Czechs submit joint UNESCO bid for timber-rafting tradition

Timber rafting on Vltava, photo: Antonín Cuc, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Czech Republic, along with five other European countries, has submitted a joint nomination for the timber rafting tradition to be inscribed on the UNESCO world intangible cultural heritage list. The tradition, dating back to the 14th century, is recognized as part of Czech traditional folk culture. The nomination was signed on Wednesday by Czech culture minister Lubomír Zaorálek.

Timber rafting had a long tradition in the Czech lands, ranking among highly respected and recognised, but also dangerous professions. According to most sources, the first historical mention of timber rafting on the Vltava River dates back to medieval times.

At the time, the biggest source of timber, needed for the construction of houses, was in South and Southwest Bohemia, and the fastest way to deliver the logs to different destinations was the river.

Rafting on the Vltava ended after the Second World War when a cascade system of dams was built on the river. The last raft is said to have arrived in Prague in 1947 and the very last raft on the Vltava was floated on the Orlík dam in September 1960.

Today, the centuries-long tradition is kept alive thanks to the Vltavan Club, which also initiated its nomination for the UNESCO listing.

Timber rafting on Vltava,  photo: Public Domain

Founded in 1871 as a co-operative society of rafts-men, ice-cutters and other people who worked on the river, it is the oldest Czech voluntary association that has survived to date. Jaroslav Camplík is the head of the club:

“We believe the listing would be a great honour for our folk culture. Timber rafting had a long tradition in our country and we still maintain the tradition, in the same way that our ancestors did a hundred years ago. From time to time, we float the rafts on the river for the public to see.”

The nomination for the UNESCO world intangible cultural heritage listing was submitted together with rafts men’s associations in Germany, Austria, Poland, Latvia and Spain. According to Mr. Camplík, a joint application with other countries raises the chances of getting on the prestigious list:

“I think our chances are pretty high since there are more countries submitting the nomination.

“We are members of the International Timber Rafting Association, which joins eleven European countries and Canada. We meet every year and the Czech Republic is not the only country that wanted it to be on the UNESCO list.”

The last time that a Czech tradition was placed on the prestigious UNESCO list was the handmade production of Christmas tree decorations from blown glass beads, which was added there at the end of last year.

Other Czech traditions on the list of UNESCO world intangible cultural heritage are falconry, the Ride of Kings, the Slovácko verbuňk dance, the Shrovetide processions, a Pentecost tradition from the Hlinsko area, puppetry and the blueprint textile technique.

The nominations for a place on the UNESCO world intangible cultural heritage list must be submitted by the end of March. The results should be known by the end of 2022.

Authors: Ruth Fraňková , Nikola Kopáčová
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