The Definition of Cultural Heritage

cultural heritage

Cultural heritage typically conjures up the idea of a single society and communication between its members. Yet, cultural boundaries are not necessarily well-defined: artists, writers, scientists, craftsmen and musicians learn from each other—think of the influence of Japanese prints on Paul Gauguin’s paintings or of neoclassical architecture on Liberian homes built by freed African-American enslaved people.


The term cultural heritage (also referred to as patrimonium in Romance languages) describes the visible and tangible traces of past generations and their beliefs, traditions and lifestyles. It encompasses a wide range of art, music and dance, traditional crafts and skills, social customs and practices, indigenous knowledge, cosmological beliefs that influence culture, religion, politics and the natural environment as well as the history of humankind.

It also includes architectural, monumental and archaeological sites, museums, works of art, libraries, gardens and historical cities. This broad definition ensures that the rights of communities to their cultural heritage, enshrined in the 1954 Hague Convention on Protection of Cultural Property during Armed Conflicts, are firmly established.

The intangible elements of cultural heritage are practices, representations, expressions, rites and knowledge that communities or groups recognize as part of their cultural identity and are passed on from generation to generation. The cultural heritage of a country is often experienced by tourists, who help fund the preservation of these assets.


When people hear the term cultural heritage, they might think of art or monuments. However, it is broader than that. It is a collection of items that embodies the values and traditions of a society. It also includes intangible heritage, such as language and dance. The definition of cultural heritage is constantly evolving as societies evolve and change.

UNESCO defines cultural heritage as the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of groups and societies inherited from past generations. This includes artifacts (movable and immovable), museums, buildings, sites, and natural heritage. It also includes the societal meanings attached to these objects and their related information, as well as their authenticity and credibility.

The definition of cultural heritage is a topic of much debate. It is a slippery concept that changes as societies shift their beliefs and values. This is why it’s important to understand the different views of cultural heritage, so that we can protect it properly.


Cultural heritage encompasses a wide range of objects such as monuments, buildings, works of art and other tangible items, as well as intangible aspects of culture such as traditions, philosophies, social customs, beliefs, values, and attitudes. Cultural heritage is also the result of cultural interactions between people and their environment.

The emergence of the concept of cultural heritage is linked to the need for its protection or conservation. This need is justified by a variety of arguments: the unique and irreplaceable character of individual works, their outstanding universal value, the fact that they reflect a past era, and the fact that they are part of an identity that defines mankind.

The main reason for the preservation of these treasures is that they can bring economic benefits, such as tourism, to the region where they are located. In addition, cultural heritage resources provide the foundation for a sense of place and belonging to society as a whole.


Cultural heritage can include tangible art, such as a statue or painting. It can also include intangible aspects of culture, such as traditions or beliefs. It can even be natural heritage, such as a waterfall or mountain range.

The concept of cultural heritage is dynamic, meaning that what defines a piece of cultural heritage changes over time. This can be influenced by factors such as social values or changes in government. It can also be affected by events, such as war or conflict.

For example, the Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, is arguably the most famous piece of cultural heritage in the world. Despite being privately owned, it is considered to belong to the cultural heritage of all mankind.

Cultural heritage can also be protected by laws and organisations such as UNESCO. These provide a framework for preserving cultural heritage and making it available to the public. However, protecting cultural heritage can be difficult, as it often involves the balance of private and public rights.

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