Drying Barns, Cathedrals of La Vera.

Autor Diane Cambon
Drying barns with the Sierra de Gredos in the background

They appear like ships stranded in the middle of the open field, some have been in disuse for decades, however the landscape of La Vera would not be the same without them. The tobacco and paprika drying barns are part of the soul of this region. It is impossible not to notice these tall and elongated buildings that appear around the main road, the Ex-203 that crosses the region from east to west. It is estimated that there are more than 4,000 drying barns distributed over 15,000 hectares of arable land.

«The light passes through the holes in the bricks creating an interior atmosphere worthy of a temple»

The vast majority are built with perforated red brick to facilitate the circulation of the air necessary for the drying process. «The first brick drying barns appeared in La Vera around 1920, when tobacco cultivation began to develop in the area,» says David Palomo, partner with Teresa Sancho of the real estate company Ven a Ver, in Villanueva. From his interest in the drying barns, a project arose to protect them and incorporate them into the architectural heritage of La Vera. They enthusiastically compare them to a Romanesque church or a Gothic cathedral erected in the middle of the countryside. «The light passes through the holes in the bricks creating an interior atmosphere worthy of a temple,» says Teresa Sancho.

Mozarabic details in drying barn

In the past, in the construction of the paprika drying barns the materials typical of the area were used: natural mortar, adobe, stone and Arabic tile. They were built near the gorges, like the mills, to take advantage of the force of the water and grind the paprika once it was dry. Many of these old paprika drying barns have disappeared due to the lack of solidity of their construction materials.

Machines and electricity replaced water as a source of energy and the drying barns moved to the valley of the Tietar river. In the Robledo area there are several types of buildings with high gabled roofs. Some have a lower porch where other traditional local fruits such as figs and chestnuts were dried. Still, on the floor inside the paprika drying barns, bonfires are lit to smoke the peppers, an ancestral technique in the manufacturing process that gives that unique flavor to the Pimentón de la Vera.

Today, most are tobacco drying barns. The vast majority were built for drying blond tobacco. The plant was repelled and the leaves were dried one by one. Now the whole process is performed industrially. Only the black tobacco drying barns are still in active use, since the whole plant dries hanging from the ceiling and requires a high drying barn. They are usually made of brick, to allow the air to circulate and thus facilitate drying. The air currents play a fundamental role, seeking to create a ventilation from north to south avoiding the west wind which is called “Galician” and brings humidity.

Over time these buildings have evolved and they no longer retain the character of the old adobe or peeked brick drying barns. Many owners have turned to the cinder block, which is cheaper and faster to build.

Interior of a drying barn

«It is a pity that the architectural value of the traditional drying barns is not recognized. There are several types of drying barns that reflect the evolution of different architectural styles. Some examples from the 1950s that were built according to the Californian style are still preserved,» says David Palomo.

Californian style drying barns

Many of these buildings are already, or are on the way to, becoming ruins. Ruins that remind us of the development of local agriculture. «The drying barns could be saved, if they were to fulfill an agricultural function again, as for example in ecological agriculture», confides David Palomo. Others imagine these large spaces as magnificent homes retaining the strong La Vera aesthetic tradition. «They can be great lofts with a large open space for those who want an authentic and original house,» says Teresa Sancho