Tour overview

Portugal’s history is through to reach back to 1000 BCE to the Phoenicians, the seafaring people who settled in the southern coast. In fact, human habitation dates back much farther. Megalithic ruins of stone circles, dolmens and menhirs have been dated to 4000-2000 BCE and cave paintings to 18,000-13,000 BCE (found near Evora in the Alentejo region). Through the years, Portugal has been colonized by Celtic tribes, Romans (found in Evora in the Alentejo region and near Coimbra in the Beiras region), Vandals, Visigoths and Arabs (Moors). The Moors (Mouros in Portuguese) dominated Christian Portugal from 711 until finally forced out in the 12th and 13th centuries. Moorish influence can be found mainly in the Algarve and Lisbon-Lisbon coast regions. In the 15th century, Portugal led the world in exploration primarily to find a sea route to India which held a monopoly in the lucrative spice trade. Under the patronage of Henry (the Navigator), a prince of the royal house, Portuguese ships rounded Africa for the first time in European history and sailed into the Indian Ocean and on to India. Portugal went on to establish many colonies and create its own monopolies. Brazil was discovered in 1500 and became Portugal’s richest colony. Prince Henry never left dry land but it is thought he created a School of Navigation in Sagres in the Algarve.

Note: The first circumnavigation of the world (begun in 1519) was under a Spanish funded trip but its captain, Ferdinand Magellan, was Portuguese. His Portuguese name is Fernao de Malgalhaes.

The once poor kingdom of Portugal became rich from its colonies and a mercantile superpower. It didn’t last. In 1580 King Henrique died without an heir. Phillip II of Spain claimed the throne through his mother, a daughter of a previous king of Portugal, Manuel I. Spain’s foreign polices, common to both countries at this time, let to a steady loss of colonies to the Dutch. The Portuguese throne was reclaimed by the illegitimate side of the royal family in 1640 after a revolt against Spanish rule. The ensuing years brought exchequer excesses, madness and other follies common to monarchies.  The rococo Queluz Palace and eclectic Pena Palace, both near Lisbon and the Bucaco Palace (now a hotel) in the Beiras region are fine examples of royal indulgences. After a 1910 revolt, Portugal became a republic. King Manuel II fled into exile. Portugal entered WWI on the side of Britain and France. In WWII, Portugal is theoretically neutral but is forced to sell minerals to Germany who threatened Portuguese shipping. Lisbon became a hotbed of WWII spies! From 1928 to 1974, Portugal was run by oppressive prime ministers. The country suffered poverty and unemployment under severe austerity measures. The Carnation Revolution of 1974 ended the dictator government. Portugal joined the European Union in January 1986.

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