1341: Terraces in Saillon
It seems that they have been there forever. But it’s impossible to date precisely the start of the terraces, these walls on several levels that are such a typical feature of the Valais landscape. The oldest in Switzerland date back to the Bronze Age and are found in the Graubünden Alps. Supporting walls have been found in Upper Valais, with traces from earlier times that date to the Iron Age. But there is nothing to prove that they were linked to grapevine cultivation.
The oldest mention of vineyard walls is in the accounts of the Saillon Chatellenie. These show the presence of charmuri, or dry stone walls, in the vineyard of the Comte de Savoie, just below the Saillon Tower, in 1341.
Valais today has 3,000 km of dry stone walls. These require regular maintenance. Documents from 1700 show that Italian masons were hired to repair them. Later, when vines moved up from the plains to the hillsides, major construction sites were set up. The impressive Cotzette terraces above Sion, where some of the walls are 18 metres high, took 45 years to build, from 1863 to 1908.
First mention of walls in Valais, 1052, near the Saillon castle. Photo J Margelisch.