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Understanding Cultural Landscape with Examples

Rujuta Patil Oct 05, 2020
The human-nature interaction reflected through natural landforms and human architectural feats is what defines a cultural landscape. This post gives you a basic understanding about this concept, explained through examples from the world over.

The Hungarian Puszta

Hortobágy National Park - the Puszta, located on the Great Hungarian Plain, is one of the largest continuous plains in Europe. It is an exceptional cultural landscape constituting the pastoral society.

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The human endeavor to keep up with the changing times without losing influences of the past and the influence of nature on the human mind creates a melting pot of various cultures inhabiting together, not always as people, but as reminisces from the past. These are reflections of the human-nature interaction that have evolved over centuries together.

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Definition of Cultural Landscape

Cultural landscapes are geographical areas (including natural and man-made structures) that are representative of the socio-cultural diversity the region has witnessed throughout its evolution. They exhibit association with historic events and cultural influences (of religion, art, architecture, traditions, etc.).
The World Heritage Convention of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) acknowledges them as "combined works of nature and man." This conservation effort was done with a purpose of recognizing the cultural significance of the world heritage beyond historical monuments.
Linking culture with nature and biological diversity along with the thought of sustainable land use led the Committee to categorize these landscapes into:

Designed and created intentionally by man: This refers to parkland and garden landscapes.
They may or may not include buildings with religious importance or monuments.

Organically evolved: These are spaces that have resulted due to the socio-economic, administrative conditions and also due to the natural environment there. They are further divided into:

1. A Relict: It can be a fossil that is an evidence of the evolutionary process that the region has withstood, leaving behind its traces.
2. Continuing Landscape: Sites where the evolutionary process is still in progress, and they have a social role in the society's traditions.

3. Associative Cultural Landscape: These signify mainly the landscapes with crucial religious, artistic or cultural associations with the nature there, unlike materialistic or human cultural presence.

The National Park Service defines cultural landscape as a geographical area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein, associated with a historic event, activity, or person, or that exhibit other cultural or aesthetic values.

Examples of Cultural Landscapes around the World

The first natural site recognized by the World Heritage Committee in 1993 for its geological, cultural, and religious importance, it is also of religious and spiritual significance to the local Maori inhabitants.
Due to active and extinct volcanoes, the vast expanses are characterized by volcanic domes, craters, springs, lava plains, glacial deposits, moraines, etc. It also has a rich fauna. The Maori people, coming originally from Polynesia, still believe in and follow many traditions.
A 19th-century center of European Romantic architecture, Sintra combines the Gothic, Moorish, Egyptian, and Renaissance styles of architecture.
The Royal Palace has beautifully decorated tiles, the Pena National Palace symbolizes romanticism, while the Palace of Montserrate shows a blend of neo-Gothic and Indian architectural styles. The earliest structure built was the Quinta da Penha Verde in the 16th century.
This place embodies the true essence of landscaping, as the parks and gardens give an aesthetic pleasure to the eye and soul.
Ferdinand II is the man behind this marvel that influenced European architecture. Parque de Pena, English Garden, and Garden of the Camellias are like green hot spots scattered through the city, with native as well as exotic species of tress.
It is unique because of its cultural history, which goes back to 21 generations (more than 400 years) of community living.
The wooden statues (Waka) are a symbol representing their past generations; a way of honoring their achievements. The stone terraces on these extremely dry highlands act as a medium to prevent soil erosion and water conservation, thus facilitating agriculture.
The spaces inside these stoned settlements (or Paletas) are known as Moras and are very important to the Konso people. Natural boundaries created by rivers or edges of hills demarcate the differential socio-cultural history of these people, reflected from sacred shrines, burial sites in forests, and settlement pattern.
Wachau, Austria: It is an old riverine landscape on river Danube in Austria, between Melk and Krems. In an urban setting of towns, along with villages, it is a reserve of ancient architectural designs coupled with agricultural land, and a landscape that has been evolving since the 11th and 12th centuries.
Vine cultivation dates back to the times of Bavaria and Salzburg monasteries. The steep, sharp and tower-like roofs, statues on corners, wall paintings, sgraffito work, and Baroque facades of buildings, from the olden times dwell along the more recent taverns, mills, storehouses, and castles.
The religious and historical significance is depicted from the history of the abbeys of Melk and Goetweig.
These prehistoric paintings are from the Mesolithic period. At the foothills of the Vindhyan mountains in the heart of India, this region shows excellent similarities between the rock shelter art work and the ways of life of the local villagers.
The details of these paintings and the area covered by them supports the relation between the village tribes and their practices of hunting and gathering.
It has a rich collection of murals in natural colors spanning across innumerable rocks. Blessed with natural resources and a variety of flora and fauna, the local adivasi tribes still use the nearby forest lands for crop cultivation.
Mud houses are like an identity of this village in northeastern Togo. These conical-shaped houses reflect the societal features.
Some houses have a flat roof too, whereas two-storied houses with conical roofs symbolize presence of granaries within the house. The Batammariba community has certain cultural spaces like sacred rocks, sacred woods, and specific sites reserved for ceremonies.
Traditional beliefs associated with the natural landscape, wild and domesticated animals, crafts, peculiar sports, song and dance activities justify it as a cultural landscape.
Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, China: These are expanses of long terraces indigenously created by the locals for cultivation of red rice. It is complex system of channels built to bring down water from the mountains for agriculture. The area has typical mushroom houses. They have incorporated nature into their lives; they worship the moon, sun, fire, mountains, and forests and also use animals for agricultural purposes.
Other cultural landscapes recognized by the UN Heritage Convention include Papahānaumokuākea Islands northwest of Hawaii, ancient villages of Northern Syria, Gobustan Rock Art in Azerbaijan, Carioca Landscapes of Rio de Janeiro between the mountains and sea, Aranjuez cultural landscape in Spain, and others.
These and many such examples around the world make us realize how assimilating humans are. The term 'cultural' is, thus, not just about language and various cuisines across the globe, but much beyond that.