the Gallaeci, Lusitanians, Celtici and Cynetes, visited by Phoenicians and Carthaginians, incorporated in the Roman Republic dominions (as Lusitania after 45 BC), settled again by Suevi, Buri, and Visigoths, and conquered by Moors.
  • Oporto


    Porto (or Oporto) is Portugal's second city, located in the estuary of the Douro river in northern Portugal. Historic references to the city go back to the 4th century and to Roman times, although Celtic and Proto-Celtic remnants of ancient Citadels were found in the heart of where Porto now lies. In the Roman period the city developed its importance as a commercial port, primarily in the trade between Olissipona (Lisbon) and Bracara Augusta (Braga), but would fall under the Moorish Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 711.

    In 868, Vímara Peres, a Christian warlord from Gallaecia and a vassal of the King of Asturias, Léon and Galicia, Alfonso III, was sent to reconquer and secure from the Moors the area from the Minho River to the Douro River, including the city of Portus Cale, later Porto and Gaia, from where the name and political entity of Portugal emerged (Portucale).

    In 1095, Teresa of León, illegitimate daughter of king Alfonso VI of Castile, married Henry of Burgundy, bringing the County of Portugal as dowry. This Condado Portucalense became the focus of the Reconquista and later became the independent Kingdom of Portugal, after eventually expanding to its current frontiers into the south as it reconquered territory back from the invading Moors under the reign of King Dom Afonso Henriques, Conquistador in the beginning of the 1st millennium.

    In the 14th and the 15th centuries, the shipyards of Porto contributed to the development of the Portuguese fleet. In 1415 Henry the Navigator, son of João I, left from Porto to conquest the Muslim port of Ceuta in northern Morocco. This expedition led to the exploratory voyages that he later sent down the coast of Africa.

    Wine, produced in the Douro valley, was already in the 13th century transported to Porto in barcos rabelos (flat sailing vessels). In 1703 the Methuen Treaty established the trade relations between Portugal and England. It allowed English woolen cloth to be admitted into Portugal free of duty. In return, Portuguese wines imported into England would be subject to a third less duty in contrast to French imported wines. This was particularly important with regards to the Port industry. As England was at war with France it became increasingly difficult to acquire wine and so port started to become a popular replacement. In 1717 a first English trading post was established in Porto.
  • Fatima
    Fátima is a city in Portugal famous for the religious visions that took place there in 1917. The name of the town comes from the Arabic name Fatima (Fāţimah, Arabic: فاطمة ), and there is a legend that says it derives from a local Moorish princess named Fatima who, following her capture by Christian forces during the Reconquista, was converted to Catholicism, and was baptised before marrying the Count of Ourém in 1158.

    Fátima's claim to fame is the shrine called the Basilica, built to commemorate the events of 1917 when three peasant children claimed to have seen the "Virgin of the Rosary", Our Lady of Fátima. When the children asked for her name, she said "I am The Lady of The Rosary".

    The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children at Fátima on the 13th day of six consecutive months in 1917, starting on 13 May.

    Lúcia Santos (one of the three children) described seeing the lady as "brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal ball filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.

    According to Lúcia's account, the lady confided to the children three secrets, known as the Three Secrets of Fátima. She exhorted the children to do penance and to make sacrifices to save sinners. Most important, Lúcia said that the lady asked them to say the Rosary every day, reiterating many times that the Rosary was the key to personal and world peace.

  • Batalha
    Mosteiro Santa Maria da Vitória, more commonly known as the Batalha Monastery, is a Dominican monastery in the Portuguese town of Batalha. The monastery was built to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, fulfilling a promise of King D. João I. The battle put an end to the 1383-1385 crisis.

    Prince Henry the Navigator, the third child of King John I of Portugal, the founder of the Aviz dynasty, and of Philippa of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt. Henry encouraged his father to conquer Ceuta (1415), the Muslim port on the North African coast across the Straits of Gibraltar from the Iberian peninsula, with profound consequences on Henry's worldview: Henry became aware of the profit possibilities in the Saharan trade routes that terminated there and became fascinated with Africa in general; he was most intrigued by the Christian legend of Prester John and the expansion of Portuguese trade.

    It is a common conception that Henry gathered at his Vila on the Sagres peninsula a school of navigators and map-makers. He did employ some cartographers to help him chart the coast of Mauritania in the wake of voyages he sent there, but for the rest there was no center of navigational science or any supposed observatory in the modern sense of the word, nor was there an organized navigational center. In “Crónica da Guiné” Henry is described as a person with no luxuries, not avaricious, speaking with soft words and calm gestures, a man of many virtues that never allowed any poor person leave his presence empty handed.

    Henry's tomb in the Monastery of Batalha.
  • Obidos
    Óbidos in Portugal, is located on a hill and is encircled by a fortified wall. The well-preserved mediaeval look of its streets, squares, walls and its massive castle have turned the picturesque village.

    The name "Óbidos" probably derives from the Latin term oppidum, meaning "citadel", or "fortified city". Roman occupation of the area has been recently confirmed by archaeological excavations, which revealed the existence of a Roman city very close to the hill where the village is located.

    Sometime after 713 the Moors established a fortification on top of the hill. The area was taken from the Moors by the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, in 1148. Tradition states that one knight, Gonçalo Mendes da Maia, was responsible for the successful storming of the Moorish castle. The retaking of Óbidos meant the end of the Reconquista of the Estremadura region, after the conquests of Santarém, Lisbon and Torres Vedras. The village received its first foral (charter) in 1195, under the reign of Sancho I.

    In 1210, King Afonso II donated the village to his wife, Queen Urraca. Since then Óbidos has often belonged to the Queens of Portugal, giving rise to its informal title as Vila das Rainhas (Queens' village). Several Queens enriched the village with donations from the Middle Ages until the 16th century.

    The castle of Óbidos and the walls of the village were remodelled under King Dinis I. The village was also enlarged around this time, with settlements created outside the walls. The massive keep of the castle is attributed to a building campaign sponsored by Fernando I (late 14th century).

    The Santa Maria Church of Óbidos was the setting for the wedding of King Afonso V with his cousin, Princess Isabel, on August 15th, 1441, when they were both still children of 9 and 10.
  • Lisbon
    Lisbon is the capital and largest city of Portugal. Lisbon was under Roman rule from 205 BC, ruled by a series of Germanic tribes from the 5th century, before it was captured by Moors in the 8th century. In 1147, the Crusaders under Afonso Henriques reconquered the city for the Christians and since then it has been a major political, economic and cultural center of Portugal.

    Prior to the 18th century, Lisbon had experienced several important earthquakes, but on 1st November 1755 the city was destroyed by a major earthquake, killing between 60,000 to 90,000 people, destroying 85 percent of the city. As a result of the earthquake, tsunamis measuring as high as 30m destroyed coastal fortresses and buildings, killing many.

    After the 1755 earthquake, the city was rebuilt largely according to the plans of Prime Minister Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the 1st Marquess of Pombal. Instead of rebuilding the medieval town, Pombal decided to demolish the remains of the earthquake and rebuild the downtown in accordance with modern urban rules.
  • Sights not to be missed:

    - Torre de Belém (Belém Tower) is a fortified tower, built in the early 16th century in the Portuguese late Gothic style, the Manueline, to commemorate Vasco da Gama's expedition. This defensive, yet elegant construction has become one of the symbols of the city, a memorial to the Portuguese power during the Age of the Great Discoveries. In 1983 it was classified, together with the nearby Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    The Belém Tower was built both as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon and as part of a defense system of the entrance of the Tagus river and the Jerónimos Monastery, which was necessary to protect Lisbon.

    - Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) is a monument that celebrates the Portuguese who took part in the Age of Discovery of the 15th and 16th centuries. It is located on the estuary of the Tagus river in the Belém parish of Lisbon, Portugal, where ships departed to their often unknown destinations.

    The monument consists of a 52 metre-high slab of concrete, carved into the shape of the prow of a ship. The side that faces away from the river features a carved sword stretching the full height of the monument.
    The pavement in front of the monument features a mosaic decoration showing a world map with the routes of various Portuguese explorers and a wind rose. The mosaic was a gift from South Africa in 1960.

    The mosaic depicts all territories conquered by the Portugese, of which Malacca, East Timor and Macau are a part of.


    History states that Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa, in India, Ormuz in the Persian Strait, and Malacca in what is now a state in Malaysia. Thus, the Portuguese empire held dominion over commerce in the Indian Ocean and South Atlantic. The Portuguese sailors set out to reach Eastern Asia by sailing eastward from Europe landing in such places like Taiwan, Japan, the island of Timor, and it may also have been Portuguese sailors that were the first Europeans to discover Australia.

    - The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Hieronymites Monastery) can be considered one of the most prominent monuments in Lisbon and is certainly one of the most successful achievements of the Manueline style.

    The house for the Hieronymite monks was built on the same site of the Ermida do Restelo, a hermitage that was founded by Henry the Navigator at about 1450. It was at this hermitage, that was already in disrepair, that Vasco da Gama and his men spent the night in prayer before departing for India in 1497.

    The ornate main entrance (South Portal) to the monastery was designed by João de Castilho and is considered as one of the most magnificent of his time. This shrine-like portal is large, 32 m high and 12 m wide, extending up for two stories. It features, surrounded by an abundance of gables, pinnacles, many carved figures standing under a baldachin in exquisitely carved niches, around a statue of Henry the Navigator, standing on a pedestal between the two doors. Within the church, close to the western portal, are the stone tombs of Vasco da Gama (1468-1523).

    The architect Diogo de Boitaca, worked on the Hieronymites Monastery, which would become his best known work, as it is one of the most important buildings in Portugal. The monastry with the columns and the outlying walls finished when he was called on other projects. He was succeeded by his collaborator João de Castilho, who gradually moved from the Manueline style to the Plateresco style.

    - Cristo-Rei is a Catholic monument overlooking Lisbon. It was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and inaugurated on May 17, 1959. The monument was built on the left-bank of the Tagus river, facing Lisbon on the other bank.

1 comment:

micky said...

Nice tour of Purtugal.. It seems like an interesting destination for a memorable vacation...
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