1 - UNESCO AND THE INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION OF CULTURAL HERITAGE
- Author: PROF. PIER LUIGI PETRILLO
What is UNESCO? What are the initiatives, programs, conventions and activities that it conducts? The word UNESCO itself is an acronym in which 'UN' represents the “United Nations”, 'ESC' is composed of 'E' for education, 'S' for science and 'C' for culture, and finally 'O' which stands for organization. UNESCO is a division of the United Nations was created in 1945, just after the second World War, bringing together 193 countries and 7 associated states, or sovereign states that did not yet have the official status of a member state. The principle objectives of this new UN division were to protect and promote cultural and natural diversity around the world; and educate and encourage new generations to respect peace, human rights, heritage and diversity. UNESCO's work can be divided into five sectors: education, culture, natural and social sciences (in particular the promotion of democratic values), and communication and information.
When we discuss the Mediterranean Diet we are concerned with the cultural sector. Within the cultural sector, however, there are two kinds of cultural heritage: physical heritage (i.e. the Colosseum), and intangible heritage (i.e. traditions, arts, crafts and other non physical phenomenon that contribute to the identity of a community or territory). There were two conventions that lead to the differentiation and protection of these two separate kinds of heritage, the first and better known of which is the UNESCO Convention of 1972. This convention inaugurated the program to protect cultural and natural heritage around the world, and now lists hundreds of sites world wide, from the Colosseum to Niagara Falls. The second convention took place more recently, in 2003, and was dedicated to protecting what the first couldn't, the world's intangible cultural heritage.
The Convention of 1972 resulted in 51 protected sites in Italy alone, which is the most sites in any country of the world. The Convention brings together more than 180 States that convene in annual meetings, and each year the convention's governing body decides which of the nominated sites to accept and protect as UNESCO world heritage sites. Sites of exceptional beauty are given special recognition with a distinct logo. A site may be recognized as strictly for its cultural significance, or for its natural significance. A site that is recognized for its cultural significance may be a monument, a group of buildings, sites of anthropological, archaeological, ethnological or aesthetic importance, but could also be agricultural sites, cultural landscapes or wine landscapes. Indeed, the penultimate site that was recognized in Italy was a wine landscape, that of the Langhe Roero and Monferrato region, and was the first wine landscape to obtain UNESCO recognition, in 2013. Sites recognized for their natural significance, on the other hand, could be sites with unique physical, biological or geological characteristics, or animal or plant habitats of particular value. Italy has numerous sites recognized in this category as well, such as the Dolomite mountain range and the Aeolian Islands. The second Convention, dedicated to the recognition of intangible cultural heritage, took form in 2003 and was ratified by Italy in 2007. This opened the door for traditions, rituals, oral expressions, social practices, knowledge and lifestyles that could not previously obtain UNESCO recognition as cultural heritage.