Article 46 of the 1978 Constitution directs the authorities to “guarantee the preservation and to promote the enrichment of the historic, cultural and artistic heritage of the people of Spain and of the assets of which that heritage consists”. The text goes beyond “conservation” to include the “enrichment” of cultural heritage. Acting upon this principle, the Parliament approved the Historical Heritage Act of 1985 and later on the 111/1986 Royal Decree of partial development of the Historical Heritage Act (modified by the 162/2002 Royal Decree).
The dual purpose of the 1985 Historical Heritage Act was to ensure compliance by the central government with the 1978 Constitutional mandate and enable the Autonomous Communities to pass their own regional laws on the same subject, as mandated by their own Charters. All Autonomous Communities introduced their own legislation: Basque Country (7/1990 Act and 2/2007 Legislative Decree); Castile-La Mancha (4/1990 Act); Catalonia (9/1993 Act); Galicia (8/1995 Act); Valencian Community (4/1998 Act); Madrid (3/2001 that modifies the 10/1998 Act); Cantabria (11/1998 Act); Balearic Islands (12/1998 Act); Canary Islands (11/2002 Act that modifies the 4/1999 Act); Extremadura (2/1999 Act); Aragon (3/1999 Act); Asturias (1/2011 Act that modifies the 1/2001 Act); Castile-Leon (12/2002 Act); La Rioja (7/2004 Act); Murcia (4/2007 Act); Navarre (14/2007 Act) and Andalusia (14/2007 Act). Currently, some communities have already modified their acts (Castile-La Mancha, 4/2013 Act; Madrid, 3/2013 Act; Galicia, 5/2016 Act, and Valencia, 9/2017 Act) or are in the process (Basque Country, Canarias) of reforming the existing ones in order to adapt them to new times.
These laws follow a more “anthropological” interpretation of cultural heritage, leaving the traditional architectural canons employed in the nineteenth and part of the twentieth centuries behind. The protective system employed by these laws is implemented via a series of administrative measures (listing, prohibitions, fines, conservation orders, bans on sale or export, etc.), combined with incentives, such as the so-called “cultural one per cent”, a levy on the cost of all public works which is used to help defray the cost of conservation. Legislation of both the central government and the regional authorities establishes various ways of defining heritage, usually based on two categories. On the one hand, this includes the assets of cultural interest, and on the other hand, those properties included on a general inventory list of national interest. An important element of both the national and regional laws is the link made between cultural heritage Acts and legislation for urban development.
Cultural institutions such as museums and archives are regulated by the 1985 Historical Heritage Act, which gives a brief definition of such bodies and the terms under which they are set up, administered and coordinated, together with how people can use their services. The 1985 Historical Heritage Act is complemented by a series of nationwide enabling regulations governing such matters as specialist arm’s length institutions. Only recently, and with the main objective of overcoming an eminently historical perspective in the treatment of public archives, the government has approved the 1708/2011 Royal Decree that establishes the Spanish Archives System and regulates the Archives System of the General Administration of the State and its public organisms, as well as its access regime. The new regulation also seeks to give local authorities management tools sufficiently flexible to permit archival communication within a dynamic framework of inter-administrative cooperation.
The radical changes in the field of cultural heritage in the last 20 years have highlighted the need to reform the 1985 Historical Heritage Act. Different commissions to work on a draft Act on Cultural Heritage have been established in different times in the last 10 years. To this end, in May 2015, the government approved the Act on Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage that aims to provide the central administration with tools to protect manifestations constituting the common intangible cultural heritage in different Autonomous Communities. The new Ministry of Culture and Sport, which took office in June 2018, has already announced his willingness to reform the 1985 Historical Heritage Act.
Also in the field of intangible cultural heritage, and as a result of a popular legislative initiative, the government approved the 18/2013 Act for the Regulation of Bullfighting as Cultural Heritage in 2013. Thus, public authorities must guarantee the preservation of bullfighting and promote its valorisation. The approval of this act, at the national level, took place after the Catalan government, also as a result of a popular legislative initiative, abolished bullfighting in Catalonia.
Regarding natural heritage, in December 2007, the 42/2007 Act on Natural Heritage and Biodiversity was passed with the aim of establishing the legal regime of conservation, sustainable use and improvement of Spanish natural heritage and biodiversity.
As far as regional legislation is concerned, the dominant trend is to approve individual laws for museums and archives independently of national heritage legislation. Regions which have their own museum legislation include: Andalusia (2/1984 Act repealed by the 8/2007 Act), Aragon (7/1986 Act), Catalonia (17/1990 Act), Castile-Leon (10/1994 Act), Murcia (5/1996 Act), Madrid (9/1999 Act), Cantabria (5/2001 Act), Balearic Islands (4/2003 Act); Basque Country (7/2006 Act) and Navarre (10/2009 Act). Regions with their own laws for public archives are: Andalusia (3/1984 Act repealed by the 7/2011 Act, later on modified by the 6/2013 Act), Aragon (6/1986 Act), Canary Islands (3/1990 Act), Murcia (6/1990 Act), Castile-Leon (6/1991 Act modified by the 7/2004 Act), Madrid (4/1993 Act), La Rioja (4/1994 Act), Catalonia (10/2001 Act), Cantabria (3/2002 Act), Castile-La Mancha (19/2002 Act), the Valencian Community (3/2005 Act), Balearic Islands (15/2006 Act), Extremadura (2/2007 Act) and Navarre (12/2007 Act).