Back country | The culture of the riuraus
In the 18th century, a unique tradition developed in the world, which still today has left its architectural traces in the so-called „riuraus“.
The wine-growers developed a special technique to produce extremely tasty muscatel raisins. Instead of simply drying the grapes in the sun, they were first very briefly immersed in boiling water to which caustic soda had been added. The process of scalding was called „escaldar“ and it served to dehydrate the grapes. Afterwards, they were skinned so that they could dry better. „Escaldar“ and skinning made the grapes highly sensitive to rain and humidity, which is why they were laid out to dry on large reed mats in the so-called riuraus. These typical rectangular buildings were either attached to the main house or stood separately as outbuildings. Arches opened like eyes, „ojos“, and made the constructions look like a covered terrace. Here, in the fall, the drying racks for the prepared grapes were placed, so that the fruit could ripen into raisins, protected from rain and with good ventilation.
The aroma of the dried fruit produced in this way was unique and accordingly they were widely sought after. A lucrative source of income for the farmers of the region, exports flourished. In the 19th century, Great Britain, the USA and Canada were among the main consumer countries; in the 20th century, business came to a standstill due to pest infestations, among other things. The riuraus were no longer needed and fell into disrepair. Today, there are only a few farmers who still produce the raisins in the traditional way, as the effort involved is very high.
In the meantime, people have recognized the value of the old traditional buildings and have rediscovered them as part of their own rural cultural heritage. Twelve towns, including Jávea, Xaló, Benissa, Pedreguer and Poble Nou de Benitatxell, joined forces in 2014 to preserve the unique architectures and make them accessible again. The buildings will be restored and along a riurau route tourists will be made aware of the agricultural tradition. The „raisin cathedrals,“ the „catedrales de la pasa,“ as they are affectionately called by the locals, are approaching a new appreciation.
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