Heritage Days put Europe in the place of honour

Initiated in France in 1984 to the great pleasure of millions of enthusiastic visitors, and expanded progressively beyond its borders to now reach 49 countries for their 25th anniversary, European Heritage Days have brought with them a spectacular re-affirmation of the very notion of Cultural Heritage, now considered an essential aspect of the European construction.

The most original feature of this transformation has been the introduction of the European Heritage Label, the aim of which is to highlight the European dimension of cultural goods, monuments, natural or urban sites and memorials, which are testaments to Europe’s history and heritage. Its ambition is to strengthen the sense among the citizens of Europe of belonging to a common cultural area, symbol of a common European identity.

The idea was launched by the French Minister of Culture and Communication during the Rencontres pour l’Europe de la Culture (Meetings for Europe and Culture) in Paris on 2 and 3 May 2005. One year later, during the Rencontres de Grenade (Granada Meetings), on 27 and 28 April 2006, on the theme of Europe for Intercultural Dialogue, France, Spain and Hungary signed a joint declaration for the establishment of a European heritage list. The final agreement of the member states of the EU to the creation of this list was made in Berlin on 12 and 13 February 2007, a few days before the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. All European states which so wish are invited to put forward monuments that are emblematic for the identity of Europe and which they consider worthy of featuring on the list; the Ministers of Culture will then make their choice unanimously from these proposals.

The first European Heritage plaque was put up on 19 March 2007 by the French Minister at Cluny Abbey in Burgundy, one of the three sites chosen by France, along with the house of Robert Schuman, one of the “fathers” of Europe, in Lorraine, and the Court of Honour of the Popes’ Palace in Avignon. But honour where honour is due: the Acropolis in Athens was the site chosen as the first monument to go onto the European Heritage list, “to pay homage to the birth of democracy in Europe”. The list currently includes 56 labelled sites or monuments presented by 16 countries of the European Union, plus three in Switzerland. A remarkable list that testifies to the importance of memorial sites or themes and of our intangible or historical heritage: Poland has included on it the naval shipyards of Gdansk and Portugal the abolition of the death penalty.

While France has the six-month presidency of the European Union until the end of the year, the Ministry of Culture and Communication will meet the managers of the labelled sites and those of the relevant national administrations in Avignon on 3 and 4 December in order to set up a European network of labelled sites.

The themes chosen by the 49 European countries for the 2008 European Heritage Days are most interesting. France is celebrating the meeting between heritage and contemporary artistic and cultural creation, notably with the display of contemporary works of art in monuments and historic sites, or the cultural use of other places which have been totally transformed and rehabilitated. It has also devoted a day to disabled people. Georgia (was this a premonition?) has chosen “Heritage under threat”, while Slovakia, which will on 1 January 2009 become the 16th member of the Euro group, has opted for “Coins, a living memory”. The Czech Republic, which has not yet presented its list of emblematic sites, is taking the green route with its theme “Monuments in the Landscape and Landscape as a Monument”.

Many other heritage-related tools of cooperation have been put in place within the European Union, notably aimed at preventing and cracking down on the illicit traffic in cultural goods. France is one of the countries most badly affected by this traffic. Several networks of cooperation in heritage matters already exist, including the HEREIN network (European Heritage Network), a permanent information system between the European government departments responsible for protecting the heritage of Greater Europe. This network, set up in 1998 and operating under the aegis of the Council of Europe, now includes 40 member countries. It provides a unique source of information in Europe, notably a comparative data bank on the national cultural heritage policies of the member countries and a multilingual thesaurus that can be consulted in 13 languages. It is hoped that this network will contribute to a convergence of legislations and will help improve police, customs and judicial
cooperation in the fight against the illicit traffic in cultural goods.

Architecture is also a flourishing subject within the EU: a European Forum for Architectural Policies was set up in Paris in 2000 and France has launched Archiréseau Europe, a project designed to create a European map of cultural centres with an interest in architecture throughout the European Community. It will be a website portal offering two types of search: by theme and by geographical location.

And what do Europeans think about all this? According to a survey conducted in February 2007 in five countries of the Union, 58% of Europeans consider that “Europe can help the heritage of their country benefit from greater aid and protection”, and for 60% of them the fact of having a European cultural heritage “strengthens the sense of belonging to Europe”. But opinions are very divided over the definition of European heritage, 49% considering that it is nothing more than the sum of national heritages and 45% that it is a shared common heritage. Nevertheless more than eight out of ten Europeans (83%) consider that their cultural heritage “is part of European heritage”. The notion of heritage itself varies according to the country: architecture and historic monuments for 63% of the French and 51% of Hungarians, while 52 % of Germans put history, traditions and ways of life first, as do the Finns (42%). The Italians single out architecture (38%) but also painting (16%), archaeology (16%) and film (10%).

This survey was conducted during a three-day conference in Paris on the theme Heritages of Europe, European Heritage?. The chairman of this the conference, Jean Musitelli, president of the French National Heritage Institute and former Ambassador of France to UNESCO put it like this: “European heritage is a fact that is still to be invented”.

(Source : French Foreign Affairs Ministry)

Labelled sites in Europe:

- Palace of the Prince-Bishops in Liege (Wallonia region)
- German stoneware from Raeren (German-speaking community)
- The Former Palace of Brussels: Coudenberg archaeological site (Brussels-Capital region)
- Ename Heritage Village (Flanders region)

- Debelt archaeological site (Bourgas region)
- “Vassil Levski” memorial (in Karlovo)
- Historic city of the town of Rousse
- Boris Christoff Music Centre

- Fortifications of Nicosia
- Kourion site
- Circuit of six churches with Byzantine and post-Byzantine frescoes (Troodos region)


- Cluny Abbey
- House of Robert Schuman in Scy-Chazelles
- Court of Honour of the Popes’ Palace in Avignon

- Acropolis
- Palace of Knossos
- Poliochne archaeological site
- Byzantine site of Monemvassia


- Fortress of Szigetvar
- Calvinist Church and College of Debrecen
- Fortress of Eger
- Royal Castle of Esztergom


- Capitol Square in Rome
- House in which Alcide de Gasperi was born in Pieve Tesino
- House in which Puccini was born
- House in which Rossini was born
- House in which Verdi was born
- Island of Ventotene


- Historic centre of Riga
- Palace of Rundale
- Town of Kuldiga

- The work of Mikalojus Konstantinas Iiurlionis, composer and painter
- Historic centre of Kaunas
- Sacred woodworking heritage of the Zemaitija region and the Hill of Crosses
- Museum dedicated to the victims of genocide (Soviet, between 1940 and 1991) in Vilnius

- Catacombs

- Shipyards of Gdansk

- Lech Hill (cathedral, church, bishops palaces, museum)
- Cathedral of St Wenceslas and Stanislas on Wawel hill in Krakow
- City of Lublin

- Cathedral of Braga
- Convent (church) of Jesus (Setubal)
- University of Coimbra General Library
- Abolition of the death penalty

- Istria archaeological site
- Cantacuzino Palace in Bucharest
- Roman Athenaeum in Bucharest
- Brancusi Park in Târgu Jiu

- Kopcany, chapel dedicated to St Constantine

- Zale Cemetery in Ljubljana
- Franja Partisan Hospital in Dolenji Novaki
- Memorial Church of the Holy Spirit of Javorca by Joze Plecnik

- Archives of the Crown of Aragon
- Royal Monastery of San Jeronimo at Yuste
- Cape Finisterre
- Student Residence of Madrid

Last modified on 16/01/2009

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