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Sustainable development – from a local to a European perspective

 “The traditional house and sustainable development”

            Seia is located on the northwest side of Serra da Estrela and is one of the main entry points in this mountain range characterized by a unique natural environment in Portugal. These characteristics contributed to its being established as a Natural Park. Several villages in the municipality of Seia integrate this Natural Park, the largest established in Portugal, with a total area of about 1,000km2.

Serra da Estrela is part of the great peninsular central mountain rangeand its maximum altitude is 1991 meters. To complete the 2000m a tower was built at the highest point.

Geologically the mountain is mainly granite (aged between 340-280 million years ago) surrounded by metamorphic rocks to the NE, South and SW (Pre-cambric-Cambrian, between 500 and 650 million years ago). The highest area corresponds to a plateau with traces of glacial action, left by the last glacial of the late Neogene, the so-called Wurm, which peaked about 20,000 years ago. The nature of the existent rocks and geodynamics it has been subjected to gave origin to natural landscapes of great beauty and magnificence.

Changes in precipitation and temperature reflect the influence of temperate and Mediterranean macroclimates. However, its climate is also influenced by altitude, proximity to the Atlantic and the effect of continentalityexerted by the interior of the Iberian Peninsula. In winter it is covered with snow, which makes it an important centre of tourist attraction, allowing, for a period of time, the practice of snow sports. The various climatic factors originate frequent storms that greatly affect this practice and consequently its economic profit.

Flora in the Natural Park of Serra da Estrela shows unique characteristics in Portugal, as there are several strictly endemic species and subspecies to the Serra da Estrela including Campanula Herminii, true symbol of this mountain, which was once called "Montes Hermínios ". Altitude contributes to the existence of different levels with a particular flora each. Fauna is diverse and is divided into five major areas:  rural, forest, shrubbery, subalpine, and water courses.

The climate of the Serra makes it "a huge castle of water." The mountain is an important centre for water spreading, formed by several lakes and a dense river network which includes three major rivers - the Zêzere, Alva and Mondego -, besides numerous watercourses. Part of this water is used to produce electricity.

Despite its prime location, Seia municipality, as is the case of the interior of Portugal, lives difficult times, due to lack of public and private investment in projects that can revitalize the economy, and aggravated by the economic and financial crisis the country is going through. The last censuses show that the population has left the municipality (from 2001 to 2011 there was a reduction of 12.2% in the number of its inhabitants); however, the situation has worsened. Several factors, including the collapse of agricultural income, the closure of many textile factories and the lack of job opportunities, have changed the balance of framework which has existed for centuries.

The fact is we have a built heritage as well as villages now completely abandoned whose recovery and renovation could help requalify those places, boosting local economy. It is important to restore this heritage and keep its uniquecharacteristics so that the population can identify themselves with that legacy and so maintain their cultural identity.

There is already some initiativein this rehabilitation and preservation either for own use or for tourism purposes, associated with regional high quality products such as honey, rye bread, traditional sausages, weaving, and the  famous Serra da Estrela Cheese, curd and lamb (these latest products connected with an old traditional activity, grazing in the Serra da Estrela).

The region has natural potential, but depopulation remains despite some focus on tourism.

From the reflection on the characterization of the local environment,"Traditional housing and sustainable development" came up as the theme for the research; as a problem we formulated the following: “Does the preservation of the traditional houses contribute to a sustainable development?".

Several study cases were formulated, which were translated by the following questions: 1) What is the traditional house like? Is there one or more than one type of traditional house? 2) How do people see the traditional houses? Do they like them? 3) Is the traditional house sustainable? What is a sustainable house? 4) What is the tourist value of the traditional house? 5) What is the added value of preserving of the traditional style of the houses in a village? 6) What support / strategies are there for the protection and promotion of the built heritage? 


Agrupamento de Escolas de Seia - Rua Alexandre Herculano (sede) - 6270-428 SEIA - Telef: 238 315 717 - Fax: 238 317 416 - Email: direccao@aeseia.org