Today’s world is moving towards green architecture and sustainability to save the environment and the planet. But there has been a concept that has been forming this human-environment link since ancient times. The concept of Sacred Landscape. 

Sacred Landscapes are geographic areas with special meaning for people with a historical association and relationship with that place. They are generally larger geographical regions connected to sacred sites. They have a temporal and spatial fabric spread over a geographic area, unifying all the rituals conducted in that region in a narrative framework. 

Sacred Landscape: The Concept of Human-Environment Interaction - Sheet1
The sacred landscape of Inca Settlements_©phys.org

How do sacred landscapes form man – environment relationships?

The sacredness of such a landscape is heavily dependent upon its cultural context. These cultural contexts included traditions, rituals performed in the region and the beliefs of the people living there. Thus, sacred landscapes generally have no connection with materiality. However, they create a sensory perception that allows man to feel the space. 

In a cultural context, sacred landscapes are revered due to their natural environments and the energies of that specific place. This reverence was due to the sacred values of the landscape: its natural beauty, tranquillity, harmony and uniqueness. These are intangible values that can be perceived only through one’s senses. 

Through time, communities have accepted these values with gratitude. And since such a landscape was religious, it had both tangible (streets, religious sites, buildings, etc.) and intangible elements (memories, rituals, etc.) These elements bring in a state of inner peace to human minds. Thus the connection formed here cannot be described through the rational dimension of architecture. The physical and spiritual elements of the space give meaning to human emotions in the landscape and, in turn, imbibe that space’s significance in human memory. 

Sacred Landscape: The Concept of Human-Environment Interaction - Sheet2
The temples of Aztec forming human-environment interactions_©www.reddit.com

The origin of this concept

The origins of this concept came from the idea of respecting the power of nature and developing a spiritual relationship with it through religious and cultural practices. Due to this thought process, sacred landscapes brought a sense of identity to the place. 

Historically, this idea originated from Africa, where many communities found their physical and spiritual energies by interacting with nature. Over a period of time, these landscapes were a part of the social memories of these tribesmen. They began to culturally construct these landscapes through the rituals they performed. Thus, imprinting a mythological and historical narrative into that spaces. 

These dynamic and complex natural landscapes made powerful socio-political statements for the tribe. They became socio-symbolic aspects of human-environment interaction, and protecting them became a vital community task. Most tribes protected their landscapes by not disclosing their exact locations to members outside their tribe. Many even formed place-specific taboos in this process. 

The characteristics of sacred landscape

Not all landscapes and ancient sites are sacred landscapes. Spaces are considered sacred landscapes only when the spiritual existence of that space becomes tangible in form and space. The first characteristic generally seen is the context. Such sites are generally auspicious sites within a natural landscape. They bring in balance and harmony. 

The second is the personal and social relationship formed with the space. The architectural form of such areas is generally such that human silence is appreciated and encourages one to observe and experience the space. The third characteristic is coherence. Historically, these sites have an organised framework. They have clearly defined natural enclosures, are secluded and have spatial transitions and movement. 

Another characteristic is they are well composed in terms of design. There is a natural order that allows the human mind to concentrate, and inspire wisdom and compassion. The spatiality adds in the awe factor. And the last thing is simplicity. As much as these spaces bring in awe, they do not stand out architecturally. They are a part of nature and have a simple charm from the design point of view. 

Sacred Landscape: The Concept of Human-Environment Interaction - Sheet3
A Shinto Shrine on Mt. Yasumandake in Japan_©Olimpia Niglio

The significance of this concept

Sacred landscapes are generally catalysts for forming local identities. Their spatialities create a sensory perception for humans. Historically, geographers and travellers have used stories and art to describe their cultural significance. The religious experience of nature itself makes interaction of spirituality and cultural contexts. 

These values have a strong historical significance. This sacredness brings an ability within the community to build using construction materials and architectural elements that are context-specific and available in that natural landscape. It also brings awareness in people to build without deconstructing or degrading the natural environment. This, in turn, brings in greater sustainability values. 

Along with these values, sacred landscapes also help the region’s biodiversity flourish. Since this concept is based on the act of worshipping nature, one of the most significant parts of the tradition is protecting the existing biodiversity of the space. The concept emphasises the coexistence of man, built spaces and nature. This concept is also emphasised in a UNESCO initiative: “International Workshop on the Importance of Sacred Natural Sites for Biodiversity Conservation.”

An example of this is seen in the Buddhist temples of the Kansai region in Japan. The zen monks’ daily ritual in these temples involves taking care of the Cypress forests surrounding them. These monks are aware of the cultural value of this forest in their community and hence respect and protect them.

This emotional interpretation creates a dialogue with the environment and its resources. From an ecological viewpoint, it brings harmony between man and nature. 

The sacred Cypress forests of Japan_©www.bangkok101.com

With the current progress in architecture and design, much attention is given to the scientific approach to urban development. The emotional and spiritual dimensions of space are often forgotten. These dimensions play a vital role in human development and should be even more acknowledged. 

Over the years, man has degraded nature due to the absence of this cultural and spiritual context, which, in turn, has brought the degradation of human sensory perception. The psychological approach to development is no longer considered as significant as it was in the past. It is thus important to re-establish this human-environment dialogue. 

References: 

  1. Elk, H., 2022. Sacred Sites, Places, & Landscapes: All You Need To Know – Buffalo Bill Center of the West. [online] Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Available at: <https://centerofthewest.org/2020/09/18/sacred-sites-places-landscapes-all-you-need-to-know/#:~:text=Sacred%20Landscapes%20are%20geographic%20areas,and%20relationship%20within%20a%20region.> [Accessed 3 August 2022].
  2. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://faithandform.com/the-last-word/six-signs-of-sacred-landscapes/> [Accessed 3 August 2022].
  3. Almatourism.unibo.it. 2022. View of Sacred Landscape for a Global Approach. [online] Available at: <https://almatourism.unibo.it/article/view/7913/7859> [Accessed 3 August 2022].
  4. Radar.brookes.ac.uk. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://radar.brookes.ac.uk/radar/file/1aa24c52-814d-4c2f-8476-12dc6bd260f6/1/Hamideh%20Rimaz%20Sacred%20landscape.pdf> [Accessed 3 August 2022].
  5. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311487485_Sacred_Places_and_Sacred_Landscapes> [Accessed 3 August 2022].
  6. Turri, E., 2008. Antropologia del paesaggio. Venezia: Marsilio.
Author

Khyati Antrolia is an architect, writer, bibliophile, explorer and a history lover who is interested in architectural research and journalism. She hopes to inspire people and play a role in changing the world for the better. She believes in the power of words as much as the power of love.

Write A Comment