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Title: The Semantic of Road in Cultural Landscape








Professor: Dr. Olga Lavrenova  — Russian geographer, anthropologist, philosopher, historian. Leading researcher of the Institute of scientific information on social sciences (INION). The candidate of geographical sciences (1996), doctor of philosophical science (2011). Professor of High Film and Television School (GITR). Lecturer of Department of social and humanitarian disciplines of the MSE MSU named by M.V. Lomonosov. The author of the semiotic concept of cultural landscape. General secretery of the International Association for semiotics of space (IASSp/AISE), member of advisory board of MPRH Institute (Tehran, Iran),


Abstract: Most popular archaic symbols, though somehow edited, are present in every local cultural landscape, and do not demand special explanation for an outside viewer who knows the language of religious and mythological spatial symbols. The Road is a polysemantic symbol of the Path in Russian culture.

The most capacious space symbol which contains the whole universe in any cultural landscape is the cross. The cross in a landscape is a crossroad / junction, one of sacred places in traditional culture. A crossroad is a horizontal projection of the vertically, from the Earth to the Heaven, oriented Cross, as well as the symbol of human destiny, or a bifurcation point, depending on the path of the further development.  Human spiritual and life path depends of the decision a human being makes at the crucial moment of life. The junction crowned in one geographical point with the sign of Eternity bears very wide semantics. Space, opposed to time, acted as a great unifier. Depending on the road a traveler chooses at a crossroad, his further route will be. ‘Crossings or crossroads <…>, path starting points show us the closest similarity with the human life line. There, from one starting point as the focus, the paths go into different directions. Ancient nations considered such places blessed by gods’ [Snegirev, 1865: 176]. A reverse semantics is possible here when the cross is seen as a crossroads in the deepest existential sense: ‘A person of myth and poetic mind is standing before a cross as a junction where there is death on the left, and life on the right, but doesn’t know where is the left and the right in that metric mythological space which is set by the cross image’ [Toporov, 1988: 12]. From this predicament, the way out might be told only by the heart which, in its turn, symbolically presents the junction of the earthly and heavenly paths.

A specific case is the roads in the sacred landscape and its elements, mentioned in holy texts or sacred stories which resulted in the ‘merge’ of the holy text with the cultural landscape. Such sacred landscape symbolized the events of the sacred history. Such landscape-text brings up a desire to walk it through and to ‘read’ it. The road is the direction of reading of the text ‘A sacred, i.e. consecrated by church as a very holy place, space brought up the desire to visit it.  For a devout Christian, pilgrimage was a unique opportunity, incomparable with any other chance, to get in touch with the holy objects. Unlike in Islam, Christianity doesn’t oblige every believer to make the pilgrimage, however, there are many different ways to encourage them to do so. <…> In addition to the most sacral center, Jerusalem, there are many local ones, Some of them have been very popular in the Christian world’ [Melnikova, 1998: 111]. The pilgrims ‘read’ the holy history through the geography of the Holy Land. There is an example of such ‘reading’ in The Description of the Holy Land by Iohannes Wirzburgensis [Iohannes Wirzburgensis, 1890]. ‘The geography of the Holy Land by Iohannes is in fact the New Testament story recalled by a pilgrim as he is moving in space’ [Melnikova, 1998: 112]. The places connected with the life and death of Jesus Christ, the prophets and saints, when ‘read’ in the right way, become landscapes-mysteries, and as a result of such trips the pilgrims repeated the way of the Savior carrying the cross, or the path of a saint, full of martyrdom and revelations.