Participants in a balates workshop.
Here is the second article in the series on Almería history on La Voz de Almería.
Read More for a Google translation of the article.
Almeria stories about the landscape (II): Slopes and balates
A series that aspires to intervene in the perception of geographical and territorial reality
That Almería is a mountainous province is something that does not admit any geographical doubt. The arrangement of these mountains establishes a sierra-valley rhythm that compartments the space, and offers a genuinely Mediterranean setting (a sea fortified by mountains, as Fernand BRAUDEL, one of the most contrasted “chroniclers” of our sea, rightly pointed out). Somewhere I wrote that today's Almería was a territory of irrigated valleys and metallic slopes. Slopes and valley bottoms, protagonists of the dynamics of the hydrographic basin, have played a decisive role in the history of our territory, but in a sequential way. My colleague Miguel Ángel SÁNCHEZ DEL ÁRBOL taught me long ago that the Mediterranean mountain is never an irrelevant fact. I would venture to add that in this southeast corner, it is a watershed event.
Slopes of the province of Almería.
If we look at the orientation of its line of peaks, we can distinguish two groups of mountains from Almeria: those that are arranged in an east-west direction (Sierra de María, Estancias, Filabres, Nevada, Gádor and Alhamilla); and those that have a southwest-northeast direction, on the other side of the tectonic corridor through which the Mediterranean Highway runs in the eastern province (mountains of Cabo de Gata, Cabrera, Almagrera and El Aguilón). The Almagro saw acts as a hinge between both sets.
Sunny and shady
The dominant arrangement is parallel (east-west), which produces a marked contrast between the sunny and shady mountains of the mountains, which, in turn, is reflected in the asymmetry of the valleys: the channels, pressured by sediments Of some sunny areas very exposed to erosion, they tend to be located next to the foothills of the shady hills of the mountains, which provide less sediment, as they are more forested. It is this same contact that explains the dominant settlement pattern in the province, of medieval origin: most of the populations are located in the contact between the foothills of the shady areas, to the south of the channels, and the sedimentary terrain of the bottom of valley (see VJ13).
Balates and paratas staircase.
What reasons moved the ancient inhabitants of this territory to prefer the mountain to the plain? Above all, security. The mountain is less accessible, and from its elevations the movements of visitors, potentially hostile, can be observed. It is also safer to obtain spring water, whose domestication is easier than that of sedimentary water, with its tendency to infiltrate the subsoil. Not to mention security against floods and avenues, whose ravages are concentrated in the valley bottoms and on the coastline. By contrast, correcting the slope of the slope requires arduous and continuous work, the tribute that must be paid to benefit from the safety of the mountain. Settlements and cultivation terraces transform the sloping plane of the hillside into a staircase of horizontal planes, on which it is possible to build and plant. It is also necessary to correct the gravitational kinetics of the slope, which would make it difficult to use the water. Rafts, entertainment ditches, paratas and balates slow down the natural flow of water, which, in addition, would drag the surface soil. The management of water and sediments is the central task of the inhabitants of the southeast, and, especially, in mountain areas.
A hillside is an inclined plane. The slope map indicates the predominance of the slope (in dark tones) over the plain (in white). The landscape result is that of the prominence of the curtains over other elements that articulate the scenes, and a permanent intervisibility between opposite slopes.
We are in the territory of the balates, also called pedrizas or ribazos in different areas of the province. They are dry stone masonry walls (without binder), whose purpose is to contain the packages of earth that form the paratas or terraces (the horizontal plane, on which it is cultivated). To use the term coined by maestro Eugenio TURRI, balates are an icon of the Almeria landscape. A symbol that contains meaning. And that meaning is that of the continued effort of a community to convert slopes where torrential rains would carry water and earth, into a succession of cultivable planes, where the land is retained and the water fertilizes it. It is the icon of the construction of a community around effort and shared work.
Shot near Fernán Pérez (Níjar).
This dry stone masonry, whose technique and associated knowledge have been declared Intangible Heritage of Humanity, is an authentic sign of Almeria identity, by which we present ourselves to our Mediterranean neighbors and the rest of the world as an extreme place, in the conformation physics of our land, in the structural aridity, in the arrangement of our reliefs, in the adaptation and survival strategies.
In the middle of the 20th century, the effects of a process of territorial change became evident, the first signs of which can be found in the second half of the 19th century. It supposes the transition from a territorial model with an organic base that explained our fondness for the slopes, to another, based on the intensive consumption of energy and capital, which produces an authentic "turn towards the coast" (Roland MARX) of the Almeria population. The triumph of the sedimentary world. The predominance of exchanges regarding the autistic subsistence of small mountain communities.
Next week, in Virado a Jibia, the third installment VJ3 "A model of human sedimentation", delves into this process and its effects.