The ruins of the Royal Filatory of Chacim are impressive. Three-storey high, they are one of the last testimonies of the silk industry in Trás-os-Montes. Today, Chacim is a peaceful village. At the southern end of the municipality of Macedo de Cavaleiros, its people are mainly dedicated to agriculture. But in the 18th century it played a key role in the country’s industrialization effort.
By decree of D. Maria I, Chacim was chosen to house the Royal Philatory and the weaving school. With a micro-climate favourable to silkworm production and some tradition in silk making, the village of Chacim was a protagonist of Portugal’s industrialization.
From the real silk factory little more has come down to our days than the bare walls of a large building. But in its heyday, the noise of the Piedmont filament mill and the bustle of dozens of workers vibrated the stones that are now mute.
The real silk factory worked until 1807, the year of the first French invasions, but it had several hundred workers and silk production occupied, directly or indirectly, almost 50% of the population of Macedo de Cavaleiros. With the end of production came the decline of the building and the State ended up selling it in 1869, serving then as a stable until the great fire that consumed it in the 19th century.
The memory of the great industrial enterprise was lost and the whole complex was used for other purposes, until 1997 when an archaeological excavation unearthed evidence of the use of the Piedmontese mill.
This is a visit that we recommend (even because Chacim is a beautiful village), but it should be done with your homework done, because little or no information can be found on the site and the interpretative centre has its door closed.
The Arnaud and the Piedmontese mill
At the vibrant end of the 18th century, modern minds were in search of novelty. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho was one such case. Having seen in Turin, where he was Portugal’s Minister, the proto-industrial spinning process known as the Piedmontese mill (or filatory), the Count of Linhares suggested it to the then government. Portuguese cocoons were tried out in various spinning mills and it was found that they produced organsim of great quality.
The Count of Linhares managed to convince the kingdom and a family that knew the silk business well to come to an understanding. The Arnauds arrived in Lisbon, where they demonstrated the efficiency of the hydraulic mill, which allowed a greater quantity and faster weaving.
Once the test was done and the machine was approved, D. Maria II ordered the installation of the Royal Filatory in Chacim, to take advantage of the mulberry trees and the tradition of silk production in the Transmontana region between Mirandela, Macedo de Cavaleiros, Brangança, Moncorvo and Freixo de Espada à Cinta.
The Arnaud’s parents and sons oversee setting up the filatory and establishing a school that would spread their weaving methods throughout Portugal. Having agreed upon a salary of 3,000 reals, the journey of the Italians and their mill to Trás-os-Montes takes one week.
Local researcher Rui Sousa remembers that “spinning the Piemontese way was an innovation and brought great development. Today we only have the remains of what was a great silk factory that at one time occupied more than 50 looms and 220 workers. The Real Filatório employed directly or indirectly about 450 people”.
The Royal Filatory was to be built in the oldest part of the village of Chacim, next to the stream that bears the name of the village and whose waters would make the mill spin piemontesa. The arched bridge in schist masonry that crosses the river next to the old factory should be medieval. Right next to it, there are still the schist houses that remain from what was the Workers’ Quarter, where workers and apprentices from the Real Filatório de Chacim used to live.
The ruins of the Real Filatório may be another stage of a route through Terras de Cavaleiros; a route that will include the Monastery of Balsamão and that may be done at any time of the year. In the summer, it will be a complement to the Azibo beach and, at Carnival time, a pretext for us to say that there was more than just the paganism of the Podence caretos on the visit we made to this territory where you can eat really well.