The historical hillside landscape
The sample area of Florentine Chianti

by Carlo Alberto Garzonio
teacher of practical Geology
at the faculty of Architecture of the University of Florence

The historical landscape of the Tuscan hills is known and loved throughout the world: in its compositions we recognise the same qualities that the most famous historical cities possess. It's the result in fact of the work and culture of innumerable generations and has been planned in all of its parts with productive, environmental and aesthetic purpose. It's the harmonious synthesis of geological and geomorphic persistencies in balance with the historical transformations of the slopes and lines of erosion, with the presence of building complexes, of hamlets, villas and single buildings, of cultivations, tree planting etc.

As often happens some of the many panoramas have been mythologised in commercials that we consume daily almost as if representing virtual reality landscapes. Despite this, this inheritance that ultimately presents rational characteristics from the point of view of maintaining environmental harmonies, defending hydrogeology and the requirements of a sustainable development, is still threatened by neglect or by uncontrolled transformations.

A typical landscape
in Chianti

With slight varying alterations, a basic rural infrastructure has been preserved: for the most part rural characteristics linked to traditional production industries have vanished (for example metayage): sweeping corn fields, olive groves determined and reshaped by the soil have replaced almost everywhere the geometry of the lay of the land, of the terraced slopes and the narrow fields of mixed crops. Only in recent times in fact has one begun to understand that these historical landscapes constitute a vital economic resource and that their conservation does not preclude agricultural production of the highest quality.

The landscape viewed as a source of leisure recreation; the flourishing of the tourist and eco-wayfarer industry; the growing demand for holidays in the countryside; the interest in small villages bound to their landscape - these are all facts that testify to the first point. As for the second, this is related to the updating of farming techniques towards targets of a qualitative rather than quantitive nature, where both the type of product and the quality of typical products are concerned.

We're not dealing here with an inevitable trend but with a tendency that already has shown many proliferating signs: biological products; a lowering in wine production in favour of improved quality; the rediscovery of artisan techniques in products, beginning with fundamental cultivation. These signs indicate that the tendency towards trenching, the levelling of countryside, extensive cultivation is neither the only way forward nor the most profitable in a competitive market.

It's necessary to confront a fundamental problem: admitting that the historical hillside landscape is a collective economical resource and not necessarily incompatible with modern agricultural production, we can't ignore the fact that its preservation is also a costly business; costs that only in isolated cases can be entirely recuperated within a single enterprise economy - in the case for example of tourist agencies that sell their landscapes in a a profitable way or in the case of advantageous changes of utilization.

In general, one never the less has to admit that the honour of conserving the historical landscape has to be carried out through a combination of costs supported directly by proprietors and costs placed on the backs of the collective. In this last case, it will be necessary to propose not just financial incentives but integrate them with effective procedures and technical back up; it is therefore necessary to define functional and operational terms of an agency constituting the interface between the private and public institutions that finance the conservation of the countryside and environment protection.

For such an end, as a result of the indications given by the Piano territoriale di Coordinamento Provinciale a project of research has been financed on the conservation of the historical hillside landscape ( department of environmental planning, Arch. Ulivieri) in a sampled area of the province of Florence. The research carried out by professor Paolo Baldeschi involves the following disciplines: applied geology and geomorphology (professor Carlo Alberto Garzonio), agronomy (Dr Alessandro Fonseca); forestry and pedology (Dr Luciano Luciani); hydraulic and environmental engineering (Paolo Giustiniani).

The research group is completed by technicians and acting collaborators in the graphics, information and photography fields etc. Where the geological and geomorphological analysis is concerned, besides contributing to the knowledge of the principle unities of the landscape, in correlation with the structures of the historical landscape, it regards in particular the classification of the arrangement of the slopes whose banks, terracing, stone walls, etc, hydraulic works put in relation to lithological, morphological pedagogical dispositions and to problems of stability.

The investigations on the state of deterioration, on the difficulties of the manufactured articles are finalised according to the costs of the work of conserving the historical set up, that in some cases is supported by the planning, though in a preliminary stage, of restoration and evaluation of the elements that make up the historical hillside landscape.

Florence ART News
Via Faentina, 127 - 50133 Florence, Italy
ph. +39 55 575488/fax +39 55 587321
©Florence ART News - All rights reserved