In the heart of Europe, Luxembourg boasts a rich heritage of intangible culture. From the impressive art of dry stone walling, the timeless importance of midwives in society and traditional folk dances to the well-established agricultural technique of Fléizen – these cultural treasures all tell a story that has lasted for generations. A closer look at these living traditions opens up a fascinating panorama of Luxembourg's cultural diversity.
Stone by stone: the art of dry stone walling
Dry stone walling is a sustainable construction method which relies on the weight of the stones and a skillful arrangement to create a stable structure. These walls are built without any binding agents such as mortar.
Dry stone structures can be found in numerous locations in Luxembourg, in step with the features of the local landscape. Notable examples include vineyard walls along the Moselle river, hiking trails in the Mullerthal Region, retaining walls in the Luxembourg Ardennes and drainage and irrigation systems in the valleys. The knowledge needed to build these structures has been handed down by word of mouth over the centuries.
In the past, stones were excavated by tillage operations, then sorted and stacked so that they could be reused. Some dry stone walling techniques were perfected in this way, over the centuries. However, this construction method fell into disuse at one point due to the rise of modern technology and new building materials.
Since 2016, the European Interreg project has been organising workshops to revive and pass on this traditional art in Luxembourg.
The time-tested art of midwifery
A midwife is a healthcare provider who is trained in medicine and anatomy. The art of the profession is to provide comprehensive support for parents before, during and after pregnancy. Midwives rely primarily on their natural senses, and these skills were traditionally handed down by word of mouth.
The first state midwifery school was founded in Luxembourg back in 1877, followed by the creation of the Luxembourg Midwives Association (ALSF) in 1919. This association brings together midwives from Luxembourg with various cultural backgrounds.
The care provided by a midwife includes regular check-ups, care for mothers and antenatal classes. Midwives also help mothers to better understand their own body. This is crucial to ensure confident mothers and healthy children.
The art of midwifery is appreciated equally by the state, doctors and society. In 2023, the art of midwifery was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Fléizen: a well-established agricultural technique in Luxembourg
Fléizen is an agricultural technique that has been used by Luxembourgish farmers since the 15th century. It involves using ditches to irrigate meadows by diverting water from streams, rivers or artificial ponds. This takes place three times a year: at the end of winter, after the harvest season and in autumn.
The result: increased hay production, greater biodiversity and improved flood protection mechanisms. Although modern technologies have replaced this cultural practice, the Luxembourg landscape, especially the Ösling, remains marked by these trenches.
In the 19th century, Fléizen helped to cover the production of cattle feed, and the technique was even legally standardised. From the 1940s, however, the ditches became an obstacle to increasingly heavy agricultural machinery, while artificial fertiliser proved to be much more efficient.
Nowadays, the trenches and Fléizen are a cultural asset, and have been part of the national inventory of intangible cultural heritage since 2021. In 2023, Fléizen officially became part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
Sheep as conservationists: Luxembourg's Wanderschéiferei
In Luxembourg, the term Wanderschéiferei (sheep transhumance) refers to the rotational grazing of herds of sheep. This practice takes place in the rural north as well as in the urban south.
The sheep are led from one meadow to the next, coordinated by a shepherd and his dog. The reason: to prepare land for farming, but also to disseminate and preserve biodiversity. Sheep grazing usually begins in mid-April and lasts until autumn or winter, depending on the food supply.
Although grazing plans are drawn up, the sheep and nature ultimately determine the pace. What's more, the sheep transport insects and seeds from meadow to meadow, which supports natural diversity. Wanderschéiferei thus counteracts the isolation effects of our divided landscape.
Once this part of the conservation work is done, the sheep start grazing on conventionally farmed land to prepare it for the winter. The Wanderschéiferei has the UNESCO World Heritage status since 2023.
Luxembourg's intangible cultural heritage
Customs and traditions are part of the intangible cultural heritage that people in this country experience on a daily basis. That's why it is also called living heritage because it is passed on from generation to generation and is constantly recreated through constant influences.
The Luxembourg Ministry of Culture records the country's intangible cultural heritage in an inventory. That way, our cultural diversity and identity is not only preserved but it can also be experienced first-hand at larger events and festivals.
UNESCO World Cultural Heritage
Two of our national cultural treasures have been recognised as Intangible World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO:
- In 2010, the Sprangpressessioun (hopping procession) in Echternach, which attracts thousands of pilgrims every year, was included in UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
- In 2020, Haupeschbléiser (hunting horn players of Luxembourg) followed suit for having played a pivotal role in preserving a three-centuries-old musical tradition.
Traditions through dance: the diversity of Luxembourgish folk dances
Once almost forgotten, Luxembourgish folk dances are now very much alive and firmly anchored in the country's culture. There are around 30 different traditional dances that are danced in pairs, including the Chiberli, Pik Polka or Schottesch Näip.
These dances are performed by national dance groups at folk festivals or events that represent the country. The dancers wear traditional clothes and are accompanied by live folk songs. The aim is to showcase the traditions in a lively way and to preserve and pass on the cultural heritage
In the 1930s, a youth hostel movement recognised the disappearance of these traditions and subsequently laid the foundation for their preservation through extensive research and questioning of contemporary witnesses.The first folklore clubs were founded after the Second World War, and they are still dedicated to keeping these customs alive today.
The Feast of Saint Barbara
The Feast of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners, is celebrated annually on 4 December, especially in the south of the country. The celebrations typically include a procession through the village, firecrackers and a feast.
What's more, 4 December also serves as a day of remembrance for the 1,500 miners who lost their lives in the Minett iron ore mines. The miners' demanding and extremely dangerous work laid the foundation for Luxembourg's current wealth.
This custom has existed since at least 1890 and even became a paid holiday for miners in the 1920s and 30s. Although Luxembourg's last mine, Thillenberg mine, was closed over 40 years ago, the tradition lives on today. Even if the pandemic put a stop to the annual festivities, the celebrations throughout the south have now regained their former glory.
Luxembourg's house and field names: a window into the country's history
Luxembourg's house and field names provide a living cultural heritage featuring historical language that pre-dates our earliest written records. The names given to squares and buildings serve as an orientation system in public places. This practice of name-giving has been passed down from generation to generation mainly by word of mouth and is accessible to all. It not only helps us to understand places, but it also conveys information about their identity and boosts social cohesion.
For example, in Bech-Kleinmacher there is a building called "A Possen", which houses a museum and a wine tavern. Many field names have historical roots which date back to Roman times, such as "Um Kiem", a Roman road on the Kirchberg plateau. Other names have a more sinister nature, such as the "Galgenbierger" execution sites. They all share the ability to provide an insight into the history of the country and its society.
To this day, house and field names are taken into account when naming new infrastructure, such as streets, districts or transport stops/stations. Their analysis can even identify potential archaeological sites and biotopes.