Geography professor and researcher, Orlando Ribeiro is acknowledged as the renovator of this science in Portugal and the best-known Portuguese geographer at the international level. The vast work of his long and intensive career, reaching beyond the advances of Geography, reveals a wide range of interests and a very personal view of the World.

The renovation of the Geography is, first of all, the consideration of the human factor as central to the understanding of geographic entities, perceived as a synthesis of many realities. This renovation is an outcome of his humanistic mind that, since young, motivated his interest in History, Anthropology and Ethnography through the contact with masters such as David Lopes, his teacher, and Leite de Vasconcellos, of whom he was, since early and throughout his life, a dedicated disciple.

Orlando Ribeiro’s comprehensive understanding of Geography was also a result of his curious and independent spirit that led him to maintain contacts with scientists from other fields from an early age. Through them he seek the foundations of a naturalistic education that he would always consider indispensable to a geographer. He learnt geology from working in the fields with Fleury and, later on, with Carlos Teixeira and Zbyszewsky. With friends from the medical sciences, such as Juvenal Esteves, Barahona Fernandes or Celestino da Costa, he addressed methodological and biological questions. He would also share with them the universalistic inspiration of literature and music, in authors such as Goethe, Bach, Beethoven and Bruckner. The first conference he gave was about Goethe, in the centenary of his death (1932), and his first published article, entitled Human Geography, was published in 1934 in a medical journal.

Orlando Ribeiro graduated in Geography and History in 1932 and was awarded a PhD in Geography by the Faculty of Arts of the University of Lisbon in 1936 with the thesis A Arrábida, esboço geográfico. In 1937 he moved to Paris to work as a reader of Portuguese at the Sorbonne, where he would widen horizons with masters such as Marc Bloch, E. de Martonne and A. Demangeon. In 1940 he returns to Portugal to begin his activity as a university professor, first in Coimbra and later, in 1943, in Lisbon in which university he founded the Centro de Estudos Geográficos. Particularly important landmarks of his career are Portugal, o Mediterrâneo e o Atlântico, one of his best known works of synthesis, first published in 1945, and the creation of Finisterra in 1966, a journal that still continues as one of the major publications to divulge the Portuguese geography, at a national and international level.

The participation in the scientific international scene was, in fact, another key aspect of the activity of Orlando Ribeiro. In 1949 he organized in Lisbon the first post-war congress of the International Geographical Union, an organization for which he was elected first vice-president in 1952. He always maintained, and stimulated in his students, a constant interchange with foreign geographers through the many study visits and travels to which he devoted a great deal of his time.

His travels and the resulting works convey the best evidence of his activity as a geographer. These materials are also the best paths to understand his social concerns regarding the territories and peoples studied, to reveal his sensibility as a photographer, to reach the "magic nature of his personality", to discover the literary quality of his writings. Indefatigable, he travelled frequently, especially in Portugal and Spain during the 40s, and to many parts of the world in the period of 1950-1965, in particular to the Portuguese overseas territories. From the materials of Orlando Ribeiro’s travels one gets his perceptions of many places of the world, in which the scientific observation is not separated from nature as a whole, from the local usages, the art and, above all, from the human element.

Capa do livro "Memórias de um Geógrafo"

Orlando Ribeiro was an active citizen and a prolific writer that contributed to a variety of other themes such as science, teaching and the university, the reforms of education or the colonial problems. His forthright character, while not diminishing the scientific respect for him, has never facilitated his relationships with the authorities, either in the dictatorship times or in the post-revolution period. For most of his life he had an invariable silence as a response to his opinions. In contrast with the early international recognition, in his own country the diffusion of his work and the official recognition appeared much later.

It is essentially from Orlando Ribeiro himself, through his rich memory writings, gathered in Orlando Ribeiro: Memórias de um Geógrafo (2003), that one can get an overview of his time and the experience of his life. There are, however, many other testimonies, published since the 70s, about Orlando Ribeiro and his work.