The site

The Capela de São Brás is a small chapel located in the small town of Portel, in the region of Alentejo / Portugal. The chapel has a longitudinal plan consisting of a chancel with a vaulted ceiling and a sacristy with a square plan and a hemispherical dome ceiling. It was probably built in 1580, and in 1853 a cemetery was added to it.

The chapel’s interior, in particular in the nave and in the sacristy, is beautifully decorated with remarkable examples of mural painting. The frescoes were discovered in 2003 under the limewash that covered the walls of the chapel. Part of the limewash was taken off, but a large part of it still covers the wall paintings.

Alentejo's mural painting had its peak in the 16th and 17th centuries depicting mostly religious images. The frescoes tend to appear more often in rural areas, often at places with historically weak economic resources. This fact may be connected to the low production costs that this technique needed. Despite mural paintings were commissioned by all social strata – nobles, brotherhoods, religious missions, commissions – this method appealed to clients with less monetary means such as small parishes. Nevertheless, Alentejo's mural painting has endured to the present day, with a greater or lesser degree of degradation, enriching the heritage of this region.

The Capela de São Brás in Portel is part of the Rota do Fresco, the Fresco Route, since 1998. The Rota do Fresco is the first cultural touring route of Portugal. It integrates fifteen municipalities of Alentejo and more than fifty monuments with wall paintings that illustrate the unique fresco painting technique developed in Alentejo for the past five hundred years. It is the result of a strategic partnership between several institutions related to the management of cultural heritage and the administrations of the fifteen municipalities of Alentejo that compose the Rota do Fresco.

The Rota do Fresco is a heritage-based local development project currently driven by the organisation “Spira – Heritage Revitalization”, which promotes heritage awareness of the communities involved, as well as provides support for conservation and restoration interventions at the sites which are part of the Rota do Fresco. Rota do Fresco forms a central part of Spira's essential mission: to bring the Portuguese public, in their different age groups, backgrounds and social classes, closer to the heritage of their country.


The training course

The technique of fresco painting is one of the oldest wall-covering techniques in Alentejo. There are several chapels, hermitages and chapels in the territory with important decorations with a peculiar fresco painting style developed in Alentejo, a technique that has come into disuse and which, for this very reason, is often at risk of disappearing.

The European Heritage Training Course will be a continuation of the work begun in by the European Heritage Training Course that took place in Portel in 2022 and will contribute to transmit the knowledge about this fading technique while assisting in the efforts to conserve the beautiful frescoes in the Capela de São Brás.

The training course will provide practical experience in conservation and restoration of frescoes. The participants will gain an insight into the complete process and will learn to utilise the different materials to carry out delicate interventions on historical surfaces. All conservation and restoration steps will also be documented and recorded, in order to produce a final report of the works that were carried out.

In addition, the training course will involve the participants in various workshops and discussions that will explain the peculiarities of the fresco style developed in Alentejo, including the natural materials present in the region – as river sand, limewash and natural pigments – that enabled the elaboration of the frescoes.

The discussions which will be part of the educational programme will also include topics about sustainability as well as about future developments that could endanger the preservation of this technique. According to the local specialists, Alentejo is one of the territories in Europe where climate change and desertification are having a major impact on the landscape. The participants will therefore gain knowledge about how these natural developments can also have an impact on the availability of indigenous natural materials for the continuation of the local fresco technique, about the importance of community engagement in its preservation and the sustainability of these traditions in the future.

The works will be guided by two conservators-restorers experienced in fresco technique – one from Portugal who is familiar with the local techniques and one from the European Heritage Volunteers Network with international experience.

The educational programme will be complemented by guided visits and an excursion to other heritage sites of interest in the region, linked through the Rota do Fresco.


The training course will take place from September 17th to September 30th, 2023 and is organised by Associação Mundo Património in cooperation with Spira - Revitalização patrimonial, the municipality of Portel and European Heritage Volunteers.              


European Heritage Volunteers