THE MILITARY LANDSCAPE
(1) Plan de Marly shows the paths apparently excavated through the forest (1768-1769) © Monique Pelletier, Cartographie de la France et du monde de la Renaissance au Siècle des lumières (París: Bibliothèque nationale de France, 2001), p.55
The idea of military landscape is used here to propose, again, although this time by analogy, that the landscape can be understood as a human configuration and not as a natural place that one encounters as if it had always been there.
John B. Jackson’s phrase, “rather than destroy, armies create their own order” (1) is the strongest argument I have found to support the concept that the military landscape is not only one of the most radical and clear territorial configurations to recognize, but from that condition, it can be used as a way of understanding that the landscape is indeed a human construction.
(1) John B. Jackson, “Learning about Landscapes” in The Necessity for Ruins and other Essays (1980), p.12.
We know that landscape architecture, as a Western discipline, can be considered a cultural creation of the twentieth century. Through the development of projects of diverse scales, but always limited to the reconstruction of non-built areas or areas in a state of abandonment or deterioration, this profession has positioned itself in a not always convenient location: on the border between engineering, architecture and urban planning. But before this disciplinary subdivision, what were the mechanisms to operate and control a piece of land?
Undoubtedly, one of the most obvious moments that made this operation visible was when the French monarchy − and particularly that of Louis XIV onwards − organized battles and wars not only to expand the borders of the kingdom, but also to objectify the King’s presence in the midst of all his subjects. With this latter aim, the Company of Royal Parks took control of territory through the construction of a series of palaces and parks scattered throughout France.
In this context, a site as emblematic as Versailles, the royal site par excellence, can then be understood as the result of a tripartite company that sought, first, the construction of the King’s territory; second, the transformation of the landscape built in a governed environment; and third, the strategic configuration of the site materialized through military tactics of recognizing, coordinating and planning that eventually led to occupation and spatial construction, all of which facilitated the replication of the model on other sites.
Every battle curates the characteristics of the terrain where it is developed, transforming it into what soldiers call a field. The armaments used, like other elements of “infrastructure,” determine the way in which this curating is going to be developed, establishing a narrative that allows us to recognize the organization of the site: its management, based on the construction of infrastructure; its occupation, based on the ability to reduce obstacles and distances; and its domain, based on the ability to tangibly demonstrate expansion beyond the limits of the site.
In fact, Versailles, rather than a compositional structure, configures a battlefield where the “conflict” became visible through intense forest management, topographic alteration and irrigation and drainage operations. The weapons used to support the persistence of these tactics over time were the small forests, tapis vert, topiaries, fountains, canals, sculpture, parterres , allées, palisades, coquillages and terraces, to name a few.
In a typical dictionary, there is no term for military landscape. However, if we use the Latin roots of the term, militaris forma et situs agri, we can then define it as “a shape − figure, pattern, mold − of war plotted out, set up, located, established on a field, surface, territory or farm ”(2). The expression of military landscape as a pattern of war positioned in a territory, together with exterminating the notion of landscape as an immaculate or natural scene, reinforces its idea as the result of strategic planning. If the occupation of the field were opportunistic and invasive, then its configuration would involve the materialization of a balance between forces of stability and those of mobility or change and the definition of an order characterized − as in the army − by a series of constructions that supported the development of the battle over time.
(2) Definitions based on translations from The Pocket Oxford Latin Dictionary (1994)
(2) Art Militaire, Evolutions de l’infanterie, Lámina 14 © Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers Vol.1-Plates (París, 1762)
(3) Art Militaire, Evolutions de l’infanterie, Lámina 15 © Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers Vol.1-Plates (París, 1762)
(4) Pierre Patel, View of Versailles (1668) © Robert W. Berger, In the Garden of the Sun King: Studies on the Park of Versailles under Louis XIV (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1985)
(5) Bataille d’Avein (1635) © Monique Pelletier, Cartographie de la France et du monde de la Renaissance au Siècle des lumières (París: Bibliothèque nationale de France, 2001), p.78
(6) Detail of workers at Versailles (s.XVIII) © Kenneth Woodbridge, Princerly Gardens: The Origins and Development of the French Formal Style (New York: Rizzoli, 1986)
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