Portuguese Art & Culture

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Art & Culture

Portuguese culture is diverse and finds expression in ways that give Portugal its unique personality; like the history, local traditions, the cuisine, the people’s love for performing art

Portuguese culture is diverse and finds expression in ways that give Portugal its unique personality; like the history, local traditions, the cuisine, the people’s love for performing art. During the summer there are many local festivals where the Portuguese celebrate their culture and enjoy activities such as traditional dance, music concerts and the theatre amongst many other things.

The Portuguese have a great tradition of art, music, dance and drama. An indication of how important the arts are to the Portuguese, is that following the death of Amalia Rodrigues “the Queen of Fado” (Portugal’s national music) in 1999, 3 days of national mourning were observed.

History of Portugal

Portugal gained its independence in 1143 and is one of the oldest countries in Europe. There are many significant times in Portuguese history, amongst the more important being: the Discovery Period, regaining independence from Spain, the Great Earthquake of 1755, the founding of the Republic that ended the monarchy, the revolution of the Carnations that led to the end of fascism and the beginning of the current democracy, the accession to the European Economic Community (EEC) and the implementation of the new currency, the Euro.


During the 15th century fine art flourished and this became the first great age of Portuguese paintings. Some of the most exceptional examples from this period are now on display in Lisbon’s Ancient Art Museum.

At the end of the 15th century a great number of Flemish paintings were imported with a consequent influence on Portuguese art, but in the beginning of the following century a unique Portuguese style was developed called Manueline. One of the most popular Manueline painters was Grão Vasco and his paintings can now be admired in a museum in Viseu named after him. The 17th, 18th and 19th century was characterized by portrait paintings followed by the romantic, naturalist and realist movements. Portugal has also made great contributions to the modern and contemporary art scene with names like Paula Rego, arguably the most acclaimed and praised living Portuguese artist, whose work is filled with references to Portuguese life and culture.

Museums and art galleries can be found all over the country with the highest number in Lisbon. One of the many popular art galleries in the capital is The Jose of Azeredo Perdigao Centre of Modern Art where there is a great exhibition of paintings made by Portuguese artists. The National Museum of Historic Art offers a very interesting collection of painting, sketches and ceramics as well as various city artefacts and is also worth a visit.

Portuguese cuisine is very diverse and various from region to region. In particular, and thanks to the easy access to the sea, Portugal has amazing fresh fish and sea food and this is found on virtually every menu. The national dish is dried salted cod called “Bacalhau” and there are many variations – in fact there are said to be 365 different ways of preparing it, one for each day of the year. Grilled sardines, horse mackerel and sea food rice are also popular dishes.

Another traditional dish is called “Cozido a Portuguesa” which is a thick stew of vegetables made with various kinds of meat. The most popular desserts are flan, caramel custard or a cinnamon-flavoured rice pudding.

Portugal also has fantastic bread and many delicious pastries; a particularly tasty pastry is called “Pastel de Nata” and is a small custard tart sprinkled with cinnamon.
Portugal also has a long tradition in wine production with port wine being the best known, today high quality wine is produced all over the country.

Customs and Etiquette

The Portuguese people are generally quite traditional and conservative, but also very pleasant, nice and extremely polite. When you first meet someone the initial greeting is very polite and maybe a bit reserved, but once a personal relationship has been established, greeting becomes more personal going from a handshake to kisses on each cheek – twice on each starting with the right.

When addressing someone, the Portuguese are again quite formal and use the titles “senhor” and “senhora” as well as “doutour” and “doutoura” (doctor). It is a good idea to use the formal rather than the informal case until otherwise is suggested.

It is normal etiquette to bring flowers, sweets or chocolate (but not wine) if you are invited to a Portuguese home for dinner. Be careful with what flowers you choose though; red is the symbol of the revolution, so don’t give red flowers and as lilies and chrysanthemums are used for funerals these are not the best choice either.

Holidays and Celebrations

Portugal has many spectacular festivals and celebrations. Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December like in the UK, and throughout December there are lot of festivities all over Portugal. In February during the three day period before Ash Wednesday, people celebrate the Carnival or the “Entrudo” which is the beginning of Lent. It is celebrated with parties, dances and colourful parades in the streets.

In May millions of Catholics from all around the world embark on a Pilgrimage to Fátima about 100 km north of Lisbon. On May the 12th there is a candlelight parade and on the 13th pilgrims and devotees from all over the world gather at the sanctuary to mark the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to the Shepherds in 1917. Portugal’s National Day is on the 10th of June when lots of different cultural activities all over the country help to celebrate Portugal’s independence. One of the biggest food festivals is the National Gastronomy Festival in October, where traditional and regional food and wine can be enjoyed together with the sounds of traditional Portuguese music. All Saints Day on the 1st of November is a holiday all over the country when people visit cemeteries and decorate the graves of their departed loved ones.

Film and Theatre

Portugal has never had a strong tradition in theatre and drama; however in the 20th century a new form of drama emerged. It was called “Revista” and was a mixture of comedy and satirical drama and it became hugely popular amongst the Portuguese. Many other forms of theatre have lately been developed and nowadays almost every type of theatre can be seen in Portugal. Portugal also hosts the big International Theatre Festival of Almada.

Portuguese film production is rather small with an average of ten films per year. The movies generally treating more serious topics expressed in an arty way; it is very rare that Portuguese film get exported.


Portuguese literature is rich and varied. During the 15th and 16th century it spread to the rest of the world as a consequence of the many Portuguese maritime voyages of discovery. These expeditions also resulted in a rich travel literature and expanded the Portuguese language to other countries. Portuguese literature contains all genres from lyric poetry, renaissance drama and realist novels to historical writing documenting Portugal’s rulers and conquests.

Portuguese literature in modern days is characterised by a large number of female writers and a resurgence in poetry and novels. In 1998, one of Portugal’s most well-known authors, José Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

Music and Dance

The Portuguese are musical people and Portugal has a great and diverse music scene. Internationally Portugal is mostly known for Fado which dates back to the 18th century. It is a melancholic type of music that tells different stories of life. Amalia Rodrigues who died in 1999 was one of the most popular Fado-singers of all time. The group the Madredeus have obtained international recognition for their Fado and folk-inspired music. Regional folk music is still very popular in Portugal and in many cases it has been modernized and updated. Other popular music styles in Portugal are more modern acts like rock, hip hop and metal.

Portugal also has a great tradition for traditional dance, and especially during the many festivals in the summer time you will be able to enjoy Portuguese folk dances like Circle dance, Fandango or Corridinho which is a traditional dance performed especially in the Algarve region.

Sport and Games

Football is definitely the most popular sport in Portugal and also the most practised. The national team is amongst the higher-rated teams in both Europe and the world and many talented players like Ronaldo and Figo come from Portugal

Portugal also has a great tradition in athletics and has achieved remarkable performances in this sport as well as water sports like windsurfing, kayaking, sailing and kite surfing.

Amongst the older generation, traditional games like Jogo do Sapo (Toad Game) and Jogos de Queijos (Cheese Game) are a popular way to keep active. The traditional games are a friendly and cultural gathering where the main objective generally is to have fun.

There are also still some bullrings left in Portugal, but the passion for bullfighting is not as widespread as earlier or as with their Spanish neighbours.

For more information on Portuguese Culture and on buying Property for sale in Portugal contact the team at Portugal property by sending your emails to: info@portugalproperty.com or feel free to call anytime from 8am to 8pm on 0800 014 8201