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EU-funded initiative brings traditional Slovene house and field names back to life

EU-funded initiative brings traditional Slovene house and field names back to life

The endeavour even made it to the final selection of good practices on cultural heritage of the European Union

Recognising the key role of cultural heritage for the image and identity of cities and regions, the EU supports its preservation through various funding programmes and initiatives. One successful story of a multi-level cross border cooperation comes from the neighbouring regions of Gorenjska (Slovenia) and Southern Carinthia (Austria).

For centuries, Slovene names, originating from local rural life, have been used to indicate field and house denominations. However, the rapid urbanisation, modernisation of farming and other processes occurring in the last century, put the original Slovene names under threat.

The task was initially to restore the memories of this heritage and keep an important tradition alive. The efforts started in Gorenjska region in 2005, but were later embraced by Southern Carinthia, to involve thousands of citizens and mobilize millions of euros of support.

Mission accomplished: thanks to the collective efforts of citizens, associations, public and private institutions and the European Union, no fewer than 15,700 house and 9,600 field names were recorded and mapped for the use of future generations.

Why remember house and field names?

Traditional house names are a part of intangible cultural heritage, explain Klemen Klinar and Matjaz Gersic in a paper published in Acta geographica Slovenica. Once they were an important factor in identifying houses, people, and other structures. House names are a testimony to the local dialect and its lost features and to the historical, geographical, biological, and social conditions in the countryside.

Houses were most times named by the neighbours, not by their owners and they may have various origins. They may derive from the owner’s name, the names of household members, their profession or craft, but also from the natural features of the location.

Finally, the authors point to the fact that in 2010, Slovenian traditional house names and chrononyms were accepted onto the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria as the heritage of an officially recognized ethnic minority.

Preserving the intangible heritage of Slovenia

The aftermath of over 15 years of activities aimed to preserve the traditional names of the two regions includes a joint database with extensive documentation of house and field names. A joint multilingual cross-border web portal including an interactive web-mapping application were also created and Slovene denominations were included in Austrian National Inventory of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. But most importantly, local communities and young people started referring to them in their everyday life.

All this is a product of the collaboration among the two regions, some 40 municipalities and thousands of citizens. The process can be summarized in four steps.

First came small local initiatives to collect house names in Gorenjska region from 2005, which extended to Southern Carinthia three years later. Then, with joined forces, the two regions developed a common methodology for the collection and documentation of Slovene house and field names. This is when the EU stepped in with financial assistance under the cross-border project 'Cultural portal of field and house names' (2011-2015).

The third step was marked by massive citizen involvement. Many citizens were mobilized in the data collection part of the efforts and as many as 1,600 seniors participated as “holders of memory”. Until August 2020, the records count 15,700 house and 9,600 field, systematically recorded and mapped.

Finally, to bring these results to life, the two regions started educational and awareness-raising campaigns in the media, schools, culture establishments but also in the open space, marking 6,500 homesteads with house names and placing additional 130 signposts or bus stop signs.

To make all this possible in practice, several local, regional and cross-border projects were implemented with funding from municipalities (15%), regions (3%), national governments (15%) and most importantly – EU funds (61%).

The successful initiative was recently included alongside other peer-learning examples in cultural heritage preservation in the EU’s catalogue of good practices from October 2020. It is the only Slovenian entry that is available to other cities and regions to learn from.

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