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Subnational flags of Portugal

Last modified: 2014-11-08 by klaus-michael schneider
Keywords: portugal | subnational |
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  • All Portuguese -proper municipalities has widely used flags, all newly granted or revised in 1925-1935.
  • All Portuguese -proper communes are entitled to flag and arms since 1987, though more than half are still lacking. Before that date, communal flags were not mandatory but could be granted on demand.
  • None of the upper level division in mainland Portugal had any distinct flag, expect for the districts, which (at least some) have scarcely known flags.
  • Azores and Madeira have both official flags, both based in autonomist flags.
  • No relevant autonomist or independentist flags of other areas are known.
António Martins, 09 Jun 1998


Legal frame

Law no. 53/91 of August 7th (1991) legislates about «Heraldry of the “autarchies” and of collective entities of public administrative utility». The “autarchies” (autarquias, bodies of locally elected local government) are the administrative regions, the municipalities and the communes. I’m not sure, but I think that the «collective entities of public administrative utility» include things like the districts, perhaps the Commissions of Regional Coordination, the Metropolitan Areas of Lisbon and Oporto, and so on. This law omits the autonomous regions (Madeira and Azores); this may be a flaw in the law, or may be linked with the constitutional articles mentioned in the preambulum. Note that in Portugal [civic] heraldry still includes [civic] vexillology to its full extent.
Jorge Candeias, 08 Feb 1999

This law is the current incarnation of a big legal uniformitization that took place in 1930 (natural, if we consider the kind of regime that was in power at the time here). Before that the Portuguese subnational heraldry was much more diverse, with a lot of Samnitic shields, augmentations and so forth, coexisting with coats of arms more or less in the modern pattern. Since then, relatively few changes have been made and all of them have been, I suppose, subject to a specific law, which must be documented at least in the national archives.
Jorge Candeias, 11 Feb 1999


Heraldic authority

The consultative role of CHAAP in Portuguese civic heraldry and vexillology is such that the government will blindly approve anything issued from it, so the official flag and coat of arms is the complete description from CHAAP (heraldic description, colour plate, black and white line draw and “descriptive memoire” giving the symbolism of the colors and charges), even if the legal text, published in the official journal, is much shorter and incomplete.
António Martins, 20 Jul 1999


Arms and flags of cities and towns (proper)

According to art. 3 of law no. 53/91 of August 7th (1991), both the towns and the cities may adopt their own symbols, independently of the symbols of the municipality or commune they are the seat of. As far as I know, none has done it yet.
Jorge Candeias, 08 Feb 1999


Status of municipality seat settlement reflected on the arms

Vila = town; cidade = city. But our cities come in all sizes and shapes. We have places with the status of city and less than 20 000 inhabitants…
Jorge Candeias, 19 Feb 2001

In Portugal all municipalities are legally equal. However the seats of these municipalities are not: some have city status, while others (less and less) have town status. The symbolic problem this arises, and yet another demonstration of the deep inadequacy of our laws governing subnational symbols, is that to municipalities that are juridicially equal are attributed unequal symbols because the seats are unequal. But the symbols belong to the municipality, not to its seat! So they should be equal.

Bottom line, this should all be changed, from top to bottom. Mural crowns should reflect the administrative level (for instance, 3 towers for communes, 4 for municipalities, 5 for whatever first-order administration that gets put in place once the revision of the Portuguese administrative structure reaches a solution), and the flag designs should cease to be strictly dependent on the mural crown and no longer limited to the same old boring trio of patterns (to remind you, plain, quartered and gyronny of 8 — one single exception survives: Lagos quartered per saltire).

Jorge Candeias, 05 Jun 2002


Allowed exceptions

The “historical reasons” this law refers to are to be found earlier than that and they explain the very few coats of arms resisting the uniformizations of this century: Horta, Caldas da Rainha and until recently some others.
Jorge Candeias, 11 Feb 1999


Communal vs. municipal arms of the same (named) settlement

There are numerous cases of municipal seats that are also communal seats and have only one coat of arms. My own city, Portimão, is one of these cases: the municipal administration uses the municipal coat of arms; the communal administration uses a logo… and has no flag of its own while the other two communes in the municipality (both with seats of town status) have their own coats of arms and flags.

While this doesn’t necessarily stem from the law, it stems from the common (mis?)understanding of the law, that mixes up territorial entities with no administrative status (cities, towns, etc.) with administrative territorial entities, often with overlapping administrations.

Jorge Candeias, 10 Jun 2002


Plain background

Maybe 1/4 of all Portuguese municipal flags have plain backgrounds, making harder to determine the seat rank (with two color backgrounds, towns are quartered and cities are gyronny). Black seems not to be used in plain background flags (though it is quite often in two color backgrounds).
António Martins, 30 Nov 1998

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