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63. October-December 19
Quarterly Newsletter of the Landscape Observatory of Catalonia

A map for understanding and planning with the landscape reality of Catalonia

Josep Oliveras Samitier
Professor emeritus of Regional Geographic Analysis of Rovira i Virgili University and President of the Catalan Geography Society (IEC)

The map I am contemplating represents the Landscape units of Catalonia on a scale of 1:250,000. It has been edited by the Geologic and Cartographic Institute of Catalonia (Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya) in collaboration with the Landscape Observatory. Looking at the map is a pleasure because of its soft tones, between yellows, ochres and beiges, with boundaries that do not correspond with the administrative units marked by a fine red line. It is a clean map, with few names in red capital letters solely to indicate the units, with shades of grey and black for physical and human features of a singular nature, and a background consisting of the physical relief with some blue lines that trace the watercourses.

The map is clear, indicative and useful. One glance of the eye alone is enough to see one of the most varied landscapes of Europe, because Catalonia is a country in which mountain ranges and rivers criss-cross each other and form differentiated natural units that people have shaped and transformed with their activities. A total of 134 landscape units can be observed by travellers crossing the country, with changes in natural vegetation, types of human settlements, industrial activities, types of crops, etc. In addition, the map marks 550 miradors or observation points that enable comparison of a virtual or paper image with its physical and human reality, the tangible and intangible values that a landscape returns to the observer, because the value of a landscape does not lie in itself alone but in the perception of those who observe and admire them.

The map is yet another result of the landscape Law passed by the Government and inspired by the European Landscape Convention, which has led to the landscape catalogues corresponding to the areas of Regional Planning of Catalonia. Each Catalogue has enabled the demarcation of a landscape unit, following rigorous assessment criteria established before and after an interesting participative process. The catalogues are based on a combination of the types of relief, soil covers, the use and organisation of space, perception of the territory, the weight of history, transformative dynamics, a feeling of identity perceived by the inhabitants of the places, and others.

In addition, each one of the units of the map has a dossier where mention is made, among other subjects, of the landscape quality objectives and the areas of special value to be protected, areas where management is needed, or those that require action plans.  The landscape units painted on the map are not there just to look beautiful, which they are when you contemplate the map hanging on a wall. They could become references to be borne in mind when drawing up plans in regional and urbanistic planning legislation.

A map is a useful tool that enables us to understand reality at a glance. A tool that can be used by students, travellers, specialists on subjects related to Earth Sciences, territorial planners but very specially by public and private agents in the municipalities of the country who wish to foster actions of recognition and lay claim to a specific landscape in order to attract visitors as well as control the heritage elements that need to be preserved.

2014 Observatori del Paisatge
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