Elements for a rural ontology
A cartographical depiction of Greek agrarian landscapes
The man-generated landscape of agriculture, with its humble scale and imperceptible elevations, has rarely attracted the interest of architectural analysis. Yet, agriculture is an elementary, and the most effective, act of architectural landscaping.
An understanding of the formal properties of the traditional agricultural setups repertory is not worthless. It could contribute to the clarification of the meaningful exchanges between man and the ground and thus can validate a kind of rural ontology, that is a moral meeting ground for the sciences of agriculture, of the earth and of space.
At the sidelines of the large agro-systems of the flatlands, old patterns of land cultivation are still evident. Within the wide territory of the semi-mountainous and mountainous regions of Greece, the rural landscape has been impacted to a much lesser degree by the radical transformations brought about by reparcelling and by the modern methods and infrastructures of farming. The cultivated zones show a degree of discontinuity on account of the unevenness of the ground. In addition, voids appear due to the abandonment of older cultivations or the change in land use from agriculture to livestock breeding or because of the soil’s degradation or the region’s depopulation.
The first thing one acknowledges from an aerial view is the diversity and small scale of cultivations. The dispersed fields have not been joined together remain, on occasion, of miniscule size. The surface area of the fields is related to their use and the kind of local economy which they supported. The vineyards on the mountainsides, the orchards at the outskirts of settlements or by creeks, but also the cultivation of cereals, were often intended for the nutritional self-sufficiency of the household and not for the generation of income.
Farmland often coexist in a steady engagement with uncultivated zones and natural vegetation. Land-folds, ravines and streams impose a fragmentary, discontinuous and irregular development of arable fields. But even in cases where surface morphology allows for a fuller and more unified land use, property subdivisions are maintained.
This experimental reading of features of agricultural landscapes appears to be enlightening. It allows us to perceive the fundamental civilization of the ground which organizes at each place the geophysical conditions and restrictions into ordered space and cultural landscape. The response to the difficult and variegated Greek geomorphology has resulted in a diversity of agro-ecosystems and landscapes. The different patterns we have located have emerged from sustainable practices favorable to the soil’s potential, and offer us valuable models of a synergistic approach, adaptable to limited natural resources.