The River Going Down Hill

The hilly landscape is the fundamental expression of the geographic character of our country. This characteristic becomes particularly accentuated in mountainous countries such as Andorra. In fact, this small country in the Pyrenees was known for a long time under the name of 'the Valleys of Andorra', a designation that highlights this most prominent landscape feature. At the bottom of these valleys, the river provided a silver thread to life within a culturally rich, dense and dynamic landscape.

The hydrographical network of Andorra functions schematically: around two big collectors - the Valira of the Orient and the Valira of the North - that join at the conurbation level of old Andorra, the Climbing Engordany, which flows under the name of Grand Valira up to Catalonia in Spain. The extraordinary growth of Andorra during the past five decades has led to colossal demand for urban soil. The soil easiest to build on - formerly to cultivate - is found mostly in the valley basins, on the banks of streams and rivers. The lure of substantial and immediate profits from real-estate speculation and the absence of a general law for development and soil occupation (approved only two years ago) have formed an ideal framework to consistently destroy the collective values of the territory.

As a result, the big Andorran hydrological axis has gone from a culturally rich landscape in terms of socio-environmental and biological qualities, to a channel of open concrete and sterile sky. Mastering the rise of the water level, in a new and intensive territorial occupation, can apparently justify an adaptation of traditional methods (particularly based on different types of vegetation): it is no less true that it is above all the appetite and the voracity of real estate that has exercised pressure and power on each square centimetre of the territory. This is how the rivers, confined and channelled, have seen their minimal vital space invaded, and their life ruined, all the while conforming to the norms dictated by the powerful hydraulic players who are the blindest and most insensitive and, as experience demonstrates, unfortunately sometimes even inefficient.

An essential element of geography, of the landscape and culture of Andorra has been gravely wounded along many kilometres of the Andorran territory - and this in an almost irreversible way. It is true that some positive interventions on secondary rivers demonstrate ways other than systematically concreting the rivers; however, it is even more true that the channelling criteria continue to be perceived as important by the relevant ministry. It is equally true that all the serious and negative consequences that derive from this practice continue, without troubling the minds of the decision-makers, and that the confining of the silver lead that represents the life of our valleys continues.

ICOMOS Andorra