Stella and Rose's Books Logo

Stella & Rose's Books

Specialists in Rare & collectable books

Portugal - The Most Advanced Society in Southern Europe

Well that was in the middle of the nineteenth century!

What have the Portuguese done for us? (To paraphrase Monty Python)

Hans Christian Andersen, best known today for his children's Fairy Tales was, in his time, best known as a writer of travelogues. Andersen visited Portugal in 1865-66 and was extremely impressed with the country, the modernity of its railways, the neatness of its towns and the courtesy of its people (still true today - well at least the courtesy bit!) In contrast, he thought Spain was backward and disordered! Portugal at this time led the way in education and had developed new ways to help the children learn their own language, which right now I could use as I'm currently struggling to learn Portuguese!

Today we probably think of Portugal as it was in the great days of its exploring seafarers such as Bartolimeu Dias, who first rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and Vasco Da Gama who we think of as the discoverer, as far as Europe is concerned, of India, which he reached in 1498 (although actually, another Portuguese adventurer had already reached India in 1488). But these tremendous maritime exploits do highlight the pre-eminence of Portuguese shipbuildingnavigation and charts at that period. The Portuguese were very conscious of the advantage this knowledge gave them and at one point seriously considered banning all foreigners from Lisbon!

In the late 1500's Jews were expelled from Portugal and many settled in Holland and in Turkey. The Jews in Turkey sent tulip bulbs to their relatives in Holland and the rest , as they say, is history.

These emigrants from Portugal also took to Holland their knowledge and skills of the diamond trade and diamond cutting, for which Holland remains world famous today and sadly not Portugal. From the West Indies the Portuguese brought chocolate (from the Aztec 'xoco-atl' meaning strong water) and established the Dutch chocolate industry.

Today we think of the chilli as a typically Asian ingredient with its use in Indian, Thai and Chinese cuisine. Think Portugal again. The Portuguese introduced the chilli to Asia from Brazil, so you could say that the curry we now enjoy in the West would not exist without the Portuguese. For you “hot” curry fans we have the Vindaloo – Portuguese again. The name comes from “carne de vinha d'alhos," which is a dish of meat, usually pork, with wineand garlic. Carne (meat) + Vinha (wine) + Alhos (garlic) = Vindaloo!

But what could be more quintessentially British than...tea? Again we have Portugal to thank for the nation's favourite drink. The Portuguese brought back tea from China and when Catherine of Braganca married King Charles II she took with her - tea and, it is claimed, an appalling taste in clothes! By the way her dowry also included the gift of Bombay in India from which started the British colonisation.

So when you hear today of Portugal's economic woes, think of its glory days and what Portugal has given the rest of the world.

Contributed by Cliff

(Published 28th Oct 2014)

Related Stock