Although there are several theories about the origins of the signature Portuguese guitar, many experts support that it has Arabic roots. In fact, we can find common features between Moorish music and the traditional Portuguese folk genre, fado.
The Moors brought their guitars to the neighboring nation of Spain, so it’s not a stretch that Portuguese music was also influenced.
Others, however, such as compositors Pedro Caldeira Cabral and António Portugal, conducted studies that seem to indicate that the Portuguese guitar is likely the outcome of a fusion between two different stringed instruments, the European cittern and the English guitar.
The European cittern is a Renaissance instrument with a shape that is very similar to that of the Portuguese guitar. Many citterns and Portuguese guitars also share the same number of strings and the tunings.
The cittern was probably brought to Portugal by the Italian or French during the 16th century. When it comes to the English guitar, the instrument was introduced in Portugal in the 18th century.
The different body structures and tunings found in the European cittern and the English guitar might start to explain why the typical guitars of the Portuguese cities of Coimbra and Lisbon have some relevant differences.
It could have been a case of which of the two foreign guitars impacted each of the Portuguese models the most. Independently of which origin story is closest to the real events, the fact is that the present-day Portuguese guitar, with all of its variations, is an instrument that evolved and transformed into something unique in the world, used for an equally unique genre of music.