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Pirineos-Monte Perdido

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This will cross-reference all available documents in our data base related to the UNESCO World Heritage Site

Humans create the landscape

Humans have made their homes in the mountain valleys that make up the Pyrenees-Monte Perdido World Heritage Site despite the difficult mountainous nature of the region, the harshness of the climate and other adverse conditions. The people who settled here learned to cope with hardship and managed to make the most of matters without damaging their environment. As a result, over the centuries they forged an economy and a way of life based on animal husbandry and, to a lesser degree, agriculture, making the most of natural resources in accordance with the rhythm of the seasons.

The Monte Perdido massif

The Monte Perdido massif includes some of the most beautiful and breath-taking mountain landscapes anywhere in the Iberian Peninsula or indeed Europe. It is, therefore, a paradigm of nature conservation and tourism.
Cirques, valleys, waterfalls, gorges, meadows, woodland, tarns, caves and springs are just some of the many natural features that make up the landscape of these mountains. But the Pyrenees-Monte Perdido area cannot be fully understood solely from a naturalist perspective, since almost all the habitats contain some kind of trace left by the humans who have lived here over the millennia.

Early settlers

The first settlers appeared in the Neolithic Period. They would have made the first clearings in the woodland to provide pasture for their animals and land to cultivate around 5,000 BC.
Middle Ages and the modern era
During the Middle Ages, the landscape was subject to increasing change. The transformations included the high meadows and pastureland that can still be seen today. It should be remembered that following the reconquest of the Ebro Valley by the Christians, herds and flocks of animals were able to extend the transhumance routes, dropping down to the pastures in the flatlands in winter and climbing up to the meadows in the Pyrenean valleys in spring and summer.
It was this that led to the creation of the network of drover's routes and with them the consolidation of transhumance, which became the main factor that shaped the landscapes of the Pyrenees-Monte Perdido World Heritage Site.
As the environmental conditions made it impossible to extend the high meadows, vast swathes of woodland had to be cleared, in the main of Spanish pine. This exploitation of the sub-Alpine zone for animal husbandry gave rise to the pasturelands that still exist, among them those of Griz, Sesa, and Revilla and in the Bielsa and Broto valleys.
A notable example of animal husbandry is to be found in the Federation of the Broto Valley, since livestock owners still have the right to graze their herds in the French valley of Osona (Ossoue) near Gavarnie under the terms of a facera that dates back to 1390.
The constant rise in population numbers of the Pyrenees meant that more food was required for both people and animals, as a consequence of which the residents in the Broto valleys, Vi, Purtolas and Bielsa worked constantly over subsequent centuries to shape the land to provide for their needs.

19th and 20th centuries

The population reached its peak in the 19th century, resulting in ever greater pressure on the land.
More homes were built in towns and villages and the mountainsides were ploughed so that they could be turned into terraces to be given over to agriculture.

Trees were cut down in many areas of woodland and their trunks were transported down the big rivers by nabatas, rafts of logs tied together.
Flocks of sheep continued to graze the high meadowland intensively.

The transhumance cycle continued to survive and many of the traditions and conventions inherited from previous generations endured: each shepherd, when he arrived at the summer pastures, was expected to go to his particular mallata (refuge with pen and land); the agreed dates for entering and leaving the pastureland were to be observed; the maximum number animals allowed to enter each area of pasture was set; sanctions were applied for non-compliance with the rules; etc.

Bestu

A landscape associated with agriculture, woodland and pastoralism


There can be no doubt that the most common landscapes in the Pyrenees-Monte Perdido site are those connected with animal husbandry. Even so, in order to understand their evolution and usage, we must expand our field of study to include areas close to the site recognised as World Heritage. Only in this way will we gain insights into the mountain landscapes, since they consist of a large number of elements scattered across the region that are interconnected.

The towns, villages and their surroundings

The first component in the complex agricultural, woodland and pastoralist system is to be found in the towns and villages around the Monte Perdido massif, which are home to the people who have created and shaped the landscape with their labour and knowledge.

The traditional architecture of their houses, the places where these population centres stand and their distribution across the region reflect the way people have adapted to the local environment and their use of its resources and the advantages it offers, such as water, orientation, the fertility of the soil, accessibility and proximity to pastureland.

The towns and villages are surrounded by small vegetable gardens and orchards, which provide the basic essentials for human consumption. Also around the towns and villages, though further out, is another of the most characteristic and singular elements of the landscape, the terraced cropland.

This geography determined by need is one of the most evident indications of the enormous effort put in by the local residents to obtain the staples on which their survival depended. Excellent examples of terraced fields can be seen around Bestu, Purtolas, Nern and Tella.

The woods and forests

Woods and forests have always been a feature of the Pyrenean mountains. They provide firewood and timber for domestic use as well as fodder for livestock during the winter.

The panares

Higher up the mountainside were the panares, terraced fields used for growing late agricultural crops such as rye, which are better adapted to the cold than those grown lower down.

When the panares were left fallow, they provided food for livestock making their way back down to the lowlands. The animals, for their part, boosted the soil fertility in the fields thanks to the dung they produced.

Intermediate pastureland

Midway up the mountains, below the sweeping areas of pastureland above the forests, are the areas of intermediate pasture, areas used to feed livestock making their way up to the pastureland in spring. Such stopover pasture is to be found in our area in the Ordesa Valley and in Fanlo and Buerba.

The summer pastureland

Lastly, at the top of the mountain, between the treeline and the lower limit of the arid, rocky peaks, is a large stretch of undulating land. In this broad tract of the mountainside, at the foot of the high peaks in the Monte Perdido massif, are the summer pastures, to which animals have been brought for centuries.

This is the cultural landscape that best represents the Pyrenees-Monte Perdido World Heritage Site. This vast expanse of seemingly unvarying vegetation contains numerous surprises and an especially valuable and diverse ecosystem due to the number of species that inhabit it, all thanks to the work of humans and their herds and flocks of animals.

Traditional farm buildings

Each element that makes up the vast mosaic of the landscape contains numerous components that warrant careful attention. This is the case of the simple traditional buildings associated with farming activities, such as mallatas, stone walls, bordas (huts), cletas (moveable fences for penning in livestock), milestones, drinking troughs and fountains.

Other constructions

In addition, there are other buildings that were erected in order to exploit water and wood. Road networks also create landscapes with a character of their own, among them bridges, impressive examples of which are to be found in San Nicols de Bujaruelo over the Ara River and the bridge in San rbez over the Bells River.

Religious feelings and beliefs

People's religious feelings and beliefs have given rise to a number of structures and edifices built over the course of history.
One of the best-known and most emblematic of these is the Shrine of San rbez, which stands in the heart of the Aisclo Canyon.

This shrine, the dwelling place of the hermit saint, stands in a unique landscape in which stone and water blend with the simplicity of a wall that encloses part of the cave.

Other structures found in the area around the World Heritage Site include the Losa de la Campa Dolmen, the various shrines in Tella and the Shrine of Our Lady of Pineta.

Pre-industrial and industrial elements

Modern-day society has added new elements that we must also give due consideration to, as they are the reflection of the social reality and ways of life.

This ongoing change means that the landscape never ceases to evolve and become enriched by new features linked to other functions and uses, such as energy and tourism.

The marriage of nature and humankind has survived for centuries on the Monte Perdido massif, resulting in the creation of landscapes of outstanding value. Yet this is not an immutable site but quite the opposite, as the changes that occur in a region's society and economy are reflected in it.

The present day

For example, the decline in the local population, its ageing and the diminished number of livestock explain why the area given over to pastureland is now smaller, why communities of plants are reducing in diversity and why woody species of shrubs and similar vegetation are constantly spreading across land formerly used for grazing.

Changes to farmland abandoned in the 1970s and 80s are also plain to see.

Dense scrub and some species of trees new grow on plots of land, tracks and paths, as a result of which the mark left by humans on the landscape is gradually fading.

The cultural landscapes are revealed to us as a rich and diverse heritage that is changing all the time and which is deserving of careful study, understanding and appreciation.

The landscape is not only a heritage asset to be preserved, but is also an economic resource capable of stimulating the sustainable growth of local towns and villages.

It is widely acknowledged that the landscapes in the Sobrarbe district, particularly those in the Pyrenees-Monte Perdido World Heritage Site, are the most highly prized and loved by the local populace and visitors, making them a key element in achieving the sustainable development of the valleys on the Monte Perdido massif.


San rbez. Can de Aisclo.