5 cool Portuguese inventions

The Portuguese have invented the Via Verde. This is an electronic toll collection system (think: A22) which completely sucks, according to Enjoy the Algarve and 83.9%* of the other people living in the south of Portugal. Apart from this utter fiasco, luckily they’ve also invented some pretty awesome stuff. Here are the coolest Portuguese inventions in history.

(*we’ve guestimated this percentage (read: made it up)).

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine April 2016


1. Portuguese guitar

What? A plucked string instrument with twelve steel strings, first used in the 13th century amongst troubadour and minstrel circles. It comes in two models: the Coimbra and the Lisboa guitar.

Why is it cool? It’s unmissable in Fado, Portugal’s best-known folk music, which consist of singing and playing on a Portuguese guitar. Also: nowadays these guitars are still built in Portugal the traditional way. Families have passed on their knowledge and craftsmanship from generation on generation of guitarreiros. Instruments made by the Grácio family are considered one of the best.

More info: Also the ukulele, the gaita transmontana (a kind of Portuguese bagpipe), and the adufe (a square tambourine) were invented by the Portuguese.

Picture below by Luis Benard da Costa Ghude


2. Caravel

What? A small, highly manoeuvrable sailing ship, developed in the 15th century for exploration voyages into the Atlantic Ocean and along the West African coast.

Why is it cool? The caravel made oceanic exploring and the spice trade possible. It was more agile and easier to navigate than the previously used barca and balinger. Its lighter weight, shallow keel and lateen sails meant that the marine vessel could sail close to the wind at high speed, as well as sail upriver in shallow coastal waters.

More info: Other Portuguese maritime inventions include the cantino planisphere (the earliest extant nautical chart) and the chip log (a tool to estimate the speed of a vessel through water).

Picture below by Lacobrigo


3. Pyreliophorus

What? A solar oven. The Portuguese priest Manuel António Gomes, aka Padre Himalaya, created the first version of this device that was similar to a high intensity burning glass in 1899.

Why is it cool? It uses solar energy to heat things up. Which is quite common nowadays, but not in 1904, when the invention won three medals in the St Louis World’s Fair. Also, the pyreliophorus is quite a beast; it consists of 6177 small mirrors reflecting the sunlight and concentrating it into a single point. This way, temperatures of almost 3800˚C could be reached: hot enough to melt metal!

More info: Because of his invention, Manuel António Gomes was offered a US citizenship. However, he declined, claiming he wanted his product to be useful to the agriculture and industry of Portugal.


4. Pastel de nata

What? A light flaky puff pastry tart with a slightly burned creamy custard filling, first created in the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon.

Why is it cool? Do you really need to ask? It’s a legit excuse to have cake for breakfast! It’s only 35 cents at Aldi! It’s a perfect reason to stuff your face with yumminess! Just say something like: “I know, I meant to eat healthy today, but this is just me integrating in the Portuguese culture by honouring their gastronomic heritage.”

More info: Just try one yourself. And read Typical Portugal in our June 2015 issue.


5. Rechargeable prepaid GSM service

What? A mobile phone for which credit is purchased in advance of service use. The first rechargeable mobile prepaid card, Mimo, was launched in September 1995 by TMN, the mobile phone operator of Portugal Telecom.

Why is it cool? Pay-as-you-go is brilliant for people who don’t spend half of the day with their phone glued to their ear and thus don’t need an expensive contract. It’s also pretty good for travellers who can buy a prepaid card for every country and thus avoid high roaming costs.

More info: the first non-rechargeable prepaid GSM cards were also invented in 1995, but a bit earlier and in Germany. However, they weren’t a success as they were for single use only.



See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine April 2016

Posted in 5 algarvy things.