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The Italian Park Portal

What is a Park?

The Evolution of the Park Idea over the Centuries

Since the dawn of civilization, man has assigned parts of the territory to particular aims. From the places reserved to the worship of divinities, the idea of "park" has developed through the centuries.

The Sacred Park
If the use of particular places for magical purposes dates back to prehistorical times, civilizations trained in hunting and gathering handed down relatively recent examples. For instance, Mt. Atoja, sacred to the Aymara, the Dakota's Black Hills, the sacred reserve of Icyia in Rwanda, destined to the royal ritual hunting of an elephant per year. Or again the Sacred Mountain (Ayers Rock) of the Pitjanfiatara and Yankuntjatara Luritja, today Uluru National Park, managed by the Australian aborigines.

The Park as Game Reserve
The park in the Middle Ages means above all game reserve. Hunting was a noble art, and it was also practiced in order to get meat, foodstuff reserved to the fighters. For many centuries, the reserves were exclusively created for noble and notable people. Among the others, the Fontainebleau forest near Paris, the Sherwood black forest near Nottingham, "Bosco della Fontana" near Mantua, "Bosco di Carrega" near Parma, the game reserves of the Savoia family in several valleys of Piedmont and Valle d'Aosta, the Bielowièzka forest in Poland.
All areas which, in more recent times, after the changes of historical, economic, social, and cultural conditions, have been mainly transformed into natural parks or regional reserves.
The reserve of the Fontainebleau forest was established in 1853, but before it, a Royal Rescript dating back to 23rd December 1826 had determined the woods of Montecalvo and SanVito, Carditello and estate of Calvi, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, as object of conservation. They can be considered, together with the Hot Springs Reserve (Arkansas) established in 1832, the first 19th century deeds for the safeguard of a territory in order to protect it.

The National Park
In North America, an opinion movement developed: its aim was to preserve a natural monumentality similar to that of the European Cathedrals. The concept of safeguard, with the objective of the protection and the conservation of the landscape, of the aesthetic, geological, historical, archaeological, and scientific aspects of a certain territory began to take shape. The first national parks were created: the establishment of the Yellowstone National Park (USA, 1872) traditionally marks the date of birth of the modern park.
Preventing a possible transformation for an agricultural and intensive use of territories of unique beauties, giving to the public the opportunity to enjoy this conservation, developing scientific studies which could not be carried out elsewhere, were the reasons which led to the creation of the parks until the first twenty years of the 20th century. Engadina National Park (Switzerland, 1914) to which scientific purposes were assigned, and Kredovaja Pad (Russia, 1916) with ecological research aims, are two exceptions.

The Park of Man in Balance with Nature
However, the concept of park born as an area to preserve intact in countries with a low density of population and on State soil, soon collided with the reality of highly populated areas in which human activities are largely widespread on private soils, above all in Europe. From here the idea of compatibility between the traditional activities and the protection of areas with considerable naturalistic components. After World War II, the "park" meant as a merely naturalistic defense has been progressively replaced by the concept according to which the defense of nature becomes compatible with a correct use of the territory. As a matter of fact, technical and economic needs added themselves to the aesthetic, cultural, social or scientific needs, and made the conception of the differentiated defense of the protected areas improve, by determining which human activities are compatible within the involved areas. The stage of transition towards a multiple use of the park did begin. In the meantime, the UIPN (Union International pour la Protection de la Nature) had been established, which in 1956 became UICN (Union International pour la Conservation de la Nature). This organism will suggest to unify the nomenclature of the protected areas in collaboration with UNESCO, within the program "Man and the Biosphere".