This paper focuses on the historic and cultural dimension of landscape, in relation to the holistic and dynamic approach today required in landscape research. In this direction, the Authors investigate the present role played by historical rural landscapes in relation to their multifaceted character and function. In recent years there has been an ever-growing appreciation of their cultural value, depending on the differential speed of environmental change (relatively high) and people’s adaptation to it (relatively slow), as a matter of compensation. Although reference is often made to the global and the European contexts, Italy is given special attention, since the long history of civilization known by its rural landscapes makes them particularly worthy of consideration and offers a wide variety of examples assuming a more general interest. The main changes occurred in the Italian rural landscapes over the last two centuries are described by referring to their main causes and to the parallel change observed in the urban-rural dialectic. The notion of “cultural landscape”, as it emerges from the international debate and documents, is applied to historic rural landscapes, according to a varied range of conditions and characteristics. Knowledge, identification, interpretation and characterization are fundamental actions to define sustainable landscape management strategies. These last should be diversified according to landscape character, functionality, integrity and obsolescence, not being limited to outstanding landscapes only but considering all rural landscapes as heritage. To this end, heritage strategies and policies must go together with agricultural sectorial policies, since agriculture and farmers are the major actors of rural landscape protection and transformation. EU Common Agricultural Policy is considered by focusing on its effect on rural landscape and proposals coming from the heritage experts for its future implementation are examined. Emerging strategic measures and action criteria are singled out and presented. In any case, to protect historic rural landscapes, balanced change-dynamics and development vitality should be strengthened if present, introduced if not, so as to assure resilience. Neo-rurality today expresses the search for sustainable lifestyles, green development models and a better quality of life, implicitly offering new opportunities for the revitalisation of historic rural landscapes. Finally, a holistic approach and multidisciplinary cooperation are needed to allow for an effective synthesis of the many cultural visions, which today concern the theme of landscape.
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