Ghost Walls

Ghost Walls

“There are four kinds of people in the world… Those who build walls. Those who protect walls. Those who breach walls. And those who tear down walls. Much of life is discovering who you are.” — P.S. Baber

Like so many Americans, what I find charming about Europe is how old things are here. In the U.S., “old” is at most 300-400 years, whereas in Europe, old buildings, streets, towns, etc. are at least double that. In Jávea, for example, La Iglesia de San Bartolomé, the church in the middle of the medieval city center, dates back to the 14th century. But it wasn’t until moving here that I learned there is old and then there is OLD. The Romans took over Jávea as a port around 2 CE and stuck around for 600 more years. Then the Visogoths arrived. And after them the Moors came along, establishing a thriving culture unitl the middle of the 13th century when the Christians blew through town. A few hundred years later, the city was walled in and San Bartolomé was fortified as a protection against pirate raids. Never a dull moment in this town.

There been humans in what is now the greater Jávea area for at least 30,000 years. As I learned from this article, agriculture has been here since at least 2,000 BCE and the first terraced fields, a common Mediterranean farming technique to deal with the mountainous terrain, appeared around then as well. The earliest crops grown were mainly grains and cereals, with some olives, grapes, and almonds. Although most of the original walls are long gone, there are more modern remnants in Jávea and many nearby towns of these long, low stone structures that date from the 1700s and 1800s, winding up the hills and mountainsides. Now crumbling and overgrown with weeds and brush they are nevertheless remarkable structures and we have seen well over one hundred just in our little neighborhood. Apparently there is an ongoing debate about whether to leave them be and let nature take its course or whether to restore them as historic relics.

Left to its own devices, nature breaks down walls. Humans build them for varying purposes but ultimately, civilization is the coming together of different people, not the separation. That’s why the Mediterranean is the cradle of western civilization: the sea enabled people to interact and learn from each other for millennia. Spain is regarded as one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, due not only to its natural beauty but to the rich melange of cultures bred into its inhabitants from these diverse influences.

The U.S. shares both these traits. America is a nation of unparalleled natural beauty. But the real beauty — and strength — of the country comes from the mix of cultural influences and rich diversity that has been steeping for hundreds of years.

I think I come down on the side of letting the earth reclaim the walls. They don’t seem to be of much use these days.

Unless, of course, you’re growing grapes.

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