I could not believe my eyes as we drove from the airport to the heart of Lisbon. The whole city appeared to be one huge construction site. 'Why all this mess?' I asked our driver. 'We are readying for EXPO '98 - the last World Fair of this century. You know, our city is full of history. It's a great place to hold this event.' The driver beamed as he manoeuvered through yet another traffic jam around piles of construction material.
Well did he have a point. Lisbon, a city of 1,700,000 people spread on seven hills, is well suited to hold this century's final global exhibition. It, like the whole nation, is being groomed, not only for 'EXPO '98' but for the expected future touristic onslaught.
Portugal was the centre of the world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries - in the era when its ships went searching for new worlds. The riches they brought back helped to build the country's many castles, churches and other fine structures that one sees throughout this 35,612 square miles of land - treasures of a time when Portugal ruled the seas and was the centre of a wealthy empire.
During these two centuries Portugal wrote a good part of mankind's history, and vestiges of this can be found across the world. The nation's traditions are engraved on the stones of its ancient structures, and in its many museums and venerable mansions. The country retains an aura of this regal splendour in spite of the modern smog, traffic and urban decay found in many of its large cities.
With this imperial background and its many natural attributes, Portugal is uniquely suited to become one of the top tourist nations in the world. In spite of the fact that the country edges the Atlantic, its Moorish-type architecture gives it a Mediterranean aura. Its sweeping coastline of fine beaches with their romantic fishing villages and luxuriant-mountainous interior, filled with towering castles, medieval hilltop villages and royal palaces makes it a …