Agricultural Landscape of Southern Öland
Agricultural Landscape Of Southern Öland
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Cultural Sweden Europe And North America Kalmar County, Island Of Öland

Södra Öland is an outstanding example of human settlement, making the optimum use of diverse landscape types on a single island. The medieval land division uniquely indicates how natural conditions dictated the extent of cultivable land at an early stage. This site takes its contemporary form from its long cultural history, adapting to the physical constraints of the geology and topography.

The island is a sedimentary formation, the uppermost surface of Ordovician limestone. The main topographical feature is Västra Landborgen. To the west there is a 3 km wide coastal plain, which contains the most fertile soils on Öland. On the east is Stora alvaret: half of this limestone pavement (one of the largest in Europe) is either exposed or covered by a thin calcareous soil, with other parts covered by raised beaches or lenses of sediment, sometimes overlaid by fen peat. The villages are almost entirely located along Västra Landborgen, and there is a large number of archaeological sites from the prehistoric period. The interaction between man and the natural environment in the south of Öland is of unique universal value. The continuity of land use goes back to the Stone Age, when people began farming this area. The use made of the land has not changed significantly since then, with arable farming and animal husbandry remaining the principal economic activity.

The present-day land division, with linear villages in 'lawful location', is easily discernible, and the division can be clearly perceived between infields and outfields, a division that has been constant since the medieval period, by which time all the available farmland was in use. The outfields are still being used as pasturage. Together the linear villages, infields, coastland and limestone pan make up a unique agricultural landscape possessed of great cultural and natural values of more than 1,000 years' continuity. This living agricultural community also includes a residual Iron Age landscape, as well as abundant traces of the Stone Age and Bronze Age.

Stora alvaret is noteworthy because of the way in which its medieval land-use pattern of villages and field systems is still clearly visible, which is a very rare survival in northern Europe. This is borne out by numerous adaptations to climate, frost movements, and grazing, among other things. The grazing regime is a precondition for the preservation of biodiversity. The present agricultural landscape and the community of southern Öland have a unique cultural tradition which still exists in land use, land division, place names, settlement and biological diversity as far back as the Iron Age.

The prosperity of the island, due in no small measure to its situation on the main trading route through the Kalmar Sound, is reflected in the imposing stone churches built in the 12th century, such as those at Hulterstad and Resmö. They were fortified as defence against attacks from marauders. By the 15th century Öland was dominated by land-owning farmers, although the Crown, the nobility, and the monastic orders also owned land there. In 1569 Johan III reserved the open spaces on the island for the Crown as a hunting preserve. The farmers lost their commoners' rights and suffered considerably from depredations by preserved game animals. This restriction survived until 1801, when it was abolished. The island suffered during the long wars between Sweden and Denmark in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, not least from epidemics, which carried off almost half the population.

The typical so-called 'Geatish' farmstead is divided into a dwelling yard and a cattle yard, separated by a wall or fence. They are constructed of materials from Öland, with the Geatish homestead and windmills forming distinctive features. Most of the farms originally had their own windmills. The houses are constructed of wood and weather-boarded. Many of the houses in the dwelling yards were considerably extended and embellished, with upper floors and ornamentation, especially around the doors. Some of the barns retain their original medieval structures, with crown-post roofs. The Royal Manor of Ottenby in the extreme south of the island, established by Gustav Vasa in the 16th century, is still Crown property. The main building dates from 1804;its design was influential elsewhere on Öland and more widely in Sweden.

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