Benafim is guardian of an imposing geomonument: Rocha da Pena (Pena’s Rock), presenting more than 350 million years of history.
Due to its altitude, this massif is an excellent viewpoint from which to behold the coastline, as well as to observe the landscapes of the Algarvian barrocal. One can also check the cracks connected to caves, some of which quite large, formed by the persistent action of water against the limestone rock. Stone walls of unknown origin can also be found here. The cornice-shaped outcrop of Rocha da Pena rises to an altitude of 479 meters and boasts a plateau about two kilometres long. The diverse microclimates turn it into a unique home to several species of animals and plants. The panoramic view reveals a memorable scenery, an excellent starting point to discover the rurality of these inlands, where the history of Portuguese emigration in the 1960’s has also been written.
Benafim is located northwest of Loulé, 19 kilometres from the City Council. It’s 41 kilometres away from Faro, the district capital. Benafim occupies an area of 52.69 sq. kms and it has 1069 inhabitants (2011 Statistics). In 2022, 896 voters were registered.
The parish is limited to the north by the Arade stream and to the south by the Algibre stream. To the east, the border reaches the Sobreiras hills up to the Rocha da Pena, the Morgado (Majorat) da Quinta do Freixo and the Arade stream. To the west, it is limited by the Algibre stream, the site of Estiveira, crossing the national road 124 at kilometre 49, and continuing to Rocha dos Soidos. It also shares its territory with the Morgado da Quinta do Freixo, Barranco do Corgo-Montinho, serro do Azinhal and the village of Cascabulho up until the serro da Portela da Mó, and then we reach the Arade stream again.
Benafim is a toponym of Arabic origin, deriving from Ben Afon, that is, the son of Afon. Tradition says that it would have been home to the country house of the Moorish kings of Silves.
Archaeologist and writer Ataíde Oliveira claims that ruins of a monument have been found there.
Previously integrated in the parish of Alte, Benafim became autonomous in 1988. It was subsequently extinguished in 2013, as part of a national administrative reform. From then on, it became part of the Union of Parishes of Querença, Tôr and Benafim.
If Rocha da Pena is a solid identity mark to the territory, there are other places that grant it a unique character: Benafim Pequeno (Little Benafim) as a traditional architectural ensemble, its surroundings and fountain, the Parque das Merendas (Picnic Park) shaded by a monumental holm oak; and Benafim Grande (Big Benafim). Both within the historic core. Added to this is Bairro Novo (New Neighbourhood), which houses most of the constructions built by emigrants; and at last, Alto Fica, Zimbral and Espargal.
The first traces of human occupation in this region date back to the Neolithic period.
Archaeological findings at Barradas identified a shale stele with an inscription in four lines, from the 6th-5th centuries BC.
In Espargal, the archaeologists found an iron spoon or spatula from the Later Roman Empire period as well as a circular Roman granite millstone. All these pieces are guarded in the Municipal Museum of Loulé.
At Quinta do Freixo, a funerary altar was identified, belonging to the 2nd half of the 2nd century AD. It is displayed in the Municipal Museum of Archaeology of Silves.
ROCHA DA PENA CLASSIFIED SITE
The classified site of Rocha da Pena is within the parishes of Benafim and Salir, in an area of 637 hectares. It is a biotope of great interest, namely due to the geological features of the limestone formations.
This natural monument offers a unique contrast of textures and tones. The limestone cliffs are surrounded by diverse vegetation in various shades of green. The Mediterranean climatic characteristics enhance the unique geological richness and biodiversity of this place.
It was on one of the slopes of Rocha da Pena that palaeontologists found fossils of the Metoposaurus algarvensis, a unique species for science. Popularly known as the “Giant Salamander”, it is a prehistoric amphibian which existed more than 200 million years ago.
Because two different soils can be found here – schist and limestone – the corresponding flora is also dissimilar. To the south, in soils of limestone origin, we can see species such as the carob tree, the peony, rosemary, thyme and the purple Jerusalem sage. To the north, in the elevations of schist origin, we can find the Spanish heath, the gum rockrose, the Scotch heather and the French lavender.
The different microclimates support the existence of about thirty endemic species here. One of them is from the Algarve (Bellevalia hackellii). Three are European (Phlomis lichnitis) and six are Lusitanian (Narcissus gaditanus).
When discovering this place, please remember that you are in a protected area. Please do not pick flowers or plants. Delight yourself in the charms of the rosa albardeira (a type of peony), and with the aromas and colours of rosemary and rockrose, in the splendour of the cork oaks.
Rocha da Pena’s location is an important sanctuary for many species of small mammals, such as the European badger, the Egyptian mongoose, the red fox, the European hedgehog, the European hare and the European rabbit.
This area is also home to some bat colonies, such as the common bent-wing bat and the Lesser mouse-eared bat, which are very sensitive to human presence.
Although somewhat hard to spot, amphibians such as salamanders, frogs and newts are quite common in small dams, wells and ponds.
CHURCH OF NOSSA SENHORA DA GLÓRIA
While the date of its foundation is not exact, we do know it already existed in 1724. In 1747, the book Dicionário Geográfico (Geographical Dictionary) mentions a chapel dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Glória.
The chapel was used throughout the 18th century for the burial of local elites, namely members of the Cavaco family, while most of the population of Benafim continues to be buried in Alte, the parish that Benafim belonged to in the past.
Facing west, the church has a rectangular floor plan, consisting of a chancel and a single nave, both covered by a barrel vault.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
THE PENINA VILLAGE
This small village remains alive and united, despite the progressive abandonment of the inlands and its fields, towards the coast. Over here, the houses still show a traditional, mostly whitewashed architecture, and the narrow alleys invite us for a stroll. If you ask around in a cafe, people will guide you towards a small, private house, which holds countless objects and memories linked to the rural life, resembling a cosy museum. The village is one of the gateways to the Algarve Geopark.
THE PATIO OF DONA ANTÓNIA, monument in homage to Antónia do Carmo Provisório da Silva Campos, illustrious benefactor of Benafim. It was made by the visual artist Victor Borges, born in Penina.
NORA AND ROMAN COBBLESTONE ROAD
The times when the population used spouts for water supply is evident in the washing facilities of Bicas Velhas and São João.
This daily life is also recreated in our imagination as we travel through places with mills, fountains, lime kilns and old farm houses.
THINGS TO DO
Benafim is crossed by Via Algarviana, a pedestrian route in the interior of the Algarve with a total length of 240 kms, crossing nine municipalities.
Pedestrian routes are highly recommended. Bearing dedicated sign posts, the classified site of Rocha da Pena proposes a walk of about three hours, with a total length of 4.7 kilometres.
This is also a place of choice for sports such as mountain biking, climbing or trail running.
FESTIVALS AND RELIGIOUS CELEBRATIONS
The feast in honour of Nossa Senhora da Glória, the patron saint of Benafim, takes place on the third Saturday of October.
The Festa dos Milhos (Corn Festival) takes place in August, enhancing corn’s culinary uses and stimulating the people’s gathering at a time when emigrants usually return to their homeland on vacations. It is also a great place to discover the art of local artisans.
Trade and services are predominant in Benafim’s economy. However, as you travel through this territory, you can spot the practice of agriculture, pastoralism and the picking of dry fruits. The dryland orchard is mostly made of carobs, almonds and figs. Some herds of sheep and goats led by their shepherds can still be seen grazing.
Quinta do Freixo, which occupies an area of 800 hectares, is currently the most important touristic development centre in the parish, dedicated to a range of activities ranging from agriculture and livestock to goods production and tourism. The entire area is certified as an organic production facility.
In crafts, emphasis is given to the making of lace, embroidery and trappology (trapejos, objects made out of rags).
Benafim has a community centre named the Social Association for Progress and Welfare of the Parish of Benafim, which is mobilized in the name of local development, along with other institutions. The village recently recreated the Festa dos Milhos (Corn Festival).
In a broader scope, and due to the discovery of the Metoposaurus algarvensis and to the high geological value of this territory, three municipalities – Loulé, Silves, Albufeira – have joined efforts to create a joint municipal consortium, in order to elevate this geosite to a UNESCO’s World Geopark.
The “Corn dinner” tops the list of mountain recipes that also include other delicacies such as homemade rooster stew, stewed wild boar and homemade chicken cabidela (chicken jazzed up with chicken blood and vinegar, served with potatoes).