Mediterranean Rural Landscape Heritage: Holistic Model for Bio-Cultural Diversity Conservation in Lebanon

Authors and Affiliations: 

Jala Makhzoumi, Professor of Landscape Architecture, American University of Beirut

Salma N Talhouk, Professor of Landscape Horticulture, American University of Beirut

Najat Saliba, Professor of Analytic Chemistry, American University of Beirut


Traditional rural landscapes in Lebanon as elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean are as much a product of geographical setting and natural processes as they are of cultural modification and adaptations over time. A rich and diverse mosaic of woodland patches, degraded maquis scrubland, terraced perennial cropping of olives trees and vineyards, the rural landscape is characteristically a combination of ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ ecosystems. Traditional rural landscapes combine agricultural, silvicultural and pastoral uses within an integrated management system. Multifunctional in use, sustainable environmentally, valued culturally, traditional rural landscapes are well adapted to poor the degraded environmental conditions in marginal terrain which are suitable for little else.

Traditional rural landscapes in Lebanon are undervalued, threatened by contemporary development, tourism and/or intensive agriculture. Additionally, national policies are selective, focusing either on biodiversity and nature conservation or on socio-economic development, disregarding that traditional Mediterranean rural landscapes combine agricultural, pastoral and silvicultural activities. As a result, there is ambiguity as how to deal with rural marginal landscapes because they are not strictly ‘productive’ from the agricultural point of view nor do they qualify for nature protection because they are not ‘natural’ but managed.

This paper proposes a holistic landscape framework for conceptualizing, planning and managing rural marginal landscapes in Lebanon. We shall argue that a landscape approach integrates environmental, ecological and cultural values in marginal landscapes and as such addresses rural needs for health, decent living while protection biodiversity and rural heritage. Drawing on a case study of a 150 hectare site in marginal northern Lebanon, the paper demonstrates the application of an ecological landscape design framework to investigate the traditional landscape, propose a master plan and recommend sustainable alternatives for development and nature conservation. The approach is community inclusive, inclusive of the natural and cultural heritage. Discussing application and outcome, the paper concludes that the holistic approach has the potential to address the totality of the traditional landscape, built and open, natural, semi-natural and managed, physical setting and cultural practices.