Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques

Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques

Tangible and intangible heritage as a way of experiencing a culture or a set of customs is in the centre of the journey towards recognising historical and social circumstances which create cultural identities. The traditional art of dry stone walling, i.e. the entire vernacular architecture, has been unjustly neglected for decades. It is the art of building without the use of bonding material, building “dry”, and it is a part of the cultivated landscapes throughout the Mediterranean coastline.

 

However, the true value of this intangible heritage hasn’t been recognised for a long time, which is why it has never been the subject of public and scientific discourse, or properly valuated. This is completely unjustified, since hardworking people from this entire region, regardless of various seas, borders and cultures, built beautiful structures using stones from the karst environment, thus forming their settlements and entire stone landscapes, the cradle of many European cultures.

Kažun
Zoran Jelača

This is why the inclusion of dry stone walling in the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is an extraordinary step towards the preservation of this tradition, because, although it would be impossible to protect all dry stone walls, stone objects or vineyards, we have set out to preserve the know-how acquired through centuries and transfer them to future generations. The skills of building dry stone walls, intended for the use by anyone working the land, have been passed on through generations, but with no physical records, which proved to be crucial when the continuity ended during the last decades of the 20th century.

 

The art of dry stone walling was thoroughly studied in 2016 thanks to the efforts of the 4 Grada-Dragodid organisation, as well as several individuals and institutions, and it was protected as an intangible cultural heritage of Croatia. The following year, through the joint nomination of Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland, UNESCO’s intergovernmental committee recognised the extreme importance of this tradition and, finally, protected it as intangible cultural heritage of the world at the end of 2018.

 

We live at a time when every single trace of history is recorded through the quantity of megabytes, and it is increasingly important to be able to intuitively decipher objects such as the dry stone walls, and discover their structure and purpose, guided by ceremonies and customs of generations so far away from us.

The simplicity and complete functionality of the traditional construction heritage buildings, as well as the ecological aspect, are equally as important today and they present challenges for the modern society and architects, while the sustainable use of resources, as in times gone by (adapted to modern terms, of course), is the only way in which current and future generations can survive.