Instituto Cervantes

R. de Santa Marta 43F R/C, 1169-119 Lisboa
2ª a 6ª - 10h00 > 20h00 / sáb. > 09h30 > 13h00

03/10- 21/12/2023


Susana Girón



This is an ancient and intimate story, the story of Maria and Antonio Alarcon. A story that begins in the year 1,273 and with 90 shepherd canes. 90 shepherd cannes was the measure that regulated by the royal edict of the Monarch Alfonso X el Sabio, back in 1273, the width of the Cañadas Reales for traditional use and the transit of transhumant herds in Spain.

And to preserve its regulation, he ordered the creation of the Honorable Council of the Mesta, the first grouping of cattle ranchers in Spain and Europe, with the objective of protecting the roads for the transit of livestock and the livestock trade. In its heyday, in the mid-eighteenth century, 3,750,000 head of cattle passed annually through the canyons and royal trails. Today, there are only 150 transhumant families left and an approximate number of 150,000 head of cattle migrating along these roads full of history.

The Alarcon family is one of the last families who still work as nomadic shepherds in Spain, they migrate through the territory by foot with their animals in search of better pastures and living conditions. Twice a year, walk close to 200 km during 8 days of the hard trip for them and their 600 sheep from Fatima (Granada) to Las Navas de San Juan (Jaen). During these journeys, they live in the middle of nature and forests, on the slopes of mountains, enduring hard living conditions and extreme weather along the very ancient Spanish paths known as “Canadas Reales”.

Today transhumance in Spain is being threatened by several factors, including the lack of public aid and the difficulty for the older generation of shepherds to be replaced. The scarcity of economic resources and the cheapening of the costs for their livestock exploitation should compensate, in some way, the sacrifice of living in an eternal pilgrimage. The result is that most families are about to abandon transhumance. Paradoxically, transhumance represents an opportunity for more ecological and sustainable livestock.