Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley

Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley offers a microcosmic perspective of the way people have harvested the resources of the high Pyrenees over millennia. Its dramatic glacial landscapes of craggy cliffs and glaciers, with high open pastures and steep wooded valleys, covers an area of 4,247 ha, 9% of the total area of Andorra. It reflects past changes in climate, economic fortune and social systems, as well as the persistence of pastoralism and a strong mountain culture. The site features houses, notably summer settlements, terraced fields, stone tracks, and evidence of iron smelting.

It has maintained intact its structures of organization and management of space since medieval times. Since then there has been no substantial alteration of the geopolitical and territorial model, which is why it has come down as a living witness to the history of Andorra and the coexistence between the men of the mountains and an extraordinary natural environment.

The most striking natural heritage elements are the glacial geomorphology (U-shaped valley, glacial circuses, the lake system of Gargantillar-Els Estanys, Estany de la Nou, rock glaciers, the hanging valley of Estany Blau, etc.), the post-alpine plateaux of Calm de Claror, the dynamics of avalanches, the vegetation associated with water (wet moorlands and peat bogs, riparian woodland, etc.), and various threatened vertebrate species (bearded vulture, capercaillie, ptarmigan, Tengmalm's owl, dotterel, Pyrenean desman, etc.). The lichens of the circus of Estanyons have served to obtain the first dating of the Little Ice Age in the Eastern Pyrenees, showing the relevance of this cold period to European history.

Like most of the territory of Europe, the valley is not virgin land. Man has used it, crossed it, and enjoyed it for centuries, moulding a landscape in which his imprint is everywhere present. The main historical uses of this zone were farming (tillage, animal husbandry, forestry), iron working and hydroelectric power. As a result, numerous human elements have survived to make up the cultural landscape of the valley. The structure of the vegetation has also been modified by all these activities, the imprint of which can be read indirectly from meadows sited on forest land, terraces made on steep slopes, or birch woodland replacing old-growth pine.

The cultural heritage elements linked to traditional farming are the best represented: barns (Ràmio, Entremesaigües), terraces, shepherds' huts, sheep pens, drystone walls, milking stalls, etc., and a network of irrigation ditches in tillage zones. The remains of the Forge of Andorra (at an altitude of 1,900 m), the mines at La Maiana and Claror and the numerous charcoal-making sites in the woods bear witness to iron working. The use of hydroelectric resources began in the 1930s, generating its own infrastructure with two dams (L'Illa and Ràmio) and an underground conduit linking Ràmio to the lake at Engolasters. The stone path of the Madriu links all these activities, at the same time a symbol of and unique witness to the presence of man in the valley and forms one of the most characteristic and outstanding values of this cultural landscape.

Historical context

According to tradition, in recognition of the support its people gave him against the Saracens, Charlemagne founded Andorra in 805 when he made the bishop of Urgell its overlord. The French counts of Foix contested this overlordship, and finally in 1278 an agreement was reached providing joint suzerainty and the establishment of the principality of Andorra.

Andorra was governed from 1419 by a Council, Consell de la Terra , with representatives from all the Communes. In 1981 the Consell Executiu , the Andorran Government, was established, and in 1993 Andorra joined the United Nations. The President of France and the Bishop of Urgell remain titular co-princes.

For 715 years, from 1278 to 1993, the Andorrans thus lived under a unique, stable co-principality. This long period of stability (fortified houses were apparently demolished in the 13th century as part of the ‘arbitration’ awards) and the relative remoteness of its mountain terrain, meant that Andorra remained a rural state with the economy based largely on livestock farming. These factors also encouraged the persistence of strong cultural traditions related to mountain living.

Change came swiftly from the mid-20th century with the development of low-tax shopping in the main town of Andorra la Vella. Between 1960 and 2000 the population grew from 8000 to 70,000, with today around 33% being Andorrans. In the last twenty years, large ski resorts have been developed.

The Madriu-Perafita-Claror valley is the last remaining vestige of the Andorran rural way of life. It appears to have survived more by chance than planning through the absence of any access road. The Government is now committed to retaining this distinctiveness, through not allowing the development of a road, while at the same time putting measures in place to allow the valley to be part of the Andorran agricultural economy, through encouraging high quality livestock based on sustainable regimes.

Justification for being a World Heritage Site

Criterion (v): The Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley is a microcosm of the way its inhabitants have harvested the scarce resources of the high Pyrenees over the past millennia to create a sustainable living environment in harmony with the mountain landscape. The Valley is a reflection of an ancient communal system of land management that has survived for over 700 years.