When we have the opportunity to host friends and family in Portugal, we often find ourselves playing a little game called, "Fact or Fiction". As we show folks around, we share with them statements about history, architecture, culture, etc., which may or may not be true. For example, did you know that there is a ship in our city that was used during the filming of the Pirates of the Caribbean? Or that Portugal is the biggest producer of cork in the world? Or that there is a statue dedicated to George Washington in the middle of downtown Porto? Ok, so some of these are obviously just not true, but when spoken in a serious and interesting enough tone, we can fool a few people every now and then.
But in honor of the Portuguese victory in the 2016 Euro Cup, I would like to shed some light on Portugal, a country slightly smaller than the state of Indiana yet with an impression the size of the Grand Canyon.
Without skipping a beat, we describe Portugal as being a "hidden gem". It is a country vastly decorated with beautiful sites, delicious foods, and some of the most kind-hearted people that you will ever meet. And while it is a country often overshadowed by its Spanish neighbor (in fact, 60% of Americans think that Portugal is a province of Spain), Portugal has quite an impressive history.
An Old World Power
Before Portugal became Portugal, its lands saw the feet of many different inhabitants. Some of these included the celts, the phoenicians, the carthaginians, the romans, several germanic groups, and the arabs. While independence was declared in 1143, border conquest was not finished until over a century later in 1249. Despite this, Portugal has the oldest borders in Europe. What's more, at one time, it was a great world power excelling in exploration and trade. In fact, Portuguese explorers were some of the most tenacious as they led Western Europe in exploration and colonization beyond the seas (evidence of old Portuguese colonies can be found in lands across Africa, Asia and South America). You ever heard of the Maritime Spice Trade Route? Portuguese explorers helped to establish the original Europe-to-India maritime route as they were the first to successfully sail around the tip of South Africa and on to India.
So Many Inventions
Besides being a pioneer during the Golden Age of Discoveries, Portugal has a repertoire of inventions. These include the maritime compass, the breech cannon, the prefabrication of buildings in stone, the Latin sail, the salted cod, the pastel de nata custard tart, the prepaid card for mobile phones, the green lane toll payment system for motorways (an automatic system for collecting tolls for vehicles), and the multibanco (an ATM network with a multitude of functions ranging from bank transfers to the payment of tickets for shows). You remember that ship I was talking about? While it's not famous for its cinematic debut, it is famous for being the most important navigational advancement of its time. Invented and built by the Portuguese, the caravel (as pictured above) is a light sailing ship crucial for long voyages. Despite these inventions, it is interesting to note that Portugal is one of the countries with the fewest number of patents in the world.
A Japanese Word
Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world. Despite this fact, it is pretty incredible that we continue to receive the question, "How is your Spanish?" when in conversation with folks in the States. But what does Portuguese have to do with the Japanese language, you ask? Well, the well-known Japanese word Arigato originates from the Portuguese word Obrigado, meaning "Thank You."
Some Pop Culture
Ok, Harry Potter fans, this one is for you. Famed author J.K Rowling once lived in Portugal and was married to a Portuguese man with whom she had her first child. She wrote a part of the first Harry Potter book during her time there. Beyond that, it is said that Portuguese culture inspired some aspects of Hogwarts such as the long, black capes worn by university students throughout Portugal, a beautifully designed bookshop that made an appearance in the second book, and the Portuguese dictator António Salazar who inspired the character Salazar Slytherin. Read more about this here.