90 Shepherd's Rods


   © Photos and Texts: Susana Giron

This is an old and intimate story, the story of María and Antonio. A story that begins in 1.273 with 90 shepherd´s rods.

90 Castilian shepherd´s rods was the measure that regulated, through a royal edict of 1273 by king Alfonso X the Wise, the width of the royal cattle tracks for traditional use and the passage of nomadic livestock in Spain. And to preserve its regulation, he ordered the creation of the Honorable Council of Livestock Farmers, the first organization of its kind in Spain and Europe, with the aim of protecting the roads for the passage of livestock and livestock commerce. In its time of maximum splendor, in the mid 18th century, 3.750.000 head of cattle passed every year through the royal tracks and footpaths. Nowadays, there are barely 150 nomadic families and approximately 150.000 heads of cattle that migrate through those roads filled with history.

The Alarcón family is one of those last families that continue to work as transhumant (nomadic) shepherds in Spain and Europe. In the heart of Europe, the phenomenon of transhumance has survived throughout the centuries: shepherd families that migrate in the territory on foot with their herds of sheep in search of better grasses, climate and living conditions. In Spain, around 150 families still survive as nomadic shepherds. Antonio Alarcón, María Franco and their two children, Daniel and Antonio, walk close to 200 km twice a year for 8 days of hard journey with their more than 600 sheep between their home in Fátima – Castril (Granada) and Sierra Morena (Jaén). During those days, they live in the middle of nature and the woods, in the mountain slopes, facing harsh climate and living conditions, following the historic royal tracks.

Spain is the only European country that retains a network of historical roads that exceed 125.000 km. Today transhumance is threatened in Spain by several factors, including the scarcity of public help and the difficulty of generational replacement. The use of resources and lower costs of livestock farming should somehow compensate the sacrifice of living in a perpetual pilgrimage. But the reality is that most families are gradually abandoning the activity of transhumance. Paradoxically this system of livestock farming is not only more sustainable and ecological, it is also an opportunity for conservation of these historical roads and the rural areas they pass through.

In this project, my view also attempts to migrate from the descriptive to the evocative. I have tried to tell a story where it is more relevant to discover than describe, where we will also feel the cold of winter or the weariness of a journey. Where, as onlookers, we can recognize feelings that transcend the value of these images as a mere document.