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Intangible cultural heritage

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

The art and craft of stonemasonry
Traditional craftsmanship throughout Austria, inscribed 2020

For millennia, stonemasons have been responsible for the creation of countless religious and secular buildings and pass on their knowledge surrounding the use and cutting of stone, a naturally occurring raw material. Still today, the workpieces produced by stonemasons shape the appearance of many cities and towns.

As early as the Middle Ages, young stonemason apprentices acquired their technical skills through observation at building sites and practical work. In the course of their supplemental three-year stint as journeymen with other masters, they were able to gather additional valuable experience and insights. In this way, the closely guarded knowledge of formal theory, construction methods, and structural design was disseminated across regional borders and all over Europe. This exchange also made possible the further refinement of existing practices.

As a rule, becoming a stonemason today entails three years of training. Presently, a stonemason is engaged primarily in the design, construction, restoration, carving, and relocation of fountains, monuments, gravestones, portals, façade cladding, stone steps, and floor coverings of natural or artificial stone. Among stonemasons, not only the handicraft itself has an identity-building function but also the traditions that are handed down from master to apprentice. For example, while at work some stonemasons still wear the traditional long leather apron, which is to be turned up during breaks, and when requesting the assistance of a colleague they still use the term Angesprochen (solicited), and show their appreciation with the word Bedankt (thanked).

For a number of years, the use of local stone varieties for the Austrian market has been promoted; in addition, there are many national and international meetings and competitions of stonemasons aimed at intensifying the exchange of information and knowledge.




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