Written by Aleksandra Kozieł
The European Union is now a recognisable economic and political cooperation of 28 countries. Historically it was known as European Coal and Steel Community, followed by European Communities and officially established as European Union by Maastricht Treaty. Since the very beginning it focused on economic cooperation, then on political aspects; it was not well-known for its cooperation over cultural issues. But can the EU be responsible for cultural heritage of its member states?
The first decades of the European Coal and Steel Community, then the European Communities were absolutely not focused on cultural matters. In fact, the importance of cultural integration was pushed aside over economy, but with the time passing by member states started to realise that the cooperation cannot be built only on the economical factors. Within years the topic of common heritage was slowly injected into the European policy. Politicians started to realise that common aims might be better understood by citizens of the EU in relation to common past and defining the common heritage. That’s how the idea of the European Heritage Label was created.
Can we define one moment in the timeline of building common heritage in the EU when it all started? Not clearly. But the EHL initiative was first discussed in 2005, when the first ideas appeared during Rencontres pour l’Europe de la Culture talks. But year 2006 is more often recognised as the landmark in creating common European initiative. The person who stood behind intergovernmental action was French Minister of Culture, Rennaud Donnedieu de Vabres. He suggested that it is necessary for Europeans to have a common reference point to identify with the European citizenship, idea still abstract for many people. The best and easiest way to provide common point within the European community was a reference to the widely understood European heritage.
However, the first intergovernmental list of European Heritage Label objects consisted of objects from only 18 member states. Inauguration of the initiative took place 50 years after signing Treaties of Rome, the official treaties that brought to life the European Coal and Steel Community in 1957. That’s when the first 3 objects received European Heritage Label title. Those 3 first inscriptions, Cluny Abbey, R. Shuman’s house in Sey-Chazelles and Papal palace in Avignon, were extended by inscription of the Acropolis the day after. Finally, the first inscription list contained 68 objects.
In 2008 the initiative was changed a bit. The new decision was taken, changing intergovernmental initiative into official initiative of the European Union, thus invalidating previous arrangements. The objects were supposed to be reported once again, meaning the repetition of all the steps done before. It caused bitter response, because not all the objects that received the title the first time were recognised again. After this new beginning the initiative started moving forward with official legal acts by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The main document, The decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing UE action for the European Heritage Label, became the basis for the initiative.
The main question is what actually is the European Heritage Label title? How does it distinct the objects from many other objects equally important from the point of view of heritage? Also some may ask how it differs from the UNESCO World Heritage List? The idea of European Heritage Label is supposed to acknowledge lieux de mémoire, symbols of european integration, common history, culture and values for many EU countries. The objects are supposed to strengthen the feeling of european citizenship. Nowadays, with the identity crisis, the common values are supposed to motivate and stimulate member states to act together and achieve common goals.
The first initiative jumped the gun and the change depreciated the general idea. The idea that is good, what is worth to highlight. Slowly developing, it can grow and strengthen and, what is really important right now, gain international recognition. The recognition is what is missing in the European Heritage Label. Nevertheless, the next few years will show whether this initiative succeeds.
Written by Giacomo Crivellari
There are recurrent scenarios that can be typically observed while visiting places, or entities, inscribed in the World Heritage List, and one of these is related with the valorization of the site itself. The point of interest, independently from its natural or cultural character, is often surrounded by a universe of minor attractions that might be more or less related. The most common practice for the visitors is to make their way to the expected point of interest through a jungle of distractions, resellers, reproductions and so on. This implies a distortion for the focus on the entity itself, spreading the attention in a vaster area: the Heritage becomes relatively interesting, losing its absolute value. The incomes of tourism are divided by a greater amount of stakeholders, or better, external agents, with no or very little enhancement of the quality of the visit itself.
A marketing approach could explain this phenomenon: an inscription to the World Heritage List not only means direct funding for the conservation of the monument itself, but also implies the activation of a new business that many want to pursue, from the street food stalls to the nearby municipalities, tour agencies and the list continues. The consequences of a broader offer are twofold; the enrichment of a bigger part of the population, that typically has never relied on tourism for their incomes, and the growing of the attention to minor sites of interest, that could activate more projects of conservation. These are examples of tangible improvements for the nearby areas. The drawbacks are related to the scarcity of resources that are already dedicated to the patrimony, which might be even more affected by the increasing number of dividends. The bigger the intervention area is, the fewer the specific funds for the singular projects are. When a site is proposed for being included on the list of World Heritage Sites, many people share the value of that entity, and agree on its exceptional features. But after the recognition, even more people want to take advantage from it, and are disposed to deny its unique character promoting similar and equivalent attractions.
Moreover, behind any mere economical aspect, there is a conceptual change that is affecting the way we perceive heritage sites, and it is worsening their exploitation: the claim of the subjectivity of the value. It consists in the refusal of the idea that an entity has more value than another due to an objective evaluation, in this case the UNESCO criteria. As soon as a value is not shared, it loses its meaning and even stops existing. Claiming that the value of the heritage is relative is an unforgivable oxymoron that immediately devalues the object. This relativism of the heritage concept has been applied in many cases and many discussions as a powerful tool to reset the list of priorities while planning the intervention necessary for its conservation. The rejection of the absolute value of the object dramatically leads to a never ending phenomenological discussion, with no useful consequences but the consumption of time and intellectual resources. Considering the amount of eminent personalities that have devoted their lives to study the issue of setting a list of criteria and priorities for the preservation and the transmission of the fundamental values for humanity, it is anachronistic and non-sense to return to the relativism of the heritage concept.
The two behaviors, on the one hand the uncontrolled exploitation of the heritages sites, and on the other hand the refusal of any absolute value coming from the World Heritage List, are seriously affecting the actual potential for future preservation efforts. It is fundamental to defend the UNESCO criteria, and to withstand the results of their applications against relativism. The first step consists in the re-affirmation of the importance of the World Heritage Center, its promotion and the respect of its principles and resolutions. Subsequently comes the creation of strongly-bonded local groups that directly support the patrimony, with their own resources and for their own and general sake, ensuring that the leakage of resources is as limited as possible. Between all the amazing examples of crowd sourced restoration projects, it is worth referencing the Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali, where the whole population of the village is involved in the preservation of their very unique Heritage. If every site, or entity, present on the list of the world’s patrimony could count on such a powerful and shared impulse, there would be considerably more quality in the conservation of the whole human cultural heritage.
About the author - Giacomo Crivellari
Written by Karolyna Koppke
The aim of this article is to present an urban intervention carried out in Ouro Preto, a city located in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Ouro Preto is the most eloquent expression of the gold cycle in Brazil, undertaken during the eighteenth century. It is a national monument since 1933 and in 1980 it was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Horto dos Contos Park is part of a broader project called "Recovery and landscaping of the Horto Botânico and Vale dos Contos" that was implemented in 2008, undertaken by the Monumenta Program, which promoted the revitalization of old buildings and cities across the country. The new public area was built on the site of the old botanical garden and is located in the Pilar neighborhood, just at the origin of the urban core in the city. On the project, two areas originated from different urban shaping processes are interconnected through a footbridge beside the Casa dos Contos Museum, under a bridge with the same name.
It is, in fact, a structural intervention, in the sense that it deeply interferes in the traditional logic of occupation of the ancient cities in Minas Gerais. This short article is linked to a master’s thesis developed within the master’s program in Built Environment and Sustainable Heritage (MACPS) from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).
The research is concentrated in the Vale dos Contos stretch, given its urban morphological configuration. The valley is indeed inserted into the old town hull, while the ancient Horto Botânico area has a broader and more dispersed character, setting up a different kind of urban spatial conformation, less related to the objectives of the investigation.
In Vale dos Contos, it was undertaken the openness to the public use of a block center inserted in the backyards of the eighteenth-century houses. Thus the main objective of the investigation is to understand how the relations between public and private space changed after the implementation of the project.
The earliest reference to the design of a park in the Vale dos Contos area is found in the first report written by the Portuguese architect Alfredo Evangelista Viana Lima, upon his hiring as a consultant by UNESCO in technical cooperation agreement with the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Direction (DPHAN). In 1975, João Pinheiro Foundation presented a master plan for Ouro Preto which included the proposed park. In the 1980s, the architects Maria Elisa Costa and Paulo Jobim, with Lucio Costa’s consultancy, developed a project for the implementation of the Horto dos Contos. Their effective execution happened, however, only in the 2000s, under the Monumenta Program. One of the thesis’ main goals is exactly the reconstruction of the history of the project.
According to Bonduki (2010: 227), "The intervention [...] may represent the biggest news since the historic core was protected." Indeed, despite being a small intervention, its design makes room for new possibilities of relationship with Ouro Preto’s public areas. Understanding which possibilities are those is essential to know the project results. Even if the realities of the Brazilian old cities are distinct throughout the country, noticing by these kinds of actions that these cities are so vivid and dynamic as the contemporary agglomerations is already realizing that they can be rethought and rebuilt every day.