Alpinism gains UNESCO heritage status

An ascent of the 2,855-metre Tällihorn in southeastern Switzerland Keystone / Arno Balzarini

The art of scaling high mountain peaks in the Alps, known as alpinism, has been awarded coveted UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status, which celebrates well-known traditions, art forms and practices. 

This content was published on December 12, 2019 - 10:51

A joint application by mountaineering and guide communities in France, Italy and Switzerland was approved on Wednesday at the annual meeting of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Bogota, ColombiaExternal link.

The groups joined forces to promote the high mountain sport, which takes its name from the range extending across the three European countries.

“It requires physical, technical and intellectual abilities, and is characterized by a shared culture familiar with high-mountain environments, the history of climbing and associated values,” said UNESCO.

“Alpinism also involves knowledge of the natural environment and a strong team spirit. Most community members belong to alpine clubs, which act as a driving force for alpinist culture.”

While the first traces of mountaineering date back to antiquity, one of the founding acts of modern alpinism was Jacques Balmat and Michel-Gabriel Paccard’s first ascent of Mont Blanc from the resort of Chamonix in 1786.

The UNESCO application was led by Chamonix (France), Courmayeur (Italy), Orsières (Switzerland) and canton Valais, with the scientific collaboration with the University of Geneva.

This is not the first time that Switzerland has won joint UNESCO heritage status for its mountain culture. In 2018, the knowledge, experience and strategies of managing avalanche risksExternal link, which have been constantly updated and passed down over generations in Switzerland and Austria, were officially recognised as a global cultural treasure. 

On Thursday, UNESCO awarded the same status to the Holy Week processions in Mendrisio, canton Ticino. Mendrisio's processions take place every year on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and attract thousands of spectators. 

Switzerland has also recently won UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status for the art of dry-stone walling, the Vevey Winegrowers’ Festival and the Basel Carnival. A joint application with France to recognise watchmaking art and mechanics is pending.

The Swiss government is also interested in filing applications for yodelling, the alpine pasture season and graphic and typographic design.

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