THE MADRIU VALLEY: Andorra’s World Cultural Heritage Landscape and the battle to preserve it

Clare-AllcardTHE MADRIU VALLEY

Andorra’s World Cultural Heritage Landscape and the battle to preserve it.

Walking the rugged Madriu Valley, bounded as it is by mountain ridges, with spectacular cliffs, glacial lakes and high, stone-strewn Pyrenean pastures that descend beside frothing streams to deeply wooded valleys, you can almost believe that you have stumbled into a time warp, that you are living  some 1,000 years ago, so little has the valley been marked by the passage of time.

This UNESCO cultural heritage covers 4,247 hectares, or 8.8% of Andorra’s landmass (see the photographic exhibition below) and bears witness to an ancient Pyrenean way of life that balanced the relationship between people, their needs, and the preservation of their land.

In the high mountains of the Madriu-Perafita-Claror valley you can see small huts with vaulted stone roofs, some of which are still used by shepherds. The Refugi Riu dels Orris is an unattended refuge, open to hikers all year round, orris being the name given to the valley’s old cheese-making dairies. For it was here that peasant farmers came in summer with their families to graze their cattle, to milk their cows and turn that milk into cheese. Stone cottages lie scattered around the pastures where today, as ever, horses and cattle graze. Here, too, you can stumble across traces of ancient terraced fields and vestiges of iron workings.

But the valley’s exalted status is also due to the fact that it exemplifies a communal land-sharing system dating back to the 13th century. To this day the whole area is owned by four of Andorra’s comuns: Encamp, Andorra la Vella, Sant Julià de Lòria and Escaldes-Engordany.

The valley, spiritual home of Andorra, has been preserved in this way by the very active intervention of local ecological groups such as the Associació per la Defensa de la Natura and by UNESCO Andorra itself. In recent years the owners of the rarely occupied stone cottages lobbied the communs to have a hard-topped road built so that, ostensibly, they could repair their properties. But the history of Andorra argues strongly against this. Wherever a lush valley has been invaded by a road, houses, ribbon development and the destruction of the country’s natural beauty have followed. At one point in this battle for preservation, a road digger actually reached the entrance to the Madriu Valley. Luckily it was left there overnight while discussions continued. The next day the digger wouldn’t start. Sugar had somehow found its way into the engine!

Since 2005, the Madriu-Perafita-Claror valley has been protected by Law 9/2003 for the cultural heritage of Andorra. In particular, this law emphasizes the need to maintain the area’s traditional activities such as agriculture, which recently have noticeably declined and which are crying out for revitalization and support, so that the cultural heritage of the Madriu remains a living landscape sustaining the authenticity of its ancient cultural practices.

PICK OF THE WEEK

EXHIBITION

MADRIU 8.8.

Tuesday, 24th January until Sunday, 8th March at the ARTALROC, Escaldes-Engordany. (Free) Madriu 8.8 brings together forty black and white photographs by the photographers Jaume Riba and Àlex Tena, friends and collaborators over many years. With this exhibition, they are offering us a personal and subjective vision. Riba and Tena have opted for the austerity of black and white, focusing on what is essential: light and shadow, form and time. The valley is defined here as a sanctuary, a place of memory and ancestral practices, and of extraordinary natural beauty. Two different but complementary perspectives on a secular space and the age-old symbiosis between man and nature. The relationship between Riba and Tena and the Valley has always been very close. They have visited it many times (both day and night). They have travelled the paths and hidden corners, from Entremesaigües  to the peak of Portelleta, to bring it to us, the public. For the past thirty years Jaume Riba, photographer exceptionnel, has lived by and through photography. Throughout the seasons, the mountains are his inspiration. He is the author of numerous successful books, such as Temps d’hereus, (Time of heirs) Vol de dia (Day Flight) and Anhels (Longing)*. Alex Tena, the photographer for the Madriu candidacy to UNESCO, has worked in all fields of photography and video, including as a documentary filmmaker.

A PHOTOGRAPHIC COMPETITION, offshoot of the exhibition above.

The contest, ‘Nature Black and White’ takes place through Instagram. The theme of the photographs must be the natural landscape, must be made in black and white and must be published on Instagram. Participants can submit their photographs as long as the exhibition is on show. The prize is a helicopter flight for two people over the valleys of Andorra.

*JAUME RIBA’S BOOK ‘ANHELS

– available at the La Puça bookshop – makes a perfect gift for special friends or visitors. Filled with his unparalleled photographs of Andorra, it has a lyrical text written in both Catalan and English.

ASSOCIATED EXHIBITION ACTIVITY

VERMOUTH AND ART AT THE ROC

Sunday, 29th January, at 12h at the ARTALROC Escaldes-Engordany, with Jaume Riba and Alex Tena. Opening a new series, the first guests will be Jaume Riba and Alex Tena, authors of the exhibition Madriu 8.8. They will tell us, in Catalan and in an informal and relaxed setting, details and stories behind their photographs.

CINEMA IN ENGLISH

 LA LA LAND

Wednesday 25th and Thursday, 26th January at 17.30 at the Cinemes Illa Carlemany, Escaldes-Engordany. Directed by Damien Chazelle and Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt The story of Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a dedicated jazz musician, struggling to make ends meet while pursuing their dreams in a city known for destroying hopes and breaking hearts. With modern day Los Angeles as the backdrop, this musical about everyday life explores what is more important: a once-in-a-lifetime love or the spotlight. La La Land won all seven Golden Globe Awards for which it had been nominated: Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Director & Best Screenplay for Damien Chazelle. Ryan Gosling: Best Actor, Emma Stone: Best Actress, Justin Hurwitz: Best Original Score and Best Original Song: City of Stars, thus becoming the most successful film in the Golden Globe Awards history.

HIDDEN FIGURES

Wednesday 25th and Thursday, 26th January at 20h at the Cinemes Illa Carlemany, Escaldes-Engordany. Directed by Ted Melfi and starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, & Janelle Monáe. The incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – brilliant African-American mathematicians working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.

DANCE

2017 FOLK DANCE DEMONSTRATION

Saturday, 28th January at 18h at the Centre Cultural of Sant Julià de Lòria. 2017 Folk Dance Demonstration by the Infants and Juniors of the Esbart Laurèdia.

Culturally yours,

Clare

If you want to learn more in depth about Andorra try reading “Andorra Revealed”.

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Look for about the author of the blog Clare Allcard

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