After having done the field practice we were asked to do a review about it.
Farmsteads are traditional buildings of arabic origins that were placed in the countryside all over the Valencian Comunity. However, most of them were destroyed when Jaume I decided to conquer the area. The ones that are left have been modified over the years, so it is quite unlikely that we find an alquiería in its true form.
WHAT ARE THEY?
Actually, farmsteads are a group of buildings placed together. There were different facilities such as houses, mosques, and windmills. Nevertheless, when the area was conquered by the Christians, these constructions became private houses where the landlord lived.
Farmsteads are easy to spot since they have some common features:
-they are facing south-east (actually they are facing Mecca since they are from muslim origin)
– they are bigger than the other buildings that are around (bear in mind that the constructions in these areas are rather small)
-some of them have a tower
– they have a quadrangular shape and two floors
-they have semi-circular arches
During the field practice we found four farmsteads: El Machistre/Magistre, Alquería Diego, La Campaneta and La Mozaira.
This farmstead was built in the 19th century by the great-grand-mother of the current owner and has been refurbished all along the years but bearing in mind the original architecture of the alquerías. The room that was once used so as to keep the tigernuts is now a museum where all sort of different tools are displayed. This farmstead has no tower and no additional facilities. The walls are lower than in the other alquerías that we found, and it is also the smallest one. This cozy building in the middle of the countryside is now a country house where any kind of event can take place (obviously not right now due to coronavirus).
We got there just after having taken some pictures of the Santa Bárbara hermitage, they are really close. One element that stands out at this place is the huge palm tree partially curved that is just next to the house.
This construction dates back from 1442 when Doña María of Castilla donated the farmstead and its hermitage to the Catedral of Valenciana. However, its golden years were during the 17th and the 18th century. The building belonged to the clergy amid that period and was refurbished. Since the 19th century it belongs to the Vargas family, who has preserved it so everyone can visit it and get to know more about the history of L’Horta de València. Nowadays, it is used so as to promote cultural events that raise the awareness of the importance of taking care or this rural area.
This condominium perfectly shows the architecture of a traditional alquería. It has two floors, a tower and it is facing south-east. Its load bearing walls are thick and there is a semi-circular arch in the entrance. Inside, there is a wide porch.
The place was closed when we arrived because of covid-19 so all the images we have are from the webpage except from the ones we took from the outside.
Just next to the El Machistre there is another refurbished alquería that is now a hotel and a restaurant: La Mozaira. This complex was purchased by José Polo and his wife, who is an architect. They have transformed it completely since it is now a hotel and a restaurant. Nevertheless, some characteristic features of the farmsteads can still be spotted. For instance, they have kept the tower so as to fit in there all the machinery needed for the hotel. Also, they have recovered an original semi-circular arch that was in one of the outer load bearing walls. They have also restored some of the original supporting beams. Nonetheless, they have also done several changes such as the paving stone, the pool, and the basement. Extra entrances have been created in order to make it easier for the guests to access the homestead.
We cannot express how lucky we were to find this hotel, not only because it was useful for the field practice, but also because what we found there exceeded all our expectations. We arrived there by chance while we were on our way to El Magistre. It drew our attention because of its resemblance to the previous farmsteads we had seen before. Since we had nothing to lose, we decided to go inside and ask whether it was a farmstead. No sooner had we got in than we realized that it was by no means an ordinary homestead. Reading on a settee was a man who immediately welcomed us. After finding out that we were architecture students that were doing some research about l’horta de València he and the staff offered to show us around. The place turned out to be a top-quality hotel and restaurant that pursued the preservation of the original alquería as we can appreciate in the little kitchen that was in the corridor near the dining room. This dining room had floor to ceiling windows through which you can see the interior courtyard.
This visit was of major significance for our practice since here learned about the real situation of L’Horta thanks to José Polo. He told us about the difficulties that all the farmers face in order to make a living out of the agriculture. Rarely do we hear from all those people who are struggling to protect our culture and our past from being destroyed. This is an extremely complicated topic since the opinions of the farmers and the associations do not seem to coincide with the ones of the politicians. We are talking here about the PGE (Plan Gereral Estructural)which has been openly criticised by the politicians of the opposition and the association Per l’Horta, which focuses on the preservation of the area and the wellness of the people living there. They claim that the project would jeopardise the area. In addition to that, they argue that there are some irregularities related to the documents and say that some data concerning the demographic growth are obsolete. But not only that, they also disagree with the plans for the expansion of the industrial estate since it is unnecessary, and it is a waste of money that will not be profitable. Obviously, the political party has answered back and still defends the project, so it looks like it is going to be a tough way for everyone.
The opinion of José Polo is clear: living from agriculture is not profitable anymore and the authorities should make it easier for the families that want to invest in country holiday housing as it is evident that this area attracts a lot of tourism. However, he explained us some of the setbacks that he faced while renovating his own place. For instance, it is not allowed to build a pool, a key facility when it comes to tourism in summer, also, he had troubles with the tower. As he said “if you can plant potatoes and onions to the very beginning of the hotel, they want you to. But this is not what the clients want” with this example he tried to explain to us that the authorities are reluctant to make changes so as to make the farmsteads more appealing to the tourists, they want to keep everything as it has always been.
He told us about all the proposals that he had done over the years to improve l’Horta: from allowing the landowners to double the area of their lands to allowing swimming pools.
However, his vison of l’Horta seems to differ from the one of the people in charge. Reding the PAI one can easily tell that the authorities are trying desperately to promote agriculture as a way of living, an activity that as it says in the document, is becoming less and less frequent. Neighbours see the PAI as a threat for the countryside and hence are fighting stop both urban projects.
To sum up, l’Horta de València is worth fighting for since it is a unique place where our past still remains so that we do not forget where we come from, so we do not forget all the effort that is behind the vegetables that we can so easily find at a supermarket. Because if this place is destroyed, so will the culture and the tradition be.