This little house from Blatten in the Lötschen Valley (“Lötschental”) is one of the oldest dated Valais farmhouses. It gives a living impression of the way of life in the 16th and 17th centuries.
This two-storey house stood directly next to the old village church. When a new church was built it had to make way for the building pit and a retaining wall.
The historical importance of this house is undisputed. In their monograph which appeared in 1917, Hedwig Anneler and her brother Karl present it as a characteristic 16th century house of the valley. The date 1568 is carved into the yoke beam of the parlour ceiling and, much to our surprise, also into the ridge beam in a hidden place. All the timber in the main structure was felled in 1567.
The construction is simple and elementary. A two-room block structure was built on a stone dry-wall basement. The two-storey house has a simple rafter roof. The kitchen, which is built onto the house on the upper side of the slope, is partly surrounded with dry stone walls. It contains an open hearth which also can heat the soapstone stove in the parlour.
The people in the villages of the Lötschen Valley were forced to live together in a very confined space. Throughout the centuries, only a few settlement sites were safe from avalanches. In the winter the little mountain valley was often cut off from the outside world for weeks. The inhabitants had to rely on their own resources, not only for food, but also for furniture, implements and clothing.
The house is entered through the kitchen. Tools and equipment are also kept here. The open-hearth fireplace was used for making cheese throughout the winter. Conditions in the parlour were similarly cramped. This was the only heated room available to the family for living and working during the winter. Together with carvings, the yoke beam of the parlour ceiling bears the date 1568. A table, seating, tools and sleeping space are contained within the space of a few square metres. A ladder leads to the upper floor, where more simple beds have been placed.
The illustration shows the floor plan of the living quarters floor of a typical Lötschen Valley house.
It is difficult to imagine how half a dozen people managed to live through the winter in such a simple house. A number of implements and installations bear witness to their talent for improvisation, essential for survival in this remote mountain
The hay barn from Blatten VS (No. 1112), which has belonged to the house since the 18th century, is also improvised. It has been patched together from pieces of wood collected from avalanche debris. The lower floor was used for housing livestock and the upper floor for storing hay. A pigsty of still more elementary design is to be found in front of the house.
The discovery of the Lötschen Valley
In 1912, the writer Hedwig Anneler went to visit her brother Karl, who had settled in Blatten some months earlier in order to paint. The brother and sister spent two very active years in the Lötschen Valley, which was then accessible only via bridle paths. They made a compilation of almost everything worth knowing about the way of life of the Lötschen Valley people, ranging from agriculture to religious customs. In the middle of the First World War they published a monograph on the valley entitled “Lötschen”, a heavy volume containing a variety of information, notes, anecdotes and, above all, illustrations. This enabled the Lötschen Valley to be included in studies of folk life and in studies of the region. The formerly quiet mountain valley became accessible with the opening of the Lötschberg mountain railway in 1913, which put it only half an hour’s walk away from an international rail connection.