Portuguese political subdivisions have three different levels:
- The first includes the whole country; i.e. national leaders while the Prime-Minister and the President of the Republic
- The second is formed by [os] concelhos, 308 municipalities/mayoralties with a fair degree of autonomy versus the centralized government, including responsibility over basic services (like waste removal, water and sanitation, and the like);
- Concelhos are formed by [as] freguesias, or parishes, smaller units but that also have some autonomy over the preceding levels of autority.
There are territorial divisions which applied only to the continental part of Portugal and which no longer have any practical purpose, but that are still used in common parlance, like [os] distritos, districts (which were a level above concelho; every freguesia is part of a concelho); and [as] províncias/regiões (which were the largest level possible, and comprise macrocultural and geological regions irrespective of distrito, but usually divided at the concelho level). The word região is now only used to refer to Portugal’s two Administrative Regions (the archipelagoes of Madeira and the Azores).
At least for the distrito-concelho-freguesia continuum, the larger units were (and are) always comprised by a group of smaller units (that is, 1 concelho is formed by a certain group of freguesias, and 1 distrito was/is formed by a certain, specific group of concelhos). For example, “a Freguesia de Belém” is part of “o Concelho de Lisboa” (which includes the whole city of Lisbon), which was/is part of “o Distrito de Lisboa” (the 18 distritos are named after the largest/most important city in them, which helps explain why they are still so commonly used throughout the country: it’s just easier to visualize the location of a place based on previous knowledge of the relative location of a key city). Similarly, “a Freguesia de Vila Nova de Milfontes” is part of “o Concelho de Odemira“, which was/is part of “o Distrito de Beja“.
Today’s word of the week is the EP word for mayor (the person in charge of governing one of the concelhos), [o] Presidente de/da Câmara (here, using da implies you’re talking about a specific concelho, while de is a general way of saying, with the focus being on the profession and not exactly the location) or [o] Presidente da Câmara Municipal (de here gets an article from the noun that comes afterwards, [a] Câmara Municipal, which is the full name of the municipality’s government (executive body), the mayor being its president). In Brazil, the word used is [o] prefeito (in charge of [a] prefeitura).
It might be relevant to point out that these titles cannot be actively compared to those of a mayor in English-speaking countries; if you take a look at the size of [o] Concelho de Odemira, you’ll see that it’s really large, with its population being relatively small and scattered throughout its area; this means that for smaller towns and cities, the center of power sits in the freguesia, with the concelho providing basic services that don’t fall under the power of the freguesia and that are better organized at a larger scale. In larger cities, the municipality executives tend to be stronger, with the smaller, urbanized, densely population freguesias providing more localized services to their inhabitants that aren’t already being performed by the concelho.