Two nations linked by destiny. But what have the Portuguese ever done for us?

(apart from giving us port, lobotomies, marmalade and Nadia from 'Big Brother'?)
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was once a great maritime empire. Its language is spoken all over the world. Today, what prosperity it retains is dependent on service industries such as tourism, and scarcely a trace of its former glory remains - unless tonight's Euro 2004 quarter-final can provide a much-needed boost to morale.

It was once a great maritime empire. Its language is spoken all over the world. Today, what prosperity it retains is dependent on service industries such as tourism, and scarcely a trace of its former glory remains - unless tonight's Euro 2004 quarter-final can provide a much-needed boost to morale.

So much for England. And the curious thing is, something of the same is true of tonight's opponents. Portugal, like England, is a very old nation indeed, having established its independence in 1139, under King Alfonso I. Its borders have remained virtually unchanged since 1249.

Like England, it was a monarchy for centuries, until that tradition was brought to an end in the revolution of 1910, after which the last king, Manuel II, left for exile - in England, naturally.

Although both were, for much of their histories, superpowers with a global reach, they never fought a war against each other. England's empire was arguably the more impressive: India, Australia, South Africa against Brazil, Angola and the Cape Verde islands.

The Portuguese were powerless when India grabbed their territory of Goa in 1961, as they were when Indonesia walked into East Timor in 1975, so they never enjoyed a "Falklands" moment of twilight glory, though that doesn't seem to have damaged their self confidence.

Portugal is commonly regarded as England's oldest ally, going back to the Treaty of Windsor in 1386. The only really sticky patches in the relationship came with an attempt to buy off the Kaiser with some Portuguese colonies before 1914 and during World War II, when the dictatorship of Antonio de Salazar was more sympathetic to the German than the allied cause, although Portugal, like Franco's Spain, was formally neutral.

Today, Britain and Portugal are both members of Nato and the European Union, while one former Portuguese colony, Mozambique has joined the Commonwealth. Portugal's social democrat prime minister, José Manuel Durão Barrosso, host of the Blair-Bush-Aznar Azores summit last year, has placed his country closer to the Anglo-American policy on Iraq than that of, say, Jacques Chirac, while avoiding any military entanglements. Yet Anglo-Portuguese contrasts are also striking. Unlike England, Portugal's political history is littered with autocrats and revolutions, the most recent being the bloodless coup of 1974 that ended the clerico-fascist era and the bloody and futile attempt to hold on to what was left of Portugal's African empire. It almost ushered in a Communist government.

More prosaically, the Portuguese have traditionally enjoyed warmer weather and tastier food than the English, salt cod rather than cod and chips and pasteis de nata rather than custard tarts; but all can be followed by a glass of port or madiera.

As members of the euro but with a strong Atlantic tradition (Christopher Columbus based himself in Portugal) and deep cultural links to its former territories such as Brazil, the Portuguese may have struck a better balance than the English between their imperial past and their European future.

Then again, perhaps tonight the English will have the last laugh.

Navigation

Portuguese mariners opened up the world's trade routes. Vasco da Gama, left, was the first European to round the Cape of Good Hope. Christopher Columbus learnt to navigate at the school established by Prince Henry the Navigator. And Pedro Alvares Cabral was blown off course to reach Brazil by accident.

Culture

Portuguese cultural exports include the sublime 16th century poet Luis Vaz de Camoes, Nobel-prize winning author Jose Saramago, and Nadia Almada, the 27-year-old transsexual from Big Brother, below right. The English, by contrast, have given them Cliff Richard and Jasper Carrott - both of whom have homes there. Portugal's national music, Fado - which developed from African dance in the 19th century - has inspired a number of English artists, including Sting.

Cork

Portugal is the world's largest producer of cork; the country supplies about half the world and the industry accounts for one and a half per cent of the country's economy.

Food and drink

Catharine of Braganza introduced tea and marmalade to England as part of her wedding dowry to Charles II in 1662. The Portuguese also threw in Bombay and Tangiers. In addition, English warehouses have operated in Oporto for centuries, exporting port wine. English cod and cloth were imported in exchange.

Eccentric royalty

In 1355, when King Pedro, below right, was crowned, he dug up his dead mistress to have her properly honoured as queen. Subjects were required kiss the hand of the decorated corpse.

Political support

Portugal backed Britain and the United States along with its neighbour Spain in the recent war in Iraq. In return, it is reported that Britain will back one of two Portuguese candidates, Antonio Vitorino and Jose Manuel Durao Barrosso, to succeed Romano Prodi as European Commission president.

Science

Egas Moniz, a neurologist turned politician, invented the lobotomy, for which he won the Nobel prize in 1949.

Language

There are more than 140 million people around the world who speak Portuguese. Only 10 million of them live in Portugal. A country where Portuguese is spoken is 'lusophone' (after the Roman province of Lusitania), while a person who loves the Portuguese is a 'lusophile'. The British are colloquially referred to in Portuguese as 'bifes' (after their 'roast beef complexions'); a Portuguese person is a 'tuga'.

Comments