Walking through the green valleys and mountains of Els Ports, we discover a unique architecture, different from that which can be found in many areas or countries, which identifies the identity of a village. We are talking about dry stone. A construction technique in which no type of material is used as mortar, but rather it is the skill of the builders that ensures that the stones, placed one on top of the other in a specific and careful way, remain standing and last for decades, even centuries, standing upright, impassive to time.
This technique has been used for years to create walls, huts, terraces and wells. Hundreds of these constructions can be found throughout the length and breadth of the Els Ports region. And it is not for nothing that the dry-stone construction technique has been declared, since 2018, Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. All the municipalities in the region have dry-stone constructions among their architectural heritage, but some, like Castellfort, dazzle with different constructions such as some very well preserved shepherds’ shelters in the surroundings of Sant Pere and on the way to Vilafranca.
However, it is precisely this last named village that is the main exponent of dry-stone quarrying in the Els Ports region: Vilafranca. The need of the ancestors of the current inhabitants of the village to obtain a larger area of land suitable for cultivation and livestock breeding led them to extract large stones from the earth, which they then used in the construction of wells, terraces or corrals that would help their crops to flourish and to feed, drink or shelter their animals.
Such is the tradition of dry stone in Vilafranca that in October 2006, in the Gothic building of La Lonja, the first Museum of Dry Stone in the Valencian Community was inaugurated. A space in which visitors have the opportunity to learn about this interesting construction technique, the existing models, the types of huts, the tools used and the humanised landscape created thanks to it. Models, information panels, recreations and projections with fragments of the audiovisual “Every stone makes a wall” make it possible.
Along with the Museum, Vilafranca has three signposted hiking routes to discover the dry-stone landscape. These are “El Pla del Mosorro”, “Les Virtuts” and “La Parreta”. The first of these shows the action of man, especially shepherds and livestock farmers, on the natural environment to improve its use in the care of pastures and herds. Thus, always using the dry stone technique, there are walls dividing plots of land, shepherds’ shelters, corrals and wells. In short, an ethnological museum of the heritage of dry stone in the open air.
As for the route of “Les Virtuts”, there are preserved huts, walls, paths, stairs… making up a complete landscape where the stone becomes the protagonist. This route shows an agricultural past in which the cultivation of cereals and potatoes was essential. Finally, we have “La Parreta”. Itinerary that runs through a Mediterranean forest of holm oaks, oaks and pine trees. The dry stone walls were used to establish boundaries between the properties of those who made a living from extracting wood from the forests.
Although this construction technique seems to be anchored in the past, the truth is that in Vilafranca it is very much alive. Without going any further, in the last few years the municipality has been gaining a new construction. A ‘Chinese wall’ in the Vilafranca style and made of dry stone thanks to a neighbour who, as a hobby and with great dedication, has been building this new work of local architecture for two decades.
Vilafranca is the land of dry stone. Els Ports, a meeting point for paths and trails where this technique crosses local borders. No visit to Els Ports is complete without a visit to the buildings of farmers and shepherds that make up a different landscape, full of life and tradition.