44-The Intangible Heritage

Geoparque Villuercas > CULTURAL SITES > 44-The Intangible Heritage

Beyond the richness of the physical heritage which the passage of the centuries has left us in the form of churches, fortresses, civil engineering, monuments, and other places with cultural, artistic, and historical values, a much less tangible but by no means less valuable heritage also exists. This is the case of traditional culture in the sense of a true heritage value, the rich experience of previous generations with a very strong identity, which therefore deserves protection measures and being highlighted in the same way as the material heritage.

Despite the fact that these are valuable elements which contribute towards the cultural diversity and creativity of any society, that they constitute the identity traits of a region, and that many of them are in great danger of disappearing, the intangible heritage has been the last to be considered part of cultural heritage as such. Traditional handicrafts, dances, songs, legends, vocabulary, and festivals are cultural expressions which have been protected by the UNESCO since 2003 and are as worthy of preservation as any other kind of heritage.

In Extremadura there are numerous examples of cultural expressions which have survived over time and have been part of people’s lives in an intense and dynamic way. This is due to the profusion of peoples and cultures which have occupied its territory down the centuries, leaving their mark and enriching the cultural storehouse. Another important factor in this richness of intangible heritage has been the cultural interchange which has been characteristic of Extremadura for millennia. The Vía de la Plata (Silver Route), a connection between the north and south of the Iberian Peninsula, and the drovers’ roads served as channels for the movement of uses, customs, and knowledge. There is no doubt that its proximity to Portugal also contributed to and continues to influence the traditional knowledge and cultural expressions of this land.

But if the stockbreeding and pilgrim routes allowed traditions to enter it, the frontier situation of Extremadura and its peripheral nature helped to preserve them. In effect, the fact that the region remained untouched by the successive industrial revolutions encouraged the survival of original cultural expressions. The Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Global Geopark of the UNESCO is no exception and its villages hold a most interesting store of customs. Among them are those related to stockbreeding, agricultural, and forestry activities which include ancient trades and their terminology together with traditional knowledge of productive activities. This type of heritage also includes the various linguistic forms and the numerous expressions of oral tradition such as dialects, terminology, vocabulary, and toponymy. In the same manner oral literature also belongs to this type of heritage with its tales, legends, ballads, myths, proverbs, local sayings, etc.

Likewise this intangible culture also includes fields such as gastronomy or the making of traditional food and drink, of which the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara World Geopark of the UNESCO has a wide selection with the products of various denominations of origin and protected geographical indications: P.D.O Ibores cheese, P.D.O. Villuercas-Ibores honey, P.D.O. Dehesa de Extremadura, and P.D.O. Ribera del Guadiana. To these must be added cherries, chestnuts, the famous black pudding, various sausages, tasty sweetmeats… Handicrafts are important in this field with excellent examples in the Geopark such as boilermaking and the making of copper utensils, basketmaking with strips of chestnut wood, bobbin lace, pottery, wood carving, the old looms, craftsmanship in precious metals, cork handicrafts…

The preservation of this enormous cultural heritage must be assumed by the community holding it which in short must keep it alive. However, the public administrations also have the responsibility of safeguarding it. In this sense the Regional Department of Museums, Libraries, and Cultural Heritage of the Regional Government of Extremadura is drawing up the Inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Villuercas and Ibores. Aspects such as the ways of Guadalupe, the production of Ibores cheese, and the aforementioned copper handicrafts are some of those which are being inventoried, studied, and documented.