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Culture and Rural Development

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Maestrazgo-Teruel:
counting on identity to produce
sustainable development

For the Maestrazgo-Teruel LEADER group in Spain,
exploiting its natural and cultural heritage is a
strategy aimed as much at a change in mentalities
as at efficient land management.

 

Night has just fallen on the small square. Seated on benches or on steps, the old men chat while they watch the crowds of young people drinking on the terrace of the café. Children on skateboards speed down the steep streets of the village. The buildings surrounding the square, most of them restored and brightly-lit, represent some 1 000 years of history. They form the ideal background for a scene containing all the joie de vivre and all the light-heartedness of the Mediterranean. But it is a long way to the sea: we are at Molinos in the province of Teruel, approaching Maestrazgo-Teruel, the most easterly point of the Iberian Mountains and one of the most inaccessible regions of Spain.

"After all this is what development is about!", exclaims Mateo Andrés." This village of 400 people is still full of life at 10.00 at night. A few years ago no-one would have thought of going out at this time of year... You can feel the life, you can sense that something is happening!"

The Director of the Development Centre for Maestrazgo is unstoppable when he begins to talk about the changes that have taken place in his village over the past 10 years. Molinos was a pioneer area for LEADER: since the first democratic municipal elections in 1979, the commune has thrown itself into exploiting its heritage. "We counted on development coming from culture", explains the Mayor, Oresto Andrés Huesa. "Of course, at that time we also invested in services which were of direct importance to the population –social and medical facilities, household waste management and so on– but everyone realised that if we developed the "Crystal Caves" near the village, we would have a renewable source of income and would be able to set up other projects. With the help of some donations, we converted the site, which now attracts 40 000 visitors every year".

 

Culture Parks. "We had to keep these visitors, but most important of all was to give the village a greater sense of importance in the eyes of its own inhabitants which would be in keeping with its current identity", stresses Mateo. "The families here have been torn apart for years. The civil war and then the dictatorship have left deep wounds. Our past has been trampled on, the Falangists left our skills to rot. We had to turn over a new leaf and reconstruct a positive identity, while still keeping in mind that identity is not a concept that is fixed or set in stone; it does not depend on one race but it is continually fed from outside influences. After all, Molinos has always been non-conformist; the people were freemasons in the XIXth century, spiritists at the beginning of the XXth and anarchists in the 30s; our village had to be a pioneer in local development."
In 1986, on the impetus of the citizens, the commune and the Aragon archaeological institute, the "Society of Friends of Molinos" was founded to pilot the creation of a "Culture Park", to market the commune's heritage, presenting it in an integrated and interactive way. "The idea of heritage should be understood in a very wide sense", says Mateo, "the physical, natural, cultural and material heritage - the buildings, for example –then the intangible– art, the knowledge and skills - linked to this idea of territory. We believe that land plus heritage plus population equals development."
A "Workshop-school" has been set up with the support of the Aragon government under its unemployment aid programme; young people receive training (75% practical, 25% theoretical) for three years in carpentry, cabinet making, joinery or stone masonry. The school has restored several of the buildings in the commune. The former washhouse houses the "Ecosystem Museum", containing showcases constructed by different local craftsmen and displaying the different ecosystems of the region, along with tools and products linked to all kinds of activities. One room is dedicated to paleontology; many fossils found in the area are displayed there with explanations. The Town Hall has a museum dedicated to the painter and sculptor Eleuterio Blasco Ferrer, a friend of Picasso. Overhanging the village and the valley, a botanical garden is being planted. In different places there are signs which help the visitor to understand the countryside and show the starting points of different theme walks which form a network linking each of the sites.
Thanks to LEADER, the experiment at Molinos has been extended to other parts of the Maestrazgo-Teruel area: a "Geological park" has been created around the commune of Aliaga. "Even deforestation can have a potential to exploit", notes Javier Blasco, geographer and development agent. "An absence of vegetation allows visitors to observe the geological history of the region easily. This, however, is exceptional. Scientists come from all over the world to study the structure of the Iberian System." Further on at Galve, a palaeotological park has been created, containing life-size model dinosaurs, a museum exhibiting many fossils and paths leading the visitors to places where remains of these prehistoric creatures have been found. In the village of Vaillarluengo, an "interpretative centre for the environment" is being set up." At Mirambel, which has been completely restored, there is an "interpretative centre for the architectural heritage."

 

The daisy and the spider. These public investments have generated a vast number of small private projects; a school for restoring wooden furniture, hostels, rooms to let, bicycle hire centres, etc. "In all, there are 80 projects, varying from 7 000 to 100 000 ECU, worth a total of some 1 200 000 ECU", says Javier Díaz, the LEADER coordinator. "This is enormous for an area of only 5 400 people spread over 9 villages."
These encouraging results would seem to confirm the relevance of the strategic model that the LAG is following: "The way we use our heritage for land management", explains Javier Díaz, "can be represented as a daisy; the pistil of the flower is the individual or the village. From the centre, like petals, we can trace the different themes which attract development to the area concerned -geology here, paleontology there, archaeology, crafts, etc. The petals are projects or groups of projects where the individual and the population feel involved. Then on top of this flower we superimpose a network, similar to a spider's web; these are the relationships between the different projects and individuals. We can extend the metaphor even further; the visitors can be compared to flies who get trapped in the web, though they are actually free, and here we give them honey!"

 

Heritage action groups. Although all the different "parks" and "centres" have been reorganised under the name "Maestrazgo Culture Park" to provide the area with a coherent image, each group of projects and/or each village has a "Heritage Action Group". These groups are made up of ordinary citizens, the promoters of the project concerned, members of the local municipal authorities and councils and outside partners who provide the technical aid and expertise necessary for the scientific credibility of its content.
Thus, in the village of Mas de las Matas (population 1 500) the heritage action group is a cultural cooperative, the "Grupo de Estudios Masinos", supported by experts and university staff. Its 30 or so members are residents, well-learned amateurs from all walks of life, who, since 1978, have been reconstructing the local archives which had become scattered during the course of the centuries or had been completely destroyed by anarchists during the Spanish Republic. This operation to construct the collective memory, requiring long, painstaking work, is an interesting cultural project in itself, but it has also enabled them to recreate such a sense of involvement in the local people that rural exodus has been halted.
LEADER is supporting the relocation of the museum, which is part of the Aragon Museum Network, to a historic building. The group publishes a monthly scientific, sociological and cultural magazine aimed at the general public, in addition to highly professional works on local history. "Not all of the people are convinced that our work is useful", admits Antonio Martín, the Director of the Museum and the epitome of a self-educated man, "but a survey has shown that 60% are in favour of it. At the moment, the people are proud of their town and I believe that we have convinced them that they must overcome their inertia."
The villages in the LEADER area have started to attract some visitors, but at the moment this is limited to a specialised clientele –students, researchers, university staff, ecological artists, etc.– who already know about the projects or who have been drawn here by word of mouth, as the promotion of full-scale tourism is not one of the LAG's priorities. "We are not involved in 'tourism at any price': we are interested in the curious client, who is eager for discovery", insists Mateo Andrés. "The implications of the projects for the tourist industry are important, but the exploitation of the local heritage is primarily intended for local people. We are looking for the "subject culture" and not the "object culture", because for us, our heritage is not simply a means of land management but principally a tool for participatory democracy, collective identity and widening our field of consciousness."

LEADER Maestrazgo-Teruel

Surface area: 1 020 km2
Population: 5 481 inhabitants
LEADER financing: 11 193 000 ECU
UE: 2 550 000 ECU
Public: 4 402 000 ECU
Private: 4 241 000 ECU

Centro para el Desarrollo del Maestrazgo-Teruel

Plaza Mayor 1,
E-44556 Molinos (Teruel)
Tél: +34 78 84 94 31 - Fax: +34 78 84 93 03

source: LEADER Magazine nr.8 - Winter, 1994


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