World

Jaén Seeks UNESCO Nod for its 'Sea of Olives'

The provincial government of Jaén has been the leader in pursuing the recognition of the unique Andalusian terrain as a World Heritage Site.

The Sea of Olives in Jaén, Spain
Aug. 26, 2016
By Alexis Kerner
The Sea of Olives in Jaén, Spain

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), accord­ing to its web­site, “seeks to encour­age the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, pro­tec­tion and preser­va­tion of cul­tural and nat­ural her­itage around the world con­sid­ered to be of out­stand­ing value to human­ity.”

Spain has 45 UNESCO sites, third on the list after Italy and China of coun­tries with the most recog­ni­tions. Seven sites are located in Andalusia: Doñana National Park; The Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivos de Indias in Seville; Gorham´s Cave Complex; Antequera Dolmens Site; The Alhambra, Generalife and Albyzin; The Historic Centre of Cordoba and; The Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza, Jaén.

Spain was also among seven coun­tries listed by UNESCO to prac­tice the Mediterranean diet, rec­og­nized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Any trav­eler who has driven through Andalusia and more specif­i­cally through the province of Jaén can tell you of its spec­tac­u­lar land­scape, dotted with mil­lions of olive trees. Their seem­ingly infi­nite exis­tence has been chris­tened the Mar de Olivos or “Sea of Olives.”

For a year now, the provin­cial gov­ern­ment of Jaén has been the leader in pur­su­ing the recog­ni­tion of the unique Andalusian ter­rain as a World Heritage Site.

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In April a sem­i­nar was held at the International University of Andalusia (UNIA) in Baeza. The event brought experts and spe­cial­ists together to dis­cuss the envi­ron­men­tal, anthro­po­log­i­cal, eco­nomic and phys­i­cal values of the olive orchards and how to best present the idea to UNESCO.

The University offered a summer course to address and pre­pare the com­mu­nity on the cul­tural value of its olive trees.

A tech­ni­cal com­mis­sion has been estab­lished with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Jaén gov­ern­ment, the Regional Government of Andalusia, the University of Jaén, coop­er­a­tives, the Andalusian Organic Agricultural Association (CAAE), The Association for Groups for Rural Development (ARA), The Guillén Foundation and, The Spanish Association for Olive Municipalities (AEMO).

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The com­mis­sion rec­og­nizes that it will not be an easy task to be listed as a World Heritage Site. However, they point out the great impor­tance envi­ron­men­tal, tra­di­tional, cul­tural and eco­nomic value of the Sea of Olives. There are an esti­mated 180 mil­lion olive trees in the autonomous com­mu­nity. Although all eight provinces of Andalusia cul­ti­vate olives, Jaén is the largest pro­ducer, sup­ply­ing the world with 22 per­cent of its olive oil.

The com­mis­sion also asserts that Andalusia has more than 300 munic­i­pal­i­ties that depend on the crop as its pri­mary eco­nomic activ­ity, 170,000 farms and a mil­lion and a half hectares (370,658,072 acres) of its coun­try­side planted with the tree.

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The tech­ni­cal com­mis­sion aims to present the project to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports by 2017. The Ministry will then decide whether it is worthy of pre­sent­ing a pro­posal to UNESCO. If it is selected, it will be up to UNESCO to make the final deci­sion in 2019.