The Concept of Cultural Heritage

When people think about cultural heritage, they usually envision artifacts (paintings, drawings, prints, mosaics, sculptures), monuments and buildings. However, today, towns, underwater heritage and the natural environment are also considered part of cultural heritage.

These intangible elements can be difficult to define. But they are important for communities and groups, promoting their identity, continuity and creativity.

What is it?

The concept of cultural heritage can be described as a legacy of physical artifacts (cultural property) and intangible attributes (social customs, traditions, practices and knowledge inherited from past generations).

When an individual recognises and values their culture, they can transmit it to the next generation. This enables the culture to continue, evolve, and improve.

This is why the loss of this cultural heritage, in tangible and intangible forms, can have devastating consequences for communities.

During and after conflicts, the loss of cultural heritage can be a major source of division and conflict. This can be caused by unlawful destruction or the smuggling of cultural goods, as well as attempts to deny historical roots and religious and cultural diversity. These violations can exacerbate social tensions and lead to a lack of national cohesion and stability. It can also fuel terrorism and undermine the effectiveness of armed conflict resolution. It is therefore essential to preserve cultural heritage before it is lost.

How do we define it?

Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes that characterize and identify a society. These include works of art, music, literature, history, archaeological sites and buildings, as well as social customs, traditions and practices.

Historically, heritage objects were typically identified as monuments, buildings, works of art, sculpture, or other artistic or architectural structures that have been selected for preservation and protection. They were deemed “outstanding universal values” or “world heritage.”

However, participants’ responses suggest that cultural heritage includes both human-made and natural objects and environments. Rather than conceptually disassociating them, they considered both natural and human-made things as cultural heritage because of their connection to the environment or the traditional activities they support.

UNESCO’s 2003 definition of cultural heritage emphasizes that it is a process, not a static property. It is constantly changing and promotes human creativity. It is a source of pride for people and a means for them to understand their past and connect with the future.

What are the criteria for defining it?

To be considered as cultural heritage, objects and buildings must meet a set of criteria. These criteria are regularly revised by the World Heritage Committee and have evolved with the evolution of the concept itself.

The criteria for defining cultural heritage include tangible and intangible cultural goods, and a wide range of social, political, economic, and cultural factors. The criteria are based on the idea that cultural heritage has a definite value to society and is an irreplaceable legacy from the past.

How do we protect it?

Cultural heritage is an invaluable resource that is essential for preserving local cultures. It can also be a key component in conflict prevention and reconciliation.

Protecting cultural heritage involves a broad range of experts from conservation to law enforcement, architects to program managers. It also involves a lot of empathy and respect for a community’s history.

The preservation of culture helps to reduce poverty and empowers communities by passing down ancient, artisan crafts to new generations.

Unfortunately, climate change and other natural disasters are putting the future of many cultural sites at risk. These include earthquakes and fires that can damage historic buildings and artifacts. In addition, there are other dangers such as social persecution and terrorism.

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