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Why Being on the WMF Watch Matters

The following post is by Jaime de Salas, Director of the Fundacion Xavier de Salas. The opinions expressed are his own.

As defender of a specific landscape I find myself being criticised as a “nimby” (“not in my back yard”) preservationist. To be honest, I cannot easily escape the charge, but I find it irrelevant in practice. The issue is never what anyone personally would prefer but what should be done. The effort to preserve Trujillo’s landscape which includes the berrocal (the ancient geological formation on which Trujillo is built) and extends beyond the river Magasca, is motivated not by the pleasure a familiar landscape can give one, but rather by what should or should not be done from the standpoint of the common good.

The Magascona, the field of solar panels that originated my request for Trujillo’s west side to be included in the WMF Watch, came as a surprise to everyone. I had been warned that it was going to be built, but it was only when it was there that I realised the monstrosity it is in itself and the perils it involves. Until then, my activity as Director of the Fundacion Xavier de Salas had never involved preservation issues beyond those of our own buildings. I had enough on my plate trying to make an institution whose sole endowment is a fifteenth-century Franciscan convent (restored with help from the World Monuments Fund, Kress Foundation, and others) find its financial way year on year. For an academic it is a wonderful adventure, and getting through the year involves a lot of interesting if hard work. The last thing I needed was to get myself and my foundation into a battle that cannot be won.

And yet it was necessary. We have much less space in Spain and in Europe than in the U.S., and the temptations to build are enormous when there is public money to help and a relatively clear prospect of profit. The Magascona was also a challenge as a precedent to more building and development on the west side of Trujillo. No one had said anything about it. The coalition of interests that had brought this about would and will continue unless public opinion comes to realise the importance of the issue on a local, regional and even national level. In Spain there are few towns like Trujillo with mediaeval walls giving directly onto the countryside. Normally, a cultural foundation does not involve itself in something which is an issue for politicians, but this was too important to ignore.

When one appeals to the common good one has to take into account the importance of tourism for the town and for a region like Extremadura. There are benefits from a solar field, but it could be situated elsewhere. The landscape of Trujillo is one of the attractions the town can offer visitors, and in its way it is unique.

Over three years into the issue, public opinion is starting to change. But the effect of spearheading the resistance has changed the foundation itself. Its activities now include a seminar on these issues. We have arrived at a working relationship with the recently elected Mayor of Trujillo. One of the upshots of the current situation is the wish to improve access from the town to its west side. The Town Hall is committed to improving the streets and lanes in this part of the town, which has been largely neglected in the past. It is very possible that we will have a second circuit for tourism that will show visitors our landscape. For its part, the Fundación Xavier de Salas plans to open the orchards it owns below the convent and convert them into a public garden.

Though the importance and the perils of this situation are evident, the inclusion of the berrocal on Hispania Nostra’s “Red List” and the World Monuments Fund’s Watch has been decisive. It is helping to create a counter-alliance to meet the perils that the Magascona has introduced. To some extent, we are still hopeful that some kind of constructive negotiation is possible.