Sacromonte Caves Museum: Ethnological and environmental interpretation center of the Darro Valley
Sacromonte Caves Museum is a participatory project piloted by local residents’ organisation ”Vaivén-Paraíso”, to restore natural, cultural and social heritage in the valley of the Darro River. The area, in Granada (Spain) has been a refuge for ethnic minorities – particularly gypsies – since the 15th century. Residents worked with various partners to rehabilitate traditional dwellings and caves, create a botanical garden and an area for performances and projections, where visitors can discover Roma people culture and local biodiversity.
It addresses urban-rural linkages
It refers to other types of transformations (soft investment)
As a representative of an organisation
Name of the organisation(s): Vaivén-Paraíso cultural association Type of organisation: Non-profit organisation First name of representative: Francisco Javier Last name of representative: Ballesteros Juárez Gender: Male Nationality: Spain Function: Project Manager Address (country of permanent residence for individuals or address of the organisation)<br/>Street and number: Barranco de los negros s/n Town: Grenade Postal code: 18010 Country: Spain Direct Tel:+34 958 21 51 20 E-mail:email@example.com Website:https://sacromontegranada.com
The Sacromonte Caves Museum (SCM) project was born in order to save a hundred year history area from abandonment to life. It aimed to recover not only a historical space in danger of disappearing, but also to give value to a unique and unrepeatable cultural legacy (the traditions, customs and way of life of Sacromonte) and to protect the biodiversity of the place.
Based on the local people mobilisation, who collaborated with various public, educational, cultural, scientific and crafts stakeholders, a non-profit association named Vaivén-Paraíso was created by the locals to manage the project and animate the place. The restoration has been based on locals' know-how and aimed to create a dynamic area where heritage meets today’s way of living, a place where awareness of biodiversity is raised, allowing end-users to build and share a new sense of belonging.
The Sacromonte Caves Museum offers nowadays an animated open space of 10,000 m2 in the middle of a preserved nature. It is composed of tree spaces: the first presents eleven rehabilitated caves, traditional dwellings and living places in this area. Visitors can discover in a participatory manner, helped by an extensive didactic information, the history, the traditions, the culture and the art of flamenco, unique to the ethnic minority of the Gypsies which has been its initial inhabitant for centuries. A botanical garden, dedicated to biodiversity where the native fauna and flora as well as the geological development of the Darro Valley, surrounds the caves. It is interpreted with panels in different languages. Finally, a multipurpose area, with a stage for performances and projections, is animated by multiple local stakeholders.
In twenty years, by this project, locals succeeded in consolidating a sustainable cultural and environmental space in which heritage and biodiversity are recognized and can be shared through educational and cultural activities.
#Sustainable revitalisation and Impact: we aimed to restore this abandoned area as a model of zero impact on the environment project. We restored the caves by using traditional construction methods based on the know-how of local craftspeople and materials coming from the direct environment and interdisciplinary techniques, in order to make an intervention that does not add anything to the landscape.
#Sustainable protection of biodiversity: The task of diffusion and awareness-raising about the biodiversity has been one of the project's motives. For the didactic design of this space, we collaborated with the University of Granada in the areas of geology and biology. This collaboration continues today with several successful programmes for the reintroduction of almost lost species from the area, such as the “Gallipato”, which is the largest amphibious urodele in Europe. A botanical garden dedicated to biodiversity where the native fauna and flora as well as the geological development of the Darro Valley has been implemented. Finally, through workshops, talks, tours and cultural activities, we emphasise the need to take environmental responsibility and provide tools to raise education and awareness about climate changes. Participants can observe in a participating way the balanced harmony humans can create while respecting its environment.
#Sustainable tourism: we aimed at proposing the SCM as a sustainable tourism alternative due to the historical space it occupies in Grenade, a city threatened by gentrification and mass tourism. Grenade now benefits from an animated cultural heritage area, located in the middle of the Darro River valley, that you can only reach through a single pedestrian access and public transport. In the aim of “the city of 15 minutes” valued by the Bauhaus movement, it offers an interactive renovated space to the more leisurely visitor who wants to learn about a culture and a way of life in intimate contact with nature.
#Collective and minimalist design approach : the spatial concept of the Sacromonte Cave Museum has been developed in collaboration with the community (knowledge of its former inhabitants, end-users, craftspeople, other volunteers) and with specialists (designers, local creators and researchers). Each of the spaces that constitute the project (eleven caves, its gardens and an open space) was conceived based on a thorough understanding in order to adapt them to the different needs, while intervening as least as possible on their initial aesthetics and structure.
#Nature as a component of the structure which allows a balanced sense of belonging: The interdisciplinary collaborations succeeded to achieve an environment that evokes tranquillity, well-being and harmony, where nature (gardens, mountains surrounding the area) and culture (caves dedicated to human activities) meet to create a relaxing and quality environment, allowing people to feel the emotional and cultural experience of a respectful balance between nature and human activities.
#Caves as protecting spaces: when people enter into the white excavated architectures, discovering the trades and day-to-day life of the former inhabitants, they experience the atmosphere of protection we have recreated, feel welcomed inside the earth, and at the same time, sense the impression of freedom when facing the landscape. An encounter of two sensations that are very much desired by human beings: intimacy and freedom.
#Design to generate social meetings : the visual aesthetic creates a complete whole with the surrounding landscape, the architecture is intrinsic to the place, producing a relationship with the environment, while generating a space for meetings and social contacts which is intimately linked to the land. The larger open space has also been adapted to be enjoyed by the public in different cultural, educational and recreational activities.
#Inclusive governing management: to engage today's inhabitants of the Sacromonte, public entities and cultural stakeholders.
The Vaivén-Paraíso non profit association was created by local people to manage the project, in interaction with the inhabitants, public entities, local scientists and pedagogues. This community engagement led to a shared community of knowledge exchange.
#Inclusive societal model regarding cultural minorities: to share the art of living from the former minorities which used the area as a refuge since the 15th century.
By disclosing the history of this place and its inhabitants, especially the Gypsies, we brought it closer to the visitor, while offering the dignification of their culture and traditions, conciliating it with the mainstream culture of the place as it is today, from an angle that speaks of justice, respect, emotional intelligence, empowerment and equality.
#Accessibility for people with disabilities : to make the project user-friendly for people with reduced mobility.
Challenging due to our geographical location, we adopted the necessary protocols to facilitate access and we removed the physical barriers of the site. Assisted by the Spanish National Organization for the Blind (ONCE), we adapted the museum for blind people and implemented pictograms for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
#Financial affordability: to create an economical sustainable model that offers low fee entrance prizes.
A program of free guided tours open to the public, with special attention to pensioners, migrants and people at risk of social exclusion, has been developed. The entrance fees have been kept low (5€ for the museum).
#Co-construction of the project: we aimed to create a project rooted in the local people's knowledge of the space.
The SCM started its design and content based on the contributions of the locals, their interest in having a space where they could tell their history, culture, traditions and avoid stigmas. They shared their knowledge in relation to popular culture and memory in the context of meetings and neighbour talks, which we turned into didactic content for the museum.
#Empowerment: we aimed to turn the initial interest of the locals into practical involvement in the project, with the objective to co-construct the sense of belonging to the space.
We continued the initial collaboration with workshops made up of people from the direct surrounding area, who worked on the recovery of the museum, benefiting not only economically but also expanding their training and job opportunities.
#Stakeholders inclusion: we aimed to invite a diversity of stakeholders to use and share the operating of the space.
Today, the revitalised area currently hosts cultural, educational and environmental activities organised by the local community (neighbours, public entities, scientists, teachers, artists, activists). They are part of the daily life of the community, serving to recover celebrations of popular roots, strengthening the bond and coexistence. In 20 years, activities welcomed 86.900 participants, education activities registered 52.000 attendees, and the Museum grew from 3.000 annual visitors in 2002 to 50.000 in 2022.
#Economic impact: we aimed to enable sustainable economical benefits for the locals, without depending on external funding.
A new non-profit association, the Vaivén-Paraíso association, was created by local people to manage the full project. Today, it has reached a sustainable economic model: six direct jobs have been created, indirect jobs have been stimulated, all this achieving a positive economic impact on the Sacromonte neighbourd.
#Local level: The City council of Grenade:
Supports the project since 1998 through (technical assistance to generate employment, concession agreement to allow the use of the space which is a municipal property, educational program dedicated to young people from 4 to 16 years old, cultural program which addresses intergenerational audience). The added values of this involvement are: public support to the project’s objectives, to the economic model of the project (free use of the space), validation, amplification and dissemination of the educational and cultural project’s ambitions.
#Local level - The University of Grenade:
Organises research and teaching workshops in the areas of geology and biology. The added values are: scientific support to the environmental project’s objectives, interdisciplinary activities, contribution to the shared knowledge space created by the project (locals, researchers and teachers).
#Provincial level - The Province of Grenade:
Organised in 2010 the “Grenade Flamenco Universe” with the objective to promote emerging artists.
#Regional level - The Andalusian Regional Government:
Participates by supporting and organising regular heritage, environmental, restoration and professional training programs, with added values of amplification, validation and dissemination of the project ambitions.
The Andalusian government is also about to declare Valle del Darro (where the Sacromonte Caves Museum is located) as a Cultural Heritage Site. As a green belt that separates two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (the Alhambra and the Albayzín neighbourhood), this label would allow the protection of the valley against urban development, thereby enhancing the environmental aim of the Sacromonte Caves Museum.
Several disciplines were invited to interact in order to create an intergenerational and sustainable cultural space.
#Ethnology: The collective memory and the deep knowledge of professional and popular stakeholders about this place is the basis of the project, which generates mobilisation of researchers in favour of the space. This memory nourished the didactic discourse of the Sacromonte Caves Museum. People who participated in its elaboration recognise themselves in it and feel part of its creation.
#Architecture: The rehabilitation of the cave dwellings presented serious difficulties due to the loss of knowledge about restoration techniques. The restoration of the eleven caves which are part of the place brought to our time both materials and traditional techniques almost forgotten. Likewise, the design of the whole outside space was created with the reutilization of materials from the environment, aesthetically with a predominance of natural curved lines that create a complete whole with the landscape that surrounds us.
#Geology, Biology and Education. The task of diffusion and awareness-raising about the biodiversity of Sacromonte has been another of the project's motives. For the didactic design of this space, we collaborated with the University of Granada in the areas of geology and biology. This collaboration continues today with several successful programmes for the reintroduction of almost lost species from the area, such as the “Gallipato”, which is the largest amphibious urodele in Europe.
The involvement of university professors, architects, geologists and craftsmen achieves mutual recognition of the different disciplines. The working approach of co-creation, adapting concepts from the past to the present, brought about an innovation of methods that the different agents used in the development of the project, making this mix of cultural, natural and social goods a unique place.
#An historical place sustainably regenerated:
Based on local mobilisation and know-how, an entire degraded patrimonial area in danger of disappearing has been rehabilitated in an environmentally sustainable place which serves as a barrier to deforestation and urban pressure. The city of Grenade now also has a first class sustainable tourist resource that focuses on the identity of its people, making them proud protagonists of their memory and culture, in a way that fights against mass tourism. It also represents a cooperative-based stable labour resource, constituted as a non-profit association.
#A sense of belonging to a meaningful place connected to historical heritage and traditions:
Nowadays, the traditions and customs of the Sacromonte cultural minorities have been revitalised and shared with the participants. The balanced respect between nature, culture and heritage which is shown can inspire today's way of life, sharing in a participatory manner, a solution to actual human-environment coexistence challenges. The residents of the Sacromonte neighbourhood feel that the Sacromonte Caves Museum space is theirs, are proud to tell their story and actively participate in regular cultural and educational activities.
#An aesthetic design that generates social, educative, cultural and scientific meetings:
While the restoration process was based on the locals memory of the space, it has been transformed into a beautiful and full of meaning place that generates participative and inclusive human exchanges : the agreements with different educational institutions have had an incalculable impact on students of all ages who have found in the Sacromonte Caves Museum a place where they can recognize their own history and identity, the collaboration with scientists and researchers has generated a shared space of environmental knowledge, the cultural events allow meetings between artists and inhabitants.
The Sacromonte Caves Museum is not just a museum: it is a mechanism to merge heritage, environment, participation, inclusion, science, culture, education, public support and non-profit management, to reach a socially impactful dynamic that raises a collective sense of belonging to a place with high heritage power.
The innovative character of the project is to be find within the engagement strategy between stakeholders: one part (e.g. local government) owns the land, the infrastructure, and amplifies the project objectives (by organising or supporting activities); another part (the non-profit organisation created by local people) creates and lead the inclusive dynamic that enables the inhabitants and society communities (with their memory, know-how and research capabilities, including support of specialists and non-specialists, thus giving equal importance to "doing" and "thinking") to contribute to the project; and finally, community groups, that use the space for their own development.The operational model of the Sacromonte Caves Museum represents thus a positive systemic drive enabling stakeholder groups to interact with one another.
The Sacromonte Caves Museum is set up as an entity that differs from the traditional linear business (e.g. museum exploitation by a private stakeholder) and contributes to energise local participation. All components and stakeholders, together, create value and desirable results for community members. It represents the demonstration of an integrative future, which is currently a necessary method to create a peaceful society where each component (whether it is natural, cultural or human), can interact in a balanced way to generate meaningful results.
The systemic and inclusive nature of the project is tackling cultural, social and environmental issues simultaneously, in harmony with the Sustainable Development Goals
The project approach was a bottom-up one as we based all the development on the locals motivation, know-how and energies. Our methodology was circular and empiric which allowed us to achieve community engagement and attract support for the project.
The project was implemented on for main phases:
1. Grassroot mobilisation:
Local inhabitants consultations to define the profile and objectives of the project, the challenges we had to consider, the future exploitation values and model we wanted to implement.
Analysis of the context in order to define the content of the project.
Identification of the resources we needed (in terms of relevant individuals/partners, craft know-how, scientific support, administrative authorizations, legal entity to create, stakeholders support necessary, relevant networks to consult, procedures to activate).
Creation of the Vaivén-Paraíso non profit association for project management, business model design.
Workshops with inhabitants, educational and cultural partners to define the restoration techniques, the didactic content, the environmental objectives, the activities to organise.
Contacts with the Spanish National Organization for the Blind to define necessary adaptations for blind people and people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Definition of an agenda.
Writing of the project content and steps.
Presentation of the project to the City Council.
Obtainment of the authorization to occupy the space (concession agreement with the municipal services of Urban Planning and Heritage to use of the space and its surroundings, which are municipal property) .
Obtainment of the support of the Municipal Institute of Training and Employment of the Grenade City Administration to accompany the employment objectives of the project.
Implementation of the restoration techniques, the architectural and environmental design.
Opening of the space.
Exploitation of the SCM.
Based on an analysis of our passionate route, we think that several aspects can be replicated for initiatives that aim to revitalise public abandoned spaces in order to create active senses of belonging. It might be relevant for municipal bodies, policy makers and private people interested in bringing deserted areas or buildings from death to life.
- A methodological approach that merges all components and stakeholders, in a systemic way where each can participate without being superior to another (whether it is natural, cultural or human), is a powerful method to create a peaceful society where each component can interact in a balanced way to generate meaningful results.
- The bottom-up dynamic is also quite powerful as it guarantees rootedness of the motivation and engagement of the end-users.
- The associative non-profit model of organisation to exploit a public space provided for the development of a popular initiative project is a formula that allows the pursuit of multiple objectives without being only dependent on economic rentability .
- The fact of using local knowledge for a restoration strengthens the identity of the place. This methodology seems perfect for generating a sense of belonging in a particular area, and can be easily replicated anywhere as long as the native people, costumes and knowledge of the enclave where the project is being developed are taken into account.
- Combining heritage with cultural dynamization of the place creates a synergy between past and present that highlights the interest of the space, not only talking about memory but also generating it.
- Climate change is evident today. One of the mechanisms to try to slow it down is education and awareness. Through workshops, talks, tours and cultural activities we emphasise the need to take environmental responsibility and provide tools to do so. Participants can observe in a participating way the balanced harmony humans can create while respecting its environment.
- The impact of climate change on biodiversity is also obvious. The gardens we restored and that we care for comply with the same educational objective to raise awareness.
- Exclusion, judgement, condemnation of differences between human beings, as well as supposed superiority from some on others, create a lot of human suffering. By offering to know the way of living of the Roma people minority, by implementing an equal approach between craftspeople and scientists, while uniting public bodies, artists and local inhabitants, our project offers a model of listening to diversity that can help.
- Social, economic and gender inequality is a challenge that the SCM faces by practising collaborative economic management, creating equal job conditions and opportunities regardless of gender and encouraging inclusion thanks to the frequent collaboration with different occupational and educational entities.
- The homogenization of heritage spaces is a risk that we faced while highlighting the uniqueness of Sacromonte. A restoration that respects the initial uses and design of the place, without changing or adding components, contributes to recognizing the cultural, ethnographic and landscape heritage while creating a link between the neighbourhood and its history, extending this sense of belonging to the rest of Andalusians.
- Mass tourism irreversibly transforms our heritage, which is why the SCM has chosen sustainable tourism, preventing intensive flows of people by adopting extended opening hours, both for museum visits and for cultural activities with reduced capacity to avoid crowds.