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HERITAGE 2008 World and Sustainable Heritage Conference to be Held in Portugal

The first HERITAGE 2008 World and Sustainable Heritage conference is being held in Vila Nova de Foz Côa, in the Portuguese north region of Porto - Douro Valley - this May 6 to 7, 2008. This international conference will unite several international experts on the relationships between heritage and Human development, natural environment and historic preservation. The host region is well known all over the world as the origin of one of the most world's famous wines: the Port Wine. For that reason, the Douro River Valley was voted UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 2001.

Douro Valley, Portugal

The conference program will take place at the Culture House of Vila Nova de Foz Côa. Topics at the conference are divided into two main groups: the relationships between world heritage and world sustainability, and understanding sustainable development at all its levels, such as environmental preservation, economy, human welfare, history and social relationships.

"More and more Heritage must be addressed in innovative-sustainable ways, underlining the role of human and natural heritage as one of the contra-hegemonic trends in a more and more global world. In this sense, also non-tangible heritage will be one of the issues of the conference," said Rogério Amoêda, Executive Director, The Green Lines Institute for Sustainable Development.

The Douro Valley has been occupied by human beings since pre-historic times, making this valley a huge source of data for archaeologists and historians. In the valley of River Côa, an affluent of Douro that gives name to the town, is locate the biggest open air prehistoric rock-art site of the world, dating from the upper Paleolithic period. This archaeological park became also World Cultural Heritage in the year of 1998.

The Douro River is one of the longest and largest rivers of the Iberian Peninsula. It crosses all the North part of the Peninsula, makes part of the Portuguese/Spanish border at a deep and difficult to cross valley, and flows to the Ocean at Porto, the second largest city of Portugal. In its international and Portuguese path, the River Douro crosses two main types of soil: slate and granite, the second being the nearest to the Atlantic Ocean. It is in its upper part that the River Douro produces a unique microclimate "inside" its banks. Months of extreme heat during Summer time conflict with long months of extreme cold, during the rest of the year. Unique conditions of humidity are also fundamental to characterize this micro-climate that, in conjugation with the soil particular composition produces one of the world's most extraordinary wines: the Port Wine.

Port Wine grapes are cultivated up river, on the terraced hills that form the riverbanks. But traditionally, Port Wine was made near the sea in Vila Nova de Gaia, the town facing Porto on the southern bank of the river. For that, the wine had to travel west, and the river was the best way. A special kind of boats (the "rabelos") was developed for that purpose. They are long, with only one sail; the job of making them come safely down the river was not an easy one. Going back up river was not easy either: boats had to be pulled by cows, marching on special paths on the riverbanks, during long parts of their journey east.

The Douro River has changed a lot due to the construction of several dams. In Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia some of the old floods are still present in the memories of the inhabitants and engraved on the walls of the houses near the river. Now, the Douro is a "civilized" river, navigable in all its Portuguese extension. The views are magnificent and it is worthwhile to sail up or down the river. Another option is the train that follows the 19th-century railway path and permits to travel from Porto to Pocinho, very near the Spanish border. In the year of 2001 UNESCO declared the Vineyard Landscape of Douro as World Heritage.

Vila Nova de Foz Côa is situated in the North East part of Portugal, on the banks of the Douro and Côa rivers, near the Spanish border. Landscape is magnificent, mixing wild and humanized portraits. From the deep valleys emerges the strength and hardness of the schist stone, which extraction is the main industrial activity in the region. Agriculture activities are mainly directed to the production of almonds, olive oil and wine. These products are well known for their extreme quality and unique flavor. A significant part of the Port wine is produced here and some of the Portuguese most celebrated table wines as "Douro" wines, are also produced in this region.

Vila Nova de Foz Côa is well known due to the pre-historical art site, since 1998 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, other significant heritage can be found in this region. Discovery of the vast collection of cave paintings caused the Portuguese government to scrap a dam project and build a new Archaeological Park. From the Calcolithic and the Bronze Ages important archaeological sites are being researched during the last decades and it is now possible to know that human presence in the region was constant and considerable. Iron Age testimonies were also discovered and the Roman presence is documented in roads and bridges that until today remain as part of the landscape.

Finally, Vila Nova de Foz Côa is very rich in terms of non-tangible heritage. Non-written traditions that remained, recipes that are transmitted between generations, ways of doing things that only make sense for those who understand the "code", legends and folklore are present everywhere.

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