Padro dos Descobrimentos. Monument in Lisbon.

Former Portuguese Colonies

The former Portuguese colonies are a diverse set of nations located all over the world. Portugal was one of the first European countries to engage in exploration and colonization during the Age of Discovery, beginning in the 15th century. It created a network of colonies that spanned five continents: EuropeAfricaSouth AmericaNorth America, and Asia. These former Portuguese colonies have helped shape their respective regions and their interconnections with the rest of the world and have left a lasting legacy that can still be seen today. This article will explore this history and how these former Portuguese colonies are making their mark on the world stage in modern times. While colonization did bring some good, mostly in the form of education and access to medical advancements, it is important to note that the legacy of colonization is mostly negative as it repressed the rights of the people who lived in these regions. However, for better or worse, this is the history of Portugal's Colonial Empire.

Portugal's Colonization Of Africa

portuguese africa
A Portuguese church in Miserikordia, Mozambique, serves as a reminder of the Portuguese colonial rule in the region. Editorial credit: Yury Birukov /

Portugal's colonial empire started with Ceuta, Africa. Portugal seized this port from the Moors in 1415 and would later use it as a base for further colonial conquests. Portugal then established trading posts, settlements, and eventually colonies across Africa. Portugal's colonization of Africa was driven by the search for new resources, markets, and slave labor to carry out Portugal's imperial ambitions. Portugal's colonization of Africa lasted for centuries, leaving behind a lasting legacy that can still be felt today. Portugal established numerous African colonies, including AngolaMozambiqueCape VerdeGuinea-BissauSão Tomé and PríncipeEquatorial Guinea, and parts of modern-day Ghana

Portugal's Colonization Of North America

he Portuguese mapped and claimed Canada in 1499 and the 1500s.
The Portuguese mapped and claimed Canada in 1499 and the 1500s.

Portuguese explorers first reached North America in the 15th century when Gaspar Corte-Real explored Newfoundland and Labrador. Portugal's main interest in North America, and specifically Canada, was its rich fishing opportunities. Indeed, Portugal founded a few colonies, such as Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, Portugal Cove, and St. John's Island in Canada. Portugal was not an imperial power in North America for long, however, and its colonial presence only lasted about a century before Portugal's dominance waned, and other European powers replaced it. Indeed, Portugal would abandon its North American colonies and shift its focus and efforts to South America.

Portugal's Colonization Of South America

Portuguese colony brazil
A scene from the Brazilian War of Independence to attain freedom from Portuguese colonial rule. Painting by Pedro Américo.

Portugal first turned its attention to South America in the 16th century, when Portugal began to explore and establish its presence in what would become Brazil. Portugal was particularly interested in Brazil because of its vast natural resources and potential for economic development. Portugal's colonization of South America lasted until 1822 when Portugal recognized Brazil's independence after the Brazilian War of Independence. Portugal remained a major imperial power in the region, however, and Portugal continued to hold onto its colonial possessions in the South American continent until the late 19th Century. Portugal had colonies in VenezuelaParaguayUruguayPeruArgentina, and Ecuador and some of these nations still maintain strong ties with Portugal today. Portugal's colonization of South America shaped the region significantly, politically and economically. However, Portugal is also remembered for its involvement in the slave trade and its role in repressing indigenous peoples. 

Portugal's Colonization Of Asia

Portuguese colony in Asia
A fishing boat sailing past Fortim Do Mar, an ancient Portuguese island fort off the coast of Diu near Gujarat. Editorial credit: balajisrinivasan /

Portugal began colonizing Asia in the 16th century when Portugal established the Estado da Índia Portuguesa (Portuguese State of India), a political entity that Portugal held onto until its dissolution in 1961. Portugal's colonization of Asia was mainly driven by its imperial ambitions, with Portugal setting up trading posts and settlements primarily in coastal areas to take advantage of the lucrative trade opportunities that could be found there. Portugal also established colonies in IndiaIndonesiaTimor-LesteMacau, and Sri Lanka as part of its Portuguese Estado da Índia Portuguesa. Portugal's colonization of Asia had a lasting impact on the region, and Portugal's influence can still be seen today in these former colonies. Portugal's colonization also had a heavily negative impact on its indigenous populations, with Portugal exploiting the region's resources and repressing its native peoples. Portugal's Colonization of Asia did not end until 1999. As such, its colonial legacy is still strongly felt to this day. 

Portugal's Colonization Of Europe

While Portugal is a country in Europe that didn't dismay it in expanding its colonial empire in the region. Portugal colonized parts of Europe, such as Portugal's Colonies in the AzoresMadeira, and the Cape Verde Islands. Portugal's colonization of Europe was mainly motivated by its desire to increase its political influence and expand trading opportunities. Portugal's colonization of its colonies in Europe has left a lasting legacy on Portugal's culture, and Portugal is still heavily influenced by the immigrants who came to Portugal during its colonial period. Portugal's colonization of Europe also had a dark side, with Portugal engaging in the slave trade and exploiting its colonial subjects. Portugal's colonization of Europe is an important part of Portugal's history and continues to shape Portugal today.

Map of the Portuguese Empire at its greatest extent.

In conclusion, Portugal was an early player in European exploration, colonization, and imperialism. Portuguese explorers were among the first Europeans to explore North America, Africa, and South America. Portugal established numerous colonies during its peak, many of which still exist today. Portugal's colonial legacy is controversial, with Portugal engaging in the slave trade and exploitive practices in its colonies that have left lasting damage on former colonial subjects. Portugal's colonialism has had an undeniable impact on Portugal as it exists today. However, Portugal continues to be shaped by its past imperial ambitions. Portugal's past colonialism is an important part of its history, and Portugal's colonial legacy can still be seen around the world today.


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