The Intangible Cultural Heritage of Graubünden

With the monastery in Müstair and the Albula and Bernina lines of the Rhaetian Railway, Graubünden is home to unique UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, not only high-quality Baukultur plays a major role in Graubünden. Equally important – and deeply rooted locally – is the intangible cultural heritage.

In the Oberhalbstein valley, the Engadin and the southern valleys of Graubünden, the arrival of spring is traditionally marked by the Chalandamarz. The use of bells to drive out winter is a widely known practice, thanks to the children’s book “A Bell for Ursli”. However, there are also other customs in Graubünden which are practiced in spring. In May, the children of Chur hike from the town to the neighbouring Maiensässe [lower-level alps with huts and stables]: this tradition is called Maiensässfahrt. In Poschiavo, the Protestant parish holds a family outing to the church on the Selva Maiensäss: the Gita a Selva.

Throughout the year, old customs and traditions are cultivated in Graubünden. In many cases, they are deeply rooted locally and regionally. And children and adolescents often play important roles in them. This is the case with the Chalandamarz and the Hom Strom festivals. For this so-called fire tradition [i.e. customs involving large fires], the children of Scuol erect a straw man which is subsequently set on fire – similar to the burning of the Böögg during the Sechseläuten festival in Zurich. The main protagonists in the Pschuuri, a Carnival custom in Splügen, are also children and adolescents. The same applies to the Scheibenschlagen tradition, practised shortly after Ash Wednesday in Untervaz, Danis-Tavanasa and Dardin, in which boys use rods to fling glowing wooden disks into the evening’s darkness.

In a way, the Carnival and fire traditions as well as the Maiensässfahrten, practiced in Chur and Poschiavo, each year mark the start of the cultivation of enduring, living traditions in Graubünden. Once the snow has thawed, other customs include Hürnä, a variation of Hornussen, played on the meadows of Furna in the Prättigau. And on the Heinzenberg, a game is practiced which might be described as Alpine golf: Mazza Cula.

However, what exactly are living traditions? In principle, they represent the intangible cultural heritage, which UNESCO defines as follows: “Intangible cultural heritage is the practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities, groups and sometimes individuals recognise as part of their cultural heritage. Also called living cultural heritage […] they have been passed from one generation to another […] and they contribute to giving us a sense of identity and continuity.” Intangible cultural heritage thus ranges from legends, customs and games to crafts and cultural practices such as sgraffito. This traditional tech-nique of facade decoration is primarily practiced in the Engadin. In the neighbouring Val Bregaglia, the use of chestnut is a cultural practice in its own right. This is hardly surprising, since the Val Bregaglia is home to one of the largest cultivated chestnut forests in Europe. Among the new additions to the list of living traditions is the cultivation of Walser identity.

Below you will find a selection of customs and traditions from Graubünden.

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