PEOPLE & LIFESTYLE
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Despite 9 out of 10 people in Portugal being ethnic Portuguese, the centuries of occupation, cultural exchange and colonization have shaped much of the country and you will find small numbers of Brazilians, Han Chinese or Marranos (descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity) in Portugal. Portuguese is the first language of nearly the entire population. Maybe deriving from it’s strong historic connection to the outer world, Portuguese people meet strangers with an open-mind, a warm welcome and natural curiosity and Portuguese families love to receive guests.
Nearly two thirds of the population lives in urban areas and around 45% of the population lives in the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto. In general, the North is more densely populated than the South and many rural areas have suffered a decline in population, especially in the North, Alentejo and Southern inland. Despite a strong geographical and historical connection to neighboring Spain, Portuguese people have their own distinctive way of life. You will find less regionalism in Portugal and lifestyle has changed radically since urban centers grew more importance and rural areas have declined.
90% of the population are Roman-Catholic, however, all religions are well-respected. Traditional festivities often center around religious events or holidays and are still very important events in the Portuguese calendar. However, regular attendance of mass has declined, especially in the South and among the younger population.
Family plays a big part in Portuguese society and family is seen as vital to social interactions. Traditionally, children would stay close to home, even as adults, so they attend regular family gatherings and help with the care of the elderly. As often seen in Southern Europe, Portuguese families tend to be quite large.
In general, Portuguese people are very sociable and enjoy getting together for gatherings, events or other activities. Sport is extremely popular, both to play and watch. Football is by far the most popular sport, but also tennis, cycling, basketball or rugby are enjoyed by many.
ARTS & CULTURE
Portugal has been inhabited for thousands of years and the long history reflects in a particular culture as a result of a mixture of the many different people that settled here and those who were met on Portuguese expeditions. Manueline art, the blue tiles and fado are all unique expressions and genuine symbols of the Portuguese and an important contribution to the national heritage. The richness of Portuguese heritage and the cultural diversity reflects in 24 UNESCO World Heritage classifications and a rich amount of national monuments.
The archaeological excavation of Conimbriga South of Coimbra from around 140BC is one of the few sites in Portugal that date back to the Roman period. Another example is the Roman temple in Evora dating back to the first century.
Medieval castles and Moorish fortifications stood the signs of time and Romanesque and Gothic influences have given Portugal some of its greatest cathedrals. The growing wealth of the Portuguese Kingdom reflects in the grandiose Arte Manueline, a unique Portuguese style developing in the late Gothic period. Outstanding examples of this style are the Jeronimos Monastery, Belem Tower and Se Cathedral in Lisbon, the castle and church of the Convent of Christ in Tomar or the Gothic Abbey of Batalha.
The Manueline era was followed by Baroque and Rococo architecture in the 17th and 18th century, designing glorious altars and adding azulejos to interior decorations. The Se Cathedral and the Sao Francisco church in Porto are great examples of the Portuguese baroque style. One of the most sumptuous examples of Portuguese baroque architecture is the monumental Mafra Palace.
After big parts of Manueline Lisbon were destroyed after the devastating earthquake in 1755, the Baixa neighborhood was rebuilt in a remarkable Pombaline style, bringing a checkered structure and neoclassical buildings to the area. The iconic Praca do Comercio in Lisbon was designed in 1755 and is another notable example of the unique Pombaline style.
The 19th and 20th century have been dominated by a revival of traditional domestic and folk architecture styles, including neo-manueline and neoclassical styles, which were the main architectural expression of the Romantic period in Portugal.
Arte Nouveau had a late arrival to Portugal and only flourished for a short period in the early 20th century. Its use was widely limited to the Portuguese aristocracy in port cities including Lisbon, Porto and Aveiro.
Characteristically, Portuguese art can be described as historic, sentimental and expressive. From the ubiquitous Azulejos, Manueline architecture to painting and sculpture, Portuguese arts expresses itself in diverse and creative ways.
From religious paintings to Baroque and abstract arts, Portuguese painting is characterized by many different styles. A school of primitive painting was popular in the 15th century, whose style was eventually adopted for the decoration of palaces and convents, leaving a notable heritage of religious arts. The Romantic period of landscape painting in the 19th century was followed by naturalist Realism and abstract painting in the 20th century. Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908 - 1992) was one of the few Portuguese painters gaining international fame with her abstract images and paintings.
The iconic blue tiles, called “Azulejos”, originate from the Moors, who brought them to Spain first. The blue tiles decorate many halls of 16th and 17th century palaces and mansions and often display scenes of historic significance.
Literature from and about Portugal is as varied and diverse as the country itself. Portuguese present and past reflects in the books, stories and poetry of famous writers.
The “cancioneiros” (love songs) already touched people in the 9th and 10th century before Gil Vincente constituted the Portuguese theater with his plays in the 15th and 16th century. Luís Vaz de Camões published the epic “Os Lusíadas” in the late 16th century.
After romanticism dominated fiction in the 19th and early 20th century, a tendency towards realism developed through the work of José Maria Eça de Queirós, José Maria Ferreira de Castro or Aquilino Ribeiro. Fernando Pessoa was one of the most important poets of early 20th century Portugal and introduced Modernist European sensibility. Much of his work only appeared in the public eye after his death and his independent views on Portuguese identity and lifestyle posthumously turned him into one of the most important arch symbols of modern Portugal.
Censorship under the Salazar regime considerably stifled meaningful literary production until the revolution. Literature flourished again after the end of dictatorship, producing notable poets like Fernando Namora or Miguel Torga. José Saramago became one of the most admired novelists of the late 20th century and he was the first Portuguese to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.
Plainsong dominated early Portuguese music, but the tradition of troubadour singing became
popular in the Middle Ages, followed by polyphonic music with multiple vocal parts in the 15th century.
Today, folk music and the traditional fado remain the fundamental forms of musical expression. Charged with sadness, melancholy and romanticism, fado songs broach on sad love affairs, poverty or longing. Fado originated in the poorer quarters of Lisbon and spread widely to all classes through the work of the renowned fadista Amália Rodrigues da Piedade Rebordão.
Similar to fado, Cante alentejano from the South of Portugal developed towards the end of the 19th century from the song of the field workers and is traditionally performed by larger groups in traditional uniforms. Both musical styles have been recognized by UNESCO.
Long traditions around dance and singing continue with each region cultivating a unique style and nearly every village having its own terreiro (dance floor). A range of instruments including small accordions and bagpipes accompany traditional dance, which often reflect courting and matrimonial traditions of the region.
Generally, the musical scene of Portugal is spread across multiple genres, including heavy-metal, hip hop, dance or electronic music. Major music festivals take place all year round, including rock, jazz, electronic or international music festivals. Further, Portugal’s music scene gained international attention after Salvador Sobral won the European Song Contest in 2017.