An independent kingdom since 1143, Portugal is one of the oldest nations in Europe. The region was first inhabited by Neanderthals and later by Homo sapiens, however there weren't any permanent settlements until the first millennium BC when the Pre-Celts and Celts dominated the landscape.
In 868 AD, during the Reconquista period, Christians conquered the Iberian Peninsula, and the First Country of Portugal was formed.
Then, around 1128, the Battle of Sao Mamede occurred. Count of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, defeated his mother, and thereby established himself as sole leader. Upon his proclamation of himself as King in 1139, Henriques officially declared Portugal independent.
During his reign, Henriques and his successors pushed southward to drive out the Moors, and in 1249 as the Reconquista came to an end the capture of Algarve on the Southern coast gave way to Portugal's present day borders.
In 1415, the Portuguese set sail on epic voyages that would make them the first to discover the ocean routes to India, Brazil, China and Japan, and at the same time establish settlements on the east and west coasts of Africa. This brought economic prosperity to Portugal, and its population grew to nearly 1.7 million.
Amidst their good fortune, Portugal's independence faltered between 1580 and 1640 when the last two kings died without producing heirs. Philip II of Spain claimed the throne of Portugal, and thus governed the country along with Spain, briefly forming a union of the two kingdoms.
This joining of unions deprived Portugal of a separate foreign policy, and inevitably pushed them (because of Spain) into the middle of the Eighty Years' War. Portugal's involvement with the war strained the relationship with their longest ally, England.
To add insult to injury, from 1595 to 1663 the Dutch-Portuguese War involving many Portuguese colonies and commercial interests in Brazil, Africa, India and the Far East, resulted in the loss of the Portuguese Indian Sea trade monopoly.
As the nation grew more upset and disgruntled, John IV, the King of Portugal and the Algarves, spearheaded an uprising. This revolt sparked the Portuguese Restoration War with Spain, and ended the sixty-year period of the Iberian Union under the House of Habsburg.
In 1755, Sebastiao de Melo, the talented son of a Lisbon squire, became Prime Minister, and brought more economic and financial success to Portugal in the form of companies and guilds to regulate every commercial activity. His strong-handed rule of imposing strict laws against all classes of society, however, gained him enemies in the upper class.
On the morning of November 1, 1755, a powerful, magnitude 9 earthquake struck Portugal, and completely leveled the city of Lisbon with a subsequent tsunami and fires. Not deterred by the misfortune, Sebastiao de Melo immediately set forward to rebuild the city.
The current king of Portugal, Jospeh I, was impressed with his Prime Minister's success, and granted Sebastiao even more power, which he used to transition himself into a powerful and progressive dictator. His increased power gained him more enemies, and bitter disputes with the upper class grew.
After the death of Joseph I, Portugal's new ruler, Queen Maria I, the first undisputed Queen regnant of Portugal immediately withdrew all of Sebastiao's political offices, and his powerful dictatorship came to an end.
Over the next century, or so, Portugal began a slow economic decline, which was accelerated by Brazil (a Portuguese colony). Brazil, Portugal's wealthiest colony, declared its independence in 1822, a movement caused by a series of economic and political disputes between Brazil and Portugal.
By the turn of the 20th century, social turmoil, economic disturbances, protests, revolts and critics of the monarchy prevailed. The new King of Portugal was overthrown, and by 1910 republicanism was instated.
Those weaknesses created a fertile ground for chaos and unrest, which was further aggravated by the Portuguese military intervention in World War I, and ultimately led to a military coup d'etat in 1926 and the creation of a national dictatorship.
As World War II raged in the 1940's, Portugal was among one of only five neutral European countries. It did however grant both British and American armed forces access to some key areas, including the Azores, to help protect Allied shipping in the mid-Atlantic.
From the mid-1940s to the 1960s, Portugal was a founding member of NATO, OECD and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). White mainland Portuguese citizens were relocated into Portugal's overseas colonies of Angola and Mozambique.
By 1975, for a wide variety of reasons, all of the valuable Portuguese African territories were now independent and Portugal held its first democratic elections in 50 years. However, the country continued to be governed by a military-civilian provisional until 1976.
In 1986, Portugal joined the European Economic Community (EEC) that later became the European Union (EU). In the following years Portugal's economy progressed considerably as a result of its EU associations.
Macau, Portugal's last overseas territory, was handed over to the People's Republic of China in 1999. Then, in 2002, the independence of East Timor (Indonesia) was formally recognized by Portugal, and the days of Portugal's colonial rule were over.
In 2011, the economic disruption from the late-2000s financial crisis led Portugal to negotiate with the IMF and the European Union, for a loan to help the country stabilize its finances.
Although its role on the world's economic stage has waned some from its 15th and 16th centuries hay day as a global maritime power, Portugal remains a vital part of Europe, and one of the real tourism gems on the continent.
And we can't end our brief description of Portugal without a few words on soccer. The Portuguese football first-division league is one of the best leagues in Europe, and the country's national team is noted as one of the best in the world. If you travel to Portugal you should grab the soccer fever, as the country's passion for the sport is an epidemic worth catching.