Paisatg-e / Paisaj-e / Landscap-e / Paysag-e





Mediterranean landscapes: a view from the south of Italy

Daniela Colafranceschi
Architect, doctor of architectural projects and professor of landscape architecture in the faculty of architecture of the Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria, Italy

I have been teaching in the University of Calabria for almost twenty years that and, of course, I often move between the two strips of land bordering the strait which links -but also separates- this region from Sicily. With an approach inclined to the observation of phenomena, I have learned to read this landscape through its most basic morphology and the cultural references which have been imposed on it throughout the centuries.

These lands have been trodden by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans, Byzantines, Goths, Arabs and Norsemen and, later, Swabians, Angevins, Catalans and Spaniards, peoples who had conquered these lands and, later, were themselves conquered there. Calabria and Sicily: you see here two territories full of differences, of penury and want, strong contrasts and a thousand contradictions. You see here two territorial configurations created by cultures and civilisations which have been superimposed, diluted, hybridised.

The landscapes here are enormously dynamic and are counterpoised with others which are tenaciously static. Rough and broken shapes, exuberant agricultural stretches rich in tones and colours, burnt and arid lands and, even, volcanoes, cliffs and salt pans; in short, an extraordinary Mediterranean museum of landscape.

From the 18th century the Mediterranean became a cultural point of reference for European artists and intellectuals fascinated by the exotic, the picaresque, the popular and, above all, by an art which reached back to classical antiquity. The Grand Tour, the expected epilogue to an intellectual education, which involved the verification in situ of the knowledge acquired in prestigious European schools, led young aristocrats to travel along the rough and narrow spine of the Italian peninsula until they came to this triangular island, far beyond the itineraries suggested by Baedeker. Promising young figures of future literature, such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Mary Shelley, Lord George Gordon Byron, Guy de Maupassant, Ezra Pound, of music, such as Richard Wagner, or of architecture, such as Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, would discover the essence of these lands through its gardens, villas and various vernacular constructions which were an essential stop, to the point of recognising in them an autonomous value as a "landscape unit" in itself, in the most ample Italian tradition of the art of gardens. The pages, notes and drawings multiplied, inspired more by the senses than by knowledge of the place. An aesthetic value was seen in the timeless "classical" landscape as an element of connection and dialogue between nature and artifice, as well as a "poetry of the sublime" which found all its rationale in the relationship between noble architecture and spontaneous architecture.

Thus, from its origins, southern Italy has not been seen by the world as an area of modernity, but more as a place of memory. The classical ruins, the primitive and archaic landscapes, the cave paintings, all represent a deposit of western culture in which myth and reality cohabit. In all the phases of this geographical fascination, artists and architects understood that way of "looking" at the past as a possible way of constructing the present. Even the Modern Movement, in spite of the breakaway that it represented, found in the Mediterranean the basis for a reformulation of architecture and town planning for 20th century society. It was, precisely, on the evocative capacity of this heritage, on the "reinterpretation" of those landscapes, that the attitude of the modern project was founded. Through their travels to Sicily, Gottfried Semper, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier, with their evocative descriptions, proposed to rediscover and reinvent the landscape more than, simply, describe it. Their work was capable of expressing and giving an impulse -and continuity- to a new identity with the Mediterranean dimension of landscape.

The message that we receive today from these Mediterranean geographies is of a fragile landscape, with little possibility of regeneration, very vulnerable to development and infrastructures and with little capacity for spontaneous recovery from the injuries thus caused. The project for this landscape passes through a lesson in rationality and intelligent dialogue with the place, down to a detailed scale. A dialogue which must allow projected solutions to be offered to cities, districts, villages, marine centres and spas, agricultural and rural centres, all of them recognisable identities among which are interposed undefined strips of abandoned land, self-built peripheral zones, damaging and uncontrolled urban extensions. To achieve this we have to understand intervention in the landscape as a strategy for unveiling and revealing special values, as being compatible with the objective of extolling and preserving its excellence through the quality of the project itself.

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