Transhumance in Extremadura

The spaces of transhumance

Already in the Fourth millennium B.C. in the western regions of the province of Cáceres a shepherd culture was developed, which delimited the holm oaks and grazing areas of its cattle in winter. The power acquired by this culture was such that it lasted for more than two thousand years, extending through most of Europe from the southwest of our peninsula. In the Thirteenth century, these transhumant shepherds along with all those of the crown of Castile joined the Concejo de la Mesta (Honourable Council of Livestock Farmers), obtaining from King Alfonso X the Wise, the recognition of their immemorial rights, to be able to transit with their cattle in a safe and sound manner throughout his kingdoms, thus creating the network of livestock trails, available to the transhumant cattle farmers who need to use it, and that nowadays make up authentic ecological and cultural corridors with their resting places, watering holes and wash-basins.

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The network of livestock trails that originated from these royal privileges remains as a cultural heritage and corridor. They are property of public domain, inalienable, unencumberable and indispensable, of which over 124,000 km still remain, with a 421,000-ha surface area, 1% of the whole national territory. The Cañadas Reales were 90 yards long (75 meters), 37.5 m tracks and 20 m trails, which together with the tracks, resting places and drinking troughs constitute the current national network of livestock trails. This extraordinary heritage communicates all the regions of Spain with each other.

The space where transhumant cattle travel in Extremadura is considered as greenhouse, because the cattle, at the end of spring, when the pastures dry and the water in the pastures is scarce, move up to the mountains of Castile to return in autumn, when the cold makes it impossible to graze on the summits. These are routes of up to 500 and 600 km, where the herds travel about 20 km a day, so travels lasts more than a month.

Transhumance in La Serena

Since the repopulation period, La Serena had an eminent livestock calling favoured by two factors: the great extension of pastures in one of the preferred routes of the transhumant cattle and the policy of livestock protectionism by the Castilian kingdom with the institutionalisation of La Mesta.

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At first, the area remained relatively unpopulated, the masters and commanders of the orders leased the surplus pastures to the cattlemen of the mountain ranges, who with the agreed rent contributed greatly to the revaluation of these lands. These highland Mesta men were protected by the laws provided that they followed their livestock trails and adjusted the pastures with their owners without causing any damages, although later these rights turned into excessive privileges.

La Serena also houses some of the herds that practise the so-called reverse transhumance, whose owners live in the warm lands of the south, such as Campanario or Castuera, and rent parched pastures in the lands of the northern mountain ranges, and in winter in land owned by the family, without excluding the lease of other lands to complete the winter feeding. This transhumance which travelled distances of less than 100 km was called transterminance.

The extensive network of livestock trails of La Serena has now allowed us to have more than 200 km of marked routes that cross our region from north to south and from east to west and ranging from the GR-115 to a wide network of Local Trails (SL) and Small Trails (PR).

The Wool Route

In the region of Tajo Salor Almonte, the Wool Route has been created, which is where wool was made from the place where it was washed to the place where it was processed in Portugal. This route runs through the canyons and tracks that cross it, forming a cultural corridor whose starting point is located in the wool washing place at the Natural Monument of Los Barruecos in Malpartida de Cáceres. Hiking routes run through the canyons, tracks, resting places and other heritage of the livestock trails from the towns of Arroyo de la Luz, Navas de Madroño, Brozas, Villa del Rey and Alcántara to Covilhã, a Portuguese municipality and textile manufacturing centre of relevance during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

This route shows the heritage, anthropological, economic, social and cultural relevance of livestock trails, the transhumant activity and wool trade in this territory.