The Flag of Portugal: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

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Written by Taiwo Victor

Published: December 12, 2022

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Flags never consist of a haphazard collection of hues, designs, and symbols. While some flags are more appealing, the colors and designs are not selected just because they look good. Flags signify liberty or control, threat or protection, depending on where they are raised. Flags are best known in modern society as national symbols because they combine a nation’s past, present, and future into one. So, what does the Portuguese flag represent historically, symbolically, and in terms of meaning to its people? This article uncovers everything you need to know about the flag of Portugal and other interesting facts.

Portugal’s Distinctive Features

Portugal, also known as the Portuguese República Portuguesa, is a nation in southwest Europe located along the Iberian Peninsula’s Atlantic coast. Portugal, formerly the most powerful country in continental Europe, has geographical and cultural bonds with both Mediterranean and northern European nations. The Algarve region in the country’s south is sunny and fertile, in contrast to the country’s sparsely populated, picturesque, wild northern coast and hilly interior. The highest point of the Portuguese mainland sits in the rough Estrela Mountains (“Star Mountain Range” or Serra da Estrela), which are situated between the Mondego and Tagus rivers.

The Flag of Portugal Through the Years

In 1095, under the rule of Count Henry, a square white flag bearing a dark blue cross was adopted as the first Portuguese flag. Almost five decades later, Afonso I became ruler in 1143, and he specifically changed the flag by adding five sets of 11 silver bezants to both arms, signifying his powers to produce money. Where the bezants were built, King Sancho I constructed a crucifix created of blue shields.

The crown was altered in 1667 to a more renowned five-arched crown. King John V changed the shield to take on a “French form” and added a red beret beneath the crown. King John VI designed the shield in 1816 and added a yellow sphere with a blue infill to resemble Brazil’s coat of arms. The flag was in use up until the monarchy’s demise in 1910.

The Current Portuguese Flag

The flag of Portugal

The Portuguese flag is known by two names: Bandeira Verde-Rubra and Bandeira das Quinas.

The modern Portuguese flag was created in 1910 after the uprisings that deposed the royal family and declared a republic on October 5th. A new national flag was designed without any remnants of the monarchy.

Artist Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro and author Abel Botelho were part of a special group that created the flag. Their assignment was to design a flag that represented modern Portugal. The two primary colors of the flag as we know it — green and red — are separated vertically. An armillary sphere in yellow and a shield in red can be seen in the center of the flag.

The flag is known by two names: Bandeira Verde-Rubra (Green-Red Flag) and Bandeira das Quinas (Flag of the Five Escutcheons), a combination of contemporary Portuguese and Latin.

Colors and Symbolism of the Portuguese Flag

The shield on the Portuguese flag symbolizes Portugal’s past wins.

The colors of the Portuguese flag — green and red — are usually the first thing people recognize. The committee responsible for designing Portugal’s flag claimed that green represented hope for the future and red represented all of the blood of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to establish Portugal as a republic. The flag has more red than green, which equates to more “blood” than “hope.” This depicts the typical Portuguese viewpoint, which frequently focuses on the past and is depressing.

Although that justification was idealistic, it wasn’t sufficient to satisfy everyone. Even with its connections with the monarchy, many people favored the old white and blue flag. Except for monarchists, nobody uses it anymore.

The Meaning of the Symbols on the Portuguese Flag

The Portuguese shield in red and the armillary sphere in yellow are the two primary symbols on the Portuguese flag, and here’s what each of them means:

The Armillary Sphere

Portugal, Europe’s westernmost nation, was a prominent figure during the European Age of Discovery and Exploration. During the explorations, astronomical instruments called armillary spheres were used to navigate the seas. According to legend, the Order of Christ in the Knights Templar’s Grand Master, Henry the Navigator, invented the device.

Over the course of the discoveries, this device was added to D Manuel I’s flag. It also became a representation of colonialism and a significant component of the flags of the upcoming Brazilian kingdom.

In order to symbolize the “golden age” of maritime expansion, the Portuguese flag’s designers added an armillary sphere during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Red Portuguese Shield

A red shield is placed over the yellow armillary sphere in the flag’s center. Apart from the flag during Afonso I’s rule, this shield has appeared on nearly every past version of the Portuguese flag.

The red section is topped by seven yellow castles, and the inside is white with five tinier blue shields. Five white dots can be found on each of the blue shields.

  • The shield on its own symbolizes Portuguese wins in the past.
  • Although this is just a hunch, it is thought that the seven castles symbolize the castles that the Portuguese reclaimed from the Moors.
  • The five smaller blue shields stand in for the five Moorish kings who were assassinated by Afonso I, the first King of Portugal, during the Moorish era when they ruled the Tarifas of Beja, Seville, Elvas, Badajoz, and Évora.
  • Each blue shield contains five white dots, one for each of Christ’s five wounds.

And that, in a nutshell, is the Portuguese flag.

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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