This is a generic name indicating a cultural, leisure and sport association that developed from within the community and expanded. A few have been around for more than one hundred years, many being founded around the middle of the 19th century in the suburbs of Lisbon, the South of the country and in the islands of the Atlantic. They also exist in Portuguese immigrant communities. They were the preferred places for meeting, leisure and discussion.
They operate as schools for social, political and sports training and have thousands of members. From a structural point of view, their organisation and operational process is democratic. Despite the fascist repression that prevailed in the country from 1926 to 1974, they succeeded in maintaining their place as schools of learning about democracy, and they played a crucial role in the period after 1974 (democratic revolution). People living in the large cities and in the country´s southern countryside felt comfortable with the new democratic regime, while those living in rural areas in the centre and the north found it much more difficult to participate in the country´s democracy and in the exercise of local power. Their names still reflect those of the founder groups, but they have evolved according to the recognised organisational system: Gymnasium, Philharmonic, Maritime, Nautical Centre, Academy, etc.