You are here: Home Subjects of INTwater Irrigation The vision of a cultural heritage of Traditional Irrigation in Europe

The vision of a cultural heritage of Traditional Irrigation in Europe

by Christian Leibundgut, December 2012

According to experience historical water uses in the time before industrialisation possess something amazing. Mills, trip hammers or historical fountains, which are often related to mystic springs, as well as old irrigation systems are well-known witnesses. A characteristic feature of these historical water use types is their interlinkage among each other. For instance, often the same waters were used for the operation of water-powered facilities and for irrigation afterwards. While the technical elements like historical hydropower systems have been well documented, a comprehensive documentation and intercomparison study of the historical European irrigation is lacking. The rapid decay of the traditional irrigation systems during the second half of the last century has left only a few water meadows in use (functioning) or restorable historical irrigation landscapes. For that reason there are efforts to ensure the preservation of a cultural heritage for Europe on the base of those still remaining irrigation systems.


The cultural heritage of «Traditional Irrigation» in Europe (Patrimony)

The term Traditional Irrigation implies the technical and organisational management of irrigation as practiced in Europe before the introduction of modern techniques (sprinkling, drip irrigation) and the giving up of the old organisation structures (associations, common property regimes). From an economic perspective Traditional irrigation as an old agricultural land use has fallen into disuse largely. In contrast the last irrigation systems represent a valuable cultural heritage of an elapsing agri-ecosystem that was once widespread all over Europe. It is essential to declare those now as preservation sites on cultural heritage grounds (from national concepts to World Cultural Heritage) and ensure their complete or partial preservation. ...more (What is implied by Traditional Irrigation ?)

In parallel, for the purpose of the holistic preservation of these potential heritage landscapes  the tradition of the irrigation practice and the related “old/traditional knowledge” should be preserved as intangible cultural heritage as well. Otherwise in only few years it will be too late. A network of typical and as far as possible intact traditional irrigation sites is to be suggested for European cultural heritage. In some regions awareness and appreciation of cultural heritage is gradually growing and new ideas towards the revitalisation of the old irrigation systems develop. The process from realizing the issue to accomplishing a conclusive concept for a cultural heritage project involving the most important objects in Europe requires fundamental acquaintance and documentation of traditional irrigation. To this end a project has been in progress since several years.

At least 60 potential sites / objects of traditional irrigation systems in Europe have the potential as a cultural heritage to date: in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Rumania, Germany, Sweden and Norway (see map below). Consequently, the diversity of Europan irrigation systems would be well represented by them. Among them there are particularly 21 objects regarded meriting preservation and to be pushed forward as pilot projects. In these areas already restoration projects are intended or implemented. Some of them have awarded a regional historical monument or preservation status. These sites constitute the core of the European network and accordingly are dealt with (intensively).

 europakarte 2016

Outline map on the Traditional Irrigation in Europe according to Leibundgut & Vonderstrass 2016*
check the list of the (numbered) irrigation sites/regions


See also



* LEIBUNDGUT CH., VONDERSTRASS, I. (2016): Traditionelle Bewässerung - ein Kulturerbe Europas. Buchwerk in 2 Bänden. Verlag Merkur Druck AG, Langenthal, CH.

Document Actions