The Ribeira Sacra, Lugo and Orense

The Ribeira Sacra, Lugo and Orense is part of the Tentative list of Spain in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

Click here for a short description of the site, as delivered by the state party.

Map of The Ribeira Sacra, Lugo and Orense

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

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France - 05-Sep-20 -

The Ribeira Sacra, Lugo and Orense (T) by Argo

Ribeira Sacra is the official candidate site for Spain in 2021. The name could translate into “Sacred river bank” for the high number of churches and monasteries that were built over centuries along the Sil and Minho rivers. In this area of Galicia, these two rivers run in deep valleys, which sometimes look like canyons. First Christian hermits settled there in the 6th century, looking for remote and difficult to reach places, a tradition that originates from Middle East. Monasteries were then built at different periods, in different styles, and one of them is still active today. The nomination file focuses on this aspect of continuous occupation for religious purposes and claim it was the first area to develop in such way in Europe. The nominated area covers the canyons of Minho and Sil rivers until the point where they merge, plus three additional small areas with one monastery each, a few kilometres apart.

We first visited San Pedro de Rocas monastery. This is the oldest settlement of the nomination and the church was partly dug into the rock, as the name says it. It was first mentioned as early as 573 AD. The church was closed when we visited, but you can easily look inside through the grid that closes the entrance and appreciate how walls and rocks mix ; plus you can also freely walk around the buildings and spot medieval tombs carved into the rock, take a picture of the bell tower built on top of a balanced rock, and walk the small path to the mysterious San Bieito source nearby (which is said to help to cure warts).

We then went to Santo Estevo monastery, which is by contrast the main and biggest one in the area. It has been restored and now houses a hotel (Parador), but its three cloisters from different periods (two from Renaissance, one mixing roman and gothic) and the roman church (with baroque front) can be freely accessed. We parked (also for free) at the underground car park of the Parador, which entrance is opposite of the hotel gate.

We finally visited the monastery of Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil (small entrance fee), which is a pure roman one. The church has been restored recently, and half of the cloister has survived next to it. It lays deep into the Sil canyon, with only the bell tower emerging from the chestnuts trees forest that covers the area. The door leading to the monastery is richly decorated. This is the place we liked most in our day. Do not miss one nearby chestnuts tree with icons and offerings, evidence of mix of different believes – Christian and pagan. Some of the oldest chestnut trees around have hollow trunks and walking through them would help to cure you if you are sick – who knows?

Roads in the area are winding and sometimes narrow, it takes time to drive short distances so we could only cover part of the proposed area. We were there on a Sunday in August, and the area seems quite popular with locals too. The “main” road is on the edge of the plateau, but runs mainly through forests, so you almost never see the canyon and the Sil river. For this, we had to stop at sign-posted view points. We picked-up “Cabezoas” and “balcones de Madrid”, with the latest being advertised one of the most famous, however the views were partial on the river. Vine is also grown in some parts of the canyon, on narrow platforms. The nomination file refers at “cultural landscape” but does not primarily focuses on vines (although those make the most famous pictures of the Ribeira Sacra). We believe it is part of the strategy for inscription, with so many vines already on the world heritage list.

It is difficult to appreciate the “universal value” of this site. There is nothing truly exceptional, nor something that would not be covered by one of the already inscribed sites. But many efforts have recently been done to restore the monuments and make this place known, and I would not be surprised to see long discussions in favour or against inscription in future WHC meeting(s).

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Full Name
The Ribeira Sacra, Lugo and Orense
Nominated for
1996 Added to Tentative List

The site has 4 locations

The Ribeira Sacra, Lugo and Orense: San Esteban Atan (T)
The Ribeira Sacra, Lugo and Orense: Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil (T)
The Ribeira Sacra, Lugo and Orense: San Esteban de Ribas de Sil (T)
The Ribeira Sacra, Lugo and Orense: San Esteban Chouzan (T)
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