The art of dry stone walls


The traditional art of dry stone walls has been officially listed byUNESCO in the Intangible Cultural Heritage List since 2018 to protect a thousand-year-old art. It refers to all the knowledge, handed down over the centuries, related to the construction of structures made by piling and setting stones on top of each other, without the use of other elements except occasionally dry earth.

It's an entry shared by eight European countries, which has found an numerous examples in Italy in different regions. An ancient, masterful art, still practiced and rightly preserved that testifies to how man can change landscapes for his purposes, while remaining in perfect harmony with the environment.

From the construction of houses to terraces and embankments, to counteract the erosion of winds, floods, land desertification and thus get the best microclimatic conditions for agriculture and livestock.

In Sicily, entire landscapes and regions are marked with these constructions, made with local materials adapted to the specific local conditions so as to strongly define their identity.

For example, atEtna’s slopes, the landscape is marked by the presence of volcanic rock terraces made for cultivating vineyards, intended to produce the excellent Sicilian wine, Etna CDO. You may also happen to come across the mysterious towers along the provincial roads and in the middle of the fields, which are also known by their shape, and called the pyramids of Etna. There are about forty around the volcano and these architectural artefacts are made in steps, reaching up to 40 metres high. According to some theories, they are funerary monuments or Sicilian temples for religious worship, but it’s more likely they are ancient peasant artefacts who used to neatly pile up the stones of volcanic rock, until they built these magnificent structures that are often used to shelter work tools.

Let’s not forget the backcountry, in the charming Iblean countryside, where the limestone walls snake through the region, between farms, pastures and cultivated land, giving this region a fascinating and recognisable character.

On the island of Pantelleria – the black pearl of the Mediterranean – art has very ancient roots. In a wonderful, but “difficult”, environment, the Pantecchio farmer has used this wise technique for centuries to construct their own homes, the traditional dammusi, and terraces for crops, where the land was too steep.

A good 12,000 kilometres of dry stone walls cross the island of Pantelleria, which are perfectly integrated into the Pantecchio landscape. Here, certainly not by chance, there are two intangible assets inscribed inthe World Heritage List: the sapling vine and the art of dry stone walls, united by an indissoluble bond. In Pantelleria, where there’s a vine, there’s a wall.

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