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Chaves-Verín: A share history

Contacts within this region date back to Neolithic times, continuing through the Bronze Age and the period of the hill-fort culture, when the Tamagani tribe settled on the banks of the River Tâmega. The Roman period saw the establishment of villae such as Verín, and in 78 AD the emperor Flavius Vespasian established the municipality of Aquae Flaviae, the origin of Chaves, around its hot springs (As Caldas).

In 462, the invasion by the Suebi led to the region falling into ruin, and the imprisonment of Idacio, bishop of Flavias. Centuries later, in 716, the Moors occupied the region. The wars of the reconquest brought instability, misery and emigration, and it was Alfonso I of León who finally regained control of the region from the Moors. Nevertheless, it was not until 878 that the Tâmega valley and the town of Chaves were finally repopulated by Odoario, in the name of Alfonso III.

In 921 Ordoño II of León visited the area together with Count Gutier, the father of Saint Rudesind who founded the monastery of Celanova. In the following years, the monastery would receive numerous donations in the regions of Verín and Chaves.

The name of Verín appears in documents dating from 931, and legal battles began between the dioceses of Ourense and Braga for control of different frontier territories. The marriage of Teresa, the daughter of Alfonso VI, to Count Henrique de Borgonha, provided her with large amounts of land on the border, including the town of Chaves. During this period, Teresa made a series of donations to the diocese of Braga, such as the domains of Couto de Ervededo. In 1127, King Alfonso VII invaded these territories, defeating Teresa and returning her possessions to Celanova. One year later, Teresa’s son, Afonso Henriques, fought against his mother, defeating her troops and taking possession of her lands. In 1134, Alfonso VII once again occupied the area of Chaves, leaving under the stewardship of the Fernão Mendes family, the Lords of Bragança.

In 1145, Verín received its official charter from the monastery of Celanova to help with the process of repopulation. This declaration of jurisdiction was revalidated in 1328. The legal battles between the dioceses of Braga and Ourense reached a peak with the meeting between King Fernando II and Afonso Henriques of Portugal close to Verín with the presence of the Bishop of Ourense and three Canons from Braga, bringing the dispute to an end. The frontier was defined, and in 1274 Monterrei castle was completed and re-populated, as a guarantee of the new limits.

In 1258, King Afonso III granted Chaves its charter, which was renewed in 1350 by Afonso IV. With Chaves under the power of the king, in 1383 a dynastic crisis occurred, leading the mayor of Chaves to take sides with Castille. The marshal Nuno Álvares Pereira retook the town in the name of King João I, and received it as a reward. It was included as a part of the dowry of his daughter Beatriz, who after marrying Afonso, the illegitimate son of João I, declared Chaves as a possession of the House of Bragança, where they both lived and died.

At the end of the Middle Ages, Chaves and Monterrei were important towns, and both stood alongside the pilgrims’ ways to Compostela. In both towns, and within just a few years, printers became established who created two masterpieces: the Sacramental of Chaves in 1488, and the Misal Auriense in 1494. In the early sixteenth century, King Manuel granted Chaves a new charter, confirming the previous versions.

The Modern Age was marked by continuous borders conflicts in the valley, with towns and castles being occupied by both countries. It was not until the invasion of Napoleon’s troops that the armies on both sides joined together to fight against the common enemy. The violent civil wars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Galicia and Portugal led to a large number of refugees and plotters to cross from one side of the border to the other in search of support. One of the last incursions from Galicia was by the monarchist Paiva Couceiro in 1912. In 1929, the town of Chaves received its charter as a city, having become an important urban centre in terms of its population and dynamism.

The frontier

Since time immemorial, the frontier has been known on both sides as the “Raia” (the line), in an area which lacks any major geographical features to mark it clearly. Since ancient times, this feature has defined the social and economic features of the area, and the inhabitants of both sides of the border. As an enforced geographical frontier, it divided the Tâmega Valley in two, and was the motive for love, hate and solidarity. Today’s community policy, leading to the elimination of frontiers, has rekindled economic, cultural and social projects that have always been present, despite the humiliating wars and conflicts which marked the past and which are now long forgotten. Trade, including the movement of contraband, has been the feature that has characterised cross-border relations the most in the eyes of many local inhabitants.

Over the centuries, social relations between the inhabitants of the raia were mainly based on attending religious ceremonies on both sides, on mixed marriages, on the sale or exchange of different types of goods, and on healthcare and mutual support in the event of catastrophes. The support and solidarity shown to refugees and exiles in times of political repression and persecution are also an unforgettable and truly exemplary contribution. The numerous changes which have been made to the geographic border have largely contributed towards this interrelation. The inhabitants of the Portuguese side and the Galician side of the border are equally arraianos, and this word, used until quite recently as a term of abuse (raiotos), has now become a synonym of identification and a motive of honour for the inhabitants of this large area between Galicia and Portugal. The “line” of the frontier, as can be seen in documents, is virtually a modern concept, imposed as a result of the wars, but has always been a living border, in which the customs, resources, culture and inhabitants have created an inherent intercommunication and solidarity, whose origins have deep historic roots.
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