Lisbon dates back to pre-Roman times. Its early years were a constant battleground, with Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians in turn overthrown. In 205 BC the Romans began their two-century reign in Lisbon, and it became the most important city in the western Iberian region.
In 714 the powerful Moors arrived from Morocco, replacing a succession of northern tribes. They fortified the city and held out against Christian attack for an impressive 400 years. By 1147 the Moors' luck had turned and the Christians finally recaptured Lisbon.
The 15th century brought the Age of Discoveries - Portugal's golden era of sea exploration. Not satisfied with repelling the Moors from Portuguese soil, Prince Henrique (Henry the Navigator) decided to sap Islam's economic power by finding a way around it by sea. He put to work the best sailors, map makers, ship builders and astronomers he could find. In 1434 one of his ships sailed beyond the much-feared Cape Bojador on the West African coast, breaking a maritime superstition that this was the end of the world. The Prince was rewarded with gold and slaves from West Africa. In 1497 came Vasco da Gama's famous discovery of the sea route to India.
The glory days as the world's most prosperous trading centre were short lived. The cost of expeditions, maintaining overseas empires and attempting to Christianise Morocco brought Portugal to its knees. In 1580, in a bitter blow to national pride, Felipe II of Spain claimed the throne and it took 60 years for fed-up nationalists to overthrow their traditional rival and return Portugal to its people. By the late 17th century the tide had well and truly turned and the discovery of gold in Brazil saw Lisbon enjoy another period of profligate expenditure. Again, however, this extravagance was cut short. In 1755 a massive earthquake reduced the city to rubble and, sadly, Lisbon never recovered its power and prestige. In the early 20th century, a 16-year period brought 45 changes in government. Yet another coup in 1926 brought António de Oliveira Salazar onto the scene. Quickly rising from finance minister to prime minister, he ruled Portugal for 36 years, heading an authoritarian regime that lasted until 1976. During his rule, political parties and strikes were banned. Censorship, propaganda and brute force, exemplified by a feared secret police force, kept the country in order.
Revolution in 1974, in response to the continued unpopular military suppression of Portuguese colonies, brought a slow road to democracy. More political turbulence gradually changed to stability and ultimately membership of the European Union in 1986. With the support of the EU, and its much-needed injection of funds, Lisbon (and Portugal) finally began to shake off its depressed Salazar-era looks and lifestyle. Lisbon today is a thriving city with a strong economy and infrastructure, a rich cultural mix of immigrants from ex-colonies and a revitalised urban life. In 1998, Lisbon attracted international attention and adoration with its ocean-themed World Expo. Its next major event took place in 2004, when it played host to the continent's biggest football tournament, the European Football Championship.