We focus on Algarve walls and terrace cultivation. Often seen in the country, drystone walling is very typical of the Barrocal. Many rural properties have various examples of boundary walls, terraces and blocks. These are part of the Algarve’s country heritage, but the idea to build drystone walls and terraces isn’t new.
Farmers over millennia built them to protect soil, mitigate erosion and control water dynamics. They are widespread across the Mediterranean – from Greece, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, especially where vineyards, olive groves, almonds, citrus and other fruit trees are cultivated. Different peoples developed various practices to protect soil and improve water infiltration. This importantly helped to improve agricultural productivity.
Terraced slopes have long formed an integral part of the Mediterranean landscape. They were a method to utilize the many hill chains. Aside the romantic idyllic images of sun-drenched hills rich in vines, olives, and citrus trees, these landscapes are also a human response to a harsh, demanding environment. Scarcity of land suitable for arable agriculture created an intensive form of cultivation. This needed a high labor input and huge effort with no mechanical aid.
Terraces are often created by rearrangement of their original soil. Cut from the original slope, soil was set onto a higher or lower portion of the slope, forming an angular gradient. This new, flattened area is more conducive to growing fruit trees and vegetables. These were then supported by drystone walls, which are highly porous structures, where rocks are fitted in place while maximizing drainage. They are held together by the shape of the structure and do not use mortar. An infill of smaller stones helps maintain rigidity and porous quality.
Terracing helps protect hillsides from erosion and landslides. Water erosion is one of the major causes of soil loss and degradation, and by implementing terraces it reduces the slope steepness and divides the slope into short, flat or gently sloping sections. In low rainfall regions, water is absorbed into soil on each terrace fairly evenly. But over time, walls and terraces are a serious burden if left unattended. The workmanship involved in building them has ensured their longevity. But they require maintenance.
Neglect or abandonment can create considerable infrastructural problems. Anyone with walls and terraces should consider this technique is a great long-term investment if their land has varying topography, but they also need to be aware of the maintenance and upkeep that these landscapes require.