Chaves (Portugal)

Chaves (Portugal)

official_name = Chaves
image_coat_of_arms = CHV.png

Subregion=Alto Trás-os-Montes
District = Vila Real
Mayor_name = João Gonçalves Baptista
Mayor_party = PSD
area_total = 591.3
population_total = 44,186
population_density = 75
Parishes = 2 (town) - 51 (parishes)
coor =
params =
occasion =
day = July 8
website =
footnotes =

Chaves (pron. IPA2|'ʃavɨʃ) is a town and seat of municipality in the far North of Portugal, 10 km south of the Spanish border and 22 km south of Verín, Spain. The municipality is the second most populous of the district of Vila Real. The district capital, Vila Real, is 60 km south on the A24 toll-free motorway. Aquæ Flaviæ was the Roman name for this town.

Important Facts

The population of the municipality was 44,186 in 2004, of which 17,535 [ [ Uma população que se urbaniza, uma avaliação recente - Cidades, 2004] Nuno Pires Soares, Instituto Geográfico Português (Geographic Institute of Portugal)] in the town. The area of the municipality is 591.3 km². The elevation is 460 meters.


in 1912.

Chaves is a town of fortifications. There is a medieval castle and two forts, Forte São Francisco and Forte São Neutel, both built in the 17th century. Nearby, two medieval fortifications still exist - the Santo Estêvão Tower, in the plain, and the Monforte Castle, in the mountains. The original Roman bridge in Chaves crossing the Tâmega still stands with its stone arches and is the most important tourist site of Chaves. The hot thermal water (73 degrees Celsius) of Chaves have been famous since Roman times and today many people come to the town (health tourism) to take the water cure in a renewed house and modern thermal complex.

The Economy

Agriculture and services are still the main sources of income. The traditional prosperity of Chaves comes, mainly, from a highly fertile plain, nine km. long and three to five wide, called a "veiga". Since the land can be irrigated with canals there is intensive farming, mainly of potatoes, corn, rye, hay, and plots of vegetables for sale in the local market. There is one main canal which begins near Vila Verde da Raia and crosses the valley on the right bank of the Tâmega as far as Nantes.

On the whole, the land is made up of small plots that are rarely economically viable. There is some dairy farming, and a milk production unit on the south side of town, but few cows can be seen in the valley. In general most of the farmers are of retirement age and farming is often pursued more as a hobby than as a profession.

In addition to agriculture there are some small industries producing glass, tiles, and food products. Like Vila Pouca de Aguiar located thirty km south this is granite land. There are several granite extraction and finishing industries. There are also three brickworks on the south side of the Villa. There are two mineral water plants in nearby Vidago, which belongs to the municipality.

Many of the local people have emigrated to northern Europe, especially France. In August these emigrants return to visit their villages and the population of Chaves doubles. It is a time of weddings and village festivals.


hovering over the valley is also common on dry days. Summer is characterized by dry days with maximums around 38º and minimums around 15º. Summer brush fires can often make this season unpleasant.

Highway Connections

Chaves has been isolated from the coastal urban centers and has suffered from a lack of convenient road communications. Recently, a new non-toll four-lane highway (A24) was opened to traffic. It links Chaves to Vila Real, and in the future will connect to Spain. In Vila Pouca de Aguiar the highway also connects with the A7 that leads to Porto.

Connection with Brazil

In Chaves was born João Gonçalves da Costa, who at the age of 16 went to Brazil in the service of the King John V, with the mission of conquering lands in the interior in an area called “Sertão da Resaca”. He fought against local Indians and in 1783 founded a Vila which later would become the city of Vitória da Conquista, in the state of Bahia, which today has almost 300,000 people.

Tourist Sights

The Chaves Castle


In the Middle Ages we know that the inhabitants of the region drifted to the population centers, one of which was Chaves, located on a rise overlooking the Tâmega valley. There they concentrated so that in groups that could build walls and protect themselves. This was the situation at the time of the Reconquests. Being a zone of passage in the years of war, which was almost always, the walls of the villa of Chaves were built, destroyed, and again rebuilt each time one of the factions, Christian or Muslim, occupied the castle. It is probable that for some periods the town was even completely abandoned. For lack of written documents our information is sketchy.

In 1253 Afonso III supported the reconstruction and, according to documents, in 1258 granted Chaves the status of a villa. The new tower was in some ways a copy of that built by the Castilians in the castle of Monterrey, near Verín. Later most of the wall was rebuilt, but the advent of artillery would soon make the castle obsolete, and like its sister in Monterrey it would fall into ruin.

The townsfolk themselves probably caused the worst damage. Looking for material to build their houses and walls, they slowly stripped the castle of its granite blocks. When the locals today refer to the castle they are talking about the keep tower that has been kept in a good state. It is a tall tower, about eight or nine floors. Surrounded by a pretty and impeccably kept garden, with colourful flower borders, the keep is now used to house a military museum. The first two floors are rather predictably filled with ancient guns and armour, but the upper floors provide an interesting insight into the Portuguese experience of World War I and her colonial wars in Angola and elsewhere. The view of the Alto Tâmega from the battlements is superb. On very hot summer days it is not unusual to see a column of smoke rising in the distance. Forest fires, normally caused through the carelessness of visitors when the heat has made the undergrowth as dry as tinder, are a common occurrence.

Medieval Quarter

Although many of the old buildings outside the historical walls in Chaves have been demolished to make way for apartment blocks, some of them because they were literally falling down, the medieval quarter, with its Straight Street, something that many Portuguese small town has, and Santo António Street, have been declared a protected zone. Here we can find small, narrow houses, with several floors to take advantage of the reduced interior space. The medieval town was very small because the walls limited it. It had only four or five hundred inhabitants when John I| in 1386 conquered it: a fact that surprised the king. Outside the walls, there was not one house; only fields. This was necessary because of the frontier location of the town and the imminent risk of invasion. The streets were very narrow. Straight Street (it wasn’t straight at all but direct), the most important, crossed the village from end to end. It was known by this name because it was the “straight “ way between the two main gates of the fortress.

To take maximum advantage of the limited space it was customary to build balconies on the first floor, which came out over the street. The balcony on the second floor then extended over that on the first, and so on. At the top the houses almost touched, leaving most of the street covered from rain or sun. The balconies were of pine or oak. On the upper floors there were residences and on the lower floors, shops and small factories. If we walk along the "Rua Direita" (straight street), we can still see some of these interesting and peculiar "varandas" balcony.

The Hot Springs

The hot springs, or Caldas, of Chaves, known all over Portugal, were formerly only a group of hot water springs. Today, after recent renovations, it is a modern thermal complex, receiving thousands of visitors every year, especially in the summer. Many of the small hosting houses in the old part of the town are dependent on the influx of thermal demand, usually retired people, who come annually to take the - water cure. The "termas" are located between the castle and the river, in front of a large area of grass-covered park with playgrounds and tennis courts.

The Chaves termas belong to a vast area of springs that stretches from Verín in Galicia as far south as Pedras Salgadas, 30 km from Chaves, on the road to Vila Real. Despite its vastness and abundance of water, this thermal system is little utilized. Of the nine groups of thermal springs there are only adequate installations in four of them, Chaves, Carvalhelhos, Vidago, Pedras Salgadas, and Verín.

The waters of Chaves spring forth from three springs and a temperature of 73°C. Of all the bicarbonate of soda waters of Europe, these are the hottest. This thermal presence is a rare geological phenomenon because in this area there is no evidence of volcanic activity. They are indicated for numerous treatments, including stomach, liver, intestinal, and kidney ailments. For internal medicine the main technique of application is drinking the water.

During the Roman period the distances on the highways were indicated with reference to Aquas, which demonstrates their importance in the region. Aquas or Aquae Flaviae was a Roman settlement built on the present-day site of Chaves. The Waters of Flavius, emperor in whose reign the hot water was supposedly first utilized, were used in a bathing pool, which has long since disappeared. Curiously, these hot springs that were so important for the Romans and then fell into disuse with the decadence of the town, were only exploited scientifically after 1945. Despite modernization they have yet to attract large numbers of users.

The Forts

Forte São Francisco

With the coming of the Middle Ages the medieval town of Chaves, strongly protected by the defence of the border with Galicia, became unprotected. It was understood that it had to fortify itself, garrison the nearby hilltops, in order to keep them from being occupied by enemy artillery. The first to be considered was the hill of Pedisqueira, where there was a Franciscan convent. It was decided, during the final phase of the Portuguese Restoration War (1640-1668), to build a fort according to the modern concepts of military engineering. This fort played an important role in the Napoleonic invasion of Portugal in 1807 when it was captured by Marshall Soult and then retaken when a light garrison was left to guard it. It was also the scene of several pro-royalist revolts in the early eighteenth century and later in 1910 with the advent of the Republic.

The fort is still standing in a reasonable state of preservation. The recent acquisition of the site by a hotel group and the construction of a four star hotel utilizing the old buildings has given new life to a monument that had sadly become a ruin inhabited by rats, garbage, and drug addicts.

The fort is simple; its plan based on the Vauban system, with a four-pointed star, each one serving as a lookout tower. The walls are all of granite, with about one meter of thickness. The height varies according to the slope of the terrain, but the maximum point has 20 meters. The main entrance faces the south, with a drawbridge over the moat that no longer exists. There are other gates, to the east and west. To go inside we follow a tunnel that leads to the center of the fort. Inside, besides the old church of São Francisco, where for three centuries lay the sarcophagus of the first Duke of Bragança, there are other buildings which have been artistically converted into hotel rooms. These had served the army as barracks for many years, and later were used to lodge families that had returned from the Portuguese colonies when these got their independence in the 1970s. A visit to the fort is well worth it, if not to stay in the hotel, but only to walk around the outside walls and contemplate the impressive view of Chaves.

Forte de São Neutel

This fort was built to protect the northern hill against a possible invasion from Spain during the Portuguese Restoration War in the seventeenth century. It wasn’t connected to the defense system of Chaves so its builders had to provide it with a second external war and an internal moat based on the Vauban system. It follows the irregularities of the terrain and it also has a quadrangular design, having on the corners towers that extend out over the moat. This has no water now nor did it before, since that was not its function. Because of the moat the access to the interior was made across a solid stone bridge. The walls are a meter and a half thick and 7 to 10 meters high, and are made of granite. Inside there is a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Springs where there is an annual pilgrimage. There are also small buildings that were constructed to house a military garrison. All military activity has now been transferred to the base located next door, but the castle still belongs to the army and is usually closed. On the west side is located the Chaves football stadium, which plays host to a professional team which has often been in the First Division of Portuguese football.

The Churches

anta Maria Maior

ic occupation in 716 there was no longer a bishopric in Chaves.

Construction dates to the year 1100 and the church is Romanesque in the main door and the bell tower with two bells. In the sixteenth century renovations in the Renaissance style took place, completely modifying the church, and additional restoration took place in 1968. Unfortunately, due to paving a square in front and on the sides, the church looks to the observer to have been partially buried.

Today it conserves its Romanesque style—solid granite blocks and austere broken only by the side door of elegant proportions with busts of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The interior, described as poor in a 1960 encyclopaedia, has only slightly improved. There are three naves separated by 4 cylindrical columns, on which are 8 arches. A stone-ribbed dome covers the main chapel. The walls of undecorated stone lend an air of austerity not helped by the unpainted oak ceiling, which supports the roof. Fortunately the stained glass windows allow the entrance of some light into the building.

Behind the church, high up on a wall, you can see a statue of Santa Maria Maior, the patron Virgin of the region. Above that, under the cornice of the roof, someone who must have known the bad intentions of his fellow towns people, had these words carved as a curse: “A Las Malas Lengoas Estas Figas”, which means, “For gossipers I give you the finger.” A figa is a closed fist with your thumb through the middle fingers, resembling a fig, but also the female sexual organ. To give someone the figa is to tell him to have sex with himself. In Brazil it is a good luck charm and can also be used to ward off the evil eye.

Igreja da Madalena

For a long time, the Santa Maria Maior church was the seat of the only parish in the town of Chaves. But, in 1969 a second parish was created in the town, located on the left bank of the Tâmega River. This is called Madalena. Its seat is the Church of São João de Deus, also called Madalena Church.

This temple dates from the eighteenth century, being built during the reign of King John VI, who maintained it. His coat of arms appears on the main door. It was originally designed as a chapel since it was built next to a military hospital. In this hospital at the end of the century there was a “School of Anatomy and Surgery of Chaves”, one of the four schools of surgery in the country. The church includes neoclassic and baroque elements. It has a very high façade, which contrasts with the narrow and humble street it lies on. Because the narrow street makes it difficult to appreciate the grandeur of the structure you must stretch your neck to see the baroque sculptures high above.

Igreja da Misericórdia

According to many locals, the most beautiful church in Chaves is the Misericórdia Church, located very near the Matriz Church, next door to the old and closed Misericórdia hospital and near the Castle. Built in the seventeenth century this church is typically baroque. Its told that it was the chapel of the Dukes of Bragança. It is a relatively small temple with four Greek columns on the façade. Halfway up we see four heads of what appear to be mythological figures, and above it all is a carving of Our Lady of Mercy or Misericórdia looking down on ten figures and covering them with her mantle.

The interior is totally covered with blue and white tiles from the eighteenth century, depicting figures and biblical scenes, and its wooden ceiling is painted in bright colors representing the scene of the Visitation. We know that Jerónimo Rocha Braga painted it because he signed it and put the date—1743. Lastly, the wooden altarpiece, or "retábulo" is profusely decorated with cherubs, grape bunches, and spiral shells.

Pilgrimage Sites

In the municipality of Chaves there are three important pilgrimage sites: São Caetano, (7 km from Chaves); Senhora de Aparecida, in Calvão (11 km from Chaves), and Senhora do Engaranho (Our Lady of the Afflicted), in Castelões (15 km from Chaves).

ão Caetano

São Caetano is the most important and attracts tourists and the faithful in great number on the 7th of August.

São Caetano (Saint Cajetan) was a monk of the sixteenth century who went down in history as an exceptional preacher in the service of the Catholic Church in the Counter Reformation and who founded the order of the Theatines.

Inside the chapel are kept the seven images of the saint that his followers carry walking on their feet or knees around the same chapel. (The image with the handle on its back is apparently the most popular). There is also a place for keeping live chickens and another for rye that the believers bring in a pagan rite. If the chickens are ill then the farmer gives a healthy chicken to the saint so that he will cure the others. The rye is brought to ensure a good crop.

Many people from Chaves walk at night in August to pray before the image and ask for something, be it a cure or something as mundane as getting better grades at school. Those people who have farms will carry a chicken to offer the saint as a gift.

Our Lady of Aparecida

The village of Calvão is located nearby and is famous for an apparition of the Virgin in 1833, when she supposedly appeared to three shepherd children. The story is surprisingly similar to that of Fátima. For reasons beyond our knowledge the site never achieved more than regional fame, and is almost unheard of today.

Our Lady of the Engaranho

Castelões is a small village that contains Our Lady of the "Engaranho" (Afflicted in the Legs). This avatar has a very specific function: she deals with diseases of crooked legs, crossed legs or any other thing that makes walking difficult.

Children make up a special clientèle. The ritual calls for washing the child in the water of the tiny rocky pool, located next to the chapel, leaving the clothes the child is wearing, and putting on others before returning by another route.

But faith in the Lady of the Afflicted is not limited to those with leg problems. When the author of "Roteiros de Chaves" was taking his pictures, an old woman was washing her ears with the water of the small pool. Asked why she was doing so she answered, “Because my ears hurt, to see if they get better.” (Roteiros de Chaves, 98-105)

Visiting both of these places it is no wonder that "Virgins" were seen in a period of ignorance and isolation from the modern world. Nearby is a pre-Roman "Castro", called erroneously "Castle of the Moors". The area is lonely but beautiful in a rugged way.

For more images about Engaranho and the village (Castelões) please log on to: [ Images ]

Food gallery


The parishes of the municipality of Chaves are:


Notable people

* António Joaquim Granjo
* Cândido Sotto Maior
* Mário Carneiro
* Francisco Gonçalves Carneiro
* Rodrigo Domingos de Sousa Coutinho Barbosa
* Francisco da Costa Gomes
* Gayo Sevio Lupo
* João Gonçalves da Costa
* Nadir Afonso

See also

*Aquæ Flaviæ
*Vitória da Conquista, Bahia, Brasil.
*Chaves IPR


External links

* [ Municipality official website]
* [ Thermal official website]
* [ Map of Chaves]
* [ Chaves en]

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