Language, culture and tradition


Buried in the isolation of the high valleys, the Walser language is today a valuable repertoire of Old German, one of its most archaic expressions. This language “enclosed in the mountains” has not undergone the strong modifications of other German dialects, retaining original structure and features, as well as typical phonemes and self-formed words that document a very unique linguistic autonomy.

The Walser language is still in use in family circles today and continues to boast a rich poetic tradition, as witnessed by, among others, Anna Maria Bacher, a poet in the Walser language originally from Val Formazza on the Swiss border.

Today the Walser language is a protected one and the subject of teaching through special educational courses.


Along with language and traditional female clothing, still worn on festive days, one of the most interesting aspects of Walser culture is the architecture of the house, a meaningful example of their adaptability to environmental circumstances. In fact, anything could vary from one valley to another: the building materials available locally, the economic demands of working the land, the altitude, the space for building and living, the artistic influences of the valley floor, etc.

Moreover the farming community had to find new solutions each time, often profoundly different from each other in terms of building technique and style. Some basic elements, however, recur almost identically throughout ancient Walser rural construction. The most significant of these is the use of wood according to the ancient building technique of logs set at the corners (a technique known as “Block-bau“)..

An emblematic example of Walser architecture are the typical houses in Alagna Valsesia, Piedmont, which cleverly enclose all the functions of alpine life and economy in a single building: dwelling, stable, barn, hayloft, storage and workshop.

Also in Piedmont, in Formazza, as well as in Bosco Gurin, in Canton Ticino (and later in the Grisons), the typology of the Walser house, however, more accurately reflects that of the original valleys of the Valais: the stable-barn is a wooden building in itself, often distant from the dwelling, while the rear part of the latter, with the “fire house” (the kitchen), is built of stone, better suited than wood to protect the building from fire and storms.

The parlor – heated with a soapstone fireplace (stove) – is the heart of the home, the favorite spot in mythology and in the lives of many Walser generations. The family spent much of the winter in the parlor, in a kind of “human hibernation” that allowed the ancient settlers to manage to live for long periods – sometimes up to eight months – on the meager food resources offered by the mountains in winter, saving as much energy as possible.

The mystery

The isolated life in the high mountains has developed a deep culture of “mystery” among the Walser, expressed in very ancient traditions and rich in legends related to the extraordinary and the supernatural. Legends where we find the relationship with the overwhelming immanence of mountain nature, witch hunts, as well as superstitions that recall ancient pagan mountain religions.

In this picture, the most enigmatic aspect of Walser magic and religiosity is the Seelabalgga (i.e., “soul window”), a mysterious opening found on the facade of some old houses.

According to legend, the small window was opened when an inhabitant of the house was at the point of death, to allow the soul of the dying person to fly free into the sky.

The Avers Valley in Canton Grisons, where the soul window can still be seen in old houses, boasts with the village of Juf, at 2,126 meters above sea level, the highest settlement in Europe still inhabited all year round.