The Village’s History

The name Santar gets lost in the memories of time. However, we must mention that it has been a place of human fixation since the Neolithic time to the present day. Here our ancestors, walked as hunters and gatherers, about 5000 years ago. Later the Celts, the Romans and the Moors settled here until the reconquest of Afonso Henriques who Christianized the territory and integrated it into the kingdom of Portugal.

For centuries, the village of Santar was part of the territory of Senhorim. Since 1852, the parish belonged to the municipality of Nelas, in the District of Viseu. It is located half a hillside in the vineyard region of Dão with Serra da Estrela and Caramulo mountain-ranges in the background. Elevated in 1928 to the category of Village, Santar is one of the most ancient places in the country, unique for its magnificent erected heritage where granite stands out as the main construction material.

Occupied since immemorial times, it is the Roman presence that most archaeological remains left in the region, namely in the surroundings of Santar, Senhorim and Canas de Senhorim.

The 1258 inquiries referred the existence of a pathway, probably of Roman origin, that joined Senhorim to Vilar Seco, and another path between the latter and Santar, in which there are still vestiges.

As in most ancient villages, there is also a legend that says the word Santar derives from a victorious passage, in the early Middle Ages, of a king – according to some, D. Afonso II – who ordered his army to assentar - which means to settle – here for a well-deserved rest after a battle. This legend is interesting, yet, the origin of the name seems to be quite different, probably associated with the permanency of the Visigoths in the Iberian Peninsula. According to some authors, it derives from a proper name of Germanic origin Sentarius, referred in literature from the 10th century, in the form of Senteiro.

In 1514, during the charter reform carried out by D. Manuel, Senhorim - municipality to which Santar belonged to - received a new charter which replaced the one granted by D. Afonso III in 1253.

From the 16th century onwards, the village began to flourish when D. Luís da Cunha, Lord of Sabugosa, Óvoa and Barreiro and owner of Casal Bom in Santar, received from the crown the medieval palace of the former owner, and settle down here.

Later, in 1609 - during the Philippine period - D. Pedro da Cunha, a nobleman of the house of Felipe II, reformulated the old medieval palace, building the imposing Paço dos Cunhas, according to the prestige and economic power he held in the region. It is in this context that Santar becomes known as the headquarters of the Cortes da Beira.

In the surroundings of Paço dos Cunhas, other manor houses arise and become relevant in the region, Casa dos Condes de Santar e Magalhães and Casa das Fidalgas. This last one, built in the 17th century, was apparently built near a medieval tower that existed and was then destroyed. It was also during this period that several chapels, some private and some belonging to religious congregations, were established.

Donated by D. Lopo da Cunha - the last of this family to reside here – Igreja da Misericórdia, was built in 1637, in whose garden - a true belvedere over a vineyard garden - some remarkable trees can still be seen today such as the araucaria araucana, the cryptomeria, the spruces, the cypresses and the camellia trees.

Loyal to the Philippine cause, in 1641 D. Lopo da Cunha was forced to exile to Spain, after a partaking in a failed conspiracy to depose D. João IV.

His property was confiscated, and the family's coat of arms removed from the facade of the old palace. The Cortes da Beira ended, thus without glory.

This was a time of change. As a reward for having supported him, in the struggle against Spain, the Duke of Bragança, now King of Portugal, brings to power other aristocratic families and members of the upper bourgeoisie. If in Santar the Restoration had caused the Cunhas to fall, other houses would also be erected, namely Pais do Amaral.

In 1852, the administrative reform creates the new municipality of Nelas that incorporates territories formerly belonging to the municipalities of Canas de Senhorim and Senhorim.

Like other regions of the country, Santar suffered with the passage of the French troops during the Third Invasion commanded by Massena and later the damages caused by the civil war between the partisans of D. Miguel and those of D. Pedro IV.

With the advent of the Republic, the municipalities had new administrative reforms, which fell far short of what was desired. With the Estado Novo, the autarchic power was totally subjugated by the central power from an administrative and political point of view. Only after the revolution in 1974 would the local power be freely elected by citizens and gain wide autonomy.