While teaching in northern Italy a few years ago I researched the UNESCO Sites around me and Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps was one I did not get to go to. Funny enough one of my Humanities students this past year researched it for their blog project this past year so I can travel vicariously!
It’s odd to imagine that there are still preserved wooden remains of houses that were built in the Alpine region from 5000 BC to 500 BC. Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland are all among the regions of Europe that have discovered remains of these prehistoric pile dwellings. It was believed in the 19th century that these pile dwellings were platform houses but modern researchers have concluded that these homes were just built along shores or in boggy areas.
The builders of some of these pile dwellings are the first documented inhabitants of the area. Another interesting thing about these pile dwellings is that it is believed the inhabitants were the first inventors and users of the wheel in Europe. But not only are inhabitants interesting, it’s intriguing that the wood has been preserved for so many centuries. The reason behind their preservation is that they are now found within bodies of water or bogs. This lack of oxygen allowed for the preservation of organic materials, such as food, clothing, and wooden objects.
The Pile Dwellings Belong
It’s interesting to think about why these sites would be part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Julie Slater from swiss.info.ch describes why she believes these prehistoric pile dwellings should belong to the list of UNESCO sites by explaining that the site would give the local people of these regions a reason to appreciate their historic cultural heritage better. Her main reasons for candidacy are for the public awareness of these pile dwellings and the protection they need. The countries involved were also encouraged to apply for UNESCO protection because of the danger the pile dwellings were beginning to fade.
UNESCO List Saves Pile Dwellings of the Alps
Not only did these pile dwellings meet the UNESCO criteria of a “testimony to cultural tradition” and “traditional human settlement,” but they were also starting to face dangers and needed to be listed as a UNESCO site to save them. Due to increases in tourism, boat traffic became heavy and at times anchors were placed in sensitive areas destroying some of the pile dwellings’ remains. Another large component endangering the remains was the draining of water for farming. This caused bogs to dry out and the area must be wet the preserve the remains, as stated before.
After the application was submitted to UNESCO on January 26, 2010, these countries expected a response no earlier than the summer of 2011. This was a long wait to see if these sites would become part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it was worth the wait and in the summer of 2011, the Prehistoric Pile Dwellings through the Alps were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
- Julie Slater. “Hidden heritage hopes for visibility.” swiss.info.ch. Published January 25, 2010. www.swissinfo.ch/eng/hidden-heritage-hopes-for-visibility/8164184
- “The Pile Dwellings of the Alps.” The Italian Tribune. Published on Oct. 22, 2014, http://www.italiantribune.com/the-pile-dwellings-of-the-alps/
- “Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps.” Tourism in Germany. Accessed October 5th, 2016. http://www.germany.travel/en/towns-cities-culture/unesco-world-heritage/prehistoric-pile-dwellings-around-the-alps.html
- UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Paris: Firefly Books, 2015.