University of Nottingham

Unlocking historic landscapes in the Eastern Mediterranean

Project outline

The landscapes of the Aegean and western Turkey have often been studied as settings for historical events rather than as a source for the lives and activities of past societies. The classical period has also dominated, with less attention paid to medieval and post-medieval periods. Notably though, most landscape features we see today were created at this time.

Using Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC), this project has mapped and compared landscapes in two contrasting Mediterranean study areas: the Thracian hinterland of Istanbul, Turkey and the island of Naxos in the Greek Aegean.

Island fields Island fields 


Historic Landscape Characterisation, a methodology pioneered in British landscape studies over the last 10-15 years and designed for mapping the whole landscape with reference to its historic development, has been refined to create a pilot characterisation of the historic patterns of fields, woods, lanes and rural settlements typically found in the study sites. Using Geographical Information Systems (GIS), the project team has attempted to present interpretations of the historic landscape based on spatial datasets (satellite imagery, historic air photos and maps), and to integrate them with data from historical and archaeological studies.

Retrogressive analysis has indicated that many of the terrace systems of Naxos must date back to the medieval period, if not before, and that a unique corpus of churches and chapels dating from late antiquity to the end of the middle ages is associated with many of the terraces. South of Chora (the island's main town in medieval and modern times) is an area of level, fertile soils divided by a sinuous pattern of tall, cane boundaries and hollow ways. Analysis revealed this to be a series of ‘great fields' subdivided over generations but probably representing the primary estates of the Venetian rulers of the island from 1204 onwards; evidence for a feudal past amongst the modern market gardens and potato fields for which Naxos is today renowned in the Archipelago.

In Thrace the pattern of the fields and boundaries reflected modern conditions and circumstances, and in places it was all too apparent where old lines had been ploughed out to create modern prairies. Yet amongst all this was clear evidence for the complexity of both terraces and the field system. Here it was more difficult to provide a reliable datum for the chronological development, although the satellite images did reveal ancient structures such as a Roman villa, burial mounds and sections of the Anastasian Wall. Particularly interesting was the diversity of field types associated with various modern-day villages indicating different crops and perhaps also signifying differing faith communities known to lived in this part of Thrace before the First World War.


Ongoing influence

It is hoped that improved understanding regarding the development of these historic and cultural landscapes, together with the contacts forged with the Greek Ephorate for Byzantine antiquities and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, will help the project to influence management practices and help local people to develop a better sense of place and identity.

The project highlighted the potential for future research in the area and for integrated studies of monuments within a landscape setting. The project team are continuing to work in collaboration with a number of institutions in Greece and Turkey. There is great potential for the project data (available through publications and the project website in English, Turkish and Greek) to be used alongside data from a wide range of other sources including archaeological field survey, analysis of historical documents and ethnographic records, to build up in-depth, long-term and highly textured accounts of rural life in the region.

Award details

Duration: October 2006 - October 2007 (12 months)

Principal Investigator: Professor James Crow (now School of History and Classics, University of Edinburgh)

Higher Education Institution: Historical Studies, Newcastle University

Project team:
  • Dr Sam Turner, Newcastle University
  • David Alderson, Newcastle University
  • Athanasios Vionis, University of Leuven

Selected publications

Project team members have published in peer review journals as well as contributing to an edited collection. 

Crow, J. and Turner, S. (2010). Unlocking historic landscapes in the Eastern Mediterranean: two pilot studies using Historic Landscape Characterisation. Antiquity. 84(323):216-229.

Turner, S. (2006). Historic landscape characterisation: a landscape archaeology for research, management and planning. Landscape Research. 31: 385-398.

Turner, S. and Fairclough, G. (2007).Common culture: the archaeology of landscape character in Europe. In: Hicks, D., Fairclough, G. and McAtackney, L. (eds.) (2007). Envisioning Landscapes: Situations and Standpoints in Archaeology and Heritage. One World Archaeology 52. (California: Left Coast Press). pp. 120-145.


Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071