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Sigüenza and Atienza Sweet and Salty Landscape

Date of Submission: 20/01/2022
Criteria: (iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
State, Province or Region:
Castilla-La Mancha
Coordinates: N41 10 48 W2 54 43, N41 12 53 W2 42 51, N41 02 35 W2 35 32, N40 59 59 W2 40 41
Ref.: 6588

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The "Paisaje Dulce y Salado" (the "Sweet and Salty Landscape") of Sigüenza and Atienza extends from the Río Dulce Cliff Natural Park in the South up to the town of Atienza in the north, covering an area of 219 square kilometres. This unique natural landscape is framed in the Sigüenza moorland, one of the most authentic, characteristic and well preserved examples of this kind of landscape in the Iberian Peninsula. The interaction between human beings and this exceptional natural area has generated a unique ecosystem, which became particularly shaped during the Middle Ages and hardly changed since that time. Nowadays, the area is home to numerous small villages which have the town of Sigüenza as the main urban cluster in the district followed by Atienza. In terms of natural and cultural diversity, one of the outstanding features of such landscape is the exceptional coexistence of both salt and fresh water in the same natural space. As a result, the area is characterized by a peculiar hydrography, full of places and spots with their names related to water, human activities are influenced by such traits and, of course, the landscape reflects that. So up in the north there is a salt water river (the Salado River) which flows over the moorland area creating just a smooth imprint over its surface while dragging within it Keuper Triassic salts (a trait also present at the Cubillo River). The Salado's sediments are the source and origin of the Gormellón, Olmeda and Imón salt pans among others. In contrast, one can find the Río Dulce (Sweet River) down South, set in a highly dense Jurassic limestone and sandstone area, with many springs in both sides. This river creates a spectacular landscape with fresh water canyons and gorges, with either alluvial deposits or small meadows on tertiary and quaternary detrital lands with agricultural plots, pastures and small vegetable gardens linked to the two main villages in the gorge: the village of Peregrina with its impressive castle and La Cabrera town, where the gorge ends. One of the most outstanding elements and significant heritage values regarding the landscape of Sigüenza is the dense net of small, clustered medieval villages, which provide the territory with its structure. Its architectural wealth, especially in terms of religious monuments present in many of the small villages is accompanied by a fascinating urban web creating a peculiar web of settlements. All these traits shape the landscape and allow us to fully understand and read them based on their historic location in the territory.

Historical Overview: The city of Sigüenza, the town of Atienza and some additional 15 villages are part of the "Paisaje Dulce y Salado" Landscape. They follow a medieval type of territorial organization emerged after the Christian conquest of the territory in the 12th century, which set between both towns one of the most important inland salt mines in Europe. At the time, there was a complex power balance between the Bishop Estate of Sigüenza and the Atienza family estate belonging to the kingdom. On top of that, important aristocratic families like the Mendoza's tried to seize control of the salt mines and their profits. Therefore, this is one of the most important and ancient salt mines in Iberian Peninsula, already documented as such in the 12th century. The salt mines are distributed along the upper Henares river basin, especially around the Salado ("salty") River. The river was named in opposition to the Dulce ("fresh water") River, South of Sigüenza, where villages of great historic and heritage value are preserved. We have already mentioned Pelegrina with an impressive castle which used to be the summer residence of bishops of Sigüenza. The villages in the area pinpoint a landscape which has hardly changed since the 18th century due to the low population density settled in this territory for centuries. This fact is especially noticeable using the 20th century as a reference: landscapes in most of Europe and especially in Spain have undergone a dramatic transformation as a result of the pressure of processes of urban development and industrialization. But such pressure had a very slight impact on the region, leading to what could be defined as a "fossilization" of the landscapes of medieval and modern eras. In fact, the valley and salt mines of the Salado River are protected under the SPA-SAC directive, while the Río Dulce Cliff Natural Park is protected under the SPA-SAC-SCI directive, both of them being included in the Natura 2000 network for its high natural value.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Paisaje Dulce y Salado de Sigüenza y Atienza represents a complex but complete cultural ecosystem with no counterparts or equivalents to be found in the World Heritage List. Such space would enable the List to frame and better interpret many other individual sites already in the list but which are presented without any kind relationship with neither their surroundings nor with the historic context which lead to its creation. This landscape is an exceptionally well-preserved region which is home to varied habitats and fragile species of fauna and flora only to be found here. This internationally protected legacy has also international significance. There are no examples in the list combining such variety of historical, cultural, archaeological, geological, botanical and zoological values in such small territory, which could be considered as a complete and unique catalogue of exceptional natural and cultural resources of universal value and associated to two key resources essential to our survival as a species and as a form culture, salt and water.

This landscape represents geologically a sample of the geomorphology transformations which took place in Western Europe 200 million years ago, in the Upper Triassic, when half of the Iberian Peninsula was covered by the Thetys Sea. It suffered various evaporation and re-flooding cycles resulting in the formation of a thick layer of salts in the soil, which ended up deposited in the subsoil as a result of tectonic movements. Given the presence of water tables under the salts, gypsum and impermeable marls, natural brine springs emerge in the points with fractures. Thus, it is relatively easy to exploit it, shaping this unique natural and human spot. In addition, the harmony of opposites is crystallized in this location, since the Middle Ages when both characteristic rivers where named as Dulce and Salado. Therefore, in the Middle Ages, it is already recognized as an exceptional natural spot, with a high presence of high quality salt and fresh water, conditioning the occupation of the territory to the existence and distribution of both strategic resources. Consequently, not only the land is home to a large ecological and natural variety, but also moulded the territorial organization creating urban populations ruled under the Catholic Church or the Castilian Crown. Therefore, it created a new model of territorial transformation by human action, common not only to the Iberian Peninsula, but also to almost all medieval and modern Europe. In this particular spot, it is remarkable how it was somehow fossilized allowing us to clearly read a part of the western history.

The territory noticeably includes a high concentration of salt mines which were uniquely exploited, thanks to the extraordinary peculiarity of Salado River. It became the natural source of economic income, allowing the creation of a social and economic elite in Sigüenza since the 12th century, which made the city different to many others. As a result, Sigüenza raised as an island of high culture in the middle of Europe, with a long academic, religious, musical, literary and artistic tradition, with a worldwide artistic heritage, which cannot be fully understand unrelated to its landscape. Doncel de Sigüenza, Don Martín Vázquez de Arce sepulchre, dated back to 12th century, would be the perfect example. Preserved in the cathedral, it is been named as one of the most beautiful sepulchres in the history of the Castilian art.

After Sigüenza city, Atienza town represent the royal power, in a delicate balance with the ecclesiastical power and the subtle net of villages ruled under them both. All this village scheme, whose income was based on the salt mine exploitation, has been wonderfully preserved until now in an unheard but extraordinary way. Then, this area exemplifies a clear and legible page of history in which Christian troops conquered Henares river upper basin to the Muslims troops in Western Europe in the 12th century. Afterwards, an urban and territorial organization was developed, whose key features from the Middle Ages have essentially been maintained until today. That particular territorial organization allowed to exploit the remarkable natural resources in the area with which the development of large building programs were funded. Those developments left a legacy of monuments and artworks especially visible in the two biggest settlements in the region: Sigüenza and Atienza.

Criterion (iv): Sigüenza region conforms a cultural landscape organically developed following the standards of the 12th and 18th centuries. The territory has been preserved and protected until now as an example of preindustrial European era. A vast spot in which it is possible to recognize the kind of settlement and the socio-economic relationships typical of an era which has had the most significant impression in Europe’s history.

Criterion (v): Sigüenza region is a remarkable example of interconnected traditional human settlements following a model of hierarchical colonization and exploitation of such an exceptional natural territory, as the Iberian moorlands. In the 12th century, the Christian conquest of the territory marked the creation of a dense network of small villages which were legally, religiously and economically ruled under Atienza or Sigüenza towns. Even though, its structure has been kept almost untouched until today, it is a territorial organization vulnerable to changes in its rural environment.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

It is to be stated the level of authenticity in Sigüenza and Atienza Sweet and Salty Landscape, since it is almost untouched in both its tangible and intangible heritage. There are no considerable alterations in its key features, such as its physical environment, its small and large urban areas or the usages and processes of this kind of landscape. Only the salt mine exploitation has produced some alterations, still we can consider this spot as a fossil landscape, as mentioned before.

From the Middle Ages, Dulce and Salado river valley landscape comprises the territory which was under Sigüenza and Atienza rule. In spite of its remarkable extension, it has been wonderfully preserved, so that we can quickly understand the interrelationships between humans and its environment. There are no substantial modifications in the area between 12th and 18th centuries and nowadays. In this way, we can enjoy a high visibility, vast pure formal panoramic views and clear median planes over long extension territory. In this land, the traditional economic exploitation of agriculture and ranching industry left space to high valuable environmental areas allowing the development of an exceptional full variety of fauna and flora with sharp contrast effect between the north area with the Salado River and the south area with the Dulce River. In the middle of this landscape, numerous fossilized salt mines are shown, which used to be the economic fuel and source of wealth of all the region, responsible of the creation of huge architectural sites as the ones we can appreciate in Sigüenza, Atienza or Palazuelos

The present landscape submission maintains attributes related to its sensitivity and spirit and preserves numerous enrooted and historical traditions. Some of them date back to the Middle Ages, as La Caballada de Atienza festivity, protected under Spanish Intangible Cultural Interest Asset category. With more than 8 centuries-old, in La Caballada, on Pentecost Sunday, it is commemorated the liberation of Alfonso VIII of Castilla in 1162 by his muleteers, when his uncle Fernando II of Leon and his army pursued him. For instance, La Caballada de Atienza perfectly shows the perpetuation of the cultural tradition in the region since the 12th century onwards. It is also a clear indicator of the survival of the local essence until today.

The vast and ambitious extension of the candidate territory with 219 square kilometres accommodates a whole range of tangible and intangible features and processes, which explains the natural and cultural significance of the spot.

The territory of the submission is highly intact given the fact that it has not suffered from development adverse events nor negligence. The main reason is the strong and continuous depopulation process in the region since the 19th century, which allowed to keep it out of the sharp landscape and urban transformations due to the industrialization process, as well as the speculative process in the last few decades. As a result, the applicant territory lacks of massive infrastructures, such as long speed railway lines, motorways, metro stations, industrial parks, mines, extensive residential areas, large shopping centres, and big power plants, such as thermal, nuclear, wind and solar plants, among others.

On the other hand, the territory is legally protected under an extensive and complete network, which is nowadays been expanded with new regulations eliminating a possible threat to the integrity of the site in the future.

Comparison with other similar properties

Nowadays, the World Heritage List includes sites holding some of the characteristics to be found in the present candidature; for instance, the cultural landscapes of Wachau (Austria), Loira (France) or the Upper Middle Rhine Valley (Germany). All of them are Central European sites arranged over just one of the valleys crossed by some of the largest rivers in the continent, but they are not truly representative of the historic context of other territories marked by smaller river courses. Reference could also be made to the Royal saltworks of Arc-et-Senans (France) whose renovation dates back to 18th century, as well as the Imón and La Olmeda salt mines. The Episcopal Ensemble of Avignon (France) and the medieval cathedrals of Naumburg (Germany), Tournai (Belgium) or Roskilde (Denmark) exhibit some similarities with the great cathedral of Sigüenza or with the city itself; but again, there is a lack of reference to their historic context, and they appear as isolated elements which are difficult to interpret or understand on their own without apparent links with the territory in which they are framed.

This proposal covers in just one single candidature a series of cultural sites which could by themselves find a place in the World Heritage List, but which we believe would only be adequately understood if placed and observed from the holistic perspective which the surrounding landscape provides them with. Therefore, this ensemble goes beyond the simple addition of its different constituents: it emerges as a system whose characteristics overpass just a detailed analysis of each one of their components, each of them unintelligible if not seen as an element of a whole. The complexity, amplitude and high natural and cultural value of the candidate comes as the result of a combination of historic interactions between the human being and their environment, with outstanding features dating from the period between the 12th and 18th centuries. Consequently, they comprise a unique and unparalleled site among those in the World Heritage List or if compared with any other category. For instance, the profit obtained from the saltworks served not only to fund the construction of the cathedral of Sigüenza during the Middle Ages, but also financed posterior monuments such as the chapel of Don Pedro Gálvez and Doña Ana Velázquez, dated back to the 16th century and located in the parish church of the small village of Riosalido.