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Essay/Term paper: What are the main contrasts to be found in portugal?

Essay, term paper, research paper:  World History

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What Are The Main Contrasts To Be Found in Portugal?

When answering a question such as this, one must primarily begin by
pointing out that not only does Portugal have a great many contrasts within its
land, but also that it contrasts greatly with the other Mediterranean countries.
Portugal is not to be considered by any means as Spain's poor neighbour, nor
should a shadow be cast over it by such a formidable nation. Portugal has a
great deal to offer any visitor, it is not merely a tourist's paradise, yet this
is regrettably how it is viewed by a large number of individuals. One must also
not forget Portugal's history of being, in days gone by, one of the greater
maritime nations, one of the more advanced exploring countries of Europe. Whilst
Spain was occupied with discovering the Indias and consequently the Americas,
Portugal was itself busy exploring Africa and making its own invaluable
discoveries, although these are for the most part overlooked.

Being situated on the westernmost edge of Europe and the Iberian
Peninsula, Portugal enjoys a relative privacy and independence from the rest of
Mediterranean countries. Bordering on Spain on two sides and the sea on the
others, the nation as naturally turned towards the sea, from which it draws both
its strength and wealth and turned its back on its greatest rival, Spain. Due to
its constant waves of invasion throughout the ages, Portugal is a vastly diverse
land, not only in geographical terms but also in terms of heritage. It is true
to say that Portugal does share a number of similarities with Spain, but it is
by no means identical. Rather it is a nation which blends Moorish influences,
British tradition and Mediterranean culture to form a truly unique land of

When considering the diversity of a country such as Portugal, the
mention of which immediately conjures up a melange of images from North African
to Western European, from hot and balmy weather to snow capped mountains, one
must really begin by describing the two principle factors, those of climate and
geography, which themselves are interwoven. These in turn have a great effect
on and to a certain extent bring about other differences which can be noted
within the narrow confines of this nation, such as those of vegetation, economy
and landscape.

On examining Portugal in terms of contrasting regions or areas, one must
obviously have a starting point and that is generally considered to be a
comparison between north and south, the River Tagus (Tejo) being the dividing
line. However, Portugal can naturally be divided into three great natural
regions, the North- West Atlantic, the North-East and the south. It is here that
one truly becomes aware of substantial differences, therefore it is from this
point where one must begin.

Although one might imagine the climate of Portugal to be almost the same
as that of Spain, due to it geographical position this is not so. The country
is much more open to the Atlantic winds which in the winter warming influence,
ensuring temperatures seldom drop below seven degrees Celsius. In the summer,
the opposite is the case, the Atlantic wind have cooling influence which
maintains temperatures reasonably lower than the interior, where they can reach
about forty two degrees Celsius.

Generally speaking, the high, mountainous land of the north enjoys a
humid Atlantic climate which maintains the soil well-watered and fertile, making
it possible for it to be covered in a rich mantle of vegetation. The south in
comparison is far less mountainous, it is more gently rolling, the climate
itself not being as extreme as in the north. The region known as the North-West
Atlantic tends to have a rather plentiful amount of rainfall, whilst the North-
East enjoys a more continental climate, whose extremes are felt both in the
summer and in the winter.

Due to the variety of climates, which can be noted in Portugal, it
should not be unusual to discover that the country also produces a number of a
different crops, making the agriculture a considerable factor. Fishing, (Which
was once the most important factor in the economy, but which sadly has become
less so due to the introduction of EC regulations), textile,(also important
since 1960s), and tourism, (which has unfortunately shown a decline in the last
ten years due to the overdevelopment of the country and the deviation of holiday
makers from Europe to other continents), are also major factors, which together
make have always been of great importance to the country and carry on being so,
although nowadays other factors have been added. These are all common to the
country as a whole , but there are obviously regions where such produce is more
easily grown and found.

One might easily decide to device Portugal once again into three parts,
the three great natural regions which have previously been mentioned, yet
contrast exist within such large areas that this is nor really feasible. It
would be much easier to compare different regions of the country individually,
because although some similarities may be noted, there are also a number of
contrasts to be made.

The area around Coimbra and along the western coast of the country is
one where the farming and fishing are the main sources of income. Along the
coast, covered with extensive sand dunes, a small number of fishing villages
still remain, whose catch regrettably is on a rather small scale. The farms
which exist in this area are small, (the properties being divided amongst heirs),
and their methods somewhat primitive compared with those elsewhere in the
country, yet the crops which are produced are substantial. At low-level, crops
such as maize, wheat and barely are produced. Fig trees are also kept and vines
known as "vinhas de enforcar", (hanging vines), are grown everywhere in the
fertile land of this region. At sea-level rice is grown and at high-level olive
trees are kept which produce a good quality oil.

Salt is also plentiful in this region, which in turn means that this
area of the country has all that it requires for salt preservation of fish right
on its own door-step.

In the very north-east of the country, in Tars-os-montes, larger fields
are used to produce cereal crops such as wheat, rye and barely, which are
capable of withstanding harsher climates. However, in the northern area, more
specifically in the Douro region, the winter climate is mild and the summers
warm or hot. The infertile land found here makes it necessary for fields to be
small and a variety of crops to be grown such as maize, and barely, along with
potatoes, vegetables and chick-peas. At high altitude cherry and apple trees
blossom, whilst at lower altitude near the coast, a few orange and apricot
trees may be seen. Fishing around the coast is fairly important, with catches of
sardines, tunny, crab and lamprey, plentiful. Due to the mineral composition of
the soil and intensity of the sunlight, a very special wine is produced in this
area called " vinho maduro", otherwise called port wine, renowned for its
sweetness. In Minho, in the northern most coastal corner of Portugal, a wine
known as "vinho verde" is produced, its name coming from the greeness of the
grapes. This is due partly to the fact that they are harvested slightly earlier
than is usual and also to the fact that they are grown so close to the sea,
where the Atlantic winds do not allow them to fully reach maturity.

The Douro region is one with a variety of economies, not only replying
on agriculture as its source of income, but also on wine production, fishing and
textile industry around Guimaraes, famous for being the chief centre for
Portuguese linen. Also important are Braga, best known for its fine cotton,
manufacture of firearms and cutlery and Oporto, renowned not only for its
textile industry but also for its production of requirements for the wine
industry, (bottles, corks and barrels). One could quite reasonably argue that it
is here that one encounters the greatest contrasts to be found in Portugal, in
this richly diverse region.

The areas along the coast of Portugal known as Estremadura and the Tagus
Plains, one of the most ancient provinces, is the richest plain of the country,
with intensely cultivated fields and an abundance of orchards and cork-oak
woods. The climate of this picturesque region is extremely mild and the scenery
immensely varied, made up of wild limestone, rocky cliffs and wooded hills. Much
of the vast land is flat and low-lying and sparsely populated. the crops grown
here, much the same as those further north are wheat, barley, maize and rice.
Almost every farm grows its own vines and lemon, orange and olive trees.
Livestock is also important to this area; along the River Tabus, bulls, reared
for Portuguese bullfighting , graze and in the Ribatejo area, fine horses are
bred. The fishing industry along this cost is important as is fish preserving,
due to cheap labour, the proximity and high quality of the olive oil (produced
at Abrantes) and cheap salt which is evaporated near by.

South of Lisbon, the landscape begins to take on a different aspect.
Alentejo, nearest to the Tabus, begins by being made up valleys. Its climate is
rather more continental than regions further west, encouraging the growth of
pine trees, whose products: resin, turpentine, and pit props, have been an
important element of the economy. Cork-oak trees are of mayor significance to
this area as they make up a large and valuable export for the nation.

Cereals produced here are primarily wheat, barley and maize, which are
grown in small plots around the more plentiful cork and olive trees. The land,
in contrast to regions further north, such as the Douro Valley, is not divided
into small parcels, rather it is divided into vast estates, limiting both the
number of crops and their variety.

The Algarve is another rather diverse region in itself. It is
geographically divided into two separate areas, made up of mountains in the
north and relatively flat coastal lands. The weather here is mild, with warm
winters, scant rainfalls and sunny skies, making it natural paradise for
tourists from northern Europe. The region however, is not merely appealing
solely for its tourism value, agriculture of fresh fruit, ( oranges, peaches,
pomegranates, bananas, plantains, figs and almonds), olives, cereals, (wheat,
barley and maize) is also encouraged. Fishing of sardines, anchovies, and tunny,
and in the coastal waters, of shell-fish, lobster and crayfish are also
important, as is intense garden cultivation.

One can see how vastly diverse Portugal is, not only from its other
Mediterranean counterparts but also within its own confines. It is the geography
and climate, which are responsible various regions, although some similarities
may be observed. One would not find it possible, when viewing the nation in
terms of contrasts, not to draw comparisons between the produce and economies of
the different regions and merely discuss climate and geography in a general
manner, as this would be glossing over the question and not portraying Portugal
in its true form. However, in order to fully appreciate the diversity of this
land, one must visit the country and see for oneself, by exploring it not
interested in discovering more about the land, the culture and the people which
make up Portugal, not merely by lying on the beaches of the Algarve.


British Admiralty
(Naval Int. Division) Spain & Portugal Vol. 2 1942

Gottmann, Jean A Geography of Europe 1969

Hoffman, George W. A Geography of Europe 1969

Way, Ruth A Geography of Spain & 1962


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