Landscape as cultural heritage

July 2007 -

"Tell me the kind of landscape you live in and I'll tell you who you are, for landscape forms half of your soul." These words were written by the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset at the start of the last century in Pedagogy of the Landscape. The idea that landscape is inextricably intertwined with cultural heritage is now accepted worldwide. Since 1972 cultural heritage objects and unique landscapes throughout the world have been protected by the Unesco World Heritage Trust.

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Nowadays experts frequently refer to these areas as "cultural landscape", a term that also figured prominently in the international Cultural Heritage and Landscape Congress, held in Lima (Peru) at the end of June 2007. The congress focused on landscape that is directly related to one or more cultural monuments, such as the pilgrim's way to Santiago de Compostela. However, landscape itself, which has changed under human influence, can also count as cultural heritage, one excellent example being the ingenious crop irrigation systems built by the pre-Columbian civilisations of the Andes.

You can expect to run into a whole range of problems when you try to protect landscape or territory stretching across many hectares or hundreds of miles. These problems are further exacerbated by global urbanisation and dominant economic interests. While the pyramids of Cheops were being protected against encroaching urbanisation, on the other side of the world the international Panamericana railway was cutting straight across the Nazca lines.

In many cases the relationship between poverty and under-development speaks for itself. That is why most of the congress participants went to great lengths to stress that without grass-roots support and government responsibility, no institution or international treaty has even a hope of protecting cultural heritage. A sense of community and shared ownership can be encouraged by transforming cultural landscape into public space, where local people feel involved, where governments invest collectively and where businesses engage in sustainable enterprise.