Portugal is located at South-West extreme of Europe and consists of the mainland and the islands: the Azores (Açores) and Madeira islands. It is 91,905 sq. km in area and has the population of almost 9.928 million people (1998). 36 per cent of the population is urban. Homogeneous Mediterranean people make up the majority population. A small African ethnic minority reminds of the Portugal’s colonial history. 97 per cent of the population belong to the Roman Catholic religion and the official language is Portuguese.

The polarity between a few major cities (Lisbon and Oporto in the first place) with abundant cultural facilities on one side and rural areas which remain peripheral and fairly isolated on the other, still marks the environment for cultural policy in Portugal. Formerly strictly centralized, the cultural field in Portugal is undergoing profound changes, not merely from the administrative point of view, but also in terms of global restructuring.

The approach of the state is changing and more and more effort is being put into shaping a balanced and more decentralized system. The demand for a more even distribution of cultural initiatives and funding is influencing the development of a new model of regional division of the country.


The management of cultural affairs in Portugal is divided between central governmental institutions affiliated to the ministries, directly involved in the field and local executive bodies charged with applying the global national policy, but also enjoying a degree of independence in matters of finance and decision-making. The importance of local executive powers is reinforced by the relative vagueness of the structural model for public institutions dealing with culture, so that many decisions depend on the initiative of the actual personnel involved.

The restructuring of the administrative model has been followed by a constant growth in public expenditure during the last decade, but also by a stronger presence of private sponsors, who are gaining considerable control over some sectors, notably in the field of cultural industries. Such growth is due to Portugal’s entry to the EEC in 1986, which changed life in all levels in the country, while culture was particularly affected. In the last few years Portugal has been present at many important cultural meetings or has been a host of many cultural events, such as the most recent one of the international importance, EXPO 1998.

These initiatives have caused a great promotion of cultural resources, as well as increased professionalization of cultural life.


2.1 Public and semi-public bodies
Central government

The highest public body in charge of cultural affairs in Portugal is the State Secretariat for Culture. It consists of the four following main branches:

  • Administration and Organization;
  • Promotion of Culture and Supervision of Copyrights;
  • Support for Events in all disciplines;
  • International Cultural Relations.

The State Secretariat for Culture also installed four regional self-governing institutions for culture outside Lisbon, in the north, in the central area, in Alentejo and the Algarve.

There are also other government agencies and institutions involved in cultural activities:

  • General Directorate for Buildings and National Monuments (Direcção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais) is attached to the Ministry of Public Works. Together with the Ministry of Culture, it is in charge of planning and managing the restoration and preservation of historic monuments;
  • State Secretariat for Tourism (Secretaria de Estado do Turismo), attached to the Ministry of Trade and Tourism;
  • Ministry of National Defence (Ministério da Defesa Nacional), responsible for military and similar museums and collections;
  • Ministry of Internal Administration (Ministério da Administração Interna) is in charge of coordinating the activities of local administrative bodies.

Regional and local governments

The support for culture on the regional level and its incorporation in the general technical and financial framework of regional development is assured by a network of local commissions covering the mainland territory. There are five commissions corresponding to the following regions:

  • Algarve,
  • Alentejo,
  • Centre,
  • North,
  • Lisbon and Tegus Valley.

Continental Portugal is divided into 335 municipalities (30 more are spread over Madeira and the Açores Islands) which are grouped in 18 districts.

The local authorities exercise their mandates in the preservation of municipal culture and heritage. The district assemblies are authorized to establish and maintain local museums and to manage the research, conservation and presentation of archaeological, historical, folklore and artistic values.

Cultural affairs in the autonomous regions of Madeira and the Azores are managed by their local departments for culture, whose competencies correspond to those of the central government. The organizational model in these regions is roughly the following:

  • Regional Government of the Azores (Governo Regional dos Açores)
    a) Regional Secretariat for Education and Culture (Secretaria Regional de Educação e Cultura)
    b) Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs (Direcção Regional dos Assuntos Culturais)
  • Regional Government of Madeira (Governo Regional da Madeira)
    a) Regional Secretariat for Tourism and Culture (Secretaria Regional do Turismo e Cultura)
    b) Regional Directorate for Culture (Direcção Regional da Cultura).

2.2 Facilities and institutions

The Ministry of Culture also manages the activities of several other public bodies for coordination, national funds and councils:

  • Cultural Promotion Fund (Fundo de Fomento Cultural), in charge of financial subsidies for the development of different sectors of culture, providing scholarships and prizes for the arts,
  • Portuguese National Library and National Book Institute (Instituto da Biblioteca Nacional e do Livro),
  • Portuguese Institute for Cinematography and the Audiovisual Arts (Instituto Português da Arte Cinematográfica e do Audiovisual),
  • Portuguese Cinemateca (Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema),
  • Portuguese Institute for Architectural and Archaeological Heritage (Instituto Português do Patrimonio Arquitectónico e Arqueológico),
  • Portuguese Symphony Orchestra (Orquestra Sinfónica Potuguesa),
  • Oporto Classical Orchestra (Orquestra Clássica do Porto),
  • Portuguese Institute of Museums (Instituto Português de Museus),
  • Drama Institute (Instituto das Artes Cénicas),
  • National Dance Company (Companhia Nacional de Bailado e da Dança),
  • International Academy of Portuguese Culture (Academia Internacional de Cultura Portuguesa),
  • National Academy of Fine Arts (Academia Nacional de Belas-Artes),
  • Portuguese Academy of History (Academia Portuguesa de História),
  • National Archives Torre de Tombo (Arquivo Nacional Torre de Tombo).

Five regional delegations for culture covering the Portuguese mainland and belonging directly to the administrative structure of the State Secretariat for Culture are the main factor in the decentralization of culture. The Regional Delegations of North, Centre, Lisbon, Alentejo and Algarve (Delegação Regional do Norte, Delegação Regional do Centro, Delegação Regional de Lisboa, Delegação Regional do Alentejo, Delegação Regional do Algarve) coordinate development on the regional level and supervise projects outside the scope of the national cultural programme.

Culture & Entertainment - Expat Guide to Portugal | Expatica

Non-governmental and mixed institutions

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is a privately financed organization supporting a wide range of cultural institutions and programmes in all sectors. It coordinates a major network of libraries in the country, runs two museums, a symphony orchestra and a dance troupe. It manages the activities of research institutes and publishes a series of periodical reviews of art and literature.

It also provides support for independent bodies and individuals, as well as scholarships for research in Portuguese culture. Internationally, it runs several cultural centres located in the main world capitals, dedicated exclusively to the promotion of the Portuguese language and culture.

The National Centre for Culture (Centro Nacional de Cultura) is a private association founded in 1945 and dedicated to the public promotion of cultural issues and safeguarding of cultural heritage. It aims to be a connecting link between those whose paths do not normally cross: old and young people, artists and businessmen, public and private sector.

The Serralves Foundation (Fundação da Serralves) in Oporto is a mixed institution dedicated to promoting cultural events.

The Discoveries Foundation (Fundação das Descobertas) in Lisbon is an official institution for the administration and support of cultural activities of the Belem Cultural Centre (Centro Cultural de Belem).

The Fundação Oriente is a private institution supporting and carrying out activities of a cultural, artistic and philanthropic nature, having Portugal and Macao as privileged areas.