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Terracing is an early example of humans altering the natural landscape to provide for the productivity of their communities.

AS THE TECHNOLOGY OF AGRICULTURE spread around the world c. 10,000 years ago, it was probably pretty simple to adopt in areas of flat land. For people living in mountains or hilly terrain, on the other hand, certain adaptations were necessary.

Terracing is a type of landscaping whereby a natural slope is transformed into a stair-step of successively receding flat surfaces. This gives farmers multiple sections of arable land that: a) are more comfortable to work on, b) can be irrigated without excessive runoff, and c) are less susceptible to erosion.

Terracing has been utilized in the production of various crops in different parts of the world for thousands of years. In South and East Asia, terraces predominantly serve as rice paddies. In the Mediterranean, grape vines and olive and other agricultural trees are grown. And in the Andes, terraced slopes are planted with potatoes, maize, and quinoa. But beyond their primary function as agricultural tool, terraces possess an aesthetic that immediately draws your eye, especially when viewed from the proper vantage point as in the photos below.

1. Yuanyang, Yunnan, China

Image via Imgur, originally shot by National Geographic photographer Thierry Bornier

There are two well-known rice-terrace regions in southern China. Located in Yuanyang county, Yunnan province, this is one of them. The bright colors here are the result of algae growing on the surface of standing water on some of the terraces.

2. Himalaya, Nepal

Terraces like this often make up the scenery when trekking in Nepal. From the photographer: “A view on terrace cultivation landscape near Damphus. At this moment of the year (february), there are mostly wheat (light green), potatoes and lentil (dark green). Later, in the monsoon, it will be rice.”

3. Longsheng, Guangxi, China

The second of southern China’s famous rice-terrace regions. Two terraces in particular account for most of the photos from Longsheng that appear in this list: Ping An Rice Terrace and Jinkeng Rice Terrace.

4. Moray, Peru

30 miles from Cusco, Moray is an Incan archaeological site and is thought to have served as an open-air laboratory for testing the effects of different elevations and irrigation schemes on the cultivation of crops.

5. Yuanyang, Yunnan, China

Photo: BoazImages

This area of Yuanyang, dominated by the Ailao Mountains, is inhabited by the Hani ethnic minority, who have been practicing terracing here for at least 1,300 years.

6. Longsheng, Guangxi, China

Many of the Longsheng terraces are around 500 years old, dating to the Ming Dynasty. They climb up from the floor of the river valley at 380m elevation to a height of about 880m.

7. Madeira, Portugal

Photo: Simon Zino

With land area limited in this remote Atlantic archipelago, terracing is a necessity. This is Fajã dos Frades, located at the base of the 590m Cabo Girão.

8. Banaue, Philippines

Photo: asteegabo

The Batad Rice Terraces, located in the municipality of Banaue in central Luzon, have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

9. Yuanyang, Yunnan, China

At elevations nearing 2,000m, most of Yuanyang’s rice terraces are in a climate zone cold enough to limit them to producing only one rice crop per year. Following the autumn harvest, water is pumped into the terraces and left standing until spring.

10. Pisaq, Peru

Located in the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba River, Pisaq was once an Inca fortress. The terraces here were created by hauling rich valley soil up the mountainsides, and they’re still used for agriculture today.

11. Longsheng, Guangxi, China

In Longsheng, the Longji (“Dragon’s Backbone”) Rice Terraces were named after the distinctive curvature and rise of the mountain ridge, and the fact that the terraces give the land a scale-like appearance.

12. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Photo: @marco

The interior city of Ubud pulls in tourists from the beaches with attractions like yoga retreats, mountain treks, and stacked infinity pools.

13. Banaue, Philippines

Photo: kudumomo

The Filipino province of Ifugao is home to all five rice-terrace sites included in the UNESCO World Heritage ranking. The town of Banaue contains two: Batad and Bangaan.

14. Sapa, Vietnam

The Hoang Lien Son Mountains of northwestern Vietnam are home to many ethnic minority groups, traditionally isolated from the lowland Vietnamese.

15. Longsheng, Guangxi, China

From Wikipedia: “[The terraces] are often considered most beautiful in early June. At this time, water is pumped over the rice paddies and young plants are transferred to the main terraces.”

16. Saga, Japan

Photo: kanegen

The prefecture of Saga, in northwestern Kyushu, counts 39% of its land area as arable, some of which includes seaside rice terraces like those pictured above.

17. Maras, Peru

Photo: ©haddock

In Maras, in the Sacred Valley, terraces are put to a different use. Since before the time of the Inca, these artificial ponds have been used to collect and evaporate out water from a mineral-rich subterranean stream, leaving behind a valuable commodity: salt.

18. Longsheng, Guangxi, China

Photo: jero 053

From the photographer: “The terrace rice fields were first built in the Yuan Dynasty (about 800 years ago) and completed in the Qing dynasty as the crystallization of the wisdom and labor of the Zhuang people.”

19. Banaue, Philippines

Photo: kudumomo

20. Sapa, Vietnam

In 1995, fewer than 5,000 tourists visited the Sapa area. In 2003, that number was 138,000. Mountain trekking and cycling tours around the region are frequently sold to backpackers in Hanoi.

21. Longsheng, Guangxi, China

Photo: oarranzli

22. Yuanyang county, Yunnan, China

Photo: avlxyz

Yuanyang terraces have become something of a tourist attraction, particularly for photographers, but the region as a whole remains largely unvisited by outsiders.

23. Dalat, Vietnam

Photo: eran dinur

Located in southern Vietnam, Dalat’s 1,500m (4,900ft) elevation gives it a much more temperate climate than the surrounding lowlands. Consequently, different crops are grown here: cabbage, fruit, cauliflower, and decorative flowers, for example.

24. Pisaq, Peru

The active town and ruins of Pisaq are a common stop on Sacred Valley tours out of Cusco — the Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday market is popular among tourists.

25. Banaue, Philippines
26. Longsheng, Guangxi, China

Photo: ming1967

27. Sapa, Vietnam
28. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
29. Banaue, Philippines

Photo: asteegabo

The Batad Rice Terrace in Banaue has become a tourist attraction — hiking is obviously an option.

30. Longsheng, Guangxi, China

Photo: ming1967

About The Author

Hal Amen

Hal Amen is a managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.

  • Joeri Jörg

    I Think de Dutch Tullip fields are missing….

    http://izismile.com/2011/02/16/beautiful_tulip_fields_32_pics.html

  • Valérie Marcon

    pour adoucir cette journée morose… des belles images!

  • Simon Zino

    Fantastic Collection Hal…thanx for including my image of Madeira!

  • Krystal Frost

    Yes, I saw a lot of this in Peru. The Andeans terrace with rock, so the rock faces the sun and heats up the soil to aid germination and growing process..permaculture at its best..

  • Melinda Chan

    great collections, beautiful places to go..

  • Jose Freitas

    Madeira has basically the same concept , but on a much smaller scale!

  • Kathy Amen

    So many of these look like works of art rather than architecture…amazing!

  • Kathy Amen

    Oops, I meant agriculture!

  • dCartier

    Nice list!
    But you missed the World Heritage Site: Douro Valley, Portugal – probably the most spectacular wine region on earth, and it goes on for hundreds of km.

  • Hal Amen

    thanks joeri, thought about those, but they’re not true terraces, are they?

  • Kathy Amen

    I meant to type “agriculture” instead of “architecture”. Too long a day!

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