Cultural and Ethnographic Heritage

Agricultural landscapes System


The UNESCO (1997) stated that cultural landscapes represent the combined work of nature and man, and are illustrative of the evolution of human society and its settlements over time under the influence of the physical constraints and/or opportunities present in their natural environment. Moreover, the European Landscape Convention (Council of Europe, 2000) emphasizes that the landscape proves past and present relations of human beings with their living environment, their contribution to the development of cultures and local traditions, and how the landscape is, in fact, an essential component of the European natural and cultural heritage.

The landscapes of Terras do Miño show this adaptation of the human being to different environmental conditions, as reflected in traditional forms of agricultural organization in ancestral and cultural practices.

The French geographer Bouhier Abel (1979) conducted a comprehensive characterization of these particular forms of agrarian organization, whose imprint on the landscape has meant a certain spatial organization of the human habitat, of agricultural areas, reflected even in the presence of characteristic ethnographic elements. In the figure below, the distribution of these particular forms of agricultural organization in Terras do Miño is reflected.

Units of the agricultural landscape in Terras do Miño

This author differentiated, in Terras do Miño, between two main types of agricultural organization: one similar to Breton bocage in the northern mountains (small plots surrounded by walls and hedges), the farmland (large areas of crop with a single external perimeter fence given the collective nature of their use), and sucalcos (terraces) that rarely appear around the Miño river in the southwest sector. Since changes in agricultural organization did not reach Galicia until the mid twentieth century, the essence of these cultural landscapes has survived until this day through the survival of a particular spatial configuration, the continuity of characteristic ethnographic elements (latches, barns...) and ancestral cultural practices.

The bocage is located in the northern part of Terras do Miño. The reticle organization of the agricultural space so typical of the bocage, is mainly preserved in the northern mountains, and was linked to a dispersed habitat with villages of small size, low population pressure related to survival in the harsh conditions imposed by the environment. The agricultural area occupied a small area and was surrounded by large tracts of forest (which is the main difference with the Breton bocage where the mountain occupied a minimum area), posing as an external limit a type of trench (a valado, earth wall) and divisions with internal sebes (hedges) between leiras (plots). The leiras were often subjected to slash and its use in the “toxeiras” (gorse crops) with pasture and cropland alternated, hence the need to fence all plots. At present in some of these pieces of the mosaic landscape exploitation of gorses are still performed (this explains the high price of the gorse seed in local markets in the area).

The Agra is the most important agriculture organization in Galicia. The agra is a block of cultivated land with an external closure and divided inside in open leiras (plots). It featured several shades depending on the relief organization of the habitat and on the contact with other forms of agricultural organization, therefore, Bouhier (1979) distinguished several subtype sectors in Terras do Miño:

  • Transition sector from bocage to agra
  • Central Sector of large agras
  • Eastern Sector

The transition sector from bocage to agra was characterized by the presence of both types of agricultural organization, with the difference that in this bocage the closures made of stone instead of slopes predominated, the subdivision of lands was much more irregular and the agras were smaller. The highest population density resulted in the increasing size of the villages, highlighting the proliferation of people from the 50s around the main transport hubs (heading to Vilalba, Ordes).

In the central sector of larger agras, as the name suggests, the agras occupied a large area of agricultural land (around 20 ha), in which the zones with a major demographic density stand out. The increase of human presence has also resulted in an increase in the size of the villages, yet with a tendency to more loose structures in Terra Chá that contrasts with the more compact nature of the villages around Lugo and in the southwestern part.

The eastern sector was characterized by a medium-sized agra (around 10 ha), with a habitat characterized by small or medium-sized villages, more distant from the village the closer they were to the mountains. In the mountainous area, the most important of the agricultural land were the vegetable patches (enclosed high quality farmlands), subjugated to varied and uninterrupted crops, and the meadows. The agra used to occupy poorer quality land, including areas of steep slopes.

The agra organization was characterized by strict discipline of crop rotation: each year a crop or crops equivalent with the same growth cycle (e.g. potatoes and corn) was performed. The agras were closed after sowing and opened before the harvest of the main crop at a fixed date. Temporary closures were laid, such as piles of stones, clods, sticks of wood with thorns were set to prevent cattle from accessing it.

The expansion of the potato in the early twentieth century brought major changes and these land formations had to be adapted. Thus, the use of lightweight and temporary closures such as sebes (hedges) within neighbourhood groups was generalized to isolate the plots of potatoes.

The collective nature of these closures avoided problems between neighbours and thus the year in which rye was growing, all locks were removed and things returned to the normal arrangements for communal agra. On the other hand, the use of gates (wooden barriers) to close the main entrances to the agra was expanded.

Finally, all of this stands out for its originality and for bringing out the ingenuity of humans to adapt themselves to the environment, the area of vineyards in sucalcos (terraces) around the Miño river passing through the municipalities of O Páramo and Guntín, whose origins probably date back to the Roman era, and which in any case had its moment of splendour in the medieval period. The handwork has remained for centuries in the vineyards as well as the expensive stone walls supporting the terraces, this way avoiding serious erosion problems.

The imprint on the landscape of these forms of agrarian organization that have been in force until only a few decades ago, is particularly evident in fences, as tracks that allow us to guess the ancient paths and settings of traditional agricultural landscape. They can be valados and sebes as in the case of bocage in the northern mountains, but more often than not they are stone walls (main type of enclosing limit in agras).

Walls can be of various types depending on the local geological characteristics and the local know-how: walls of small stones, large blocks, of chantos... highlighting the originality in the eastern mountains where fences are fragments of stone walls alternating with sebes (intertwined branches of chestnut stakes). These walls have been kept for centuries collectively by the residents of the parishes or the corresponding villages.

Below is a more detailed description of the types of existing closures in Terras do Miño.

The valados or embankments of earth or earth mixed with stones, are rare in the agro. The field of agro from Terras do Miño is located in the municipalities of O Páramo, Láncara and O Corgo. The use of muretes (low walls) is widespread, however, and numerous variants appear:

In the Terra Cha of Cospeito, Castro de Rei, Begonte, Lugo and Guntín, we can find three types: muretes with small sheets of shale assembled with one another (sometimes using clays), muretes where trapezoidal or triangular blocks of containment are alternated attached to the ground by its base and surrounded by small sheets of shale assembled as in the previous case, and, finally, low walls of chantos consisting of plates of slates or shales well squared rectangular nailed to the ground and laterally assembled to one another.

In the area of the western plains, dominated crystalline and metamorphic rocks, there are several types of cachotería (masonry) low walls formed by the assembly of irregular stones of all sizes, or even with pillars or blocks of roughly regular intervals.

In the eastern plains, the type of low walls depends on the type of bedrock and supply of existing stones. In sectors with crystal or highly metamorphosed rocks (Friol, Castroverde), these tend to be as those from the areas west of the ranges.

In the northwest part of the township, it has been described a curious kind of low walls consisting of placing “laxes” (stone tiles) pointed and nailed to the ground, on which two other diagonal laxes are placed one on each side.

In the southern granitic plains low walls of granite masonry appear and these are much more carefully realised, with carved granite blocks placed in different ways.

In recent years, the use of wire fixed to the posts of wood or metal is expanding, which in some cases is interspersed between chantos to mark boundaries.

A characteristic feature of these cultural landscapes is the influence of the geological composition of the rocks in both the development of the closures and construction materials of traditional rural housing and other adjectival constructions (barns, stables...). In Terras do Miño a clear predominance of slate or lousas in developing covers is found, as shown in the figure below. In the southwestern part, however, tile alone or combined with lousas predominates, whereas occasionally O Páramo stands out for presenting covers of lousas or mixed roofs with tiles and lousas.

Typology of building covers that can be found in Terras do Miño

As for traditional houses in Terras do Miño, despite a certain homogeneity in terms of building materials, except for the aforementioned tire sectors, there is indeed a diversity of building types due to the adaptation of the inhabitants of these lands to the particular environmental conditions: climatic, physiographic, soil quality, presence of water …

This contrasts with the precariousness of many houses located in mountainous areas, where living conditions are much tougher compared to houses found in flat areas with a milder climate and an agricultural economy of higher yields.

In the area corresponding to the northern mountains (topographic map) the originality of the bocage landscape is also evident in the traditional architecture. Its usually isolated square floor houses, with one story and a hip roof shingle or lousas shale (slate tiles) whose airas (patios) and gardens are bounded by stone walls or hedgerows (hedges) and high thick laurel stand out. They usually present, in its vicinity, a barn (built for the preservation of farm products) reduced in size and similar to the houses.

The traditional architecture of the eastern ranges (topographic map) is also characterized by its integration into a hostile environment in which the shale is the dominant material. The predominant type of houses corresponds to two-story homes with an exterior staircase of stone and slate gabled roof. Downstairs, the barn is located, where in addition to protect the animals and truck, farm tools are stored. The upper floor has a wooden corridor or board of oak or chestnut, the kitchen or main part of the house and two small bedrooms.

The architecture of the western mountain ranges (topographic map) is characterized by the predominant use of tile on the roof, mainly introducing two types of homes: the house with one floor and the house with a garret (attic wooden top floor). The house with one floor has a division in order to separate the sector dedicated to the stable from the housing space.

The attic house is characterized by a large kitchen where all the space is taken up to the roof and in the area of the stable, it is divided by a horizontal platform into two rooms: the stable itself and the attic, with similar dimensions to this and used as a barn. In addition, there are two variants of the attic home, one in which no interior partitions are made and the attic used as a bedroom, being accessed to it from the kitchen or the hall, and the attic house where there is a divisional platform in several spaces occupied by the bedrooms, which are accessed to via a fixed staircase.

The architecture of the great plains and hollows in Lugo, has been influenced by a favourable conditioning factors, such as a favourable climate, slightly uneven topography, good communications and an economy based on the good results of livestock.

This is the Galician architecture with wider buildings, characterized by a large single body house, featuring two rectangular or square floors with two distinct levels: the ground floor occupied by the stables and the kitchen and the top floor with a solaina (stone corridor closed at the top) on the south façade, a dining room, several rooms and a pantry.

The basic material for the construction of these homes is the slate board, although stonework pieces in windows, doors, etc., are interspersed.

Finally, there is a type of building related to the vineyards in terraces of Terras do Miño, characterized by being located on slopes next to the vineyards.

These are houses that feature two floors, the ground floor being dug out on the hillside, another used as a wine cellar, another one for storage of tools and farm implements and the latter as stables. The top floor, used as a house, is being accessed by stairs that can be connected –or not— to a wooden corridor.

In adjectival constructions linked to traditional architecture of these cultural landscapes raised granaries are worth noting. The raised granary is an agricultural building designed to store the products of the field in general, and particularly for drying, storing maize and protect it from rodents. Its origin is probably pre-Roman, although its first appearance, in this case a painting, belongs to a miniature of the Songs of Saint Mary (Cantigas of Santa Maria) by Alfonso X the Wise (XIII century).

There are a variety and types of granaries in Galicia, different depending on the building materials, shapes and sizes. In general, they adapt to rainy and humid climate, as well as to the local lithology.

Geographer Bouhier (1979) made a general characterization of the types of granaries in Galicia, resulting that in Terras do Miño the predominant type is the one called Galician granary, in contrast with the Asturian one, whose influence expands to the eastern sector and, occasionally some called primitive granaries appear, in this case called cabazos.

The Galician granary differs from the Asturian one basically in that the latter has a square floor and a mainly hipped slate roof.

Typology of granaries in Terras do Miño

Martínez Rodríguez (1999) performed an exhaustive characterization showing the diversity of types of granaries mentioned above. Regarding Terras do Miño, he has distinguished several types of Galician granary basically depending on the materials used in its construction, the approximate area of influence is shown in the figure on the left.

There are four types of Galician granaries: the primitive granary, the wooden granary, the mixed granary, and the brickwork granary.

The primitive granary presents the simplest form of granaries. They are small in size and are constructed with branches or twigs or flexible straws woven into a work of thatched straw and tapered. They are set on poles or strains (low supporting walls) as Asturian granaries. In Terras do Miño the granaries are circular so they are called cabazos.

The area where their presence is bigger is the sector of Palas de Rei, Guntín and Monterroso, although their occasional presence is found in other areas such as O Páramo, O Corgo, Friol...

The wooden granary is characterized by woodwork for the chamber or body of the barn. In Terras do Miño, it is expanded over the most part of Lugo's plateau, being the most important the type found in Vilalba, which is set on solid low strains or strains (support drywall the same size as the camera barn on which it is supported) and is characterized by being a small granary with a narrow high chamber, with a small covered veranda at the entrance to the granary.

The mixed granary is common on the northwestern fringe of Terras do Miño. Its distinctive character is shown in that for the construction of the chamber stone and wood are used. This is essentially the Mondoñedo type, characterized by being of a high suspension, with a floor structure of stone and the rest of the frame made of wood. The roof is usually hipped and made of slate and it is set on strains.

The brickwork granary is located in a small area southwest of Lugo. It is made of brick, has a wooden door and sits on strains or massive strains. Is called the Lugo type characterized by its small size and little neat manufacture in general. Its origin is recent, appearing more frequently in areas where wooden barns are or were predominant, or granary where its introduction is recent.

The abandonment of farming involves the loss of functionality of these highly original buildings and therefore they are threatened with deterioration and disappearance (including sale and export) of these characteristic features of the rural landscape, already declared in a Decree of protection on the Galician and Asturian granaries dated in1973.