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Using cataloging tools to strengthen cultural identities. Case studies from

Nicaragua and Morocco.

Dr. Guido Cimadomo, Escuela Tcnica Superior de Arquitectura, Universidad de Mlaga

1.- Introduction

Recommendations about the protection of Cultural Heritage, considered as part of the

valuable aspects of a society with which it recognizes and differentiate itself, are quiet modern

politics set up by governments, and are evolving at the same pace as society. The 1968 UNESCO

Recommendation on the Preservation of cultural property endangered by public or private works

(UNESCO 1968), and the 1972 Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and

natural heritage" (UNESCO 1972), make clear the aim of United Nations to identify and conserve

the achievements of the past in order to protect and to transmit it to future generations. Cultural

Heritage has to be seen as a fundamental part for the development and self-identification of

different civilizations, well defined by Kamenka (1988:134): the importance to human beings of

the sense of identity, given not so much by material improvement, but by customs and traditions, by

historical identification, by religion..., hence the improvement of cultural identity is pivotal for the

development of communities. Until recently, the identification of cultural heritage tangible and

intangible was strictly responsibility of State authorities or intergovernmental organizations which

strikes with the assumption that any community should be able to define their cultural identity

through the definition of what is worth to be protected and to leave to future generations (Blake


The role of communities in the protection of cultural heritage is slightly envisioned in the
1976 UNESCO Recommendation on the Safeguarding and Contemporary Role of Historic Areas

in its article number 21: This programming operation should be undertaken with the closet possible

participation of the communities and groups of people concerned (UNESCO 1976). This statement

is anyway related with the need of temporary or permanent accommodation of local inhabitants,

who did not have any decision power in the restoration of architectural heritage, in this case their

own dwellings, and not with their whole participation in the decisions about conservation.

Nevertheless the debate about the suitability of the Western approach to heritage has evolved from

these early experiences, where less represented people were frequently excluded by the decisions

related with their own heritage. Only recently the point of view of other cultures, different from the

Western dominant precolonial approach, has become a reality, starting with the Nara Document on

Authenticity of 1994, which recognizes the conservation process relative to context (Winter

2014:124). From this moment the notion of heritage has been evolving and can now be considered

extremely wide, including almost all elements of culture and nature. This aspect, with the

recognition of the great value that landscapes have in the understanding of heritage in a wider sense,

also offer new opportunities, as it is difficult to keep them freezed in our evolving society, an aspect

we will develop further on in this chapter. The Council of Europe "Framework Convention on the

Value of Cultural Heritage for Society", signed in 2005 in Faro, also if regulamentary limited to the

European Region, can be considered a turning point on the participation of communities in the

protection of cultural heritage, as it aims at emphasising the value and potential of cultural heritage

wisely used as a resource for sustainable development and quality of life in a constantly evolving

society, and also to reinforce social cohesion by fostering a sense of shared responsibility towards

the places in which people live (CoE 2005). The concept of heritage community is possibly for the

first time officially defined, as a group who value specific aspects of cultural heritage which they

wish to sustain and transmit to future generations, and it is also stated the need to open public

participation in discussions related with cultural heritage. The idea of Heritage by appropriation is

worth to be remembered here, as it considers all kinds of cultural, social, ethnological heritage,
including non-exceptional landscapes, anyway elements recognized by citizens as significant for

their everyday life, so meaningful to be transmitted to future generations (Dupagne et al. 2004:11).

This category, as stated by Tweed et al. (2007:63), underlines the growing democratization of

culture, and the active role communities can assume in the recognition and putting in charge of

heritage values.

2.- Moving from heritage as a charge to heritage as an asset

A second category mentioned by Dupagne et al. (2004) is Heritage by designation, still the

most common one, when heritage is considered as a label or a qualifying attribute, listed and

institutionalized by experts, usually imposed to communities. This kind of heritage has a significant

drawback, as when assigned to monuments it is possible to move national or international funds in

order to preserve them, while what can be called second level heritage, of some interest at regional

or local scale, is usually labelled, but legal and economic responsibility for their conservation is up

to their owners, usually common citizens. This separation, between the legislator and the

administered creates many controversies, being the main injured the same heritage, and indirectly

the community. If we move these considerations to underdeveloped countries, with scarcity of

resources, this situation become impelling for a solution.

The protection of cultural heritage is a value that if correctly administered, can be a

detonator for social and economic development. But as the Periodic Report and Regional

Programme for Arab States reports (UNESCO 2004:40), more important than tourism for the

preservation of cultural heritage, are local human activities, with negative effects that only

education and the recognition of being member of a collective with its own identity can mitigate. It

is with this perspective that participation has to be implemented, in order to create activities and

knowledge about the opportunities which can be created for the development of the community.

Tourism dynamics can create the need for new necessities which can be easily hosted in second
level heritage buildings, a solution less expensive than abandoning them a common trend in

several contexts considering the social, historical and heritage issues related. These activities can

also be considered a detonator for social and economic development, also if they should be

correctly managed to have positive effects. Links of tourism with architectural heritage have in this

way a relevant paper that is worth to present to comprehend deeply their threats and opportunities

related with the concept of resource. Usually tourism-related and recreational activities are the

common conditions for the use of heritage, weather cultural or natural, but it is much more

important to assume the idea that heritage is not a sum of recognized objects worth to be protected,

but a territorial system where its relations with human actions create a sense as a whole, and in this

way have to be approached (Feria 2012:7). Sustainable tourism has to develop the local economy,

and has to bet for implementing models which support heritage politics, where the object of

touristic interest is protected, weather it is a building, a landscape or an intangible asset, and at the

same time make the benefit to be shared among the community involved, something we can define

as social sustainability. To reach these targets, analysis methodologies, and development proposals

for sustainable tourism models have to be established for the appreciation and protection of heritage

that would satisfy economical, social, and esthetic needs of the community (Pi Ninot et al. 2012).

Tourism can be considered as one of the most transforming and dynamic activities, and has to be

addressed together with local human actions in a short period of time in sensible and developing

countries, in order to protect their integrity and identity. It is therefore necessary to understand the

threats and opportunities that have to be addressed in contexts with scarce economic resources, in

order to maintain the identity of the inhabitants, and offering alternative responsible models that can

protect the existing architectural and landscape values (Cimadomo et al. 2012).

The dichotomy between Heritage by appropriation and Heritage by assignation is

nevertheless evolving and fading into a new model where communities have a real participation in

its development. Information technologies offer wide new approaches to this engagement, and
several cases can be find all over the world. For example, the Scottish Coastal Heritage Risk Project

(SCHARP), mobilized volunteers from local communities to track the state of known coastal

archeology at risk. Volunteers are asked to visit sites at risk identified by the Scottish Coastal

Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion Trust (SCAPE) and update information and images to

report the conditions of vulnerable assets. In this way SCAPE can reduce its efforts to visit all the

assets on the more than nine thousand kilometers of Scottish coast, where erosion is a fast evolving

threat for the preservation of heritage assets, and take the decisions about the most endangered

archaeological sites to preserve (Dawson et al. 2013). The works of excavation to document the

most endangered sites at risk of disappearing have also been realized with the help of local

communities volunteers and associations, with the results to create empowerment of these local

associations in the knowledge and transmission of their cultural heritage. Many similar projects can

be found worldwide, in Lesotho, for instance, the archaeological works in the Metolong Dam

Catchment, made great efforts to involve local communities and to build capacity in archeology and

cultural heritage through training for Lesotho's National University teachers and students (Mitchell

and Arthur 2010), or the experience of Hermopolis, Greece, where GIS software, Information

Technology platforms and crowd-funding are being developed in order to safe private buildings

recognized of cultural interest, with an impelling economic situation which reduce the possibilities

of direct intervention of municipalities.

If the experiences here presented are related with heritage items already identified, we have

to remember that there are a lot of situations where these values are still hidden and not recognized,

neither by the administration neither by the same communities that inhabit the place. It is then

important to realize surveys and documentation in the areas where social tendencies are changing

and pressures are growing, in order to offer guidelines and models to be adopted. Cataloging

heritage buildings means first of all to give a subjective value to some of them, in comparison with

other buildings located in the same place, but that are considered careless of interest. In the
following chapter we will discuss two experiences related with the documentation of building

heritage in Nicaragua and Morocco, two developing countries where tourism pressure have been

already detected, in order to evaluate the benefits of early heritage recognizance for the

development of communities.

3.- Case studies from Nicaragua and Morocco

The colonial town of Granada, Nicaragua, built in 1524 by Francisco Hernndez de Crdoba

according with the India's Laws for instance formally defined only after this foundation is

together with Leon the most attractive cultural attraction of the Country, and together with several

other colonial cities of Central America are at the center of an Heritage program impulsed by the

Spanish Agency for International Development (AECI-D). The architectural interest of the city is

due, paradoxically, from its destruction at the end of the 19th Century by the hand of the pirate

William Walker. Two typologies were used to rebuild the city after this event, from one side the

courtyard houses, following the same solutions used before the fire, from the other new stylistic

solutions were built by the new dominant classes, based on neoclassical or neobaroque tendencies

coming from Europe and North America. This twofold character is very important to be maintained,

as colonial style and unique buildings together define the character and history of the city. Under

this program many buildings have been rehabilitated in these centers, in order to protect the heritage

and to promote a development program. In Granada, Coln Square and the train station where

renewed in the decade of 1990es, and helped for a new interest in the city, soon transformed in a

national and international touristic target. Together with these specific interventions, a wider

program for the protection and development of Granada Historic center was developed in

collaboration with the municipality, with survey and typological studies of the built environment.

The scope of this program, active for more than ten years, was the dissemination and education

about the Plan and the public reconnaissance of the importance of the protection of cultural

heritage. The specific objectives of the program, understanding heritage as a social capital for the
community to enjoy and protect in order to be transmitted to future generations were the following

ones (AECI 2000):

1. Maintain cultural heritage as the basis of social memory of the community.

2. Rescue heritage as an economic development factor.

3. To build capacity in all the specializations of heritage protection and management.

4. Strengthen local administration capacity for the protection of cultural heritage.

5. Participate in the cultural enrichment through participative work and sharing technical and

cultural capacities.

The program held at the Oficina del Centro Histrico de Granada, was developed

implementing an urban plan, with a building code to define the most common aspects of

construction to be observed by the citizens. The phases defined to accomplish this Plan were (Reyes


1. To realize a detailed survey of the 1.742 plots of the historic center, and several sectorial

analysis in order to prepare a general diagnostic of urban issues founded on the needs of the

community, configuring the first phase of the Plan.

2. To develop a urban plan for the protection and development of the historic center.

3. To define and approve a urban regulation for the historic center.

4. To update the Heritage catalogue, including new elements detected in the survey.

5. To define a general and economic strategy that would make possible the realization of the


The realization of point 4 was taken during the year 2000, and what previously was thought

to be just an upgrade of the previous catalogue developed by UNESCO in 1996, become an all new
document, taking into account all the documentation obtained during the survey phase, and the new

protection grades to be applied by the building code. Three main grade were defined: Integral, with

the protection of all the characteristics of the building, and the way it occupy the urban space, all

aspects that make it significant in the city. Estructural, with the protection of the basic ornamental

and structural elements of the building, in order to keep the articulation and occupation of urban

space. The less requiring level is Ambiental, used to protect the exterior of buildings in order to

keep volumetric relations, composition and homogeneity of materials for the maintaining of a

coherent image of the city, and is given to all the buildings included in the historic center area.

Number of
Grade of
Classification buildings
Items with High Heritage Value 47
Items with Heritage Value 25 Estructural
Items with High Stylistic Value
299 Ambiental
Buildings in the Historic Center 597 Ambiental
Items in the buffer zone 775 Ambiental
Public Urban Spaces 5 Ambiental
Table 1.- Grade of Protection and items affected (OCHG 2000).

What at a first stage generated many questions about the envisioned results of the program

were the real possibilities of the owners of the buildings declared, in a vast mayority private

families, to effectively maintain the built environment. A poor economy market, aligned with the

situation of the country, and null possibilities to receive funds from the municipality or other public

bodies, could create a negative effect on the aims of the program. The Catalogue of heritage

buildings realized by the author showed for instance a positive trend, converting all the buildings

included as high demanded by the growing amount of foreigners that were moving to the city and

looked at these buildings as a way to invest their capitals (Cimadomo 2008:259). The inclusion of a
building in the catalogue was seen no more as an increased bureaucratic difficulty for their owners,

but as a positive value, growing their value on the market. Since the publication of the catalogue the

real estate market increased the number of transactions, a positive trend for the local economy and

creating new facilities for supporting the increasing tourism. A key point in this trend was the

possibility established in the protection levels to change the use of the building, as new activities,

often related with the requirements of tourism, could be implemented in these historic buildings.

Without this trend possibly many of these buildings would not have had the possibility to be

restored and preserved, due to the economical difficulties previously exposed. Other aspects would

need a deeper evaluation, from gentrification issues to real benefits in a long perspective for the

community, but from an heritage conservation point of view, we can consider that the catalogue,

and the whole program implemented in the city, had a positive outcome on the conservation of the

built heritage, and on the social and economical activities of the community involved.

A second experience related with the documentation of cultural heritage in order to boost the

economical activities of communities has been held in the presaharian Mgoun Valley, in the South

of Morocco, where the beauty of the landscape and the rural entourage, with earthen architectures

with great heritage values offer a geat opportunity to test protection and development relations with

touristic activities. Tourism in the presaharian Mgoun Valley (Morocco) focuses on, and has to be

addressed, together with local human activities in a short period of time, in order to protect the

Valley's identity and its cultural heritage (Cimadomo et al. 2012). The first conclusions realized

after the earlier surveys consider the valley and its earthen architecture as a living cultural

landscape, in order to foster its enhancement and guarantee its survival and development (Nogueira

Bernrdez et al. 2012:545).

Documentation of the earthen historical buildings in the Valley, together with a

documentation of the landscape units existing and the analysis of development patterns of the urban
centres has been carried out during two Workshops held in 2011 and 2012 by the School of

Architecture of Malaga, in a wider project for the proposal of responsible tourism models. We

consider this act as a first step that let the owners to realize the exceptional value of their buildings,

and to recognize them as something worth to protect and maintain, and eventually as a possible

source of new incomes. Aware of the threats related with a similar work, that can be resumed in the

lack of State or City norms that oblige to conserve properly the buildings recognized with a cultural

value, and also the lack of institutional aids dedicated to the conservation and rehabilitation of these

buildings, that together with the economic subsistence situation of many of the owners difficult the

proper conservation of this heritage, the proposition to generate a new trend in cultural tourism,

respectful with the habitat of the region is considered a way to generate incomes for the inhabitants

that will also oblige them to invest in the conservation of the buildings, in order to maintain this


Protecting and maintaining heritage and landscape values in contexts like the one found in

the Mgoun Valley is only possible, from our personal point of view, if they are recognized as

relevant aspects that can foster the living conditions of their population. Incomes from the correct

use of these assets can generate pride in their owners, like it was centuries ago when they were

built, and a way to increase their economical status, a relevant aspect for the subsistence economic

model, but only if the people of the Valley is an active part in the decisions related with it. This

project we are undertaking, which combines heritage, landscape and tourism, may have, as a result,

a new look for the local population at their own heritage, which leads to the acknowledgment of the

values of earth architecture. We look with expectation for the effects of the catalogue, that won't

have any reglamentation associated, but will show in a tangible way, specially to the same

community, the most interesting buildings of the Valley. We think that if properly recognized,

renewing these buildings to recover their use or to destine them to new ones, can be less expensive

than abandoning them, apart of the social, historical and heritage issues related. Tourism can offer
the need for new necessities that can be easily hosted in these buildings, being the easiest and

actually more common, the transformation of ancient Kasbah into Riads.

In this panorama, much has to be done, starting with the need to find general trends for the

protection of the cultural heritage, a value that if correctly administered, can be a detonator for

social and economic development. A lack of maintenance occasioned usually by abandon is the

origin of the deterioration of rammed-earth buildings, which tend in a short period of time to the

collapse and disappearing of the objetct (Bui et al. 2009). However, it also means that it is possible

to recuperate the original units, which have not been transformed yet. We consider it, therefore, a

great opportunity to preserve and value an heritage with priceless cultural and architectural wealth,

which is immersed in a crucial trend with respect to the neglect of the buildings for new typologies

based on contemporary constructive solutions and materials. The aim of this project is not just to

catalogue and disseminate information related to this heritage, but to create viable proposals for

sustainable touristic development through the analysis of landscape, urban development, and

society, being the publication of an Heritage Catalogue the first step for the involvement of local

community in the process to define their own opportunities.

4.- Conclusions

The work realized by the author in Granada (Nicaragua), and the field works realized in the

Mgoun Valley (Morocco) have been used to show how the process of identifying and cataloging

architectural heritage can have positive effects on local communities, as it can be the first step to

realize the exceptional value of their buildings, and to recognize them as something worth to protect

and maintain, and eventually as possible sources of new incomes. The threats identified can be

resumed in the lack of State or City codes, that oblige to conserve properly the buildings recognized

with a cultural value, but also when protected by specific norms the lack of institutional aids

dedicated to the conservation and rehabilitation of these buildings, together with the economic
situation of many of the owners that live in subsistence economies, difficult their conservation

(Cimadomo et al. 2012). New tools and IT offer today the possibility to actively engage

communities from the first steps of the survey and identification of cultural heritage, whose effects

are considered highly positive in the process of strengthen cultural identity through the protection of

cultural heritage (Cimadomo 2013). When communities realize the value of their built heritage from

the very beginning of the process, saying we face with a mix of Heritage by appropriation and

Heritage by assignation described early in this chapter, or with an effective participative process, it

is much easier to proceed in the acceptation of the need to preserve it for future generations. Passing

from the notion of cultural heritage as single items to protect, to the development of a whole urban

or landscape integrity of the most relevant buildings object to preservation, is also offering new

opportunities. Understanding them as living systems, where people is living and social dynamics

are being developed, move the attention to the search of sustainable development activities, which

offer payback to communities, but also to the built heritage, that is part of the equation, and need to

be maintained in order to balance these activities. We have seen as tourism is one of the strongest

forces in these developments, but also one of the riskiest activities for maintaining cultural

identities, hence the importance of focusing on local human activities, and only in a second

moment, on the integration of touristic activities. From this point on, as seen in many different

projects, the participation of local association, or communities in general, in the effort to protect

local cultural heritage is possible in several different ways, and depend only by the program

administrators and the particular conditions existing in the site.

As a last consideration, this particular territory should be understood as a 'place capital' to

be promoted and expressed, and to do so, it is necessary to compare the area's identity with the

place's potential, something that not all the stakeholders realize or are aware of, in order to define

how to develop it without any loss of identity (Parente 2012:58). A place's soul is hardly affected

and transformed when tourism pressures are not well controlled, and threats like erosion,
overcrowding, damage and conservations become real risks.

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