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Intangible cultural heritage

Traditions, knoweldge, craftsmanship techniques  
Photo: © UNESCO/James Muriuki

National Inventory

Since Austria ratified the Convention, the Austrian Commission for UNESCO has been entrusted with creating a National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria. Thanks to their unique qualities, each listed tradition contributes to cultural diversity beyond the nation’s borders and conveys the richness of Austria’s living cultural heritage in an understandable manner.
Applications are accepted throughout the year. For more information on the application process and the criteria for inclusion, click here.

Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

The Amras “Matschgerer”

The Amras “Matschgerer”

According to sources, the custom of the Amras “Matschgerer”, celebrated each year during the carnival season, dates back to the 17th century. This tradition, which has its roots in the village community, has been preserved to the present day despite the annexation of Amras by Innsbruck, the provincial capital, and urban influences. At the centre of the custom is, aside from the processions, above all the performances of the masked figures called “Matschgerer” before small audiences, with certain…
Local toponyms in the federal province of Tyrol

Local toponyms in the federal province of Tyrol

For over 2,000 years, local toponyms have facilitated orientation and communication for people living in Tyrol. The transmission of knowledge regarding names and locations is ensured via people’s presence in these locations, the work they do on land that supports their livelihoods, and their experiences as well as their maintenance of social relationships, as part of which such names are frequently mentioned. The approximately 120,000 place names used in Tyrol’s nearly 300 municipalities were…
Meadow irrigation in Tyrol

Meadow irrigation in Tyrol

This submission deals with a centuries-old method of irrigating inner-Alpine dry areas. Water is diverted from a brook into the Hauptwaal [main canal], through which it flows downhill at a shallow angle to reach the land that requires irrigation. Today, this simple but efficient method of irrigating agricultural land is still practiced by nine cooperatives in eight municipalities of Tyrol’s Oberland region.
The Paver’s trade

The Paver’s trade

The paver’s trade is a sustainable form of craftsmanship that has for centuries involved manual labour but nonetheless continued to develop as technology has advanced. The paver’s trade became its own occupation quite early on, and in today’s Austria, it is a regulated occupation in which historical crafting knowledge is passed on to the next generation both orally and through actual practice.
Production of Traditionally Hand-Crafted Terrazzo

Production of Traditionally Hand-Crafted Terrazzo

Terrazzo is a long-lived, heavy-duty, and low-maintenance type of flooring that can be decorated in a broad diversity of patterns and is produced without chemical additives. To create a terrazzo floor, shovels are used for the portion-by-portion application of a cementitious binding material, onto which—depending on the variety of terrazzo to be produced—stones of ca. 10–22 mm diameter are spread by hand. Next, the terrazzo chips are beaten (geprackt), rolled with an iron terrazzo roller, and…
Gilding & Faux Painting

Gilding & Faux Painting

Gilding and faux painting have been practiced since ancient times in order to make objects appear as if made from solid gold or other materials. There are various techniques for doing so, such as poliment and oil gilding. Faux painting (known as Staffieren or, in former times, as Fassmalerei) denotes the painting and decorative embedding of non-gilded surfaces. This includes marbelising, wood imitation, and porcelain imitation. Knowledge of the complex techniques is for the most part passed on…
"Wampelerreiten" in Axams

"Wampelerreiten" in Axams

Wampelerreiten in Axams is done annually on the so-called “nonsensical Thursday” (unsinniger Donnerstag) prior to Fasching [Carnival] Sunday. In focus here are the eponymous Wampeler—young boys and men who wear voluminous white linen shirts stuffed full with hay, lending the Wampeler their Wampe, a colloquial German term for a fat belly. Their adversaries are the Reiter [Riders], who attempt to flip the Wampeler on their backs in order to soil their white shirts.
Experiential Knowledge Concerning Avalanche Risk Management

Experiential Knowledge Concerning Avalanche Risk Management

Since the very beginning of human beings’ inhabitation of the Alps, it has been necessary to acquire knowledge about avalanches in order to survive there. For the most part, such knowledge has been passed on orally—within families, in schools, and within affected occupational communities (hunters, farmers, etc.). To this day, avalanches cannot be fully predicted or assessed by scientific means. Therefore, experiential knowledge of how to deal with this natural hazard is all the more important.
Perlåggen in the Tyrolean Oberland and Innsbruck regions

Perlåggen in the Tyrolean Oberland and Innsbruck regions

Perlåggen is a card game, nowadays played above all in Tyrol, in which fibbing and misleading one’s opponents are important elements. The players are united in their being speakers of the Tyrolean dialect, which—with its special Perlåggen terminology—is of great importance. This terminology, collectively known as Perlågger-Latein [Perlåggen Latin] or Kårter-Sprech [card player-speak], includes a number of words for certain moves, special cards, and praising or rebuking other players for their…
Ratcheting during Holy Week

Ratcheting during Holy Week

Ratcheting (Ratschen) is a noisemaking tradition that is practiced in many parts of Austria in various forms during the days preceding Easter. A central element is the so-called Ratsche [ratchet], a mechanical percussion instrument made of wood, the sound of which is meant to replace the tolling of the silent church bells from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday. In the most common form of ratcheting, children go through the community at various times, making noise and chanting according to an…
The Ram Procession to Obermauern

The Ram Procession to Obermauern

For this annually occurring procession, two separate processions from the communities of Prägraten and Virgen come together in Obermauern. One of these two communities brings along a white ram festively adorned with colourful ribbons and flowers. The entire party then makes for the pilgrimage chapel of Maria Schnee, where the ram is first led around the altar three times. This procession is combined with various rituals such as tying a lock of the ram’s fur to the paschal candle.
Zacchaeus singing in Zirl

Zacchaeus singing in Zirl

Zacchaeus singing (Zachäussingen) in Zirl is an annual fair tradition that takes place on the third Sunday in October starting at 4:30 a.m. Apart from the time of day, a special feature is above all the connection of religious and secular practice. Every year, around 200 people gather on the square in front of the church and sing the Zachäuslied [“Song of Zacchaeus”] along with the church choir and a group of wind players; this song was written during the 18th century by a sacristan from Zirl…
The Gauderfest in Zell am Ziller

The Gauderfest in Zell am Ziller

The Gauderfest in Zell am Ziller is one of the largest celebrations of spring that has been preserved in the Alpine region, and it dates back as far as the 15th century. The name refers to the location of this folk celebration, the so-called Gauderlehen. Its climax is the festive parade that takes place on the first Sunday in May, each year with a different theme such as a historical event. Over 2,000 wearers of traditional costumes from a multitude of regions within the Alps participate.
The Reither Nikolausspiel – St. Nicholas Play in Reith

The Reither Nikolausspiel – St. Nicholas Play in Reith

The St. Nicholas Play in Reith (Reither Nikolausspiel) is held every seven years in the village of Reith im Alpbachtal. The Reither Nikolausspiel consists of twelve scenes (referred to as Bilder [lit. “pictures,” an antiquated term for “scenes”]), in which the poor’s defiance of the rich and powerful, as well as the battle between good and evil, are portrayed. Until 1919, this fundamentally religious and pedagogical dramatic work was performed in private homes, with local lay-performers going…
Knowledge of traditional seed cultivation and production

Knowledge of traditional seed cultivation and production

Every culture has produced specific species and varieties of edible plants, adapting the knowledge and techniques involved to its dietary habits and the growing conditions at hand. By means of targeted planting, care, selection, usage and multiplication, farmers and gardeners have created an enormous diversity. The knowledge of seed planting, seed harvesting, selection, cleaning and storage was and still is passed on from generation to generation both in families and in communities.
Pfunds Brotherhood of the Holy Grave

Pfunds Brotherhood of the Holy Grave

Founded in 1511, the Brotherhood of the Holy Grave (Heiliggrab-Bruderschaft) in Pfunds, Tyrol, has devoted itself to maintaining the tradition of erecting the Holy Grave on the Saturday before Palm Sunday and the 24-hour, uninterrupted worship of the Blessed Sacrament from Good Friday to Holy Saturday. The Brotherhood has always existed independently of the Catholic Church and the respective municipal government. At the same time, it addresses the entire community, including women and young…
Passion Play Erl

Passion Play Erl

For the past 400 years, Tyrol’s traditional Passion Play Erl has been held every six years, an event that has its roots in Christian Easter dramas. Despite the fact that the Passion Play now enjoys international renown and attracts throngs of visitors, it is particularly the residents of the town of Erl who are responsible for the preservation of this traditional Christian dramatic event. It is not professional actresses and actors who regularly take the stage here but rather the townspeople.
Austrian Sign Language

Austrian Sign Language

Austrian Sign Language (ÖGS) serves as the social and cultural foundation of Austria’s deaf community. As the mother tongue of deaf people in Austria, it is a crucial part of their identity. It is used all across Austria and includes multiple dialects distinguished by regionally specific characteristics. Although ÖGS has been legally recognised as a language since 2005, its users still consider themselves a linguistic and cultural minority.
Austrian Scythe Forging

Austrian Scythe Forging

Prior to the mechanisation of farming, the scythe numbered among the most important harvesting implements. And even after the introduction of mowing machines, it remained a crucial tool for small farming operations and hence also for regional food production until well into the 20th century. This went hand in hand with specialised know-how acquired over centuries.
Knowledge of the locations, harvesting, and processing oft he spotted gentian

Knowledge of the locations, harvesting, and processing oft he spotted gentian

The knowledge of the locations, harvesting procedure, and processing of the spotted gentian (gentiana punctata) has been passed down for centuries in the Tyrolean community of Galtür. The entire population of the village is generally involved in the harvesting procedure—carefully digging up the precious roots—as well as the processing phase: the distillation of gentian schnapps. To this day, lots are drawn at the annual village fair to determine which families will be permitted to participate in…
Nassereith Carnival - “Schellerlaufen“

Nassereith Carnival - “Schellerlaufen“

The Nassereith Carnival, known since 1951 also as “Schellerlaufen”, is a carnival tradition that takes place every three years in the town of Nassereith, in the district of Imst/Tyrol, on one day between Epiphany (6 January) and Ash Wednesday. The culmination of the Nassereith Carnival is the procession, which is characterised by its splendid colourfulness and typical wooden masks and is conducted according to precise, traditional rules.
Jew's harp playing in Austria

Jew's harp playing in Austria

The Jew’s harp is a bourdon instrument that can be made of various materials, including metal and bamboo. Jew’s harp playing is among the oldest musical practices of mankind and is particularly widespread among the Turkic peoples of Asia and in Europe, with centres of production and playing evolving with their own individual characteristics. Since the Middle Ages, for example, the Upper Austrian town of Molln has had its own guild of Jew’s harp makers (see “Production of the Molln Jew’s Harp”).
Sacramental Guards in Tyrol

Sacramental Guards in Tyrol

The Tyrolean Sacrament Guards (Sakramentsgarden) were founded some 500 years ago, following the Spanish model of the Brotherhoods of Corpus Christi. They still continue to carry out their original duties as protector and escort of honour for the Blessed Sacrament. In historic dress and with historic weaponry, the four Sacrament Guard organisations deploy together at official church and secular ceremonies. The individual guardsmen are also present at private ceremonies such as weddings and…
Anklöpfeln (knocking on doors) in the Tyrolean Unterland

Anklöpfeln (knocking on doors) in the Tyrolean Unterland

„Anklöpfeln“ (dialect for “to knock”) is a practice cultivated in the Tyrolean lower Inn valley. Here, a group of mostly male singers dress up as shepherds and visit the neighbouring houses on the three Thursdays before Christmas (“knocking nights”).
"Bloch-pulling" in Fiss

"Bloch-pulling" in Fiss

The “bloch-pulling” in Fiss (“bloch” is the long trunk of a stone pine) belongs to the largest carnival traditions in the Alpine region, besides those in Telfs, Imst, Nassereith, Thaur, Axams, Vigo di Fassa and Tramin.