Administrative divisions of Portugal

Administrative divisions of Portugal
The border between the municipalities of Lisbon and Oeiras; shared also by the civil parishes of Santa Maria de Belém (Lisbon) and Algés (Oeiras)

Administratively, Portugal is a unitary and decentralized State. Nonetheless, operationally, it is highly centralized system with administrative divisions organized into three tiers.[1] The State is organized under the principles of subsidiarity, local government autonomy, and democratic decentralization of the public service.[1] Although mainland Portugal has yet to implement a regional level tier, the autonomous regions of Madeira and the Azores have their own regional political and administrative statutes and self-governing institutions.

Until the end of the authoritarian regime (1926–1974), the administration of Portugal was highly centralized in the monarchy and, later, the republican governments.[1] Administratively, Portugal was divided into districts (Portuguese: distritos), municipalities (Portuguese: municípios or concelhos) and civil parishes (Portuguese: freguesias), with only the last two having some political autonomy.

The current government structure is based on the 1976 Constitution, adopted after the 1975 Carnation Revolution. In addition to defining the autonomous status of the Azores and Madeira (Articles 225-234), the Constitution specifically identifies the three tiers of government (Article 235-262): civil parishes, municipalities and administrative regions (Portuguese: regiões administrativas). In addition, Law No.11/2003 (13 May 2003) allows the municipalities to organize themselves into inter-municipal communities (Portuguese: comunidades intermunicipais), that can be of general or specific purposes; and metropolitan areas (Portuguese: áreas metropolitanas), that can be of two types: great metropolitan areas (Portuguese: grandes áreas metropolitanas) and urban communities (Portuguese: comunidades urbanas). The 1976 Constitution allows a high degree of freedom for the lower tier governments to decide their expenditures, but they are conditioned by state transferences to operate.[1] A referendum was conducted in 1998 in order to implement statutory and political regions with some degree of autonomy, but was rejected. As a consequence of these constitutional revisions the "district" has been removed from the legal framework, but still remains an important and relevant division for other entities. Similarly, it is still recognized by the general public. The 2011 bailout accord resulted in the proposed reduction of the number of municipal and parish local governments after July 2012, a condition of the $110 Billion accord.

In addition, the Portuguese territory was redefined during European integration, under a system of statistical regions and subregions known as Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics. These NUTS definitions, used for collecting statistical information, follow many of the countries border definitions. Although utilized by the Portuguese government, they do not have a legal status in law.



Portugal has a complex administrative structure, a consequence of a millennium of various territorial divisions. Unlike Spain or France, the Portuguese territory was settled early, and maintained with stability after the 13th century.[2]

The first division of the Portuguese territory was based exclusively on the Roman Iberian provinces of Tarraconensis, Lusitania and Baetica, established by Emperor Augustus between 27-13 B.C.[3] The actual territory of Portugal north of the Douro, the Province of Tarraconensis, occupied half of the peninsula, while the Province Lusitania, included the area south of the Douro. These Roman provinces were themselves subdivided into conventus iuridicus: Conventus Bracarum, its seat in Bracara Augusta (today the city of Braga); Conventus Scallabitanus, its seat in Scallabis (today the city of Santarém); and Conventus Pacensis, its seat in Pax Julia (today Beja).[4] By the end of the third century, Emperor Diocleatian administratively reordered Tarraconesis, dividing it into three separate territories (Tarraconensis, Carthaginensis and Callaecia), the latter comprising the northern Portugal, Galizia and Austurias.[5] These divisions remained constant even after the Visigoths controlled the Iberian peninsula.

During the period of Al-Andalus and Muslim caliphates, the Iberian peninsula was divided administratively into provinces (kuwar) and municipalities (kurar), along the lines of the Roman-Visigothic delineations.[6] Meanwhile, the taifa of Badajoz dominated the spaces of Beiras, Estremadura and a great part of the Alentejo.[6]

With the expansion of the Portuguese national territory, following the conquest of new lands, the monarchy imposed a structure that permitted permanent dominion and organization of territorial space.[2][4] There was also a tendency to demarcate lands associated with settlements or seigneurial properties; there was a constant history of forals (the royal charters) being allocated for unorganized territories, as a means to primarily establish fielty rights and encourage medieval settlement.[4][6] Historically, the institution of the foral system was a way to divide the territory and to establish local administrative control (and not regional or hierarchical continuity).[4][7] Similarly the parish, instituted by the religious orders that dominated the country, controlled local ecclesiastical power at the local level.

During the reign of King Dinis (1279–1325), the monarch instituted a series of inquiries throughout the kingdom which resulted, a few years later, in the configuration of the territory into provinces and municipalities.[8] This was the first official recognition of the diversity of the country, and in the King's Testamento do Reino de Portugal he recognized the five "regions" of the nation: Antre Douro e Minho; Antre Douro e Mondego; Beira,Estremadura and Antre Tejo e Odiana.[4][9]


1936 provinces of Continental Portugal

Dinis's successor, Afonso IV (1325–1357), instituted a system of six official comarcas, that reflected a concrete definition of these regions: Antre Douro e Minho, Antre Douro e Mondego, Beira,Estremadura, Antre Tejo e Odiana and Algarve.[4][6][7] Between the reign of Afonso IV and the 20th century there were numerous alterations to the limits of the nation, a consequence of development and population growth. Further modifications to the limits of these provinces occurred in the Plano de Ordenamento da Mata Nacional da Machada (1864), the first scientific delimiting of forest resources, and the Projecto Geral da Arborização dos Areais Móveis de Portugal (1897), which modified land usage along the coast.[9]

But, until 1832, the provinces did not serve an administrative function, although they did mark the differences in habits, linguistic peculiarities and socio-cultural characteristics. The province remained a military designation, chiefed by the General das Armas (English: Military Governor), expressly forbidden from influencing municipal affairs. During the Liberal regime, some of the liberal politicians conceived an administrative system where provinces were the top level tier of government, maintaining their former names, but with different frontiers.[2] The debate over the importance of provinces only arose from fears that there would be an excessive concentration of power in the hands of governmental officers (Portuguese: prefeitos). The adoption of the 17 districts (1835) instead of eight provinces was an attempt to dissolve such power.

But, by 1976, the distinction was once again dropped, even as Portugal was divided into regions (Portuguese: regiões) or provinces (Portuguese: províncias). There was a substantial difference between the European provinces and regions and the overseas colonies (the so-called overseas provinces). The Provinces were inspired by the geneticregions of Portugal and royal Comarcas, and used by the Estado Novo dictatorship to characterize traditional and rural Portugal in the first half of the 20th century.[10] Yet, the Districts continued to define administrative and political control, much like the organization of public security for the State, limiting the powers of local government.[10] This organizational structure for the territory resulted in a loss of the sense of regional identity, which was only kept alive by oral traditions, based on regional references of origin.[10]

Following the Carnation Revolution, the regions and provinces were abolished and the districts became the second level administrative regions.


The term overseas province was exalted by the government of António de Oliveira Salazar only after 1951 to shift the attention of anti-colonial protests in the United Nations.[11] But the history of extra-local territories (colonies or provinces) within Portuguese administration dates back to the first settlements along the African coast, South-east Asia and Brazil, and were instituted as part of the 1832 reforms. The initiatives envisioned a comprehensive series of provinces that would have included European Portugal, archipelagos and extra-local dependencies in Southeast Asia, Africa and India. These colonies included[12]:

  • Portuguese West Africa  an overseas province between 1951 and 1975, when it became the independent nation of Angola;
  • Cape Verde – an overseas province between 1951 and 1974, autonomous republic between 1974 and 1975, when it became an independent nation;
  • Portuguese Guinea  an overseas province between 1951–1974, until unilaterally declaring independence as Guinea Bissau in 1973 (later recognised by Portugal in 1974);
  • Macau  overseas province between 1844 and 1883; included many of the overseas provinces of South-east Asia with Portuguese Timor in the administration of Goa, between 1883 and 1951); an overseas province between 1951 and 1975; special territory between 1975 and 1999, before being returned to China as a special administrative region in 1999;
  • Portuguese East Africa  overseas province between 1951 and 1974); local administration between 1974 and 1975, before it became the independent nation of Mozambique;
  • Portuguese India  an overseas province between 1946 and 1962, it was annexed by India in 1962 (and later recognised by Portugal in 1974);
  • São Tomé and Príncipe  an overseas province between 1951 and 1971); local administration between 1971 and 1975, before it became an independent nation in 1975;
  • Portuguese Timor  an overseas territory between 1951 and 1961, until unilaterally declaring independence as East Timor in 1975, it was annexed by Indonesia in 1976, recognised by UN as non-self-governing-territory under Portuguese administration between 1961–1999. After 1999 it was a United Nations protectorate until formal independence in 2002.

Initially the population of these overseas territories were made to exploit resources (minerals, spices, wood or slaves), but later there was a sense of evangelisation or lusotropolicalism, that facilitated the colonization of these lands.[13] The first significant colony was Brazil whose history included a period as kingdom within the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarve(1815–1822), before a political schism would result in its independence in 1822.


The district system dates back to 25 April 1835, a creation of the Liberal government, and inspired by the French départements, with the objective to "facilitate the action of government...and permit access to the authorities".[14] The district, although currently in a process of being phased out, is the most relevant and historically significant subdivision of the nation's territory; it serves as the basis for a series of administrative divisions, such as electoral constituencies or district football associations, as well as being a socially recognizable territorial division of the country.[15] In 1976, Portugal was divided into 18 districts and two autonomous regions (the Azores and Madeira), consisting of 308 municipalities (Portuguese: concelhos), which in turn were divided into 4257 local government authorities (Portuguese: freguesias).

There are 18 districts in mainland Portugal:

  1. Lisbon
  2. Leiria
  3. Santarém
  4. Setúbal
  5. Beja
  6. Faro
  7. Évora
  8. Portalegre
  9. Castelo Branco
  10. Guarda
  11. Coimbra
  12. Aveiro
  13. Viseu
  14. Bragança
  15. Vila Real
  16. Porto
  17. Braga
  18. Viana do Castelo
Districts of Portugal

The distribution of Portuguese districts is nominally homogeneous, although there are outliers (Beja for example is 4.6 times larger than the smallest district, Viana do Castelo). But these divisions bely the inadequacies and disparities that exist within the country: the distribution of population and gross domestic product between territorial units are markedly different.[15] The district of Beja, for example, represents approximately 11.5% of the area of Portugal, while Viana do Castelo is less than 2.5%. But, in comparison, Beja represents only 1.6% of the population of Portugal.[15]

Portugal is primarily a seafaring nation, and traditionally human settlement has congregated along the coastline, so much so that the coastal districts, while being relatively small, were disproportionately larger by population.[15] The six largest districts (with the exception of Santarém) are the six districts with the smallest populations and common character: a frontier with Spain.[15] Of these interior districts, which represent 63.8% of the nation and have a population that is less than two million residents, is only marginally less than the population of the district of Lisbon.[15]


Sudvision No. Description
Regiões Autónomas 2 Autonomous Regions
Distritos 18 Districts
Grande Área Metropolitana 7 Greater Metropolitan Areas
Comunidades Urbanas 12 Urban Communities
Concelhos 308 Municipalities
Freguesias 4261 Civil Parishes
Cidades 151 Cities
Vilas 533 Towns

It was in 1976 (with the establishment of the democratic constitution) that the fragmentation of Portugal into the system that exists today began.[15] There have been various political attempts to reorganize the system to reflect a practical and logical rationale based on economic, cultural and demographic realities. The most recent attempt, a process of regionalization, proposed by Socialist Prime Minister António Guterres was defeated in a referendum on 8 November 1998.[15]

The division of the Portuguese territory is established in title eight (Título VIII) of the Portuguese constitution: granting local authority to territorial collectivities with representative organs to affect the interests of the local populations.[16] These collectivities are defined as regions,municipalities and civil parishes, but reserves the right of urban areas and islands to establish other forms of local authority.[16] In defining the rights and privileges of these entities, the constitution also defines sources of income, that includes local heritage, budgets and equalization transfers from the State, in addition to defining the basic role of local government at each level.[16]

In 2011, after more than two weeks of bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, the Portuguese government was obliged to reduce the number of municipal and parish local governments after July 2012.[17] It was determined that these changes would then be formalized before the 2013 local government elections, as part of a process to reduce expenditures, a condition of the $110 Billion accord.[17]


Administrative Regions

Proposal of 8 administrative regions, referended in 1998.

Historically, by the end of the 18th century there were no regional forms of government, or regional identities; the concept of natural inner borders didn’t exist and the provinces did not have territorial unity.[2]

In November 1998, eight regions were officially identified by Decree Law 18/98, which resulted from an accord between the Socialist Party (PS) and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) in July 1997.[18] Trying to find an effective form of regional division, the compromise resulted in the PCP and The Greens (PEV) accepting the Entre Douro e Minho region, and the PS removing their demands for a division of the Alto and Baixo Alentejo region's definition.[18]

Later, the new territorial map of eight regions would include minor revisions to the borders (the southern border of the Douro, Alto Ribeatejo and Alta Extremadura), resulting in a consultation with respective municipal authorities. The new regional map was later referred jokingly as theMapa da T.S.F., because many of the political decision-makers made their decisions on the plan after listening to public comments from the transmissions of T.S.F. Rádio Notícias.[18] This transmission showed that, although the idea of regions was acceptable to the public, there was less consensus on their limits, or even outright hostility.[18] Party politics influenced municipal decisions to accept the proposal or assume positions that were not appreciated by the populations. The final map was neither an amalgamation of the districts or provinces, nor a dismemberment of the Áreas de Intervenção das Comissões de Coordenação Regional (English: Intervention Areas of the Regional Coordination Commissions), but there was confusion and disinformation, resulting in local unwillingness to accept regionalization in general.[18]

Autonomous regions

The regional capital of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, Ponta Delgada
Funchal the regional capital of the Autonomous Region of Madeira

Since 1978, Portugal conceded political autonomy to its North Atlantic archipelagos (Madeira and Azores) due to their distance, isolation, geographical context and socio-economic circumstances. The regional autonomies have their own organic laws, regional governments and administration, overseen by a Regional Government (Portuguese: Governo Regional), constituted by a Regional Presidency (Portuguese: Presidente do Governo Regional) and Cabinet comprising several Regional Secretaries (Portuguese: Secretários Regionais).

The Azores (Portuguese: Açores) is an archipelago of nine islands and several islets that were discovered and settled by the Portuguese in the late 15th century. The Azores lies a third of the distance between Europe and North America, along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and are volcanic in origin (there continue to be several active hydrothermal vents, hot springs, and several calderas that are dormant, in addition to active seismicity). Mount Pico (2,351 meters), on the island of Pico is considered the highest mountain in Portugal. The government and administration of the archipelago is distributed between the major urbanized centers of the Azores: the regional parliament is located in the city of Horta (on Faial Island); Ponta Delgada (on São Miguel Island) is the most populous city and home to the Regional Presidency and administration; while Angra do Heroísmo (on Terceira Island), the historical and cultural capital, is also the home of the Azorean judiciary and seat of the Diocese of the Azores.

Madeira is an archipelago that includes two principal islands, Madeira and Porto Santo, plus two uninhabited natural group of islands, the Desertas and Savage Islands (Portuguese: Ilhas Selvagens). The archipelago is located closer to Africa than Europe, is highly commercial and urbanized; its regional capital (Funchal) is developmentally comparable to urban centers in the Canary or Baleric Islands.


View of Coimbra, one of the two oldest municipalities in Portugal.
A beach in Vila Nova de Milfontes, part of the largest municipality of Portugal in area: Odemira.
São João da Madeira, one of the five municipalities with only one civil parish, and the smallest municipality in Portugal in area.
Vila do Corvo, by law, the only municipality to have no civil parish, and the smallest municipality in Portugal in population.

Apart from the national territory, that includes mainland Portugal and the two archipelagos, the municipalities have been the most constant territorial subdivision in the past 900 years.[2][19] While the term for municipality (Portuguese: concelho) appeared in the 13th century, to "express a community constituted in a territory of varying extensions, whose residents - the neighbours of the municipality - are granted major or minor administrative autonomy", the territorial division predates its use.[20] Preceding the nation's independence, the oldest of the larger municipalities still in existence Coimbra and Santarém were founded in 1085 e 1095, respectively. São João da Pesqueira (in the district of Viseu) is the oldest Portuguese municipality, founded in 1055.

Many of these municipalities have their origin in the foral charters that the Kings attributed to lands in order to facilitate growth or, to some, to validate settlement. A great number of these settlements permanence to today, subjects to those charters definitions and/or subjects to national laws established after the Liberal Constitution.[19] The existence since the Middle Ages of a large number of small municipalities with no financial resources and without people qualified to take part in municipal councils caused the stagnation of their growth. The Liberal revolution of 1836, resulted in the suppression/annexation of many of these smaller municipalities, which allowed the infusion of new revenues and facilitated growth in population and size.[2]

The distribution of municipalities within each district or autonomous region is relatively homogeneous (each having on average 15 municipalities within their territory).[19] The district with the most municipalities is Viseu (with 24), followed by Santarém and Aveiro (21 and 19 respectively), while Viana do Castelo has the least number of municipalities (just ten).

In comparison to districts, the 308 municipalities are less homogeneous.[19] The largest is Odemira (in the district of Beja) with 1720.6 km², 26106 inhabitants and subdivided into 17 civil parishes. The municipality of São João da Madeira (in the district of Aveiro) is the smallest with an area just over 8.11 km², corresponding to the city (with a density of 2601.97 inhabitants per km²). São João da Madeira is part of a small group of five municipalities that have one civil parish: Alpiarça (district of Santarém), Barrancos (district of Beja), Porto Santo (Madeira) and São Brás de Alportel (district of Faro).[19] Barcelos is the municipality with the largest number of civil parishes (89), while the municipality of Corvo (in the Azores), with an area of approximately 17.1 km² and 425 residents, is the only Portuguese municipality without a civil parish (Article 136, in the third revision of the Estatuto Político-Administrativo da Região Autónoma dos Açores).[19][21]

There are 308 municipalities in Portugal, that are colloquially known by councils (Portuguese: concelhos). Like the districts, the municipalities are usually named for its biggest city, or at least, one of its historically most important city or town. However, the municipality is usually much larger than the city or town after which it is named.

The municipality has been the most stable subdivision of Portugal, seat of local administrative and executive power. Since the establishment of a democratic local administration in 1976 (following the 25 April 1974 Carnation Revolution), the Portuguese municipalities have been ruled by a bicameral system. The municipal chamber(Portuguese: câmara municipal) is the executive body, and is composed of a president of the municipality and an even number of councillors whose number depends on the municipality's population, and which are elected proportionally to the votes received by the various parties or groups of citizens that take part in the municipal elections. The municipal assembly (Portuguese: assembleia municipal) is composed of the presidents of all the civil parishes plus a number of directly elected representatives that has to be at least equal to the number of civil parish presidents plus one, and which otherwise depends on the municipal population. These representatives are also elected proportionally to the votes obtained by the various political forces in dedicated elections.

Civil Parishes

The parish, in contrast with the municipalities, had their base in the ecclesiastical divisions that "had its origin in the fact that neighbours professed the same religion and professed their faith and divinity in the same temple".[22] Freguesia, the traditional Portuguese word for parish, had its beginning in the filius ecclesiae (English: child of the church) and filius gregis (English: child of the shepards's flock), the collectivity of the religious faithful, with similar aspirations and interests.[23] Between 1216 and 1223, Afonso II of Portugal began a process of legitimizing the Portuguese territory by conferring charters to nobles, clergy and municipal chambers (which would not be completed until after 1249 (under Afonso III of Portugal), making the parish the smallest division. But, the power of the clergy built theses areas, accumulating immense wealth and power. From his experiences in ythe Azores, Mouzinho da Silveira broke the power of the church and institutionalized the existent parishes into secular organs/divisions after 1835 (civil parishes).[24] The freguesia began to refer to the civil/administrative entity, while the paroquia (Latin: parochia) became affiliated with the religious entity.

As of 2010, the 308 municipalities were subdivided into 4,261 civil parishes, each one governed by their civil parish boards (Portuguese: juntas de freguesia) and headed by an executive that includes the president (Portuguese: presidente da junta de freguesia), treasurer and secretary.

As part of the austerity (brought on by the sovereign debt crisis) and administrative reforms of the local government, Paulo Júlio, Secretary of State for Local Administration (Portuguese: Secretário de Estado da Administração Local), admitted that until 2012, 1500 civil parishes would be extinguished throughout the country, in order to reduce costs and rationalize management.[25] The proposals, also justified these changes with the Green Book on Local Administrative Reform (Portuguese: Livro Verde da Reforma de Administração Local) suggesting most civil parishes did not meet minimum prerequisites associated with population densities, and that local elected officials would be able to better manage reconfigured parishes.[25] The National Association of Civil Parishes (Portuguese: Associação Nacional de Freguesias - ANAFRE), more pessimisticly, indicated that new criteria, established by the national government would result in the elimination of 2504 parishes with the reforms, based on criteria that defined populations in terms of predominantly urban (Portuguese: predominantemente Urbanas - APU), marginally urban (Portuguese: medianamente urbanas - AMU) and predominantly rural (Portuguese: predominantemente rurais - APR), suggesting that approximately 200 fell into a "grey zone".[26]


The Greater Metropolitan Area of Lisbon extending across the Tagus River and Estuary
The sister municipalities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, extending across the Douro River
The urbanized area of Viseu, in a metropolitan area that is equally urban and rural

Along the 20th century three processes have influenced the growth and asymmetries in the settlements within Portugal: litoralization, urbanization and bipolarization.[27] These processes concentrated activities in major agglomerations, resulting in the development of the main urban places and ancillary "bedroom communities", and disequality between regions.[28] Rural depopulation after the 1960s, resulted in the growth of clandestine barrios within Lisbon, but the tragedy of the 1967 Lisbon floods, highlighted the chaotic nature of suburban planning.[29] The need to manage urban entities in together to have economical benefits and to grant a more balanced distribution in the various zones. This is the fundamental reason to give to greater cities agglomerates an administrative feature different from the other cities.

The development of metropolitan areas and intermunicipal communities has as its base in the associative organization of the national territory based on the urban system, even as the 25th Constitution Government was unable to impose a regional-level tier.[10] The Portuguese Constitution accepts (but does not impose) an autonomous administrative level with its own elected bodies that would include and substitute bigger urban agglomerations.[30] But, while it acknowledges , "other forms of local authority/municipal territorial", it does not presuppose the creation of a "supra-municipal local autonomous authority (which would demand a direct election of their governing bodies by their own voters)".[31][32] In fact, inter-municipal solutions go back as far as the Administrative Code of 1936 that foresaw the "federations of municipalities".[33]

The 2 August 1991 legal framework (Law no. 44/91) for the creation of the Greater Metropolitan Area of Lisbon and the Greater Metropolitan Area of Porto did not have at its base in the Constitutionally mandated system of administrative regions, but was rather a "mandatory association of municipalities aggregating the two major cities" to only articulate municipal concerns.[34]

According to this law:

  • The Metropolitan Area of Lisbon would be based in Lisbon and would include 18 municipalities: Alcochete, Almada, Amadora, Azambuja, Barreiro, Cascais, Lisboa, Loures, Mafra, Moita, Montijo, Oeiras, Palmela, Sesimbra, Setúbal, Seixal, Sintra and Vila Franca de Xira (Article 2, no.1);
  • The Metropolitan Area of Porto would be based in Porto and would include the following nine municipalities:Espinho, Gondomar, Maia, Matosinhos, Porto, Póvoa do Varzim, Valongo, Vila do Conde and Vila Nova da Gaia (Article 2, no. 2).

The implementation of those two Metropolitan Areas depended on the favourable vote of a two thirds majority of the municipal assemblies that represented the majority of the population of the corresponding area.

Once the creation of the administrative region foreseen in the Constitution was immediately withdrawn after the failed referendum, the option to enlarge the metropolitan areas and to promote the association of local authorities/municipalities was made. This included:

  • the Greater Metropolitan Areas (GAM) – which included a minimum of nine municipalities and integrated, at least, 350,000 inhabitants; and
  • the Urban Communities (ComUrb), that had to comprise a minimum of three municipalities and integrated, at least, 150,000 inhabitants

Metropolitan Areas

The Greater Metropolitan Areas are territorial units formed by grouping municipalities, in order to economize on municipal investments and services. The revised listing, include:

Urban Communities

Intermunicipal communities

A voluntary association of communities not attached to geographic size, but grouped to take advantage of economies of scale:

Undefined areas

There are still undefined areas within the Portuguese territory:


Sudvision No. Description
NUTS 1: National 3 Continental Portugal, the Azores and Madeira
NUTS 2: Regions 7 Regional Coordination Commissions, and Autonomous Regions
NUTS 3: Subregion 30 Administrative and Autonomous Regions
LAU 1 308 Municipalities
LAU 2 4261 Civil Parishes
Territorial map corresponding to the NUTS I and NUTS II designations

Developed by Eurostat and implemented in 1998, the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) regions, which comprises three levels of the Portuguese territory, are instrumental in European Union'sStructural Fund delivery mechanisms.[38][39] The standard was developed by the European Union, and thus only covers the member states, and extensively used by national governments, Eurostat and other EU bodies for statistical and policy matters.[40][41] Until 4 November 2002, the Sistema Estatístico Nacional (SEN) used a NUTS codification system that was distinct from the Eurostat system. With the enactment of Decree Law 244/2002 (5 November 2002), published in the Diário da República, this system was abandoned in order to harmonize the national system with that of Eurostat.

The NUTS system subdivides the nation into three levels: NUTS I, NUTS II and NUTS III. In some European partners, as is the case with Portugal, a complimentary hierarchy, respectively LAU I and LAU II (posteriorly referred to as NUTS IV and NUTS V) is employed. The LAU, or Local Administrative Units, in the Portuguese context pertains to the 308 municipalities (LAU I) and 4257 civil parishes (LAU II) respectively. In the broadest sense, the NUTS hierarchy, while they may follow some of the borders (municipal or parish) diverge in their delineation.


The first and broadest subdivision of Portugal is between Mainland Portugal and the autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira.


Territorial map corresponding to the 30 subregions of mainland Portugal (NUTS III)

Although the districts are still the most relevant subdivision, the regions are growing in importance, and gaining some autonomy and power, even as the districts do not have standing in the Portuguese Constitution. Portugal is divided into five regions, administered by the Commissions for Coordination and Regional Development (Portuguese: Comissões de Cooperação e Desenvolvimento Regional) in mainland Portugal, plus the two autonomous regions that are their own NUTS II regions.


These seven regions are subdivided into 30 subregions (Portuguese: subregiões) with statistical relevance only. Each region is listed (north to south) with its subregions identified.

These regions are the Portuguese NUTS II subdivisions, based not at the district level, but at the municipal one, leading to large inconsistencies between district and region limits.

The two Autonomous Regions (Portuguese: regiões autónomas), in the Atlantic Ocean, correspond to NUTS I, II and III.


Municipalities and civil parishes were at NUTS IV and V levels, but these nomenclature units have being abolished and substituted by LAUs: the municipality is classified as LAU 1, while the civil parish is LAU level 2.


Sudvision No. Description
ISO 3166-2:PT 20 18 Districts and two Autonomous regions of Portugal
Constituencies 20 Assembly of the Republic: 18 Districts and two Autonomous regions of Portugal
Código Postal 10 Postal code zones (first digit)
Código Telefonica 51 Telephone area codes

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Carlos Nuno Silva (2002), p.5
  2. ^ a b c d e f Silveira, Luís (May 2000). "Origins and Evolution of the Portuguese Administrative System in Comparative Perspective". Lisbon, Porutgal: Universidade Nova de Lisboa. 
  3. ^ José António Costa Ferreira (2005), p.21
  4. ^ a b c d e f Lima, Manuel (2005). "Divisões Administrativas de Portugal: Um olhar pela diversidade da divisão territorial portuguesa" (in Portuguese). Lisbon, Portugal: Shapes of Portugal. 
  5. ^ José António Costa Ferreira (2005), p.22
  6. ^ a b c d José António Costa Ferreira (2005), p.23
  7. ^ a b Nuno Valério (2001), p.27
  8. ^ José António Costa Ferreira (2005), p.27
  9. ^ a b DGOTGU (2007), p.1
  10. ^ a b c d Poeira, Lourdes (2011). "Políticas da Território: A administração [Territorial Politics: The Administration]" (in Portuguese). Lisbom, Portugal: IGP Instituto Geográfico Português. Retrieved 2011-02-17. 
  11. ^ Gerald J. Bender (1978), p.xx
  12. ^ Nuno Valério (2001), p.14-23
  13. ^ Gerald J. Bender (1978), p.2-18
  14. ^ Luís Silveira (1997)
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Lima, Manuel (2005). "Divisões Administrativas de Portugal: Distritos" (in Portuguese). Lisbon, Portugal: Shapes of Portugal. 
  16. ^ a b c Portugal (2005)
  17. ^ a b "Governo e `troika` acordam reduzir número de câmaras e freguesias" (in Portuguese). Lisbon, Portugal: RTP Online. 4 May 2011. Retrieved 4 May 2011. 
  18. ^ a b c d e Martins, António. "Regiões de Portugal Continental" (in Portuguese). Lisbon, Portugal. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f Lima, Manuel (2005). "Divisões Administrativas de Portugal: Municípios e Freguesias" (in Portuguese). Lisbon, Portugal: Shapes of Portugal. 
  20. ^ José António Costa Ferreira (2005), p.24
  21. ^ (in Portuguese) Aprova a terceira revisão do Estatuto Político-Administrativo da Região Autónoma dos Açores 1ª Versão. X. Diário da República. 27 June 2008. pp. 6–130. 
  22. ^ José António Costa Ferreira (2005), p.26
  23. ^ * Mota, Valdemar (2 February 1995) (in Portuguese), Boletim da Instituto Histórico da Ilha Terceira, Angra do Heroísmo (Azores), Portugal: Instituto Histórico da Ilha Terceira (IHIT), pp. 71,, retrieved 24 June 2011 
  24. ^ José Hermano Saraiva (2007), 294-295
  25. ^ a b Template:Citation web
  26. ^ Template:Citation web
  27. ^ Luisa Schmidt & Susana Valente (2004), p.3
  28. ^ Luisa Schmidt & Susana Valente (2004), p.7
  29. ^ The first systematic urban planning (after the Carnation Revolution brought together 70 cabinet-level specialists to evaluate and urban planning in the Region of Lisbon, that was progressively aggravated by continuing rural exodus and returnees from the Colonial Wars (who continued to build clandestinely throughout the region (Luisa Schmidt & Susana Valente, 2004, p.8).
  30. ^ Oliveria (1996), p.3
  31. ^ Oliveira (1996), p.4
  32. ^ Portuguese Constitution, Article 241, no.2; "...without existing, at least, one''assembly elected by universal, direct and secret election by its resident citizens, there is no local autonomous authority."
  33. ^ Oliveria (1996), p.7
  34. ^ The Greater Metropolitan Areas (GAMs) were defined as "public collective entities of territorial scope to accomplish interests of the population from the integrating municipalities" and only assumed assignments related to public transport and road networks, sanitation, public supplies, environment and natural resources, civil protection regional investments. The fact that State transfers supported the legally mandated institutions (the administrative regions, the municipalities and local parishes) meant that GAMs were feeble attempts at intervention (Oliveira, 1996, p.6).
  35. ^ A subregion known as Grande Lisboa(English: Greater Lisbon), this term officially, refers to the southern Lisbon district territory, Península de Setúbal subregion includes the municipalities in northernSetúbal District.
  36. ^ Other densely populated cities in the Greater Metropolitan Area of Lisbon are: Amadora, Odivelas, Almada, Setúbal, Barreiro, Amora and Agualva-Cacem and Queluz.
  37. ^ Both Oliveira de Azeméis Municipality and Vale de Cambra Municipality will soon exit Greater Metropolitan Area of Aveiro.
  38. ^ The NUTS system was approved by Community Legislation in 1998, but only entered into function in 2003 through enacting regulations.
  39. ^ University of Coimbra (2010), p.2
  40. ^ Instituto Nacional de Estatística (Portuguese language) – Nomenclatura das Unidades Territoriais para fins Estatísticos 2002, accessed May 2006
  41. ^ de Informação Geográfica (Portuguese language) – Biblioteca de Mapas Administrativos, accessed May 2006

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