Arqueologia del paisatge de Catalunya

Els estudis d'arqueologia del paisatge han de permetre que entenguem com es va organitzar el paisatge actual al llarg dels segles. Ha de fer possible comprendre com es crearen els pobles, les vies, els camps o els límits. D'una manera especial ens interessarem per les grans transformacions que s'esdevingueren al llarg de l'edat mitjana (segles VI-XV), tot i que sigui bàsic, a l'hora de fer aquesta mena de recerques, tenir una perspectiva de llarga durada.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Study and Preservation of the Historic Landscape

Manifesto for the study and preservation of the historic landscape in Catalonia and the rest of Europe

Studying the landscape involves an interest in everything that surrounds us, from a town dating back to maybe over one thousand years to the two-thousand-year-old road that leads to it, from the boundary of a field to a Islamic ditch or a cattle path trodden on for centuries. Studying the archaeological landscape involves a will to ascertain the changes that the landscape has undergone throughout centuries as a result of human activity. These and other such changes have resulted in our present environment. Landscape archaeology is not only concerned with archaeological sites or monuments, nor the natural landscape. Historic studies of the landscape are also focused on the landscape transformed by man throughout millions of years, on knowledge and on the understanding of each and every element of the landscape around us (e.g. towns, country houses, roads, fields, ditches) and on the relationship between them. This research will allow us to be better acquainted with our past and to preserve this part of our own cultural heritage.

Europe is a continent with a long history behind it. We Europeans feel highly proud of both our common past and our different past histories, as we are members of a variety of peoples that make up our continent. We therefore value and aim to preserve our landscape, even more in the knowledge that some of its features may be thousands of years old and, in turn, may be considered as our oldest heritage, as recent research has proved. Indeed, their study may allow us understand our past and will contribute to shed light on our past history as well as understand and value our present world. The historic landscape constitutes a fundamental part of our heritage due to its aesthetic value and its role as historic document. Its preservation will lead to better living and appreciate our surroundings and, in turn, will prepare present and coming generations to continue working on a better future.

Following the guidelines in the year 2000 at the l’European Landscape Convention, on the European landscape as a reality which needs preserving as well as the proposals set out at the Europae Archeologiae Consilium to promote legal recognition of the historic and archaeological importance of landscape, it is necessary to define in all European countries POLITICAL MEASURES AIMED AT STUDYING, PRESERVING AND SPREADING recognition of their historic landscapes.

The historic landscape as an intricate reality. The landscape does not only consist of towns, paths, fields and woodlands. The landscape comprises at least all of them. This term includes the houses of a town with centuries of history behind and inhabited by a group of people who need paths and roads to move around. The town has boundaries within which its people work (and where, maybe, one lord many years ago, used to tax them), and contains fields, orchards, vineyards, woodland and pastures, and whose inhabitants enjoy the presence of a river fitted with millstones, which may now have become factories. Studying the landscape is also studying the ditches, the houses, the roads and the towns, studying the fields and the homes of the people who used to live and work there. All the elements that constitute this historic landscape have a past and are closely related. These links are largely due to the constant contribution of men throughout the centuries. They help us understand that just as time has changed the minds of people and their social economic relationships, so have all the elements of the landscape.

We believe that research on the historic landscape must be the pivotal point in the study of:

Villages. The inhabited settlements must be considered of utmost importance when studying historic landscapes. In the rural world, towns tend to be the centre around which the territory is organized. Villages, as we know them today, are typically mediaeval constructions, some of which date back to 1000 years. Studying their origin and evolution is the key to comprehend the history of our surroundings.
Country houses or farmsteads and hamlets. Scattered and half-scattered settlements have a strong bearing on the history of many landscapes. Many regions from Catalonia (as well as other European countries) have them as a distinctive feature. Many of them were also created in the Middle Ages.
Fields and land use. The relationship between inhabited and cultivated land is relevant. Therefore, despite its difficulty, it is important to understand the changes in land use, from prehistoric times to the present, through the great transformations during Roman and mediaeval times as well as the agricultural revolution undergone by many countries in the 18th century.
Pastures and woodland. In almost all historic communities, the issue of land destined to cattle and woodland has been a relevant one; nevertheless, assessing its importance is difficult when using only written documentary history.
Boundaries. It is possible to study the characteristics of many types of boundaries (from rural communities, parishes, lordships...). Establishment of relations within boundaries as regards people, roads, ploughed land and ditches makes it possible to understand better the whole landscape and the changes witnessed throughout centuries.
Roads. Paths and roads are a link that allows people to move from one place to another. The roads, taken as links and as easily changeable entities, can help us relate all the elements that make up the landscape and understand how the landscape has been altered by man throughout times.
Ditches. The analysis of ditches and other hydraulic elements has proved to be relevant in understanding certain social and economic traits of some historical stages, especially during centuries of Islamic domination.
Mining and industry. The exploitation of minerals (salt, iron and quarries), the creation of forges or, more recenty, factories or industrial sites have deeply transformed the historic landscape.
Central places and towns. We can hardly separate the rural world from the urban one, the rural landscape from the urban one. The methodology used for the rural world may be applied to the urban world when studying the historic landscape of villages and towns.
Power centres and war locations. The sites where power has been exerted throughout centuries need to be analysed and related to the rest of the landscape elements. Likewise, wars have unfortunately brought about dramatic transformations in our environment.
Belief centres. From megaliths to churches and monasteries, the constructions associated to beliefs have a say in the making and transformation of the landscape through history. It is impossible to understand the landscape without having these elements into account.

Therefore, through various methodologies adapted to each time and circumstance, we strive to discover the evidence and the traces of past times that have remained on the territory of our history. Understanding the relationship existing between these elements will enable us to assemble and comprehend the evolution of the historic landscape, almost globally, and will lead us to understand better our past history.

The historic landscape as a social reality. Studying the landscape allows us to understand the characteristics of the society that has created and transformed it. The form that every landscape element has assumed depends on the beliefs, the organization and the economic needs of the peoples who have lived in a settlement for centuries. The morphology of towns and their type, the definition of their boundaries, the bends of their roads, the division of their fields and ditches, even the location of their castles and churches, all depend on the society that populated such towns. It follows then that studying the landscape implies studying its society; in turn, this knowledge will allow us to understand better the changes in our different landscapes. Studying the historic landscape may be fundamental in the study of the History of a country.

The historic landscape as the key to understand our history. Some stages in our past are little known due to lack of written documentation or difficulty in archaeological research. On these occasions, studying the landscape and its changes may help us know more about our past. Research on the landscape sheds light on “dark” and ill-documented times and it also helps us understand better well-documented transformations. In fact, in Catalonia, research on our historic landscape becomes fundamental in understanding the changes undergone during Roman times, Visigothic times, the Islamic society, the existence of frontiers, the changes in the year 1000, the crisis at the end of the Middle Ages and the agricultural revolution in the 18th century. Studying the archaeological landscape is making history! The landscape supplies, therefore, relevant documents of our past which need to be properly appreciated and preserved.

The historic landscape as the evidence that joins various historical periods. For didactic and professional reasons, there has been a trend among specialists to fragment our past into stages studied individually. Studies of the historic landscape requires the weaving of a network between the different stages of our past, as the only way to comprehend the different realities of each individual historic time into which history has been divided. Some changes have affected the landscape profoundly: for example, the passage of centurions during Roman times, the creation of towns during the Middle Ages, the creation of a road network, the construction of ditches, irrigation channels and factories. These elements, created in Roman times, in the Middle Ages and the present times, were of paramount importance to the lives of the people who made them possible and the daily lives of those who followed them.

Since understanding the location of villages, roads and boundaries without a knowledge of their Roman predecessors is impossible, just like understanding many facts about present settlements without a knowledge of their mediaeval ancestors, it follows then that making landscape history requires making something that we professional historians have always encouraged to do, but which we rarely do: breaking the often artificial frontiers that our disciplines have been divided into.

The historic landscape as a fundamental part of our heritage. Our landscape is made up of several elements created and transformed for centuries, even millenia. Nevertheless, currently the destruction of the historic landscape is fierce and its destructors are totally unaware of their value. We therefore need to realise that without due research there is no conscience of the value of what we destroy. In the last few years, there has been growing conscience of the value of the artistic remains from our past, the archaeological remains and, on another level, the remains of the natural landscape (flora and fauna). Due to social pressure, the policy of preservation has prevailed but, on the other hand, no similar conscience has been raised towards other features of the historic landscape as towns, country houses, roads, field boundaries, ditches or mills are still being destroyed with sheer lack of social conscience! This process must come to an end. The best way to do that is realise what we are doing: we are destroying a relevant part of our past heritage. We therefore need research and spreading such knowledge onto society, in order for our heritage to be known and defended.

In this sense, it is necessary to carry out a policy aimed to preserve Catalonia, just as the rest of Europe:

- Villages. Villages and their morphology need to be studied, just as their abandonment and destruction need to be avoided. We must preserve their form and organisation if we strive to comprehend them. We must appreciate them as fundamental parts of our heritage. Laws must be passed for this aim to be realised.
- Country houses or farmsteads and hamlets. We must avoid country houses and hamlets to be abandoned and destroyed. Country houses need to be preserved, their form and function maintained, as established in Catalonia under the Llei d’Urbanisme (Law of Urbanism)in 2002.
- Fields and land use. The form of the fields and ploughed land (orchards, terraces and smallholdings) need to be studied and understood. Their forms need to be preserved and unnecessary destruction due to further plotting and levellings must be avoided at all costs. We must preserve the gates, the farmyards and the margins that enclose them, just as other European countries already have. Many fields and boundaries date back to the Middle Ages.
- Pastures and woodland. We must try to preserve the woodland and the pastures without further destruction and unnecessary transformations. We must preserve the cattle paths.
- Boundaries. All boundaries need to be properly studied.
- Roads. Unnecessary destruction of roads that have endured the test of centuries needs to be avoided; such destruction has been caused by plotting, the construction of industrial estates, new roads and new irrigated land. Likewise, we must strive to maintain the use of half-deserted roads. We need to study and preserve the bridges and their surroundings.
- Ditches. We must avoid destroying old ditches. Hydraulic spaces must be studied and valued because of their remarkable historic value.
- Mining and industry. We must ensure mining and industry are properly studied and valued.
- Towns. We must avoid the destruction of the old quarters of towns. Their continuity, recovery and refurbishment must avoid their destruction as a historic heritage. The plotting of the land is also a relevant document to our history.
- Power centres and war locations. We must study, preserve and value those constructions associated to power centres, like castles, towers and their immediate surroundings. We must study and expand knowledge on evidence of past wars.
- Belief centres. We must study, preserve and value those constructions associated to belief centres, like churches, monasteries or convents and their immediate surroundings.

In view of this, in the knowledge of the heritage that needs to be preserved, we must establish A LEGAL FRAMEWORK which makes it possible. Likewise, we must create RESEARCH CENTRES which may spread new knowledge and proper MANAGEMENT of this landscape. A new way of thinking must be created for people to be aware of the importance of this part of our heritage that we are destroying.

We therefore propose:

1. Drafting laws that enable the preservation of the various elements that make up the historic landscape, just as other areas of our common heritage are preserved, and
2. Creating a research centre for the historic landscape which promotes its study and spreads its results.

The historic landscape as a European reality. Just like historians have divided time into different stages and epochs, we landscape historians have divided the European territory, according to the current political boundaries, into various territories which, often do not match past territorial boundaries. In line with the current trend to create European research studies, it is important to promote the study of the whole European historic landscape. Therefore, as suggested by Dr. Della Hooke in 2000, research must be promoted in Europe to carry out studies that may be compared to each other. Research must be done at EUROPEAN LEVEL or at least we must make it possible for every European country to carry out studies that may be compared to other neighbouring countries, with a view to doing synthesis work in the future. In principle, the heritage of Mediterranean European countries is very similar between them, just as there are similarities between northern European countries. Besides, further comparisons must be done between northern and southern countries; despite their differences, the mutual benefit for both sides is obvious.

For all these reasons, we believe that studying the landscape means to preserve it. We must know it and make it known for those in charge to become conscious of its interest. This calls for joint efforts and knowledge at European level for everybody to know the wealth of our common heritage and our historic landscape, and be able to value and preserve it for future generations.

Jordi Bolòs
Research group on Political transitions and Social Change
Department of History (Mediaeval History).
University of Lleida


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