Monastery of Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil

The Ribeira Sacra is one of the 24 candidates to be declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO committee in 2021. This spectacular territory in the interior of Galicia is bathed by the Miño and Sil rivers, and has a landscape of vineyards and vegetation native to tree species such as oaks, chestnut trees and cork trees. It also offers a rich cultural heritage made up of splendid monasteries, churches, sanctuaries and hermitages of Romanesque art.

The rivers divide the Ribeira Sacra into two zones, those of both river valleys. To the north is the bank of the Miño, heading N-S, which has more towns, wineries and churches. And to the south, the Sil Canyon, in an E-W direction, which has steeper slopes with slopes that reach 500 meters above the river.

Both banks are encased in the characteristic granite relief of Galicia, which means that there are many curves and meanders along the river courses. Although it is a natural landscape, both the Miño and the Sil have had their course changed due to reservoirs, something also very characteristic of Galicia. There are even villages buried under its waters and flooded lands that created significant damage to the local population in the 1960s, when they had to abandon their homes and lands.

The Ribeira Sacra has been inhabited since ancient times, as evidenced by the remains of Galician hillforts throughout this territory. And the river bank slopes have always been cultivated for their favorable microclimate, being protected from Atlantic influences and allowing Mediterranean influences to pass through the Sil Canyon.

In this way, it is a territory that is conducive to growing grapes due to the large amount of sun and rain it receives throughout the year. This can be seen in the distribution of numerous small wineries that exist throughout the Ribeira Sacra for the production of wine.

All these factors, added to the fact that it was an isolated place and difficult to access, attracted the attention of clergymen and monks for the construction of hermitages, sanctuaries and monasteries. They always chose the best places!

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Currently, the production of Ribeira Sacra wines is within one of the Denominations of Origin wines (D.O. Ribeira Sacra) that Galicia has. The wineries export their wines all over the world. However, many small wineries that have been operating for decades have been closing due to the laborious difficulty of planting vineyards and picking grapes in this territory. That is why these farms require a modernization of infrastructures so that the owners do not abandon the land.

And it is that in addition to the value of the historical artistic heritage existing in the Ribeira Sacra, the way of working the land by building terraces on the slopes since pre-Roman times, is a human value to also be considered as heritage.

The Galician government's tourism revitalization plan 2020-2023 is based on the improvement of the infrastructures for tourism, such as the conditioning of roads, the signposting of hiking routes, rehabilitation of wineries and old mills, access improvements and adaptation of viewpoints, etc... All to achieve the recognition of World Heritage by UNESCO, and to base the economy of the area specializing in tourism and hospitality, related to the production of quality wine.

However, there are no concrete strategies to fix population in rural areas helping to modernize farms. In addition, there are threats of touristification and the problems that it entails with the increase in services such as catamaran routes, tourist trains and even on hot air balloons... and also serious threats of environmental degradation that can endanger UNESCO's own candidacy, such as the creation of a zip line or the construction of a future highway near the area.

So the question is: can all uses be compatible? Can a dynamic tourism plan be carried out without the local population being forced to leave the territory or will they have to change their way of life as happened after the construction of the reservoirs?

And finally, will the Ribeira Sacra become a World Heritage Site? It certainly deserves it, we'll see what happens.

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