Each year, the 18th of April marks the International day for Monuments and Sites and is held by the state parties to the 1972 UNESCO Convention. The idea for observing this International Day was proposed by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) at the conference held in Tunisia on April 18, 1982. A year later, the international day was approved on the 22nd UNESCO General Conference in 1983 and was commonly accepted among the state parties as the World Heritage Day.
ICOMOS is a non-governmental organization devoted to heritage management and conservation, and it is one of the advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee. It is deeply committed to the conservation, protection, safeguarding, restoration, and valorization of the world’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage and, particularly, of monuments and sites across the world. The objective of the World Heritage Day is to promote awareness on the diversity of cultural heritage, its vulnerability and the efforts required for its protection and conservation. This international day is not only about the Heritage sites listed on the World Heritage List but also all cultural heritage places and landscapes of international, national and local significance.
For several years, ICOMOS has been suggesting a theme to be highlighted on this occasion, carrying its objectives to raise awareness of the fact that, International Days are important means of cultural exchange, enrichment and development of mutual understanding and cooperation among national and international communities. This special day offers an opportunity to the local communities and individuals throughout the world to understand and reflect the importance of cultural heritage for their lives, identities and communities as well as to make efforts required to preserve it. The annual events planned to celebrate the International Day with the participation of the communities include conferences, symposiums, site visits or other events. These events are celebrated with the public to link a global theme to national or regional realities on natural and cultural heritage preservation.
This year, the theme of the International Monuments and Sites Day is “Heritage for Generations”. This theme, as a universal call, invites all cultural heritage institutions and organizations around the world to observe the program by focusing on the present and young generations in order to transfer knowledge to people of all walks of life. The program is intended to make people conscious and sensitive to heritage resources to enable their decisive participation in protection and conservation activities. Sharing the knowledge of cultural heritage resource among the present societies is crucial to ensure sustainable management and conservation for the interest of the present and future generations.
Meaning and Importance of Cultural Heritage
Heritage means a legacy inherited from the past by the present and future generations. This connotation embodies two categories, the natural and cultural heritage concepts. Cultural heritage is an interpretation and expressions way of life of human beings in the past and present defined in the form of creative work of human technology, achievements, artistic expressions, practices and belief system.
Cultural heritage provides wide contribution about human origin and history. The monuments and archaeological remnants, religious structures, rituals, festivals, etc., tell our history, our values and our technological and artistic excellence. Cultural heritage links our past with our present by showing us what we have achieved in the past and how we have achieved it and who we are today.
Natural heritage, on the other hand, constitutes paleontological resources and geological features including flora and fauna species. Both cultural and natural heritage are important assets that belong to all human beings as a whole. However, these are fragile and irreplaceable. The loss through natural destruction or environmental negligence, deterioration or disappearance of any of these most important assets causes an impoverishment of the heritage of countries and the international communities. Hence, as the cultural heritage is vulnerable and fragile, the World Heritage Day calls upon all communities across the world to jointly draw attention and take required efforts to mitigate or minimize the loss of the irreplaceable heritage assets.
Heritage is usually represented in the form of two broad categories: tangible and intangible forms. Tangible heritage presents the physical form and it is further divided into two categories, the immovable resources and the movable objects. Immovable resources are not easy to remove from place to place, like monuments and sites, historic structures or buildings, monuments reminiscent of battlefields, archaeological sites and cultural landscapes including natural heritage sites. Whereas movable objects are easy to remove or carry from place to place and include objects such as museum collections.
Intangible heritage, on the other hand, is a form which cannot be seen and it can be represented in various forms such as spiritual or ritual elements, folklore, traditions, knowledge, skills, language and other cultural elements that are important for the identity of the people.
Eritrea is endowed with a tremendous potential of cultural and natural heritages. Heritage sites not known to science are among these rich resources. These sites present massive significance to the country and to humankind. These sites are considered to have outstanding universal values that contribute to a diverse importance across social, environmental and economic benefits.
Cultural heritage attracts tourists and tourism can bring economic benefits to a country through pleasure, experiences and entertainment. Social benefits provide collective memory, learning opportunities, development of skills and communication and a sense of belonging and pride. These benefits further facilitate enhancement of mutual understanding and appreciation of common values by building bridges between different groups in a community through shared involvement and by working towards common goals.
Environmental benefit on the other hand, increase understanding, care and appreciation of natural and cultural landscapes and broaden our understanding of environmental issues affecting all our lives. In doing this it can help protect ecosystems, biodiversity and natural resources by changing attitudes to minimizing environmental impacts.
Every region or locality in Eritrea contains a unique, complex and dynamic record of human history. The country has a rich resource of monuments and sites that embrace snapshots to human evolution, prehistoric period, historical period, medieval history, modern heritage and a bounty of military heritage sites which include reminiscences of battlefields and fortifications of the struggle for independence. We value these heritage sites and monuments because they are part of the unique and priceless Eritrean history and identity. This embodies the memories of the various cultural groups and people who left their legacies in the territories of Eritrea.
Our heritage sites and monuments bear elements of appreciation, wonder, nostalgia and emotional attachment and moral resonance with past experiences of creative genius, cultural processes, artistic and aesthetic appreciation as well as patriotism and nationalism. Our heritage sites and monuments as elements of the historic environment are fragile and finite resources, vulnerable to a range of impacts caused by human and natural agents that can damage them and diminish their value and potential.
Therefore, on the occasion of the World Heritage Day celebrated today, on the 18th April of 2018, this article conveys the message to ensure their sustainable management and use for the benefit of the present and future generations.
A column prepared in collaboration with the Eritrea’s culture and sports commission