donderdag 1 augustus 2013

Portugal, Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture

The 987-ha site on the volcanic island of Pico, the second largest in the Azores archipelago, consists of a remarkable pattern of spaced-out, long linear walls running inland from, and parallel to, the rocky shore. The walls were built to protect the thousands of small, contiguous, rectangular plots (currais) from wind and seawater. Evidence of this viniculture, whose origins date back to the 15th century, is manifest in the extraordinary assembly of the fields, in houses and early 19th-century manor houses, in wine-cellars, churches and ports. The extraordinarily beautiful man-made landscape of the site is the best remaining area of a once much more widespread practice.

The Pico Island landscape reflects a unique response to viticulture on a small volcanic island and one that has been evolving since the arrival of the first settlers in the 15th century. The extraordinarily beautiful man-made landscape of small, stone walled fields is testimony to generations of small-scale farmers who, in a hostile environment, created a sustainable living and a much prized wine.
Pico, uninhabited until the mid-15th century, is the second largest of the nine islands of the Azores; Pico Mountain (a stratovolcano) dominates the island. It reaches a height of 2,351 m above sea level, the highest point in Portugal. Part of the site is an actively farmed viticulture area immediately south of the island's main town, Madalena; to the north the area was formerly used for growing vines and figs but has since been largely abandoned and is now extensively covered by vegetation, mainly clumps of heather as much as several metres high. Within the Criação Velha area, traditional winegrowing continues, producing a sweet, much-prized and once widely exported desert wine called Verdelho.
The geometrical network of small walled fields covers the strip of flat land along the coast. Constructed from irregular weather-worn black basalt stones, these tiny fields covered rocky land of no use for arable cultivation. They were constructed to shelter vines from sea breezes with walls around 2 m high. Groups of fields have two types of patterns: in the first, six small fields form a group with one main entrance; in the second and more common arrangement two parallel groups of fields 'interlock' with narrow gaps at the ends of cross-walls to allow access along the strip. In general the fields were used for growing vines. Traditionally and still, cultivation and cropping is entirely by hand. None of the enclosures contain soil. The purpose of the little walled plots was to protect the crops from Atlantic winds and salt spray; and for the walls to provide support for the vines themselves.
Rock tracks along shore and between the fields : Immediately below the farmed zone is a strip of lava coastline, roughly 50-100 m deep and too exposed to wind and salt spray. Along it ran a track, occasionally made-up but otherwise on the bare rock where the wheels of ox-carts loaded with produce ground out permanent ruts. The track was joined by other tracks running down through the vineyards at right angles to it. The whole network was connected with storage sheds and small ports along the rocky shore.
Cellars, distilleries and warehouses : Small groups of cellars are located in the settlements and near to cultivated land. These small one- or two-storey buildings, built from dry random, black, basalt stones, with shallow clay tile roofs, were inhabited seasonally during the grape harvest, with the upper storey being used as accommodation. Some settlements have as many as thirty cellars. Warehouses are larger storage buildings, similarly constructed.
Small ports and harbours : Lajido village, near Santa Luzia, is one of the larger of such ports, inhabited and now very much officially conserved. Its installations in place include a small quay, a ramp for sea-access, church, warehouses, tide well, and a manor house available to the public as an in situ museum.
Tidal wells : Owing to shortage of surface water, wells were dug through the rock to pick up underground watercourses. Either rectangular or square, their deep shafts are lined with random stone. Around 20 still survive in the area, providing often brackish water for household use.
Houses and churches : In the northern part of the site there are several nucleated settlements with a strong urban character, such as Cachorro de Santa Luzia. Here are the houses of the viticulturalists together with many cellars and warehouses. In the west there are fewer small towns and more scattered cellars. The local vernacular architecture is most immediately characterized by brilliant white exteriors and, rarely, black-walled buildings, notably in Lajido.

Historical Description

The documentary history of Pico and its winegrowing has been well-researched but the fields themselves have hardly been studied, certainly not archaeologically and structurally. It is difficult at this stage to correlate the two types of evidence.
Documentary references to wine-growing in the second half of the 15th century have understandably encouraged a local belief that the system of land enclosure as we see it now is of that date. It may well be that the nominated areas, especially the Criação Velha area, embrace an area of early viticulture and might even include fragments of early enclosure; but there is no proof of the original date of construction of the system of land allotment now existing on the ground. It clearly is not, in any case, of one period, since its structure shows phases and changes which suggest development over time.
In very broad terms, after initial clearance around the first, widely-spaced settlements, clusters of stone-walled fields probably developed as land was cleared in the 16th-17th centuries. The main axial arrangements may well have been laid out in the 18th century when a small number of land-lords, symbolised by the manor houses, owned much of the land. While small plots would always have been necessary for practical reasons, much of their present extensive rectilinear pattern could well be of the 19th century when, instead of large estates, social and agricultural change encouraged the growth of a mosaic of land holdings cultivated by numerous ‘small farmers'.
Wine making was introduced by the Portuguese, probably in the 15th century. During the 16th century the Franciscan and Carmelite orders introduced improvements. The production reached its climax in the 19th century when wine production was so extensive that significant quantities were exported.
Most of the formerly-cultivated area of stone-walled plots has been progressively abandoned since the phylloxera disease in the mid-late 19th century and during rural desertification throughout the 20th century.

1 opmerking:

  1. As a wine enthusiast, my travels have taken me to a wide variety of vineyards and wine areas of France and Italy, and of course to the wonderful gardens of the wineries and surrounding places. Such spectacular fountains, planters and statuary! Citrus and olive trees in beautiful planters, stone statuary in the midst of bubbling fountains, elaborate terra cotta creations…. Imagine my pleasure, then, when I walked into Authentic Provence in West Palm Beach, Florida. In a beautiful environment of running water and good smells, the owners have sourced one of the finest collections of European garden antiques that I have seen in the USA: statues, fountains, planters (note especially the classic Caisse de Versailles, and Anduze pottery), terra cotta shields, stone animals, copper pots, garden spouts, etc. They also have beautiful stone fireplaces, re-purposed tiles, and many other specialty items. They are available online at, and can arrange shipping anywhere in the US. Well worth a visit!