Ribeira Sacra 6 – 8 November 2023

The group of experts gathered in Ribeira Sacra (Galicia, Spain).

We, the experts assembled at the monastery of Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil on the occasion of the International Meeting “Waterscapes: Bridging the Past and the Future”, twinned with the “Water, Culture and Heritage” event held at the same time in Amsterdam (The Netherlands);

Thanking the Xunta de Galicia’s for their warm hospitality in hosting and organising the meeting, with the collaboration of the UNESCO MaB (Man and Biosphere) Programme, the Global Geopark Network, the UNESCO Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP), the Spanish National Committee of ICOMOS, the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Water and Heritage (ISCWH), the ICOMOS IFLA International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes (ISCCL), the Cultural Landscapes Alliance and the universities of Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Autónoma de Madrid and Ca’ Foscari of Venice;

Recognising that water has been and continues to be an element that has structured and shaped landscapes since time immemorial, being an essential part of humanity’s cultural legacy, and that over the centuries it has forged an extraordinary diversity of cultural landscapes, particularly in river zones, where human work has merged with nature, creating unique territories shaped by the past and the present of water;

Affirming that the culture of water in these places is reflected in an exceptional heritage that includes archaeological sites, hydraulic works from all periods, agriculture and ancestral irrigation systems, vernacular architecture, water management systems, river routes, industrial water heritage and other intangible cultural expressions, such as traditional water management practices, beliefs and related ritual uses, and is essential for the livelihood of local populations;

Convinced of the need to preserve, disseminate and enhance the value of this multifaceted heritage, strategic in a context of climate crisis, which includes an immense repertoire of systems, knowledge, structures and devices that throughout history have allowed humans to take advantage of and master this vital element for their survival, with identifiable expressions in the form of, inter alia, canals, polders, qanats, alfajs, chinampas, waterwheels, watermills, reservoirs, dams and hydropower facilities, which exemplify

Bearing in mind the profound interdependence between intangible cultural heritage or living heritage and the tangible cultural and natural heritage associated with cultural waterscapes;

Recognising that waterscapes and some of the works they contain have been symbolic references, sacred spaces or places charged with spirituality or beauty, with a very special meaning for many peoples, being associated with exceptional events or living traditions;

Knowing at the same time the fragility and vulnerability of these waterscapes, their habitats and the strong threats to which they are subjected, and the consequent need to implement specific initiatives to safeguard heritage;

Aware of the need to move beyond the approach that has prevailed until now, which considers water management and associated cultural heritage as exclusive domains, limiting the capacity to make use of past experiences and assets for current and future challenges of sustainable water management;

Convinced of the need to adopt an integrated and sustainable approach to the maintenance of environmental services of freshwater ecosystems, which include the provision of multiple assets such as food supply, crop irrigation, drinking water supply, water regulation, tourism, river transport or hydropower, the latter activity contributing significantly to the reduction of emissions and the mitigation of climate change;

Underlining the need to stimulate scientific research and training in the protection, conservation and management of cultural waterscapes and the water heritage they contain;

Aware that cultural waterscapes are useful sites for testing innovative solutions for sustainable water management, including the preservation of aquatic ecosystems and the recognition of related cultural heritage, paving the way to achieve SDG 6 and contributing to SDG 13, SDG 14 and SDG 15;

Recognising that water has been a meeting place for and has played a role in the genesis of civilisations and cultures, today it is a more a priority than ever to claim the cultural heritage of water as one of the driving forces of the culture of peace among the peoples of the planet;

In light of the guidelines set out in the UN Water Action Agenda (2023), the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the Cultural and Natural World Heritage, the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003), the goals of UNESCO’s MAB Programme, and all other international conventions, programmes and agreements that have an impact on the preservation of aquatic biodiversity and its landscapes, the role of river systems in sustainable development, and the recognition of water cultures;

And inspired by the terms of the Statement on Water, Culture and Heritage by the participants of the conference “Water and Heritage: Connecting Past, Present and Future” in New York (2023).


To all parties concerned

1. Promote cross-sectoral dialogues that connect water and heritage professionals, scientists, decision-makers, local administrations, traditional custodians and other concerned organisations at local, national and international levels.

2. Promote the creation of expert forums to foster the recognition of the value and importance of cultural waterscapes, always keeping in mind the people who inhabit the territory.

3. Support local communities so that they themselves implement appropriate management mechanisms that solve their current needs while respecting their water-related heritage.

4. Incorporate and recognise water-related living heritage in water management policies and programmes, with a view to its preservation and promotion.

5. Develop a thematic agenda for research on the importance of water‑related biocultural heritage to address future water management challenges.

6. Promote interest in “learning from the past” and adding value to future water management interventions.

7. Promote specific meetings and scientific contributions on thematic areas of common interest that contribute to fill the gaps in traditional and current ecological knowledge on cultural waterscapes.

8. Identify case studies and good management practices, including those for the safeguarding of intangible heritage associated with water.

9. Support the launch and consolidation of the platform on “Water, Culture and Heritage” recommended by the participants of the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, in the event “Water and Heritage: Connecting Past, Present, and Future”, organised by the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Water.


10. Strengthen the role of UNESCO sites in the preservation and enhancement of cultural waterscapes and their associated heritage.

11. Support States Parties to submit new cultural waterscapes nominations that contribute to a more representative, balanced and credible World Heritage List.

12. Encourage the MaB Programme with the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and the Global Network of Geoparks to identify cultural waterscapes as sites of special interest to promote innovative sustainable development initiatives for water and heritage management, committed to climate change and with the involvement of local communities.

13. Encourage the registration of new significant elements of living water heritage on the Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices, in view of their under-representation.

14. Include research on the significance of water-related cultural and natural sites for livelihoods including in the context of climate change adaptation and mitigation within the UNESCO Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP).

To the Advisory Bodies

15. Promote the creation of a working group between the ISCCL (International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes) and the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Water and Heritage (ISCWH) on cultural waterscapes.

16. Propose initiatives that address the living heritage of water to the Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas Specialist Group of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Places of Religion and Ritual (PRERICO).

17. Urge ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) to support the development of thematic studies on cultural waterscapes and associated heritage at different regional levels.

18. Draw up guidelines, including case studies and the exchange of experiences and good practices, on the use of an inclusive and holistic approach to the recognition, governance and management of cultural waterscapes.

19. Promote under the “Water, Culture and Heritage” thematic platform, national and local studies on water-related heritage and its significance for livelihoods in, for example, terraced agriculture, water mill landscapes and hydropower, urban and rural water ways, qanat systems, spate irrigation, governance systems and spiritual as well as religious visions and practices.

20. Encourage the “Water, Culture and Heritage” platform to organise dialogues on international and national heritage, and to participate in water-related conferences such as the 10th World Water Forum (Bali, Indonesia, 2024), IUCN world congresses, UNFCCC COPs, regional water weeks, and ICOMOS and TICCIH conferences such as the ICOMOS General Assembly (Malaysia, 2025).


21. Support examples of cultural waterscapes in the framework of the “Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems” (GIAHS) programme, considered as aesthetically impressive sites that combine agricultural biodiversity with resilient ecosystems and valuable cultural heritage, taking into account the heritage significance of water culture.

To governments and public administrations

22. Identify and prepare regularly updated inventories of relevant cultural waterscapes, including related cultural heritage.

23. Prepare inventories of the living heritage associated with water culture present in each territory and encourage their updating.

24. Encourage the recognition of the value and importance of cultural waterscapes, especially in river areas.

25. Create a suitable framework to help local authorities and communities to take action for the benefit of their water heritage and its management, following the recommendations suggested by the European Heritage Strategy for the 21st Century.


November 6

09:30-10:00 h | Presentation of International Meeting

Mónica Luengo Añón. Director of the International Meeting

10:00-11:00 h | Opening Lectures

The role of Biosphere Reserves and Geoparks
in landscape management and sustainable development

António Abreu. Director of the UNESCO Division of Ecological and Earth Sciences, Secretary of the MAB Programme

11:00-11:30 h | Coffee Break

Session 1: Cultural Landscapes of Water: New visions and concepts
Host: Mónica Luengo Añón

11:30-12:00 h | Lecture

Water & heritage: the livelihood lense
Henk P. J. van Schaik. Honorary Vice President ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Water and Heritage

12:00-12:30 h | Lecture

Water in the lanscape, water landscapes: character, values and challenges of sustainable management
Rafael Mata. Professor of Regional Analysis, Autonomous University of Madrid and Secretary of the Monitoring Committee of the National Plan on Cultural Landscapes

12:30-13:30 h | Inauguration

Representatives. of institutions
Abou Amani. Director of the Water Sciences Division and Secretary of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme
María del Pozo. Alliance of Cultural Landscapes and Related Sites


Concert with the musical “Archimedes’s Dreams”, commissioned by the ISCWH, by the composer Evan Fein, performed by Camerata Arven.

13:30-15:00 h | Lunch
15:00-16:30 h | Roundtable

Water, a landscape generating element
Moderator: Mónica Luengo Añón
Alexandra Lotz. Representative of the Augsburg World Heritage Site
Rubén Lois. University of Santiago de Compostela
Isabel Aguirre. Landscape Architect. Brotherhood of Ribeira Sacra

Afternoon Session 1

Host: Mónica Luengo Añón
16:30-17:00 h | Lecture

Landscape, Heritage and Water – Inseparable factors for Climate Adaption
Jurn Buisman. Secretary General of ICOMOS

17:00-17:30 h | Lecture

Water and Heritage in the future: bridging disciplines
Diederik Six. Special Water and Heritage Envoy

17:30-18:00 h | Coffee Break
18:00-19:30 h | Roundtable

Water Landscapes, a living heritage
Moderator: Mónica Luengo
Susana Fontinha. Coordinator of the candidacy of Levadas of Madeira to WHS
Miquel Vadell. Sierra de Tramuntana Landscape expert


November 7

Session 2: Values of water landscapes: heritage, technology, sustainable development

Host: Cipriano Marín. RENFORUS – UNESCO Initiative

09:30-10:00 h | Lecture

Title (to be confirmed)
Tino Mager. Secretary General of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Water and Heritage.

10:00-10:30 h | Lecture

The architecture of public health – water pumping stations
James Douet. Consultant on the conservation of Industrial Heritage

10:30-11:00 h | Lecture

Title (to be confirmed)
Miguel Ángel López García. Director of the Sil Basin, Iberdrola

11:00-11:30 h | Coffee Break
11:30-12:00 h | Lecture

The heritage of water, science and technology in
the World Heritage Convention: thematic studies.

Michel Cotte. Emeritus professor at the University of Nantes, Advisor ICOMOS.

12:00-12:30 h | Lecture

The values of water landscapes transformed by dams
Carlos Nárdiz. Doctor of Civil Engineering

12:30-14:00 h | Roundtable

Heritage values of water landscapes
Moderator: Cipriano Marín
Juliana Strogan. Patrimonio Mundial Rjukan-Nodotten
Chiara Ronchini. Secretary General of the Great Spa Towns of Europe (GSTE)
Xoan Carmona. University of Santiago de Compostela

14:00-15:00 h | Lunch

Session 3: Traditional Knowledge as the foundation for the future

Host: Mario Crecente. Coordinator of the Ribeira Sacra candidacy

15:00-15:30 h | Lecture

River landscapes in Argentina: current state
in traditional knowledge for water management

Alfredo Conti. Professor, La Plata National University, Argentina.

15:30-16:00 h | Lecture

The significance of water in sacred riverine natural sites: an approach
Josep Maria Mallarach. World Commission on Protected Areas (UICN)

16:00-16:30 h | Lecture

The Lagoon of Venice and the traditional
knowledge of the fisherman in the history of its “conservation”.

Helner Krellig. UNESCO Chair at Ca’Foscari University

16:30-17:00 h | Lecture

At the water’s edge: A biocultural perspective on stewardship of waterscapes
Jessica Brown. Specialist Group on protected landscapes IUCN-WCPA

17:00-17:30 h | Coffee Break
17:30-19:00 h | Roundtable

Traditional knowledge and the challenges of the future
Moderator: Mario Crecente
Xosé Manuel Vázquez. Expert on Intangible Heritage Ribeira Sacra
Celia Martínez Yáñez. Professor at the University of Granada; Member of ICOMOS Board
Alberto Plata. Head of Valle Salado de Añana Foundation

19:00-19:15 h | Ribeira Sacra Declaration
on waterscapes: bridging the past and the future

Representantive of the Regional Ministry of Culture, Education, VT, and Universities of the Xunta de Galicia

19:15-19:30 h | Launch and promotion of the initiative:

Water and heritage: connecting the past, present and future
Representative. of the ISCWH

Water Ceremony

Mario Vázquez Carballo. Dean-President of Cathedral of Lugo



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