Village

Benfeita

Name of Peace

Every 7th May the bell tower of this “white village” commemorates the end of World War II with 1620 peals.

A Benfeita está aninhada na vibrante Paisagem Protegida da Serra do Açor.

This is one of the “white villages” of the Schist Villages Network. And it is the only village in the world that honours peace with a tower, a bell and a clock. It is close to the Fraga da Pena and the Margaraça Forest, one of the most important deciduous forests in Portugal.

Come and discover everything that makes Benfeita what it is. Wander through its streets and feel the freshness at the meeting of two rivers, the Carcavão and the Mata. At the restored mill and still in Figueiral we can still see how people once used water power. Across the street, discover the Parish Church and the studio of Feltrosofia, where they handmake innovatively designed felt items. Do not forget also to visit the Schist Villages Shop and Document Centre in the restored Casa Simões Dias house.

Do not miss climbing up to Fonte das Moscas to appreciate the white houses and the characteristic alleys and passageways, and especially the Peace Tower built from schist masonry, which has an interesting story to tell.

Situated between Côja and the Protected Landscape of the Serra do Açor, Benfeita tempts us to follow the course of the Ribeira da Mata to find the cool of the Fraga da Pena and the trees of the Mata da Margaraça.

 

Related files

Know the village

Heritage

Capela Nª Sª da Guia.

 

Even greater than Benfeita’s size is the religiosity of its inhabitants: in addition to the Mother Church (18th century) there are the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Assunção, the Chapel of St. Rita and the Chapel of Senhor dos Passos. Higher up, on a nearby hill, stand the Chapel of S. Bartolomeu, the Chapel of Senhora da Guia and the Chapel of Senhora das Necessidades.

Modest of construction, but evidence of the faith of the local people, they were often built or improved as a promise to a saint, or for a good harvest or matters of the heart. There are also numerous wayside shrines scattered among lanes new and old, precious in their significance and beautiful in their construction, just waiting to be rediscovered.

Also worth a visit:

In 1880, the bridge - which was originally made of wood and was often swept away by flood waters - was rebuilt in stone.

  • Passage

In the village the movement of people also occurs under the buildings using passages, a solution characteristic of the lower part of the village.

  • Casa Simões Dias

A stone affixed to the facade states:
IN THIS HOUSE WAS BORN
ON 5TH FEBRUARY
1844
THE GREAT PROFESSOR
AND DISTINGUISHED POET
Dr JOSÉ SIMÕES DIAS
This author was famous in political and literary circles throughout his lifetime. In addition to housing the Schist Villages Shop on the ground floor, the building also plans to host the Simões Dias documentary centre.

  • Chapel of Santa Rita

Eighteenth century chapel of octagonal plan with a west-facing, rectangular main door with carved mouldings. Pediment with two scrolls pierced by a tiny decorated niche. Small bell tower built into the north facade.

  • Chapel of Senhor dos Passos

The original chapel was in a very bad state of conservation, and a thorough restoration was undertaken in 1954. Small rectangular chapel with south-facing main door.

  • Wayside shrine

On Avenida Dr. Mário Mathias, at the entrance to Fundeira Bridge, there is a small shrine in stone, decorated with tiles.

  • Wayside shrine

Opposite the Chapel of São Bartolomeu, on the verge of the former entrance road to Benfeita, there is a shrine built from schist.

  • Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Guia

Over the main door there is a stone with the carved inscription:

  • M.

SIMOIS / Mª IZABEL / 1856
identifying the founders and the date of construction. It underwent extensive restoration in 1965, which gave the interior a modern look. West-facing main door. Of note in the interior are the statues of Our Lady of Guidance in jointed wood, St. Anthony and St. James in wood, and two statues of the Virgin and Child.

  • Chapel of São Bartolomeu

At about 200 metres from the previous building, the chapel is situated on a hill overlooking the Peace Tower. A simple, rectangular 17th century chapel. In the interior there is a small altarpiece (17th century) with an image of St. Bartholomew and paintings of episcopal figures on the side panels.

  • Tile panels

In Benfeita there are several panels of decorative tiles bearing poems by Vasco Campos, Fernando Ferreira and J. Simoes Dias.

  • Figueiral Watermill

On Avenida Dr. Mário Mathias, on the left bank of the Ribeira da Mata, this is a mill driven by water power which was recently restored. The interior can be visited.

  • Olive press

The importance of olive cultivation led to the village possessing two facilities for oil production: Lagar de Cima (upper press) and Lagar de Baixo (lower press). Its state of abandonment and ruin means that it is not possible to visit the interior.

History

 

A document dated October 1196, currently in the Torre do Tombo National Archives, states that half of villa Bienfecta belonged – it is not known since when or how - to Suário Pedro, the father or father-in-law of Pelágio Aries and his wife Lupa Suaris who sold it for 72 morabitinos to Canon Pedro Salvador, chaplain of Coimbra Cathedral. Four years later, Canon Pedro Salvador donated the land to the Chapter of Coimbra Cathedral. The record of this donation is also in the Torre do Tombo.

When in the green years of my youth I passed my three months’ holiday in the place of my birth, how many times, gazing at the chestnut plantation in valley, [...] the houses arranged in an amphitheatre on the slopes of Outeiro, did I ask:
- How old is Benfeita? When was it founded?
The houses made of local stone, rarely decayed and in part roofed with stone slabs, nothing gave any indication”.

Mário Mathias (b. 1899; d. 1982)

 

In the General Archive of the University of Coimbra, among the Latin Documents, Volume II, there is a copy of the first known charter of the villae rusticae de Bienfecta. The parchment, of uncertain date (12th-13th century), lays down the rights and duties of the inhabitants and appears to prove that the other half of Benfeita belonged to Xusana Fernandis.

This part of Benfeita may be the same as that which is subsequently referred to in passing in the Book of Kalends, in which the Bishop of Coimbra, Dom Egas Fafe (bishop 1248-1267), orders that the estates of Benfeita, Sardal and Mata da Margaraça shall be required to celebrate of birthdays, firstly for his father, and secondly for his soul and his parents. It is not known how the bishop acquired this land. It was he who in 1260 gave a charter to the village of Coja, which was part of Benfeita, although there is no mention of the latter.

A charter dated 17 May 1300 set out the rules governing the inhabitants of Benfeita. “And we, the aforementioned residents of the said place, for our part and on behalf of our heirs and successors, approve and grant and promise to obey and keep all things, and each one of them, as is stated above.” (MATHIAS, 1961: 22). This charter names only individuals belonging to the Chapter of the Coimbra Cathedral, which had always owned its own property, and not the bishop.

“And we, the aforementioned residents of the said place, for our part and on behalf of our heirs and successors, approve and grant and promise to obey and keep all things, and each one of them, as is stated above.” (MATHIAS, 1961: 22).

On 1 February 1345 a grant of privileges was made in the Cloister of Coimbra Cathedral in which there is a reference to the considerable woodland in the Mata de Magaraz. The same parchment mentions the foundation of two new villages: Monte Frio and Relva Velha. The grant is so detailed that even today we can precisely identify all the places mentioned. Incidentally, this area seems to correspond to the present parish of Benfeita.

In the “Register of the population of the Kingdom (1527)” the entry for the town of Coja included the place then called bemfeyta which had 18 residents. In 1854, Benfeita was dominated by the bell tower of the Mother Church, with the cemetery on its north side. The houses stretched only along the right bank of the Ribeira da Mata. A few years later, the creation of a new road, now called Rua António Nunes Leitão, replaced the land occupied by cornfields, known as the “lands of Mó”, meaning grindstone. In a few years this road was being filled with a variety of dwellings. In 1894 the cemetery crossed to the opposite side of the Ribeira da Mata, moving to the “Corga” area.

In 1931 work began to lay the main road, which would spell the end of the old footpath that meandered through the hills and valleys, crossing several streams and hugging the edges of many precipices. The distance from Benfeita to Coja that had previously taken over two and a half hours now took fifteen minutes. After 1955, the village expanded along the left bank of the Ribeira do Carcavão. At the turn of the 20th century the majority of roofs were made of slate. By the middle of the 20th century, however, this characteristic feature of the villages of the Beira Serra had almost disappeared, along with the Marseilles tiles or thatch preferred for the barns and animal pens. This is confirmed by Alberto Martins de Carvalho in the early 1940s:

… it is a fairly extensive village lying in the bottom of a valley.” in “Guia de Portugal - Beira Litoral, Beira Baixa, Beira Alta” (1944)

 

Electricity arrived around 1953.

 

Nature

Fraga da Pena.

 

The Benfeita is a stone’s throw from the Margaraça Forest (classified as a Nature Reserve and Biogenetic Reserve by the Council of Europe), a rare example of the original vegetation of the schist slopes of Central Portugal, including oaks, chestnuts, hazels, cherries and walnuts. Fraga da Pena, with its waterfalls and unique vegetation, is an equally remarkable area. To better discover this unique natural landscape, we suggest a walk along the Benfeita Schist Trail. Not to be missed.

THE VILLAGE RIVER

The main watercourses in Arganil municipality are the river Alva and the river Ceira, which provide excellent opportunities for leisure activities, but are also the reason for its abundant and rare wildlife.

The waters that course down the hillsides of the Mata da Margaraça take its name for the stream that flows through Benfeita: the Ribeira da Mata. In the centre of the village it receives the waters of the Ribeira do Carcavão and continues to Coja where it joins the river Alva. The Alva in turn joins the Mondego, which carries the raindrops that fell in the Mata da Margaraça to the ocean. They will return with the rain.

Territory

A encosta tem uma exposição soalheira, criando boas condições para o estabelecimento da povoação.

Benfeita is included by the Açor Mountain Protected Landscape in the midst of the Central Cordillera, a typical mountain environment. This is an area of very varied relief and Arganil municipality reflects that. It is bordered on the north and south by the river basins of the river Alva and river Ceira, respectively.

A small isolated village clambering up the slope of a pine-clad mountain, its rustic, almost primitive, houses roofed with slates, nestling on verdant terraces, which also line the bordering hills and bathe their feet in a murmuring stream dotted with watermills.

Visconde Sanches de Frias (b. 1845; d. 1922)

 

The village is situated at the point where the Ribeira do Carcavão flows into the Ribeira da Mata, both of which flow in very deep valleys up to this point. The widening of the valley here provides a good extent of easily irrigable agricultural land.

The left bank of the Ribeira da Mata has a sunny aspect, making it a suitable site for the village.

Stories and Facts

Benfeita folktale

In the chapel of Santa Rita there was formerly a pulpit. One day a friar with a very long white beard came to preach a sermon. Now, while he was speaking, there was an old man in the congregation who was weeping all the while. When he had finished, the friar, fearful that the man was suffering on account of his sins, went up to him and asked him:
- Brother, are you weeping for your sins?
At this, the astonished man replied:
- No, Father, it’s just that when I was looking at you, it reminded me of a young buck that the wolves took from me in the Serra da Picota.

Our Beloved Month of August

This film was shot here, in these settings and with characters from this and other villages. Miguel Gomes, the screenwriter and director, addresses the theme of summer in this village when city people settle temporarily into the natural and cultural environment of this area.

João Brandão in Benfeita

João Brandão was a right-wing liberal [this is at the time of the liberal struggles of the nineteenth century], who would prove himself to be a talented organiser and leader of counter-guerrilla operations. [...]”  For this reason he always had many enemies plotting to kill him. In 1852 another band of the opposing faction headed by an individual known as the “Ferreiro” [Blacksmith] tried to kill him. “But despite all this, some time later the two groups decided to make it up – a decision that must have displeased the “Ferreiro” for not being listened to or believed. And it displeased him so much that he decided to continue the fight alone. [...] So later, the “Ferreiro”, hidden in a bramble thicket, shot at João Brandão but missed. [...] João Brandão then felt that he was truly in danger, since the “Ferreiro” was not about to give up. [...] It so happens that at that time the government was being attacked in Parliament because of the insecurity that reigned throughout the country, especially in the Beira. [...] Given this, João Brandão offered to cooperate with the Minister and, once returned home, began recruiting people [...] “ The operation began with a search for the “Ferreiro” in the Avô area. “However, the outlaw, who had meanwhile been warned, fled into the mountains accompanied by his brother [...]” During an ambush the “Ferreiro” was wounded but managed to escape, but now needed treatment. “João Brandão then sent some men to Porto Castanheiro and then went with others to Benfeita, because these where the areas where the “Ferreiro” would be most likely to find a barber who would treat him. On arrival at Benfeita, João Brandão learned that the “Ferreiro” and his brother were indeed hidden in a local hayloft [...]. João Brandão sent for the force that had gone to Porto Castanheiro, and began the siege of the hayloft. [...] the first men to enter the hideout arrested the “Ferreiro” who did not put up any resistance [...]. At this point, João Brandão entered accompanied by “Anjinho”, [an endearing term for angel] who, the moment he saw the “Ferreiro” fired a shot at his chest that killed him instantly. This unexpected outcome, which no one could prevent, cannot have pleased João Brandão, who wanted to arrest the “Ferreiro” [...]; moreover, it would certainly have brought him problems with the judicial authorities, because the responsibility for the crime would now fall on his shoulders. As Benfeita belonged to Arganil municipality – where João Brandão did not have the same influence as he had in Tábua – he nevertheless tried to remedy this problem by ordering the corpse to be carried out of the municipality. [...] However, João Brandão did achieve not what he hoped: the crime would still be tried in the Arganil court [...]

Amândio Galvão

 

Festivals

  • 7 May- Festival of Peace - commemoration of the armistice of World War II, at the Peace Tower

  • 15 August - Feast of Our Lady of the Assumption

  • 1st weekend of September- Feast of Our Lady of Necessities

 

Products

Artigos em feltro, da Feltrosofia.

The charters granted to Arganil and Benfeita Schist Village mention animal products: oxen, game, capons, sheep, chickens, seafood, fish, pigs, and cows, salted butter and dried cheeses – and vegetable products: garlic, oats, olive oil, tallow, onions, rye, spices, green fruit, vegetables, lentils, honey, maize, mustard, nuts, millet, salt, wheat, lard, wine and vinegar. In this list we find the specific ways food was preserved - salted butter and dried cheeses.

Products of the Village

  • Horticultural produce

  • Chestnuts

  • Wooden spoons

  • Miniature schist houses

  • Articles in felt (Feltrosofia)

Suggestions for the village of Benfeita

See in Benfeita

Pages

Contacts and Information

Location:
Benfeita, Arganil 
Getting Here:

Entrando por Vilar Formoso, tomar a A25/E80 na direcção Aveiro, até à saída 20 (Mangualde). Na rotunda sair na primeira à direita e continuar pela N234. Após Nelas entrar no IC12, sair na saída 1 (Tábua). Virar à esquerda, tomar a N234-6. Passar Tábua e seguir a N337. Ao chegar à EN17 virar à esquerda e passados 2 km sair para a direita em direcção a Coja pela N344. Passando Coja, seguir na N342. Percorridos 2km virar à direita pela EN1348. Após 1km virar à direita pela N518, para Dreia e Benfeita. Seguir 3,5km até chegar à Benfeita.

Contactos

Associado

Posto de Turismo Municipal de Arganil

Avenida das Forças Armadas
3300 – 011 ARGANIL Arganil 
Portugal
(+351) 235 200 137 (+351) 235 200 139
Associado

Câmara Municipal de Arganil

Praça Simões Dias
3300-062 Arganil 
Portugal
(+351) 235 200 150

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