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A year of ups and downs at the dolmens

The number of visitors at the Dolmens of Antequera has increased by 57.8% in the last year.
The number of visitors at the Dolmens of Antequera has increased by 57.8% in the last year. / Jon nazca / Reuters
  • The increase in visitor numbers contrasts with the lack of facilities at the archaeological complex in Antequera, one year after it was declared a World Heritage Site

Tourists at the Antequera dolmen complex onSaturday didn’t realise that they had chosen a special occasion for their visit. As teenager Víctor peered into the well inside the Viera Dolmen, he repeated the word “amazing” like a mantra. Víctor, who had come to Malaga from Zaragoza for a waterpolo championship listened carefully to the guide’s explanations along with his younger brother David and his parents, Carlos and Olga.

“We came for the Caminito del Rey and we enjoyed that experience but what has really impressed us is this [the dolmens] and El Torcal. We saw a documentary about the dolmens and decided to make the most of our trip to visit them and they really have amazed us,” added Olga as the family made their way back to the visitor centre at the Conjunto Arqueológico Dólmenes in Antequera.

“What they do need though is a kiosk with cold drinks and snacks; that would go down well,” she said as Carlos added: “With some trees, some benches and a bit more shade this place would be amazing.”

Carlos, Olga and their two children are just four of the many visitors who have come to the tourist attractions of Antequera as a result of the campaign that led to the declaration of the Dolmens, El Torcal and the Peña de los Enamorados as a UNESCO World Heritage Site a year ago this week. Since then, in fact, visitor figures in general have increase by 114%. In the specific case of the prehistoric dolmen complex, the number of visitors has increased by 57.8% gaining 79,460 visitors in a year, according to the figures released by the Junta de Andalucía’s culture department, which is responsible for the management of the complex.

These are some of the positive repercussions of the UNESCO distinction: international recognition and an increase in visitor figures and bookings in the town’s hotels.

But the anniversary has also served to highlight some shortfalls, among them the facilities missed by Carlos and Olga last week. The Antequera dolmen complex still lacks basic services and the improvements that have been made or planned have been insufficient and too long in coming.

One example is the fact that these structures that date back thousands of years have been without 24-hour security for nearly a decade (since 2008). The contract for this service has yet to be awarded.

The Junta is also still going through the process of commissioning the works to totally revamp the site museum, one of the conditions laid down by UNESCO for the complex to be awarded the world heritage listing.

The organisation called for the demolition of the upper storey of the building located between the Menga Dolmen and the Peña de los Enamorados, the rock towards which the dolmen is orientated. While UNESCO made this demand more than a year ago, the red tape has only just been rolled out and the end of the work is not expected until 2020, despite the report on how the recommendations have been carried out being due to be submitted at the end of 2019.

Politics

Even slower is the process to take on staff for the archaeological complex. On paper the Conjunto Arqueológico Dólmenes de Antequera has a staff of ten. In practice only one post has been filled, the director’s, and another is being covered by a temporary employee. The rest are waiting for a move by the Junta de Andalucía, which this week has announced again that it has started the administrative process to fill the vacancies although it hasn’t said when this is likely to happen. Meanwhile basic services are being outsourced.

The shortfalls of the dolmen complex and the occasion of the first anniversary of the UNESCO declaration has led to a spat between Antequera Town Hall and the provincial government (both governed by the PP) and the Junta de Andalucía (PSOE). The former have accused the Junta of “neglect” and asked to be able to manage the complex themselves. The Junta has pooh-poohed the criticism and called for a return to the “institutional loyalty” that a year ago had presided over, and won, the bid to become a World Heritage Site.

UNESCO also put forward another request that is taking the authorities a while to get organised: to tidy up the area around the dolmens. This is especially important in the area of the El Romeral tholos structure which is surrounded by an industrial estate and numerous buildings. This requires an addition to the PGOU urban plan which is currently being drawn up by the town hall and is also at the centre of tension between local and regional authorities.

Caring for a treasure

On the El Romeral hill on the other side of the main road into Antequera, Rogelio Pascual manages the Hotel Restaurante Los Dólmenes. “The UNESCO distinction has affected us a lot, especially in the cooler months of the year,” he said.

“Before we were rarely included in the itinerary of tourists who went to Malaga, Granada, Córdoba...now we are, but I don’t think they’re pushing it hard enough. The signposts were only put up a couple of months ago and the dolmen site area ought to be better cared for, with trees and shaded areas and other facilities for visitors,” said Pascual, whose hotel has seen an increase from 65% to 85% average occupancy. “We have to look after our tourism because this could be the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

One year after its rebirth as a World Heritage Site, however, the Antequera Dolmens are not shining as brightly as they could be.