History of Sabugal

The Municipality of Sabugal is integrated in the wide geographic area of the Alto Côa, corresponding to the lands that are irrigated by the tributary streams from the upper reaches of this river. The region revealed, since ancient times, important signs of human occupation, although its natural conditions are not the best for population settlement, much because of the rigorous climate.  

The oldest archaeological remains identified in this territory go back to the Neolithic and Chalcolithic. From references to the (now gone) Dolmens of Ruivós ,Aldeia da Ribeira and Bendada villages, and the one recently  discovered in Sacaparte (Alfaiates), to the excavations performed at Sabugal’s historic centre (where striped and punctured pottery, chipped silex artefacts such as axes and adzes and a copper axe, were found), and at the Carvalheiras habitat (Casteleiro), whose radiocarbon dating of the obtained samples, provided a rigorous dating from mid-3rd millennium b.C.. 

The Bronze Age was rich in human occupation. Several altitude settlements and innumerable archaeological findings are related to those times. 

Several grassland farming, agricultural and mining communities inhabited in Vilar Maior, Sabugal, Serra Gorda (Águas Belas), Castelejo (Sortelha), Cabeço das Fráguas (Pousafoles do Bispo), Caria Talaya (Ruvina), Vila do Touro and many other hill tops of the western region of the Alto Côa. 

The wealth of these lands in mining of tin and copper (the metals necessary to produce bronze) helped to consolidate the regional reputation of the Alto Côa. 

There are archaeological pieces of this period that confirm this significance: like the decorated stelae from Fóios and Baraçal, the sword from Vilar Maior, the axes from Quarta-Feira, Soito and Lageosa da Raia, and more recently, the schematic art rock engravings from Vilar Maior. 

The communities from the Iron Age occupied numerous hilltops, leaving us signs of their fortified settlements. Along with the well-known hillforts of Serra das Vinhas (Penalobo), the Castles of Ozendo (Quadrazais), Cabeço de São Cornélio (Sortelha) and Serra da Opa (Casteleiro), we stand out Sabugal Velho (Aldeia Velha) and Sabugal. 

At that time two settlements co-existed, central to all the upper region of the Côa valley, surely due to the strategic position in the territory, where archaeological excavations revealed great material wealth: metal and stone artefacts, pottery, glass beads as well as circular and rectangular building structures.  

In a militarily planned way, the Romans occupied – at the end of the century I b.C. – the upper valley of the Côa river. This was achieved by means of garrisons in small military settlements that may have existed in the region of the current parish of Aldeia de Santo António. Identical events seem to have occurred in Alfaiates, where an inscription from Emperor Augustus regarding a military landmark was found, considering that the inscription seems to be quite old. 

Numerous archaeological sites of the Classical era as well as some materials that demonstrate the potential of the romanization of this region are known throughout the Alto Côa: villages, vici, villae, farms and estates, paved roads and milestones. There are also many votive and funeral epigraphs that reveal the great Roman acculturation of the local indigenous population. 

With the decline of the classical civilization, historical data become scarce and the traces of the Suevi, Visigoth and Arabian passage are relatively rare. Only a few names of places persevere in the landscape. Among them we would have to stand out the Caria Talaya hill (“Watch-Inn”) and Alfaiates (probably originated in Al-haet = “wall”).  

The historical episodes that occurred in the Alto Côa became noteworthy through the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula and the idea of nationhood accomplished by D. Afonso Henriques. During his reign, the territory was extended as far as the Tagus River, having included the upper valley of the Côa river in this military endeavour. 

But in the late 11th century, a new Almoravid charge brought disaggregation and destabilization again, disrupting the territory´s equilibrium. 

It will be the Leonese communities that will, bit by bit, retake these lands of the Alto Côa, repopulating and reinstating the necessary administrative organization. The first boroughs of this region, right after the reoccupation, were composed by natives and people coming from the north of the peninsula in search of new lands. 

So, in the late 13th century, Afonso IX of Leon detaches a wide area of the borough of Ciudad Rodrigo to found a new council, choosing for its seat, the settlement of Sabugal. Some villages gaining status, like Alfaiates, Vilar Maior, Caria Talaya and Sabugal Velho become part of this newly created council. 

Sabugal Velho, whose primitive name’s origin is still unknown, is a living testimony of the urbanism, architecture and daily life of the societies that existed during the Leonese period of occupation. With its intricate double line of walls, its orthogonal urbanism, the importance of its mining economy and its archaeological remains (common domestic pottery, circular millstones, ironworks, coins, necklace beads and belt buckles),it would surely be one of the most important population centres in the region. 

On the Portuguese side, the Guarda and Covilhã municipalities extended their territories south, claiming land to the Moors, by repopulating desert places and occupying territories which claim was undefined with Leon. D. Sancho I encouraged the settlement of Sortelha (detached from the Covilhã borough), and later, Don Sancho II bestowed it the Royal charter (1229), thus becoming the Portuguese council frontier of the Leonese Sabugal.  

To the north, in 1215, another Portuguese council is formed on the Côa´s left riverbank, when Guarda concedes the lands of the Touro to the Order of the Temple, to be defended and repopulated. It will be the master of the Order of the Temple, D. Pedro Alvito, that will bestow the Royal charter to Vila do Touro in 1220, creating a buffer zone in the borderlands of Leon.  

To face this new castle in Vila do Touro, the Leonese monarch promoted the building of a fortress on the hill overlooking the right riverbank of the Côa, called Caria Talaya (Ruvina). There, a settlement was founded, which was meant to be seat of council in the beginning of the century, but it was abandoned around the 14th century and its walls were never concluded (just like Vila do Touro) when its military and strategic importance faded due to the advance of the borders to the east.  

In the first half of the 13th century the great borough of Sabugal began to be “asphyxiated” by the newly created municipalities: the settlement of Alfaiates got its Alfoz (the rural territory, including villages and localities, belonging to a corresponding town) from Sabugal and thus delimitated its territory, even before 1219. Vilar Maior received a Letter of Settlement (withdrawing, in its turn, its Alfoz from Alfaiates), around 1227. These three municipalities that stood on the right riverbank of the Côa will be integrated into the Portuguese territory in 1296, after a military offensive by D. Dinis that went as far as Ciudad Rodrigo. The monarch claimed ancient and legitimate ownership of these lands, since the reign of D. Afonso Henriques. This quarrel will only be settled by means of the treaty of Alcanizes between D. Dinis and D. Fernando IV of Castilla Leon, in 1297. 

With this agreement, the Portuguese crown will gain the legitimate and perpetual possession of all the lands of Riba-Côa, creating a new frontier boundary that remains until today. 

From this day forward, all the upper valley of the Côa river and part of the lowlands of Casteleiro and Bendada, will be divided into five county seats, garrisoned with walls and castles, whose main building and renovation works are due to D. Dinis and his descendants. 

In the late 14th century, Riba-Côa is affected by the Fernandine Wars (1373-1383) and the subsequent struggle for the restoration of the nationhood (1383-84), becoming stage to invasions by Castile and the taking of its castles. Sabugal was one of the last fortifications to be returned to Portugal by Castilla, in 1393, after the Treaty of Lisbon between the two crowns. 

Later, with D.Manuel, a new and important royal intervention was felt in the region. It is due to this monarch that the five counties of the Alto Côa undertake one of the major political and organizational reforms. In 1510, D. Manuel bestows new charters to Sortelha, Vila do Touro and Vilar Maior and then, in 1515, to Sabugal and Alfaiates. The counties’ castles received works of improvement, expansion and adaptation, to the new systems of military artillery used in the 16th century. Here, it is still possible to admire the ancient Town hall buildings, prisons and pillories that date from this period and reflect the strength of these Villages. 

The territory was also structured regarding the communication routes. These routes connected the region to Guarda, Salamanca, Belmonte, Covilhã and Penamacor. Its passage over the rivers was achieved by stone bridges, pontoons and stepping stones. Some bridges may have Roman origin, like the ones in Alfaiates (now missing), Sabugal and Aldeia da Ponte.  

Others are medieval or modern, like the one from Vilar Maior and Sequeiros (unique for its tower built in the 17th century), located at route’s crossing point over the Côa river.  

We emphasize the great political and military repercussion that the Restoration War, against Spain (1640-1668), had on the reorganization of the Portuguese army and the reconstruction of fortresses. 

This conflict caused enormous amounts of damage and death to the Alto Côa for almost three decades. Many Riba-Côa settlements were entirely set ablaze by the Castilians.  

Close to Alfaiates, the ruins of the Sacaparte Convent can be found. Having been founded in the 18th century, it was owned by the Congregation of the Agonizing Clergyman of Tomina, dedicated to assist the ill, considering the healing properties of its waters. In Aldeia da Ponte, besides the 17th century stone cross, there is also the Colégio dos Marianos. These two examples reveal the importance of the religious traditions and the establishment of some monastic orders in Riba-Côa, surelly associated to the passage of important routes through the region. 

In the context of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), this region witnesses the crossing of Napoleon´s troops, in the unsuccessful attempt to take Lisbon. While withdrawing, the starving French army plundered villages from their goods and people until they finally suffered a heavy defeat by the hands of the Luso-English troops near Sabugal, in the Battle of Gravato (1811).  

In the mid-19th century, the administrative reforms of Mouzinho da Silveira, divided the national territory into provinces, counties, municipalities and parishes.  

This policy caused the extinction of the Alfaiates and Vila do Touro municipalities in 1836, and of Sortelha and Vilar Maior in 1855, and their consequent integration in the great council of Sabugal. This municipality now helds 40 parishes, with as many other small settlements and estates.  

The Council Chambers of these ancient villages were then converted into public schools, and the prisons closed, as was the case of Vilar Maior and Sortelha, however, maintaining the representative monuments of their lost municipality – classified heritage of our region.