Interesting facts about terraces (earthworks)

rice terraces

In agriculture, a terrace is a piece of sloped plane that has been cut into a series of successively receding flat surfaces or platforms, which resemble steps, for the purposes of more effective farming.

This type of landscaping is therefore called terracing.

Graduated terrace steps are commonly used to farm on hilly or mountainous terrain.

Machines such as tractors and chemical appliers aren’t used on terraces because of the structures’ highly irregular shapes. This lack of mechanized labor promotes traditional ways of living, such as farming small pieces of land with hand tools. Without machines and chemicals, terrace farming has a much lower carbon footprint than conventional farming.


Terrace farming is commonly used in Asia by rice-growing countries such as Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia.

Terrace farming is also commonly used in islands with steep slopes. The Canary Islands present a complex system of terraces covering the landscape from the coastal irrigated plantations to the dry fields in the highlands.

Apart from rice cultivation which is the most common, terraces are also used to grow wheat, barley, potatoes, and maize.


Drier-climate terrace farming is common throughout the Mediterranean Basin, where they are used for vineyards, olive trees, cork oak, and other crops.

Terraced farming was developed by the Wari culture and other peoples of the south-central Andes before 1000 AD, centuries before they were used by the Inca, who adopted them.

The Inca built these terraced farms wherever mountain villages have existed in the Andes. They provided the food necessary to support the populations of great Inca cities and religious centres such as Machu Picchu.

machu picchu

An andén Spanish for “platform is most often used to refer to the terraces built by pre-Columbian cultures in the Andes mountains of South America. Many andenes have survived for more than 500 years and are still in use by farmers throughout the region.


The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995, the first-ever property to be included in the cultural landscape category of the World Heritage List. This inscription has five sites: the Batad Rice Terraces, Bangaan Rice Terraces (both in Banaue), Mayoyao Rice Terraces (in Mayoyao), Hungduan Rice Terraces (in Hungduan) and Nagacadan Rice Terraces (in Kiangan), all in Ifugao Province, Philippines.

rice terraces of the philippine cordilleras

The Banaue Rice Terraces are not part of the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras. The terraces are occasionally called the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. It is commonly thought that the terraces were built with minimal equipment, largely by hand. The Banaue Rice Terraces are located approximately 1,500 metres (4,900 feet) above sea level. These are fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rainforests above the terraces. It is said that if the steps were put end to end, it would encircle half of the globe.

banaue rice terraces

In Japan, some of the 100 Selected Terraced Rice Fields, from Iwate in the north to Kagoshima in the south, are slowly disappearing, but volunteers are helping the farmers both to maintain their traditional methods and for sightseeing purposes. This majestic scenery, built through centuries of unceasing efforts, cannot help but inspire respect for the labor of past generations.

At the seaside Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, the villa gardens of Julius Caesar’s father-in-law were designed in terraces to give pleasant and varied views of the Bay of Naples.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon may have been built on an artificial mountain with stepped terraces.