Cultural heritage is a set of traditions, beliefs, practices, stories and objects that represent a community’s identity. It includes both tangible (material) and intangible (non-material) heritage. It can be a collection of artifacts or a whole way of life, like music, dance or language.
The importance of a cultural heritage lies in its ability to create an awareness, understanding and appreciation for the world around us. It can also be used to encourage local economic development, help promote social cohesion and enhance the quality of life in a region or country.
Many countries, particularly in Europe, are committed to the protection and sustainable management of their natural and cultural heritage. They are engaged in a variety of projects to protect the sites, monuments and works of art that have been a part of their history, as well as to celebrate and share the stories, beliefs and traditions of their people.
But the preservation of cultural heritage is not easy, and it requires an approach that embraces the diversity and complexity of our world, its varied societies and cultures. This includes addressing the concerns of those who own and control cultural heritage, as well as those who are interested in it.
It involves a complex set of legal and institutional arrangements, as well as a commitment from a government to uphold the rights of those who have inherited or cultivated a particular cultural heritage. This commitment can be enshrined in a variety of legal instruments, including treaties and conventions.
UNESCO defines culture as “a legacy transmitted from one generation to the next that combines physical tangible artefacts and ways of doing with immaterial and intangible values and knowledge.”
This legacy can be viewed as a set of traditional practices, expressions, representations, symbols and skills that are passed on from one generation to the next, often through oral transmission. It may be embodied in art, architecture, literature, music, rituals, customs and folklore.
These forms of cultural heritage are a source of strength, pride and identity for communities. They can be threatened by various factors, such as a decline in the population or cultural dislocation caused by conflict.
A number of international organizations, including UNESCO, are dedicated to the protection and conservation of cultural heritage, with programs ranging from the establishment of local museums to the development of education and tourism projects. These institutions are able to draw on a wealth of resources and expertise from across the globe, which can help them to address the issues that arise in their particular contexts.
As such, they can offer a unique opportunity for governments to develop their own cultural policies that will make the most of their rich heritage. They can also help governments to engage their citizens in a dialogue about their shared heritage, allowing them to better understand and appreciate the diverse traditions and cultural values that shape their communities’ lives.
Whether it’s an archaeological site, a museum or a community-owned cultural heritage property, the preservation of cultural heritage requires planning, funding, management and sustainability. These challenges require experts with a range of different skills and training. This training must be adapted to the specific needs of each case and the different stakeholders.