Dispersed settlements are historical forms of rural development that originated in Slovakia between the 16th – 18th century in remote and difficult-to-access parts of existing counties. They have never been independent and have always represented some sort of extreme marginal colonies, situated on the edge of being and not-being. They are the product of German, Wallachian and later mainly internal agricultural colonization. Colonizers were invited to cultivate the land in more effective way, to provide defence or were simply seeking refuge.
The dominant form of economic activity in the settlements was agriculture, mixed with cattle breeding as well as some forestry and charcoal operations. Over time these traditional land-use forms passed over changes connected with social economy, ownership, collectivization, emigration and agriculture policy processing that significantly affected their existence. At present, they are incompatible with the long-standing centralizing tendencies of country’s socio-economic development.
In terms of the conception of sustainable ways of living, we are witnessing a kind of development paradox. While at the time of their formation, dispersed settlements represented a devastating intervention to the natural landscape (deforestation, soil exploitation, overgrazing), today this phenomenon belongs to the category of least disturbing to the environment, yet it is threatened with the negative side effects of abandonment which could lead to their dissapearence.
Despite this radical intervention, dispersed settlements represent landscape-forming phenomenon with significant cultural-historical, aesthetic and environmental value. Their specificity is in being a land transformed by man that is not armed with modern technology and theoretical thinking.
Abandoned houses of dispersed settlements are the remains of a people who had skill and knowledge to survive in difficult conditions in remote locations. After centuries of being a feudal country, the Slovak rural environment was stigmatized by a fragmentation, backwardness, conservativeness and low level of mechanization. These labels caused those skills to be forgotten, overlooked, underestimated and oppressed by an urge to catch up with others and a constant aspiration for a better life.
In the past we used to be closely tied to the roots of an agricultural society. Over the last couple of decades the world has seen an unprecedented spike in technology and access to learning. Unfortunately, besides great access to information we’ve also witnessed the loss of our ability to be self-reliant. The image of life in the field has suddenly changed. Skills that were once part of our culture, which once helped us survive, have been largely forgotten and exchanged for a dependency on the central government. We are alienated from our past as well as from each other.
These settlements could become a very inspirational source when it comes to our relationship to the environment, a balanced structure of land use, preservation of species diversity, pollution-less living, balanced production and consumption, protection against natural forces, traditional values, using common sense, resourcefulness, self-reliance and independence. Instead of understanding these features as a symbol of poverty and backwardness, they could become strength, wealth and uniqueness of our past and presence and maybe also help us to understand our existence and alienation.
Many of these clusters of dwellings that represent national cultural and landscape heritage have already disappeared or have been transformed into new forms or functional units, but the ones remaining are still rich in values which should be kept alive for the benefit and protection of present and future generations. Maintenance is entirely dependent on human activity.