Portugal's many museums, churches, places, castles and forts guide you through periods in its history. Historic hotspots on the Algarve include Faro the capital, Tavira, Lagos and beautiful inland Silves with its historic castle. Find palaces and ornate houses galore (including Pombal's Palace in Oeiras) around Lisbon and across Estoril and Sintra.
Portuguese capital Lisbon offers a host of museums exploring particularly natural history, the Portuguese hey day Age of Discovery and religious art and history. UNESCO status Sintra is the fairytale land of palaces. Historic centres around the north and centre include Coimbra, Braga, Porto and in the centre Evora. The oldest Portuguese buildings, including the extensive remains of a Roman temple, are to be found in Evora which was largely untouched by the Lisbon Earthquake. On the whole, it's a top down history across museums and historic sights, and there are gaps! The history of slavery, exploitation of the colonies, and more recently the dark years of the Salazar Dictatorship when opposition to the regime meant imprisonment and often torture are rarely reflected on.
The main historic rich Algarve East and Central hubs are at Faro, the Algarve's capital and beautiful Tavira further east. Castro Marim to the far east almost on the Spanish border is also an important historic location on the Algarve. Mind you, dig around a bit at the main resorts and you'll find something of historic interest, for example the Roman remains at Quarteira, and just to the north of Monte Gordo, Castro Marim's historic fort.
Day trips to Faro's old town and Tavira are easily booked if you're based in one of the main Algarve resorts. If you fancy really exploring the many historic hotspots at Estoi, Roman remains at Milreu and the historic delights at Alcoutim then Algarve car hire is recommended. It's easy to push further west by car too to more historic forts, castles, museums, natural spas an more at Silves, Monchique inland, beautiful Lagos and to Sagres Fort in the far west.
Albufeira's name has Arab links dating back to the 8th century when the Moors were here. They called it Al-Buhera which translates as 'Castle on the Sea'. For 5 full centuries Al-Buhera, alongside Faro, was a hotspot for trade under the Arabs, particularly with North Africa. Wander around the old town in Albufeira, and make the link between the narrow streets here and Moorish influence.
Visit the Municipal Museum in Faro for a real journey through Algarve history spanning through various occupiers including the Romans and Moors who dominated the Algarve prior to Christian reconquest and used bases such as Albufeira, Faro and Tavira as their main trading posts for trade with North Africa. Moorish influence, if not the survival of Moorish architecture obliterated by Christian conquers, can be seen in Algarve architecture. Many Algarve churches were built on the site of mosques.
Historic sights in the Centre West and Far West Algarve are many, including Silves historic castle and Cork Factory museum, Lagos' links with the history of slavery and its numerous museums, churches and fort, Sagres historic fortress in the far west where Henry the Navigator trained sailors during Portugal's Age of Discover, pretty Monchique inland with its natural spas used as far back as the Roman period and the chic art nouveau architecture at Portimao. The great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 did considerable damage down here on the West Algarve. Sagres Fortress was completely destroyed and Lagos suffered a huge amount of destruction!
Portuguese history in the West Algarve explores not just Moorish history and trade links with North Africa, but also the Portuguese Century of Discovery from the early 15th century. Portuguese explorers like Gill Eanes came from the West Algarve, and Henry the Navigator has a base in both Lagos and Sagres. The first European slaves were brought into Lagos and the Moors held up in Silves castle until they finally ran out of water.
From accounts on the day, the Lisbon earthquake first struck around 9.30am on Saturday 1st November 17555 - All Saints' Day when many of Lisbon's residents were inside churches. It lasted for around 10 minutes and was not one but three big shocks, the second shock being the one that caused most damage. The first shock made buildings quake and a huge noise compared to that of loud traffic could be heard. There was then a pause, followed by the second big shock which lasted for 2 minutes - it was this second shock that brought down palaces, roofs, churches, walls, houses and shops all in a deafening roar of collapse and destruction. Next came the third shock completing the carnage, with a huge dust cloud rising above Lisbon bringing a dark cloud on what had started off as a crystal clear day.
The Lisbon earthquake was wide reaching and although the death toll from this 1755 earthquake is not the highest of all time (bigger earthquake disasters have been seen in China, Japan and India - the Kwanto earthquake in 1923 almost destroyed all of Tokyo and Yokohama with a death toll of 100,000), destruction touched locations as far away as Algiers on the African coast. The resultant scientific speculations and philosophical debates were worldwide - the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 changed things.
Porto has a long history dating back to a Roman settlement, "Porto Cale" meaning sheltered port. Conveniently enough the majority of the historic sights in Porto are clustered in the old town area and are within easy walking distance of each other; although you may get weary from walking up and downhill, but there's always the trams that trundle around the city from which you can get a good view and the new metro to save your legs. Many of the sights have been restored in light of the attention Porto has received becoming European City of Culture in 2001 and particularly in the Ribeira waterfront area that has now been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site that stretches as far as the Torre dos Clergios, but the medieval feel to the older parts of the city is very much still evident.
One of the attractions well worth a first stop is the Clergios Church and Tower (Torre & Igreja dos Clerigos) on Rua dos Clergios. This is 76 metre 18th century baroque tower with church attached designed by Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni. His influence can be seen at various sights throughout historic Porto.
Coimbra is steeped in history having been the place for Portugal's first and only university for some time and also Portugal's capital. Today it is a lively cosmopolitan town alive with students in term time. The old town of whitewashed and azulejo covered houses with red tiled roofs is piled on top of the hill and is full of character - a great place to explore on foot.
Braga is the major town in the south of the Minho region of Portugal. It has a long and combative history being well placed at the junction of five roman roads which has made it subject to attack from Suevi, Visigoths, Moors, Spanish and the French. The town has retained much of its early history and is renowned for its thirty five churches and cathedral, the oldest in Portugal. Many of the historic are within easy walking distance within the old town. One sight not to be missed is the stunning Santuario do Bom Jesus just five kilometres east of Braga. The flight of steps up to the church are breathtaking and once at the top you have fabulous views stretching out for miles, a fantastic place to watch the sun go down.
Funchal town centre has a historic cathedral and adjacent convent, various English connections via an English church and some excellent museums, notably the Sugar Museum. Although compact, the centre can get quite hilly in places - particularly upto Santa Clara convent!
The Azores are volcanically formed islands, and 12 active volcanoes are spread across them. Volcanoes on the Azores that have erupted since the beginning of the 20th century include those on Faial and Sao Jorge, whilst volcanoes that have erupted over the last 2000 years include Terceira and Pico. Pico Volcano is the highest at 7,713 feet/2,351m, and has a dramatic tall basaltic strato volcano cone with steep slopes resulting from its lava flows erupting slowly. If you thought Teide on Tenerife was the most dramatic volcanic structure on an Atlantic archepelago, then you might think again after see the spectacular Pico volcano!
If you're interested in Volcanoes and the activity of the Mid-Atlantic ridge, then you might have heard that the Azores sit very near 3 separate tectonic plates which are still moving apart at a rate of about 2 cm a year. Around 200 million years ago Africa, Europe and the Americas were all one continent. As they began to split apart into 3 tectonic plates the ocean basin/Atlantic began to form.
More recent Portugal history through the 20th century is rarely explored in Portuguese museums. The wound may be a little too recent and deep? Years under the Dictatorship of Salazar when in 1932 he got the top job and full control finally came to an end with the 1974 Revolution (although by this time Salazar was dead - he withdrew in 1968 after a stroke). Effectively what Salazar and loyal followers brought about in Portugal during these years was a particular catholic version of a fascist regime - the Estado Novo/New State. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (born 1889) had intended a career in the catholic church, but pretty quickly realised he could more effectively achieve power through politics. In 1926 he was appointed finance minister of the military junta, but here resigned when generals refused him a free hand. In 1928 they called him back to the same role but this time they did give him a free hand and control over the finances and budgets of numerous government services. And so began Salazar's own brand of dictatorship in Portugal, which included the colonies of Angola and Mozambique.
Extreme repressive steps followed. The activities of political parties were prohibited, the press was censored as were films, books and news projected outside of Portugal, strikes were outlawed, liberal university professors were dismissed and the PIDE secret police were established to maintain control by ruthless means which involved torture and imprisonment to any who challenged the regime. Salazar's model was the Italian fascist dictator Mussolini (he had a photo of Mussolini on his desk for a number of years), and he porclaimed a day of national mourning after Hitler's suicide.
After the Allied Victory of the Second World War Salazar announced a liberalization of the Estado Novo, but they were hollow words and not long after this announcement he swiftly expelled any who had demonstrated opposition to his repressive machinery. There are many testaments from those who were imprisioned and tortured during the Salazar years in both Portugal and the one time colonies of Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique where uprisings were frequent. Dictatorship was bolstered by dire religious ideology demanding obediance, for example, to the cult of Fatima.
Portugal's bloodless coup (which became known as the Revolution of the Carnations - carnations were stuck in the butt of rifles by victorious soldiers and the carnation remains Portugal's symbol of freedom) finally came in 1974 when it was instigated by Military officers who were sympathetic to African freedom fighters and refused to fight colonial wars. Swift decolonisation was pushed through, but all was chaotic and Angola faced civil war. In Portugal poor farmers in the Alentejo region and elsewhere seized the land and established co-operatives - people power had a brief moment of success, however by 1975 Portugal's government took the shape of a centrist blend of socialism and democracy. Today, most of that seized land is back in the hands of original landlords. A through look at the Salazar years can be found in Antonio de Figueiredo's book, 'Portugal. Fifty Years of Dictatorship', first published in 1975 by Penguin Books. The author consistently challenged the Salazar Regime and finally sought exile in the UK.