Heroes from the Kalevala epic sculpted on the facade of a Helsinki building, Source: Depositphotos

Did you know that EU has its own heritage list?

Did you know that EU has its own heritage list?

It’s not meant to rival UNESCO but rather to focus on sites and traditions that symbolize the ancient roots of European values

Last week, seven sites and cultural traditions received the European Heritage Label boosting the total list to 67 such objects. Yet not many Europeans seem to be aware of this distinction, even though it has been in existence for a decade now.

When most people think of cultural heritage preservation they think of UNESCO, which boasts a large and growing base of tangible and intangible monuments across the world attesting to the genius of humankind throughout the centuries.

The European Heritage Label hasn’t reached that kind of prominence due to its more limited geographical scope. Plus, its stated aim is slightly different. The European Commission’s initiative seeks to discover and preserve sites and traditions that grant the concept of European values (such as liberty, tolerance, integration) a certain commonality and historicity.

The European narrative and the history behind it

Crafting a coherent (pan)-European identity has been one of the biggest challenges for the political and economic project that is the European Union. This is where the EU officials have decided to also look back into the past not only as periods of conflict and division but also as times of commonality that have crafted a subtle yet perceptible sense of what it means to be European.

The European Heritage Label combines both tangible and intangible monuments.

For example, among the objects awarded the label this year, we can see a hidden church in Amsterdam called Our Lord in the Attic. The clandestine temple served the small Catholic community of the city and while the authorities knew about its operation, they turned a blind eye as long as it wasn’t too visible. Kind of makes you think about the contemporary tolerance of Dutch authorities to soft drug consumption.

The only intangible monument listed this year was the Finnish epic Kalevala, which is a collection of oral mythological poetry that has served to inspire Finnish nationalism and works of art, literature, film and music. It’s known to have been one of the influences on JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings fantasy epic.



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