Any itinerary for a visit to Bangkok, Thailand would include some of the city's must-see historical and cultural sights:
- The 24-hour flower market (Pak Khlong Talat) filled to the brim with jasmine-scented garlands, fragrant carnations, roses, orchids, and marigolds.
- Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha built in the 18th century CE by King Rama I (r. 1782-1809 CE) and featuring a giant Buddha covered in shiny gold leaf.
- Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha where a tiny jade Buddha statue sits high on a multi-tiered pedestal.
- Jim Thompson's house built by the self-made American businessman who single-handedly revived the Thai silk industry in the 1950s CE.
- Chatuchak market where over 15,000 stalls offer everything from jewellery to pet food, or MBK shopping centre with its eight floors packed with leather goods and electronics.
Strolling through the streets of Thonburi, on the right bank of the Chao Phraya River, you may be surprised to see the colourful Barcelos rooster - the national symbol of Portugal - proudly displayed at the entrance to the Baan Kudichin Museum, a museum dedicated to celebrating the long-standing Thai-Portuguese relationship. Along Soi Captain Bush - a side street named after the English sea captain, John Bush (1819-1905 CE) - is the oldest European embassy in Bangkok, built in 1860 CE by the Portuguese.
You will find traces of Portuguese influence in the Thai language, in Thai cuisine, and colonial architecture throughout Bangkok. These traces extend back to the time when Thailand was known as Siam, and the capital was the kingdom of Ayutthaya. What has been the extent of Portuguese influence? Let us find out.
The Portuguese Arrival in Thailand
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to make contact with Siam. They arrived in Ayutthaya in 1511 CE after capturing the port of Malacca (then known as Melaka) and sought a mutually beneficial relationship with the Thais. News of the attack on Malacca and rumours about the strength of the Portuguese military power had reached King Ramathibodi II (r. 1491-1529 CE), who may not have been entirely surprised to see a Chinese junk sail up the Chao Phraya River. Aboard was a diplomatic mission sent from Malacca by the Portuguese admiral and military commander Afonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515 CE) to justify the capture of the trading port, which was a tributary state of Siam. A Portuguese Malay-speaking tailor who had been imprisoned in Malacca was given the task of establishing friendly relations between the King of Portugal and the King of Siam.
During the reign of King Chairacha (r. 1534-1546 CE), 120 Portuguese served as royal bodyguards.
King Ramathibodi II was presented with a golden sword in a diamond-studded sheath and a ruby ring. He accepted the Portuguese capture of Malacca, and so began a series of diplomatic and trading missions between Malacca and Ayutthaya, culminating in the signing of a trade treaty between the Portuguese envoy, Duarte Coelho Pereira (c. 1485-1554 CE), and the king of Ayutthaya. In exchange for gunpowder, muskets, and advice on military strategy to fight a war against the kingdom of Chiang Mai (northern Thailand), the Portuguese were granted land in the southern area of Ayutthaya, and the Portuguese settlement, known as Campos Portugues, had grown to over 3,000 inhabitants by the time Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in 1767 CE. Craftsmen and merchants, priests and soldiers, along with Portuguese citizens and their families who wanted to settle on the fringes of the Portuguese empire in the East (known as Estado da India), had made their home on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River.
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During the reign of King Chairacha (r. 1534-1546 CE), 120 Portuguese served as royal bodyguards, while others served as mercenaries in Ayutthaya's endless disputes with neighbouring countries. The Portuguese were not entirely loyal to the Thais. When the Burmese attacked Ayutthaya during the Burmese-Siamese war of 1547-1549 CE, Portuguese mercenaries in the Siamese army came under fire from fellow countrymen in a contingent of mercenaries fighting with the Burmese.What is left of Campos Portugues - the ruins of the San Petro church and an excavated pit of graves containing the preserved skeletons of Portuguese settlers - can be seen today at the Ayutthaya Historical Park, which is 80 kilometres (49 mi) north of Bangkok.
Following the fall of Ayutthaya, King Taksin (r. 1767-1782 CE) moved the capital 80 kilometres (49 mi) downstream to the garrison town of Thonburi (pronounced “Tonbury”) and declared it the new capital. Thonburi was a customs port and strategically located at a bend in the Chao Phraya River, making it defendable, and the Portuguese were given a piece of land on the bank of the river to start a new community and permission to build a Catholic church - the Santa Cruz church.
Santa Cruz Church in Kudeejeen
The Kudeejeen community in Thonburi is not on the well-beaten tourist track. It is located in the Wat Kanlaya subdistrict of Thonburi, and the people who live there today are predominantly a mix of Thai Catholics, Muslims, and Buddhists. Portuguese heritage can be seen in the facial features of the Thais who live in Kudeejeen (also known as Baan Kudichin), and walking down the streets and narrow soi (laneways) towards the cream-coloured Santa Cruz church, one of the oldest Catholic churches in Bangkok, you may catch a glimpse of Portuguese azulejos (traditional glazed ceramic tiles) and Christian crosses in the entryways and open doorways of the neighbourhood's squat houses.
►DID YOU KNOW?
Should you visit Kudeejeen, you may hear about Phi Hua Phrik (Chilli Head Ghost). Like many cultures around the world, Thai culture is soaked in superstition. Spirit houses are often placed in the gardens of family homes, and offerings are made to the ghosts believed to be on the property to keep them happy. It was a common belief in the Kudeejeen community that if children did not return home when the Santa Cruz church bells rang at 6.00 pm every evening, the friendly ghost of Phi Hua Phrik would kidnap any recalcitrant children and play with them until he was bored. A Phi Hua Phrik doll can be seen at the Baan Kudichin Museum.
Baan Kudichin Museum
Tucked down an alleyway in Kudeejeen is the Baan Kudichin Museum, an elegant two-storey, colonial-style building that was the former home of a Catholic family. It celebrates the friendship between Thailand and Portugal and preserves furniture and historical artefacts from Thai-Portuguese homes that once existed in the neighbourhood. There is a cafe on the ground floor inside the museum (with colourful azulejos) where you can try Sappayak Bun - a traditional Portuguese savoury bun sprinkled with tamarind and stuffed with potato, chilli, and minced pork. It is cooked over a tao or old-style charcoal burner.
►DID YOU KNOW?
At the Baan Kudichin Museum, you will see plastic models of the food and plants the Portuguese introduced to Thailand. Did you know they introduced sweet potato from Brazil, as well as cassava, papaya, pineapple, sunflowers, cashew nuts, and chillies?
On the wall at the entrance to the museum and inside the cafe, you will also see the famous Portuguese rooster. As with so many folktales handed down through generations, the legend of the Rooster of Barcelos (Galo de Barcelos) changes according to who is telling it, but the common theme is that a pilgrim from the Spanish province of Galiza was passing through Barcelos in north-west Portugal some time in the 15th century CE.A theft of silverware had the nervous inhabitants of Barcelos looking for someone to blame, and the pilgrim was arrested and sentenced to hang. He pleaded to see the local magistrate and was taken to his house, where a banquet was being held. The magistrate refused to believe in the man's innocence, but the pilgrim pointed to a roasted rooster on a silver platter and said, "It is as certain that I am innocent as that rooster will crow when they hang me." Everyone laughed, but the rooster came to life, and the pilgrim was exonerated. The Barcelos rooster became the Portuguese symbol of faith, good luck, and justice.
The Conception Community
North of the Kudeejeen neighbourhood is another area where Portuguese traders were granted land by a Thai king. In 1674 CE, King Narai the Great (r. 1656-1688 CE) allowed a church to be built on his private land in what is now Samsen Road in the Dusit district. The Ayutthaya king was welcoming of missionaries, both Portuguese and French, and promoted religious freedom. The Church of Immaculate Conception (also known as Wat Khamen) that can be visited today was built in the Neo-Romanesque style in 1847 CE and is thought to be the oldest church in Thailand.
the Neo-Romanesque bell tower was added In 1883 CE by the Austrian architect Joachim Grassi (1837-1904 CE).
Over the centuries the original wooden church, which was destroyed when the Burmese attacked Ayutthaya in 1767 CE, was rebuilt several times and, in 1785 CE, it became a spiritual shelter for Khmer refugees fleeing civil war in Cambodia. In 1832 CE, the church also sheltered Vietnamese who left their country because of religious persecution. The Vietnamese helped to expand the church and joined the Portuguese congregation, earning the Church of Immaculate Conception another name - Bot Buan Yuan (Vietnamese Village Church).
The 1847 CE reconstruction was supervised by the influential French missionary, Monsignor Pallegoix (1805-1862 CE), who taught Latin to Prince Mongkut (1804-1868 CE). The young prince ascended the throne in 1851 CE as King Rama IV (r. 1851-1868 CE). One of the original versions of this church, called Little Church or Wat Noi, could be the older building that is behind the current church.The front of the church faces the Chao Phraya River and the first thing you will see in the courtyard is a rockery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The interior is a traditional Roman Catholic church featuring statues brought from Portugal. Many descendants of the Portuguese traders who built the original church are buried in the adjacent cemetery. In 1883 CE, the Neo-Romanesque bell tower was added by the Austrian architect, Joachim Grassi (1837-1904 CE).
►DID YOU KNOW?
The Portuguese language has influenced some of the words in modern-day Thai. The Thai word for bread - pang - comes from the Portuguese word pão. Words adopted from a foreign language are known as loan or borrowed words. Soap is another example. It is sapao in Portuguese and saboo in Thai.
Many Thai egg-based desserts are closely related to Portuguese delicacies. Fios de ovos is a traditional Portuguese sweet also known as angel hair and is made from egg yolks drawn into thin strands like pasta and then boiled in a sugary syrup. In Thailand, you will see basically the same dish - Foi Thong - golden egg yolks drizzled into sugary water to create a long, sweet golden string.
How to Get There
To visit the Portuguese village at the Ayutthaya Historical Park, which is located at the southern end of the park in Tambon Samphao Lom, travel from Bangkok by riverboat, mini-bus or car, but the train is the most scenic and relaxing way to travel to Ayutthaya. Trains depart regularly from Bangkok's Hualamphong station. Entrance to the park is free.
To get to the Kudeejeen neighbourhood, Santa Cruz church, and Baan Kudichin Museum, take the Chao Phraya River express boat. Get off at Memorial Bridge and walk across to the Thonburi side. Look up and you will see the Santa Cruz church rising high above the rooftops. The opening hours for the museum are here. Admission is free but a donation is always appreciated.
You can reach the Church of the Immaculate Conception by taxi from BTS Victory Monument or by the Chao Phraya express, alighting at Thewet Pier and then turning left into Samsen Road and left again into Samsen Soi 9.One of the first things you should do before exploring the Portuguese influence in Bangkok is to sample one of the many delicious cakes and desserts, and nothing is better than foreigner cake, made with duck eggs and topped with candied fruit.
Bangkok's Portuguese Past - History
In July 2002 the 1960s-era Siam Intercontinental Hotel, at the time one of the most architecturally unique and beautiful hotels in Bangkok, surrounded by 26 acres of gardens, was demolished to make way for the construction of the Siam Paragon, a large high end shopping mall resembling a large concrete and glass box. Like the Siam Intercontinental, much of Bangkok's interesting and historic architecture and character is being swept away to clear the way for the construction of modern and soul-less shopping malls, condominiums, and office towers. By law, any building more than 100 years old is protected, but a large part of Bangkok's most interesting history occured much more recently than that. This site is an effort to document and preserve some of Bangkok's recent history.
The main project concerns the hotels of the 50s, 60s and 70s, including the Atlanta, the Florida, the Miami, King's, the Ambassador and Chavalit,the Windsor, the Crown, the Rex, the Grace, the Nana the Rajah, the First, the Prince, the Opera, the Liberty, the Federal, the Malaysia, the Rose, and many others. As Bangkok becomes a city of shopping malls and condominiums, it's colourful, more interesting past should be preserved. The hotels of this era remain as some of the few remaining living monuments to this age. Oldbangkok.com hopes to preserve their memory before they fall under the wrecking ball, to be replaced by other sterile monuments to consumerism and pretentiousness.
If you have any photos or stories of some of Bangkok's older hotels please email us at comments @ oldbangkok.com
For another view of Bangkok's interesting past visit here
Another one bites the dust! November 15, 2010 - The Aree Hotel has recently been demolished to make way for yet another condominium development.
December 8, 2008 - New historical images of the Dusit Thani, the Rajah, and the Chavalit Hotel have been added.
The Dark Side of Portugal’s Economic Success Story
October 3, 2019
A view of a burnt house after a fire at the village of Roda in central Portugal in July 2019. (AP Photo / Sergio Azenha)
Activists from Stop Despejos (Stop the evictions) and local families assembled outside the gray headquarters of the housing ministry in Lisbon on June 4, with placards saying, “There’s a housing crisis” and “No more property speculation,” and chants of “Homes for all!”
Translated by George Miller.
This essay continues our exclusive collaboration with Le Monde Diplomatique, monthly publishing jointly commissioned and shared articles, both in print and online. To subscribe to LMD, go to mondediplo.com/subscribe.
A few days earlier, 10 police officers evicted Maria Nazaré Jorge, 83, from her city-center apartment. “She’d lived there for 40 years,” a representative of Stop Despejos told me. “The contract was in the name of her aunt, who died recently. The rent was 200 euros a month. Because property prices in the city center have rocketed, the landlord took the opportunity to evict her.”
After an hour, a small delegation was allowed inside. A ministry spokeswoman announced that the 83-year-old had been given temporary accommodation until a permanent solution could be found. The Stop Despejos representative told me, “She’s been depressed and disorientated since her eviction. She’s living on her own up in Castelo, the city’s most touristy district, where the only public transport is the 28 tram, which is crammed with holidaymakers.”
In 2012, Pedro Passos Coelho’s center-right government (in power 2011–15) amended the housing law in favor of landlords, making it easier to increase rents at the end of a lease and to evict tenants to renovate properties. Portugal, crippled by the credit crisis of 2008, had come under the control of “the troika”—an alliance of the IMF, the Central European Bank, and the European Commission—in 2011. The Commission made the deregulation of the housing market and the development of tourism conditions of its €78 billion bailout.
Perks for foreigners
Portugal has tried since then to enhance its fiscal attractiveness as a stimulus to the real estate market. Since 2012, “golden visas”—five-year residence entitlements for non-EU foreigners who buy property in Portugal worth over €500,000—have brought in €4 billion. Non-habitual residency (NHR) status, which offers tax advantages, is available to EU pensioners who buy homes in Portugal.
“Another law, from 2014, regulating Airbnb-type rentals, lets property owners make €3,000 a month renting to tourists, compared to getting €300 from a Portuguese tenant,” said Luís Mendes, a member of Morar em Lisboa (Live in Lisbon), an umbrella organization of 40 housing rights groups. “In some parts of the city center, over half the apartments are on Airbnb. Housing-market deregulation means between one and three families are being evicted every day. Even the middle class have trouble finding somewhere to rent.” Lisbon has had a 3,000 percent increase in tourist rentals in a decade, and in 2018 overtook Barcelona and Paris as the European city with the largest number of Airbnbs per capita. Mendes said that “in four years the left-wing government has done very little about the raft of neoliberal measures that encourage the financialization of housing.”
Socialist António Costa came to power in November 2015 as leader of a government that promised to alleviate the troika’s austerity measures. With parliamentary support from the Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda, BE, far left), the Communists (PCP) and the Greens—the coalition is called the geringonça (the “contraption”)—the government attempted to stimulate purchasing power while trying to improve public finances. It increased the basic pension, the minimum wage (frozen at €485 until 2014 but now €600, paid 14 times a year) and basic social benefits.
This worked: In June 2017 Portugal left the EU’s “excessive deficit procedure,” which it had been in since 2009. The unemployment rate fell from 12 percent in 2015 to 6.3 percent in 2019, and the government estimates the public deficit will be close to zero in 2019 (compared to 4.4 percent of GDP in 2015), a first since Portugal became a democracy in 1974. GDP growth was 2.7 percent in 2017, a 17-year high.
The international press hailed a Portuguese economic miracle, and the left congratulated Costa’s unlikely coalition for turning its back on the neoliberal dogma of Brussels-imposed austerity. During the 2017 French presidential election campaign, the socialist candidate Benoît Hamon met Costa in Lisbon, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France) cited the Portuguese model in promoting his manifesto.
This success also paid off in the EU election, despite a high abstention rate. The PS’s Duarte Cordeiro, the key figure in the government’s alliance with the far left, told me, “A few months before the parliamentary election in October, we won the [EU] election with 33.4 percent of the vote. We’ve now got nine Socialist MEPs [previously eight]. It’s a sign of the wide popular support for the current direction of the PS and the parties that support the government.”
“Destroying our heritage”
However, Portugal’s PS seems to have reconciled itself easily to its predecessors’ neoliberal policies, including the encouragement of tourist rentals and tax exemptions for Chinese and Russian investors. “The golden visas and NHR status are two areas where the government hasn’t reformulated its policy,” Cordeiro admitted. “But we’re open to thinking about it, probably in a future parliament.”
This January he gave the go-ahead for Real Estate Investment Trusts, a new financial vehicle giving tax exemptions and reductions for real estate investment. Since July, the government has offered a five-year 50 percent income tax discount to Portuguese citizens who left during austerity and want to return (between 2010 and 2015, half a million people—5 percent of the population—emigrated). This measure is intended to encourage better-off young graduates to come back and invest in Portugal. There is no comparable tax break for those who could not go abroad during the crisis.
The day after the Stop Despejo demonstration, Morar em Lisboa organized a debate on the city council’s stance on Airbnb rentals. In a small room in the Alfama district, people argued until it grew dark. Lurdes Pinheiro of the neighborhood association was furious: “Alfama’s becoming a theme park. Everything the council does is for the tourists, not the locals. It’s architectural barbarism, and it’s destroying our heritage.”
On a nearby street, the Socialist council recently handed over the 16th-century Santa Helena Palace to Stone Capital, one of the city’s biggest property developers, run by two French brothers, Arthur and Geoffroy Moreno. It transformed the building into 20 luxury apartments. “On the other side of Alfama hill, Stone Capital has privatized a tree-lined courtyard that’s considered the green lungs of the Graça district,” said Ana Jara, an architect and opposition councillor (PCP). “They plan to build luxury gated accommodation without any public consultation or environmental assessment.”
Since a municipal election in 2017 in which the Socialist mayor, Fernando Medina, was reelected, the council no longer scrutinizes major urban projects. They are approved directly by the office of Manuel Salgado, the deputy mayor who has been in charge of city planning for 12 years. Jara accused him of “running a neoliberal urban development strategy whose sole objective is to make Lisbon attractive for financial investment.”
Bringing down the debt
“Just five years ago, one building in three in Lisbon was derelict, dilapidated, or vacant, serving no social or economic purpose,” said Mendes of Morar em Lisboa. After the lucrative contract for Lisbon’s redevelopment went to the private sector, major municipal projects took off under Salgado. In the north, the planned Torre Portugália, a nearly 200-foot tower with luxury apartments, has been a focus of anger. Across the river Tagus, in the working-class part of the city, the Lisbon South Bay project promises to be the biggest urban redevelopment scheme since Lisbon’s Expo 98. A conference center, a marina, and upmarket hotels are planned. Its promoters say the project will “strengthen Lisbon’s status as a tourist and investment destination.” The city has become so enticing to international investors that this spring mayor Medina was invited to join the Bilderberg Meeting, the annual gathering of the Western political and economic elite.
These policies of privatizing what should be public finance windfalls, at the expense of people’s right to housing and to access to their own city, are intended to offset the Costa government’s feeble investment record. After the Socialists came to power, the purse strings have been pulled the tightest since Portugal’s democratization in 1974. In 2018 the country had the eurozone’s lowest level of public investment.
The Socialist government is obsessed with adhering to the budgetary orthodoxy imposed under EU treaties. So the main function of economic recovery has not been to improve the standard of living, but to bring down the deficit and the debt, estimated at 120 percent of GDP. “Many in the PS want to maintain good relations with the banking sector and the EU institutions, so that Portugal looks like Europe’s star pupil,” said MEP José Gusmão, leader of the Left Bloc (BE). “Its long-term objective is repaying the debt to get below the ceiling set by Brussels, 60 percent of GDP. But sticking to the current pace of debt reduction—which is unrealistic—would mean abandoning public investment for two decades.” Cordeiro admits that “our main disagreement with our partners on the left is still the pace of debt reduction. They don’t agree with our budgetary objectives. We accept them entirely.”
Finance minister Mário Centeno, a Harvard-educated neoliberal economist and current president of the Eurogroup, is responsible for the strict implementation of this policy. Rather than invest in the public sector, Centeno has recently bailed out Novo Banco for €1.6 billion this private bank is the successor institution to Banco Espírito Santo, which failed in the crisis because of its speculation. Novo Banco had a previous €4.4 billion cash injection in 2014. Centeno’s recent decision made the radical left and communists angry, and they accuse him of preferring to clean up after private banks rather than invest in the country.
Portugal’s universities are almost bankrupt, and the health system is understaffed and under-resourced. The state body that runs the railways estimates that 60 percent of its infrastructure is in bad or mediocre condition. Social housing is just 2 percent of the housing stock. “A framework law on housing is currently being debated in parliament, but we already know how it will go,” said Rita Silva of Habita, a housing rights association. “Despite a few positive steps, there is no political will to invest public money in housing. And António Costa has already stated that this law should not challenge the deregulation of the housing market.”
The recent teachers’ strike is symptomatic of the tension between budgetary discipline and social policy. Teachers wanted to benefit from the recovering economy and have their pensions unfrozen after nine years of austerity. But on May 5, the prime minister called parliament’s approval of this a “budgetary bomb” that would destabilize public accounts and harm Portugal’s international credibility. After Costa’s government threatened to resign if the full pension increases were approved, the teachers secured only a partial adjustment, spread over two years and nine months.
“The country is still hampered by this desire to satisfy Brussels’s demands,” said José Reis, an economist at the University of Coimbra and coordinator of the Observatory on Crises and Alternatives. “There’s been a battle to increase low incomes within the EU budget framework, but overall, wages have not returned to pre-crisis levels. This is because growth is partly dependent on precarious, low-wage work.”
The dramatic reduction of unemployment hides greater reliance on low-skill, low-wage jobs. Studies suggest that half of all new jobs are now fixed-term contracts. Since the troika’s intervention, more jobs are unsecured: 73,000 more than in 2011. Half of all overtime in 2018 was unpaid. The young are the worst-affected 65 percent are on temporary contracts, 10 percent more than a decade ago. “We’ve made little progress on employment legislation. In fact, we’ve gone backwards,” said Gusmão. “With the support of the right and the bosses, the government has endorsed the spread of precarious, ultra-short-term contracts, which used to be confined to the tourist sector. What the geringonça has done for wage increases has been undermined by making the workforce insecure.”
Portugal’s industrial ports are a major part of the economy between 2009 and 2018 exports rose from 27 percent to 43 percent of GDP, a remarkable increase. But their competitiveness relies on exploiting a flexible workforce and slashing wages. “In early 2013, the government passed a law deregulating port activity, which was intended to make our working conditions less secure,” said António Mariano, head of the dock workers’ union (the Sindicato dos Estivadores e da Actividade Logística, SEAL). “That led to a huge increase in subcontracting.”
In August 2018 SEAL launched a strike in solidarity with port workers in Setúbal, 30 miles away from Lisbon, where 90 percent of dockers and logistics workers are on daily contracts. “These precarious workers get no holidays and no social protection if they’re ill or have an accident at work. Some may even be contracted and dismissed twice in a single day so as to do a 16-hour shift,” said Mariano. Setúbal is a key port for AutoEuropa, a Volkswagen group plant producing 100,000 cars a year, and for the Portuguese-owned global paper giant, the Navigator Company.
“The Costa government tried to tell our movement against extreme job insecurity that it was a private-sector matter,” Mariano said. “On November 22, with the port paralyzed, the government sent in the police to break the pickets so that a shipment of cars from AutoEuropa could be loaded.” The minister of the sea, Socialist Ana Paula Vitorino, was more concerned about Volkswagens being exported than dockers’ working conditions.
In 2018 the SEAL battle ended when the Setúbal workers secured the right to collective bargaining. “But the 2013 law on port workers is still in force, despite it being raised repeatedly with the minister of the sea and parliamentary commissions that have looked at employment legislation. Today in most of this country’s ports, 25 to 50 percent of workers are underpaid and on daily contracts,” said Mariano. “The government is trying to increase productivity by breaking workers’ power to negotiate.”
Pedrógão Grande, a small town 125 miles north of Lisbon, is reached by roads that wind through a vast, desolate landscape. Forest fires there in June 2017 caused 66 deaths and reduced 30,000 hectares to ash. Most victims died trying to flee the fire on a main road that the authorities failed to close in time. The tragedy caused anger nationwide: Many felt that the effects of the fire, the worst in the country’s history, had been exacerbated because of a lack of personnel and resources. Most of Portugal’s firefighters are poorly trained volunteers and the emergency services communication system (Siresp) was a public-private partnership, considered unfit for purpose for a decade.
Portugal’s “green oil”
The Costa government was attacked in their desire to maintain austerity and keep public spending down, the Socialists had dismantled the forestry service, privatized aerial firefighting resources, and slashed spending on forestry policy. Between 2006 and 2016, the number of forest rangers was reduced by a third in a country that is one-third forest, and where fires destroy an average of 100,000 hectares of woodland annually.
Another culprit is intensive eucalyptus cultivation. This Australian native is known to reduce soil quality and biodiversity and is highly flammable. But it has been widely planted by small growers for 20 years because it grows rapidly, requires no maintenance, and can be sold to paper manufacturers such as the Navigator Company. “Eucalyptus now accounts for a quarter of Portuguese forests. It’s the most common species in the country,” according to the League for the Protection of Nature (LPN). “Portugal has the highest concentration of eucalyptus in the world. This tree, which the state referred to as Portugal’s ‘green oil’ for a time, is viewed as a driver of the economy.”
The Navigator Company is Portugal’s third-largest exporter (3 percent of the total). “In 2002 to 2004, Manuel Barroso’s government negotiated with the company to step up its economic development,” said Nádia Piazza, whose 5-year-old son died in the 2017 fires and who leads the Association for the Victims of the Pedrógão Grande Fire. ‘Thereafter, local authorities permitted small landowners to plant eucalyptus unregulated. As forestry policy was based on short-term profit, the trees were soon everywhere in the poorest areas.” To the dismay of environmental protection organizations, Passos Coelho’s government deregulated eucalyptus growing on plots of under two hectares (80 percent of forest areas), transforming Portugal into “Eucalyptugal.”
“Pedrógão Grande is one of the country’s poorest areas. A third of our population of 2,500 is over 65 and has a pension of less than 300 euros a month,” said Valdemar Alves, its Socialist mayor. “Planting a few eucalyptus on your plot is a way of ensuring a decent income to live on.” The population has halved in 50 years. Alves said, “All the young people go to Lisbon to look for work. This rural exodus means the forests and fields are abandoned, and the lack of upkeep means fires spread more rapidly.” Piazza said, “We’ve lost loved ones, but we’ve also lost all hope. We feel abandoned.”
The town is surrounded by charred grey hills as far as the eye can see, but eucalyptus saplings are already emerging. “Fire encourages the spread of the species as well as its invasive behavior,” according to the LPN. After 2017, and with an increased risk of fire, the government boosted personnel numbers, strengthened aerial firefighting resources, and paid €7 million to bring Siresp back into public ownership. But the prime minister has appointed Tiago Martins de Oliveira, a former Navigator Company executive, to head the Agency for the Integrated Management of Rural Fires, the body set up this year to plan and coordinate fire response. The new regional forest management plan that has come into effect prioritizes eucalyptus for plantation and reforestation on 95 percent of the area. “The new programs show no will to change the situation. They’re operating as if it’s business as usual,” said the LPN.
Since last year there have been signs that Portugal’s economic boom is slowing. After seven years of uninterrupted growth, the tourism growth rate fell markedly in 2018 (down to 3.8 percent from 9.1 percent in 2017). In June Banco de Portugal warned a sudden interruption of the overheated speculation in property was possible. Economic growth, which was 2.8 percent in 2017, fell to 2.1 percent in 2018 and is predicted to be 1.7 percent this year.
The Costa government, in trying to combine social measures and budgetary rigor, may have been pursuing a mirage rather than a miracle. “The geringonça has been a political laboratory, a new experiment for the left,” said economist José Reis. “But with October’s parliamentary election imminent, can it last?”
Mickaël Correia Mickaël Correia is the author of Une Histoire Populaire du Football (A Popular History of Football).
A White Journalist Discovers the Lie of Portugal’s Colonial Past
I was born in 1975, the same year that Portugal withdrew from its five African colonies—Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Cape Verde Islands and Guinea-Bissau—becoming the last of the European powers to finally abandon colonialism.
Throughout my life, I have been told that we, the Portuguese, were the explorers who discovered the world. We were not occupiers. We did not oppress Africans. We were not like the British or the French. We were good colonizers (pdf), who mixed with the local African people. Apparently we were not racists then, and we’re not racists now. I can remember being taught this narrative as a child at school. Four decades later, Portuguese children are still being taught this distorted, idyllic narrative.
Growing up in a socially mixed area of the capital city, Lisbon, I encountered black Portuguese children in specific places, like the poorer areas. At primary school, there were a few black pupils. At high school, just a couple. At university, I cannot remember seeing a black student. Yet, Portugal has always had a significant black population.
Long before the horrors of the trans-Atlantic trade of human beings, in which Portugal played such a pivotal and shameful part, there were black Africans in Portugal. Following decolonization five centuries later, there was a wave of migration to Portugal from the former colonies, particularly Cape Verde, Angola and Guinea-Bissau. Yet this racially diverse population is still not visible at universities or in the leading positions of society: We don’t see black doctors, black professors at university we rarely see black people on TV or appearing in advertisements. This absence reveals the truth of our history, proving that Portugal was never, ever the “good colonizer.”
In 2015 I traveled to Portugal’s five former African colonies . I interviewed more than 100 people in a bid to understand the truth about our history. I set out to try to answer a number of questions: Was Portuguese colonialism really less racist than the British and French systems? Did Portuguese colonizers really have a harmonious relationship with the African people they sought to dominate? How do Portuguese ideas of race persist in these countries? My full reports are published in Portugal’s largest national daily newspaper, Público. For The Root, I shared insights into two of the countries I visited: Angola and Cape Verde.
In Angola, racial hierarchy is explicit in everyday life. Since the end of the country’s civil war in 2002, tens of thousands of Portuguese have migrated there to take up opportunities primarily in the construction industry. This influx of white Europeans has exacerbated racial tensions across the country. I contacted a variety of Angolans —including academics, politicians, musicians, activists, social workers, artists and journalists—who spoke frankly about racism and the fact that colonial ideas of race continue to be reproduced in their country among Angolans, as well as Portuguese migrants.
In Angola, people watch Portuguese soccer and drink water, sodas, beer and wine all imported from Portugal. Many of the restaurants in the capital, Luanda, have mainly Portuguese dishes on their menus, and televisions are permanently tuned in to Portuguese networks. Portugal and Angola have strong economic ties: After China, Portugal is the second-largest importer, and there are dozens of Angolan investors in the Portuguese market, including the president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, Africa’s richest woman, who does business in finance and communication services.
However, the economic benefits between the two countries are not always mutual. Some Angolans told me that a lot of the Portuguese who live in Angola today behave just like their colonial predecessors did. In other words, they appear to be nice enough to the Angolans they encounter every day, but they never engage with the locals in any real depth. There is an overwhelming sense of “us and them.”
In many multinational companies, blacks appear to be discriminated against while whites benefit: “You would have a white Portuguese or white Brazilian leading a team of black Angolans, but there would never be a black Angolan in a leading position,” explains Elias Isaac , director of the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa in Luanda. “It is not explicit racism, but the acceptance of a cultural mindset.”
Isaac reads this tension as a syndrome that persists in colonized countries and is transmitted from generation to generation. “There was independence from Portugal, but not decolonization of the mind,” he says.
In Angola, 60 percent of the population is under 24 years of age. They did not, therefore, experience the segregation of Portuguese colonialism. The sociologist Paulo de Carvalho, 55, has strong memories of the racial segregation he experienced on buses and on the sidewalk. Even elderly black people would rapidly exit a public space like a pharmacy the moment a white person entered. A sign of submission, according to de Carvalho.
The colonial system had different classes of citizens. Most astonishing, an Angolan could become “assimilated” on condition that he or she assimilated the Portuguese way of life: in other words, had a formal job, sat down at a table to eat using a knife and fork, worshipped a Christian God, spoke only the Portuguese language and wore European clothes.
Likewise, the assimilated had to give up their own cultural practices, including their languages, customs and, very often, their names, too. Women had to straighten their hair. Only by adopting the Portuguese way could black and mestiço Angolans climb the very racialized hierarchy that was so crucial to the colonial system. De Carvalho, himself, was “assimilated.”
People have strong memories of Luanda as a divided city, where the center was for whites and the periphery—the musseques, or shanty towns—were for blacks. Over 40 years later, those divisions still exist, says Isaac. The people who live without water, electricity or gas in the musseques are almost entirely black and are mostly poor. Although there are some whites who live in poverty in a few pockets of the country, they are the exception to the rule. Inherited from the colonial structure, this pattern of racial hierarchy is one of the expressions of what Isaac calls “subtle racism.”
Lúcia da Silveira, director of the human rights nongovernmental organization Associação Justiça, Paz e Democracia , says that African women are discouraged from having natural-hair styles and that straight hair is still considered the most beautiful. There is a popular group called Natural Angolans that advocates natural black hairstyles and discourages women from straightening their curls.
White Angolans with mixed heritage—known locally as mestiços or, pejoratively, mulattoes—are also sometimes at the receiving end of verbal abuse. Thirty-three-year-old political activist Luaty Beirão, who is mixed, remembers other children at school calling him nasty names, always referencing his skin color.
Beirão is an activist and well-known rapper who went on a hunger strike for 36 days last year to protest against his imprisonment without going to trial. He and 14 other activists were indicted for “preparing acts pursuant to a coup d’etat” because they were debating politics and their ideas for a change of government—the president, José Eduardo dos Santos, has been in power for 36 years. They are still waiting for the sentence.
Beirão grew up understanding discrimination through the historical lens. During colonialism, economic power was in the hands of a white minority. Today the association between wealth and white or mixed race persists, he says. But there are also wealthy black Angolans, he says.
For much of the 20th century, under the Portuguese dictator Antonio Oliveira Salazar, Portugal viewed its colonies as provinces, part of the country, and the colonized people of Africa as Portuguese. But those Portuguese who were born in Africa were treated as second-class citizens—even the whites.
Portugal, however, had a different approach in each of its five African colonies. For instance, Portuguese people were actively encouraged to migrate to Angola. In Guinea-Bissau, Portuguese people were mainly present in public services. Thus it was called a “colony of exploration.” In Cape Verde, the West African archipelago that operated as an important slave market, there was a different policy. It did not exercise the so-called indigenous law, which segregated African and European populations. Cape Verdeans were used by the colonizer as an extension of its power in other colonies. In Guinea-Bissau, for example, many Cape Verdeans held senior positions in public services like the post office.
Throughout time, the Salazar regime created an image of Cape Verdeans as “special blacks” who were not quite as African as the others. On the contrary, they were more like the Portuguese because they were more educated, read more books and didn’t wear African clothes. Cape Verdeans were used to promote the myth that racial harmony existed in Portugal’s overseas territories. They were, if you like, proof that the Portuguese really did mix with the African people.
As a consequence of its particular experience of colonization, the Cape Verdean elite felt white, according to the historian, Iva Cabral. Cabral is the daughter of Amílcar Cabral (1924-1973), one of the most important thinkers of his time and the leader of the independence movement in Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau.
In fact, some Cape Verdeans saw themselves as Portuguese, and even today, there is a part of the population that refuses to acknowledge its own African identity. At school, African history is barely taught. “Of course we are Africans,” explains Jorge Andrade, a political activist who lives in the capital, Praia, “but in practical terms, what was the social policy that protected African interests? There was no such thing.”
The young sociologist Redy Wilson Lima says: “As all Cape Verdeans, I say I am Cape Verdean. And that is the ambiguity. By saying I am Cape Verdean, I am denying my Africanness. We learn that we are Cape Verdean, but it is only when I go to Europe that I understand that, in fact, I am [also an] African.”
The narrative of being the “special colony” is part of Cape Verdean identity. Many, like 69-year-old historian Corsino Tolentino, say that they only felt they were black when they went to Portugal.
The Cape Verdean identity was created on the base of lighter skin, says Abraao Vicente, an artist who is light-skinned himself. Having a light skin tone in Cape Verde is still a privilege, he thinks. A few years ago he wrote a book, 1980-Labirinth, in which he stated that “being African in Cape Verde is a taboo.” Today this is a sensitive topic in Cape Verde and in Portugal.
Cape Verdeans are the largest African community inside Portugal. Cape Verdean music, especially, has always been very well received in the capital’s cultural circles. Besides that, there’s not much interaction between Portuguese and the Portuguese of Cape Verdean descent in the intellectual, political and economic spaces. Interestingly, despite that, many Portuguese still believe that there’s a special relationship between the two countries, a reflex of the “good colonizer” ideology.
As a white Portuguese journalist, I am aware of my own position of privilege while doing these reports. Despite having a critical approach to our colonial history, I was still shocked and surprised by what I heard during my travels. Although I don't believe in the idea of “good colonialism,” I did not realize the extent of the physical and cultural abuse that took place under Portuguese colonial rule. The interviews I conducted in Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau have made me question the ways in which my country’s colonial past is taught at schools.
Why wasn’t I ever told at school about the segregation imposed in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau? Why didn’t my teachers tell me about the cruel and degrading policy of assimilation? Why didn’t they explain what happened to women and men, who had to give up African names if they wanted to become second-class citizens, as opposed to mere subjects? When, I wonder, are we, the Portuguese people, going to start telling the truth about our colonial past to our children?
Joana Gorjão Henriques has been a journalist at the leading national daily in Portugal, Público, since 2000 a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 2010 and a contributor to The Guardian. She is mainly a long-form writer who reports on racism, discrimination and social injustice.
The political point-scoring aiming to revive Portuguese racing history
The hosting of major sporting events is a long-used two-way tact in politics. In one obvious way it draws attention and trade to a single area to show off its vibrance and friendliness to business, with wider investment often following, but it also deflects attention away from things that are going wrong or are making political parties in particular unpopular. The Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup and Formula 1 races are obvious examples, but it occurs on a smaller scale too.
There are nationwide local elections in Portugal later this year, and obviously a generation shaped by one financial crisis and now being hit by a second one induced by the COVID-19 pandemic have a lot on their minds on what issues they will be voting on.
In Vila do Conde, a small city on the western coast and one of the oldest known settlements in northern Portugal, one political candidate is aiming to get elected by bringing motorsport to the streets.
Pedro Soares, representing the Social Democratic Party (PSD), last week met with Ni Amorim, president of Portugal’s motorsport federation FPAK. They discussed Soares’ intention to use the coastal roads as the basis of a street circuit that will hold races starting from 2022, and according to his local party branch he “received enthusiastic support and willingness to cooperate to make this goal a reality” from FPAK. And as residents well know, street racing in the area is no new idea.
Vila do Conde first hosted motorsport in 1931, the same year as future Portuguese Grand Prix venue Porto and current World Touring Car Championship track Vila Real, with strong support chiefly from the local mayor and tourism commission that enabled several race weekends to take place.
Despite a popular first year there was no 1932 return, and a crackdown on street racing, an economic downturn and a world war meant the area wasn’t used again for motorsport until 1951.
The circuit used had a pit straight close to a kilometre long and led into a 90-degree right-hander that after a short straight headed towards another right-hander. The following straight joined onto the riverside Avenida Julio Graca via the high-speed Rio right-hander, with a flatout kink coming halfway down that road before cars slowed down on the very tip of the Portuguese coastline to turn back onto the pit straight as Castle corner.
Local politics were key to Vila do Conde’s annual presence on the racing calendar, with tourism becoming an increasing part of the area’s economy – particularly in summer. So popular did it get that there were plans to hold endurance races too.
Being in sight of the waves of the Atlantic Ocean took its toll on the track surface, particularly Avenida Julio Graca and the pit straight where there was only a few poles and wooden structures between the track and the sea, and in 1966 the races were hit by a typical coastal storm that made the inclusion of motorcycle races in particular difficult to run and led to many wall-destroying accidents. That was also the first year junior single-seaters took to the streets, with races for Formula Vee.
In 1968 there was a memorable incident where the temporary barrier system prevented a driver from flying off track and straight into a major body of water, but the next level of defence behind wires and barriers was, unfortunately, a spectator area.
Circuit renovations in 1970 included relaying the weather-worn asphalt and shortening the pit straight to avoid a cobbled section after turn one, with the corner after that now a chicane and a right-hander. The safety improvements were popular but not totally effective, and Formula Ford and FVee made their last appearance in 1972 before further safety changes came.
Racing stopped entirely soon after anyway with political turmoil after turmoil as Portugal fought to retain its colonies, then got hit hard by the 1973 oil crisis and topped everything off by overthrowing its authoritarian republic in 1974.
And that is where the modern-day revival bid for racing at Vila do Conde kind of begins.
The circuit was back in use by the 1980s once the country transitioned to democracy, and held races all the way through to 2003 with further route changes including a second chicane before Avenida Julio Graca to lower the entry speeds there and then a tight chicane where the flatout Seca kink used to be. [A modern version of the track is pictured above]
Single-seaters even returned for the circuit’s first ever international event in 1999, when alongside Spanish GT there was a visit by the Portuguese Formula BMW championship (later known as the FBMW Iberia Junior Cup), but faster modern cars added complications that meant the first corner had to be reworked to lower speeds, and the evolving landscape of the area from urban regeneration made it less and less suitable for racing.
But back to the Carnation Revolution.
A fortnight after the peaceful military and civilian coup that brought down the Estado Novo regime in April 1974, the PSD was created and became a mainstay of Portuguese politics that has been in and out of government multiple times since 1979.
In 2002, the PSD’s vice-president Rui Rio became mayor of Portugal’s second largest city Porto. His first year in office was mired by his opposition to the construction of the FC Porto football club’s new stadium, which some believed was going to come in at a cost of €90 million to the region. At one point he did get construction to pause, but then required a police escort as he became an unpopular figure, and eventually the stadium was finished. Porto really didn’t think Rio liked their sport.
But fast forward two years and Rio was pushing for a sporting celebration by bringing back Porto’s Boavista street circuit, last used in the 1960 F1 season, for a revival race meeting in 2005. He was re-elected that year, and then in December 2006 dipped into the public purse to bring the WTCC to Porto on a bi-annual basis at an estimated €3,705,000 cost per event and with the removal of tram lines from the streets to be used for racing.
Rio won a third term in office in 2009, and towards the end of that spell in 2013 said: “I will experience this edition of the Circuito da Boavista exactly the same way and I hope my successors won’t waste the investment we have made with the aim of strengthening an internationally renowned mark of this city. It meant hard work, risk-taking and it was not a simple task. However, I believe it’s worth all of it.”
When it came to running the next scheduled race in 2015, his successors at Porto City Council promptly said no. Portugal’s tourism board had slashed its event investment, the council wanted to give people their trams back and work on other developments in the area was already taking place. And Rio had left office just as the political picture was being upheaved.
In an attempt to increase government efficiency, Portugal embarked on a nationwide gerrymandering in 2013 that by changing or aggregating the borders of constituencies led to larger and far fewer electing parishes. In Porto the number of parishes was slashed by 36.55%, and by 30% in the Vila do Conde county that lies within the district. With less parishes, it makes each battleground more important in electoral terms, and PSD’s political fortunes began to tumble.
It won the 2015 general election in a coalition, but the government it formed lasted only 11 days before being thrown out, and it lost many seats in the 2017 local elections. In Vila do Conde its vote share went from 34.86% to 15.49% between 2013 and 2017, and the results were so bad that it triggered a leadership contest. The new man elected to lead the party would be Rio.
But things didn’t improve. Rio had to fend off a leadership challenge within his first 12 months, then following the PSD’s worst ever national election result and then its second worst ever general election he started 2020 with another no-confidence motion. The political gains the party have made have been controversial ones, and the party needs good press.
Reviving Circuito de Vila do Conde may be a small answer to PSD’s large problem, but it’s a card that it has played (quite possibly in desperation) before. When contesting the 2017 local elections, PSD’s Vila do Conde candidate also met Amorim.
Their electoral promise was to bring back the circuit, and they presented a detailed logistical plan of how that would be possible. FPAK said it would “make every effort to make this project feasible, which we believe to be of the greatest interest to national motorsport but also to all villagers”. Unfortunately for motorsport fans, PSD lost its election battle in the area.
Preliminary investigating had already taken place on the feasibility of a return of racing there, given the seafront area had been developed and the width of some of the circuit roads had changed entirely. But the WTCC’s late move to Vila Real’s streets for 2015 had got motorsport fans encouraged by the possibility that anything could happen in a country that had spent four years being bailed out during the global financial crisis and where anti-austerity was the hottest political take.
This time around it could be an idea that goes somewhere if PSD does win, especially as Portugal is riding a new wave of motorsport enthusiasm with the return of F1, a Formula E champion in Antonio Felix da Costa and its first MotoGP winner.
Rio’s knowledge of what it takes to clear the administrative hurdles to hold a street circuit event means he can lend personal support and well as the support of the national party to the plans in Viola do Conde, and he had a good relationship with FPAK when he was Porto mayor. Of course the PSD being in opposition in the national assembly means he can’t access public funds as before, but in the same way the relocation of the United Kingdom’s World Rally Championship rally has become a point of parliamentary debate he could get greater interest in the circuit proposal just by raising it in the assembly chamber.
And the organising team at FPAK knows how to make street circuits safe for single-seaters too, having brought International Formula Master to Porto in 2007, and then Historic F1 and Portuguese FFord.
FIA Formula 3 engineer Pedro Matos raced in one of those FFord meetings in Porto, and it’s that championship – which confusingly rebranded itself as Single Seater Series last year – that would be one of the more likely visitors to Vila do Conde if PSD gets elected and the 2022 racing weekend goes ahead. Formula Scout understands Spanish-organised single-seater series are uninterested in involving themselves in the logistics of the event, leaving FFord as an obvious candidate series.
Matos’ motorsport interest was actually sparked by watching races on the 2.78km Vila do Conde track, as his father (pictured above) raced there during the final years of the circuit’s use.
“I was very little at the time, I think I was eight last time I went, but it used to [attract] so many people,” says Matos.
“People from the north of Portugal are very fond of racing also a lot because of Vila do Conde. My first memories of racing are from there, from watching my dad in Castelo corner in his yellow Opel Manta.”
While safety advancements reduced how close spectators got to the action, the racing was spectacular to watch from any point due to the track’s high-speed layout that rewarded absolute bravery. Cars that carried too much speed into corners, particularly the final chicane, would slide laterally on the tyres and that wasn’t helped by the track often having sand being blown onto it from the coast. That made turn one particularly exciting as the rear could step as soon as drivers hit the brakes, and spectators were on the edge of their seats when there were side-by-side battles through the final Castle corner where understeer could turn into snap oversteer, particularly if a dab of the brakes was needed. A circuit very much about what you do with the weight of the car rather than what you do with the steering wheel. Those who got it wrong sometimes rolled.
It wasn’t just the grandstands that were filled, as you would often see garden chairs sat on the top of nearby houses as 1000s flocked to the bay to watch the action. Even parades of classic road and racing cars in recent years have been popular.
Portugal will again host an F1 race this year at the very spacious and isolated Algarve circuit, but Vila Real is on the World Touring Car Cup calendar once again in June and will be only the second attempt at street circuit racing in Europe with a multi-series meeting since before the global pandemic.
This is a significant landmark as even FE has only managed to run on European streets once in the last 12 months – last weekend’s Rome E-Prixs – and currently plans to do so only once more in 2021 with the Monaco E-Prix.
FE’s race meetings currently run without support series, and Monaco organiser Automobile Club de Monaco will use its E-Prix to warm itself up for the challenges of hosting F1, Formula 2 and the Porsche Supercup together later in the month.
Nobody knows how long the pandemic will truly last, but a return of motorsport to Vila do Conde could well be one of the first highlights of a post-pandemic world in summer 2022.
More on junior single-seaters’ street classics
Despite continuing political pressure for a final and definitive cancellation of the event, the Pau Grand Prix is on track to be run in 2022 and is highly likely to feature on the Euroformula calendar again as it famously did in 2019.
The championship still intends to visit Macau, with a final decision by the Chinese special administrative region’s local sporting department yet to made on whether to use the Dallara 320 car or FIA Formula 3’s Dallara F3 2019 machine, but Chinese Formula 4 has already announced it will repeat its 2020 visit and will also return to the Wuhan street circuit.
In the Eurasian region, Formula 2 is headed to Baku and Sochi this year and there is very little that will stop those events going ahead unless the number of COVID-19 cases exponentially climb.
Indy Lights is headed to Toronto and returning to Detroit for the first time since 2012, and will be racing on the streets of St. Petersburg in two weeks’ time along with Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000.
Bangkok's Portuguese Past - History
The settlement, covering an area of over half a square kilometre, was probably the
biggest western community in Ayutthaya with a population estimated at 3,000 people.
Most of them were militia, shipbuilders and merchants. There were three Roman
Catholic churches in the village being: The Church of San Petro for the Dominican sect
(Ban Jacobin), the Church of San Paolo for the Jesuit sect (Ban Jesuit) and a church for
the Franciscan sect . The settlement was destroyed during the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767.
Portugal was the first western nation, which came in contact and developed friendly
relations with Ayutthaya during the reign of King Rama Thibodi II (r. 1491 - 1529).
After the Portuguese obtained possession of large tracts of territory in India, their
interests turned further east. Four Portuguese vessels, under the command of Lopes de
Sequiera, arrived at the coast of Malacca in 1508. de Sequiera with the intention to
open a trade relation, ensued although in a dispute with the Malay Sultan in which some
Portuguese were killed. Having a too weak a force to attack Malacca, de Sequiera
In June 1509 Don Alfonso d'Albuquerque, the Viceroy of Portuguese India, arrived with
a considerable force. Malacca was attacked, captured and became a Portuguese
possession on 10 August 1511. Albuquerque, having learnt that Malacca was vassal to
Siam (2), sends an envoy to Ayutthaya to explain matters. Duarte Fernandez was
designated to present a letter addressed to the King of Siam. He left on a Chinese junk
sailing to Ayutthaya. Fernandez arrived in Ayutthaya in 1511 and was well received. No
objection appears to have been raised to the occupation of Malacca. He returned
accompanied by a Siamese Ambassador.
A second Portuguese envoy, Antonio de Miranda de Azevedo, visited Ayutthaya, by
the overland route, about 1512.
A third envoy from Albuquerque, named Duarte Coelho Pereira (c. 1485 – 1554),
proceeded to Ayutthaya in 1516 and concluded a treaty with Siam. The treaty foresaw
in supplying Siam with firearms and ammunition. The Siamese agreed to guarantee
religious freedom as well as to facilitate the efforts of the Portuguese in establishing
settlements and engaging in trade at Ayutthaya, Tenasserim, Mergui, Patani (3) and
Nakhon Sri Thammarat. King Ramathibodi II, demonstrating his religious tolerance,
permitted Coelho to erect a wooden crucifix in a prominent place in Ayutthaya.
As many as 300 Portuguese nationals subsequently settled down in Ayutthaya some
were traders, others military experts. Portugal appointed a trade representative in
Nakhon Sri Thammarat and Pattani to conduct trade in rice, tin, ivory, gum benjamin,
indigo, sticklac and sappanwood. Over the years the number of Portuguese increased.
In 1538 King Chairacha (r. 1534-1546) - feeling the expansive policy from
neighbouring Burma - engaged in a military cooperation with the Portuguese. A
company of Portuguese soldiers - about 120 men - was put at his service for his
personal protection and as military advisers, instructing the Siamese in musketry.
Tabeng Shwe Thi ascended the throne of Taungu after the death of his father in 1530.
This monarch was determined to conquer his neighboring dominions Ava, Prome and
Pegu and to unite it with Taungu. During the war with Pegu he came into conflict with the
Siamese. King Tabeng Shwe Thi occupied the town of Chiengkrai or Chiengkran (now
called Gyaing, in Moulmein district of present Myanmar), at that time subjected to Siam.
King Chairacha assisted by his Portuguese soldiers, attacked the Burmese, and drove
them out of his dominion (4). The Portuguese did such a good service during the military
campaign that the Siamese King rewarded them with various commercial and residential
privileges (5). A piece of land in the southern part of Ayutthaya was granted to the
Portuguese as their official residence.
In 1567 the first Roman Catholic missionaries Friar Jeronimo da Cruz and Sebastiâo da
Canto, both Dominicans, arrived in Siam, apparently as chaplains for the Portuguese
soldiers, which presence increased. They established a parish in Ayutthaya, although
short lived as da Cruz together with two new missionaries were killed in the Burmese
attack of Ayutthaya in 1569. 
In 1584, after the declaration of Independence from Burma by King Naresuan the
Great, a group of Roman Catholic priests of the Franciscan Sect had come to build their
church in the Northern area of the Portuguese Village.
At the beginning of his reign (1606) King Ekathotsarot (r. 1605-1610/11) sent an
ambassador to the Portuguese Viceroy in Goa to renew the bonds of friendship between
Siam and Portugal. 
Friar Balthasar de Sequeira was the first Portuguese Jesuit to come to Siam at the
request of the Portuguese merchant Tristan Golayo. He arrived in Ayutthaya between 19
and 26 March 1607 with the task of starting a new mission. He lasted only two and a-
half years in Ayutthaya and then returned to Goa. He died on his way back in
Phetchaburi in November of 1609 (6). 
End 1613, begin 1614 we see our Portuguese mercenaries back in action during a
Burmese attack on Tavoy and Tenasserim. The Siamese reinforced with Portuguese
soldiers were able to drive out the Burmese from Tennaserim with considerable loss and
The arrival of the Dutch in the region although, will have a serious impact on the Iberian
trade and the relationship with the Siamese Court. From 1624 onwards there is a wind
of change into the Siamese friendship with the Portuguese.
In 1624 Don Fernando de Silva, a Spanish captain attacked the passing Dutch VOC
yacht “Zeelandt” in Siamese territorial waters at night (See essay " Paella and Silk:
Spanish encounters with Ayutthaya "). King Songtham of Siam (r. 1610/1611-1628)
ordered then the Spaniards to be attacked. A fierce battle ensued wherein 150
Spaniards were killed, the remaining Spaniards were thrown in prison and their ships
confiscated. The Spanish-Dutch incident brought Siam on the brink of war with Spain.
The Portuguese got treated the same way as the Spaniards. Portugal lost their favorite
status in Siam and could no more obtain proper access to the Siamese Court .
The Jesuit chronicle of events for 1627-28 mentions that Spanish galleons, on the return
from Macao, pursued a semi-piratical career for several months, capturing Siamese
vessels with valuable cargoes, by way of reprisal for the injuries inflicted on Spaniards in
Siam. These pirate actions of the Spaniards made, that at the time of King Songtham's
death at the end of that year, a state of war existed between Siam and Spain. The
Siamese considered the Portuguese “at par” with the Spaniards and many Portuguese
for this reason were languishing in Siamese prisons.  The increased hatred of the King
and his mandarins against the Iberians made them confiscate in 1630 a Portuguese ship
loaded with Chinese goods from Macao under command of Casper Suarez. The
Portuguese were kept in strict captivity during three years and made to go begging in the
In July 1633, the Portuguese in Malacca sent Captain Sebastian Moutos d’Avilla as
ambassador to Ayutthaya to request the release of the Portuguese prisoners. He was
received with little honor at the court, but the king agreed with the request and released
the prisoners. Although seeing that his petition was going to be refused, he fled in
September with all the prisoners down the Chao Phraya. He was pursued but could
escape to sea and left Siam in enmity. Van Vliet wrote that the discontent of the king
about the sudden departure, was so great, that from that moment he hated the
Portuguese just as much as the Spaniards also because in that same year they blocked
the river of Tenasserim with two frigates, prevented Cantonese junks from coming to
Siam and committed hostilities. 
In 1655 Fr. Tomaso Valguarnera, a Jesuit priest from Sicily, arrived from Macau and
remained in Siam for 15 years. He was appointed Visitator of the Japanese and Chinese
Province and left in 1670 the mission to return in 1675. He died in Ayutthaya in 1677.
He built the Jesuit residence and San Paolo Church within the Portuguese settlement,
just across the river from the Japanese settlement. He founded also the "Collegio San
Salvador". Valguarnera was an architect and rebuilt the city walls of Ayutthaya on
request of King Narai.
In 1684 Lisbon sent a Portuguese embassy to Siam. The embassy was led by Pero Vaz
de Siqueira, the son of the Portuguese ambassador to Japan. He was primarily tasked to
establish commercial ties between the two countries, as well as to try to restrict the
French missionaries of the " Société des Missions Etrangères de Paris " in Siam, Tonkin
and Cochin-China, in favour of the “Padroado”. Due to the influence of Constantine
Phaulkon and his pro-French stance the last issue was not even brought forward. The
embassy lasted from March to June 1684 (7). 
In March 1684 (8) a Siamese embassy was sent to Lisbon. Arriving in Goa in August,
finding the Portuguese fleet left for Lisbon, the embassy had nearly to wait a year in Goa.
On 27 January 1686 it embarked at Goa but was shipwrecked off Cape Agulhas, the
southernmost tip of Africa on 27 April 1686. Survivors returned from Cape Good Hope
to Ayutthaya in Sep 1687 via Batavia. 
By the late 17th century Nicolas Gervaise, a French priest, reported that there were 700
to 800 households in the Portuguese camp, and Father Tachard was told by Constantine
Phaulkon that there were in 1685 a little over 4,000 people in the Portuguese settlement.
The Burmese coming up from the southwest attacked Ayutthaya, at the beginning of
April 1760. The Portuguese settlement was the first to receive the attack. A part of it
was burned, but the settlement offered such strong resistance that the enemy was forced
to retreat. 
In the following years the Burmese subdued all the north of the country and at the end of
1765 came again to lay siege to Ayutthaya, destroying everything in their way.
Throughout 1766 up to the beginning of 1767 they tightened their grip on the capital. In
March 1767 the Portuguese settlement and the Catholic Church to the south of the city
were isolated and surrounded. The community fought bravely, but they were few and
short of ammunition. Their situation was hopeless. On 21 March a Jesuit and a
Dominican, being the parish priests of the Portuguese settlement, surrendered to the
Burmese together with their community. For two days their churches and property were
protected in order to persuade the French Bishop Brigot with his people to surrender.
As it turned out, the Catholic Church and seminary, as well as the Jesuit and Dominican
churches, were all plundered. On the night of April 7th-8th the Burmese entered and set
fire to Ayutthaya. Some Portuguese were taken to Burma as hostages by the Burmese
invaders. The rest followed King Taksin the Great to settle down in an area of Thon Buri
called Kudijeen and worked as Thai-Portuguese translators for the state until the
Bangkok period. 
(1) Free translated the "Capsized Junk" sub-district.
(2) Malacca had been subject to Siam since the time of King Ramkhamheng.
(3) There was a nearly assimilated community of Portuguese-Thai in Pattanni, southern Thailand. In 1973 they were distinguishable solely by physical
characteristics and some unique surnames. Within a generation or two they will thoroughly merged into the larger Thai gene pool. Their language now is
completely Thai, Pattani Malay, and trade Chinese. The story is that they are the remains of a community left behind when the Portuguese abandoned their
trading post at Pattani.(Ref: www.colonialvoyage.com - retrieved 23 July 09)
(4) This success against Burma proved in the end to be a disaster for Siam. It was the original cause of the bitter enmity between the two countries which
later lea to long and sanguinary wars, bringing death, famine and unspeakable misery to both countries.
(5) The ruins of the houses and the church given by King Phrajai to the Portuguese can still be seen at Ayutthaya.
(6) Baltasar de Sequeira was already 56 years old at that time and had spent twenty-nine years on the Indian mission. He had come to India as a scholastic,
a third year theologian. His assignment to Siam came about in this way. When King Naresuan the Great of Siam died in 1605, he was succeeded by his
brother Ekhatotsarod. At the beginning of his reign King Ekhatotsarod sent an ambassador to the Portuguese Viceroy in Goa to renew the bonds of
friendship between Siam and Portugal. The ambassador of King Ekhatotsarod carried not only official letters to the Viceroy, but also private letters to some
Portuguese who had been in Siam and were known to the King. Among these was a Mr. Tistao Golayo, a good friend of the King while he was still only
prince. Mr. Golayo decided to go back to Siam, and since he was a friend of the Society, he asked the Provincial to send some Father of the Society with
him. The Provincial was happy to have this good occasion of opening a new mission and chose Fr. Baltasar de Sequeira for the task. Sequeira was the only
Jesuit available, already rather old and in poor health. He lasted only two and a-half years in Ayutthaya and then started back to Goa. However, he died on
his way in the city of Phetchaburi in November of 1609.
(7) Michael Smithies in a review of the book "The Embassy of Pero Vaz de Siqueira to Siam (1684-1686)" by Leonor de Seabra posted as a special to
"The Nation" - article named "How Lisbon wooed Siam" published on 15 Dec 2008 writes that " All he [Pero Vaz de Siqueira] could obtain was the
guarantee that the French would have no religious jurisdiction over the Portuguese colony in Siam. Even this was not to last ”. Pietro Cerutti, S.J. in
the article “The Jesuits in Thailand - Part I (1607 - 1767)” states that the Jesuits of Ayutthaya made their submission to the Vicar Apostolic already in 1681.
If the latter is correct then the Missions Etrangères de Paris had already jurisdiction over the Jesuits and Dominicans in Ayutthaya in 1684. (Issue to be
cleared out at a later stage)
(8) This date is discussed in a review by Michael Smithies of the book "The Embassy of Pero Vaz de Siqueira to Siam (1684-1686)" by Leonor de Seabra
posted as a special to "The Nation". Smithies suggests here that the Siamese embassy probably left in 1684 soon after the departure of Pero Vaz's embassy,
but not in March, more likely June or a little later (Ref: How Lisbon wooed Siam - 15 Dec 2008).
Bangkok has been on one heck of an economic and political rollercoaster ride.
It started out as a quiet farming and trading community on the banks of the Chao Praya river, but grew in the 15th and 16th centuries, when a new waterway was created, easing the passage of ships up the river.
When Bangkok became the Thai capital in 1782, the town was mainly inhabited by Chinese merchants and customs inspectors.
The growth of the city started with the construction of Wat Phra Kaew. Defensive moats were dug, canals built and a city wall erected. Bangkok soon became a hub for Chinese trading ships.
King Mongkut (Rama IV) and his son King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) modernised the city in the 1850s, adding roads and railways.
By the end of the 19th century, the population had swelled to around 500,000 and Thailand was successfully fending off interest from colonial powers.
Bangkok expanded east and north in the 20th century. The first bridge over the river (Memorial Bridge) was built in 1932, the same year an absolute monarchy was replaced by a constitutional monarchy.
Following Japanese occupation during WWII, the 1950s saw a period of political turmoil in Thailand, with several coup d&rsquoétats.
Come the 1960s, Thailand&rsquos fortunes rose. Yet the country wavered between civilian and military rule over the next decades.
Thailand&rsquos economy spectacularly crashed in the 1990s and it was only after tough reforms that Bangkok&rsquos economy started to pick up again.
The 21st century hasn&rsquot been smooth either. In 2006, a bloodless coup overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was accused of corruption and who now lives in self-imposed exile.
Anti-government demonstrations took place in 2008 amid calls for reform. But in 2011, Thaksin&rsquos sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected PM, then ousted three years later.
Since then, the reins of power have been in the hands of the military.
Did you know?
&bull Red Bull was inspired by a Bangkok creation called Krating Daeng.
&bull Though many are now filled in, Bangkok&rsquos khlongs (canals) earned it the nickname &lsquoVenice of the East&rsquo.
&bull In Thai, Bangkok is known as Krung Thep.
Ancient Lusitanian mythological figures
Because of its position on the edge of Spain, you may not expect Portugal to have its own very distinct mythology. But it does. These are some ancient Lusitanian myths and creatures.
Mouras are shapeshifters with formidable strength and beauty. Basically, the whole package superpower-wise. They’re found in Portuguese and Galician fairy tales, and are often very seductive and magical.
The enchanted Moura usually has lovely flowing hair, and will be spotted combing it and singing. She offers treasures to anyone who can break the spell cast over her – since, in many stories, she is a cursed maiden or the spirit of one.
She guards liminal spaces – like bridges, rivers, and castles – and is often unbelievably beautiful.
The progression of the santa compana – graffiti in Pontevedra, just north of Portugal
A little darker than the previous figure, the Santa Compaña is a procession of souls in torment. They’re known by many names across Portugal and Galicia, including As da nuite (the Night Ones).
These figures wear white hoods and carry candles, but they cannot be seen by ordinary people. Their procession is led by a living person, who walks under a spell every night, and returns to his bed at dawn, unaware of his curse. He can only break the curse by passing on his cauldron or cross to another living person during the procession. Otherwise, he will soon die from sleep deprivation.
Coco, or Cucuy, is a very unusual mythical figure. It’s a ghost-monster which usually appears as a human body with a pumpkin head. Creepy right? That’s what they thought too, and el coco was (and sometimes still is) invoked to freak kids out of they were misbehaving.
The coco is a child eater or stealer, who preys on disobedient children. In Medieval Portugal, coco changed to become a female dragon and was included in various celebrations. Honestly, a dragon seems like a far more pleasant visual than a pumpkin-headed ghost-man. So the change makes a lot of sense.
Similar to goblins and sprites, the Duende is small and magical. In Portuguese and Spanish mythology, they lure young children into the forest by whistling an enchanting tune. Little is known about these figures now, and the name Duende has come to be used as a sort of umbrella term for sprite-like creatures.
The French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars
After the death of Peter III in 1786 and her eldest son Joseph in 1788, Maria I suffered from melancholia. In 1792 her mental instability increased following news of the radical phases of the French Revolution, and she ceased to reign. Her surviving son ruled in her name, formally became prince regent in 1799, and on her death became John VI (1816–26). In 1793 Portugal joined England and Spain against France, sending a naval division to assist the English Mediterranean fleet and an army to the Catalan front. The Peace of Basel (July 1795), by which Spain abandoned its allies, left Portugal still at war. Although subjected to pressure from the French Directory and from the Spanish minister, Manuel de Godoy, Portugal remained unmolested until 1801, when Godoy sent an ultimatum and invaded the Alentejo. By the Peace of Badajoz (June 1801), Portugal lost the town of Olivenza and paid an indemnity.
From the Peace of Amiens (1802) until 1807, Portugal was once more immune from attack, though it was subjected to continuous pressure to break off the English connection. Napoleon sought to close all continental ports to British ships, but Portugal endeavoured to maintain neutrality. The secret Franco-Spanish Treaty of Fontainebleau (October 1807) provided for Portugal’s eventual dismemberment by Napoleon I and Godoy. Already one of Napoleon’s generals, Andoche Junot, was hastening across Spain with a French army, and on November 27 the prince regent and the royal family and court embarked on a fleet lying in the Tagus River and were escorted by British vessels to Brazil the court remained at Rio de Janeiro for 14 years. Junot declared the Braganças deposed, but his occupation of Portugal was challenged in August 1808 by the arrival of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later duke of Wellington) and 13,500 British troops in Mondego Bay. Winning the victories of Roliça (August 17) and Vimeiro (August 21), Wellington enabled his superiors to negotiate the Convention of Sintra (August 31), by which Junot was allowed to evacuate Portugal with his army.
A second French invasion (1808–09) led to Sir John Moore’s death at La Coruña, Spain, in January 1809 and the reembarkation of the British forces. In February William Carr (later Viscount) Beresford was placed in command of the Portuguese army, and in March a French force under Marshal Nicolas-Jean de Dieu Soult advanced from Galicia and occupied Porto. Wellesley returned to Portugal in April, drove Soult from the north, and, after his victory of Talavera de la Reina in Spain (July), withdrew to Portugal.
The third French invasion followed in August 1810 when Marshal André Masséna with Marshal Michel Ney and Junot entered Beira province. Defeated by Wellington at Bussaco (September 27) near Coimbra, the French found themselves facing the entrenched lines of Torres Vedras, north of Lisbon, where they wintered amid great privations. By the spring of 1811 they could only retreat, and on March 5 they began the evacuation of Portugal, harassed all the way by English and Portuguese attacks and crossing the frontier after a defeat at Sabugal (April 3).
Portugal and France made peace on May 30, 1814. Portugal was represented at the Congress of Vienna, but it played little part in the settlement. The series of Anglo-Portuguese treaties concluded between the years 1809 and 1817, however, was important insofar as it extended many of the conditions of the Anglo-Portuguese alliance to Brazil and had an influence on the future of Africa. England’s efforts to enlist Portuguese collaboration in suppressing the slave trade resulted in the treaty of January 22, 1815, and in the additional convention of 1817, by reason of which Portugal’s claims to a considerable part of Africa were formally recognized.
10 Most Long-lived Empires in History
Through the course of history, we've seen empires rise and fall over decades, centuries and even millennia. If it's true that history repeats itself, then perhaps we can learn from the missteps and the achievements of the world's greatest and longest lasting empires.
Empire is a tricky word to define. While the term is thrown around a lot, it's often misused and misrepresents a nation's political place. The simplest definition describes a political unit that exerts control over another political body [source: Schroeder]. Basically, it's a country or group of people that controls the political decisions of another lesser power.
The term hegemony is often used interchangeably with empire, but there are some key differences, just as there are differences between a leader (albeit an opportunistic leader) and a bully. Hegemony works within an agreed-upon set of international rules, whereas an empire makes and enforces the rules. Hegemony refers to dominant influence by one group over another set of groups, but requires majority consent to stay in power [source: Schroeder].
What were the longest-lasting empires in history, and what can we learn from them? We'll take a look at these kingdoms of the past, how they formed and the factors that eventually led to their fall.
The Portuguese Empire is remembered for having one of the strongest naval fleets the world has ever seen. A lesser-known fact is that it didn't give up its last vestige of land until 1999. The kingdom reigned for 584 years. It was the first global empire in history, spanning four continents. It began in 1415, when the Portuguese took Ceuta, a North African Muslim city. The expansion continued as they moved into Africa, India, Asia and eventually the Americas [source: Abernathy].
After World War II, decolonization efforts began in a number of areas, with many European countries pulling out of their colonies around the world. It wasn't until 1999 that Portugal gave up Macau to China, signaling the end of the empire [source: Landler].
The Portuguese Empire was able to expand because of its excellent weaponry, naval superiority and its ability to rapidly set up ports to trade sugar, slaves and gold. It also had enough manpower to quickly conquer new peoples and gain land [source: Perry]. But, like most empires throughout history, the conquered regions eventually sought to reclaim their land.
The Portuguese Empire crumbled due to several factors including international pressure and economic tension.
Next, we'll take a look at an empire that lasted for centuries despite significant internal differences.
At the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire spanned three continents and encompassed a broad range of cultures, religions and languages. Despite those differences, the empire managed to prosper for 623 years, from 1299 to 1922 A.D. [source: Faroqhi].
The Ottoman Empire got its start as a small Turkish state after the weakened Byzantine Empire withdrew from the area. Osman I pushed the boundaries of his empire outward, leaning on strong judicial, educational and military systems, as well as a unique method of transferring power [source: BBC].
The empire continued to expand, eventually taking Constantinople in 1453 and pushing deeper into European and North African territories. Civil wars in the early 1900s -- followed immediately by World War I and the Arab Revolt -- signaled the beginning of the end. At the conclusion of World War I, the Treaty of Sévres divided up most of the Ottoman Empire. The final nail in the coffin came after the Turkish War of Independence resulted in the fall of Constantinople in 1922 [source: Faroqhi].
Inflation, competition and unemployment are often cited as key factors in the Ottoman Empire's demise [source: BBC]. Each section of the massive kingdom was culturally and economically diverse, and its residents eventually wanted to break free.
Next, we travel back to 802 A.D. to visit a region now known as Cambodia.
Little is known about the Khmer Empire, however, its capital city of Angkor was said to be awe-inspiring, thanks in part to the Angkor Wat, one of the world's largest religious monuments, built during the height of the Khmer's power. The Khmer Empire began in approximately 802 A.D. when Jayavarman II was declared king over the region now known as Cambodia. Six hundred and thirty years later, in 1432, it dissolved [source: Daniels].
The bulk of what we know about this empire comes from stone murals in the region, as well as firsthand accounts from Chinese diplomat, Zhou Daguan, who travelled to Angkor in 1296, and published a book on his experiences called "The Customs of Cambodia" [source: Diamond]. Most of its reign was marked by war as the Khmer attempted to grow ever larger and capture more territory. Angkor was the primary home of nobles in the latter half of the empire. Neighboring civilizations fought for control of Angkor when the Khmer's power began to wane.
Theories abound about why the Khmer Empire fell. Some believe that a king adopted Theravada Buddhism, leading to a loss of workers, degeneration of the water-management system and, ultimately, weak harvests [source: Leitsinger]. Others argue the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai conquered Angkor in the 1400s. Others believe the final straw came when the kingdom transferred power to the city of Oudong, leaving the city of Angkor all but abandoned.
In a broad sense, the Khmer Empire is another example of the danger of growing too large to sustain oneself. Click to the next page to see if this trend continues.
Considering the length of its rule, we know surprisingly little about the day-to-day activities of the Ethiopian Empire. Ethiopia and Liberia were the only African powers to resist the European "Scramble for Africa." The empire's long reign began around 1270 A.D., when the Solomonid Dynasty overthrew the Zagwe Dynasty, declaring they owned the rights to the land based on a supposed lineage to King Solomon, shifting power to the Habesha people. From there, the dynasty went on to become an empire by incorporating new civilizations within Ethiopia under its rule [source: Roberts].
It wasn't until 1895, when Italy declared war against it that the Ethiopian empire began to falter. Ethiopia held off its invaders, but Italy wasn't done. In 1935, Benito Mussolini ordered Italian soldiers to invade Ethiopia in a war that raged for seven months before Italy was declared victorious. From 1936 until 1941, Italians ruled over the country [source: Keller].
The Ethiopian kingdom didn't overstretch its bounds or exhaust its resources, as we have seen in previous examples. Rather, Ethiopia had resources that more powerful countries wanted -- particularly coffee [source: Roberts]. Civil wars contributed to its weakened state, but in the end it was Italy's desire for expansion that led to Ethiopia's fall.
We know precious little about the Kanem Empire and how its people lived -- most of our knowledge comes from a text discovered in 1851 called the Girgam [source: Clark]. Over time, its primary religion became Islam, however it's thought the introduction of the religion may have brought internal strife in the empire's early years. The Kanem Empire was established sometime around 700 and lasted until 1376. It was located in what is now Chad, Libya and part of Niger.
According to the text, the Zaghawa people first founded their capital in 700 as the city of N'jimi. The empire's history is split between two different dynasties, the Duguwa and the Sayfawa -- the latter being the driving force to bring Islam to the country. Its expansion continued, including a period in which the king declared a holy war or jihad against all surrounding tribes.
The military system devised to facilitate the jihad created a governmental system based on hereditary nobility, in which soldiers were rewarded with the land they conquered, which they passed down to their sons. That system resulted in civil war that weakened the territory and made it vulnerable to attack. Bulala invaders were able to quickly take N'jimi in 1376 and eventually take control of the entire Kanem Empire.
The lesson of the Kanem Empire is that unpopular decisions can create internal conflict, leaving a once powerful people defenseless [source: Goodwin]. It's a story repeated throughout history.
The Holy Roman Empire was seen as a revival of the Western Roman Empire and as a political counter to the Roman Catholic Church. The name, however, comes from the fact that while the emperor was chosen by electors, he was crowned by the pope in Rome. The empire lasted from 962 to 1806 A.D. and consisted geographically of a large midsection of what is now central Europe, most notably the bulk of Germany.
The empire began when Otto I was declared king of Germany, but he would later be known as the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. At one point, the empire was made up of roughly 300 territories [source: Daniels]. After the Thirty Years War in 1648, the kingdom was fragmented -- planting the seed of independence.
In 1792, France was in the midst of revolt. By 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte had forced the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II to abdicate, and the area was reorganized as the Confederation of the Rhine.
Similar to the Ottoman and Portuguese empires, the Holy Roman Empire was made up of various ethnic backgrounds populated with lesser kingdoms. Ultimately, the lesser kingdom's desire for independence caused the greater empire to tumble.
Details are sketchy concerning the beginning stages of the Silla Empire, but we know by the sixth century it was a highly complex, lineage-based society where pedigree decided everything from the types of clothes one would wear to the jobs they'd have. While this system helped the empire initially gain land, it would eventually lead to its fall.
The Silla Empire began in 57 B.C. and covered what is now North and South Korea. Kin Park Hyeokgeose was the first to reign in the region. Under his rule, Silla continually expanded the empire, conquering a number of kingdoms on the Korean Peninsula. Eventually, a monarchy was formed. The Chinese Tang Dynasty and the Silla Empire were at war in the seventh century over the northern kingdom of Goryeo, but the Silla were able to fend them off [source: Connor].
A century of civil war among high-ranking families as well as the conquered kingdoms doomed the empire. Eventually, in 935 A.D. it abdicated power and became part of the new country of Goryeo, the same kingdom it was at war with in the seventh century. Historians don't know the exact circumstances that led to the demise of the Silla Empire, but it's generally held that neighboring nations were unhappy with the kingdom's continuing expansion across the Korean Peninsula. Theories suggest a smaller, ruling class may have fought back to gain sovereignty.
The pride of the Venetian Empire was its massive naval fleet, which enabled its rapid expansion across Europe and the Mediterranean, eventually conquering historically important cities such as Cyprus and Crete. The Venetian's ruled for an amazing 1,100 years, from 697 A.D. to 1797 A.D. It began when the Western Roman Empire fell to Italy, but started in earnest when Venetians declared Paolo Lucio Anafesto their duke. The empire went through several significant changes, but consistently expanded across what is now known as the Republic of Venice, eventually warring with -- among others -- the Turks and the Ottoman Empire.
An abundance of wars left the Venetian Empire with little in the way of defenses. The city of Piedmont fell to France, and Napoleon Bonaparte seized parts of the empire. When Napoleon issued an ultimatum, and Doge Ludovico Manin surrendered in 1797, Venice was brought under Napoleon's rule [source: Willis].
The Republic of Venice is a classic example of an empire stretching its borders so far that it couldn't properly protect its capital. Unlike other empires, it wasn't civil war that led to its demise, but war with its neighbors. The highly regarded Venetian naval fleet, which had once been on the offensive, was stretched too thin to defend its own empire.
The Kush Empire ruled from 1070 B.C. to around 350 A.D. in what is now known as the Republic of Sudan [source: Welsby]. Over the course of its long history, not much is known about the exact details of its politics however, there is evidence of monarchies during the later years. Still, the Kush exerted power over several smaller nations in the area and managed to maintain power in the region while expanding south to conquer lands with a resource they relied on, timber. Its economy was heavily dependent on trading iron and gold.
Some evidence suggests the empire came under attack from desert tribes, but other scholars speculate the territory's overdependence on the iron economy lead to deforestation, forcing its people to disperse when they ran out of timber needed to burn to forge the iron. [source: BBC].
Other empires failed because they exploited their own people or neighboring countries, but the deforestation theory suggests the Kingdom of Kush fell because it destroyed its own land. Its rise and its fall were connected to the same industry.
1: Roman/Eastern Roman Empire
The Roman Empire is not just one of the most famous in history it's also the longest-lasting. It spanned several different eras, but essentially lasted from 27 B.C. to 1453 A.D. -- a grand total of 1,480 years [source: Daniels]. The republic that preceded it was brought down by civil wars, which led to the appointment of Julius Caesar as dictator. The empire expanded across modern day Italy and much of the Mediterranean region. It had much strength, but Emperor Diocletian introduced one key factor insuring long-lasting success in the third century. He determined that two co-emperors could handle authority and alleviate the stress of massive expansion, laying the foundation for the eventual Eastern and Western Roman Empires [source: Williams].
The Western Roman Empire dissolved in 476 A.D., when Germanic forces revolted and removed Romulus Augustus from the seat of emperor. The Eastern Roman Empire continued to prosper after 476 A.D., coming to be known more commonly by present day historians as the Byzantine Empire.
Class conflicts led to the Byzantine civil war of 1341-1347 A.D., which not only decreased the empires numbers, but also allowed the short-lived Serbian Empire to make territorial gains on Byzantine-ruled lands. Social turmoil and plague further weakened the kingdom. Combined with growing unrest within the empire, the plague and social turmoil, the empire finally fell when the Ottoman Empire took Constantinople in 1453 A.D. [source: Daniels].
Despite Diocletian's co-emperor strategy that undoubtedly extended the life span of the Roman Empire, it met the same fate as other ruling powers whose massive expansion and varying ethnicities eventually demanded sovereignty.
These empires were the longest-lasting in history, yet each of them had weak points. Whether it was the exploitation of land or people, no empire has been able to restrain social unrest caused by class, unemployment or lack of resources.