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The Cultural Landscape of Valle Salado is located in the southwest of the Basque Autonomous Region. More specifically, it is about 30 km from the capital, Vitoria-Gasteiz, bordering the municipality of Salinas de Añana-Gesaltza Añana.
The value of this unique salt-production landscape is not only its unusual architecture, comprising a succession of man-made staggered terraces built over time using stone, wood and clay, or the thousands of salt crystallization pans responsible for the dazzling whiteness, or the hundreds of channels to distribute the salt water throughout the valley using a distribution system with over 1200 years of documented history. Not even the fact that the springs provide the salt from a former ancient sea from 200 million years ago, or that the salt environment has led to the presence of a saline biodiversity, making it a wetland of international importance. The key to the unique value of this cultural landscape is, without doubt, the combination, in perfect harmony, of the whole in a privileged context, the Valle Salado de Añana (Añana Salty Valley).
However, despite the fact that the personality of the Valle Salado landscape is grounded on several highly related aspects, we would like to stress the mining and industrial component, since both led to the origin of this salt production facility and have given rise to an architectural landscape and a unique natural heritage linked to the production of salt.
The wooden architecture of the terraces developed over the centuries by the salt workers with a view to improving and increasing salt production is exceptionally rare, making Salinas de Añana a key landmark from an economic, social and tourist point of view. The link between the community and salt production has generated unique practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and techniques that have resulted in a singular cultural asset in this environment.
Valle Salado (The Salty Valley) is, in short, an architectural complex comprising different types of elements, with different forms and functions, inserted in a harmonious and sustainable manner into its natural landscape, where time and the development of the site itself have created links between this industrial heritage, the salt producers and their environment, creating the unique and characteristic landscape we would like to present.
Under UNESCO classifications, Valle Salado constitutes a Continuing Cultural Landscape resulting from the social, economic and administrative conditions developed by the population over centuries to adapt to their natural environment. Furthermore, since it is a living landscape, it must be considered a "continuing landscape" that, even today, plays an active social role in contemporary society, together with the traditional way of life of the area.
The Cultural Landscape of Valle Salado is a wonderful example of man's interaction with the environment, giving shape to a unique landscape that goes back to Prehistoric times, keeping it alive in a dynamic manner and adapting to specific rhythms of production to ensure its sustainability.
The Cultural Landscape of Valle Salado is perfectly integrated in the society that lives there; that maintains it, enjoys it and forms part of it. A society heavily involved in its management and that feels proud of it, sharing this singular site with Basque society in general, preserving what today is seen as a magnificent example of sustainable development to ensure its future.
This asset should be considered as a whole, including the unique structure of the district, resulting in a landscape of great strength and identity by maintaining its ancient production techniques that have been carefully preserved from generation to generation, gradually introducing the necessary changes to improve the technical results, but preserving, with respect, the basic conditions that experience has singled out as the key to its exploitation; justifying its raison d'être, the scenery and the tools, the language, the traditional landscape, the wealth of its churches, convents and monuments, its important environmental challenges, which make Valle Salado a unique site thanks to its wealth, uniqueness and importance.
Criteria (iii), (iv) and (v) correspond to and shape the values contained in this property, which is a direct result of its dual status as industrial heritage and its interrelationship with the landscape, livelihood, and support of the activity.
According to the criteria governing the Outstanding Universal Value, Valle Salado de Añana:
(iii) The network of springs, pans, terraces and all the elements involved in salt making are proof of a traditional activity that has evolved over the millennia and that has led to the development of a language and of a unique and distinctive way of life and social relationship.
(iv) Valle Salado is a perfect example of a continuing cultural landscape of great beauty where a key industrial activity for human beings, such as the production of salt, has been developed and that has been wisely adapted to the different economic and social conditions throughout the centuries.
(v) The use of sustainable salt production techniques makes it an ancient cultural and productive landscape; the livelihood of a group of people who have been able to maintain their traditional techniques while incorporating new technologies. The topography, geology and morphology, together with other peculiar geographical features of the landscape - in particular the existence of a diapir and its springs of brine - have enabled the creation of a unique cultural identity.
Valle Salado is not a planned construction, built at a particular time by known persons, but the result of the evolution of a workplace that has been adapted to the needs of its owners and workers for generations, from prehistory to the present.
Generations of salt producers have endeavoured to create the best conditions for the production of salt. For them, the site has been a way of life and, together with the production of salt, a specific culture of their own has developed. The salt works have gone through constant transformations in shape and size, leading to the configuration we know today. These changes have derived from the improvements and maintenance of each salt worker with a view to enhancing production or from major changes, such as those introduced by the royal architect, Manuel Ballina, at the beginning of the 18th century, commissioned by the Crown for the same purposes.
Building systems have gradually evolved to adapt to the production requirements. Consequently, higher masonry walls and timber structures on the said walls have been used. For many centuries, the waterproofing of the structures was achieved using clay and salt production was based on "irrigation", which implies pouring a small amount of salt water on the clay surface and removing the salt quickly to avoid the consequences of possible rain. In 1801, Ballina, the architect, used Valle Salado de Añana as a laboratory to introduce improvements in the construction of the evaporation pans and to change the production system to one that required filling the pans. Salt workers fill the evaporation pans with 3-4 cm of brine and collect the resulting product every two days. Ballina improved the construction of the structures and the walls. He also introduced a layer of pebbles on the surface of the pans in order to improve the quality of the salt. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a layer of cement was added over the clay and pebbles in order to improve the quality of the salt again but it generated maintenance problems.
The identity of Valle Salado is not based on a fixed image, but the result of the adaptation of the salt works to the needs of each moment. The identity of the salt works is therefore linked to a specific location, to a salt-making philosophy and to construction techniques adapted to the site, with a view to fulfilling that salt-making philosophy.
Valle Salado retains all its value of authenticity in relation to its identity, because although part of the site is in disuse, all the walls and wells as well as a great part of the wooden structures and most of the pans that form the complex have been preserved.
Given the state of Valle Salado in 1999, and in order to ensure its future and its authenticity, a Master Plan was prepared during the implementation and maintenance period that included the experimental restoration of 99 pans.
From the year 2000 to 2004, a multidisciplinary team consisting of architects, archaeologists, historians, geologists, biologists, computer scientists, sociologists and economists prepared the Master Plan. The said team comprehensively documented and analysed all the information; finally putting forward proposals on the use, maintenance, production, research, and management of Valle Salado, with a view to recovering it and, thus, contributing to the recovery of its environment.
During the experimental recovery of 99 pans in 2002, the criteria governing the use and maintenance of Valle Salado were discussed and established, as is reflected in the chapter on proposals in the Master Plan.
In order to preserve the authenticity of the salt works and avoid the deterioration that vegetation was causing to the constructions, a plan was set in motion to clear the vegetation and irrigate the entire salt works with brine to stem further damage to the wooden structures without affecting the halophytic vegetation.
The same traditional building materials and techniques were used in the process to bring the site into use again, including its maintenance and, if necessary, restoration.
The salt harvesting processes maintained the same traditional production philosophy. The productive season depends on the weather each year, and salt production is still performed in a traditional manner, using the sun and the wind for the natural evaporation of the water. Salt is still collected by hand and the product does not go through any type of chemical refining or additive process.
A detailed analysis of the integrity value of the different elements of Valle Salado, we can distinguish the following aspects:
The masonry walls are built with local stone, without foundations or the use of mortar in the joints and they are preserved in a fully original state. An example of the adaptation of the techniques to the needs of the site is the replacement of the type of wood used on the barriers to resist the thrust of the land against the walls for a more durable type.
The wooden structures are preserved in Valle Salado with their double sleepers by way of foundations, their straight mortise and tenon pillars at both ends and the upper structure of beams and planking; all in wild pinewood.
The waterproofing of the pans comprising two layers of clay of different qualities has been maintained in all the pans in Valle Salado.
The surface finish of the pans is the aspect that has been changed most over the years in a permanent search to improve the quality of the salt. Until 1801, the said surface was clay and, since them, a layer of pebbles was introduced. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a layer of cement was added, once again with a view to improving the quality of the salt. This last layer of cement breaks with the constructive logic of Valle Salado and has generated maintenance issues. Previously, all the materials used in the Valley were reusable; a paradigmatic example of sustainability in the maintenance of the constructions. Following a logical adaptation process of the traditional construction techniques, and with a view to recovering the above-mentioned logic, natural stone slabs are being used to finish the pans, on top of the clay. This small evolution respects the salt-making philosophy of the site and is fully compatible with traditional construction materials and techniques.
The brine storage wells have been developed seeking greater efficiency. The oldest were built using masonry walls and clay. At a later date, wells based on a wooden structure waterproofed with clay were introduced; some of which are located below the evaporation pans. The improvement of these wells over the former consists in their greater capacity while occupying the same surface. They, therefore, led to higher salt production yields. More recently, in the 20th century, brick or mortar wells were introduced, generating maintenance problems similar to those caused by the superficial layer of cement in the pans. The faithfulness of the masonry and the clays wells is complete.
The system that channels the brine from the springs to the storage wells has been built using hollowed pinewood logs, joined together and sealed with clay. They are supported on straight pillars made of the same type of wood. Most of the channel network remains in use and completely retains its original features.
There are five hypersaline springs at Valle Salado. Four of them are completely faithful with the original. The fifth, Santa Engracia, was unfortunately remodelled towards the end of the 20th century, when its wooden structure was replaced by concrete and stone veneer walls. This spring needs to be restored.
The salt production techniques faithfully preserve all the traditional know-how; consequently, the salt is produced in the same evaporation pans, using the same tools and based on the same traditional process used for centuries. The need to adapt to the times and the need to give revitalise the salt business, the only way of providing Valle Salado with a dignified future, has led to the production of fleur de sel (flower of salt) apart from mineral salt. This fleur de sel, which salt workers did not formerly separate from the mineral salt, is collected using the same traditional production philosophy as in the past; by hand and using tools specifically designed for this purpose.
From our perspective today, it is almost incomprehensible that salt, which is so abundant and low-cost, has been one of the key products in the history of mankind. However, we must bear in mind that salt was and is essential in many industrial processes as well as in human food and animal feed; more so when industrial cooling systems had not been developed, as it was one of the most effective methods of preserving food.
But salt, apart from being used as a preservative and condiment, has also been used as a medicine and as a symbol of the spirituality of man. Man has always venerated and granted extraordinary powers to salt; powers beyond those related to purely biological needs or the requirements of livestock. Along with other mineral components, salt is essential for growth, reproduction, locomotion, longevity, correct bone structure formation and the development of our hormonal system.
In fact, salt has been the cause of many wars and forced peace processes, of death and success, of wealth and poverty, of the creation and destruction of cities and, of course, of greed but also a cause for joy among human beings. Therefore, throughout history, any point of the planet that was likely to provide salt has been exploited by man.
Broadly speaking, there are four types of salt according to its origin: spring salt and marine salt (which are obtained by evaporation), rock salt and vegetable salt, the latter being a product obtained from plants with a high saline content and with a limited production level. This variety means that not all salt production areas are the same; rather that their morphological and productive features are predetermined to a large extent by their location and the origin of the raw material. Consequently, the typology of salt production landscapes throughout history can be divided into two large groups that have their own particularities and internal subdivisions: in¬land salt works and coastal salt works.
* a more detailed report is available at the WHC