Tourism and cultural innovation

by La Sevillana /
La Sevillana's picture
May 06, 2010 / 0 comments

Tourism is big business in Andalusia. Most of the economy here is based in the service industry, and much of that industry is, in turn, based in tourism. In my four years here, I’ve come to understand tourism as a thing which can be either harmful or beneficial to local culture and traditions - and sometimes both at the same time.

Tourism began in earnest here during the 1950s and 60s, when the Spanish government began courting potential northern European holiday makers. Tourism expanded into new markets during the 1980s, at which point the government re-focused tourism promotion to include national markets due to a rising standard of living in Spain. The intense effort the government at the supranational (EU), national and regional levels has devoted to promoting tourism within Spain, mostly in the form of rural tourism, has resulted in a sort of cultural renaissance here in Andalusia. Wealthier northern and urban Spaniards are lured into the Andalusian countryside during the summer months and on weekends, hoping to discover, as was discussed in a previous blog, “Andalucía profunda,” or deep Andalusia. In this way, some local traditions, customs and crafts have been maintained, re-discovered or sometimes even invented by small villages in order to attract tourists and generate revenue.

Scene from NervaIronically, I was preparing a lecture for my American students regarding the ways in which rural tourism contributes to cultural maintenance and even innovation when I experienced the process first-hand. During the third week in May, when nearly every other Sevillano was partying at Seville’s famous April’s Fair, some friends and I struck out for a tiny village in Andalusia to take part in a “ruta de gurumelos” (literally, route of gurumelos, a kind of mushroom). The route (think “scenic route” re-worked) was a collection of local establishments, including bars, pastry shops and a hotel, each offering three unique tapas centered around the humble gurumelo.

At left is featured a photo taken from outside one of the bars that participated in the event. 


According to the flyers liberally scattered over the village, this year marked the second the village had hosted the ruta, and it became quite clear how this new tradition had come about as, the week before, the same village had hosted a “concurso de gurumelos;” a competition to see who could collect the largest mushroom from the countryside around the village. The concurso was ten years old as of 2010 and, evidently, after eight years of using it to attract tourists to the village, some enterprising soul must have thought up an ingenious method to extend the economic windfall while also using up all those mushrooms - and the ruta de gurumelos was born.


Tapas II

In the photo above is an example of different tapas featuring the gurumelo mushroom. Participants in the event were invited to choose a winner from the tapas. Our vote went to the tapa featured in the photo on the right.  

It was interesting to witness the birth of this new tradition, as a walk around the village revealed rather quickly that there would have been virtually no other reason to visit it otherwise. Now there are quaint Spanish villages in Andalusia…and then there is this place (which will remain unnamed, for obvious reasons). The mixed company I was in, consisting of two Americans and two Spaniards, quickly ascertained that it should have instead chosen to participate in an ugliest village in Andalusia contest, as it appeared to have zero to offer by way of rural Andalusian charm. The village was a bit of a shambles, as can be seen in the photo below.  

Scene from Nerva

The ruta, however, was great fun and a real monument to Andalusian innovativeness – which tends to be rooted in the local and in small enterprises. This event is just one tiny part of a cultural renaissance that began in the 1980s and continues. This process of inventing, rediscovering and maintaining traditions and crafts is occurring all over Andalusia, most notably in her villages, many of which had been suffering the effects of depopulation due to massive emigration. It has brought revenue to towns and villages that otherwise wouldn’t be able keep local businesses rooted in traditional crafts alive, has provided the revenue needed to maintain and fund archaeological sites and historical monuments, and has resulted in a plethora of local museums in otherwise unknown villages and towns. In this way, Spaniards take an active role in keeping Andalucía profunda, and her cultural and historical patrimony, alive.



La Sevillana is the Anthropology Editor, Andalusi, for Wandering Educators