Official name: Portuguese Republic
Area: 92,391 square kilometers (35,672 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Estrela (1,991 meters/6,532 feet)
Highest point in territory: Ponta do Pico (2,351 meters/7,714 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: Noon = noon GMT
Longest distances: 218 kilometers (135 miles) from east to west; 561 kilometers (349 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 1,214 kilometers (754 miles) total boundary length, all with Spain
Coastline: 1,793 kilometers (1,114 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Portugal is located at the westernmost edge of continental Europe. It occupies approximately one-sixth of the Iberian Peninsula, which it shares with Spain. There are few natural frontiers between the two nations; many of Portugal's geographical features are continuations of those in Spain. With a total area of 92,391 square kilometers (35,672 square miles), Portugal is almost as large as the state of Indiana.
Portugal has jurisdiction over two autonomous island groups in the Atlantic—the Azores and Madeira. The Madeiran archipelago, located about 960 kilometers (600 miles) west of mainland Portugal, consists of the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo, and the uninhabited Desertas and Selvagens islets. The Azorean archipelago, about 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) west of mainland Portugal, is a volcanic mountain chain of nine islands divided into three groups: São Miguel and Santa Maria to the east; Terceira, Pico, Faial, São Jorge, and Graciosa in the center; and Flores and Corvo to the northwest. Thermal springs are features on the largest island, São Miguel.
Proximity to the Atlantic Ocean keeps Portugal's climate generally temperate, with variations from north to south. The northwest has a maritime climate, with short, cool summers and mild winters. In the northeast the climate is more continental, with sharper contrasts between the seasons. The central part of the country has hot summers and mild, rainy winters, and the south has a dry climate with long, hot summers. Average temperatures in Lisbon are about 24°C (75°F) in July and about 4°C (40°F) in January. Average annual rainfall ranges from over 305 centimeters (120 inches) in the northwestern grape-growing region to 51 centimeters (20 inches) on the southern coast. Average annual rainfall in Lisbon is 69 centimeters (27 inches).
Portugal's major topographical dividing lines are the Douro and Tagus Rivers, which flow across the country, and the centrally located Serra da Estrela mountain range. The Tagus River forms a dividing line between the upland regions of the north and the rolling plains of the south. The Minho region in the northwest is bounded by several mountain ranges on the east and by the Minho and Douro Rivers to the north and south, respectively. Trás-os-Montes (literally, "across the mountains") is the north-easternmost area of Portugal, bounded to the north and east by Spain, to the south by the Douro River, and to the west by the mountains that separate it from the Minho.
The central area south of the Douro and north of the Tagus is the Beiras, a transitional region between the north and the south. The Serra da Estrela divide the region in two. Coastal Beira, known as Beira Litoral, consists of rolling, sandy hills. The northern part, known as Beira Baixa, is a dry and windswept region similar to Trás-os-Montes. The west-central region of Estremadura includes the Tagus estuary, the capital city of Lisbon, and the Tagus valley area known as Ribatejo. The Alentejo region to the south is a vast area of gently rolling hills commonly divided into two subregions: Alto Alentejo and Baixo Alentejo. The Algarve, the southernmost region, is separated from the Alentejo by two mountain ranges: the Serra de Monchique in the west and the Serra de Caldeirao in the east.
Portugal is bordered on the west and south by the North Atlantic Ocean.
The southeastern part of Portugal's coast is on the Gulf of Cadiz.
Most of Portugal's coastline is smooth, but there are indentations at the mouths of the major rivers. The major harbors are at the mouths of the Tagus and Sado Rivers. The forested northern part of the coast, which is famous for its vineyards, is called the Costa Verde, or "green coast." The midsection of the coast is called the Costa de Prata, or "silver coast." The Beira coastal plain has salt marshes, alluvial deposits, and stretches of sand dunes.
Several capes jut out into the Atlantic in the southern half of the coast, including Cape Carvoeiro, Cape Espichel, Cape Sines, Cape São Vicente, and Cape Santa Maria. The Mar da Palha, the estuary of the Tagus River, is one of the world's great natural harbors.
The construction of the Alqueva Dam in southern Portugal between 2002 and 2006 is expected to create the largest artificial lake in Europe, with an area of 250 square kilometers (96 square miles).
Of the ten major rivers in Portugal, five have their origins in Spain, and five lie entirely within Portugal. The major river in northern Portugal is the Douro. The total length of this river is 940 kilometers (584 miles), of which 740 kilometers (460 miles) are situated in Spain and 200 kilometers (124 miles) in Portugal. The Tagus is the longest river in both Portugal and on the Iberian Peninsula; its total length is 999 kilometers (621 miles), 228 kilometers (142 miles) of which traverses Portugal. (This river is also called the Tejo in Portugal, and the Tajo in Spain.)
There are no true deserts in Portugal, but the Alentejo region is semiarid.
The Alentejo region accounts for one-third of the country's total area. Its undulating land is generally about 183 meters (600 feet) above sea level, but in some places it rises to between 274 and 457 meters (900 and 1,500 feet). The Minho region in the northwest is also hilly.
The most mountainous part of Portugal is the northern region known as Trás-os-Montes, or "across the mountains." Its ranges are part of the same system as the Cantabrian Mountains of Spain. Portugal's most important single mountain range, however, is the Serra da Estrela in the central part of the country, which includes the country's highest peak, also called Estrela (1,991 meters/6,532 feet). (Ponta do Pico, 2,351 meters/7,714 feet in elevation, lies on Ilha do Pico in the Azores.)
The six caves that make up the Grutas de Santo-Adriao in northeast Portugal were formerly marble quarries.
At over 7 meters (23 feet) tall, the Menhir of Meada is among the loftiest monoliths on the Iberian Peninsula. It is thought to be at least five thousand years old.
The Alqueva Dam on the Guadiana River, whose floodgates opened in early 2002, is intended to provide irrigation for farmlands in Portugal's dry southern region as well as drinking water and electricity. The project was opposed by environmentalists, however. They claimed that construction of the dam destroyed the habitat of several endangered animal species, flooded significant Roman and prehistoric ruins, and swept away one million trees.
The 10-mile (17-kilometer) Vasco da Gama Bridge spans the Tagus River in Lisbon, allowing north-south travelers to bypass the city. It officially opened March 31, 1998.
The name Madeira , taken from the Portuguese word for wood, comes from the dense forests on the islands of this group.
Proper, Datus C. The Last Old Place: A Search Through Portugal . New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.
Saramago, Josi. Journey to Portugal: In Pursuit of Portugal's History and Culture. Translated by Amanda Hopkinson and Nick Caistor. New York: Harcourt, 2001.
Symington, Martin. Essential Portugal . Lincolnwood, IL: Passport Books, 1994.
Ideamen's Links to Portugal. http://www.well.com/user/ideamen/Portugal.html (accessed April 3, 2003)