It has been calculated that the Earth is 4,600 million years old. During this extraordinary interval of time its external appearance had gradually changed, which proves that it is a dynamic and living astronomical body.
The outline of the great oceans accompanying the continents has varied over millions of years with the movement of the external plates which make up the surface of our planet. Moreover, everyday climatic processes such as rain or wind are set on modelling the landscape as we see it today with its mountain ranges, uplands, plains, valleys and rivers, and many other curious elements on which is based life as we know it on Earth and for the moment on no other known planet.
Relief forms, cavities, rocks, and minerals are the components of the landscapes we contemplate. Sometimes they are of such great value, either for their aesthetic quality or because of the stories they tell, that they may be considered to be part of the geological heritage. If such a consideration is at an international level, this is so because it represents a unique register of the events which led to significant changes in the history of the Earth.
Geoparques are well defined territories which possess this geological heritage of international value. Therefore they are capable of explaining periods of paramount importance in the history of our planet. Naturally they are scientifically investigated but subsequently their heritage is explained to society by using tourist or educational channels or also by giving a meaning of their own to local products. The whole generates a participatory development strategy based on the heritage and represents a new boost for the social and economic development of the territory. Each geopark is part of the history of the Earth and therefore the level of the national and international cooperation of geoparks is very intense and embraces both conservation and education strategies and generous support for the establishing of new geoparks in the world. Because of all this geoparks contribute towards the sustainability objectives set by the United Nations and shared by society on the same global scale.
One of the organisations of the United Nations, the UNESCO, is in charge of managing the International Earth Science and Geoparks Programme. It is in this programme that the Global Geoparks of the UNESCO are recognised.
This is done based on various criteria. The first of them, which has already been explained, is that geoparks must be territories which are well defined both physically and politically in which sites and landscapes of international geological importance are managed with a comprehensive concept of protection, education, research, and sustainable development. In the second criterion the UNESCO advocates the use of this heritage by the geoparks in connection with all other aspects of the natural and cultural heritage so as to raise awareness on essential matters in the current context both as a planet and as a society; matters such as geological processes and risks, climatic change, and the sustainable exploitation of natural resources. This has a lot to do with the educational activities of geoparks and how they address society.
The third, fourth, and fifth criteria refer to management always under a legal body recognised in national legislation, cooperating with any other UNESCO department in the same territory and encouraging society to participate in the planning, seeking a bottom-up approach to guarantee that development, education, and conservation take place with the involvement of all local players.
The sixth criterion drives international cooperation which is one of the identifying marks of the geoparks which liaise this activity by means of the Global Geoparks Network. Finally, reference is also made to the necessary respect for the rocks and minerals of the local heritage and the prohibition of marketing them as there is no doubt that this would be to the detriment of this heritage.
The Villuercas-Ibores-Jara, a treasure under our feet
Spain has an extensive geological heritage throughout its territory and currently has 15 geoparks. But, what makes the Geopark unique ?
- It extends over 2,544 km2.
- It has a geological history of 600 million years.
- It has 50 geosites where we can find crags, hills, sierras, rañas, faults, river valleys, caves, rocks and rocky places, hillside debris, synclines, anticlines, and other places of geological interest.
- It contains very ancient fossils and trace fossils. It is the only geopark in the world with deposits of the genus Cloudina, one of the earliest animals with an outer skeleton as one of the first “shells”, which gave it an evolutionary advantage regarding protection and feeding. As we know from current results, this was a decisive acquisition in the evolution of life on Earth.
- It is part of the ensemble of Spanish rock art. This geopark has over one hundred known shelters, many of which can be visited such as the Cueva Chiquita or Cueva de Álvarez in Cañamero.
- It equally has a strong mining heritage which allows you to descend to the bowels of the Costanaza Mine of Logrosán and travel by train through the galleries of what was once the most important phosphorite deposit in Europe.
- It has over two hundred km of hiking trails including the climb to the crag of La Villuerca at an altitude of 1601 metres. From this point you can contemplate the Appalachian relief which is so characteristic of the geopark.
- It has dozens of sites of natural and cultural importance. These include the most important woods of Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitánica) in the Iberian Peninsula.
- Extremadura is the region with the highest number of Denominations of Origin and Protected Indications. Products such as cheese, wine, Iberian meat products, honey, olive oil, extra virgin olive oil, chestnuts, and mutton and goat meat give rise to a unique subsection of the gastronomy of Extremadura.
- Finally, it holds one of the most important cultural buildings in Spain which is the Real Monasterio de Guadalupe, a World Heritage Site of the UNESCO which is a vital part of Gothic Mudejar architecture and the history of Spain and Latin America.