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1UpTravel - Geography Info and Facts of Countries : . - Portugal

Portugal Geography and Facts

Location: Southwestern Europe, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Spain

Geographic coordinates: 39 30 N, 8 00 W

Map references: Europe

total: 92,391 sq km
land: 91,951 sq km
water: 440 sq km
note: includes Azores and Madeira Islands

Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Indiana

Land boundaries:
total: 1,214 km
border countries: Spain 1,214 km

Coastline: 1,793 km

Maritime claims:
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm

Climate: maritime temperate; cool and rainy in north, warmer and drier in south

Terrain: mountainous north of the Tagus River, rolling plains in south

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Ponta do Pico (Pico or Pico Alto) on Ilha do Pico in the Azores 2,351 m

Natural resources: fish, forests (cork), tungsten, iron ore, uranium ore, marble, arable land, hydro power

Land use:
arable land: 26%
permanent crops: 9%
permanent pastures: 9%
forests and woodland: 36%
other: 20% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 6,300 sq km (1993 est.)

Natural hazards: Azores subject to severe earthquakes

Environment - current issues: soil erosion; air pollution caused by industrial and vehicle emissions; water pollution, especially in coastal areas

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Environmental Modification, Nuclear Test Ban

Geography - note: Azores and Madeira Islands occupy strategic locations along western sea approaches to Strait of Gibraltar


Portugal, republic in southwestern Europe, situated in the western portion of the Iberian Peninsula, bounded on the north and east by Spain and on the south and west by the Atlantic Ocean. The Azores (Açores) and the Madeira Islands in the Atlantic are autonomous regions of Portugal, considered integral parts of the republic.

Portugal administers one overseas territory, Macau (Macao), in eastern Asia near Hong Kong. Macau is scheduled to return to Chinese administration in 1999. The total area of metropolitan Portugal, including the Azores (2247 sq km/868 sq mi) and the Madeira Islands (794 sq km/307 sq mi), is 92,345 sq km (35,655 sq mi). The capital and largest city is Lisbon.

The frontiers of Portugal are defined by mountains and rivers, and the interior is largely mountainous. In the west and south the mountains descend to a large coastal plain that is intensively cultivated. The highest range is the Serra da Estrela in central Portugal, rising to 1991 m (6532 ft).

Portugal is traversed by three great rivers, which rise in Spain and empty into the Atlantic Ocean. The Tajo (Tejo), with Lisbon situated at its mouth, is the largest river; followed by the Douro (Duero), with Porto (Oporto) at its mouth; and the Guadiana, which forms part of the eastern frontier. A fourth river, the Minho, forms part of the northern frontier.


The climate varies according to altitude, and high temperatures occur only in the comparatively low regions of the south.

The mean annual temperature north of the Douro River is about 10° C (about 50° F); between the Tajo and Douro, about 16° C (about 60° F); and in the valley of the Guadiana, about 18° C (about 65° F). Rainfall is heavy, particularly in the north.

Portugal is the westernmost country of continental Europe. It lies on the Iberian Peninsula. Spain--Portugal's neighbour to the east and north--covers most of the peninsula.

Western and southern Portugal face the Atlantic Ocean. Lisbon is the country's capital and largest city.

Following its heyday as a world power during the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal lost much of its wealth and status with the destruction of Lisbon in a 1755 earthquake, occupation during the Napoleonic Wars, and the loss of its Brazilian colony in 1822.

A 1910 revolution deposed the monarchy; for most of the next six decades repressive governments ran the country. In 1974, a left-wing military coup installed broad democratic reforms. The following year Portugal granted independence to all of its African colonies. Portugal entered the EC in 1985.

Portugal is the westernmost country of continental Europe. It lies on the Iberian Peninsula. Spain--Portugal's neighbour to the east and north--covers most of the peninsula.

Western and southern Portugal face the Atlantic Ocean. Lisbon is the country's capital and largest city.


Country Profile


Formal Name: Portuguese Republic.

Short Form: Portugal.

Term for Citizen(s): Portuguese (singular and plural); adjective--Portuguese.

Capital: Lisbon (Portuguese, Lisboa).

Geography: 92,080 square kilometers; land area: 91,640 square kilometers; includes Azores (Portuguese, Açores) and Madeira Islands.

Topography: Hills and mountains north of Rio Tejo; rolling plains to south.

Climate: Varied with considerable rainfall and marked seasonal temperatures in north; dryer conditions in south with mild temperatures along coast but sometimes in low 40°Cs in interior.

Data as of January 1993



Portugal shares the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, although it is only about one-sixth as large as its neighbor. Including the Azores (Açores in Portuguese) and Madeira, the country has a total area of 92,080 square kilometers. Portugal lies on the westernmost promontory of continental Europe. The rugged Pyrenees Mountains separate Iberia from the heart of the European continent, and Portugal is even further distant across the vastness of Spain. Distance and isolation have created in Portugal a sense that it is a part of Europe geographically but apart from it culturally, socially, economicaslly, politically, and even psychologically. Even in the early 1990s, Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) was a two-to-three-day drive from Paris.

Portugal is bounded on the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean and on the north and east by Spain. The country's shape is roughly that of a rectangle, with its short sides on the north and south and its long sides on the east and west. Portugal's Atlantic coastline is 837 kilometers long; its northern and eastern frontiers with Spain are 336 and 839 kilometers long, respectively.

Historically, Portugal emerged as a separate country during centuries of struggle with the Spanish provinces of León and Castile. Even hundreds of years after breaking away from Spain for the last time in 1640, fears remained in Portugal that it might one day be swallowed up by larger and more powerful Spain, perhaps not militarily, but culturally and economically. That sentiment is expressed by the Portuguese proverb that "neither a good wind nor a good marriage ever come from Spain." Meanwhile, Portugal's long coast has given it an "Atlantic vocation" and propelled its historic ventures of global exploration and colonization.

Portugal is not a homogeneous country geographically. The physical environment varies enormously, creating several distinct geographic regions that, in turn, have shaped the culture of the people and their economy and society. Northern Portugal is a mountainous, rainy region, characterized by many small farms and vineyards. The Portuguese nation began in this region, fending off León and Castile while simultaneously driving the Moors south and eventually out of the peninsula. It is a desolate area of rocky hillsides where smallholders have eked out a meager existence for hundreds of years. This region is also said to be the origin of the strongest Portuguese national values of hard work, thrift, traditionalism, Roman Catholicism, and practicality. It is also an area, however, that has lost many of its inhabitants through emigration.

Central Portugal, between the Rio Douro in the north and the Rio Tejo (Tagus River in English), including the capital city of Lisbon and its environs, is less homogeneous. The central coastal region consists of dunes and pine forests, and many residents of the area earn their livelihood from fishing. The central eastern areas, known as the Beira, consist of mainly small and medium-sized farms, with some mining and light industry. The greater Lisbon area, including both the city and its suburbs, accounts for most of the nation's commerce and much of its industry.

Southern Portugal, known as the Alentejo (literally, "beyond the Tejo") is an area of gently rolling hills and plains dominated by extensive estates with large-scale agriculture and grazing. It was traditionally also a land of often embittered tenant farmers and peasants. In contrast to the conservative north, the Alentejo was an area of radical political movements; for a long time, the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português--PCP) was the strongest party in the region.

The extreme south of Portugal is known as the Algarve. It is a dry region of smallholdings, grazing, and fishing, and coastal towns. This is the area of Portugal most strongly influenced by the Moors; even today the Moorish influence is present in the region's dialect and architecture. With its warm climate and Mediterranean sky, the Algarve has also become a center for tourism and a home to many foreign retirees.

Historically, Portugal was divided administratively into six provinces that corresponded closely to these natural geographic divisions . The north consisted of two provinces, the coastal Minho and the interior Trás-os-Montes. The center was made up of Beira and Estremadura, and the south consisted of the Alentejo and the Algarve. Later these historical provinces were further subdivided for administrative purposes, but the historical names have been retained in popular usage .

Even though it is a small country, Portugal has a wide variety of landforms, climatic conditions, and soils. The major difference is between the mountainous regions of the north and, across the Rio Tejo, the great rolling plains of the south. Within these two major regions are further subdivisions that reflect the country's vast differences. The Minho and Trás-os-Montes are both mountainous, but whereas the former is green with abundant rainfall, the latter is dry and parched. The Beira Litoral and Estremadura are younger geologically and contain sandstone, limestone, and volcanic rock. Beira Alta (Upper Beira) is mountainous and forms a barrier across the center of Portugal, but Beira Baixa (Lower Beira) is dry and windswept, an extension of the Spanish plateau. The Alentejo consists of gentle hills and plains. Because it is one of the driest areas in the country, it is not suitable for intensive agriculture. The area does support cattle raising, as well as cork oak and some grains. It is separated from the Algarve by two mountain ranges, the Serra de Monchique and the Serra do Caldeirao .

Geography and topography are also reflected in the climate. The mountainous regions of the north are considerably colder than the south. Winter snows in the Serra da Estrêla (which contains Portugal's highest peak at 1,986 meters) and the Serra do Gerês near the northern Spanish border may block roads for a time. The weather along the northern coasts and in the center of the country is milder; Lisbon has an average high temperature of 14°C in January and 27°C in August. Southern Portugal is warmer. The ocean moderates coastal temperatures, but the interior of the Alentejo can be quite warm, with temperatures sometimes above 40°C during the summer months. Because of its Mediterranean climate, most of Portugal's rainfall occurs in the winter, the north receiving much more rain than the south.

Portugal has ten major rivers, five of which have their origins in Spain. The Rio Minho begins in Spanish Galicia and for a distance of seventy-four kilometers forms the northern Portuguese frontier with Spain. The Rio Douro is of great importance to the commerce of northern Portugal. It also originates in Spain and flows the entire width of Portugal before emptying into the Atlantic at Porto, the country's second largest city. The Rio Douro is navigable by small craft for its full distance of 198 kilometers in Portugal; historically the river was used to transport casks of port wine to Porto. Its steep banks are terraced with vineyards, and the valley of the Rio Douro is one of the most picturesque in all Portugal.

The Rio Tejo is the country's longest river, has the largest drainage basin, and is the most important economically. It is navigable only eighty kilometers upstream, but that includes the vast estuary on which Lisbon is located. The Tejo estuary is the best natural port on the European continent and able to handle large ocean-going vessels. It also contains the Cacilhas drydocks, the largest in the world.

The most important river in the south is the Rio Guadiana which, flowing north to south, forms part of the border with Spain. Other important rivers in Portugal include the Rio Lima and the Rio Tâmega in the north, the Rio Mondego in the center, and the Rio Sado and Rio Chança in the south.

The soil systems of Portugal are usually sandy, arid, and acid, reflecting the soils of the Iberian Peninsula generally. Soil in the north can be rocky. Northern Portugal is better suited for agriculture than the south because of abundant rainfall, but with proper irrigation the south could support more intensive agriculture.

About one-fourth of Portugal is covered by forests (mainly pine and deciduous oak); if such cultivated tree crops as olives, cork oak, almonds, chestnuts, and citrus are counted, about one- third of the country's area is tree covered. In the northern mountains, pine, oak, poplar, and elm trees are prevalent. Vegetation is more varied in the central region and includes citrus trees and cork oak. The warm, dry south contains many areas of rough pasture, as well as abundant cork oak.

In addition to continental Portugal, the country's territory also includes the Azores and Madeira islands. The Azores consist of nine inhabited islands and several uninhabited rock outcroppings 1,280 kilometers west of the mainland in the Atlantic Ocean. The archipelago has an area of 2,278 square kilometers and a population of about 250,000. The Azores produce sufficient foodstuffs for internal consumption and some exports, but they remain even poorer than the mainland. The Madeira archipelago, located about 560 kilometers miles west of Northern Africa, consists of two inhabited and several uninhabited islands. With a total area of 788 square kilometers and a population of about 270,000 people, the archipelago is severely overpopulated.

Data as of January 1993

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