Mediterranean Europe - from southern Portugal through Spain, France, Italy and Greece to SW Turkey, with the islands is often interpreted as a "Lost Eden", once verdant and fertile, then progressively degraded and desertified by human mismanagement and the unsustainable follies of successive civilizations. In this engaging book, two distinguished scholars challenge this pessimistic view, arguing that it stems in part from the failure of the recent landscape to measure up to the imaginary past as idealized by artists, poets and scientists of the early modern Enlightenment.
Drawing on their own fieldwork as well as on historical records, archaeology, pollen analysis and previous research, A.T. Grove and Oliver Rackham trace the evolution of climate, vegetation and landscape in southern Europe from prehistoric times to the present. They point out that the climate bas usually been unstable, and plant cover has had to accommodate to its extremes and has become resilient also under different patterns of human activity. They explore the relation between deluges, which promote erosion and shape valley floors and deltas, and climatic fluctuations as measured by the advance of glaciers. They investigate the nature and function of agricultural terraces, of fires, of Mediterranean savannas, and of karsts, badlands and other desert-like landscapes. Finally, they point to the real threats to Mediterranean landscapes in the future, arising from over-development of coastal areas and abandonment of mountains.