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Zaruma ciudad minera

Date of Submission: 24/02/2016
Criteria: (iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Ecuador to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
El Oro Provincia, Zaruma Canton
Coordinates: S3 14 W79 38
Ref.: 6089
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The city of Zaruma is located on the slopes of the western Andes, at 1,200 meters above sea level, amidst rugged terrain with steep slopes that soar from 500 to 3,500 meters high in just 20 kilometers.

The higher areas feature deep valleys and canyons, the headwaters of the Moromoro, Calera, Amarillo and Luis Rivers, which join to form the Puyango River. The Puyango then joins the Tumbes River, forming the important watershed known as Tumbes in Peru, which continues on to the Pacific Ocean.

This region belongs to the Premontane Rain Forest life zone, with average annual temperatures from 18°C to 24°C, so the predominant climate in Zaruma is moist and subtropical. Average annual precipitation in some areas is from 2000 to 4000 mm and there are two clearly defined seasons: winter from January to April, and summer, April to December, with the driest months between July and November. Because Ecuador straddles the equator, parallel 0º, the seasons are caused by ocean currents: winter is the rainy period, under the influence of the warm El Niño current, whereas summer is influenced more by the cold Humboldt current and is generally the dry season.

Geologically, this zone belongs to the volcanic-sedimentary series, strongly mineralized with metallic sulfides. Its rugged topography has sharp, high and asymmetrical summits, with igneous parts at the top, from the Cretaceous or Tertiary age, and below, on alluvial plains along rivers, flat and corrugated terrain with slopes under 10%, the rock is metamorphous, due to a major regional geological fault (in the southern zone). Zaruma has written a major chapter in the history of gold mining in Latin America and in forming the economic circuits that kept the Spanish and Portuguese crowns in the New World during colonial times.

The gold-bearing potential of mines in their first production cycle (1575 - 1625), mines in Sexmo and Vizcaya near the town of Zaruma, made this city a center for Spanish America and the Royal Audience of Quito, driving the economy of Andean colonial society. In Spanish America, gold from Zaruma became the merchandise required by merchants transporting products for mining, tools, iron and sulfur, the drivers of trade between the Audience of Quito and Lima.

In a second stage, in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th, mining reactivation and investment of French, English and US capital (1876-1959) introduced modernity and the technology prevailing at that time, with their cultural influence on tastes, fashion, uses and customs merging with local folk traditions and knowledge.

Mining wealth in Zaruma – known by native cultures who lived in southern Ecuador, such as the SARA-UMA people where a legend says some of the gold was taken to Cajamarca to ransom Emperor Atahualpa – strongly drew colonizers, leading them to settle around the Hill of Gold, which they called the Royal Seat of Mines and later, when it was promoted to a Town, they called it the “Rich Hill of St. Anthony of Zaruma”.

This mining city was built and expanded organically, above the underground tunnels and mines, adapting to the Hill’s topography and its unique geographical features, keeping its historical base with the original colonial design, strongly interweaving the natural environment’s diversity with architectural production, resulting in an urban complex that is different from a checkerboard, which is the grid model for most Latin American colonial cities.

During the second stage, mined ore was hauled a few kilometers downhill, for initial processing. Underground, mining continues in Zaruma and the city is still the administrative and residential center for miners, while Portovelo, along the Amarillo River, houses the industrial machinery and the laborers who operate them. The importance of mining production is reflected in the name of the Province where Zaruma is located: El Oro (Gold).

Together, the natural environment, mining activity and architecture have generated a unique urban ecology that directly influences the comfort of homes; the microclimate produced by the apt way they are built and their functional solutions, along with the presence of plant species in their food gardens, refreshing the environment, resulting in a climate with subtropical characteristics inside homes, for optimal well-being and comfort. Zaruma’s construction solutions and architectural designs can tell their own story. Zaruma is a sample to show the world its architecture “suited to the environment”, developed in the late 19th and early 20th century, building organically on centuries-old tradition, with the technology used to support tunnels. In turn, it boasts a great feeling of reinterpreting modern trends, brought by gold-mining concession companies that settled in the region in the early 20th century.

Architectural solutions, mixing folk values with foreign influence, and incipient urban planning and zoning, have created a local and regional style.

Inhabitants’ deep knowledge about their natural environment and materials in their zone has produced solutions suited to the geographical parameters. Buildings dating back to 1896-1945, mostly wood and wattle-and-daub – materials predominating in the zone – use mahogany, hard and resistant to rot, for their load-bearing structure, with locally distinctive joints and fittings, and medium-hard or softwoods, such as pink cinnamon, salón, amarillo and cedar or reeds (a bamboo-like grass) for their facades, inside divisions, and ornamental elements, complemented by un-baked and baked earth to plaster walls and roofs.

Facades' construction and materials are another unique feature of Zaruma architecture. Skillful artisans and grassroots architects masterfully mix the pristine forms and textures of structural wood with classical ornamentation and proportion, tying and interlocking the wooden components with ease and expertise, and using ornamental elements for the twofold function of formal decoration and functional environmental ventilation.

These unique characteristics and approaches have produced a complex of great artisanal wealth, showcasing the mastery of technical building solutions and artisans’ great artistic sensitivity to capture the elements of international architecture, interpreting and enriching them locally, showing how they ply their trade and maintain millennia of folk knowledge, alive in the memories of everyday builders, passed down from generation to generation.

The peculiar natural-urban landscape, defined by homes’ kitchen gardens, boasts such species as: pomarrosa, avocado, mango, banana, coffee, citrus, manioc and sugar cane, to support family subsistence and the additional role of maintaining ecological control, while contributing to the household economy. In this natural environment, birds live and feature a high level of environmental resilience, a fundamental part of Zaruma’s unique landscape.

Mining has left its hallmark on the city that, built amidst a mountainous subtropical setting in southern Ecuador’s Andes, had historical importance surpassing the local level, generating amazing cycles of productivity, present in people’s daily lives, in their customs, in their rituals, their civic and religious celebrations, their devotion to the Virgin: Mary of Consolation, the patron saint of miners, the Virgin of El Cisne and the Virgin of El Carmen. Traditional cuisine features beverages and dishes prepared with local foods, to meet the caloric needs of miners with their long, hard workdays.

In the mountains and hills, the natural habitats have harbored the mammals that are native to the zone. Rites, myths and legends have even grown up around some of them, as Zaruma’s intangible heritage, such as the “Armadillo”, Nasua narica Shusán.

Heritage management considers mechanisms for conservation through a legal framework set up by ordinance, plans, programs and projects, where citizen participation is a major input.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Zaruma’s mining history dates back to pre-Hispanic times, colonial times and as the independent republic of Ecuador. This has left its special mark on the city and the people. Being a mining city, with centuries-long traditions, and incorporating influences from industrialized countries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, has generated unique features reflected in the material heritage: urban design, architecture, the natural and cultural landscape, and in the intangible heritage: oral traditions, festivals, foods and intimate knowledge of Nature and the universe.

Zaruma, a mining city built amidst a mountainous subtropical landscape in southern Ecuador’s Andes, not following the checkerboard layout so characteristic of cities founded in that period, developed an appropriate regional model and style of architecture, adapted to the mountains’ topography, and embodied in its unique streets, wooden houses and family food gardens; in the persistence of long mining shafts and their entryways.

In the fields of habitat formation, environmental management, urban development, wooden architecture and building technology, the outgrowth of the mining boom, Zaruma contributes its expertise to the world for solving functional, structural and formal problems, adequately blending ancestral wisdom with technological innovations that have developed contemporaneously.

Criterion (iv): Organic urban development, atypical for a city of Spanish colonial origin, and construction of wood, used in Zaruma as a continuation of pre-Conquest building traditions, influenced by formal building codes from colonial times and the 19th century, and the presence of mining galleries such as El Sexmo, make Zaruma a representative example, unique in a significant period of cities and human activity in the 19th century and the first third of the 20th century.

Criterion (v): The mining city of Zaruma is also an exceptional example of a human settlement generated by mining activities in a mountainous setting with irregular topography, where local culture has been enriched by diverse sources and influences. The city is vulnerable, both because of the mines underfoot and because most of its buildings are made mainly of wood. Interaction with the environment and the pressure of new ways of life could confront Zaruma with irreversible changes.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Zaruma’s authenticity is expressed in the mines’ components, particularly, el Sexmo, and Zaruma’s organic urban development, with its porches and wooden architecture. This city was born and grew with an organic model or pattern, atypical of Latin American colonial cities formally founded at the time. This became its distinctive flavor, enabling observers to read the city’s history of construction, and understand how mining modeled its landscape and the city, while determining the booms and slumps marking major differences in the population between colonial times and the republic.

Zaruma’s uncommon architecture, blending the creativity and craftsmen’s expertise with the requirements of a life oriented toward mining production and its administration, has responded technically, with appropriate solutions, which have influenced the region’s architecture, in the use of materials and in building systems and styles, as well as the strong traditions in local cuisine, customs, festivals and other expressions of intangible heritage.

The property’s integrity is conserved by its historical mining tradition which is continuing, by adaptation of contemporary architecture, conserving formal and constructive design, techniques and adaptation to lifestyles.

These components show that Zaruma continues to maintain elements of authenticity in its neighborhoods, its natural referents to its topography, the hills surrounding the city, and its mining activity.

Comparison with other similar properties

1. Ciudad de Potosí ( Bolivia)

“In the 16th century, Potosí was considered the world’s greatest industrial complex. Its silver ore was extracted using water wheels. The present-day site includes not only the ancient industrial facilities on Cerro Rico, where water is brought through an intricate system of aqueducts and manmade ponds, but also the colonial neighborhood with the Mint, the church of Saint Lawrence, several nobles’ mansions and the neighborhoods of the mitayos who worked in the mines.”[1] (Listed as World Heritage)

 2. Ouro Preto ( Minas Gerais – Brasil)

‘’Founded in the late 17th century, the city of Ouro Preto (Black Gold) was the point of convergence for gold hunters and the center for gold mining in Brazil for the 18th century. The city declined as its mines ran out in the early 19th century, but there still many churches, bridges and fountains bearing witness to its splendid past and the exceptional talent of baroque sculptor Antonio Francisco Lisboa, “Aleijadinho”.[2] 

"This urban center in the mountains at the center of the State of Minas Gerais (southeast) achieved the status of a town in July 1711 and became, along with Mariana, Tiradentes, Congonhas, São João del Rey, Sabará and Diamantina one of the so-called historical mining cities that attained splendor during colonial times….

…. The abundant architecture of Ouro Preto, a legacy from the colonial period, is reigned over by nine baroque churches built on the hills surrounding the city, granting a vantage point for this mystical landscape.’’[3] (Listed as World Heritage)

[1] https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/420

[2] https://whc.unesco.org/es/list/124

[3] http://www.practicaespanol.com/es/ouro-preto-historia-dorada-brasil/art/1746/