While interacting with Mother Nature over the centuries, people were always trying to produce some "friendly" and familiar environment by creating appropriate landscapes. Since time immemorial they have been trying to express their notions about the surrounding world through changes they managed to accomplish on selected plots of land. This has been most vividly revealed on what we call cultural landscapes which possessed no obvious economic meaning or significance - first on temple grounds and later on in things like gardens and parks, and "man-made" pastures and forests.
CULTURAL VERSUS NATURAL LANDSCAPE
Travellers across Europe and other parts of the world know from their own experience of a wide spectrum of some very different landscapes, both natural ones and those modified by man. In Central Russia, for example, they "cut off" triangles and squares of land for farming from massive forests which continue to shrink right before our eyes. And in the south - in the forest-steppe and steppe zones-farmers have to plant belts of trees across the vast fields in order to protect the crops from sweeping winds and drifts of snow in winter * . Rural settlements in Central Russia most often gravitate to some original "nucleus" which grew up in the place of a clearing in the woods, and in the country's south they stretch along roads.
In the agricultural, or farming landscapes in the low coastal fields of the Netherlands and Belgium not a shred of the scarce land is lost during the planting of vegetables and flowers out in the open or in hothouses. In Italy, fields and gardens are more scattered around, so to say, covering the slopes of the numerous hills. In Germany, the accurately rectangular squares of cropfields are cut across by arrow-straight motorways and railroads and this looks quite different from the washed-out contours of gardens and plantations with grooves of carefully preserved trees one sees in France.
* See:Yu. Golubchikov, "Search Desert for Civilization", Science in Russia, No. 6, 1999. - Ed .
This kind of landscapes, modified by man in different ways and degrees, can logically be described as "cultural" ones. The notion was first introduced back in the 1920s by the American geographer Carl Zauer (1889-1975) who had in mind a combination of features of landscape occupying a certain territory resulting from transformations produced by people - representatives of a certain culture. In a narrow meaning of the term a cultural landscape is a natural environment radically altered by man which can no longer exist without human intervention, and in a broader sense of the word - any area bearing traces of human interaction with nature - from equatorial forest where native tribes make their living by hunting and up to our vast modem cities.
Most ethnic or social groups try to recreate in a cultural landscape some habitual environment - a habitat which matches a certain stereotype. For example, settlements of religious sects, like the Molokans or the Dukhobors, dwelling in the Caucasus, Canada or Siberia, match some of the basic common canons that applied to the villages of these sects which existed in the South of Russia and Ukraine back in the 17-18th centuries. These are groups of white houses, stretching along roads, with the main entrances from the backyards.
FROM PALEOLITHIC TO ANTIQUITY
Our notions of nature and the place of man within it find their most vivid expression in artificially created landscapes having no direct economic significance. These include cult structures of the late Paleolithic made of bones of mammoths and other animals which are found on the shores of the Sea of Chukotka, ancient temple complexes of the Mediterranean, Indian places of worship in Central and South America, the Chinese Empire and, finally, the parks and gardens of Europe, China and Japan of today.
In the late 1980s, Russian archeologists - Sergei Senyavin, Igor Krupnik and Mikhail Chlenov of the RAS Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography - discovered and described a vast eskimo ritual ground, built about one thousand years ago of the bones and jaws of Greenland whales and huge boulders. They called the find the Whale Alley. The eskimos, who lived by hunting whales, seals and walruses, and who knew the bodies of these animals down to the last detail, must have tried to draw some comparisons with the more or less puzzling surrounding world.
The center of the aforesaid sacred ground was a spot which corresponds to a hole at the back of the scull of a whale (where the scull joins the backbone) - one of the most vulnerable points on the huge body of the beast. And the whole ritual ground is located in such a way that one can very well see the outlines of a huge whale lying on the slope of a hill by the sea.
I had an opportunity to study in detail some ancient cultural monuments on the Russian coast of the Sea of Japan (Jankovsky culture of more than 1.5 thousand years ago). Local residents of that period lived on a diet of seafood, above all shell-fish, fish, crabs and so on. These tribes left behind them on the shore hills tens of meters in diameter and up to 15 m high. They are known as "shell piles" although they also contain all sorts of bits and pieces of ceramics, fishbones and so on. The area was littered rather badly and these piles of litter were part of its cultural landscape.
At this point one can recall the notorious rubbish dump on the southern side of ancient Rome: it was 1,200 m in diameter and 45 m high. It was called "Mons tectaceus" ("Mountain of Shards") and really contained lots of bits and pieces of ceramics.
With the advent of religion as a specific aspect of culture a prominent role in the landscape of populated areas was given to temples. Ancient Greeks usually erected them on hilltops to underscore the bonds between the earth, where people dwell, and heaven - the abode of gods. Some temples, however, were located in groves of trees (according to the Greek geographer and historian Strabo one such temple was dedicated to Apollo and Artemis and was located near Antioch in what is now Syria). At the same time, however, the art of antiquity tried to underscore the creative role of man. In any case one can hardly find pictures of virgin landscapes on the vases and mosaics of that epoch.
The cult of what was called the "second nature" was especially typical of the Romans. A Russian historian and archeologist Vladimir Blavatsky made an interesting observation on that score back in the 1960s: "... even in their country villas Romans chose to look at the mountains and the sea from indoors and go for a stroll in their roofed backyard."
PARKS AND GARDENS AS CULTURAL-NATURAL PHENOMENON
Originating in ancient Europe as kitchen-gardens, by the Middle Ages gardens acquired a different function of their own-a spot of ideal nature, quite apart from the rest of a residential plot. This idea can clearly be traced back to the Old Testament Garden of Eden where "out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food" (Gen. 2,9). And the Garden of Paradise was a kind of model of our earthly world with rivers flowing through for "watering the whole face of the ground", and down in the ground there was gold and "the onyx stone".
In his book "Poetry of Gardens" Academician Dmitry Likhachev (1906-1999) describes landscape architecture (gardening) as an art of transforming the outside world into a kind of an "interior" made up of not just trees, shrubs and gardens, but also with the help of other arts and also involving nature beyond the confines of a particular garden, such as the sky visible on a bigger or smaller scale through the trees and above them. "A garden is always an expression of some philosophy and aesthetic notions of the world, of Man's relation to Nature. It is a microworld in its ideal expression."
EUROPEAN WORLD IMAGE
In the opinion of Acad. Likhachev, the first gardens in Europe were attached to cloisters, and up to the 14th century or so they were "in the liking of wild nature, spared the sinful impact of Man". And the monasteries themselves, especially in Russia, were usually located in remote and unpopulated areas in which Mother Nature reigned supreme.
The epoch of the Renaissance marked the start of an undisguised human intervention into virgin nature which began to be regarded more and more as an embodiment of chaos which could be put into order by man alone. The subsequent progress of science and technology created an illu-
sion of an unlimited power of people over nature and a conviction that a transformed "cultivated" landscape alone can be really beautiful. French natural scientist and Honorary Member of the St. Petersburg Academy Prof. George Buffon (1707-1788) wrote: "How disgusting is this dying wild nature! It is I alone who can make it pleasant and alive: so let us drain these swamps, bring these dead waters back to life and make them flow..." In Russia the future Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681), who placed "priesthood above the tsar" and faith above all of the lusts of the sinful worldly life, when he was the Father Superior of the Ferapontov Monastery ordered an artificial island to be piled up on a nearby lake "in the shape of a cross" * . What a fine example it was of the transforming influence of the Reason - and Reason Divine - upon nature. In the grounds of Ms New Jerusalem (Novy lerusalem) Monastery near Moscow Patriarch Nikon had scenes from the Holy Land ** reproduced from local materials in realistic proportions.
With the prevalence of the Renaissance in European architecture and art from the 15th century the art of landscape gardening began to be understood as the skill of improving nature by conveying to it some more stringent and orderly forms. The numerous terraces, pavilions, towers, enclosures, arched gateways and narrow alleys in the gardens of Florence and Rome, and then in the English and French gardens, restricted the view and the accompanying fountains symbolized man's triumph over the forces of nature.
In the baroque period, which replaced the Renaissance, people admired pomp and things that looked out of the ordinary That is why gardens were chosen for cabinets of curiosities and for cultivating some rare fruit-trees. One such example in Russia are the spacious parks of the royal estate of Tsarskoye Selo (Tsar's Village) near St. Petersburg which were planted in the first half of the 18th century
* See: V. Darkevich, "Frescoes of Dionisiy", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2000 . - Ed.
** See: V. Darkevich, "New Jerusalem", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2000 - Ed.
But even from the late 17th century a new style started coming into force, so to say The strict order of outlines, symmetry, and the introduction of central alleys which "organize" the whole park space and offer a broad view of a flat open country around - such were the main features of parks and gardens produced in the Classicism style. Nature in them was assigned the role of some mechanism which man cleans, repairs and sets into motion. For Versailles in France, which offers a vivid example of gardens of this kind, a most typical feature are alleys, spreading out in all directions, like sun-rays - the symbols of the limitless power of Louis XIV - the "Sun-King" who reigned in 1643-1715. And Russia's victory in the Northern Campaign was extolled by a park ensemble planted in Peterhof.
In the late 18th century particularly popular in Europe were what were called "landscape" parks in the "Romanticism" style, commonly known as English parks as originating on the British Isles. Their makers did their best to avoid any "regularity" so that trees and shrubs were either not trimmed at all, or this was done in a way that did not catch the eye, so to speak. A plot of land was not cut into segments with fences and hedges, there were no straight or sharply bent alleys and the walks were artfully fitted into some irregularities of natural relief. In Pavlovsk near St. Petersburg, where one of the world's most beautiful landscape parks was and is located, a stream winding its way among the low hills with walks along its banks serves as a kind of a guideway leading from one unexpected and striking view to another.
Apart from planted greenery, the makers of landscape parks preserved large patches of natural vegetation. And, as often as not, one can hardly draw a line between these natural and "man- made" groves of trees. A park of this kind was no longer fenced in an obvious way, but there were hedges, hidden in trenches and invisible from a distance, in order to keep off any cattle grazing nearby.
The central role in Romantic gardens belonged not to the symbolism of this or that structure, arch or perspective opening up from an alley, as was the case before, but to a
general atmosphere, or disposition of the place. Emphasis was placed upon a mood of melancholy and artificial old "ruins" were specially erected now and then which generated an atmosphere of nostalgic memories and eternity. In Pavlovsk, for example, the estate of Empress Maria Fyodorovna, the widow of Emperor Paul I, the above atmosphere prevailed in an especially striking way.
And the landscape parks of the epoch of Romanticism were no departure from the notions of the omnipotence of man and his mastery over nature. But even being aware of their mastery the Europeans of the late 18th and early 19th century realized that one should not always demonstrate this power openly. And it was not by chance that the Romanticists were the first who, within the bounds of European culture, became seriously concerned about the damaging impact of civilization upon nature.
PARKS AND GARDENS OF THE EAST
The makers of the landscape parks of Europe had borrowed a great deal from the traditions of China and Japan. A contemporary student of oriental culture, Yelena Zavadskaya, quoting a mid-19th century Russian expert Nikolai Pevzner, writes: "... Landscape park was invented by (Oriental) philosophers, writers and gardeners." The Heavenly ensemble in Peking is built in a way that makes a visitor aware of the greatness of the universe, of its divine hierarchical order in which the power of the emperor represents universal power and order.
And it should be noted here that in the Oriental tradition, as different from the European one, Mother Nature, which was there before there was man, is not regarded as some primitive chaos and absence of order. According to an expert in Japanese culture, Tatyana Grigoryeva (RAS Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography) chaos is something introduced by man into the natural order of things by his senseless actions, thus breaking the original harmony of the world. This being so, it was necessary to conceal in every possible way the traces of human interference with nature in the planting of parks, and, the other way round - to underscore the natural features of a landscape.
The complex of the Imperial Summer Palace and the surrounding park (Yiheyuan) on the edge of Peking is a typical example of the symbolism of the Universe deliberately introduced into a man- made landscape. Thus the male symbol - a hill - occupies exactly one third of the total park area (3 km 2 ) and a lake - a symbol of the north and of femininity - two thirds of it. The conflict between these two universal principles transpires in all of the elements of the park with a hill counterpoised to the smooth surface of a lake, its
smooth shores - to the angular bends of a gallery stretching along, and the shaded interiors of the pavilions - to the brightly lit yards. The choice of the site is also significant: a steep hill at the entrance fully obstructs from view the numerous temples, pavilions, galleries and some secluded comers.
The makers of Chinese parks paid special attention to producing an atmosphere of the constant changing nature of this world with its unbreakable chain of successive stages. With this aim in mind various green plants are placed so that they would bloom one after the other nearly all year round. In contrast with these blooming and withering plants, there are bamboo trees and pines-a symbol of universal stability and the strength of human personality.
The above principles were used in China and Japan not only in the laying out of vast park ensembles, but also of small urban gardens in which the atmosphere of the multifarious world is produced with the help of artful walls of stone, and patches of trees and shrubs. Most of these gardens measure not more than a few hundred meters across, but one can spend there hours without getting tired of seeing the same sight. The main principles of the comprehension of the world order in the Chinese and Japanese traditions are the surprising and eternal novelty of the world which can be expressed in some simple and small details.
20TH CENTURY LANDSCAPES
One of the hallmarks of the past century were some significant changes in the appearance of our parks and gardens and in their social role. And it were international exhibitions and world fairs which paved the way for the "intemalization" of the art of park and garden planning. In preparation for such international events huge complexes were built, including a range of national pavilions with a park around them. At the end of each such show the grounds were turned into public parks. To give just one example - back in 1930 a park-and-garden ensemble in the Modem Style was laid out in a Prague suburb in Czechoslovakia. Today it is one of the most favourite leisure sites of the local public.
At the start of the 20th century Moscow parks and gardens were intended not only for the pleasure of the upper class (such as the Hermitage Garden) but also for political activities (parks in Izmailovo, Sokolniki and Kuskovo). In the 1920s these were used for some official functions and their vegetation ceased to be the basic part of the ensemble. The emphasis was on some fitting architectural and sculptural details (one common "feature" was the statue of "Girl with an Oar"). This new political symbolism found a most vivid expression in Moscow's Central
Park of Culture and Rest named after Maxim Gorky. Located on the bank of the Moskva River, it was formally opened to the public in 1928. Its planners artfully linked it with the neighbouring Neskuchny and Golitsinsky gardens - traditional pleasure spots of the urban intelligentsia and also the common folk - which had already been there for about a century and a half. In the "parade" or "regular" section of the Gorky Park all kinds of facilities were provided for an active and healthy pastime of a young Muscovite on his or her day off - from beerhouses and inexpensive restaurants to colorful fountains and attractions. And the park bears absolutely no traces of any ethnic or landscape color. Another example of a vast modem park as a popular pastime and leisure center in Moscow was its former Exhibition of National Economic Achievements - now the All-Russia Exhibition Center.
The modem public parks of North America and Europe seem to be a far cry from the above at first sight. The Disneyland in Orlando, Florida, and its twin near Paris are the proverbial playgrounds not only for kids, but also for their parents. Also popular is the Mini- Europa park in Brussels with its small-scale copies of the famous buildings of different European cities. And there are also the famous Legolands in Billund (Denmark), Windsor (England) and also in California. The principles of their organization fully match the ideas used by the makers of Moscow's Gorky Park and suchlike public places - there are no links with the surrounding landscape, or cityscape, and the visitors are invited to entertain themselves within the mob, so to speak. Solitude, one of the basic principles of the classic parks of Europe and the East, is completely ignored.
On the other hand, there spring up in various countries some public parks whose cultural, or what we call "culturological" role is very obvious. There are such parks in Rome, London and Hannover. And even Moscow's Hermitage is trying to regain its original garden status in the traditional sense of this word. There is an obvious public need for such "islets" of restful leisure in harmony with nature. The same objective is pursued by what are known as landscape parks many of which have sprung up in Europe, America, Asia and Australia. Their makers are inspired by the idea of making visitors feel themselves part of the living nature...
The ideas of the indivisible unity, or wholeness of this world are shared by many different cultures. But the progress of our urban and industrial civilization, which severs natural links and places between man and nature some dead machinery, incapable of self- regulating development, has produced a situation in which people have partially lost their confidence in the integrity of our world. One can only hope against hope that an analysis of the interplay of nature and society, as most vividly focused in what we call "cultural landscapes", will show us the way to the solution of the global problems of today-ecological, social and anthropological ones.
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Andrei SELIVANOV, Dr. Sc. (Geogr.), Lomonosov Moscow State University, Landscape and Culture // New-York: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 07.09.2018. URL: https://libmonster.com/m/articles/view/Landscape-and-Culture (date of access: 04.12.2023).
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