A Village of faith

This village, which used to belong to the Order of Malta, hides a remarkable religious heritage worth discovering.

A aldeia é rica em património religioso.

The village of Álvaro winds languidly along the top of a hill overlooking the Zêzere river, ensconced by the reservoir of the Cabril dam. Glimpsed from the heights of the magisterial landscape that surrounds it, it seems to be white wall guarding the river’s passage. It is one of the “white villages” of the Schist Villages Network. This does not mean that the predominant building material is other than schist. It just means that the great majority of the building facades have been rendered and painted white, with, here and there, garishly coloured door and window openings.

Rich in religious heritage, the village was once an important settlement for the religious orders, namely the Order of Malta, which left behind many testaments to its presence. The Misericórdia Church is worth a visit, but to properly appreciate this Village you must do the Chapels circuit. In the chapels you will find very important examples of sacred art, from paintings to unique artefacts, such as an image of the Senhor dos Passos (Our Lord of the Stations of the Cross), a Renaissance tabernacle and a dead Christ among the Holy Women and St. John the Evangelist.

At the foot of the village stretches the refreshing reservoir of the Cabril Dam and its river infrastructures, a place to go swimming or simply to appreciate the waves of mountains in the landscape stretching as far as the Serra de Estrela.


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Know the village


The layout of the village is arranged in almost linear fashion –along three main alleyways. The houses, mainly of two storeys, are juxtaposed along these alleys in a continuous line of facades broken only by the width of the street. Although it is one of the “white villages” the main construction material is schist. Few buildings have window openings that are not in schist. The great majority of the building facades have been rendered and painted white, some having garishly coloured door and window openings. The ancient walls, which were never rendered, clearly demonstrate the building technique.

The religious heritage of Álvaro includes seven chapels – Santo António,  S. SebastiãoNossa Senhora da NazaréMisericórdia ChurchS. Gens, Nossa Senhora da Consolação and S. Pedro, of which five are within the village and two in the surrounding area. There are more than ten chapels in the parish of Álvaro and the interior of each holds a treasure trove of religious artefacts. All around the village, the paths traversed by travellers are lined with countless wayside shrines (to the souls in purgatory).

Also worth a visit

  • Fonte de baixo (lower water fountain)
    Spring with tank for drawing water, all in schist with ancient rendering, probably from the 16th century. . Currently in a state of abandonment.

  • Private buildings from the 19th century .
    Among the various 19th century buildings still standing, only those displaying dates are mentioned:
    - at the entrance to the village, one house has "Barber" and the date 1838 carved in the lintel;
    - on the Rua do Castelo, one house has a stone over the oculus carved with the date 1886.

  • Private buildings from the first quarter of the 20th century .
    Several buildings from the beginning of the 20th century have survived, testifying to a growth surge in the village at that time. On the Rua do Castelo we can find three residential buildings:
    - one dated 1903;
    - another dated 1912 (M.B.H.P. /;
    - and another dated 1916 (J. A. / 5.6.916).

  • Parish Council Offices
    Situated on the site of the old Town Hall, from the time when Álvaro was a town. This building was demolished and a primary school was built to replace it. It continued to function as a school until a newer school building was opened, in the time of the Estado Novo – at which time this building was converted to house the Parish Council.

  • Old Primary School
    The school was built during the time of the Estado Novo within and according to the model established by the so-called “Constructions Plan”, in partnership with the Oleiros Municipal Council. It underwent renovation work in 1973. Nowadays it is in a state of abandonment. It stands at the extreme west of the village in the place called Chão do Paço.

  • Old bakery building
    José Rosa and his wife – former inhabitants of Álvaro and important benefactors to the Santa Casa da Misericórdia – acquired the building from an old baker in the village. They let the establishment to another baker, but he also retired from the business. And so José Rosa offered the building to the Santa Casa da Misericórdia of Álvaro. The building has been kept inside and out as an example of the village’s industrial archaeology.

  • Chapel of Santo António
    Located at the westernmost point of the village, this chapel dates from the 17th century. It has a square footprint, with a porch and a buttress on the northern side that has a little belfry on top. Portal in schist, with a round arch based on two springers wrought in rectilinear lines.
    The interior boasts a single nave surmounted by a cupola, which has undergone successive renovations. Holy water font protected by a carved gilt lid. A simple, almost naïf altarpiece, representing various rows of little angels, surmounts the columns and delimits the spaces. There are three paintings, oil on canvas, probably 17th century. (Sacred Heart of Jesus; Sacred Heart of Mary; the Virgin Mary) and an image of Saint Anthony with the Christ child.


There are no documents or remains to tell us what happened here before the 12th century. The chronicle of the Dominican friar Br. Lucas of Santa Catarina – who was entrusted with the task of writing the memoirs of the Order of Malta, published in 1734 - provides some historical information on Álvaro. He writes that tradition held that in the time of the reconquest "a certain Knight (of name unknown)" supposedly erected at the highest point of the place” a fortification, and Castle".

Although neither documentary evidence nor physical traces have been discovered of any castle or palace, it is a fact that in the local toponymy the names Chão do Paço" (Palace ground) and "Rua do Castelo" (Castle street) have remained or been applied at the sites where these are said to have existed. That chronicler also states that the same tradition mentioned that when the Moors no longer posed a threat, the knight went away, leaving "an attendant, by the name of Alvaro Pires" who "began to settle the site, dividing out the lands and calling in farmers. They, wishing to show their gratitude for this benefit, kept the name of the Founder for the settlement".

Thus, Álvaro is thought to have been founded in the line of defence against the Moors, at a strategic crossing point of the Zêzere. Be that as it may, in the donation by King Sancho I (who reigned from 1185 to 1211) to the Order of Malta in 1194, no mention is made of Álvaro, from which we can deduce that it probably hadn’t come into existence then. However, in 1345 the Commander of the Order of Malta made various representations in a dispute with the king over ownership over the Commendam of Álvaro And King Fernando (who reigned from 1367 to 1383), sanctioned this claim by the Order in 1381. This litigation over the ownership of Álvaro and its lands was reignited with King Afonso V (who reigned from 1438 to 1481) when he decided to bequeath it to the Lord of Trofa, Gomes Martins de Lemos, in 1455, making him the 1st Lord of Álvaro.

At the beginning of the 16th century, (1514), Álvaro became a town under the New Charter of King Manuel I, at which time the pillory, which has since disappeared, would have been built. In a Royal Letter of 1516 the monarch also encouraged its inhabitants to form a structure to give succour to the sick. Nevertheless, it was only at the end of that century that the Misericórdia and its Hospital were built, founded by Catharina Garcia and her children. Each of these welfare institutions functioned in its own house, as detailed in a deed made on 29 July 1597, when the chapel of the Misericórdia was built. In 1712 Father Carvalho da Costa mentions that the town, at this stage numbering 360 inhabitants, belonged to the Marquis of Marialva. However, in spiritual terms, it remained a commendam of the Order of Malta.

In 1836, with the advent of liberalism and the administrative reform of Mouzinho da Silveira, Álvaro lost its administrative and judicial autonomy, becoming a parish in the municipality of Oleiros.

Read more here on the presence of the Order of Malta in Portugal and in the village of Álvaro.



The Zêzere valley stuns us with its imposing landscape and the river surprises us with its deep, sinuous path. The “Meandros do rio Zêzere” (meanders of the River Zêzere), one of the geosites of the Geopark Naturtejo classified by UNESCO, make this place one of the most beautiful river valleys of Portugal.
The surrounding region is also of ecological interest. The
Álvaro woods have always been a precious resource, namely as a sample of spontaneous vegetation associated with the climatic conditions in that area On the surrounding steep slopes monocultures of Portuguese pine (pinus pinaster) are evident, but it is the olive tree (olea europaea) that is the dominant feature of the rural landscape. After all, olive growing is one of the most common farming activities in the parish.

PIMENTEL (1881)  wrote about the Ribeira de Alvelos that "… it frequently wipes out everything in its path, mainly after the Matal (woodland) was destroyed, as that used to hold back the current swelled by the waters descending from the Serra de’Alvellos mountain range." The reference was to the Mata de Álvaro which was being destroyed by the villagers and by shepherds who finally burned what remained of it in 1840"...once extensive, consisting of enormous chestnut trees, so old that the wood was no longer usable, of oaks, of Portugal laurels, viburnums, strawberry trees and other trees and bushes. Great was the utility of this Mata of the Municipality, not only in terms of the firewood gathered there and the wild chestnut trees it provided for those planting new chestnut groves; but above all because it prevented the mountain waters from rushing over the narrow vegetable gardens of the stream and causing great and frequent damage to them."

Nowadays, along the water courses above the village, there are still some traces of what would be its vegetation. The chestnuts, the viburnums and the Portugal laurels have returned. If the Portugal laurel is the symbolic tree for the territory of the Schist Villages, let us see what PIMENTEL (p. 256) wrote about it in 1881: "Native to the slopes of this river, from which they probably derived their name, the trees called Portugal laurels,” (in Portuguese “azereiros”) “beautiful thanks to their rounded canopies, ever green and pleasing due to the scent of their prolific bunches of white flowers."

In the churchyard of the Mother church we find an example of the Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and three liquidambars (Liquidambar styraciflua), species native to North America and four horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum), a species native to the mountains of south-east Europe.

The river of my village
Álvaro is skirted by the Ribeira de Alvelos and the River Zêzere used to run at its feet. Used to run. Because nowadays it is the reservoir of the Cabril dam that creates the tranquil sheet of water in which the village is reflected. According to PIMENTEL (1881) its name originated in Roman times, when it was called Osecarius. Other authors have different opinions.


Álvaro lies at the point where the north-east slope of the Serra de Alveolos mountain range terminates in the geomorphological accident called the "Fosso do Zêzere" (Zêzere Gorge), being established right on the brink of the gorge. Álvaro is a true promontory which was very difficult to access in former times. Its white houses make a sharp contrast with the green backdrop of pine forest, as it straddles the ridge along the crest rising over the River Zêzere. Under two stone bridges, one of them probably Roman, the Ribeira de Alvelos or River d’Álvaro passes, embracing the left bank of the Zêzere.

"The situation of the Terrain is such that it makes it almost inaccessible: A deep stream, called d’Alvellos, runs south to north, to debouch into the left bank of the River Zezere, which flows from east to west. However, close to this river was a small hill, almost parallel to the Zezere, which forced the stream to turn aside and follow it round, running to meet the river at the point where the hill ends, just over a kilometre away. Hence, this terrain is almost completely encircled by water, forming a kind of promontory or peninsula, with easy access only from the eastern side. Furthermore, with the elevation on the river side being perhaps 200 to 250 metres in height and little less on the stream side, these sides are so steep that if any spherical or near spherical shape escapes from the village, it inevitably ends up in the river or the stream. And this strip of land is so tapered that it only allows for one narrow street along its top, generally with no gardens, and very slim where they do exist. It is a unique situation that one could well compare to a big, tall horse with its head to the east and haunches to the west, heavily saddled in the middle. The rear was intended for a fortress, with the castle rising up at the entrance to it and with access being extremely difficult from the other sides. It was certainly a most appropriate site for a medieval fortress, since it was already very difficult to reach by reason of the soaring mountains surrounding it on all sides. These were, without a doubt, its origins."

Stories and Facts


Origin of the name
There are two hypotheses for the source of the village’s name. PIMENTEL (1881) states that a servant by the name of Álvaro Pires supposedly was charged with defending and settling the site, which came to be named after him. On the other hand, “álvaro” in archaic Portuguese meant alamo or poplar, a species characteristic of riverside zones. And it is a fact that “álvaro” appears in other place names in the area: Porto de Álvaro, near Oleiros; Serdeiras de Álvaro and Mata de Álvaro.

Primary school
Álvaro had a primary school, which was built in the time of the Estado Novo under the so-called "Constructions Plan", in partnership with the Municipal Council of Oleiros. It underwent renovation work in 1973. Nowadays, it has fallen into disrepair. It is situated at the extreme west of the village, in the place called Chão do Paço.
The village also had a
bakery, in the building with the only industrial chimney to be seen.

The French invasions in Álvaro
The then town of Álvaro was also humiliated by invading Napoleonic army.
It is said that the Misericórdia chapel was transformed into stables. The images of
Nicodemos and Joseph of Arimathea were knocked over and the hollowed backs used as drinking troughs for the horses. Here also, the gravestone of Captain José Rodrigues Freire, which would have only just been laid on the floor of the Chapel of Senhor dos Passos, had the words “CHRISTO” and “IESUS” on it chipped away by the Napoleonic troops.

José Rodrigues Freire 
He was born into a poor family in Álvaro then went to Brazil, where he made his fortune. He became Captain of the Prince’s Cavalry. He was awarded the “habit of Christ” decoration, which, at that time, was a great honour. It is said that one day in the jungle he almost sat on a boa constrictor through lack of attention. Having escaped without injury, he immediately resolved to give thanks for his good luck in the church of his home town.

The ferry over the Zêzere
There never used to be a bridge over the Zêzere here. To cross, you waited for shallow waters in summer or else went by boat using the strength of your arms or forded it during the dry season
During the 1960s/1970s there was a toll for crossing by boat or barge: 1$00 per person; $50 per goat or sheep; 4$00 per pair of oxen. In 1983 the bridge was opened and the ferry disappeared.


  • Permanent residents: 51 - 100

  • Demonym: Alvarenses

  • Patron Saint: St. James the Greater (Santiago)

  • Iconic feature: Village with a notable religious heritage collection and a history closely linked with the Order of Malta.


  • Procession of the Faragéus (Maundy Thursday)

  • Procession of Burial of Christ (Good Friday)

  • Procession of Our Lord of the Stations of the Cross (Palm Sunday)

  • July, 3rd weekend: Feast of St. James the greater (Santiago) (feast of the patron saint)

  • 8 December: Procession of the Immaculate Conception



  • Horticultural produce
  • Wine
  • Arbutus
  • River fish

Suggestions for the village of Álvaro

See in Álvaro


Contacts and Information

6160 Álvaro 
Getting Here:

De Norte
Na A1 em direção a Sul, saia para Condeixa (saída 11) e siga na direção do IC3-Tomar. No nó do Avelar do IC3 saia para o IC8 no sentido Castelo Branco. No IC8 saia para Pampilhosa da Serra pela N2. Passados 15km corte à direita na N344 em direção a Pampilhosa e Oleiros. Após 14km corte à direita na N351 em direção a Álvaro e Oleiros. Após 7 km chegará a Álvaro.

De Sul
Siga pela A23 até à saída 23 – Castelo Branco/Pampilhosa da Serra. Tome a N112 durante 49 km e corte à esquerda na N238 em direção a Oleiros. Após 28km passe Oleiros e vire à direita em direção a Álvaro. Em 10km chegará a Álvaro.



Câmara Municipal de Oleiros

6160 Oleiros 
(+351) 272 680 130

Posto de Turismo de Oleiros

6160 Oleiros 
(+351) 272 681 008

Junta de Freguesia de Álvaro

Largo da Misericórdia S/N
(+351) 272 674 267

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