UNESCO recognizes the cultural significance of two transhumance traditions


European transhumance and the Swiss alpine pasture season have been recognized as intangible cultural heritage by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Transhumance refers to the seasonal movement of people with their livestock between geographical or climatic regions. It is also a common practice in several mountainous regions throughout the world, and many transhumant Indigenous Peoples call mountains home for some months of the year.

Each year, herders organize the movement of thousands of animals along traditional pastoral paths. An ancestral practice, transhumance stems from a deep knowledge about the environment and entails social practices and rituals related to the care, breeding and training of animals and the management of natural resources.

An entire socioeconomic system has been developed around transhumance in Europe, from gastronomy to local handicrafts and festivities marking the beginning and end of a season. Beyond its cultural significance, transhumance fosters social inclusion and strengthens cultural identity. The practice binds families, communities and territories, counteracting the detrimental effects of rural depopulation.

The multinational nomination to declare "Transhumance, the seasonal droving of livestock" an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was submitted to UNESCO in March 2022 by ten European countries: Albania, Andorra, Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Romania and Spain.

Transhumance was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on 5 December 2023 at the 18th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Botswana. This recognition by UNESCO serves as a global acknowledgment of the importance of preserving and celebrating transhumance for generations to come.

During the same meeting, the alpine pasture season of Switzerland was also declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Between May and October, alpine farmers drive cattle, sheep and goats to high-altitude pastures. The alpine pasture season has given rise to unique knowledge and customs, uniting farmers, villagers and the wider population.

The declaration of these two transhumance traditions as intangible cultural heritage comes at a timely moment as the world gears up to celebrate the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists in 2026.

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Photo: ©Roberto Cilenti

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