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





Border Landscapes

Valerią Paül
Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Santiago de Compostela

As is known, Tuan(1) proposed the terms topophilia and topophobia to refer to the opposite poles of our affective and emotional relationship with the environment. I must confess that I have felt profound topophobias in Bethlehem and Ciudad Juárez. In the former, at one of the many walls that Israel has built illegally inside the West Bank to encapsulate Palestinian towns and hamper the mobility of the people who live there; crossing it becomes unbearable, no matter your background. In the latter, Washington has spent the last decades building a disgraceful wall – it wasn't Trump's bright idea(2) – between Mexico and the United States, with some particularly chilling stretches, such as the cage for crossing the border on foot (if you are lucky enough to be authorised to do so) on the bridge over the Rio Bravo/Grande, between the two banks of the former New Spanish city of Guadalupe del Paso del Río, split by the border imposed by the powerful neighbour in 1848. The materiality of these borders is so implacable that the sketchily outlined resistance landscapes may seem silenced(3).

These border landscapes are growing at an insane rate. According to Ruiz et al.(4), the number of walls has increased more than 60-fold since the 1970s. Of course, some of them are historic and have even been converted into tourist products, for instance, to mention some iconic examples that are now World Heritage Sites, the frontiers of the Roman Empire (designated in 1987, including Hadrian's Wall), the Great Wall of China (also designated in 1987), or Vauban's fortifications (2008). However, such selective heritagisations are rare among the general invisibilisation of border landscapes, to the point that we erase them from our personal and collective memory banks. We prefer to forget them – at least, that's my impression – because when we look at them, we feel painfully reflected in them and their ignominy makes us feel ashamed too.

Beyond these cases of landscapes steeped, historically or contemporaneously, in the border environment, there are millions of more discreet markers driven into the ground around the world, not just between countries but also on other scales – down to the level of divisions between rural properties and urban neighbourhoods (with widespread gated communities: condominios in Chile, conjuntos or fraccionamientos in other Latin American countries, etc.). These instituted frameworks, whether visible or invisible, usually entail different management systems on either side of the line, resulting in dissimilarities in the landscape; for example, an area that is designated as protected on one side but not on the other. However, this differentiation is anthropogenic, not natural. We often fall into the trap of "natural borders", a misleading notion that, according to Sahlins(5), was invented in Richelieu's France. The fact that a border runs along a natural feature will never make it "natural"(6). Nevertheless: it is no coincidence that there are well-preserved border areas, as nation-states often see them as cul-de-sacs along the edges of their territories, with the result that nature takes over and produces a spontaneous "rewilding", a term coined in the 1990s and very much in vogue today(7). In fact, there are quite a number of transboundary parks – peace parks when they have been battlegrounds – that are located in these contexts(8).

To conclude, I would like to highlight the recent research on the term borderscape, first used in 1996. It is a research strategy that, as Krichker asserts(9), has undergone exponential growth in the last five years and focuses on the study of the interaction between the border landscapes' spatial materiality, as we have discussed here, and imagination and experience. Two expressive examples of borderscape-influenced readings are, on the one hand, the restored memory of the existence of the Couto Mixto – a kind of microstate between Galicia and Portugal that was wiped off the maps in the mid-19th century –(10) and, on the other, the porter women of Melilla, who embody the border between Spain and Morocco by crossing it incessantly, loaded with bundles(11). So, much though we may dislike borderscapes, they are one of the identifying marks of human society in the 21st century. We need to have the necessary courage to recognise them, criticise them and manage them. As we must with all our everyday landscapes, exceptional or otherwise.



1. Tuan, Y.-F. (1974). Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perceptions, Attitudes, and Values. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

2. Amado, A., Trillo, J. M., and Paül, V. (2021). El tratamiento de la migración en los contextos fronterizos de Estados Unidos-México y Ceuta y Melilla por la prensa española. Treballs de la Societat Catalana de Geografia, 91-92, 9-32.

3. Trillo, J. M., and Paül, V. (2015). Paisajes de frontera y narrativas postestatales. In T. Blanch (Dir.), Topografías invisibles: estrategias críticas entre Arte y Geografía (pp. 310-319). Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona.

4. Ruiz, A., Akkerman, M., and Brunet, P. (2020). A walled world towards a global apartheid. Barcelona: Centre Delàs d’Estudis per la Pau.

5. Sahlins, P. (1990). Natural Frontiers Revisited: France’s Boundaries since the Seventeenth Century. The American Historical Review, 95(5), 1423-1451.

6. Paül, V. (2016). A Serra da Raia Seca nas geografias regionais galegas, espanholas e ibéricas de começos do século XX: entre montanha inventada e fronteira natural. In J. M. Trillo and E. Pires (Eds.): Fronteras en la investigación peninsular: temáticas y enfoques contemporáneos = Fronteiras na investigação peninsular: temáticas e abordagens contemporâneas (pp. 197-215). Santiago de Compostela: Universidade de Santiago de Compostela.

7. Cidrás, D., and Paül, V. (2022, under review). Rewilding Shouldn’t Be Reactive: Fragas do Eume Natural Park in the Face of an Invasive Alien Species.

8. Trillo, J. M., and Paül, V. (2016). Transboundary Protected Areas as Ideal Tools? Analyzing the Gerês-Xurés Transboundary Biosphere Reserve. Land Use Policy, 52, 454-463.

9. Krichker, D. (2021). Making Sense of Borderscapes: Space, Imagination and Experience. Geopolitics, 26(4), 1224-1242.

10. Paül, V., and Trillo, J. M. (2014). La construcción literaria de los paisajes fronterizos. Una reflexión a propósito del Couto Mixto (Galicia y Portugal). Documents d’Anàlisi Geogràfica, 60(2), 289-314.

Paül, V., and Trillo, J. M. (2015). Discussing the Couto Mixto (Galicia, Spain): Transcending the Territorial Trap Through Borderscapes and Border Poetics Analyses. Geopolitics, 20(1): 56-78.

11. Krichker, D. (2021). Making Sense of Borderscapes: Space, Imagination and Experience. Geopolitics, 26(4), 1224-1242.

Krichker, D. (2020). They Carry the Border on Their Backs: Atypical Commerce and Bodies’ Policing in Barrio Chino, Melilla. Area, 52(1), 196-203.

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