UNESCO World Heritage Site Challenge: Alto Douro Wine Region

Back in April I visited the Wine Region, an area of northern Portugal which has been producing wine for over 2000 years, inscribed as a UNESCO site in 2001.

This long tradition of viticulture has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty, that justifies the inscription of Alto Douro Wine Region as World heritage by UNESCO.  The valley area along the upper Douro River in Portugal is the world-renowned home of port wine.

The Alto Douro wine region, while beautiful, represents a landscape which has been totally transformed by human activity.

The Douro valley is now water-filled behind dams. Soil is almost non-existent, which is why walls were built to retain the manufactured soil on the steep hillsides. It has been created literally by breaking up rocks and is known as ‘anthroposoil’. The ‘soils’ of the Douro region are primarily schist or slate.  This makes the area uniquely suited for growing wine grapes because the rock fractures vertically, permitting roots to establish themselves. The most dominant feature of the landscape is the terraced vineyards that blanket the countryside. Throughout the centuries, row upon row of terraces have been built according to different techniques.

Despite such alteration of the landscape, the area has been deemed worthy of UNESCO status based on three criterion:

  •  The Alto Douro Region has been producing wine for nearly two thousand years and its landscape has been moulded by human activities.
  • The components of the Alto Douro landscape are representative of the full range of activities association with winemaking – terraces, quintas (wine-producing farm complexes), villages, chapels, and roads.
  • The cultural landscape of the Alto Douro is an outstanding example of a traditional European wine-producing region, reflecting the evolution of this human activity over time.

Source: UNESCO

Different hills belong  to different producers, and there are signs to indicate all along the valley. The hill in the image below belogns to Sandeman.Some day I’d love to go back in summer when the vines are fully grown and the valley transforms.

You can find out more about this site from the UNESCO website.

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