From the very beginning, the Walsers were also distinguished by their particular way of speaking, a language very reminiscent of Swiss-German in its more old-fashioned form, which still characterises their cultural identity.
With their sophisticated methods and skills in farming the alpine land, the Walsers managed to survive as the first settlers in these harsh territories, clearing forests and rending the steep areas cultivable by building dry stone walls and terraces with an irrigation system and protection from avalanches. They also erected rural buildings (hay lofts, barns, mills, wells, granaries, ovens …), living quarters (buildings with different characteristics depending on the location, but always with the typical use of massive timber logs of lark wood, laid with the old crossways building technique of “blockbau” – securing them “masculine-feminine” – and with a foundation and cellar of stone) and religious buildings (churches, chapels, oratories, crosses erected on high peaks or along the paths).
The Walser communities, isolated in the inhospitable environment of the high alps and extremely conscious of the necessary relationship between the environmental climatic factors and the sustainability of their cultural and social model, were self-sufficient and decentralised in small scattered hamlets (a sustainability model known as “scarce and scattered”), interconnected by a network of paths: the families shared the oven, mill and well.
Thanks to their advanced knowledge of agriculture in high mountains, they managed to grow sufficient crops (rye, barley and hemp) at over 1,700 m altitude, and to develop methods of gathering and storing enough feed for the animals (cows and goats) to produce milk, butter and cheese) during the long winter months when they could not be put out to pasture, thus implementing a model characterised by a mixed economic system known as “Alpwirtschaft” (based on raising of livestock and farming in extreme conditions).
During these months, when agricultural and pastoral work was limited due to the harsh weather, they primarily worked on making tools for use in turning milk into butter and cheese; cultivating the fields; pastoral, forging and textile tasks, as well as construction. These objects were often decorated with religious symbols and “segni di casato” – the house sign of the family to whom the particular objects belonged.
The historic and cultural connotation of the Walser community has contextually allowed for the preservation of distinctive clothes and costumes for each village, which today still represent specific identities for the various groups within the Walser community, such as the use and style for each village, characterised by distinctive features showing the place of origin and the social status of the person wearing it (e.g. single girls, married women).