Portugal Basic Facts - History

Portugal Basic Facts - History

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Population -2009 .............................................10,707,000
GDP per capita 2008 (PPP, US$)........... 22,000
GNP 2008 (PPP, US$ billions)................237.3
Median Age............................................................39.4

Total Area...................................................................120,727 sq. mi.
Urban population (% of total population) ...............................37
Life expectancy at birth (years)..................................................... 75
Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)........................................ 6
Access to safe water (% of population) ..................................... 82
Illiteracy (% of population age 15+) ............................................. 9

It is a common misconception that Portuguese is only spoken in Portugal and Brazil. In fact, it is the official language in nine different countries: Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Timor-Leste, Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Principe. Furthermore, Portuguese is the official language of the Chinese autonomous territory of Macau.

Flag of Portugal

7. Portuguese people were a key factor to the Age of Exploration. They helped discover several lands unknown to the Europeans in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

8. The largest community of Portuguese outside Portugal is in Rio de Janeiro.

9. The Dolphin Interaction Program (the only one of its kind in Europe) gets you up close and personal with the dolphins.

10. Sintra is regarded as the most romantic place in the country because of its charming streets, buildings, and misty climate. It is also famed for breathtaking beaches, vast woodland, and Europe’s westernmost point (Cabo da Roca). In fact, Sintra was once described as Portugal’s glorious Eden by Lord Byron. Moreover, it was declared a World Heritage Site, in the Cultural Landscape category by UNESCO in 1995.

11. There are 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal (ranking it 8th in Europe and 17th in the world)… and each year more than 13 million tourists visit the country.

  • Alto Douro Wine Region (2001)
  • Central Zone of the Town of Angra do Heroismo in the Azores (1983)
  • Convent of Christ in Tomar (1983)
  • Cultural Landscape of Sintra (1995)
  • Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications (2012)
  • Historic Centre of Évora (1986)
  • Historic Centre of Guimarães (2001)
  • Historic Centre of Oporto, Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar (1996)
  • Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture (2004)
  • Monastery of Alcobaça (1989)
  • Monastery of Batalha (1983)
  • Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon (1983)
  • Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley and Siega Verde (1998,2010)
  • University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia (2013)

12. The largest artificial underwater park–The Ocean Revival Underwater Parkin the world, is in Portugal.

13. The VASCO DA GAMA BRIDGE in Lisbon is the longest bridge in Europe with a total length of 17,185 meters.

14. One of the most advanced ATM system in the world belongs to Portugal. More than 60 operations are possible through the system including a donation for charities, phone credit top-ups and buying concert tickets.

15. The University of Coimbra, established in Lisbon in 1290, is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world, the oldest university of Portugal, and one of its largest higher education and research institutions. The University of Coimbra has a long history that may be traced back to the 13th Century. The enormous buildings of this faculty rise above the entire Coimbra, 100 meters above the sea level. One of the oldest libraries (Joanina Library) in the university comprises over 30,000 books and is designed with marble walls and floors with gold leaf.

16. The montado landscape of Portugal produces approximately half of all cork harvested annually worldwide. Cork is impermeable, buoyant, elastic, and has fire retardant properties. It is most commonly used as a wine stopper.

17. The world record for the largest Santa Claus parade is held by Porto, Portugal with 14,963 attendees.

18. Portugal is also known as the “country of tiles.” The Portuguese have been decorating their walls and floors with tiles for a long time. To learn more about the history and artistic evolution of the Portuguese tiles, from early times to modern-day, you could also visit the National Tile Museum in Lisbon.

19. The unique streets of Lisbon are lined with Portuguese pavement. The peculiar landmark is a common bucket list for tourists visiting Europe. They first appeared around Castelo de São Jorge and gradually grew in popularity, spreading quickly across the capital. With a whimsical design, the pavements create a magical aura, making a trip to the capital a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The tiles are designed with mosaic patterns and have been carefully installed through a process that was discovered centuries ago. You will find them all over Lisbon’s central streets.

20. Still in Lisbon, you will find the largest indoor tank or aquarium. Situated in Parque das Nações District, the oceanarium is home to a huge variety of fishes from sunfish – the biggest bony fish, deep sea fish, sharks, to small tropical fishes. It is filled with about 5M liters of seawater. While the aquarium is the biggest attraction, visitors often take another tour to see exhibits of mammals, plants, invertebrates, etc.

21. Portugal is the world leader in the production of renewable energy. It manages to meet almost 70% of its energy needs through hydro, wind and solar power. The country is also able to convert the movement of ocean waves into electricity and energy. (They really have a safe future considering the shortage of energy the world is facing)

22. The country’s national drink is Port (wine), which is also its most famous export.

23. Port wine is probably the only wine derived from a city name. It originates from Douro Valley in Porto and aged in Vila Nova de Gaia cellars, located across the river from the city. Wine lovers go for wine-tasting tours at the caves of Gaia. To get to the wine cellars, you have to cross the stunning Dom Luís I bridge for about 10 minutes.

24. Women in Portugal live longer than men in the country as the life expectancy of women is almost six years more than that of men.

League system

Primeira Liga is the name of the current top level of the Portuguese football league system. A second division (originally referred to as Segunda Divisão de Honra) with professional status was founded in 1990. An overview of the current league system in Portugal is presented in table 1.

Table 1. Portugal football tiers
Club Tier
Primeira Liga 1
LigaPro 2
Campeonato de Portugal 3

Campeonato de Portugal (former Portuguese Second Division) is a non-professional league that has been the third tier since 2013. Below that tier are groups of leagues divided by districts.

Taça da Liga

In 2007, Taça da Liga (Portuguese League Cup) was founded. It is a competition between teams from the two top domestic leagues, Primeira Liga and LigaPro. Vitória de Setúbal became the winners of the first edition, played in the 2007-2008 season.


In the beginnings of the Portuguese nationality, the Christian clergy was the main player in the educational endeavour. Portuguese universities have existed since 1290. Within the scope of the Portuguese Empire, the Portuguese founded in 1792 the oldest engineering school of Latin America (the Real Academia de Artilharia, Fortificação e Desenho), as well as the oldest medical college of Asia (the Goa Medical College) in 1842.

19th and 20th century Edit

However, by the end of the 19th century the illiteracy rate was over 80 percent and higher education was reserved for a small percentage of the population. 68.1 percent of Portugal's population was still classified as illiterate by the 1930 census.

Although the militants of the First Republic had chosen education as one of their banner causes, the evidence shows that the more democratic First Republic was less successful than the authoritarian Estado Novo in expanding elementary education. [5] Under the First Republic, literacy levels in children aged 7 to 14 registered a modest increase from 26 per cent in 1911 to 33 per cent in 1930. Under the Estado Novo, literacy levels in children aged 7 to 14 increased to 56 per cent in 1940, 77 per cent in 1950 and 97 per cent in 1960. [6]

Under Salazar the number of elementary schools grew from 7,000 in 1927 to 10,000 in 1940. While the illiteracy rate under the twenty years of the First Republic had only dropped a modest 9%, under Salazar in twenty years, the illiteracy rate dropped 21%, from 61,8% in 1930 to 40,4% in 1950. In 1940, the regime celebrated the fact that for the first time in Portuguese History, the majority of the population could read and write,. [7] Nevertheless Portugal's literacy rate by the 1940s and early 1950s was still low for North American and Western European standards at the time.

In 1952 a vast multi-pronged Plan for Popular Education was launched with the intent of finally extirpate illiteracy and put into school every child of school age. This plan included fines for parents who did not comply, and these were strictly enforced. By the late 1950s Portugal had succeed in pulling itself out of the educational abyss in which it had long found itself: illiteracy among children of school age virtually disappeared. [6] [8]

Literacy Rate 1900 1911 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960
Children aged 7–14 20% 26% 31% 33% 56% 77% 97%

From the 1960s, the country made public education available for all children between the ages of six and twelve, expanded a robust network of industrial and commercial technical schools aimed at intermediate education of future skilled workers (ensino médio), recognized the Portuguese Catholic University in 1971, and by 1973 a wave of new state-run universities were founded across mainland Portugal (the Minho University, the New University of Lisbon, the University of Évora, and the University of Aveiro - Veiga Simão was the Minister in charge for education by then).

From the 1960s to the 1974 Carnation Revolution, secondary and university education experienced the fastest growth of Portuguese education's history. After 1974 the number of basic and secondary schools as well as of higher education institutions, increased until the end of the century, sometimes without the necessary allocation of quality material and qualified human resources. [ citation needed ]

The revolutionary government also endeavored to increase the adult literacy rate. Though children often had high rates of literacy, many adults still could not read or write at the time. There is some evidence the government's measures to increase adult literacy were successful. [9]

Education more than basic (4th or 6th grade) wasn't affordable for most Portuguese families, the real democratization of education, specially secondary and higher education, only happened in the 1980s. [ citation needed ] After mid-2000s programs of modernization of schools (basic and secondary) and the construction of new elementary schools called "educational centres" (mostly to reduce the number of overloaded elementary schools, to widespread the 9 AM to 5h30 PM schedule system, because in most overloaded schools there are classes with 8 AM-1 PM schedule and other with 1 PM-6 PM) are being held.

The Bologna process for higher education has been adopted since 2006. However the higher-education rate in the country still remains the lowest in the European Union, this rate was around 7% in 2003 (Source: OECD (2003) Education at a Glance and OECD Statistical Compendium), and improved to 11% in 2007 - as compared to Slovakia's and Slovenia's around 16% Germany's, Estonia, Spain's and Ireland's 28% or Belgium's, Netherlands', Denmark's, Finland's, Cyprus's and UK's, over 30% (Source: EuroStat, March 2007).

According to the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the average Portuguese 15-years old student was for many years underrated and underachieving in terms of reading literacy, mathematics and science knowledge in the OECD, nearly tied with the Italian and just above countries like Greece, Turkey and Mexico. However, since 2010, PISA results for Portuguese students improved dramatically. [2]

The Portuguese Ministry of Education announced a 2010 report published by its office for educational evaluation GAVE (Gabinete de Avaliação do Ministério da Educação) which criticized the results of PISA 2009 report and claimed that the average Portuguese teenage student had profound handicaps in terms of expression, communication and logic, as well as a low performance when asked to solve problems. They also claimed that those fallacies are not exclusive of Portugal but indeed occur in other countries due to the way PISA was designed. [10]

Due to the Portuguese sovereign debt crisis in the late 2000s, and the subsequent IMF-EU financial assistance to the Portuguese Republic from 2011 onward, many universities and other higher education institutions suffered financially. Many were on verge of bankruptcy and were forced to increase its admissions and tuition fees as the budget dwindled and the staff members and bonuses were being reduced. [11]

School Year Age of entry School Stage
- 0 Infantário / Creche
- 1
- 2
- 3 Jardim de Infância
- 4
- 5
1st year 6 1º Ciclo / Escola Primária / Ensino Primário
1st Cycle / Primary School / Primary Education
Ensino Básico
Basic Education
2nd year 7
3rd year 8
4th year 9
5th year 10 2º Ciclo
2nd Cycle
6th year 11
7th year 12 3º Ciclo
3rd Cycle
8th year 13
9th year 14
10th year 15 Ensino Secundário
Secondary Education
11th year 16
12th year 17

Students must turn 6 years old until the end of the civil year of entry in 1st year of school.

School year calendar Edit

Each school year starts in mid September and ends in mid June. There are three holiday breaks during the year: Christmas break (2 weeks), Carnival break (3 days) and Easter break (2 weeks). The school year is divided in three terms, usually limited by the following dates:

  • 1st term - from 15–21 September to the end of the 2nd week of December
  • 2nd term - from the first Monday of January (after January 1st, which is a National Holiday) to two weeks before Easter
  • 3rd term - from the Monday right after Easter to the 2nd half of June / 1st half of July. The 1st years ending school are 9th, 11th and 12th, since they have National Exams (they end school usually 1 week earlier than 7th, 8th and 10th grades). Kids from 1st to 6th grade usually leave school 2 weeks after years 7, 8 and 10 and 3 weeks after years 9, 11 and 12.

After the end of the 3rd term, there are national exams during June and July for students in 9th, 11th and 12th years, and measurement exams in 2nd, 5th and 8th years.

Nursery Edit

Children from four months (the usual maternity leave) until they are three years old may frequent a nursery (Infantário or Creche). The large majority of nurseries are private. Other nurseries are run by the Portuguese Social Security and are partly financed by the state. In these nurseries parents pay according to their income.

Kindergarten Edit

Pre-primary education is optional from the ages of three to five, and is provided in both state-run and private kindergartens schools. State-run kindergartens provision is free of charge. The schools are known as Jardins de Infância (Kindergartens). Most international schools offer an international approach to pre-primary learning and follow a curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate.

Basic Education (Ensino Básico) lasts for nine years divided into three stages of four, two and three years respectively. The stages are respectively 1º Ciclo (1st Cycle), 2º Ciclo (2nd Cycle) and 3º Ciclo (3rd Cycle). Children are required to do two exams at the end of the third stage: Portuguese and Maths. Secondary Education (Ensino Secundário)- public, private or cooperative - is compulsory since the school year of 2012/2013 and consists of a three-year cycle after basic education.

Access to Secondary Education is made through the Certificate of Basic Education. There are three types of programmes: general programmes, technical/vocational programmes, and artistic programmes, providing instruction in technical, technological, professional fields and in the Portuguese language and culture. Permeability between the programmes is guaranteed. The teaching and practice of technical, technological or artistic programmes are provided by vocational schools and special schools for education in Arts.

Programmes are sanctioned by the Certificado de Habilitações do Ensino Secundário/Diploma de Ensino Secundário (Secondary School Credential/Diploma), which is the prerequisite for access to higher education through national access examination.

Basic education Edit

In Portugal, Basic Education consists of nine years of schooling divided into three sequential cycles of education of four, two and three years.

Children aged six by 15 September must be enrolled in their first school year in that calendar year. In addition, children who reach the age of six between 16 September and 31 December may be authorized to attend the first stage of education, provided a request is submitted by their parents or guardians to the school nearest to their residence (or place of work) during the annual enrollment period. State-run schools are free of charge private school tuition is refunded by the State in part or fully, when state-run schools in the area are filled to capacity. The first cycle of basic mandatory education covers years 1st-4th, the second cycle years 5th-6th and the third cycle years 7th-9th. The curriculum contains only general education until the 9th year at which point vocational subjects are introduced.

At the end of each cycle, students take national evaluation exams for the subjects of Portuguese Language and Mathematics. Schools do not give (or sell) any books or materials financial assistance is available for poorer families. The school books are chosen at school's level every four years.

1st Cycle State-run schools are owned by the municipalities all other State-run schools are owned by the State.

At State-run schools, 1st Cycle students and kindergarten students get free mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks, generally consisting of a 20 cl milk carton.

1º Ciclo - 1st Cycle Edit

1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th years [12]

  • Catholic (or other confessions) Moral and Religious Education
  • Foreign Languages (usually only available in private schools)

2º Ciclo - 2nd Cycle Edit

  • Portuguese Language
  • Mathematics
  • History and Geography of Portugal
  • English (levels 1 and 2) (Visual arts)
  • Technological Education (Crafts)
  • Physical Education
  • Music Education
  • Catholic (or other confessions) Moral and Religious Education (facultative)

3º Ciclo - 3rd Cycle Edit

7th, 8th and 9th years

  • Portuguese Language
  • Mathematics
  • English (levels 3, 4 and 5)
  • 2nd Foreign language - French, Spanish or German (levels 1, 2 and 3)
  • Natural Sciences and Chemistry
  • Physical Education
  • Citizenship and Development
  • Visual Education (Visual arts)*
  • Technological Education (Crafts)* /Music* / an alternative of the school (only in 7th and 8th years)
  • Catholic (or other confessions) Moral and Religious Education (facultative)
  • Sexual Education (depending on the schools, this class might be taught in different ways: for example, 1 session every 2 weeks or one session every week that takes up the time from a different class from the pre-existing curriculum etc.)

(*) In the 9th year the student has to choose between Visual Education, Technological Education, Music and Drama, according to the school's availability.

Secondary education Edit

It is only after the 9th year of basic schooling that the Portuguese General Education system branches out into different secondary programmes, a higher education-oriented (general secondary programmes), a work-oriented (technological secondary programmes) and an artistic-oriented programme. The conclusion of secondary education (general, technological or artistic programmes) with passing grades confers a diploma, which will certificate the qualification thus obtained and, in the case of work-oriented programmes the qualification for specific jobs. All General and Technological programmes share the following subjects known as General Formation:

  • Portuguese Language (10th, 11th and 12th years)
  • Physical Education (10th, 11th and 12th years) (10th and 11th years)
  • Foreign Language (10th and 11th years)
  • Catholic (or other confessions) Moral and Religious Education (10th, 11th and 12th years - facultative)

General Programmes Edit

Sciences and Technologies

  • Main subject - 10th, 11th and 12th years - Mathematics A
  • Specific subjects - 10th and 11th years - Biology and Geology, Descriptive Geometry, Physics and Chemistry A (two of these)
  • Optional subjects - 12th year - Biology, Geology, Physics, Chemistry, Psychology, Informatic Applications B, Phylosophy A or others (two of these)

Social and Human Sciences

  • Main subject - 10th, 11th and 12th years - History A
  • Specific subjects - 10th and 11th years - Geography A, Foreign Language II (or III), Portuguese Literature, Math Applied to Social Sciences, Latin (two of these)
  • Optional subjects - 12th year - Law, Sociology, Latin, Geography, Psychology, Philosophy A, Economics, Political Sciences, Anthropology, Greek, or others (two of these)

Socio-Economic Sciences

  • Main subject - 10th, 11th and 12th years - Mathematics A
  • Specific subjects - 10th and 11th years - Economics, History B, Geography (two of these)
  • Optional subjects - 12th year - Economics, Geography, Sociology, Psychology, Law or others (two of these)
  • Main subject - 10th, 11th and 12th years - Drawing A
  • Specific subjects - 10th and 11th years - Descriptive Geometry, Mathematics B, History of Culture and Art (two of these)
  • Optional subjects - 12th year - Art Atelier, Multimedia Atelier, Materials and Technologies, Psychology, Philosophy A or others (two of these)

Professional Programmes Edit

Specialized Artistic Programmes Edit

Access to higher education Edit

At the end of 11th grade, students have national exams in the two specific subjects of their course. At the end of the 12th grade, the exams are in Portuguese language and the main subject of the course. The access to higher education is made through a national online process, where the students enter the university by priority based on their grades.

The average of grades obtained in all subjects (now including Physical Education) represents a part of the application grade to enter university. The other part is based on the grade of the specific exams that the university requests, which are related with the course the student is applying for. The average of both averages is the application grade to university. That number is between zero and 20 the higher it is, the better the chance to enter the university.

There are also special modalities of school education. The programmes offered by vocational schools, those of the apprenticeship system and those of recurrent studies are considered as a special modality of school education. These programmes are not regular, because they are not included in the mainstream regular progression of the education system to which they are an alternative given that they were designed to respond to specific educational needs of different target-groups of the population.

All of these programmes offer initial vocational and education training, although the recurrent studies also offer general education. Recurrent education consists of non-regular programmes of study or modular or single units because they are not complete training cycles and they are not included in the regular progression of the education system. The recurrent education provides a second opportunity of training for those who did not undertake training at the normal age or who left school early. Recurrent education covers the three cycles of basic education and the secondary education.

The recurrent education is characterized by the flexibility and adaptability to the students’ learning cycle, availability, knowledge and experiences. The recurrent secondary education branches into two types of courses: the general course for those who want to continue their studies and the technical courses that are work-oriented and confer a level III vocational certificate, although they also permit the access to higher education. Any of the secondary courses, vocational courses, apprenticeship courses (level III), recurrent courses and others (artistic and those of technological schools) share a three-dimensional structure (although the importance of each dimension could vary according to the specific course):

c) technical / technological / practical / vocational

The Portuguese educational/vocational system is open. This means that once any student finishes his/her basic studies successfully he/she can choose, freely, any kind of course in any training domain/area. Any secondary course completed successfully allows the student apply to any course of higher education, independently of the training domain the student chose in the secondary level of education. However, to ingress university each superior course requires specific exams correspondent to subjects of a knowledge domain.

In Portugal, initial vocational education and training can be divided into two main modalities according to the Ministry responsible for the training:

a) Initial vocational education and training in the education system (under the regulation of the Ministry of Education): - The technological secondary courses are work-oriented and confer qualification for specific jobs, which correspond to the E.U. level III of vocational qualifications. There are eleven technological courses in the domain of natural sciences, arts, social-economic sciences and humanities

- The vocational schools courses are a special modality of education that has a primary goal: the development of youngsters’ vocational training. In this type of course the students spend most of their time in practical, technological, technical and artistic training, which allows the development of specific skills indispensable to an occupation. The vocational courses are drawn to give answers to both local and regional labour market needs. These courses function under the regulation of the Ministry of Education, although under the direct initiative and responsibility of civil society institutions, such as municipalities, enterprises, trade unions, etc. The vocational courses are available in the third cycle of basic education (level II) – only a few - and in the secondary education (level III).

- The technical recurrent courses. In the secondary education, the recurrent studies branches into two different types of courses: the general courses and the technical courses. The latter are work-oriented, vocationally oriented to confer a level III vocational certificate

- The courses of initial qualification can be promoted by schools lecturing the third cycle of mandatory education. If it is necessary, schools can establish protocols with other institutions such as municipalities, enterprises or vocational training centres. These courses are open to a) youngsters who have a 9th grade diploma, without any vocational qualification, and who do not intend to continue their studies and b) youngsters who, having reached fifteen years of age and attended the 9th grade, did not achieve the basic education certificate.

b) Initial vocational education and training in the labour market (under the regulation of the Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity through the Institute of Employment and Vocational Training): - Apprenticeship system. The apprenticeship courses are part of an initial vocational training system alternating between the school and the workplace, addressing mainly youngsters aged between fifteen and twenty five years who are not included in the mandatory school system. The training process alternates between the professional/vocational (where the socio-cultural, scientific-technological and the practice training in training context takes place) and the workplace (where the practice training in work context takes place).

In the mid-2000s, education policy was reorganised aiming more choice and better quality in vocational technical education. Enhanced and improved technical education programs where implemented in 2007 in an effort to revitalize this sector which had been almost discontinued after the Carnation Revolution of 1974, when many vocational technical schools were administratively upgraded to higher education technical colleges and other were simply closed. This happened despite those vocational technical schools have been generally regarded as reputed institutions with a record of very high standards in vocational technical education across the decades they were supplying the technical labor needs of the country.

20 Fun Facts about Lisbon

Hope you like mind-blowing beauty and history when traveling, because today we are going to visit Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon is the architectural and cultural pearl of the Western Europe, and one of the oldest cities in the world. Join us on our Lisbon tours for… 20 facts about Lisbon!

  1. Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal. It is the oldest city in Western Europe and one of the oldest cities in the world. Lisbon was almost totally destroyed on the 1 st November 1755 taking 40 000 lives, anyway it was rebuilt within few years.
  2. Lisbon has one of the mildest climates in Europe. The city is sunny throughout the year, with an annual average of 2900-3300 hours of sunshine.
  3. The Tagus is Iberia is the largest river and its estuary at Lisbon, up to 14 km wide, is said to be large enough to contain all the warships in the world.
  4. The raven is a symbol of Lisbon. For a long time there was a cult for ravens in the city. The Municipality even had a large cage with ravens in the São Jorge Castle. But gradually the birds started to disappear in Lisbon and today they can only be found in the coat of arms of the municipality.

  1. One of the most remarkable sights in Lisbon here is TheAscensor de Santa Justa, street elevator, which connects two parts of the city by taking passengers from Baixa to the Chiado district which is 45 meters higher. Absolute must-do when in Lisbon. Check this for more must-see sites on a Lisbon tour.
  2. Lisbon is known to be built on seven hills: Castelo, Graca, Monte, Penha de Franca, S.Pedro de Alcantara, Santa Catarina and Estrela. It makes the capital of Portugal similar to such cities as Rome, Istanbul and Moscow.
  3. Baixa is the main banking and shopping district in Lisbon. If you are looking for something special – come here! The great number of restaurants, cafes and shops will make your Lisbon trip unforgettable.
  4. Fado is a music genre originated in Portugal, derived from the Latin word “fatum” – destiny. The locals often arrange concerts in the restaurants where tourists can enjoy tasty dinner and listen to this sad but beautiful tunes.
  5. One of the most amazing and unusual landmarks in Lisbon is Portuguese pavement, which should be in your Europe bucket list. Whimsy design creates magic atmosphere and makes your Lisbon holidays a lifetime experience.
  6. Lisbon has its own Cristo Rei (Christ the King statue) – a Catholic monument overlooking the city, standing on the left bank of the river. It was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The statue commemorates Portugal’s survival of the WWII.
  7. The Vasco da Gama Bridge over the Tagus River is the longest bridge in Europe – 17, 2 km (10.7 miles) long.
  8. One of the most popular Lisbon attractions is … a tram. Lisbon trams were originally called «Americanos» and the first operational route was made in 1873. Despite the fact that it is a public transport, hundreds of tourists find it very exciting to take a tram ride around the city.
  9. Lisbon holds the famous Stadium of Light, one of the Europe’s largest football venue.
  10. The most popular sport in Portugal is football (soccer). 214 clubs are registered in the Football/Soccer Association of Lisbon.
  11. The city is home to the marvelous Torre de Belem which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It commemorates the era of the Age of Discoveries. The admirable monument is located nearby representing the map of Portuguese conquests.
  12. The Largest Human National Flag was raised in 2006 at Lisbon’s national stadium by 18,788 people.
  13. One of the best things to do in Lisbon is pastel de nata, a legendary traditional Portuguese pastry which has been a reason for a lot of culinary battles among the best local bakeries. Once you try it, you’ve got pastel de nata in your soul for good.
  14. Suburbs of Lisbon are above all praise: cozy towns such as Сascais, Parede, Oeiras form a long line along the shore with their breathtaking views and scenic panorama.
  15. Lisbon’s oceanarium is one of the Europe’s largest aquariums. With 16 000 animals and 450 species, there’s a lot of sea world to see. Chase more penguins and seagulls before a return to reality.
  16. Graffiti is a popular street art in Lisbon. While Lisbon is one of the best graffiti cities in the world. There are a great number of graffiti buildings around the city that want your attention. There are plenty of graffiti guided tours organized throughout a year. So if you were wondering what to do in Lisbon that could be an authentic experience – head for art. Street art.

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Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Portugal

Portugal is usually known as a hotspot for tourists a country filled with breathtaking historical sites and exquisite cuisine. Even though it may look like a luxury spot for vacation from the outside, Portugal is actually a country filled with economic and financial problems. Behind the array of castles, cathedrals and towers lay people living on the streets because of unemployment and children that are suffering. Why is poverty in Portugal such a big problem?

Poverty in Portugal: Top 10 Facts

  1. There are almost 2.6 million people living below the poverty line in Portugal, according to the National Statistics Institute. 487,000 of the citizens living in poverty in the country are under the age of 18.
  2. Portugal is one of the most unequal countries in Europe. The wealthy citizens earn an income that is five times higher than other people who are living in poverty .
  3. Portugal is known as one of the European countries that work the most, although, the hourly wage for workers is extremely low compared to other countries in Europe .
  4. Parents have to work multiple jobs, leaving them with less time to spend with their children. Due of this, students have been known to act out more and come to school not having eaten a proper breakfast.
  5. Unemployment is one of the main causes of poverty in Portugal. In 2018, the unemployment rate dropped down to 7.9 percent .
  6. After the 2008 recession, Portugal did not progress economically compared to the other countries around the world. Economic growth has been slowing down since then .
  7. A lot of families are forced to live in shacks or shambled housing due to poverty in Portugal. The need for suitable housing in the country is increasing, especially in urban areas.
  8. Portugal has the highest rate of HIV/AIDs in all of Western Europe .
  9. Child labor is common in the northern and central parts of Portugal. Many children under the age of 16 are made to beg on the streets and even have to leave school in search of work.
  10. Elderly citizens and children are more likely to be living in poverty in Portugal than any other group of people. The elderly are the most dominant demographic in Portugal, especially in more rural areas.

What is the Future of Portugal?

Portugal’s president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa mentioned that citizens should not be simply pretending that poverty doesn’t exist in their country. It is indeed disturbing that in Portugal almost 2.6 million people are at risk of poverty.

In March at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, President de Sousa discussed his national strategy for increasing the growth of employment, education, housing and health to hopefully eradicate poverty in Portugal. He said that he believes the country had been in a rut since the financial crisis and a global strategy must be implemented immediately to eradicate it.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Prior to the twentieth century, the Roman Catholic Church and other charitable institutions such as the Santa Casa de Misericórdia were the primary mechanisms of social welfare in Portugal. During the Salazar regime, a system of Casas do Povo were established in local places, primarily to regulate the Corporate State, but also to take care of individual needs. Their impact was limited. State-operated systems of welfare did not emerge until the 1960s and they have improved with the growth of parliamentary democracy and greater economic stability and prosperity. Even so, in the early 1990s welfare benefits, financed through employee and employer contributions, were low by comparison with other European nations. Welfare programs include benefits for the ill and disabled, old-age pensions, maternity leaves, and small family allowances. After 1975 Portugal introduced a national health care system that paid all medical and pharmaceutical expenses.

Fun and interesting Portugal Facts

1. Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe

King Afonso, I declared independence in 1139 and Portugal has the same defined borders since 1249, almost 800 years ago. The name Portugal first appears in 868, during the Reconquista over the Muslims. A county was formed around the city of Porto (Portus Cale in Latin), from which the name (and the country) “Portugal” is derived.

Caminha Beach, Portugal

2. Lisbon is older than Rome

Roughly 4 centuries older to be more accurate. It was settled by the Phoenicians around 1200 BC and it’s the second oldest European capital after Athens.

Such an ancient and historic city is obviously a great tourist destination, full of amazing things do see and do!

3. The Romans took 200 years to conquer Portugal

The Romans took around 200 years to conquer Lusitania, from 219 BC to 19 BC. There’s a famous old expression used by the Romans: In Iberia, there is a tribe that neither governs itself nor lets itself be governed.

Castle of Santa Maria da Feira

4. Viriathus is the first National Hero of Portugal

According to historians, the Celtic King of Lusitania was the worst nightmare of the Roman Empire Soldiers and one of the top enemies Rome ever faced, making them lose the equivalent of 9 legions during the wars against the Lusitans.

typical Portuguese Village

5. Portugal once claimed half of the “new world”

In 1494, Portugal and Spain divided the world in two, by signing the treaty of Tordesillas giving Portugal the eastern half of the “New Word”, including Brazil, Africa, and Asia. The Portuguese Empire was actually the first global empire in history! It was also one of the longest-lived colonial powers, lasting for almost six centuries from when Ceuta was captured in 1415 until Macau was handed-over in 1999 to China.

The Famosa Fort in Malaysia

6. Portuguese is one of the most spoken languages in the World

The Portuguese language is the 6th most spoken language in the world with 220 to 240 million native speakers around the world. It’s the official language of 9 countries, and is spoken in the 5 continents!

Rio de Janeiro in Brazil

7. Portugal was one of the earliest colonizing nations of Europe

The Portuguese Empire would rule, among others, over Brazil, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, Goa, Daman, Diu, Kochi, Malacca, and Macau. The African colonies were granted independence only in 1975 after the collapse of the dictatorship. Macau, the last Portuguese colony, was handed over to China in 1999.

8. Portugal had a main role in Slavery trading

Portugal played a leading role in the infamous Triangular Atlantic Slave Trade, which involved the mass trade and transportation of slaves from Africa and other parts of the world to the American continent. Also, Lagos’ slave market, built-in 1444, was Europe’s first slave market!

9. Though, Portugal was also the first colonial power to abolish slavery

Portugal was the first colonial power to abolish slavery, all the way back in 1761. That’s half a century before Britain, France, Spain, or the United States.

10. Portugal was a pioneer abolishing Death Penalty

One of the most important facts about Portugal is that in 1846 Portugal started the process of abolishing the Death Penalty and the formal abolishment of capital punishment for civil crimes occurred in 1867. Furthermore, Portugal and Spain are the only countries in the EU to have abandoned life imprisonment as well.

Serra da Estrela, Portugal

11. Portugal once had a dead Queen

When Pedro I was crowned King of Portugal in 1357, he proclaimed his lover, Ines de Castro, Queen despite the fact that she had died 2 years before, in 1355. Legend says he ate her killers’ hearts when he caught them. And that she was exhumed to be coronated. That’s true romance there, Game of Thrones style.

Tomb of Inês in Alcobaça

12. Over half of the world’s cork is produced in Portugal

Portugal has the largest cork oak forests (montados) in the world and its cork oak is protected by law. The various uses of the soft, spongy bark of the cork tree have made Portugal the largest producer of cork products in the world, producing 70% of the world’s cork exports. The main importers of Portuguese cork are Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.

cork oak

13. Portugal and England are very old friends

Portugal and England have the oldest diplomatic alliance in the world. The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance was signed in 1373 and is in force until this day! Both countries entered wars to defend the other, including the United Kingdom entering the Iberian Peninsular War and Portugal entering World War I. Talk about having someone’s back!

14. Lisbon was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes in European history

In 1755, Lisbon was struck by about a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which was followed by a tsunami, and fires that destroyed the city! Furthermore, the earthquake struck on All Saints Day, a major holiday when the churches were filled with burning candles. The earthquake struck, toppling the candles, causing major fires. Up to 100 000 residents were killed and 85% of the buildings were destroyed!

15. Portuguese are fatalists

Fatalism is an essential trait of Portuguese culture. One of the most obvious expressions of it is the traditional music Fado. This is characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a characteristic sentiment of resignation, fatefulness, and melancholia. It has been recognized by the UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.

16. The biggest wave ever surfed was in Portugal

In October 2011, Garrett McNamara caught the biggest wave (+30 m / 90 ft) ever surfed to date at Praia do Norte in Nazaré. Portugal has a coastline that spans 800 kilometers and it’s known to be one of the world’s top surf spots!

Nazaré, Portugal

17. Portugal has one of the world’s oldest universities

The University of Coimbra was established in 1290. Although it was first established in Lisbon, later it was transferred (a few times back and forth) to Coimbra. Paço das Escolas is one of the most famous landmarks in Portugal.

University of Coimbra, Portugal

18. A Portuguese brought the habit of drinking tea to England

Catharine of Braganca, a Portuguese princess, and Queen of England, introduced the habit of drinking tea in England. Though she did not introduce Tea, she made it a fashionable and widely drunk beverage. She was also responsible for the English using forks at dinnertime

Charles II of England and Queen Catherine of Braganza

19. The Portuguese were the first European people to reach Japan

In 1492 Portuguese reached the island of Tanegashima first establishing contact with Japan. So, the Japanese culture was exposed to several new European technologies and cultural practices in the military area (the arquebus, European-style cuirasses, European ships), religion (Christianity), decorative art, and culinary (the Portuguese introduced the tempura and above all the valuable refined sugar). Even in the language, many Japanese words come from the Portuguese.


20. A Portuguese saved more Jews than Oskar Schindler

Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese consul who used his position early in WWII to save Jewish people. He granted visas to Jews despite having orders from the Portuguese government (at the time a dictatorship) not to do it. It’s estimated that he helped save up to 10 000 Jews. Though we need to mention that this number may be an overestimation. Either way, it was a heroic and dangerous decision action.

Statue of Aristides de Sousa Mendes

21. Portugal had a huge influence on world cuisine

Portuguese Jesuit missionaries took tempura (dish of battered, deep-fried vegetables and seafood) to Japan. The Portuguese invented Piri-Piri sauce. Portuguese introduced chili pepper potatoes and tomatoes to India and Thailand, without which curry wouldn’t exist! Not to mention, we also brought coffee to Brazil and the ukulele to Hawaii. We created the “pastel de nata” or “pastel de Belém”, the famous and delicious Portuguese custard tart…

22. Europe’s longest bridge is in Portugal

The Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is 17 kilometers long, making it the longest in Europe. Though, this isn’t the only record that the bridge brought to Portugal, much more importantly: The world record for the largest dining table was set when around 15 000 people were served lunch on the bridge as part of the inauguration celebrations.

Vasco da Gama Bridge

23. The Portuguese eat a lot of cod

We have more than a thousand recipes to cook cod, though we have to import it all from other countries like Norway or Iceland. Interestingly (or maybe not). I must be one of the few Portuguese that doesn’t really appreciate Cod!

24. Port wine is one of our most famous export

Portugal produces the famous Port wine, a sweet fortified wine from the Douro Valley. Port wine grapes are only grown on the steeply terraced hillsides of the Douro Valley near Porto, one of the world’s oldest established wine-producing regions. However, it has been imitated in several countries – notably Australia, South Africa, India, and the United States.

Douro Valley, Portugal

25. Bertrand bookstore is the oldest in the world

The oldest bookstore in the world is in Portugal’s capital of Lisbon. Bertrand Bookshop was established in 1732, while the original store was destroyed in an earthquake in 1755 and rebuilt in its current location in 1773.

The oldest bookstore in the world- Bertrand bookstore

26. Portugal is 95% water

Portugal ranked the 110th country with only 92.212 Km 2 of land. However, if you include the jurisdiction over the maritime area of around 1.720.560 Km 2 Portugal ranks in the top 20 and top 3 of Europe! This ocean area is about 18.7 times the land area, so almost 95% of the country is water.

Algarve, Portugal

27. Portugal has 15 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list

Portugal has 15 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list, 14 of these cultural sites and 1 of the natural (in Madeira Island). It’s one of the 20 most visited countries in the world with more than 13 million tourists visiting each year.

UNESCO World Heritage- Historic Centre of Oporto

28. A Portuguese invented the pirate code

Bartholomew Portugues created the first Pirate code in the 17 th century, which English pirates later adopted.

Peniche Portugal

29. The Portuguese love football – and are pretty good at it

The most popular sport in Portugal is football. We are the current European Champions and our national team finished 3rd in the 1966 World Cup, 2nd in Euro 2004, and 4th in 2006 World Cup.

Porto’s football stadium

30. People from Porto are called ‘ tripeiros ‘, or ‘tripe eaters’

Back in the 15 th century, to help out the military Porto gave all the meat they had – except for the stomachs. Well, afterward they got creative with their cooking and with time it became one of the most famous features of the cuisine of the city. Furthermore, it became the nickname of the citizens of Porto, the ‘ tripeiros ‘

Azulejos: The Visual Art of Portugal

Glazed blue ceramic tiles or azulejos are everywhere in Portugal. They decorate the winding streets of the capital, Lisbon. They cover the walls of train stations, restaurants, bars, public murals, and fountains, churches, and altar fronts. Azulejos can be seen on park benches and paved sidewalks or adorning the facades of buildings and houses in towns and municipalities all over the country.

Traditional tile art tells the stories of Portugal's proud seafaring history by depicting navigators and the famous ships called the caravel. More modern tile art might show animals such as tigers and elephants – compositions inspired by oriental designs of the 17th century CE – or the contemporary geometric expressions of Portuguese artist Maria Keil (1914-2012 CE) who produced the stunning tilework for Lisbon's metro stations in the 1950s CE.


The distinctive blue of azulejos might lead you to think that the word derives from azul (the Portuguese word for blue). But azulejos has its origin in the Arabic term for a small, smooth polished stone - aljulej or azulej - and this evolved to azulejo in Portuguese (pronounced ah-zoo-le-zhoo).


Tile art is not merely decorative it forms a visual historical record of Portugal. So let us take a tour of the national tile museum and discover the history of Portuguese ceramic tiles.

Visiting the Museu Nacional do Azulejo

To really appreciate the beautiful tile art of Portugal, a visit to Lisbon's national tile museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) is well worth the time. The museum preserves Portugal's ceramic art from the 15th century CE, and visitors will learn how the decorative language of azulejos traces the country's cultural identity and the evolution of techniques that were used in crafting azulejos.

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The museum is located in the Xabregas district of Lisbon and covers three floors of the Madre de Deus Convent, founded in 1509 CE by Dona Leonor de Viseu (1458-1525 CE), widow of King Joao II (r. 1481-1495 CE). The golden and gilded interior is due to the renovation that took place after the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 CE, which partly destroyed the convent.

Historical Snapshot

The use of glazed and decorative ceramic tiles did not originate in Portugal, but stretches back to ancient Assyria and Babylon and shows us that the ancient world was filled with colour. Decorated tiles and bricks have been found on the walls of ancient Assyrian palaces. The Great Gate of Ishtar, which stood at the entrance to Babylon, is perhaps the most famous example of ancient tile art. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 605/604-562 BCE) ordered the gate to be constructed c. 575 BCE, and it features lions, young bulls (aurochs), and dragons (sirrush) against a vibrant cobalt blue glazed background.


In ancient Egypt, Pharoah Djoser (c. 2670 BCE), who was the first king of the Third Dynasty of Egypt, had his funerary chamber in the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara covered with blue faience tiles with yellow lines for papyrus stems.

Lead glazing was known to the Romans who first used the technique in the 1st century BCE. The Greco-Roman world, however, favoured the mosaic technique which was created by setting tesserae — small pieces of stone or glass — into intricate designs on floors and walls in public buildings, private homes, and temples. They also decorated surfaces by painting on wet lime plaster (called the fresco technique) and applying interior or exterior plaster to create relief effects (called stuccowork).


In countries where Islamic culture flourished, wall tiles using geometric designs became an important aspect of tile art and religious expression. Islamic potters developed lustre tiles for use in palaces, mosques and holy shrines, which gave these buildings a distinctive iridescent finish.

Perhaps the earliest example of Islamic tile decoration can be seen on the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al-Sakhra) located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It was erected by the Muslim caliph Abd el-Malik in 688-691 CE, but Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566 CE) was responsible for the mosque's renovation and the replacement of exterior mosaics with shimmering tiles.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey is known as the Blue Mosque because more than 20,000 striking blue and white Iznik tiles cover its interior. Iznik was a Turkish centre of tile and ceramic production for the Ottoman Empire in the late 15th century CE.


You may be wondering why the ancient world seemed to be saturated in blue, and that is because the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli (which means “stone of the sky”) was prized in antiquity for its royal blue hue and was thought to be connected with knowledge, insight, and magical powers.

Islamic & Italian Influences

The Moors brought Islamic mosaic and tile art to the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century CE and it is here that our story really begins.

King Manuel I of Portugal (r. 1495-1521 CE) visited Seville and the Alhambra palace in Granada and was dazzled by the Islamic geometric-patterned ceramic tiles he saw. King Manuel was one of the wealthiest monarchs in the Christian world thanks to the Portuguese age of discovery (early 15th - mid 17th century CE). He imported azulejos from Seville and decorated The Arab Room in his palace at Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra). The Spanish Muslim geometric patterns used in this room are called mudejar, and this period of tile decoration is known as the Hispano-Moresque.

The palace at Sintra remained largely intact after the 1755 CE earthquake destroyed most of the city. Should you visit the national tile museum, you should also take a tour of the palace at Sintra (around 25 km or 15 m north of Lisbon).

The highlight of the Museu Nacional Do Azulejo is the 1,300 traditional blue and white panoramic panel called The Great View of Lisbon. Located on the top floor, it is 23 metres (75 ft) in length and was made by the Spanish-born tile painter Gabriel del Barco (c. 1649-1701 CE) in 1700 CE. It is one of the few extant visual records of the cityscape before the devastating earthquake.

But perhaps the most fascinating example of Portuguese tile art is the polychrome panel known as Nossa Senhora da Vida (Our Lady of Life) located on the first floor of the museum. It is Portugal's oldest azulejo and is an important piece of 16th-century CE Portuguese tile production.

Following the Reconquista – when Spanish and Portuguese territories on the Iberian Peninsula were taken back from Muslim control – the Portuguese were free to develop their own style of hand-painted azulejos. Tile painters were no longer bound by Islamic law that forbade the portrayal of human figures and they could now paint animals and humans, historical and cultural events, religious imagery, flowers, fruit, and birds.

By the mid-16th century CE, Italian and Flemish artisans were settling in Lisbon, attracted by the flourishing tile art and the possibilities of working with new techniques. One of these techniques was the Italian majolica, which made it possible to paint directly on the tiles and depict a more complex range of designs such as figurative themes and historical stories. Nossa Senhora da Vida is a superb example of the influence of majolica and Renaissance influence (the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity that took place from the 14th to the 17th centuries CE).

The 1580 CE panel consists of 1,498 azulejos painted in trompe l'oeil (a style of painting that is intended to give a convincing illusion of reality). It is an early and outstanding example of Portuguese religious iconography and includes images of the adoration of the shepherds and John the Evangelist (c. 15 – c. 100 CE). The blue and white squares create illusory depth, while the green, yellow, and blue painted figures and patterns imitate a painted board with a gold gilt frame. The rectangle in the upper lunette indicates that a window was once in the azulejo (it was originally a retable wall in the Church of Santo André in Lisbon).

The Portuguese Style

The 1st Marquis of Pombal, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, (1699-1782 CE), presided over the reconstruction of Lisbon and architectural ceramic tiles started to follow the so-called Pombalino style. Known as azulejos pombalinos, ceramic tiles moved from the interior of churches and buildings to the exterior – covering public and religious monuments, palaces, stairway walls, houses, restaurants, and gardens. Azulejos pombalinos were also considered an effective and low-cost building solution.

Up to this point, the church and nobility had commissioned decorative ceramics, but we start to see the democratisation of tiles because of their extensive use in urban housing and the rebuilding of the city. To meet demand, the Real Fábrica de Louça tile production factory opened in the Rato district of Lisbon, and 1715 CE saw the last foreign import of ceramic tiles.

The Portuguese overseas expansion starting in the early 14th century CE resulted in a meeting of many cultures, and azulejos reflected a sense of the exotic by including elephants, monkeys, and indigenous peoples from colonies and territories such as Brazil. Indian printed textiles showing Hindu and nature symbols became fashionable between 1650-1680 CE, particularly a composition called aves e ramagens ("birds and branches").

The Leopard Hunt (1650-1675 CE), which is on display at the museum, incorporates themes from Portugal's overseas conquests along with European cultural traditions. The polychrome faience panel came to the museum from Quinta de Santo António da Cadriceira in Torres Vedras (about 50 km or 30 miles north of Lisbon) and shows a female leopard being hunted by indigenous people crowned with feathers.

The Chicken's Wedding panel (1660-1667 CE) demonstrates the creative flair of Portuguese artisans in the 17th century CE but it also shows how commissioned azulejos often spread social satire or political messages. In this large panel, a chicken is conveyed in a carriage that is escorted by a cortege of monkeys playing musical instruments. Singerie (French for “Monkey Trick”) is the name given to a visual image in which fashionably dressed monkeys display human behaviour, and it emerged as a distinct genre in the 16th century CE.

The panel is at the museum and a tour guide might tell you that monkeys are often linked to satire and that The Chicken's Wedding could be interpreted as a political commentary on Spain and its supporters during the War of Restoration (1640-1668 CE), which ended 60 years of dual monarchy in Portugal and Spain under the Spanish Habsburgs and established Portugal's new ruling dynasty: the House of Braganza.

By the early 18th century CE, Portuguese tile artisans had fallen under the influence of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE) Chinese porcelain design and Dutch Delftware, both of which led to the cobalt blue and white visual appearance of the Portuguese tiles that are seen all over Portugal today.

The Baroque (c. 1600-1750 CE) and Rococo (c. 1700-1800 CE) movements resulted in a style of azulejos that is unique to Portugal – figuras de convite or invitation figures. These were ornate life-size figures, usually a finely dressed nobleman or woman, and they were fixed to the walls of stairways and at entrances to palaces to welcome or invite guests inside. They made direct eye contact with people and one can only imagine the surprise guests received when coming upon one of these figures. Invitation figures were a design innovation for the Portuguese because they were outlines or cut-outs rather than the traditional square tile composition.

After the flirtation with ornate flourishes and often macabre themes during the 17th and 18th centuries CE, azulejos designs of the 19th century CE catered to the tastes of the newly emerging bourgeoisie (a social order that was dominated by the so-called middle class). The bourgeoisie wanted azulejos to reflect their social success and status and the nouveau-riche emigrants returning from Brazil brought with them the trend of decorating the facades of their houses with ceramic tiles that kept the interior cool and reduced outside noise. As a result, there was a move away from large panels to smaller and more delicately executed azulejos.

Industrialisation introduced new techniques such as the transfer-print method on blue and white or polychrome azulejos, although hand-painted tiles remained popular. Mass production meant that tiles could be produced at a lower cost and a greater variety of stylized designs, from traditional patterns to foreign adaptations, could be offered.

The Art Nouveau period (c. 1890-1910 CE) saw facades decorated with the flowing, curved lines of flowers, plants, vines, leaves, insects, and animals that were typical of the Art Nouveau movement. The cultural elite, however, started to view tile art as old-fashioned and dismissed it as being for the masses.

By the early 20th century CE, ceramic tile art had fallen out of favour and was in danger of becoming a lost art, but thanks to contemporary Portuguese artists like Maria Kell, there was a revival in the 1950s CE as metro stations were constructed and tiles were used in murals as modernist works of art.

Public Art

You can spend hours at the museum, going room by room through Portugal's visual history, but you can also stroll down any street in Lisbon and see azulejos that have weathered rain and sun for hundreds of years. Often you will see someone outside their house cleaning and polishing azulejos.

When you reach the museum, sit down at the café, sip a galão - the Portuguese coffee that is like a milky latte - and you will see an amazing 18th-century CE azulejo panel showing pigs and fish hanging up and waiting to be prepared for cooking.

How To Get There

The Museu Nacional do Azulejo is located on Rua da Madre de Deus 4, Lisbon. You can take bus 794 from Comercio Square and this will drop you at the entrance to the museum. Or you can enjoy a 20-minute walk from Santa Apolonia metro station, stopping to look at street azulejos along the way. There is a handy map on the museum's website.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm with the last admission being at 5.30 pm.

Before your visit, you can download a mobile app that offers a guided tour of the most significant azulejos on exhibition.

And if you want to start your own azulejos collection, you can take a workshop at the museum on creating faience tiles - what design would you do?