Manufacture of Cowbells, in the Alentejo

Fabrico de Chocalhos
Place: Alentejo
Photo: ©jfilipebacalas
Photo: ©jfilipebacalas

The manufacture of cowbells, recognised as Intangible Cultural Heritage, is a unique art that has existed in the Alentejo region for over two thousand years.

An important craft in the region's identity, this art is still preserved in the municipalities of Estremoz, Reguengos de Monsaraz and Viana do Alentejo, and has been passed down from generation to generation. The main manufacturing centre is in the civil parish of Alcáçovas, where the Museu do Chocalho (Cowbell Museum) can also be visited, a private collection of over 3,000 items gathered over 60 years.

The Portuguese cowbell is a traditional percussion instrument with an unmistakable sound which plays an important part in the soundscape of rural areas, especially where animals are still herded.  The craft is passed down from parents to children and requires a very specific manual manufacturing process, before the pieces are polished and given the finishing touches.

The cowbell was on the verge of disappearing owing to industrial techniques and because there is less and less traditional herding of animals, and the fact that it has been classified as Intangible Heritage of Humanity is also a way of preserving this ancient craft.

There are only 13 master cowbell manufacturers in Portugal, the majority located in the Alentejo, and in the municipalities of Bragança, Tomar, Cartaxo and Angra do Heroísmo.


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