The Portuguese military coup of 25 April 1974 was the beginning of the ‘third wave’ of democratic transitions in Southern Europe. Unshackled by international pro-democratising forces and occurring in the midst of the Cold War, the coup led to a severe crisis of the state that was aggravated by the simultaneous processes of transition to democracy and de-colonisation of what was the last European colonial empire. This article analyses how Portugal’s political elite and society struggled with two aspects of the authoritarian legacy during the transition: the elite and the institutions associated with the Dictatorship. The nature of the Portuguese transition and the consequent state crises created a ‘window of opportunity’ in which the ‘reaction to the past’ was much stronger in Portugal than in the other Southern European transitions. In fact, the transition’s powerful dynamic in itself served to constitute a legacy for the consolidation of democracy.