Cordoba is a city of 330,000 inhabitants in the south of Spain that boasts four inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List, more than any other city. After the Grand Mosque was declared a World Heritage site in 1984, a large part of the surrounding historic centre was added to the list in 1994. Much later, in 2012, UNESCO declared the “Fiesta de los Patios” in Cordoba part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and finally, in 2018, the Caliphate city of Medina Azahara was added to the list of World Heritage sites. In recent years, however, this historic centre has been deserted, at first because of the rising cost of housing and the outward expansion of the city, and more recently because of the tourist boom, with the intervention of investment funds to develop tourism in traditional courtyards, a type of community archaeology well suited to such use. While the pandemic, like elsewhere, has slowed down this process, the city will no doubt have to find ways to revive its social, economic, urban and environmental dimensions based on its heritage as a common good.
Different international institutions are focusing on these problems related to urban heritage. The “Faro Convention” establishes the relationship between heritage and its social value. It is a significant step by the Council of Europe towards understanding the social value of heritage, above and beyond its commercial value, and the role played by the communities there. ODS 11 of Agenda 2030, “Sustainable Cities and Communities”, points out how to achieve greater social, urban, environmental and economic resilience, from local to global dynamics, from economic crisis to climate change and the health emergency.
In this context, PAX – Patios de la Axerquia was born as a collective initiative in Cordoba in 2018 as an urban rehabilitation and social innovation strategy in the heritage sphere. Led by a group of people from architectural and anthropological backgrounds (Gaia Redaelli, Jacinta Ortiz and Carlos Anaya as co-founders, Elsa Franceschetto and Ángel Molina as collaborators), it is an urban regeneration strategy to make use of the empty patio houses in the historic centre of Cordoba. Re-using the existing city and its tangible and intangible heritage value attached to the traditional houses in a city centre undergoing gradual depopulation and gentrification was the motive behind this urban cultural strategy to bring the patios back into use for essentially residential purposes through social innovation and cooperation.
First PAX Cooperative. An historical photo when it was full of life and families living. Photo PAX
The strategy works in coordination with various public and private entities and, above all, with the neighbourhood associations and other interested groups to define a way of living together around the patio, that is to say, the intangible value that brings them together (i); to identify the traditional home as tangible heritage material more in keeping with people’s needs (ii); to set up a housing co-operative (iii); to acquire the houses or persuade the owners to let us use them (iv); to implement the project and rehabilitation in a contemporary form with due regard for their architectural value (v); and to finance the project in cooperation with ethical financial partners (vi).
PAX is a multidimensional ecosystem: the environmental dimension, densifying the city and promoting the “green” patio network – green-cell system – with revegetation and reduced energy consumption; the economic dimension, through the inclusion of the social economy and local groups as protagonists in the design and implementation of the project, to promote social enterprises as a basis for a local micro-economy; the sociocultural dimension, with the development of co-operatives open to new ways of living, where recovering community spaces is central and guarantees the survival and
the authenticity of the patio heritage and the technological dimension, as the process develops tools for training in restoration using traditional materials.
In helping to create a “heritage community”, PAX has forged ties between administrative authorities, universities, associations and citizens, determined to share in a common challenge in keeping with the Faro principles and Agenda 2030: finding ways to recover the tangible heritage of traditional housing in the historic centre of Cordoba through the intangible heritage of its citizenship, striking a balance between local culture and global dynamics.
The initiative has already achieved various successes at both local and global levels. As part of the initiative, an initial group of six families recovered a fine 18th-century building in the heart of the Axerquia neighbourhood. The house, which has won several prizes in the Fiesta de los Patios, used to house 18 families and was vacated in summer 2019. The PAX Astronautas co-operative acquired it, and it has been restored as part of the PAX initiative. The building concerned is a symbol of the city and exemplifies what PAX is trying to do.
On the one hand, the renovation work, in which careful attention is paid to understanding the building, reveals layers of history as if bearing witness to the passing of time. At the same time, its architectural beauty, with three patios in a row, makes it look more like a landscape than an urban space. On the other hand, the group of six families who have joined the project recognise the community value held in these walls, not only because this is one of the houses that have won the most prizes in the history of the Fiesta, but for the conviviality, the way of sharing life, which is one of the main motivations that led these families to join the project. Their intention, like that of the sisters Isabel and Pilar, who sold them the building instead of accepting a higher offer from an investor who wanted to turn it into a hotel, is to enhance this community value and this way of life that takes them back to their childhood and can now live again, in the care of new generations.
The PAX Team members during the installation done for the XV International Exhibition of Architecture. La Biennale of Venice. Photo Sergio Flores
Other citizens’ groups, at various stages, are joining the strategy, which is not restricted to the Axerquia neighbourhood in Cordoba but open to other similar areas and cities. Looking for its scaling up, the plan is a partner of the Horizon2020 project In-Habit, which studies the contribution of courtyards as an ecosocial cell and is a case study of other research, focusing on the analysis and development of participative methods related to various aspects of heritage management.
In 2018, PAX joined the Faro Convention Network at the international level. In 2020, it succeeded in having the patios of Cordoba classified as protected heritage by the World Monument Fund, a not-for-profit body which, in this case, has made itself available to facilitate governance between the administrative authorities and civil society to recover patios for the initiative.
Recently, PAX has been included as a Best practice example in the Eurocities “Cultural Heritage in Action” and has been awarded by the European Heritage Awards/Europa Nostra Awards in 2022 in the category Citizens Engagement and Awareness-raising:
“The PAX-Patios de la Axerquía project is commendable for dealing with depopulation and sustainable living and focusing on climate action. In renewing these often-forgotten inner spaces of these residential buildings, the project has shown how the revival of a way of life can offer solutions for dealing, for example, with high temperatures in cost-effective and climate-neutral ways. It is an example of how the revitalisation of cultural heritage can be significant in addressing contemporary challenges,”
emphasised the Awards’ Jury.
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