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Title: Mountain routes; Year: 2023; Place: Castagnello (Borzonasca) (Italy); Author & Copyright: Caterina Piu

 In Liguria, a region in north-west Italy, the Apennines mountain chain is crossed by streams flowing to the Mediterranean Sea that carve sheer valleys into the hillside.


Title: Liguria and study areas; Year: 2023; Place: Liguria (Italy); Author & Copyright: Alessandro Panetta


Title: Clouds; Year: 2023; Place: Valle Erro (Italy); Author & Copyright: Sebastiano Salvidio

Today, the Ligurian mountain landscape is home to a diversity of rural communities, with varied histories and practices. Here you can find vineyards on ancient terraces etched into the steep slopes, open pasture characterized by an abundant biodiversity, and beech, oak and pine woodlands used for pasture, timber, chestnut and hazelnut production.

Over recent decades, however, this harsh and fascinating landscape has been suffering from intense depopulation and aging communities, which leads to the inevitable abandonment of rural practices, and a loss of knowledge and memory – a priceless heritage for the benefits it delivers to nature and society, and one that requires help to protect.



Title: Terraces and dry stone walls; Year: 2023; Place: Castagnello (Borzonasca) (Italy); Author & Copyright: Caterina Piu

The first element that strikes you when entering Ligurian valleys are terraces as far as the eye can see. Due to the steep morphology of the landscape, local communities all over the region increased the availability of cultivated arable surfaces by constructing soil terraces supported by dry stone walls.

The terraces are a tangible example of how an agro-silvo-pastoral system can literally shape large hinterlands, beyond constituting the very base of the socio-economic structure of the local communities inhabiting them. A sustainable balance that sprouts from local practices on pastures, woods and agricultural terraces year after year.


Title: Building a dry stone wall; Year: 2018; Place: Parco Nazionale Cinque Terre (Italy); Author & Copyright: Michael Pasini, Archivio Foto Parco Nazionale Cinque Terre

In fact, from the coastland to the uplands, the fertility of the terraces depended until the end of the 19th century on transhumance: historically, pastures were not limited to the highlands and the herds used to graze in ploughed, terraced lands and woods.
It is only in recent times that terraces – especially in the areas closer to the coast – have been more generally used for the cultivation of olives, grapes and chestnuts.



Title: Grapes; Year: 2016; Place: Parco Nazionale Cinque Terre (Italy); Author & Copyright: Michael Pasini, Archivio Foto Parco Nazionale Cinque Terre

Aveto and its valley are representative of a region that embraces a great diversity of rural realities, historical practices and ancient memories. This valley is one with a layered history: the landscape we observe today is the result of millennia-old practices of environmental resource management and the traces of these complex interactions are tangible.

These traces comprise archaeological finds (such as prehistoric flint tools), historical documents (such as deeds of possession of the woods), archaeobotanical sources and the landscape itself, with its morphology, its vegetation and its infrastructure.

Title: Geography and history of a territory; Year: 2023; Place: Val d’Aveto e Valle Stura (Italy); Author & Copyright: Alessandro Panetta


Title: A good harvest; Year: 2016; Place: Parco Nazionale Cinque Terre (Italy); Author & Copyright: Michael Pasini, Archivio Foto Parco Nazionale Cinque Terre

But oral heritage and local knowledge of the environment are also a fundamental layer in these stratified memories. These testimonies, whose roots lie deep in the past, have been of considerable importance for the study of this territory.

For example, local place names, orally transmitted through the generations and lost in official cartography, are the living memory of past land management and a more populated rural landscape.



Title: Partecipatory mapping; Year: 2023; Place: Rovegno (Italy); Author & Copyright: Caterina Piu

The heritage which still remains in these mountains is eroding quickly and is at great risk of getting lost forever, particularly because the countryside has become depopulated. This is a process which dates back to the 19th century but accelerated significantly in the second half of the 20th century when the region became increasingly industrial and the coast opened up to tourism. People moved to these areas from the hinterland in search of employment and services.

Title: Awareness; Year: 2023; Place: Rezzoaglio (Italy); Author & Copyright: Sabina Ghislandi

In spite of this, the present inhabitants of these valleys are still keeping their traditions alive and preserving their rural heritage. This gave the IRIS project researchers the opportunity to conduct interviews and participatory activities with students, teachers, farmers and regional administrators to continue to shine a spotlight on the value of this living heritage.

These activities encouraged collective reflection on the values associated with tangible and intangible rural heritage and are helping to recuperate and reinforce connections between local communities and the unique territory they live in and with.