Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques

 Among the many things to see in Tuscany we would like to draw attention to  dry stone walling. These ones do not exist only here in Tuscany but all over Italy and in Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece ,Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. Sincerely they are important in many other parts of the world.

Chianti Walls

Inscribed in 2018 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity The art of dry stone walling concerns the knowhow related to making stone constructions by stacking stones upon each other, without using any other materials except sometimes dry soil. Dry stone structures are spread across most rural areas – mainly in steep terrains – both inside and outside inhabited spaces, though they are not unknown in urban areas. The stability of the structures is ensured through the careful selection and placement of the stones, and dry-stone structures have shaped numerous, diverse landscapes, forming various modes of dwelling, farming and husbandry. Such structures testify to the methods and practices used by people from prehistory to today to organize their living and working space by optimizing local natural and human resources. They play a vital role in preventing landslides, floods and avalanches, and in combating erosion and desertification of the land, enhancing biodiversity and creating adequate microclimatic conditions for agriculture. The bearers and practitioners include the rural communities where the element is deeply rooted, as well as professionals in the construction business. Dry stone structures are always made in perfect harmony with the environment and the technique exemplifies a harmonious relationship between human beings and nature. The practice is passed down primarily through practical application adapted to the particular conditions of each place.

Where dry stone walls are widespread in Italy

In coastal areas and islands, on the other hand, they mainly serve to safeguard crops from atmospheric agents. In other areas these walls stop the flow of land. Just think of Puglia, Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre and Pantelleria.

Why maintain these dry stone walls

These places are an example of the need of the contemporary world, which in a phase of climate crisis can no longer afford maintenance deficits and unsustainable practices, but does not even want to give up the quality of food and landscapes, therefore requires multifunctional rural areas, “urban countryside” able to satisfy and summarize the three functions of naturalness: ecological,  the productive one, the aesthetic one. And so, in ensuring structural stability to the productive function, a drywall adapts and gives variety to the shapes of the landscape: it guarantees the hydrogeological balance with its permeability and porosity, protects the soil by counteracting erosion and desertification phenomena.In its interstices it hosts surprising niches of biodiversity; it helps small niche productions, particular cultivars.

Dry stone walls are simple and at the same time complex, they are unique in their lithological and formal variety but universal and widespread all over the world, they are apparently unsustainable, if you think of the effort required to build them, but also a model of sustainability and circular economy, because “every stone is good”, every stone finds its place in the wall,  there are therefore no waste materials.

Probably at the moment the most important point is  the defense,the help to those few people who are still able to build these dry stone walls. It is an art taught from generation to generation but not so fruitful and therefore at risk of being abandoned.

As these walls are everywhere in the world, please share if you know of any place where you’ve seen them.