This site includes mountain terrain of the Cantabrian range characterised by the co-existence of outstanding ecological values along with a unique ethnographic legacy bearing witness to man's ancestral method of exploiting resources which has been conserved and is in the process of being recovered thanks to the impetus of local development and sustainable tourism.
This site includes two differentiated areas: on the one hand the Ancares, a district found between the Autonomous Communities of Galicia and Castile-Leon, specifically in the provinces of Lugo (Cervantes Municipality) and Leon (Municipalities of Candín and Vega de Espinareda located in the El Bierzo district) and, on the other hand, the Municipality of Somiedo located in the Principality of Asturias. Notwithstanding the above, the cultura vaqueira (cattle-herding culture) is also found in other parts of Asturias (south-east) encompassing the Municipalities of Cangas del Narcea, Ibias and Degaña, connecting these two areas and bearing witness to the breadth of the site.
Both areas are linked to ancestral lines of communication given that the Route of Santiago de Compostela runs along the southern border of Ancares (reaching Vega de Valcárcel at the mouth of the Balboa River) and the road known as Camín Real de la Mesa which started out as a Roman road and runs along the path of the same name which separates Somiedo from Teverga.
DESCRIPTION OF THE SITE:
The mixed site Ancares-Somiedo represents the reality of these territories whose common characteristic is the braña, a traditional system of livestock herding based on transhumance, still in use today, and which defines the local landscape and society, representing a living heritage uniquely combining nature and culture.
In order to truly appreciate this culture one must gain a full understanding of the braña because underlying the domestication of unwieldy natural surroundings is a complex social, economic and even ideological reality, and naturally a constructive and technical heritage dating back to the 11th century, reaching its apex in the 15th and 16th centuries and fully defined by the 18th century. Demographic pressure led to a struggle to control and exploit necessary resources whose periodic renewal was predictable but whose shortage accounted for such keen competition: the mountain pastures, cool and damp even at the height of summer. In this connection, anthropological studies help in gaining an understanding of the importance of these grazing lands as a rational and effective technical-ecological phenomenon (see studies conducted by Adolfo García Martínez).
In Somiedo a distinction is drawn between summer brañas and those corresponding to the equinox as well as the town braña, examples being La Mesa (Saliencia), Mumián (El Coto) and La Peral respectively, to a large degree corresponding to population centres in Ancares such as Campo del Agua and Aira da Pedra. The common characteristic is the seasonal work and livestock grazing of the "firm grasses" of the pastures.
Here we have Regional Hunting Reserves and protected areas such as a Natural Area in the Leon part of Ancares and the National Park (the first to be declared in Asturias) in the Municipality of Somiedo featuring the Lacustre Natural Monument; the high point of this trend being the recognition of the latter by the UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve.
This area has also been declared a specially protected bird sanctuary (Spanish acronym ZEPA): in the Galicia-Leon area mainly for the protection of the grey partridge, the honey buzzard and the Eurasian eagle owl; in Asturias for the golden eagle, the Egyptian vulture, the peregrine falcon, the goshawk and the middle spotted woodpecker; and the capercaillie in both areas given its status as an endangered species.
Marked hiking trails mapped out in publications allow for direct enjoyment of these ethnographic and natural values although some areas are not easily accessible and hence their natural qualities are better conserved.
Also, the area's designation as a Site of Community Importance (SCI) owing to its natural value was the basis for the awarding of LIFE project (99 NAT/E/006371) implemented in the first of these areas and focusing on territorial planning for balanced development and rational management: "Coordinated management of two SCI sites adjacent to Ancares in Leon and Galicia" covering the Upper River Sil area. In the case of Asturias, taking advantage of tourism promotion, LIFE project (94/E/A152/E/01465/ASJ) entitled "Integrated and sustainable recovery of brañas at Somiedo Natural Park" was developed for the purpose of recovering some of these brañas in their entirety as well as systems conducive to the maintenance of traditional uses and their use as a recreation and tourist attraction.
This ties in with the will to recover traditional trades thus guaranteeing the upkeep of this heritage featuring elements such as the teitadores or canteros, for example. These traditions are one of the main attractions at the so-called Trade House of Somiedo's Eco-Museum located in La Pola. This brings us to the exhibition or museum display of this legacy, still at the infant stage in Galicia and Leon (examples of open pallozas in Piornedo, Burbia and Pereda de Ancares, to name just a few) and a complete one in the Asturian house mentioned above.