Valle Salado is located in the town of Salinas de Anana (Álava, Basque Country), in northern Spain. The ancient salt works cover an area of 13 hectares, forming a unique and exceptional saline landscape.
The value of Valle Salado lies in its unusual architecture, which consists of sequences of stepped terraces built by humans using dry stone, wood and clay; in the salt crystallization pans; and, in the hundreds of pine-wood channels that take advantage of gravity to distribute the brine throughout the site using an ancient communal sharing system. It also lies in the fact that the springs provide the salt water from an ancient sea that disappeared 200 million years ago, and that the salt environment has led to the presence of a saline biodiversity, making it a Ramsar wetland of international importance.
In addition, this salt-related architecture is unique not only because of the construction techniques and the stunning landscape that has been created through the symbiosis of all those techniques, but because Valle Salado has perfectly preserved its 6500 years of history. This evolution means that production structures that are hundreds of years old and developed for production systems that are no longer used coexist with others that were built during the 20th century. Thus, the salt works do not present a landscape frozen in time, but the result of a complex process of evolution developed by the salt workers over thousands of years, through a long trial and error process based on their empirical "know-how" regarding obtaining the greatest possible amount of salt in the most efficient way. It perfectly corresponds to the definition of landscape as a "combined task of man and nature".
After thousands of years of uninterrupted production, the rise of coastal salt farming operations together with the land transport revolution based on the introduction of railways, caused Anana and other in-land salt farms to decline. The lack of profitability from the late nineteenth century resulted in the salt workers using every means possible to try to make their product more competitive in a market that only valued quantity over quality. During this stage, Valle Salado came under threat as the system used was no longer sustainable. A disproportionate number of salt pans were built without consideration to the appropriate systems, due to the urgent need for quick profits.
However, Valle Salado stands out for its resilience, its ability to absorb negative impacts, to change, introduce innovations and recover its existence based on knowledge, tradition and respect for ecology. After years of exertion by the salt working community, the public institutions prepared a “Master Plan for the Integral Recovery of Valle Salado” in 2000. After completing a draft of this plan in 2004, the institutions with responsibilities for heritage issues promoted some of the guidelines that it included, one of the most important being the creation, in 2009, of the entity that would focus on the recovery of the site, the Valle Salado de Anana Foundation. This non-profit Foundation comprises the Provincial Council of Alava, the Basque Government, the community of owners of the salt works, Gatzagak, and the local City Council. As the sole owner of the asset and responsible for its management, the Foundation assumed the Master Plan and decided to focus the project on recovering the sustainability of the site and ensuring its integrity by looking back in time and recovering the basic principles that had governed production over millennia.
The Valle Salado Foundation concentrates on three major activities: salt production, maintenance work and cultural tourism.
The connecting element of the project is the production of high-quality salt. In addition to being the main element in generating revenue, which is reinvested in the project as the Foundation is a non-profit making institution, the production process is the only method to ensure the maintenance of the structures as they were built by the Romans over 2000 years ago, using stone, wood and clay.
Anana Salt is considered to be one of the best types of salt worldwide and is sold in more than 25 countries. The recognition of our salt as a Slow Food Bastion product and the submissions to have the site acknowledged as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO or as a GIAHS by the FAO, and the unconditional support of some of the best chefs in the world, have been very important to achieving this worldwide acknowledgement.
The process of recovering the production areas that had been abandoned due to their lack of profitability is inextricably linked to the requirements of the markets. As we have said, the production of salt is the only activity that ensures the perfect condition of the salt-making architectural elements. Permanent maintenance work is performed by the salt-workers using traditional techniques developed by their ancestors through trial and error over a long period of time. Fortunately, as Valle Salado has always been in use, the knowledge chain has never been interrupted and, therefore, older salt-workers continue to transmit their “know-how” of incalculable value based on thousands of years of history to younger generations.
On the other hand, the approach taken to enhance the salt works is to open it to the public. Valle Salado is now a cultural and experiential destination of the first order for tourists and attracts thousands of visitors each year. The dissemination of the production, maintenance and research activities by means of a guided tour programme capable of ensuring the authenticity and integrity of Valle Salado is an important part of promoting respect for this heritage site where visitors can also become loyal Anana Salt customers.
In short, the primary goal of the production, maintenance and dissemination work is to ensure the site’s future. In addition, this is a great opportunity for the local community and also for the surrounding district, because the process of enhancing the area and finding new uses has generated a strategic vision and a powerful driving force for social, cultural, economic and tourist development. This is helping to generate a feeling of identity, cohesion and belonging to the local community and to all the institutions, agents and citizens involved; elements that strengthen the social capital that is essential for any sustained local economic development.
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