Village

Sobral de São Miguel

Heart of the schist

The inhabitants of this village believe it to be the "Heart of the Schist". Its relationship with schist is evident everywhere. However, this village is not made just of stone. It is well worth finding the small treasures hidden in São Miguel.

The village slogan “Heart of the schist” is not innocent. This village may be one of the largest groups of schist buildings in Portugal. However, by far the majority of them have been rendered and painted, mostly white.
Schist is exported from here around the world, but the raw material doesn’t stop here.
To begin with the gastronomic heritage –
in the village you can appreciate the delights of sour cherries, pica de chouriço, sardines, salt cod, honey and bread baked in a wood burning oven – but there is also a cultural and artistic heritage to discover.
Sobral de São Miguel also offers some pleasant walks. Whether strolling down the roads and alleyways of the village, or following the course of the Ribeira do Porsim (Porsim stream).

The many new buildings all around the outskirts make it advisable to direct your walks to the old centre. There, the houses rise in tiers up the slopes, following the twists and turns of the stream. The village streets almost always run parallel to the stream, and are criss-crossed by many stepped alleyways or steep lanes finding their way around the dwellings. These almost always jostle together with no room for back gardens. The two or three-storey buildings shade the streets, even during the heat of the day.

 

 

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Know the village

Heritage

The traditional houses have a simple architecture, most notable for the balconies and sunny verandas, normally shaded by grapevines. The private houses – many made of schist– are the star attraction of the village, but there is much more to see in Sobral de São Miguel. There are, for example, the three bridges, the most emblematic being the Caratão bridge, over which the Salt Route used to pass, the João dos Santos House Museum , which exhibits a variety of pieces from the daily lives of villagers in the past.

Naturally, Sobral de São Miguel has its own religious heritage. A prime example of this is the Mother church of Sobral de S. Miguelwhich today reflects the amplification work carried out in the 20th century (1933). The bell tower dates from 1937. The village also has a chapel in homage to Saint Barbara, commissioned by the miners in 1938.
Furthermore, those wishing to step back in time and see how life in the village used to be will find traditional buildings that are well worth a visit. Sobral de São Miguel has an
olive oil press and a mill and several communal ovens dotted around the village. You can still see the threshing floor – a smoothed outcrop of schist – used to hull some of the products from the fields and the travis, used to immobilize the animals when they were being shod. The water fountain called the "Fonte do Caratão", also known as the "Fonte da Ponte", was built in 1900 and is also a very picturesque spot worth visiting.

Also worth a visit:

  • Old Primary School
    This building came into being thanks to the " Centenaries Plan" of the Estado Novo fascist state. Its two storeys indicate that there was a significant school population here.

  • Chapel of Santa Barbara
    Located in the outskirts at one of the highest points of the village. Built in 1940, when tungsten mining was the occupation of many and the source of prestige for a few.

  • Eira (threshing floor)
    At the site where two creeks join to form the Ribeira do Porsim that runs through the village, a schist outcrop with a flat, smooth surface has always been used to dry and hull some of the products from the fields.

  • Travis
    Next to the threshing floor, this was used to immobilize the beasts when they were branded.

  • Drinking fountain
    In the Largo do Cabecinho, at the entrance to the village.

History

Sobral de S. Miguel is a very old settlement, as borne out by the many traces of rock art. The origins of this village go back to Roman times and it was always associated with the old trade routes. There is evidence of Moorish mines which also indicates an Arab settlement here, reflected in the legends told by the older population. They say here that Sobral used to be populated sporadically by swineherds who came to fatten their herds on the acorns that grew here. Because Sobral was an area crossed regularly by caravans of merchants trading between the coast and the interior of the peninsula, they started to build shelters alongside the few existing houses belonging to the swineherds. The first houses were built along the side of the stream, more or less in front of a chapel in honour of St. Michael (patron saint of the village) which would later be replaced by the Mother church.

In the historical documentation available, the village is mentioned for the first time in a text dated 1284, in the Inquirições (Royal commissions) of King Dinis. In the “Diccionario Chorographico” (1878) – a book describing the physical conformation and features of Portugal - it appears under the name Sobral, lying on the road between Castelo Branco and Arganil. In 1888 the parish became independent of Casegas, adopting the name of “Sobral de Casegas” which was changed to the current name in 1970. In the 1930’s and 40’s the village benefited from the international demand for tungsten which was mined in Panasqueira and many other places in the  Serra do Açor.

The name "Sobral" derives from the Latin term  suberale  which means a wood of cork oaks or land where cork oaks grow. Hence, on the site of the village or close by there would have been a large area where cork oaks grew or a number of large cork oaks. Which is still the case.
When the parish became independent of Casegas in 1888, it adopted the name of "Sobral de Casegas". However, in 1970 the village chose to call itself Sobral de São Miguel, in tribute to its patron saint.

Nature

 

At the westernmost part of the village, two streams,  the Ribeira do Carvalho and the Ribeira do Cabrieira flow into one, forming the Ribeira do Porsim, which cuts through the village and flows in a general north-east to south-west direction until it joins the  Zêzere.

Territory

 

The village is situated in the  Serra do Açor, on the north-east flank of the mountain range, by its highest peaks. For the most part, Sobral extends along the left bank of the Ribeira do Porsim, taking advantage of the sunny slopes, sometimes east-facing, sometimes south-facing, that predominate on this side of the  Serra do AçorMost of the slopes here are very steep, especially by the water courses, as is the case of the place where the village was established. The cool, limpid stream that has influenced the construction of various dams, flumes, mills and presses bathes the feet of the cluster of houses, flowing through a valley carved from schist.

The Bairro do Caratão is one of the oldest and most interesting points of the village. In the original village centre, the houses rise in tiers up the slopes, following the sharp bends of the stream.

Stories and Facts

Origin of the name

The name "Sobral" derives from the Latin term suberale which means a wood of cork oaks or land where cork oaks grow. Thus, at the time when the village was founded, this tree would have been abundant in the area or there would have been a number of large specimens. Which is still the case.

In the time of the “saltipilha”
It has never been easy living in these mountains and valleys. Opening the older residents’ chest of memories brings tears to their eyes. They unreel for us a black and white film in which they are actors hiking barefoot to Covilhã, with a sack of coal on their heads or backs. Actors in a meal where a single sardine was shared among five brothers. An uncle leaving for some corner of the World, then their father, then their brothers and the days of absence with no homecoming that, in some cases, lasted for the rest of their lives. Or the saltipilha, that flurry of hands as men, women and children stirred the pebbles in the waste heaps or in the streams   flowing down from the Panasqueira mines, rummaging for any stones containing ore that might have been dislodged in the cleaning process. Once their basket was full, it was time to find a buyer, since the little they gave was always better than nothing.

Facts

  • Permanent residents: more than 100

  • Demonym: sobralenses

  • Patron Saint: St. Michael

  • Iconic feature: Caratão bridge

Products

 
  • Pica de chouriço, sardines or salt cod
  • Cheese or Curd cheese
  • Schist

 

Exporting schist
Sobral de São Miguel has two quarries in the vicinity quarrying schist and slate. From the bowels of these highlands, stone has gone to some of the other Schist Villages, to some of the Historic Villages, to France and Belgium, into the hands of artists in stone who have applied them in the name of an almost eternal beauty. The two quarries produce predominantly dark grey pieces in a variety of forms and sizes.

 

 

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Contacts and Information

Location:
Sobral de São Miguel, Covilhã 
Getting Here:
GPS: 40º12’40’’N; 7º44’33’’O. Altitude: 560 m.
Sobral de São Miguel dista 40 km da Covilhã e é servida pela EN230.

Contactos

Associado

Câmara Municipal da Covilhã

Praça do Município,
6200-151 COVILHÃ Covilhã 
Portugal
(+351) 275 310 690
Associado

Junta de Freguesia de Sobral de São Miguel

Rua do Fundo do Lugar
6225-326 Sobral de São Miguel 
Portugal
(+351) 275 663 193 (+351) 963 874 662

Posto de Turismo da Covilhã

Avenida Frei Heitor Pinto
6200 Covilhã 
Portugal
+351 275 319 560

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