In syncopated succession, Liguria presents a vertical sequence of environments, from its coastal areas to its mountains 1,500-2,000m in altitude, in which the Mediterranean landscape has developed in all its aspects, its restricted portions of territory. For example, in the Mediterranean, relationships between the landscapes of the coast and those of the high mountains were established through animals’ migration routes. In the Adriatic, between Puglia and Abruzzo, these developed for hundreds of kilometers, while in Western Liguria they were reduced to a few dozen kilometers.
If Liguria can therefore be considered a particular concentrate of the Mediterranean, the registered site can be considered an exaggeration of the Ligurian landscape.
From this point of view, the exemplary nature of the site is part of its universal value: in it can be found many of the elements that make the Mediterranean landscape distinctive and recognisable.
However, there is not any other coastal strip in the rest of Liguria, “a sparse strip of land bordering the sea” (Camillo Sbarbaro); therefore it can be interpreted as the extension of the Val di Vara rural settlement system behind it, which, despite its proximity to the sea, has a mountainous appearance and character.
The interaction between human beings and nature is a typical dimension of cultural landscapes and each of them takes on a particular declination.
This can be identified:
- in the inhabited areas’ adaptation to the morphological conditions: of the outlet, promontory, saddle, and slope.
- in the arrangement of the slopes, terraces, and water systems;
- in crops that respond to soil characteristics and exposure;
- in the landscape mosaic resulting from the combination of the above factors, also in relation to the size of the cultivated plots, and to the uses of the soil.
These considerations constitute a necessary premise to explain the meaning of the representation of the site’s cultural landscape, from which derives the identification of certain attributes.
The series of coastal villages and rural centres on the slopes
From West to East, the seaside villages’ inland areas become more and more limited, as does the possibility of docking from the sea. Monterosso is backed by two valleys and is the only place with a real beach, where towage is easy. Vernazza occupies the final bottleneck of a wide basin and has a small, relatively sheltered inlet. Corniglia is situated on a spur high above the sea, from which it is possible to walk down to a small mooring. Manarola and Riomaggiore are at the bottom of narrow valleys and in outlets where it is difficult to touch land, even with small boats, due to the lack of natural shelters and the presence of rocky outcrops. In the Tramonti portion, the coast is very restricted and often inaccessible. Here, the collection of buildings (Monesteroli, Schiara and partly Porciana) are not real villages but dependencies of the villages that are on the ridge (Campiglia) or even beyond the watershed, towards La Spezia (Biassa). This is a world made up mainly of relationships of proximity. In contrast to this “mountain on the sea”, Porto Venere represents the other face of Liguria (and of the Mediterranean world). It is not only a mooring point, but a trading hotspot with a decidedly urban character (although small) open to relations beyond the sea with distant places and occasional contacts.
The succession of landscapes is therefore not only transversal, from the shoreline to the watershed ridge, but it is also longitudinal – from the maritime village with an agricultural hinterland, to the rural landscape interrupted abruptly at the cliff edge, to the seaside town.
Within the settlement system we can also distinguish categories of particularly important elements, such as sanctuaries and defensive constructions, as a trace of the ancient settlement system that characterises remarkable and panoramic points of the established communities and landscape.
Terracing and hydraulic-agrarian land systems
The hydraulic-agrarian systems of the site constitute one of the essential components of the biocultural diversity represented by the Cinque Terre landscape. They have medieval origins and concern two main types: the terraces built with dry-walled stone, and the grassy banks.
The terraced systems cover a total surface area of approximately 370 hectares, arranged over altitudes between 2 and 620m above sea level. The hillside systems, the “cuighe”, currently do not exceed 10 ha in size and are mainly present in the inland valleys in the municipalities of Monterosso, Pignone, and Vernazza, on gentler slopes. More than 60% of the terraces are almost equally distributed on the South, South-East, and South-West exposures, but their presence is reported on all the exposures, even those to the North. The slope classes range from 24% to 138%, with a prevalence of slopes between 38% and 70%. These are significant slopes, not only from the point of view of the necessary human work and the slopes’ reduced accessibility, but also from the technical point of view.
The above confirms that food production needs in this area have only been partly influenced by environmental characteristics. The local populations’ culture was able to understand both the characteristics of the environmental systems and the needs of agricultural crops, developing a rural civilization imprinted on its natural base, building a biocultural landscape.
Dry stone wall structures are divided into different types based on construction materials, shape, thickness, and height. The prevailing form of walls have heads located at the cultivated level, a type that is widespread throughout the territory. Terraces with walls having heads that protrude above the cultivated level are also present to a lesser extent. These structures have different characteristics with respect to water regulation and wind protection, but respond to the common need to create arable land, avoid water stagnation, and reduce flow velocity. The height of the terraces varies between 1.50 and 3.50m. The terrace widths are equally variable, between 2 and 10 metres, while the terrace slope, the “line”, varies between 15% and 40%. The lithological nature of construction materials is linked to the lithotypes present in the geological formations of the local rocky substrate. Lime mortar walls are present in some areas, more often in the valley floor areas near the villages.
Terraced agricultural crops
Terraced agricultural crops consist of olive groves, vineyards, arable land, orchards, and vegetable gardens, in the form of monocultures or polycultures. The main crops are the vineyards, with 145 ha, and the olive groves with 176 ha, representing 86% of the cultivations present on the terraces. Their articulation in the rural landscape shows further diversifications, resulting from historical evolution of agricultural techniques, in terms of plant architecture and farming methods. As for the vineyards, the site’s most characteristic cultivation technique is the “low pergola” type, stretching for about 64 ha. It consists of a framework with a wooden pole and iron wire on which the vines are grown, creating a continuous vined “carpet” occupying almost the entire surface of the terraces.
The pergola plane is inclined towards the valley, with heights of about 140-160cm towards the uphill part and about 60-80cm, towards the downhill part. This structure makes it possible to reduce the negative effects of the sea winds which, due to the dry stone wall and the carpet structure, “drift” over the vineyard, reducing their impact. This cultivation technique forces farmers to harvest under the pergola, on all fours. It is a strenuous job that takes a lot of energy, and one which does not allow mechanization. The espalier cultivation system covers about 81 ha and is the most modern form of farming. This technique creates an architecture in rows arranged in multiple parallel lines according to the development of the terracing. Both types of farming mainly use the three typical vine varieties of the Cinque Terre: Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino. The production of wines is regulated by production regulatory bodies: DOC Cinque Terre and Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà, DOC Colli di Luni, DOC Colline di Levanto, IGT Liguria di Levante (ex IGT Golfo dei Poeti).
The terraced olive groves are characterised by generally linear architectures, with continuous rows that are most often singular, arranged longitudinally to the terraces. The traditional cultivation techniques require an arboreal growth of the plant that develops in a globular form. In some small isolated areas, characterised by large terraces in areas that are not too steep, there is also a sparse plant architecture and/or more numerous rows.
Terraces cultivated with horticultural species and fruit trees, including citrus fruits, are also widespread.
Evergreen oaks and chestnut woods
The landscape of the site also includes some woods particularly linked to the history and culture of the local populations that have used them over the centuries to meet the needs of wood, coal, timber, and fruit production. As for the terraces, they are a fundamental part of the biocultural diversity of the Cinque Terre landscape, having been shaped by mans’ work over the centuries.
The chestnut groves represent the cultural forest par excellence; their introduction dates back to the Roman period, and they are distributed throughout the Ligurian Apennines. They were already described in the medieval period as the land’s most profitable forest crop, sometimes more so than the vineyards. This is a multifunctional forest that provided local populations with a wide range of products such as chestnuts for food, fodder leaves, barks from which tannins were extracted for tanning leather, in the case of tall forest trees, as well as coal and work material, in the form of a managed coppice.
The chestnut coppice, a form of forestry already in use during the Roman period, also provides wooden poles for the construction of pergolas, as well as building material for dwellings and rural outbuildings. The chestnut grove of historical value is distributed in the highest slopes and in the deepest soils, in various settlements located mainly in the northern part of the site, in the municipalities of Monterosso and Vernazza.
The evergreen oak forests, in particular the holm oak and cork oak woods, are another element that distinguishes the site’s identity. These typologies, in addition to constituting native formations typical of the Mediterranean climate and of the soils present in the area, have structural characteristics that are the result of long-term anthropic influences. Together with the high-trunk form, we also have coppice woods, which represent important forms of management from a historical and cultural point of view. The evergreen oak forests are distributed throughout the site, mainly at medium and low altitudes, being characteristic of the warmer areas, and poorer and drier soils.