Centro Region, Portugal
Symbolic of the Central Region, the Serra da Estrela the highest peak/mountain range in continental Portugal
|Name origin: centro, Portuguese for centre|
|Highest point||Torre (Serra da Estrela)|
|Lowest point||Sea level|
|- location||Atlantic Ocean|
|Area||28,462 km2 (10,989 sq mi)|
|Density||81.76/km2 (212/sq mi)|
|- summer (DST)||WEST (UTC+1)|
|GDP (PPP)||2013 estimate|
|- Total||€ 40.754 billion|
|- Per capita||€ 17,800|
|GDP (nominal)||2013 estimate|
|- Total||€ 31.780 billion|
|- Per capita||€ 13,900|
Location of the Centro Region in context of the national borders
|Statistics from INE (2005); geographic detail from Instituto Geográfico Português (2010)|
The Centro Region (Portuguese: Região Centro, IPA: [ʁɨʒiˈɐ̃w̃ ˈsẽtɾu]) is a region in central Portugal. The cities with major administrative status inside this region are Coimbra, Aveiro, Viseu, Leiria, Castelo Branco, Covilhã, Figueira da Foz and Guarda. It is one of the seven Regions of Portugal (NUTS II subdivisions). It is also one of the regions of Europe, as given by the European Union for statistical and geographical purposes. Its area totals 28,462 km2 (10,989 sq mi). As of 2011, its population totalled 2,327,026 inhabitants, with a population density of 82 inhabitants per square kilometre.
Inhabited by the Lusitanians, an Indo-European people living in the western Iberian Peninsula, the Romans settled in the region and colonized it as a part of the Roman Province of Lusitânia. The Roman town of Conímbriga, near Coimbra, is among the most noted and well-preserved remains of that period. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Visigoths were the main rulers and colonizers from the 5th to the 8th century.
In the earliest years of the Christian Reconquista, just before the rise of a Portuguese national identity, the region was a battleplace for Muslim Moors and Christian crusaders. Once the Moors were expelled, the Christian kings and landlords made the region a county, called the County of Coimbra. It was integrated into the newly created Condado Portucalensis, the early precursor of the modern nation of Portugal.
The modern region matches up roughly with the boundaries of the historical Beira Province, as well as the Oeste in former Estremadura and Médio Tejo in former Ribatejo. Beira was an historical province of Portugal and its name was used by the heirs to the Portuguese throne during the monarchy period, before 1910. The princes were known as the Princes of Beira.
Along the region’s mountainous border with Spain are a series of fortresses and castles that once protected the country from its many invaders. Over the centuries, Moors, Christians, Spaniards and Portuguese have all tried to take these villages, but their higher elevations usually gave them a distinct advantage. On that border, the more than one dozen fortified frontier villages beckon today’s visitors to come explore a 900-year history — full of the heroism, epic battles and romance upon which Portugal struggled to become a nation. Today, Portugal boasts the longest-standing border in all of Europe.
In these rural border villages, ancient rituals and religious festivals remain popular. Visitors can sample them and partake in the traditional foods of that area, such as cheese, sausages, and mountain honey.
In the fortress town of Almeida, a walk through the narrow cobbled streets can lead a visitor to the ruins of a once mighty 12-pointed fortress. One of Portugal’s many Pousadas— an historic property turned into an inn— is located in Almeida.
In the town of Castelo Rodrigo, a memorial stone marks the place of a fierce battle in 1664, and visitors can view the remains of the castle and its keep, as well as a palace. The town also has a small Gothic church. Near Castelo Mendo stands an intricate stone bridge built by the Romans.
Most of the castles in this border region of Centro are classified as national monuments. These stone fortresses date back to the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. Castles, or parts of castles, still stand at Alfaiates, Sortelha, Vilar Maior, Sabugal, Castelo Mendo, Castelo Bom, Castelo Rodrigo, Penamacor, Monsanto, Pinhel and Almeida. A 20-castle route has been delineated by the Portugal government (see www.visitportugal.com), of which Sortelha, Castelo Mendo, Castelo Rodrigo and the fortified town of Almeida are considered gems among them all.
The Centro is a region of diversified landscapes. The interior is mountainous with some plateaus, dominated by the Serra da Estrela mountain. The region is plentiful of pine and chestnut trees forests. The green, rugged landscape of this region is crisscrossed by rivers. Several river valleys at the foot of the mountains have a full bodied charm that draw one to outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, tennis and canoeing. In the Winter season, skiing on Serra da Estrela is a popular activity, but in some places, like near the town of Seia, skiing before the Winter season is possible due to artificial snow infrastructures. The coastal plain has several beaches, like the ones of Mira, Figueira da Foz, Ílhavo, Nazaré, Peniche and São Martinho do Porto. Natural landmarks in this region are the Serra da Estrela mountain range (the biggest and highest in mainland Portugal), with its Serra da Estrela Natural Park, the Mondego river (the longest river located exclusively in Portuguese territory), the Aveiro Lagoon (Ria de Aveiro) and the coastal beaches.
The largest urban centres include Coimbra, Fátima, Aveiro, Viseu, Leiria, Covilhã, Castelo Branco, Figueira da Foz, Guarda, Pombal, Tomar, Abrantes, Torres Vedras, Torres Novas, Águeda and Caldas da Rainha.
The region is divided in twelve sub-regions:
- Baixo Mondego
- Baixo Vouga
- Beira Interior Norte
- Beira Interior Sul
- Cova da Beira
- Médio Tejo
- Pinhal Interior Norte
- Pinhal Interior Sul
- Pinhal Litoral
- Serra da Estrela
One of Portugal's richest regions by the abundance of natural streams of water, forests, arable land and its long coast line, the Centro region has some of the most economically dynamic and densely populated municipalities of the country. Excellent transportation links with the Lisbon Metropolitan Area to the south and the Porto Metropolitan Area to the north, making ocean, rail and motorway access possible via containers, have all contributed to making manufacturing the principal industry, found mainly in the littoral strip, which is one of the largest industrialized areas in Portugal. Important products such as motor vehicles, food, electrical appliances, machinery, chemicals, and paper are produced there. Higher education, research and development, healthcare, information technologies, biotechnology, forestry, agriculture, fishing, and tourism industries are all major industries in the region. The wine regions of Dão DOC and Bairrada DOC are among the most reputed in Portugal. The major industrial, commerce, and service centres are located in and around Coimbra, Aveiro, Viseu, Leiria, Covilhã, Castelo Branco, and Figueira da Foz. Important light industry and agriculture is also based in and around Guarda, Torres Novas, Torres Vedras and Caldas da Rainha.
The Centro region has three public universities: the University of Coimbra, the oldest Portuguese university and the largest in the region; the Aveiro University; and the University of Beira Interior. There are also five state-run polytechnical institutes: Castelo Branco Polytechnical Institute; Coimbra Polytechnical Institute; Guarda Polytechnical Institute; Leiria Polytechnical Institute; and Viseu Polytechnical Institute. In addition, there are a large number of public nursing schools and private higher education institutions across the region.