The Watch

Tebaida Leonesa

El Bierzo, León, Spain

2018 World Monuments Watch

The area known as Tebaida Leonesa or Tebaida Berciana in the province of León boasts important artistic and cultural values that are intimately linked with its natural landscape. Its setting, an isolated, rugged, mountainous area sometimes called the “Valley of Silence,” gave rise to several anchoritic and monastic settlements beginning in the seventh century. The name tebaida derives from the Thebaid region of Egypt, near the ancient city of Thebes, where Eastern Christian monasticism is believed to have originated. Valerio of Bierzo, a Visigoth writer who restored ruins and built hermitages in this area, described it as “a place similar to paradise and just as suitable for the contemplation, solitude and sensory retreat… The beauty and grace of the forest calm the nerves, and true love, pure and without pretense, floods the soul.”

The valley has kept intact its cultural, natural, and immaterial values for hundreds of years, including peace and silence, calmness, and spiritual tranquility. At the same time, much of its exceptional medieval architecture has been carefully preserved, including the tenth-century Mozarabic church of Santiago de Peñalba and the thirteenth-century Romanesque church of San Pedro de Montes.

The social evolution of the region and a changing economic system that departs from traditional agricultural farming practices triggered outmigration of younger residents, putting a strain on the remaining residents who are tasked with the care and maintenance of their cultural heritage. At the same time, economic interest on behalf of the tourism industry compounds these challenges by exerting pressures that place the unique qualities of the cultural landscape and its link to the community at risk. Through its inclusion on the 2018 Watch, WMF will support the local communities and advocacy groups in their call for a comprehensive management plan that promotes responsible and inclusive development of the Valley and its villages.

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