the flag of Portugal: meaning and some curiosities

The Portuguese flag

The flag of Portugal is divided into two colored fields: green, on the hoist, and red, on the fly. At the center, there is an armillary sphere and the shield of Portugal.

The current version of the Portugal flag dates back to 1911 and it was created less than a year after the fall of the monarchy in Portugal (1910). Painter Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, politician João Chagas and diplomat Abel Botelho were some of the names of the commission that has created the new design, a clear cut with the past.

Instead of the traditional blue and white, that were used during the monarchy, the new flag of Portugal comes with vibrant green and red colors. The green representing hope, the red symbolizing the courage and blood shed for the nation.

Flag of Portugal: the sphere, the shields and the bezants

The armillary sphere and the Portugal shield remain as the main symbols of the flag of Portugal. The first one is an early astronomic device that was used by the Portuguese to help navigation. It is like a skeleton globe with rings that represent the tropics, Equator, polar circles, etc., and that has become a symbol of the old Portuguese empire and the epic maritime adventures of the Portuguese explorers since the 15th-century.

The shield of Portugal presents a series of elements. First, the seven castles. They are often considered a symbol of the Moorish enemies defeated by king Afonso III, back in the 13th-century, but this theory is not unanimous, with some historians underlying that the king himself did not have seven castles in his banner, but rather an unspecified number.

The second element is the five small blue shields arranged in a cross, with their five white bezants. It is commonly accepted that these bezants represent the five wounds of Christ when crucified. Summing up all the bezants and doubling the ones in the central shield, you will have 30, a symbol of the thirty pieces of silver accepted by Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus.

Legend says that these five shields with five bezants were used by the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, as a tribute to Jesus and a reference to the Miracle of Ourique. The battle of Ourique (1139) is one of the most important in Portugal’s history and, according to the legend, it was preceded by an apparition of Jesus Christ to Afonso Henriques to let him know that he would win the battle and anticipating future victories.

It is often said that these five shields also represent the five Moorish kings killed by Afonso Henriques: the kings of Sevilha, Badajoz, Elvas, Évora and Beja. Once again, myth, legend and history get mixed and some point out that Afonso Henriques used a flag with more bezants on each shield, which would compromise these explanations.

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