Why is Portugal so tidy and rectangular?

Looking at a map of the Iberian peninsula the other day and I was struck by how tidy and rectangular it is, tall and narrow.

Why is that?

A river on the northern border and a river on the eastern border. It’s quite logical, especially compared to some European nations.

This is the same Portugal with various rivers along the border? I grant it extends more to the north and south than to the east but it never resembled a rectangle… As for the south of Portugal, they had to get that back from the Moors.

You mean from the Mops? :slight_smile:

You mean from the Moops?

We must be looking at different maps. It’s really quite untidy. I wonder if you might be being tricked into thinking it’s rectangular because its alignment is roughly North-South. If it were at more of a slant, it would just look like another oddly-shaped country.

Several rivers on the eastern border.

What are you all getting on about? Portugal’s borders are only briefly delineated by four rivers: the Minho in the north, the Douro in the NE, the Tagus in the middle of the eastern border (but incidentally while the river itself is flowing east to west!), and the Guadiana in two separate sections along the eastern border to the south. Of the border with Spain, only about a fifth of it is river.

The reason for the seeming regularity of the borders is simply that the County of Portucale was established as a subdivision of the kingdom of Leon, Galicia and Asturias. It initially included the part now owned by Spain as Galicia; that was separated off amicably in the Tenth Century, I believe.

Later, the Count of Portugal took advantage of weakness on the part of the kingdoms of Castile and Leon, and joined his county (which for some time had been operating quite independent of Leon) with the County of Coimbra. These when joined became the nascent Kingdom of Portugal after the Battle of São Mamede in 1128. In that battle, the Portuguese defeated the troops from Leon, sent to re-establish control. From then on, for the most part, Portugal and the kingdoms that became Spain were on relatively good terms.

Algarve was added at the bottom when the Portuguese drove out the Moors.

As for why it’s shaped the way it is: basically, it’s everything inland from the Ocean for a certain distance. That’s partly by design, partly happenstance.

ETA: forgot about the River Chanca in the SE, adding a small distance of border.

Thank you for the elaborate post! I was trying to say that I have never ever looked at a map of Portugal and thought, “rectangle” (nor ever seen France as a hexagon, for that matter). Borders limned by natural features (including but not limited to rivers) and random county limits always have that fractal look, the way I see them. But your point that Portugal was always (roughly) a strip stands.

At least it doesn’t look like the double penis and scrotum that Norway, Sweden, and Finland form. Who thought that was a good look for Scandinavia?


You want a map of a real rectangle, look at the US state of Colorado!

Or even states bordering it, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, & New Mexico. Look at the neat 4-corners spot between Colorado and those last 3.

Oh, I’m with Northern Piper on this one. The whole Iberian peninsula looks a lot like a 3x3 grid, with Portugal claiming the lower two squares in the left column and the remaining seven boxes belonging to Spain.

No, it’s not Wyoming or Saskatchewan, and it works best if you don’t look too closely, but pretty rectangular for a country whose borders are in large part affected by some other’s borders as well.

—but France as a hexagon? Nah…

So, they lost the game of Iberian tic-tac-toe.


Slartibartfast. He one an award for Norway, you know … all done in fjords, of course …

An oblique answer to this is that delineating boundaries on maps is a relatively recent practice. Before that, they followed on-the-ground practicalities, of geography or inherited local ownerships; maps, insofar as they existed at all, followed on, and to modern eyes look much more haphazard. So the shape on the map would have been meaningless.

(This sort of compares with the discussion on other threads about the boundaries of political constituencies, where it seemed to matter what the shape on the map looked like, which seems to me an odd concept).

So where did that award from from, again?


Oh no, they had to get all of it back. It’s only that the first part of the “getting it back” was done under a different name, but then, it was done back when people from Iberia were still trying to figure out that if your capital changes constantly, it makes sense to name your realm something different from your capital.

DPRK writes: “nor ever seen France as a hexagon, for that matter”

I’ve never been able, either, to buy into the French thing of likening the country to a hexagon. On the map, it looks to me like a pentagon: the base thereof being France’s southernmost stretch from the Bay of Biscay at Hendaye, following the Franco-Spanish border to the Mediterranean, thence the Med. coast to Menton and the Italian border – this southernmost limit of the country making a not-particularly-wiggly line, and pleasingly forming a fifth side of five all – roughly – comparable in length. One is apt to assume that French logic-and-order-hyper-consciousness forbade the sensible lumping-together of a “land” stretch the length of the Pyrenees, and a “shore” one the length of the Mediterranean coast, and calling that a “fifth side”.

Well, it’s tough to win when you get only two turns to your opponent’s seven.

Perhaps Portugal was simply not paying attention?

It’s been a commom problem in Spanish-Portuguese relations that directly lead to the War of the Portuguese Succession.