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ARANJUEZ: THE OTHER CULTURAL LANDSCAPE

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On December 14th of 2001, during the Twentyfifth Session of the World Heritage Centre, the UNESCO declared Aranjuez Cultural Landscape as World Heritage. This way, the singularity of Aranjuez as an entity of complex relationships between humans and nature got finally recognized. The designation also guarantees protection for an heterogeneous zone that comprises about 2.047,56 ha and includes some historical elements such as the Royal Palace, large gardens, vegetable gardens, orchards, or the planned town and roads from the 18th century. However, there are some important elements that have not been taken into account by this assignment, even though the Aranjuez Cultural Landscape cannot be conceived without these hydraulic constructions. What is more relevant than the non inclusion itself is that their current state of preservation is critical, and not having the appropriate protection and notoriety that sites included on the World Heritage List do have, they are even under threat of disappearing.

The elements we are talking about are Real Cortijo de San Isidro, Presa del Embocador, Presa de Ontígola and Puente Largo de Aranjuez. The aim of the present post is to denounce both the non inclusion of these elements on the Aranjuez Cultural Landscape, and their terrible state of preservation. We will focus on the three hydraulic constructions (the bridge and the two dams) because of their closer connection with our branch of knowledge.

Presa del Embocador

The dam of El Embocador, that in fact is a small derivation weir, was built in the year 1530 under the reign of the emperor Charles V whose main objective was to broaden the irrigation of La Vega de Aranjuez. For such objective, from the dam part two caces or channels, the Azuda caz and the caz of Las Aves.

The no inclusion of the dam of El Embocador within the heritage of the UNESCO is at least surprising because its existence is closely attached to Aranjuez development as Royal Site, being this small weir the responsible of the Tajo river waters derivation to the watercourses that irrigates its gardens.

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“Picture 1. Presa del Embocador. Current state (Source: personal compilation)”

However, the importance of the dam of el Embocador is not restricted to the water supplying, representing by itself an historical value since it was the first dam built over the Tajo River.

Currently, although reconstruction and refurbishment were performed in 2007, the dam is placed in a location without any signaling to make people be conscious about the important historical work they are next to. Thus, this motivated the appearance of graffitis over the channels and in the abandoned powerplant as well as lots of trash.

Presa de Ontígola

The Mar de Ontígola dam is a gravity dam reinforced with five buttresses. Its construction goes back to may 1552 when Phillip II as an authentic works foreman ordered the construction of an artificial lake for the birds recreation. In its construction many important engineers and architects of the time took part, such as Juan de Herrera.

Nowadays, the pond is part of the Natural Reserve El Regajal-Mar de Ontígola and despite of this, it’s completely abandoned. The vegetation is such that it covers all the structural elements, obstructing the spillway and causing damages by the water spilling over the top of the dam. In addition, the Mar de Ontígola is receiving dirty water from a purifying plant and also de the trash people throw.

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“Picture 2. Presa de Ontígola. Current state (Source: personal compilation)”

The irresponsibility of all the competent authorities promotes abandonment and therefore its deterioration. For this and much more we cannot but regret not only the inclusion of the dam Mar de Ontígola as UNESCO heritage but also for the absence of maintenance works which should be already taking place due to the category of Natural Reserve that Mar de Ontígola has.

Puente Largo de Aranjuez

The construction of the Puente Largo de Aranjuez takes place in 1761 during the reign of Carlos III, when the Royal Site development was at its peak. The bridge completely changed the accesses to the Royal Palace and modified the configuration and purposes of the gardens. The bridge excellently symbolizes the “bond between nature and human activity”, or the “complex relationship between sinuous watercourses and geometric landscape design” that take place in this singular site. These terms were used by the UNESCO to define Aranjuez Cultural Landscape, and to emphasize its historical, inherited and cultural relevance. The Puente Largo perfectly comforts to this definition, but they seem to be meaningless words, at least when you take a look to the ruinous state of preservation of the bridge: both banks of the river are completely abandoned and infested with lairs; accumulated garbage covers the masonry pillars; some graffiti stain the ancient blocks of limestone, once chiseled by the most prestigious stonecutters of that time; stalactites have been formed on the vaults; and the severe deterioration of the four sculptures located at both ends of the bridge, which do not even look like the lions they were supposed to be. These are just a few of the many dangers affecting the bridge, once considered by Carlos III as “the king of the bridges”, that threaten to entirely destroy it.

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“Picture 3. Puente Largo de Aranjuez. Current state (Source: personal compilation)”

We find it incomprehensible that, being these elements so closely linked to the Aranjuez Landscape, they were not included on the catalogue of fixed assets that conform the Aranjuez Cultural Landscape. Even though in some cases it is precisely their existence what made possible that landscape. This fact has caused a grave impact on their preservation, and has obstructed the enhancement of the Aranjuez Hydraulic Heritage. Therefore, we believe that urgent measures need to be taken not only to restore but to protect this heritage from its imminent destruction.

Germán Cobo Vázquez

Javier Alejandro Llamas Verna

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

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