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The Boi Valley (Catalonia)

 

1. Vall de Boí [UNESCO World Heritage site]

The Vall de Boí, locally is a narrow, steep-sided valley and a small municipality in the province of Lleida, in the autonomous community of Catalonia, northern Spain. It lies in the northeastern corner of the comarca of Alta Ribagorça, on the edges of the Pyrenees. It is the largest municipality of the region, with its main town being Barruera.

The valley is best known for its nine Early Romanesque churches, making it the site of the densest concentration of Romanesque architecture in Europe. It was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on 30 November 2000. The valley also includes the highest ski resort in the Pyrenees, at Boí-Taüll, and borders the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park which lies to the northeast.

History: The Moorish conquest of Spain did not penetrate the high valleys of the Pyrenees. The first Christian counties in the region were set out in the 9th century, in which the local counts paid little heed to their nominal Frankish overlords. The population was largely Basque.

The valley first belonged to the county of Toulouse, to which was joined the County of Ribagorza. In the 11th century, the valley came into the hands of the County of Pallars, before being annexed by the Kingdom of Aragón in the 12th century. As a result of its strategic position, the valley contains many castles, but they are mostly poorly preserved.

Main sights: Although the valley had a relatively low population in the Middle Ages, large quantities of silver enriched the local dignitaries to encourage them to join the Catalonian campaign to recover Barbastro and Zaragoza. Much of the wealth was spent on the construction of many churches from the 11th to the 14th centuries, in the new architectural style imported from Lombardy. The churches are characterized by elaborate stonework and elegant bell towers. Wall paintings from the churches are conserved at the National Museum of Art of Catalonia in Barcelona.

Many of the churches have remained in use for religious worship since they were constructed and consecrated in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Nine churches were included in the World Heritage Site: Sant Climent and Santa Maria in Taüll, Sant Feliu in Barruera, Sant Joan in Boí, Santa Eulàlia in Erill la Vall, Santa Maria de l’Assumpció de Cóll, Santa Maria de Cardet, la Nativitat de la Mare de Déu in Durro, and the hermitage of Sant Quirc near Durro.

The valley also contains the ruins of a number of other Romanesque religious buildings, including the churches of Sant Llorenç in Saraís and Santa Martí in Taüll, and the hermitages of Sant Cristòfol in Erill, of Sant Quirc in Taüll, of Sant Salvador in Barruera and of Sant Pere in Boí.

Sant Climent in Taüll

The church of Sant Climent de Taüll was consecrated on 10 December 1123 by the bishop of Roda. It is situated on a slight rise beside the road from Taüll and to Boí. It is the largest and best-preserved church in the Vall de Boí, and also the most architecturally outstanding.

The church is laid out as a basilica, with three naves, each separated by an arcade of columns and ending in a semicircular apse. It retains its original double-pitched timber roof. To the southeast of the body of the church stands a six-storey bell tower, with arched windows on each floor. The building is constructed from granite blocks, with decorative elements and windows in pumice. The facades are decorated with friezes and pilasters.

The image of Christ Pantocrator from the church, originally in the main apse and now conserved in the National Museum of Art of Catalonia (MNAC), is acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of Romanesque art.

The church of Santa Maria is located in the village of Taüll, and was consecrated on 11 December 1123, the day after the church of Sant Climent. It was also built with three naves, each ending with an apse. The bell tower rises from the within the southern nave. The quality of the stonework of the bell tower is lower than the rest of the church, and it may have been built earlier, with the church added around it.

The church was heavily renovated in the 18th century, with a dome added. Its frescoes were moved to MNAC in around 1918. Many 18th century renovations were removed in the 1970s, including the dome.

Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park (Catalan: Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici, Spanish: Parque Nacional de Aigüestortes y Lago de San Mauricio) is one of the fourteen Spanish National Parks, the second in the Pyrenees and the only one in Catalonia.

A wild mountain region in the Pyrenees, with peaks rising to 3,017 m (Besiberri Sud) and with nearly 200 lakes, many of them of glacial origin, the park comprises a core area of 141 km² and a buffer zone of 267 km² surrounding the park.

The park has an elevation range from 1,600 to 3,000 metres and contains four major vegetation zones: lower montane, upper montane, subalpine and alpine. It has a great variety of alpine vegetation, including dark-coniferous mountain forest (fir, mountain pine) and subalpine pine forest.

The fauna includes Pyrenean chamois, marmot, ermine, roe deer, among other mammals and numerous birds (Black Woodpecker, Common Crossbill, Lammergeier, Golden Eagle).

The park was created in 1955 after Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, first spanish National Park in the Pyrenees in 1918. Its administrative seats are in Espot and Boí. The park is mainly located in the comarques of Pallars Sobirà and Alta Ribagorça.

2. History

The human settlement of the Pyrenees begun as long the glaciers was melting. Inside the borders of the National Park, not any human population was stabilized. But recent archeological studies have been found signals of temporally settlements from 8,500 years ago, in the Neolithic Age.

The 19th century was the time with more population in the high Pyrenees. Then the pressure on the natural resources also was very strong, with an intense forestry, farming, and fishing industry all around.

At the beginning of the 20th century, begun the establishment of the hydro electrical power plants that leads to a great transformation of the landscape which reminded basically unaltered until then.

On the 21st October 1955 the National Park was created by a law, becoming the fifth Spanish national park. On 30th March 1988, the Catalonian government declared the National park, together with an additional buffer zone, according to the Catalan laws. From that date, the management of the wild protected areas depends on the autonomous government, and begins to increase the budget, the staff and more strictly rules.

Since then, forestry exploitation, fishing, camping and any exploitation of natural resources becomes forbidden. Only it’s allowed extensive cattle breeding and the operative hydroelectric uses. Traditional uses of natural resources which are compatible with the protection of the wilderness are only allowed in the buffer zone.

In 1996 the National Park was enlarged, to a total area of 14,119 hectares.

In 1997, after litigation between Catalan and Spanish laws, it’s accorded that autonomic regions can also take part in the management of the national parks. Then Aigüestortes returns to the Spanish national parks net.

3. Biology

The park has an elevation range from 1,600 to 3,000 metres and different orientation of the valleys. For that reason very different ecosystems can be found inside the park.

Vegetation

In the lower parts of the valleys, around 1,500m high, we expect to found typical European deciduous forests with Pubescens Oak “Quercus humilis”, European Ash “Fraxinus excelsior”, beech “Fagus sylvatica” or Common Hazel “Corylus avellana”. But this places has been historically exploited for humans and usually are now occupied with grasslands, and shrubs communities dominated by Common Box “Buxus sempervirens” or secondary forests with Scots Pine “Pinus sylvestris”.

From 1.500 m to beyond 2,000 m, it’s the place for Mountain Pine “Pinus uncinata” forest. In this places its also founded Alpenrose “Rhododendron ferrugineum” and blueberry “Vaccinium myrtillus” which prefers more fresh places. Heather “Calluna vulgaris” or Common Juniper “Juniperus communis” prefers more sunny and dry places. In the north faces, less than 2,000 m its important silver fir “Abies alba” forests. La Mata de Valencia is the Pyrenean biggest fir tree forest.

In the alpine meadows, up 2,300 m where trees cannot live, it’s possible to found different species of the alpine flora, as “Gentiana alpina” among others.

Approximately the 8% of the species of the park are Pyrenean endemisms in wide sense. Around 7% they are plants with boreo-alpine or artico-alpine distribution, most of them arrived at the Pyrenees during the last Ice Age. The most important group of the National Park flora belongs to the eurosiberian group, the typical species from central Europe.

Fauna

Fauna is not easy to see in the National Park. It’s about 200 species from Chordata phyllum living there. About 66% of them are birds. Some of the most important ones are capercaillie “Tetrao urogallus”, Rock Ptarmigan “Lagopus muta”, Golden eagle “Aquila chrysaetos”, Griffon Vulture “Gyps fulvus” or Bearded Vulture “Gypaetus barbatus”. Also are possible to see Black Woodpecker “Dryocopus martius”, Red-billed Chough “Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax”, Wallcreeper “Tichodroma muraria”, White-throated Dipper “Cinclus cinclus”, Citril Finch “Serinus citrinella” among others.

Most representative mammals are Chamois “Rupicapra pyrenaica”, Stoat “Mustela erminea”, Alpine Marmot “Marmota marmota” (which is not autochthonous) or Fallow Deer “Dama dama” and Roe Deer “Capreolus capreolus” which are also introduced in the National park during the second half of the XX century.

Among the amphibians, Pyrenean Brook Salamander “Euproctus asper” it’s significant but not easy to see. The Common Frog “Rana temporaria” is more or less common. It’s necessary be aware with Vipera aspis “Vipera aspis”, a reptilian with poisonous bite, but it never attacks without provocation.

In the waters, brown trout “Salmo trutta fario”, the local trout, must shares the place with other introduced species.

4. Geology and climate

Aigüestortes National Park is an important item in the Pyrenean geology. The predominant rocks are granite and slate. They both are very old Paleozoic rocks. This material emerged from the sea in the Paleogene, during the Alpine orogeny, giving place to the Pyrenees.

After that, the successive quaternary glaciations covered these mountains with huge glaciers. The lakes, the waterfalls, the sharpened peaks, the vertiginous ridges and the U-shaped valleys are the footprints of the erosive action of those ancient glaciers, today absolutely disappeared (except for a little remaining ones in the central Pyrenees).

Today, water it’s the most important hit, with the meanders on the water meadows, and a great number of little lakes, rivers and waterfalls.

The climate in the Park it’s cold. The mean temperature its around 0 to 5 ºC. In the upper parts, during all the winter season temperatures hardly arrives to 0ºC. Rain it’s more or less usual. Mean annual precipitation goes from 900 to 1300 mm. Mostly snow in the mountains.

5. Management and information

44% of the territory is national propriety. Mostly of the eastern part of the park lands belongs to the Espot’s neighborhoods. Only 6% of the land has particular owners. Even so, exploitation of natural resources is forbidden in the strictly National Park.

Public use is one of the most important objectives for a national park and people have the right to visit it. Aigüestortes is a more or less open park. The walking access is wideness allowed.