Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Moroccan Wall

At last, a drystone wall!

after: the completed wall and earthworks

before: the crumbling old wall, seen behind the line of the broom plant with new stones piled in front

In his The Stone Book Quartet, Alan Garner evokes the art of making a drystone wall in language as essential as dressed stone.

Grandfather was rough-dressing the stone for the wall, and laying it out along the hedge. Joseph unwound the line and pegged one end in the joints where Grandfather had finished the day before, and pulled the line tight against the bank. His job was to cut the bank back to receive the stone and to run a straight bed for the bottom course.
He chopped at the bank.
'Get your knee aback of your shovel,' said Grandfather. 'There's no sense in mauling yourself half to death. Come on, youth. Shape!'
Grandfather took the spade from him and looked along the bank. He walked along the raw cut edge and shaved the earth with light swings of the blade.'You've got it like a fiddler's elbow,' he said.
Grandfather grunted, and swung the blocks to lie as he wanted. They seemed to move without more than his hand on them.
Grandfather and Damper Latham worked together, as they had always done. The stone moved lightly for them.

'bed for the bottom course' of the wall

I witnessed something of this harmony in motion recently. After years of talking about drystone walls, admiring ancient ones in the neighbourhood, and lamenting the departure of the drystone mason from these stone-rich hills, we finally found an Italian and a Moroccan who would do the job. 

The wall is 120 cm high, about 40 wide and 40 metres long. Here, the lines that the mason followed, to keep the wall straight.
the 'bottom course'
They were to replace a dilapidated old wall which ran in fits and starts along the back of the former wheat field or campo di sopra, where our orchard is slowly establishing itself.

Andrea the Italian moved the earth and Yossef the Moroccan laid the stone in an intricate, mosaic-like pattern, large stones interspersed with small. It took about five days to build forty metres of wall. A trench or bed is dug to lay the stones below ground level (this is the only foundation), as in Garner's description. Lines of string are drawn across the length of the future wall to aid the hand and eye in placing the stones.

the sloping angle on the wall is discernible here

The wall is angled slightly against the earth and stones behind it, for strength and stability.

This is Yossef, the master wall builder from the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Yossef is shy, but when I brought him coffee, for a split second I glimpsed his extraordinary sea-green eyes. Yossef built walls in Morocco originally, but for 18 years now has been building them here in Italy, where he lives with his family.

Yossef's wall. The stones packed behind the wall were provided by past generations of contadini, who picked them from the field to fill in the back of their drystone wall. Stones ensure drainage and stability far more than earth alone.

Andrea, who brought the new colombino stones from near Greve, dug the trench, moved the earth, help lay stones, and finished everything to perfection.

If anyone is interested in a drystone wall please contact Andrea on


  1. It's really magnificent! Congratulations.

  2. The Moroccan drystone wall is really imposing and a wonderful replacement of the old original stone wall which had almost completely disappeared.The two artisans,one Italian and one Moroccan,who carried out the work so expertly have added a wonderful addition to the developing scene at Le Ripe.


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