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Transhumance - immaterial Cultural Heritage of UNESCO

One of the longest-standing and spectacular movement of sheep in the entire Alpine region

On 11th of December 2019 in Bogota/Colombia, the transnational tradition of transhumance was included in the UNESCO Representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The transhumance receives World Heritage status.

This is a great success for Austria, Italy and Greece, who together have pushed this multinational submission. The Schnalstal Valley Cultural Association, together with Pro Vita Alpina, has achieved the entry on the Austrian list of intangible cultural heritage in 2011. The Shepperds Association Niedertal and Rofenberg as well as the Tourist Association Schnalstal Valley have supported the submission.
Transhumance between the Ötztal Valley and Schnalstal Valley in South Tyrol

The transhumance in Schnalstal Valley, which is still practiced and deeply rooted in local tradition, dates back 600 years. This ancient tradition in Schnalstal Valley is part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO. The annual migration in Schnalstal Valley is the only cross-border and trans-glacial transhumance in existence.
Every June, the shepherds lead flocks of 3,000 – 4,000 sheep on a mass migration from Vernago/Vernagt and Maso Corto/Kurzras across two mountain passes to the fertile pastures of Vent in neighboring Austria. The transhumance in the Schnalstal Valley covers more than 40km, across gullies and snow-covered fields.

In mid-September, the sheep and shepherds with the help of sheep dogs guide the flocks back to the Schnalstal Valley on the much safer return trip. At the end of the transhumance, the successful termination of the migration is celebrated.

Transhumance in June

In mid-June, as soon as the mountain pastures at the other side of the main Alpine ridge are free of snow, the “long march” begins for about a quarter of the sheep in Laas in Vinschgau during which they cover over 44 km, 3,200 m altitude difference ascending and 1,800 m descending. The sheep and their shepherds with their dogs follow the trail used by those who originally discovered Schnalstal Valley.

The people involved stay overnight at the assembly points in Maso Corto/Kurzras and Vernago/Vernagt before setting off at dawn the next day to cross the main Ötztal ridge. Crossing the many snow-covered meadows is painstaking and finally at the Giogo Alto/Hochjoch and the Giogo Basso/Niederjoch steep ice gulleys have also to be negotiated. At the other side, the high mountain valleys are quite flat but snow, fog and storms can make the descent very difficult.

Vernago/Vernagt (1,700 m) - Giogo Basso/Niederjoch (3,019 m) - Niedertalalm Mountain Hut
Early in the morning between 3 am and 6.30 am, up to 2,200 sheep and 300 goats set off from Vernago/Vernagt in four groups, marching upwards through Tisental and reaching the Similaun refuge hut on Giogo Basso/Niederjoch about 3 and a half hours later. From there the herd travels down towards Niedertalalm Mountain hut, passing by the Martin Busch Mountain hut (2,051 m). About 3 hours after leaving the Similaun refuge hut, they reach the “shepherds’ hut” (2,134 m).

The Similaun refuge hut and the Martin Busch Mountain hut is not yet open on the day of the march.

MASO CORTO/Kurzras (2,011 m) - Giogo alto/Hochjoch (2,856 m) – Rofenbergalm Mountain hut
The first of about 1,500 sheep set off from Kurzras at about 5 am in the morning. About 2 and a half hours later, the sheep and their shepherds reach the Giogo Alto/Hochjoch. Distance covered: about 5.3 km from Maso Corto/Kurzras. After a short break at the Refuge Bella Vista, the herd continues down the mountain towards Rofenberg Alm Mountain hut, passing the Hochjoch Hospitz (2,413 m). A further 2 hours are needed for the descent to Rofenberg Alm Mountain hut.

The Refuge Bella Vista is open for business on the day of the march. Accommodation at the Hochjoch Hospitz hut only with request.

Transhumance from Vernago/Vernagt passing the Giogo Basso on Saturday 06th of June 2020 and from Maso Corto/Kurzras passing the Giogo Alto on Saturday 13th of June 2020

Due tot he COVID 19 situation, the tranhumance of sheep this year can take place only with the current regulation of distance.

Schedule may change if weather conditions are bad.
The "mother" of sheep Eva Götsch
The sheep return to Schnalstal Valley in September – as has been the case for hundreds of years

In mid-September, the march of the animals begins again in the opposite direction. Due to the milder weather conditions, the return journey is generally much easier for both man and animal compared with crossing the main Alpine ridge in the spring which is a huge challenge for all.

The sheep return to Schnalstal Valley in September – as has been the case for hundreds of years.

Niedertalm Mountain hut – Giogo basso/Niederjoch (3,019 m) – VERNAGO/Vernagt (1,700 m)
Up to 2,200 sheep and 300 goats set off from the Niedertal Alm Mountain hut in Vent valley (A) in the early morning, moving upwards through high-Alpine terrain (not dangerous) to Giogo Basso/Niederjoch (3,019 m) or the Refuge Similaun, the first group in the herd arriving at about 9:00 a.m. The most dangerous part of the return journey begins here, particularly if there is snow on the ground or the trail or parts of it are icy.

Below the hut, the procession winds downhill on quite a narrow trail through steep and rocky terrain (down to about 2,600 m). The ground then becomes more level and less dangerous. After a short respite in the centre of Tisental valley, the herd continues down the mountain towards Vernago/Vernagt, arriving just before 2:00 p.m. From far away (1/2 hour before it arrives) you can already see the never-ending line of sheep. The shepherds and drovers are welcomed back by many locals and guests to a big shepherd festival near the “schofschoad” or assembly point.

Accommodation and refreshments available at the Mountain hut Martin Busch and the Refuge Similaun.

Rofenbergalm Muntain hut – Giogo Alto/Hochjoch (2.856 m) – MASO CORTO/Kurzras (2.011 m)
Early in the morning, about 1,500 sheep set off from the Rofenberg Alm Mountain hut in Vent valley (A). From there, the trail leads through high-Alpine terrain (not dangerous) upwards towards Giogo Alto/Hochjoch or the Refuge Bella Vista (2,845 m). The herd arrives there between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. After a short break at the hut, the procession continues down the mountain at a gentle pace, initially through steep, rocky terrain and then onto more level ground, then across steep ground again, to Maso Corto/Kurzras where the herd arrives between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Near the “schofsschoad” or assembly point, a hearty shepherds’ festival is already underway since 11:00 a.m. in the morning with traditional music and local specialities.

Accommodation and refreshments available at the Hochjoch Hospitz hut and the Refuge Bella Vista.

Return of the sheeps from the Rofenberg Alm Mountain hut passing the Giogo Basso to Vernago/Vernagt on Saturday 12th of September 2020 and from the Niedertal Alm Mountain hut passing the Giogo Alto  to Maso Corto/Kurzras on Sunday 13th of September 2020.

Schedule may change if weather conditions are bad
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