The salt-related architecture developed at Valle Salado throughout history is unique worldwide; not only given the architectural solutions the salt workers have developed to adapt a traditional salt industry to a complicated landscape but also for having designed a sustainable system in perfect environmental and ecological harmony.
The lack of profitability obtained from the production of salt at Añana from the late nineteenth century resulted in the salt workers using every means possible to try to make their product more competitive in a market that only valued quantity over quality. Between 1885 and 1960, a total of 1,085 salt-pans were built, which extended the area dedicated to salt crystallization processes from 89,434sqm to 110,700sqm.
However, there was actually no increase in the boundaries of the site, which led to the congestion of the existing surface, using areas that the traditional salt worker "know-how" has considered inappropriate for centuries. Salt pans were built over the wells, over internal pathways and even occupying part of the stream, despite the flooding hazard this entailed.
For the first time, and to try to reduce costs, new materials were introduced, such as cement in the 1930s. The idea was to minimise the continuous maintenance processes that had traditionally been required. This broke one of the basic principles of the process: the use of reusable materials only, which had been key to the survival of Valle Salado for millennia.
As expected, the change of certain rules regarding the "know how" of the salt workers led to the worsening of the situation and of the state of the valley. Between 1960 and 2000, the year the government began to intervene in Valle Salado, the situation had been deteriorating due to two main reasons.
The first was that the valley's architecture deteriorated gradually due to the fall in salt production figures and the consequent lack of maintenance. Keep in mind that, on the one hand, rubble from the cement salt pans began to accumulate in the landscape and was not removed due to the costs involved. On the other hand, the decline in production work meant that the salt water, a natural preservative for the wooden structures, ceased to have its desired effect.
Salt production has continued uninterruptedly throughout the entire history of Valle Salado, but it adapted to the needs of the market which, in the latter part of the twentieth century, required less salt from Añana due to its high price.
Consequently, between 1960 and 1977, the valley produced about 4,000 tonnes of salt. In 1979, about 2,800. In 1984 the amount dropped to 1,338 and, between 1983 and 2000, the year the "Comprehensive Recovery Master Plan" was launched, the average production was around 600 tonnes. Some years, the salt workers had such high levels of surplus production in their warehouses, that production was reduced to a bare minimum and most work concentrated on preservation and maintenance tasks on the structures to prevent their deterioration.
As we shall see, the development of the Master Plan and the implementation of its provisions, especially regarding the creation of the Valle Salado de Añana Foundation, has led to a turning point in the Añana salt works because it has been possible to recover their integrity, their permanent maintenance and production activity based on ancient criteria of sustainability and adaptation, i.e. using the know-how that salt workers have used for centuries.
In order to undertake this work, the Valle Salado Foundation has the salt workers who traditionally worked on the site and their "know-how", a technical team of highly specialised architects, surveyors and archaeologists as well as the exhaustive historical documentation and the planimetric studies collected during the Management Plan that provide a three-dimensional view of all the construction elements in the salt works, allowing us to obtain information on them through a Geographic Information System.2014,
2014, HALF OF THE VALLEY HAS BEEN RECOVERED AND IS IN OPERATION
Experience has shown that the best way to preserve Valle Salado in good condition is by producing salt, as the wood can be preserved for centuries when it is contact with salt water. However, elements have to be replaced or repaired on a regular basis, as has been the case over the centuries. The salt workers do not only control the salt production process; they also supervise and build the stone and wooden structures.
Aware of this fact, 117 salt pans were recovered between 2000 and 2004; 29 between 2005 and 2008; and 302 between 2009 and 2011. This represents a total of 448 salt-pans in production.
While recovery efforts began in 2000, it was between 2011 and 2014 when the actions designed to ensure the sustainability of the landscape, working on the key production areas, were developed.
Between September 2011 and September 2014, 1,582 salt-pans were recovered and brought into operation, bringing the total to 2,030, 50% of the surface that ensures the production of salt and the preservation of the landscape. In addition, we have fully recovered the salt-water distribution network of channels, 217 wells and 44 storage pits. The results achieved in Valle Salado mean that it is becoming a benchmark regarding the recovery of heritage and the development of cultural, social, economic and tourism activities.
The recovery and maintenance work performed in Valle Salado is also an example of the good practices in the field of heritage asset preservation. There is a balanced management and enhancement of all the elements present in the property. It is also a pioneering model in this field since it brings together the traditional "know how" of the salt workers, achieved over centuries of trial and error, and modern sustainable techniques and materials that have been added to the project after a prolonged scientific research process.
Valle Salado is noted for its scrupulous respect for traditional crafts and skills; the same one that have been used for centuries are used today. These are based on a complex system of popular wisdom developed by the salt workers themselves, following certain inherited guidelines for generations because of their proven effectiveness.
The authenticity of these techniques is assured by historical research and by the fact that the salt workers themselves are performing the maintenance work. This ensures the continuity and transmission of knowledge that is thousands of years old and of a profession that, through focussing on a sustainable relationship with the natural environment of Valle Salado, is becoming an option for the future for the people from Salinas and the surrounding area.
The recovery work features two types of tasks. Tasks related to salt production and tasks related to cultural and tourism aspects connected with leisure, health and gastronomy. In the former case, the projects are faithful to the typical architecture used; preserving the materials and building techniques developed by the salt workers over centuries but using modern tools when necessary.
The former production areas of the salt farms are being treated in different ways. The great difference between them resides in the surface finish of the evaporation platforms. They can be divided into:
- clay salt-pans based on Roman and medieval criteria
- pebble-based salt-pans based on nineteenth century criteria
- cement salt-pans based on twentieth century criteria
- limestone salt-pans based on twenty-first century criteria
However, Valle Salado is much more than its salt production operation. It is a landscape that is open and linked to society and to the natural environment with fully compatible cultural, environmental and tourist spaces that do not pose any threat to its integrity and authenticity. One example is the wooden structure built for cultural activities or the foot bath, where people can benefit from the therapeutic effects of salt water. This space has been requested by the local community and is a modern use of the salt-pans and wells in which the salt-workers and citizens of Añana used to bathe.
New wooden warehouses have also been built to store, package and sell Añana Salt and we are recovering buildings that have become an essential part of the new use given to the salt works; such as the Santa Ana warehouse, which is being used as a multi-purpose hall and the Revilla warehouse, which is used as a Visitor Centre.