The sound breaks the air. The ringing of bells breaks the silence. Extremadura exhales spirituality as photosynthesis generates chlorophyll. It comes from its monasteries, churches, abbeys, Roman ruins and tartesias, prehistoric caves. It comes from everywhere. The cultural heritage, that uninterrupted dialogue of the passage of man and his works, is a continuous presence in the territory. The historic center of Cáceres, the Arab relics of Badajoz, the monumental center of Plasencia, the Roman yesterday of Mérida. The enormous lightness of the weight of history becomes tangible. In 2017, according to a work of the geography magazine Polygons, there were 261 declared cultural interest goods (BIC) in the region, spread over 160 localities.
These numbers, undoubtedly, will have increased today, because the legacy of Extremadura is profound and extensive. Even if it has its anchors. The old city of Cáceres, from 1986, and Mérida and Guadalupe (1993) form part of UNESCO's World Heritage Site. Three towns with which to delineate a cultural landscape. At the same time physical, at the same time intangible. Impossible to grasp the mysticism of Holy Week in Cáceres, the broken beauty of the blooming cherry blossoms of Valle del Jerte, the hullabaloo of the Badajoz carnival or the Pasión de Mérida and Jerez de los Caballeros (Badajoz). Nor, of course, retain the notes of the Festivalino de Pescueza (Cáceres). A score that has its own record: it is the smallest music festival in the world.
Everything is connected with everything in Extremadura's heritage. From the minority to the collective. Neurons in a continuous cultural synapse. It is an experience to hear the telegraphic sound of a falla, a language spoken by only 5,000 inhabitants on the natural border between Cáceres, Salamanca and Portugal. Another, very different, is to sit in the Roman theater of Mérida and contemplate the great Greco-Roman myths. Its International Classic Theater Festival has accumulated 64 editions, thousands of visitors and a declamation that is spread throughout the planet. In 2011 50,000 spectators attended, in the last edition; 175,577. "The audience has tripled," says Jesús Cimarro, director of the contest. "But its importance is not only there, for every 30 euros invested in the show, 150 are reverted to the region, we create jobs, we generate an economy and we build a city."
Question of balance
But, sometimes, success also involves a part of forgetfulness. "The exceptional Roman art of Emerita Augusta is hindering the knowledge of other presences and historical moments, such as, for example, the deposits of the mythical Tartessian civilization", admits Francisco Pérez Urban, general director of Libraries, Museums and Cultural Heritage. Extraordinary, for example, the site of Turuñuelo de Guareña, in Las Vegas Altas del Guadiana, in Badajoz.
The challenge of Extremadura is to find the balance in the balance of the balance. Bilbao found him with Frank Gehry's Guggenheim. Mérida seems to look for it with its National Museum of Roman Art (MNAR), a jewel of Rafael Moneo. Since 1993 it is part of the World Heritage. However, very soon, when it was inaugurated in 1986, it was already a memory of the identity of a region. "The Museum has become a magnet for cultural tourism but it also has an international projection of the first order that places us as one of the most important archaeological institutions in the world," says Trinidad Nogales, director of the MNAR. The memory of the ancient civilizations are their ruins and the institution needs more space to tell that story. That is why it will expand its surface by 20%. More educational workshops, more didactic activities, more place for researchers; more museum.
While this is happening in Merida, the sound breaks, again, the air and the bells ring in the Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe. Sanctuary of the brunette virgin who became the patron saint of Mexico. It is not surprising if we remember the history of the conquerors. Their names evoke the desert and poverty of those who fled from these lands to win empires, jungles, silver, gold and death. But Extremadura is no longer that tragedy that Luis Buñuel filmed in his documentary Las Hurdes, land without bread, of 1933. It is no longer poverty or diaspora. "Today prosperity and culture are a central part of political discourse," says Carmen Hernán, president of the Association of Cultural Managers of Extremadura (AGCEX). "The community has opted to settle the population in the territory, which is a priority that is reflected in the fact that no village has been closed, which helps preserve the tangible and intangible heritage."
However, the region is still a great unknown. In spite of the advances (there are two daily round trip flights that connect with the capital of Spain), and its geography halfway between Madrid and Portugal. "The communications with the capital are scarce and we lack the AVE", recognizes Miriam García, Secretary General of Culture of Extremadura. In spite of everything, "the world pays us more and more attention". Only the Gran Teatro de Cáceres has gathered 222,787 spectators. Festivals occupy a central place in a region that pampers the performing arts. In fact, it will be the first community that will have its own law.
Because norms also build heritage. Extremadura looks into the eyes of historical memory. It works in the creation of a census of victims of the Civil War and a map of graves. He wants to give a dignified burial to the dead of Franco's repression. The struggle against oblivion is as important as the conservation of the Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe. Both are essential in the narration of history. Although it will not be easy to protect the memory. Neither immaterial nor material. In a community so rich in heritage, the plunder is a temptation. The Extremaduran government monitors, especially, the caves of Maltravieso (Cáceres), about 66,700 years old, the Castro of Villasviejas del Tamuja (Botija, Cáceres), the archaeological site La Cimurga (Navalvillar de Pela, Badajoz), the hermitage of Belén (Cabeza de Buey, Badajoz) or Miraflores Castle (Alconchel, Badajoz).
The Administration knows the value of those, and other, sites. "This legislature has created the Heritage Protection Unit to protect archaeological and cultural spaces," observes Francisco Pérez Urban. "But there are so many places that it is impossible to monitor them all continuously, which is why we are doing an awareness-raising work among farmers and winners, who usually live with these deposits, so that they know their value and are involved in protection." . He has to forge an idea: heritage is the memory of all; if it is lost, man remains hollow.