On the site of the original Presidio in San Diego, two leading organizations dedicated to historic preservation in their respective countries announced a Bi-National Initiative to work toward earning an UNESCO World Heritage Nomination for El Camino Real de las Californias.

The U.S.-based California Missions Foundation (CMF) and the Mexico-based Corredor Hist6rico CAREM, AC. are teaming up to bring recognition and awareness to El Camino Real de las Californias -- a historic corridor stretching from Los Cabos in Baja California Sur to Sonoma in northern California.

Flanked by representatives of the U.S., Mexico and Spain, the leaders of California Missions Foundation and Corredor Hist6rico CAREM, AC. outlined plans for this multi-year, Bi-National Initiative that will include partnering with government agencies in both the U.S. and Mexico, including Mexico's lnstituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia or INAH, US/ICOMOS, California State Parks, the National Parks Service as well as with the San Diego Maritime Museum, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation and many other organizations. In addition, this Bi-National Initiative will include community members from a variety of backgrounds including historians, Native American groups and other experts in both countries.

"Today we reaffirm our mutual commitment to begin our shared vision of El Camino de la Californias as a World Heritage Site in partnership with Mexico and Spain." said Milford Wayne Donaldson, FAIA, chairman of California Missions Foundation. "We also embark on a journey to tell the world of our true origin story of European contact in the United States, not as Pilgrims and the Mayflower in 1620 but as Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542 as he sailed San Salvador into San Diego harbor. When we succeed, California will add it's first cultural World Heritage Site to our two natural sites, Yosemite and the Redwoods. Together, as signatory nations, we will work as one comunidad to not only protect the El Camino de la Californias outstanding universal value, but also to bring us together as familia to learn about our common histories as we tell our stories."

El Camino Real de las Californias was officially given its name during the Spanish period, and continues as a much-travelled route today. Originally using trails first transversed by Native Americans, El Camino Real de las Californias has seen slight modifications over the years.

Throughout history, El Camino Real de las Californias has linked Missions, Presidios, Asistencias, Ranchos and Pueblos. Today it continues to link important cultural, historic, natural landscapes, ecology, and urban centers in both countries.

"The Camino Real de las Californias represents a cultural route that will be of universal value," said CAREM President Hernan Ibanez. "The peninsula of Baja California, Mexico is an enthusiastic partner in this effort."

"This designation could mean a powerful tool for landscape preservation, a way to engage and value living peoples and to preserve historical touchstones (missions, trails, rock art and indigenous sites and traditions)," said Julia Bendimez, regional director for INAH in the state of Baja California.

Unlike other Caminos Reales in the Americas, and unique to California, El Camino Real de las Californias had both a land and maritime component.

"As many historians are aware, more often than not California was depicted as an island completely detached from the rest of continental North America in maps from the beginning of the seventeenth century until well into the eighteenth century," said Dr. Ray Ashley, president and CEO of the San Diego Maritime Museum. "While this is now considered the longest running cartographic error in the history of mapmaking, in one sense it wasn't an error at all. California was, to all practical purposes, connected to the rest of the world mainly by water during the age of sail and not only functioned as an island, but itself was a series of islands connected to each other by a network of missions, presidios, and ranchos, linked through a series of ports and the ships which used them. Thus, the El Camino Real de las Californias wasn't simply a road linking missions, but an early intermodal transportation network in which the majority of goods, people, knowledge, and political power moved principally by sea and then diffused over land."

As part of the work ahead for this Bi-National Initiative, a series of working sessions and summits are being planned to explore all aspects of a World Heritage Nomination.for El Camino Real de las Californias. First up will be a INAH-sponsored two-day gathering in Ensenada, B.C. December 9-10, followed by the 33rd California Missions Conference this February in San Juan Bautista, CA that will feature as its 2016 theme, "El Camino Real de las Californias." The California Missions Foundation and the California Mission Studies Association merge officially this January 1 and the February event will be their first combined conference.

"Along El Camino Real that began with presidios, pueblos, ranchos, and missions, a new civilization was born harnessing the energies of many peoples and cultures and laying the foundations for the Californias we all live in today." said Dr. Jerry Jackman, executive director, Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.

World Heritage Designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) signifies being of special cultural or physical significance. There are nearly 1,000 designated sites worldwide, including 33 in Mexico and 23 in the United States. El Camino Real de las Californias would be the first Bi-National Nomination for the two countries.

"So many people have spent so many years researching, studying and understanding El Camino Real de las Californias," said CMF Executive Director David A. Bolton. "This Multi-National effort to receive UNESCO World Heritage Nomination is a tribute to not only those individuals but also to everyone that has traveled the trails, routes and roads of El Camino Real de las Californias from Native American groups to the Spanish, from those in Mexico today to those in the United States."


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