About the AHLP

What are Historic Landscapes?

“Landscape implies far more than high-style aesthetics; it is a document of the shared aspirations, ingenuity, memories, and culture of its builders.”
J.B. Jackson, Cultural Geographer

To define what is meant by historic landscapes is to risk burdening the reader with an overwhelming array of thoughts and perspectives. Needless to say, there are many definitions which have been developed over the years. The more recent acceptance of the term ‘cultural landscapes’ provides the basis for the following definitions.

Cultural Landscapes represent the combined works of nature and of man and are illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time, under the influence of the physical constraints and/or opportunities presented by their natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces, both external and internal. (UNESCO/ICOMOS Expert Group, World Heritage Convention Operation Guidelines, February 1995)

The following cultural landscape types have been defined by UNESCO. (The US National Park Service, Parks Canada and other groups all have definitions on this topic. Please refer to their websites for further information. See links.)

Clearly defined landscape designed and created intentionally by man
This embraces garden and parkland landscapes constructed for aesthetic reasons which are often (but not always) associated with religious or other monumental buildings and ensembles.

Organically evolved landscape
This results from an initial social, economic, administrative, and/or religious imperative and has developed its present form by association with and in response to its natural environment. Such landscapes reflect that process of evolution in their form and component features. They fall into two sub-categories:

    1. The relict (or fossil) landscape: one in which an evolutionary process came to an end at some time in the past, either abruptly or over a period. Its significant distinguishing features are, however, still visible in material form.
    2. The continuing landscape: one which retains an active social role in contemporary society closely associated with the traditional way of life, and in which the evolutionary process is still in progress. At the same time it exhibits significant material evidence of its evolution over time.

Associative cultural landscape
The inclusion of such landscapes on the World Heritage List is justifiable by virtue of the powerful religious, artistic or cultural associations of the natural element rather than material cultural evidence, which may be insignificant or even absent. (UNESCO World Heritage Convention, Operational Guidelines, February 1995)