The year is 1974 – not long ago, a mere 50 years, but it had a profound effect on Portugal and will be remembered by many who knew life before that date. Known as the Carnation Revolution, it happened in Lisbon and was the end of the fascist government.

What happened?

It was the day a military coup overthrew the Estado Novo (New State) regime that had been started by António de Oliveira Salazar, Portugal’s Prime Minister from 1933 until 1968, after which Marcelo Caetano replaced him. During Salazar’s leadership (or some would say his dictatorship), he drafted the new constitution that reorganized Portugal’s political system along authoritarian lines. Salazar chose his own ministers for the National Assembly, whose work he closely supervised. Political freedoms in Portugal were curtailed and military police repressed dissidents.

The revolutionary Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas) was a coalition that wanted to bring political and social change and was begun as an attempt to liberate Portugal from the new regime and the new military laws. Many innocent people fell foul to the Portuguese security agency known as the International and State Defense Police, aka PIDE, who had the power to detain and arrest anyone suspicious of plotting against the State, and they imprisoned and assassinated many political activists, anarchists, communists, workers, intellectuals, etc.

Carnation link

The Carnation Revolution brought down more than 40 years of dictatorship here and ended Europe’s longest-surviving authoritarian regime. It started with music on the radio - first, at 10:55 pm on the 24th of April, ‘E Depois do Adeus’ by Paulo de Carvalho was played; then on the 25th of April at 00:25, ‘Grandola, Vila Morena’ by José Afonso played on Radio Renascença. That was uncommon since it was a forbidden song in the country, due to the connection with communist ideals, and was the second sign to the people that the revolution was starting and that revolutionaries should occupy the strategic points of the country. Within a few hours, the Estado Novo was overthrown.

The Carnation Revolution got its name from the fact that almost no shots were fired, but mainly from Celeste Caeiro. During that day, Celeste was supposed to work in a restaurant, but due to the revolution, it didn’t open. The restaurant’s first anniversary was on 25 April, and to celebrate, the owners planned to give out flowers to all its customers, but on that day, it didn’t go to plan because of the coup. Celeste was sent home with the carnations, but when Celeste saw the tanks and asked them what was going on, they replied: ‘It’s a revolution!’. A soldier asked for a cigarette, but she had none and everywhere was closed. The only thing she had was the flowers - so she placed the flowers in the muzzles of the soldiers’ guns, and became known as Carnation Celeste. The population took to the streets to celebrate the end of the dictatorship, and others followed suit, with carnations being placed in the guns and on the soldiers' uniforms, and photos of the guns with the flowers became an iconic symbol of peace.

Life before the Revolution

Life during the dictatorship was marked by strict social controls and financial hardships, where the people struggled to make ends meet. Daily life was highly regulated, with basic civil liberties being virtually non-existent. The media was heavily censored, and the secret police monitored potential dissenters, creating an atmosphere of fear and silence. Many citizens didn't discuss politics even within the confines of their homes, fearing repercussions.

Compulsory military service was unpopular but was an inescapable reality. Women had limited roles in society and were generally confined to domestic life with limited opportunities for education and employment. The Portuguese found small ways to resist, however, one way being folk music like ‘Fado’, which often contained veiled criticisms of life under the dictatorship, or by spreading clandestine literature.

The 25th of April is now celebrated every year throughout Portugal and is commonly known as Dia de Liberdade or Freedom Day. Carnation flowers have since then become a symbol of peace and freedom for the Portuguese people – thanks to Celeste.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan