Portugal & Spain - the Iberian brothers [Part I] www.wikipedia.org
The Iberian Peninsula seen from space

Portugal and Spain share the same portion of land, the Iberia. The Iberian Peninsula is the third largest European peninsula; it is separated from the continental Europe by the Pyrenees in the northeast and from Africa by the Strait of Gibraltar, in the south. The water borders of Iberia are the Atlantic Ocean in the North, West and Southwest, and the Mediterranean Sea in the Southeast and East. The Iberian Peninsula is also home to the Principality of Andorra, the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar and the French Cerdagne sub-territory.

Over the centuries many people lived in the region. The Lusitanians resided in the territory of modern day Portugal; that is why we still call Portuguese people “Lusos. The Celtiberians were also a very influential people in the Peninsula. The Greeks and Carthaginians fought for the control over the seaports in the Iberia until the Roman Empire arrived in the Peninsula around 218 BC. Trajan, Hadrian and Theodosius the Ist are some of the most important Roman Emperors from Hispania (Roman name for the Iberia).

The germanic tribe of the Visigoths dominated Iberia after the 5th century until the invasion of the Arabs in 711 AD. The Moors (the name given by the Iberians to the Arabs) called the Peninsula Al-Andalus and had the important Caliphate of Cordoba to rule over Iberia. The Reconquest started from the small Christian Principality of Asturias in the North mountains of the Iberian Peninsula, and ended in 1492, when Castilian and Aragonese forces conquered Granada, the last Arabic refuge in the peninsula. 

All these and a few other people that lived in the peninsula left a common history to Portugal and Spain. These people influenced the Iberian life, they gave new words to our languages and they also brought some improvements to our agriculture system and businesses, but the invaders were also influenced by the Iberian Peninsula.

The Reconquest left Iberia divided by Kingdoms: Léon (the successor of the Kingdom of Asturias), Castile, Navarre, Aragon and Portugal, and they remained divided for many years. Both Kingdoms fought during the Reconquest with the same goal in mind: to expel the Moors from the Peninsula; but they also had wars between them. Léon and Castile united their kingdoms and became a greater threat for the new Portuguese Kingdom which was trying to get recognition of their independence. With the Treaty of Zamora in 1143 Portugal became the first country in Iberia. Spain was born as a country after the union of the Castile and Aragon Kingdoms in 1469.

5 years after, Portugal and Spain signed the Treaty of Tordesillas where the unknown world was divided between them and turned the Iberian countries into the two great powers and the center of the world in the 15th century.

During the centuries many were the ones who wanted an Iberian Union. The two countries were actually united for a short period of 60 years (between 1580 and 1 of December 1640) under the rule of Filipes, the King of Spain, but it did not work out very well. Portugal rebelled against the Spanish King and got back its independence; in the same year there was a revolution in Catalonia against Spain. Portugal was luckier than Catalonia, which remained under the rule of Spain and is still trying to get back its independence to this day.

Both countries were under dictatorships for about the same period of time, they were both neutral powers in the Second World War, they joined the European Union together in 1986, and the Euro zone in 1999. Since then, the relations between the two Iberian countries have seen some improvements, but it is common between Portuguese people to say that "from Spain comes neither good wind, nor good marriage". Due to the fact that many wars began because of succession crises, it was normal to arrange marriages between princes from the two sides in an attempt to make peace, but when a king without an heir died, it usually started battles for the throne, awakening the discord.

Our relations are now stabilized, and Portuguese people call Spanish people as "nuestros hermanos" (our brothers), because of our cultural similarities. Even though our languages are similar, many Spanish people cannot understand Portuguese, but the opposite is true for the Portuguese people, most of them understand Spanish and they can even speak a bit of Portunhol/Portuñol (the mixture of Portuguese and Spanish).

The Galicians are different from the rest of Spain. It is common for them to say that they like Portugal more than Spain; and the North of Portugal and Galicia remained in good relations until nowadays. Galicia wants to join the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP - Comunidade de Países de Língua Portuguesa) because Galician and Portuguese Language have the same roots, but they need the approval from the central government in Madrid. The Galician Academy of the Portuguese Language (Academia Galega da Língua Portuguesa) have already obtained the status of observer in the CPLP.

Nowadays, the Iberia still has a big diversity of languages, but the most spoken ones are Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Galician and Basque. Spanish and Portuguese became global languages during the Age of Discovery, and now there are more native speakers of Spanish than English around the world (6.15% of the world population). Portuguese is now spoken by 3.27% of the world population. The fact that if you speak one of them you can practically understand the other one, makes them very useful languages to learn. 

Spain and Portugal are very linked now in economic relations; being neighbors and being part of the European Union helps with the transaction of goods and services. Spain is the first destination of the Portuguese exports and its supplier of products, which provokes a debit balance for Portugal (around 7 billion Euros in 2013). The Portuguese exports to Spain have been increasing and the import of products is decreasing, these are good signals for the Portuguese economy. Looking from the Spanish side, Portugal is its third client (7,5% market share) and its eighth supplier (3,9% of the market share).

Spain occupies 85% of the total of the peninsula, and the other 15% is Portugal. The Spanish population is four times higher than the Portuguese population. In the top 20 most populated cities of the Iberian Peninsula we find only 3 Portuguese cities: Lisboa, Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. The urban areas of Madrid and Barcelona are the first in the top 5 Iberian urban areas, followed by Lisboa and Porto, with Valencia closing the list.

The relationship between Portugal and Spain had their ups and downs, but in the last century, the two countries have made big improvements in their relations. So, on the one hand we have good relations with Spain, but on the other hand we still remember our history classes where we learnt about the disputes between the two neighbors. Due to the good relations from the last century, we prefer not to talk about our “unfinished business”, but we remember them from time to time, like the territorial disputes between Portugal and Spain that I will write about in my next article.


This is the first of three articles about Portugal and Spain. In the second article I will focus on the territorial disputes between Portugal and Spain. In the last article, I will talk about the Iberismo (Iberian Federalism).

(As a Portuguese, the article shows my Portuguese point of view, feel free to share your Spanish point of view in the comments) 

Edited by Catalina Ghelan