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published: March 2004
A cooperative experience: the Boí valley gateway
César Carreras, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain
The Boi valley gateway is a joint project between different Museums, institutions and Universities of Catalonia (Spain) with the aim to create a virtual environment to include all the Cultural Heritage of this small Pyrenees valley. The gateway is not only a potential resource for cultural tourism, but also an art and history resource for secondary schools and universities as well as a mean of communication for the local community.
Keywords: Gateway, virtual, cultural, heritage, multimedia, cooperation
The project of the Boi valley gateway started in 2001, and at the present the first stage of the project is completely finished. Perhaps, this is the most challenging project that the group Òliba has undertaken so far, not only for its dimension related to contents, theoretical concept and multimedia applications, but also the number of institutions and individuals coordinated. Since May 2002, a first version in Catalan and Spanish is accessible through http://oliba.uoc.es/boi/portal, and hopefully an English version will be available by summer 2003.
One of the most outstanding aspects of this project is, without doubts, the definition of a model of virtual platform for the dissemination of cultural and natural heritage from a very small community in the Pyrenees faraway from the main technological and economic centers of the country. Boi is a small valley of hardly 18 Kms long near to the Arán valley (Lérida, Spain), with less than 600 inhabitants, which enjoys one of the most exceptional group of Romanesque churches in our country. That is why it was selected in November 2000 as one of the UNESCO World Heritage (http://whc.unesco.org/sites/988.htm).
Furthermore, the project allows us, in a virtual format, to present objects and structures that nowadays are located in other Museums and institutions outside the valley (such as National Museum of Art of Catalonia, Diocesan Museum of Lleida and Diocesan Museum of Vic). Therefore, the virtual platform is used here to unite again the Boi valley heritage in a unique place. Besides, the virtual platform is understood as a meeting point for people interested in Romanesque art and Medieval history, a mean of communication for the local community and an educative resource for students of secondary schools and universities, as well as visitors and tourists (Carreras, 2002).
The gateway project
The project began in spring 2000, when the group Òliba got in contact with the Boi valley Tourist Board to present together a proposal for a grant of our autonomous government CIRIT (ACOM-2000) with the aim to develop research and applications in distant regions from the research and university centers of the country. One of the main dangers of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is that it may unbalance even more differences between territories due to lack of infrastructures and quality access to networks. Despite that ICT can break space and time barrier, a more social applications of this technology are still required to help overcome present inequalities.
In these days, Barruera city council, as representative of the Boi valley, had presented to UNESCO its candidature as World Heritage, for the artistic value of its Romanesque churches. In October 2000 the project was confirmed thanks to the grant of CIRIT (ACOM-2000-026), and weeks later, the Boi valley was nominated as World Heritage, so it was the right to employ the gateway to help a better dissemination, formation and comprehension of the Natural and Cultural heritage of the valley. As far as we are aware, there is only a similar initiative in the Loire valley, http://www.cdv.berkeley.edu/research/Val_de_Loire (Ceccarelli, Addison and Strickland, 2001).
Which were the initial objectives of the project of creating a virtual gateway in Internet?
The gateway has a unique design, though parts of the contents are hosted in different servers. Perhaps, this feature is a new experience of decentralized source of information, managing each institution the contents closer to it. There is a wide variety of degrees of collaboration of institutions and enterprises. Some of them administer the contents of one section, while others provide texts or images from their collections.
Physically, the web contents nowadays are hosted in 3 or 4 servers, one administered by Aigüestortes National Park, other by Pont de Suert secondary school, a third one by the Boi valley Tourism Board and the last one by group Òliba in UOC. Such flexibility allows an easy contents update using a series common structures and templates. There are some sections in the gateway that will remain unchanged in the future, whereas other will evolve all over the time.
Apart from the four institutions which co-manage the project, now there are other collaborators such as: IEC (Institut d'Estudis Catalans), Enciclopédia Catalana, Dortoka, MNAC (Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya), Consell Comarcal de l'Alta Ribagorça, ENDESA-FECSA, Museu Etnològic de Barcelona, Arxiu Mas, Televisióde Catalunya (TV3) and Generalitat de Catalunya.
Following a general order, the gateway consists of 7 basic sections:
Valley History (responsible group Òliba - UOC)
In order to understand the value of Boi Romanesque's churches, one needs to know a bit of the history of the people that built them. Therefore, an introduction to the XI and XII centuries in the Pyrenees is required as well as mention to institutions, economy, politics and the most important families (i.e. lords of Erill). In the whole section, there is information about other constructions such as castles, or churches in a very bad state. Since the history of Boi valley can be hardly understood with independence of the history of Catalonia and the Middle Ages in Western Europe (i.e. Carlemagne), apart from the local history there are 2 general named Historical Context and History of Catalonia.
Contents of those sections have been carried out by lecturers and students of our University, with the support of companies and institutions such as Enciclopédia Catalana, el Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya and Boi valley Tourism Board. A last section is kept for monographic studies, in which very particular aspects of the local history are covered (p.e. Roda bishopry, lords of Erill, the legend of Bernat I or the archaeology of Santa Eulàlia de Erill la vall). These studies are currently undertaken by students and specialists from the UOC and IEC (Institut d'Estudis Catalans) and Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC).
At technical level, this section attempts to take fully advantage of the hypertext format that allows to relate blocks of information (Carreras, 2000). In this section a as a whole, there are a myriad of links related to information nodes of other sections, even transversal ones. Navigation to know the most representative buildings of the valley comes from a clickable map with two options: churches also shared by the section Artistic Heritage, and other by castles. However, navigation through the most relevant families in the valley comes from a genealogic tree.
Artistic Heritage (responsible group Òliba)
This section follows a similar structure to the one created for Valley history, with a subsection on the Art from the valley, as well as two other subsections to put it in context: Romanesque Art in Catalonia and Romanesque Art. Of course, there are some concepts such as iconography or aesthetics, which require a careful reading of medieval church writers of that period, and discussions between schools (i.e. iconoclast revolt); that is why they are commented in detail.
Finally, there is also a section of monographic studies, in which some works of art from Boi valley are analyzed thoroughly, such as frescoes from the churches of Sant Climent or Santa Maria de Taüll. This is open space for future contributions, whereas the other three subsections are considered completely finished.
At technical level, the whole section is intermingled the History one in order not to replicate contents and favors the interrelationship between concepts and information. Besides, there are numerous links to transversal section of glossary, which includes special artistic terms related to medieval techniques, and probably unknown by most people.
Connected to this section, a virtual reconstruction of the church of Sant Climent de Taüll was created (look at the comment below) that allows a navigation through inside and outside the building. One can navigate even through the belfry, which shows a present panoramic view from the top. A series of hotspots are included in the virtual reconstruction at architectural elements, objects and panoramic, from which one can access to definitions or other parts of the hypertext.
Natural Heritage (responsible Aigüestortes National Park)
This section gives direct access to a website already created by the Aigüestortes National Park, in which a myriad of possible excursions around Aigüestortes are explained as well as diverse activities offered by the Park, including descriptions of wildlife and plants. The whole administration of this section lies on the Park, so they update contents from their own server at the Conselleria de Medi Ambient de la Generalitat.
The gateway is, in this case, an interface that make easy the task of putting together some isolated resources, so moving from one to the other becomes really simple. Normally, a potential visitor of the valley apart from enjoying a special natural environment, may be interested in other documentation for other kinds of activities, who may carry out while he or she is here. Therefore, the gateway facilitates this interconnection.
Towns (responsible group Òliba and Tourist Board)
This section pretends to describe each of the Boi valley villages, with a basic file including the most outstanding features. It also shows the demographic evolution of these villages over the centuries with the last migration movements and internal growth. A last subsection include a series of videoclips provided by the Catalan TV (TV3) that show some representative landscapes of the valley, its people and villages.
Figure 2. A detail of the section of Ethnologic heritage
Ethnologic Heritage (responsibility of the Tourist Board)
Perhaps this is the section that has more potential, but still now lacks a definitive structure. At the beginning, it was looked for an anthropologist from another Catalan University who may become responsible for the section. However, the possible candidates refused the offer, so we assumed ourselves eventually the first version. Therefore, the first version of this section is a common work between the Tourist Board and the group grup Òliba, though the Tourist Board will be responsible in the future.
The aim of this section was to recover memories of feasts, costums and food of the people of valley, which will be lost in the future. It was thought that their virtual exhibition in this website will favor their preservation. The space consists of 4 subsections: Feasts, Food, Photographic archive and Memories.
The subsection Photographic archive pretends to recover old pictures of the Boi valley from the early XXth century, which are in particular collections and archives of different parts of the country. There are very relevant collections such as the one of CEC (Centre Excursionista de Catalunya - Climbing Catalan club) that show the evolution of the human landscape and changes produced by the construction of roads. Besides, the images from the photographic archive of ENHER (Electric company), before mid 50s, when the company began to build numerous dams in the Pyrenees, which affected completely the economic life of this region.
Another impressive collection is kept in the Museu Etnològic de Barcelona (Ethnologic Museum of Barcelona), that covers pictures taken also in the 50s about popular festivals. However, the most outstanding pictures come from the Mas archive, which is a particular collection of a professional photographer of the early XXth century. He went to an expedition to the Pyrenees in the 20s, together with ethnographers and art historians from the Institut d'Estudis Catalans, who rediscovered the Romanesque churches and their frescoes that were unknown by most until then.
Finally, the section Memories collects registered audios, videos or texts with memories of elder people from the valley, who are willing to explain how was life in the past. Conservation of such memories is nowadays a priority from the Tourist Board, and the creation of this gateway will mean a boost for it.
Tourism (responsibility of the Tourist Board)
A website for tourism in the Boi valley already existed (http://www.vallboi.com), which provided basic information for any visitor coming to the valley. Apart from a small introduction on the artistic and natural heritage of the valley, most part of this site caters with accommodation addresses, from hotels to rural houses or camping, as well as restaurants or other leisure places.
The website now is part of the gateway as a whole, in fact is the section named Tourism. It stills covers a briefing of the main natural and cultural attractions of the valley, but most of section is intended to supply any kind of information that a visitor may need. The Tourist Board manages this section from its own server, whose data should be updated constantly. Besides, the Tourism sections can be directly accessed through the old Internet address (http://www.vallboi.com), with the only difference that a frame below will permit access to the other sections of the gateway.
Life in the Valley (responsibility of the Secondary School of Pont de Suert)
One of the initial aims of this gateway was, from the beginning, a space for exchange of information, in which local use it as their own mean of communication. For this reason, a special section was created known as Life in the valley, where one might include any news and activities of the everyday life in the local community. Some news may have an intrest for a wide public (i.e. discovery of new frescoes in Sant Climent, Mushrooms festival), while others should affect only the local community and relatives who live away in many other places.
It was thought that the creation and management of this space could lie on Pont de Suert secondary school as part of learning process of students and even teachers. Therefore, it was an highly attractive way to incorporate new technologies, as well as their labour, economic and social potentials for youngsters of this region. At the start, a minimum level of creation and management of web pages was required. So we, the Department of Humanitites of UOC, are currently preparing some presencial and distance-learning courses for teachers and students in the institute. In fact, the courses were due in spring 2002, but there have been some delays.
Afterwards, a series of HTML templates (updated with Dreamweaver or Front Page) were defined in order to put new contents for the section, as well as a standard procedure to treat images. Contents may be of the kind of press news, which can be also include in the section News, or more elaborated works. Actually, it is pretended that some students works may become accessible by Internet (i.e. maquis guerrilla in the valley in the 40s). By these means, it can be fostered the students creativity and favor their multimedia design.
This section, and the project in general, was well received by all the team of teachers from the secondary school, believing the positive consequences that it will bring. Besides, the project will allow teachers and students from these distance Pyrenees valleys to be in touch with the last developments in multimedia technologies.
Figure 3. A view of a virtual reconstruction of Sant Climent de Taül
Together with those main sections, there are a group of transversal sections that makes easy the access to very specific information. Therefore, the gateway contains the following transversal sections:
a) WWW on medieval period
For anyone who wishes to know more about Romanesque art in our country and abroad, here you can access to an English gateway that contains plentiful resources on the Middle Ages.
Here you got a direct access to all the audio, video and virtual reality resources of this website. Thereby, it becomes easy to find the desired resources, chiefly for the multimedia applications lovers.
c) Virtual reality
It was attempted to experiment with Virtual reality (3D models) and its beauty, in order that the user could interact with a singular architectural building, in this case a Romanesque church. Normally, virtual reconstructions reproduce buildings in bad state, that have disappeared or future projects. However, the present reconstruction of the church of Sant Climent de Taüll corresponds to a real existing building, so it gives any room for interpretation or imagination.
Reproduction in this case should be as real as possible, in order that the own inhabitants of the valley could feel that the VR represented their Romanesque church. Moreover, since it was design as didactic resource, it allows navigation inside and outside the church, as well as consulting hotspots with definitions of architectural elements. The virtual reconstruction consists of three united parts: one extern view of the church, other inside view with many hotspots, and a third one of the belfry with a wide panorama.
Since it is one of the most outstanding resources in the Boi valley gateway, there are numerous pages from which it can be accessed such as News, Mediateca, Tourism, History, and even its own transversal section.
For anybody who has not visited yet this church, the reconstruction should be attractive enough to encourage people to come. As you may see, the church was made with a lot of detail thanks to great number of pictures. Virtual reality was created with Quick Time Virtual Reality and it is offered in two versions: one to view on-line with less definition and a second one, to be downloaded in order to navigate locally. Finally, a third version has been made available in Live Picture.
As many other of our websites, there is a transversal section for a specialized glossary, which contains specific terms of history and art that appear in the correspondent sections.
It is a map to make easier the access to people that wish to come to the Boi valley.
In the front page of the gateway, a series of 4 or 5 periodic news on the valley life are placed. Actually, these news are the most outstanding facts of the local peoples everyday life (i.e. stories, festivals...)
Anyone may guess from the description of the gateway that the most complex problems faced in this project was to create an easy and comprehensive navigation. First, it was important that users may move from one section to the other without getting lost. Such objective was achieved by creating a complex structure of embedded frames, in which the frame below allows an access to the main 6 sections from any page in the gateway. Besides, there is a second frame for moving inside each main section, a third one for moving inside each section and also page numbering. In the future, a search engine will be included for making particular access even easier.
Furthermore, it was always the idea of taken advantage of any resources already existent in Internet created by other institutions to complement the gateway. One example, is an excellent resource created by the research group GRIHO from Lleida University (http://griho.udl.es) of the church of Santa Maria de Lavaix, accessible from our gateway with the permission of the own researchers.
This application of new technologies in the field of Cultural Heritage has not only an educative and dissemination, but also social and economic, since it permits the use of technology to balance territories. It gives a chance to access to particular contents and technologies to distant places from the main economic and academic axes, so it means to give new potential to disfavored communities. If new technologies may improve citizens quality of life, and overcome geographic obstacles in a territory, this kind of applications will make people aware of advantages that technology may bring in our lives.
As the gateway required collaboration of a myriad of institutions in relation to contents and their update, a special model of decentralized and flexible platform was defined, which we called galaxy model. The model attempts to create a virtual resource or interpretation center, which does not exist in the real world, and because of economic, political or social reasons will never have a real replica (Carreras, 2001).
At technical level, the gateway provides contents hosted in diverse servers, and each entity becomes responsible for updating contents of its server. The model is so flexible that you may have as many collaborators I different degrees as you wish, there are no limits, except the ones that come with their coordination. Since there is no identical real space to the gateway, the virtual resource does not enter in competition with any cultural facility, and on the contrary, it fosters the visit to institutions taking part in the objects from their collections.
It is still too early to evaluate the Boi valley gateway, though we are currently following it up. The project is still unfinished, because an English version is missing and some sections are still undeveloped. Once the gateway will be on-line in the three languages (Catalan, Spanish and English), we will evaluate logins to the resource as well as the comments of visitors through the Tourist Board and the experience for the local community.
Since there were still many aspects of the gateway unconcluded, the group Òliba and the Boi valley Tourist Board presented together another proposal for a grant of our autonomous government. We have recently received confirmation of new funding from CIRIT (ACOM-2002-003) for executing the incomplete sections of the project.
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