History, Lisbon, Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon: an homage to those who perished in a war that should never have happened

Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon: an homage to those who perished in a war that should never have happened

Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon

The Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar (Monument to the Overseas Combatants) is an important war memorial which pays homage to all those who died in the Portuguese Colonial War which ran from 1961 to 1974 and it is the Portuguese equivalent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (both honour the people who died in controversial wars). The Colonial War (also known as the Overseas War) was a dark time in recent Portuguese history in which the right-wing dictatorship led by António de Oliveira Salazar (who was Prime Minister from 1932 to 1968) wanted to maintain Portuguese control of the African colonies, namely Angola, Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) and Mozambique, against the growing independence movements in these countries. Salazar’s reason was two-fold: the income from the colonies helped to support a financially impoverished Portugal; and through the idea of the Empire he aimed to remind people of Portugal’s glorious past and divert attention away from the difficult situation at home where his economic policies had left many people in poverty. In order to suppress the rising African nationalist movements Salazar embarked on a bloody and expensive war that would involve, at its height, approximately 217,000 members of the armed forces (mainly young men who were conscripted for three years military service, totalling over the 13 years of the the war almost 1 million conscriptees) and resulted in the death of around 10,000 of them (the large majority of whom were in the Army). There was a growing opposition to the war, but any signs of dissent were met with arrest, torture and often deportation. Portugal was also being sanctioned by other countries that opposed the war (and in some cases even supported the nationalist movements). The war finally came to an end in April 1974 when a group of army rebels comprised of left-wing officers from the MFA (Armed Forces Movement) held an almost bloodless revolution that overthrew the dictatorship. The new government almost immediately withdrew the military from the African territories and agreed to give these countries independence.

The Monument to the Overseas Combatants, which was inaugurated in 1994, is located next to the Combatant Museum at the Forte do Bom Sucesso in Belém. It was designed by a team of architects led by Francisco Guedes de Carvalho and is marked by its peacefulness and simplicity. The main focus is a striking abstract triangular sculpture made of stone, metal and mirrored glass, which sits over a pool of water and in the centre of the sculpture is a burning flame. There are two small guard huts in front of the sculpture which are manned by various sectors of the armed forces. At six o’clock every evening there is a simple but moving changing of the guard where the guards honour the dead servicemen. In 2000, plaques with the 10,000 names of all the people who died in the conflict were added to the walls that surround the monument, separated out into year and alphabetical order within each year. It is quite sobering to see how many people died as the names continue around the three sides of the Monument. The memorial wall also includes names of people who died in peace and humanitarian operations and there is also a separate sculpture commemorating these people to one side of the Monument. On Portugal Day (10th June) former combatants of the Colonial War gather at the monument to remember their fallen comrades.

Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Memorial wall, Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Monument to Combatents of Peace Missions at the Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon

Behind the Monument is the Capela do Combatente (Combatant’s Chapel), a small chapel which is accessed through a doorway in the memorial wall. The chapel has a simple marble altar, above which is the ‘Mutilated Christ’, a wooden sculpture that survived a battle of 1916 in France and on the back wall there is a replica of the maimed ‘Christ of the Trenches’ crucifix in which Christ has lost a hand and the bottom half of both legs (this watches over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Batalha Monastery and the symbolic importance of this crucifix to Portuguese soldiers dates back to the First World War, as it is all that remains of the crucifix from Neuve-Chapelle which was destroyed in a battle of 1918 and was later donated to Portugal by the French Government in recognition of the Portuguese soldiers’ bravery in the battle). A small passageway leads to a room lit by natural light from a skylight. This room houses the tomb of an unknown soldier whose body was brought back from the Colonial War in Portuguese Guinea and over the tomb is a suspended Christ, symbolically risen from the dead.

Altar of chapel at the Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the chapel at the Monument to the Overseas Combatants, Lisbon

The Monument is surprisingly close to the very popular Belém Tower, where large groups of tourists gather all day long, but thankfully they don’t tend walk as far as the Monument to the Overseas Combatants and it remains a tranquil place to pay homage to the 10,000 people who died in a war that should never have happened.


Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar, Forte do Bom Sucesso, Avenida de Brasília, Belém
Open daily, free access.
Public transport: Tram 15; Buses 714, 727, 729, 751

History, Lisbon, The Lisbon Massacre: a 16th-century Portuguese pogrom

The Lisbon Massacre: a 16th-century Portuguese pogrom

Memorial to the Victims of the Jewish Massacre of 1506, Largo São Domingos, Lisbon

A small unassuming monument in Largo São Domingos is a memorial to a tragic series of events committed against the Jewish population in Lisbon in the early-sixteenth century. The events are known as the Lisbon Massacre and, what in effect was a pogrom, has its roots in Portugal’s relationship with Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries.

In 1492, during the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain (and during the period of rule of the notorious Dominican friar and Inquisitor General, Tomás de Torquemada), thousands of Jews who refused to convert to Christianity had been expelled from Spain and many had taken refuge in Portugal. By the late 15th-century it is estimated that up to 100,000 Spanish Jews had fled to Portugal. The Portuguese King, João II (who reigned from 1481-95), promised to allow the Jewish refugees to stay in Portugal for eight months in return for a payment and also agreed to provide ships for them to continue their journey to other parts of Europe. Unfortunately João II failed to keep his promise to provide ships within the agreed timeframe and those who were unable to leave the country were forced into slavery, while their children were taken from them and shipped (those who survived the journey) to the island of São Tomé off the West African coast.

Things initially seemed to improve for the Jews during the reign of King Manuel I. He restored their freedom when he came to the throne in 1495 and acknowledged the importance of the Jewish families that worked in the area of finance, medicine and print, offering them protection. Several Jewish areas (Judaria) were already established in Lisbon: in the area around Largo do Carmo, near the Praça do Comércio in the Baixa and, in 1457, a third Jewish quarter was created in the Alfama district. However, when it was arranged that Manuel would marry the extremely anti-Semitic Isabella, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, she only agreed to the marriage if he expelled all the Jews from Portugal. As a result, from December 1496 all Jews in Portugal had to either convert to Christianity and become ‘New Christians’ (known as conversos) or leave the country. It is estimated that 20,000 agreed to convert to Catholicism, although many of the ‘New Christians’ continued to practice Judaism in secret.

The Portuguese Catholics distrusted the ‘New Christians’ and in 1506 things were made worse by the fact that there was a drought in the country and the plague was rife. People wanted someone to blame and the Jews, as so often in history, became the scapegoats. In April 1506 things came to a head. It began in the São Domingos de Lisboa Convent on Easter Sunday when a ‘New Christian’ in the congregation questioned a miracle involving a candle giving the appearance of the face of Jesus. The doubter was taken outside and beaten to death. This paved the way for more acts of anti-Semitic violence led by two Dominican friars who promised absolution of sins for anyone who killed the ‘heretics’. A mob (which included foreign sailors from the ships in the harbour) rounded up any Jews they could find, killed them and burnt their bodies or even burnt them alive, while looting their houses. This massacre continued over the following two days, until the King sent the royal guard to stop it. It is estimated that between 1000 and 4000 converted Jews died over the three days.

São Domingos church and the Memorial to the Victims of the Jewish Massacre of 1506, Largo São Domingos, Lisbon

King Manuel later issued punishments to those involved, including burning the two Dominican friars at the stake. However, the seeds of anti-Semitism had been sown and continued to grow, resulting in the Portuguese Inquisition being set up in 1536 (under King João III). The Inquisition lasted until 1821 (although the last public auto-da-fé took place in 1765) and I would recommend reading the wonderful 1982 novel Memorial do Convento (or to give it its English title, Baltasar and Blimunda) by José Saramago, in which the threat of the Inquisition is ever present. During this time many Jews were forced to flee Portugal going to countries like England, Germany and the Netherlands. The impressive Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam is a testament to the thriving Sephardic Jewish community that lived there, before the horrors that occurred in the first half of the twentieth century that decimated the Jewish population.

Portuguese Synagogue, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Memorial to the Victims of the Jewish Massacre of 1506 in front of the São Domingos church was inaugurated in 2008 (around the time of the 500th anniversary of the massacre), marking the spot where the violence began. It is a semi-spherical shape sculpted in stone by Graça Bachmann with a large Star of David in the centre. The inscription on the Star reads:
Em memória dos milhares de Judeus vítimas da intolerância e do fanatismo religioso assassinados no massacre iniciado a 19 de Abril de 1506 neste largo.’
(‘In memory of the thousands of Jewish victims of intolerance and religious fanaticism murdered in the massacre which started on 19 April 1506 in this square.’)

Underneath are the Hebrew years (1506-2006): 5266-5766
On the base of the monument is a quotation from the Book of Job 16.18
‘Ó terra, não ocultes o meu sangue e não sufoques o meu clamor!’
(‘O earth, cover not thou my blood and let my cry have no place!’)

Coimbra, Enduring love and political intrigue: the story of Pedro and Inês, History

Enduring love and political intrigue: the story of Pedro and Inês

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Sculpture of Pedro and Inês, Santa Clara-a-Velha convent museum, Coimbra

The most famous love story in Portuguese history takes us to Coimbra and Alcobaça to learn more about the intense passion between Prince Pedro, the heir to the Portuguese throne, and his mistress, Inês de Castro, and Pedro’s enduring love for her after her death. The story is often described as the Portuguese Romeo and Juliet, but there are also elements of obsessive love and political intrigue reminiscent of Henry VIII’s relationship with Anne Boleyn. The story begins in 1340 when Pedro married Constança Manuel of Villena and she brought her cousin, Inês de Castro, to Portugal with her as her lady-in-waiting. Inês was illegitimately connected to the Castilian royal family and had spent her childhood in Albuquerque Castle in Estremadura in Spain, during which time Afonso Sanches, the illegitimate half-brother of King Afonso IV of Portugal (Pedro’s father), was taking refuge in the castle to escape his brother’s death threats. This connection with Afonso Sanches became a problem when Pedro fell madly in love with Inês and they began a passionate affair. When Pedro’s father found out about their relationship he expelled Inês from Portugal. She returned to Albuquerque Castle where she stayed until Constança’s death in 1345, when she came back to Portugal and resumed her affair with Pedro. Pedro declared that she was his one true love, but King Afonso IV refused to let them marry. The King was distrustful of this relationship partly due to Inês connection to Castile and the possibility that Portugal would become involved in the civil war that was taking place there in which the insurrection against the King of Spain was being led by the son of King Afonso’s arch enemy, the aforementioned Afonso Sanches, further complicated by Pedro declaring himself pretender to the Castile throne in 1354; and partly because if Pedro and Inês were to marry their children would have a legitimate right to the throne which the King wanted to avoid. Despite this opposition, Pedro lived with Inês in Coimbra and they had three children together. However, on a January day in 1355 Inês was arrested and taken to Santa Clara-a-Velha convent where she was beheaded by three assassins acting under the King’s orders.

‘Súplica de Inês de Castro’ (‘The Supplicaton of Inês de Castro’) by Francisco Vieira (aka Vieira Portuense, c.1803), depicting Inês de Castro begging King Afonso IV not to kill her children, Museu de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

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Santa Clara-a-Velha convent, Coimbra

After her murder Pedro’s immediate reaction was to declare a rebellion against his father, which he ultimately did not go through with and they were reconciled by the time of the King’s death in 1357. However, the story does not end there, for once Pedro was crowned King Pedro I he confessed that he and Inês had got married in secret, allegedly at the Igreja de São Vicente in Bragança. But the marriage could not be proven and the Pope refused to recognize it, thus preventing their children from having a legitimate right to the throne.

Not surprisingly various legends have developed around the story of Pedro and Inês over the centuries and while they may not be true they have given it a mythic quality. One legend is that King Pedro I had Inês’ decomposed corpse exhumed and then crowned her Queen of Portugal, insisting that everyone in his court kiss her hand. Another legend is that when Pedro had her assassins arrested he then tore out their hearts and ate them. The myth has been perpetuated through the centuries in art, literature, music and film. There is an Inês de Castro Foundation dedicated to historical research, art and cultural events related to her and Alcobaça has a Pedro and Inês route around the city with ceramics made by local factories depicting episodes from the Luís Vaz de Camões version of the story from Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads, 1572).

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Sculpture of ‘Thrones of Pedro and Inês’ by Thierry Ferreira and Renato Silva, Jardim do Amor, Alcobaça

Canto III, verses 118-136 of Os Lusíadas tells the story of Pedro and Inês, with some artistic licence on the part of Camões, and verse 135, which describes the legend of the Fonte das Lágrimas (Spring of Tears) in the Quinta das Lágrimas in Coimbra, is carved on a plaque at the place where Inês is reputedly said to have been murdered and where, after her death, a spring created by her tears as she was dying allegedly rose.

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Verse from Os Lusíadas, Fonte das Lágrimas, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

‘As filhas do Mondego a morte escura
Longo tempo chorando memoraram,
As lágrimas choradas transformaram.
O nome lhe puseram, que inda dura,
Dos amores de Inês, que ali passaram.
Vede que fresco fonte rega as flores,
Que lágrimas são a água e o nome Amores.’

(‘The nymphs of Mondego long mourned the memory of that dark death, And, in eternal memory, the tears were transformed into a clear spring. The name they gave it, that still endures, came from the love of Inês who spent time there. See the cool spring watering the flowers, whose tears are the water and whose name is Love.’)

A further legend says that her blood still remains on the stones of the channel that is fed by the spring.

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Fonte das Lágrimas, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

Nearby is the fourteenth-century Fonte dos Amores (Spring of Love), where Pedro and Inês carried out their love affair. This is a peaceful place in the grounds of the Quinta das Lágrimas, which is entered through a nineteenth-century gothic arch.

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Gothic arch, Fonte dos Amores, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

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Fonte dos Amores, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

Before walking through the arch there is a wooded area with ribbons hanging from the trees. It has become a tradition to write the name of a loved one on the ribbon and attach it to a tree.

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Ribbons of love, Quinta das Lágrimas, Coimbra

Pedro’s love for Inês did not fade and after ascending the throne in 1357 Pedro ordered tombs for him and Inês to be built at the Santa Maria de Alcobaça Monastery.

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Santa Maria de Alcobaça Monastery, Alcobaça

Inês’ body was moved from Coimbra to her tomb in Alcobaça and after his death in 1367 Pedro was interred in his tomb. The tombs are in the transepts of the church and are made of white marble in an elaborate gothic style. They are unusually placed facing each other rather than side-by-side and both are carved with the phrase ‘Até ao Fim do Mundo’ (‘Until the End of the World’), which is believed to refer to Judgement Day when the first sight they will have will be of each other. Recumbent statues of Pedro and Inês lie on top of their respective tombs and both are supported by angels. Pedro has a dog at his feet to represent fidelity and on the side of his tomb is the Portuguese coat of arms and scenes from the life of his patron saint, Saint Bartholomew. On the end is a wheel of life showing scenes from Pedro’s life and depicting his love for Inês. The tomb stands on lions.

The scenes on Inês’ tomb are more unsettling, with episodes analogous to her violent death, including the crucifixion of Christ and the Last Judgement, where the innocents are shown going to Heaven, the guilty going to Hell and Pedro and Inês reunited in Paradise. Her tomb is supported by figures that are half-men and half-beast, representing the men who murdered her.

Despite damage over the centuries, particularly in the early-nineteenth century when French troops pillaged the church, the tombs are beautiful and both Pedro and Inês look as if they are peacefully sleeping and waiting until the end of the world when they will be together again.

History, Lisbon, The Marquês de Pombal – the liberal despot who rebuilt Lisbon

The Marquês de Pombal – the liberal despot who rebuilt Lisbon

picture 00001 (0403)If you stand on the viewing platform at the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa in Lisbon there is a wonderful view of the Baixa district below with its grid-like streets and spacious squares, and it is hard to image that it wasn’t always like this. But before 1755 the district was made up of narrow winding streets situated behind the large Ribeira Palace (the former royal palace in what is now the Praça do Comércio, which can be seen in the famous panorama of Lisbon c.1700 in the Azulejo Museum).

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Rua de Santa Justa, Graça church and St George’s Castle from Elevador de Santa Justa, Lisbon

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Ribeira Palace and the Baixa district c.1700 (from a panel in the Azulejo Museum, Lisbon)

In 1755 an earthquake that is said to have reached up to 9 on the Richter scale hit Lisbon on the morning of 1st November, followed by a tidal wave. Then fires brokes out all over the city, believed to have been started by candles in the churches lit for All Saints’ Day. Much of the city was completely destroyed, particularly the Baixa district and the Ribeira Palace. Although it is unknown how many people died, it is estimated to be between 30,000 and 90,000; many as a result of the famine that ensued.

At the time, the country was ruled by King José I, who was not interested in governing and was happy to let his Prime Minister, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (1699-1782), better known as the Marquês de Pombal (which he became in 1770), run the country. The Marquês de Pombal is a controversial figure in Portuguese history, as he was a liberal who brought about many reforms, but dealt harshly with anyone who opposed him. He had a no-nonsense response to the situation after the earthquake, summed up in a quotation attributed to him, saying that they needed to ‘bury the dead and take care of the living’. He immediately ordered the precarious buildings in the Baixa to be demolished and, with architects Eugénio dos Santos and Manuel da Maia, set about designing and rebuilding the area in a grid pattern, with low-rise functional buildings, wide streets and large squares, all designed to withstand future earthquakes. He also introduced a sewerage system and wells for clean water to prevent disease spreading. He is even responsible for introducing the calçada (cobbled pavement) to Lisbon. He wanted the Baixa to be the commercial area of the city, with the shops grouped together according to their trade. Today streets in the Baixa still retain the names of these trades, such as Rua do Ouro (Gold Street), Rua da Prata (Silver Street) and Rua dos Sapateiros (Shoemakers Street). The squares of Praça Dom Pedro IV (also known as Rossio), Praça da Figueira and Praça do Comércio were built during this period. The redesign also included retaining the ruins of the Carmo Church as a memorial to the earthquake. The naked gothic arches against the skyline are still one of the most dramatic and sobering images in Lisbon.picture 00001 (0552)

His style of town planning and architecture brought a new adjective, ‘Pombaline’, into the language and with this style he is said to have modernised Lisbon.

As a liberal he wanted to give more power to the middle classes and increase the number of bankers and merchants, in part to finance the rebuilding of the Baixa, but mainly to diminish the power of the aristocracy and the church, in particular the Jesuits. His liberal reforms included abolishing slavery, reforming education, the law, agriculture, industry and trade and giving equal rights to New Christians (former Jews who had converted to Christianity). However, his liberalism didn’t extend as far as people who opposed him; in that respect he ruled like a dictator. He was ruthless in eliminating his enemies, to the extent of implicating some of his opponents in an attempt on the King’s life and having them killed for treason. Political and religious dissenters were imprisoned, he introduced censorship and he was merciless in his suppression of the Jesuits, expelling them from Portugal in 1759 and even having 10 Jesuit priests burnt in one of the final auto-da-fés in Portugal. His period of governance came to an abrupt end in 1777 when King José I died and his daughter, Maria, became queen. He was sacked (not surprisingly, as he had schemed to remove Maria from the line of succession) and then charged with serious offences committed during his 27 years in government. He managed to avoid going to prison due to his advanced years. Despite Queen Maria I’s dislike of him, his legacy of reform mainly survived, except for his religious reforms, which she repealed.

The statue on the Praça do Marquês de Pombal roundabout, built between 1917 and 1934 by the architects Arnaldo Redondo, Adães Bermudes and António do Couto, along with sculptors Francisco dos Santos and (after his death) José Simões de Almeida and Leopoldo Neves de Almeida, is a fitting tribute to the man and his reforms (although it overlooks his darker deeds!). Positioned at the end of the Avenida da Liberdade near the Parque Eduardo VII, the bronze statue of the Marquês de Pombal standing alongside a lion looks down the avenue towards the Baixa area that he created.

At the top of the 40-metre pedestal on which he stands are medallions of men who worked with him: Machado de Castro, Luís da Cunha, Eugénio dos Santos and Manuel da Maia and below them are a list of his reforms.picture 00001 (0393) Lower down the monument are sculptures depicting his main areas of reform, dominated by two large sculptures: on one side an ox pulling a plough alongside agricultural workers, one of whom is carrying a basket of grapes, to represent the agricultural industry; and on the other a horse and a group of manual workers pulling a boat loaded with port barrels and draped with a fishing net to represent the port and fishing industries. The scale and attention to detail is breathtaking.picture 00001 (0043) 0001picture 00001 (0394) 0001 At the back of the monument in front of the mausoleum is a bronze figure of the Roman goddess Minerva symbolizing education. At the front is the prow of a ship with the Lisbon coat of arms and on either side of it are two powerful images of a collapsing building and a tidal wave depicting the earthquake.

Above the prow of the ship is a semi-nude female figure representing the new Pombaline Lisbon. picture 00001 (0396)The fact that the statue was inaugurated in the early years of Salazar’s Estado Novo (New State) can’t be ignored and it played to the nationalist values of the dictatorship. Comparisons can be drawn between the two men, particularly in their fierce intolerance of anyone who opposed them. However, while Salazar’s policies had left Portugal as a backward country at the time of the 1974 revolution, the Marquês de Pombal will always be remembered as the man who rebuilt Lisbon and through his liberal reforms brought Portugal into the modern era.

History, Republic Day, 5th October

Republic Day, 5th October

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Republic Day (Dia da República) is celebrated on 5th October and commemorates the end of the monarchy and the establishment of Portugal as a Republic in 1910. Dissatisfaction with the monarchy had been growing since King Carlos ascended the throne in 1889 due to his weakness, extravagance, reactionary attitude, close relationship with the Catholic Church and attempts at dictatorial rule.

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King Carlos, photo by Vidal and Fonseca, National Coach Museum, Belém

By 1908 he, along with his very unpopular Prime Minister João Franco, had alienated most sectors of the country. At the same time the Portuguese Republican Party was gaining strength, with an agenda aimed at making the country socially and politically stable. On 1st February 1908 King Carlos and his son and heir to the throne, Luís Filipe, were assassinated in the former Terreiro do Paço (Palace Square, what is now the Praça do Comércio) in Lisbon.

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Italian magazine cover showing the assassination of King Carlos and Prince Luís Filipe, Lisbon Story Museum, Lisbon

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Praça do Comércio, Lisbon

The attack is not believed to have been carried out by the Republican Party, but by one of the secret societies (such as the Carbonários), which had activists in their ranks, and it is possible that the intended target was the detested João Franco rather than the royal family. King Carlos’ 18-year-old younger son became King Manuel II and his ineffectual rule witnessed seven changes of government in two years, during which time republicanism was spreading among the urban population, including the army and navy. By early October 1910 large numbers of the armed forces were starting to rebel and were outnumbering the royalist forces. On the night of 4th October 1910 the Republican forces attacked the Palácio das Necessidades where the King was staying. He escaped initially to Mafra and then fled the country, living the rest of his life in exile in the United Kingdom until his death in 1932. By the morning of 5th October 1910 the royalist troops were defeated and Portugal was declared a Republic. A provisional government came into power, led by Joaquim Teófilo Braga, which introduced liberal reforms, including separating the Church and the State. The anti-clerical stance of the government made it very unpopular in rural areas. The first election was held in May 1911, but it marked the start of a period of instability marked by repression, anarchy and military uprisings. There were 45 changes of government in 16 years and in 1926 there was another revolution which paved the way for Salazar’s Estado Novo (New State) and 48 years of military dictatorship until Portugal finally gained democracy after the ‘Carnation Revolution’ in 1974.

Two of the symbolic changes made after the 1910 revolution are still used as official symbols of Portugal today: the flag and the national anthem. The royalist blue and white flag was replaced with the current green (representing hope) and red (representing fight) flag with the Portuguese coat of arms in the middle. The national anthem was replaced with ‘A Portuguesa’ with its rousing lyrics:

Heróis do mar, nobre povo, / Nação valente, imortal, / Levantai hoje de novo / O esplendor de Portugal! / Entre as brumas da memória, / Ó Pátria, sente-se a voz / Dos teus egrégios avós, / Que há-de guiar-te à vitória! / Às arma!, Ás armas! / Sobre a terra, sobre o mar, / Às armas! Ás armas! / Pela Pátria lutar / Contra os canhões marchar, marchar!

(Heroes of the sea, noble people, / Brave nation, immortal, / Rise up again today / Portugal’s splendour! / Through the mists of memory, / Oh Fatherland, hear the voice / Of your illustrious forefathers, / That will lead you to victory! / To arms! To arms! On land, on sea, / To arms! To arms! / To fight for our Fatherland / Against the cannons march on, march on!)

The 5th October is a public holiday in Portugal, but it is fair to say that it has been superseded in importance by Freedom Day (25th April), when the Portuguese overthrew another dictatorial leader.

History, Restoration of Independence Day, 1st December

Restoration of Independence Day, 1st December


The first of December is a public holiday in Portugal which celebrates the restoration of Portuguese independence after 60 years of Spanish rule from 1580-1640. It all began when Dom Sebastião, the boy-king (he became king at the age of three) made a very misguided attack on Morocco in 1578 resulting in the 24-year-old king’s death, along with 8000 of his troops, including most of the male line of the Portuguese royal family.

‘Portrait of King Dom Sebastião I of Portugal’ by Cristóvão de Morais c.1570-75, in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

This reckless act ultimately resulted in Portugal losing its independence to Spain. After Sebastião’s death his great-uncle Cardinal Henrique became king, but as he was old and childless there was a succession crisis. There were several claimants to the throne, the three main ones being grandchildren of Dom Manuel I: Felipe II of Spain; Infanta Catarina, Duchess of Bragança; and Dom António, Prior do Crato (an illegitimate son of Dom João III’s brother). António was the popular choice and when Dom Henrique died in 1580 António became Dom António I. However, Felipe II invaded Portugal almost immediately and António fled to France allowing Felipe to take the throne and become Filipe I of Portugal.

The 60 years of Spanish rule were ultimately disastrous for Portugal. Relationships with Portugal’s two former allies, England and Holland, were broken as Portugal was seen to be associating with Spain, the enemy of both countries. The English were angry that the Spanish Armada was being equipped in Lisbon and Filipe I forbid Portugal to trade with the Dutch, resulting in the Dutch taking over the spice trade routes that Portugal had monopolized up to that point. During this time a myth developed around Sebastião based on an idea that he wasn’t really dead and would one day return to rule Portugal. Several men claiming to be Sebastião appeared during this time. After Filipe I’s death, the two subsequent kings, Filipe II and Filipe III, showed no interest in Portugal and spent very little time there.

The disenchanted Portuguese, led by João, the seventh Duke of Bragança (and the grandson of Infanta Catarina, Duchess of Bragança), planned a coup and on 1 December 1640 they stormed the royal palace in Lisbon and assassinated the secretary to the governor. This resulted in João taking the throne and being crowned Dom João IV.

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Portrait of Dom João IV, attributed to José de Avelar Rebelo, in the Museu Nacional dos Coches, Belém

However, the Spanish would not give up Portugal easily and a 28-year War of Independence was fought, which finally ended in 1668 with a Portuguese victory. The House of Bragança ruled Portugal until 1910, when the last king of Portugal was assassinated and the Republic was proclaimed.

The 1st December is celebrated in Lisbon with a parade down the Avenida da Liberdade, accompanied by military bands, and a ceremony in the Praça dos Restauradores attended by politicians and the armed forces, where wreaths are placed on the ornate monument to the men who fought in the War of Independence.

Praça dos Restauradores, Lisbon

Praça dos Restauradores, Lisbon

Praça dos Restauradores, Lisbon

Freedom Day, 25th April, History

Freedom Day, 25th April

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Soldiers during the ‘Carnation’ Revolution, Museu Guarda Nacional Republicana, Lisbon

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Newspaper reports of the ‘Carnation’ Revolution, Lisbon Story Museum, Lisbon

Walk around any town or city in Portugal and you will see streets and squares named after significant dates in Portuguese history: Avenida 24 de Julho in Lisbon, Rua 31 de Janeiro in Porto, Avenida 5 de Outubro and Rua 1° de Maio in Faro and Largo 1° de Dezembro in Portimão. Since 1974 many streets and other public places have been named after the most recent significant event in Portuguese history, the Carnation Revolution of 25th April 1974. The most famous example is Ponte 25 de Abril (25th April Bridge) in Lisbon, the former Salazar Bridge, which was renamed after the revolution.

The revolution ended the dictatorship which had oppressed the country since 1926. During that period one man had dominated Portuguese politics, António de Oliveira Salazar, who was prime minister from 1932 to 1968. He was an economist and during his years as prime minister he created a ‘New State’ and brought about economic recovery, but his economic policies meant that the country wasn’t able to develop and many people lived in poverty and had a low level of education. The New State was an ultra-right-wing dictatorship: it was nationalist, conservative, Catholic and colonial. There was widespread censorship, repression of political dissent and elections were rigged. People who spoke out against the regime were arrested and tortured by the secret police force, the PIDE. In the African territories of Angola, Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) and Mozambique the 1960s and early 1970s were marked by the Colonial War, where the indigenous people were fighting for independence from Portuguese rule. There was a large Portuguese military presence in these territories and enormous amounts of money were being spent on this war. Many members of the military who had fought in Africa had become critical of the amount of money and lives being wasted in these conflicts and were in favour of these countries gaining independence. General António de Spínola, who had served in Guinea, voiced these opinions in a book entitled Portugal and the Future. A group of army rebels comprising left-wing officers who opposed the regime formed the MFA (Armed Forces Movement) and began plotting a coup.

By 1974 Salazar was dead. In fact, he hadn’t been prime minister since 1968 when an accident left him brain damaged. He died in 1970, but his successor, Dr Marcelo Caetano was continuing his legacy. The MFA planned the revolution to take place on 25th April 1974 and shortly before midnight on 24th April a radio station played a pop song which signalled the start of the revolution and at a little after midnight on 25th April another radio station played the song which has become synonymous with the revolution, ‘Grândola, Vila Morena’ by José (Zeca) Afonso. Afonso was a political folk musician and much of his music was banned from being played on Portuguese radio by the regime. The song’s lyrics begin: ‘Grândola, sunburnt town / Land of brotherhood / It is the people who give the orders / Within you, oh town’.

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Street art of José Afonso on Rua 25 de Abril, Lagoa. ‘Em cada esquina um amigo‘ (‘On every corner a friend’) is a line from the song ‘Grândola, Vila Morena’.

At this signal the army rebel troops began taking over key strategic places throughout the country. Caetano and his ministers took refuge in the GNR headquarters in Largo do Carmo, which the rebel troops surrounded, forcing Caetano to surrender and go into exile. Amazingly, it was an almost bloodless coup and the name ‘Carnation Revolution’ comes from the red carnations that were put in the barrels of the soldiers’ rifles as a symbol of this lack of bloodshed.

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Gun with carnation from the 1974 revolution in Museu Guarda Nacional Republicana, Lisbon

Political stability didn’t come immediately and the period after the revolution was chaotic with several provisional governments and a counter-coup. The first free elections since 1926 were held in April 1975, but it wasn’t until late 1975, when another planned coup failed, that there were the beginnings of stability. However, Portugal was in turmoil for quite a few years after the revolution. The new left-wing provisional governments began undoing the economic policies of the Salazar regime, by nationalizing industry and distributing land to the peasants. The military were withdrawn from the African territories and it was agreed to give these countries independence, but as a result many Portuguese who had lived for decades in these countries fled to Portugal, causing an unprecedented influx of people into the country.

Freedom Day is a public holiday in Portugal. The main celebrations are in Lisbon where there is a march down Avenida da Liberdade, led by a tank followed by political parties, left-wing groups and unions. Some towns and cities hold musical concerts. Many people carry or wear a symbolic red carnation and join in with singing ‘Grândola, Vila Morena’, which continues to have significance as a song of freedom.