Trieste Contemporanea november 2000 n.6/7

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by Alessandra Knowles

Previous Charters were organised by ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Site - Bruxelles Belgium) directly whilst this International Conference was officially brought about mainly by scholars of the Academies and specialists under the auspices of ICOMOS. What significance do you attach to this?

When ICOMOS was established, in 1965, as an emanation of UNESCO, with which it shares the concern for the value of culture and the culture of peace, it was the only specialised international organisation dealing with these issues, since most countries did not have a strong administration for heritage. Nowadays, 35 years later, the landscape is completely different. Conservation has a role in education and at political and administrative levels, and a number of new international organisations have been set up. A large number of conferences are organised around the world, not always directly by ICOMOS. In the case of the Cracow 2000 Conference, the initiative stemmed from universities, the Polytechnic of Cracow in particular, that decided, in cooperation with other European Universities and with the support of the Polish National Committee of ICOMOS, to launch a programme to evaluate the situation 36 years after the Venice Charter. However, your question is very important because one of the difficulties of this meeting lies in what the status of the final document will be. In general terms, not only for Cracow, we prefer to encourage the drafting of a Declaration, or a Document, or a Resolution as was the case with the Nara Document, which, as you know, raised very important points. I realise our Polish collegues want this to be a Charter but it can only be the Cracow Charter and not, I am afraid, an ICOMOS Charter which instead aims at being universal and requires a very long procedure. This cannot be the case here, you cannot ask people to adopt a text if they are not given time to analyse it and modify it, nor can the discussion be limited to Central Europe and Italy, as I feel is the case here. We will read the conlusions and we will circulate them, but it will not be an ICOMOS Charter.

This conference is setting out some important new fundaments, such as the enlargement of the concept of cultural heritage to include tangible and intangible heritage. From the point of view of an International Organisation committed to the protection of cultural heritage, how does this effect the selection of what is to be conserved?

As far as we are concerned we are professionals of the physical heritage so when we speak about the intangible dimension of it we are careful to maintain its connection with monuments and sites. On the other hand it is very important not to consider only the aesthetic and historic value of the building but to look for the human meaning of it for the community because in this aspect lies the role of heritage in finding our own roots and in establishing our identity. As professionals we have a duty to also make it clear that identity is not ethnic, that heritage is the result of mutual artistic and cultural influences and to discurage any chauvinistic approach to the notion of cultural identity. It is in the light of the need for respect towards other cultures that the widening of the concept of heritage gains particular importance. Subjects of conservation that may be of little relevance for Europeans, for example a sacred forest, are instead of great importance in Africa say, where they do not have stone monuments the way we do. I believe, however, there must be some classfication, a hierarchy has to established, because if you extend the number of protected properties it becomes impossible to finance them. One criterion for the selection is the value of a monument in terms of its cultural relevance for a community, a region, a nation or the whole world. Of course there is the risk of falling in a kind of elitism, which is why the task of the juries is very difficult, but I believe it is necessary to put responsibilty of protection in the hands of the community for which it is most signficant.

When you extend the concept of cultural heritage to include cultural landscape, historical cities, living cities in some way this should be transmitted to the public because, within this context, its role is becoming increasigly important both as tourists and as inhabitants. How can the gap between the academic and international organisation level and the public level be bridged?

This is a difficult question, it is a long process. As early as 1976 tourism was a matter of concern for ICOMOS which drafted a first Document on the issue; 25 years later a revised charter was adopted which is a kind of common concern at a universal level. But how to promote this charter? I really believe that we have to do it in connection with the tourist industry, the agencies and tour operators. We have very close contacts with the World Tourism Organisation and as professionals we can talk to them, express our concerns, propose some good practical measures. We also try to work with goverments and municipalities and I also believe, of course, that we should use the media, newspapers and TV programmes. At present we are involved, although it is not an ICOMOS initiatve, with the Council of Europe in the drafting of a kind of Charter of the Visitor which should provide the guidelines for a positive tourist behaviour.
Katalin Neray


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