Pastoralist Knowledge Hub

From Alps to Mediterranean: UNESCO Recognizes the Shared Cultural Heritage of Two Transhumance Traditions.

09/12/2023 -

Transhumance, the seasonal droving of livestock between geographic or climatic regions, has been recognized for its vital role in cultural heritage and socio-economic sustainability. On December 5th2023, transhumance was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO at the 18th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Botswana, celebrating a tradition deeply rooted in knowledge of the environment and social practices. 

The multinational file "Transhumance, the seasonal droving of livestock" was submitted to UNESCO in March 2022 by ten European countries (Albania, Andorra, Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Romania, and Spain) after transhumance has been recognized as a national heritage in each of the country. This submission was an extension of a similar element registered in 2019 in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, "Transhumance, the seasonal migration of herds along the migratory routes in the Mediterranean area and in the Alps," at the proposal of Austria, Greece, and Italy. 


            © Natalia Montané, 2018                                                 © Maison de la transhumance, 2007

Transhumance is a way of life passed down through generations, involving intricate social practices, rituals, and a deep understanding of animal care, breeding, and resource managementAn entire socio-economic system has sprung from this practice, encompassing gastronomy, local crafts, and festivities marking the changing seasons.

In each of these countries, every year, spring and autumn witness herders, both men and women, organizing the movement of thousands of animals along established pastoral paths. Leading their herds on foot or horseback, accompanied by trusty dogs and sometimes families, they enact a ritual deeply connected to the land.  Families serve as the primary custodians of transhumance knowledge, transmitting it through observation and hands-on experience. Communities along the transhumance routes also play a vital role, celebrating herd crossings and organizing festivals. The practice is also transmitted through workshops organized by local communities, associations, and networks of herders and farmers, as well as through universities and research institutes. 

© Arnaud Lardé, 2020

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. 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. In Switzerland, between May and October, alpine farmers of all genders drive cattle, sheep, and goats to high-altitude pastures, maximizing the benefit of abundant forage. This practice, encompassing animal care, pasture maintenance, cheesemaking, and welcoming visitors, contributes to preserving natural landscapes and fostering economic and social ties between local populations and farmers. The alpine pasture season has given rise to unique knowledge, skills, and customs transmitted through families, seasonal employees, and cultural events, uniting farmers, villagers, and the wider population. This shared socio-cultural experience features prominently in Swiss literature, music, and arts, serving as a strong identifying factor for the region.