UNESCO and the International Protection of Cultural Heritage

UNESCO and the international protection of cultural heritage. What is UNESCO? What are the conventions, activities, programs, initiatives that this United Nations agency puts in place? The word UNESCO is composed of “UN” which stands for “United Nations”, “United Nations”, the final “O” which stands for “Organization”, while what is the core business of this United Nations organization they tell us the letters “ESC”: “E” as “education”, “S” as “science” and “C” as “culture”, therefore education, science, culture.

This United Nations organization was born in the aftermath of the Second World War, in 1945, and brings together 193 countries plus 7 associated states, i.e. sovereign countries which, however, do not have the status of a member country. The main objectives of this United Nations agency are to protect and disseminate the culture and cultural diversity of the world; affirm the principles linked to biology, the science of life, the science of the earth and educate, especially the new generations, to respect for peace, rights, traditions and different cultures.

The lines of action of UNESCO, therefore, are five: education, culture, natural sciences, human and social sciences (especially actions for the promotion of values ​​linked to democracy), 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 first convention of 1972 currently has 51 sites registered on the Italian side and is a “global” convention that brings together more than 180 States and which functions through annual meetings of the executive body: each year the governing body of this convention decides which site , as a Material Cultural Heritage, needs to be protected in the UNESCO context and has the right to obtain UNESCO recognition. The excellent sites by definition, the sites of the “superlative of beauty”, the World Heritage sites, are identified by a specific logo. Italy has 51 sites that have obtained this recognition: it is the first country in the world for sites that have received UNESCO recognition.

The recognition can be given both to the Material Heritage of a cultural type in the strict sense and to the naturalistic cultural heritage. With the first category, cultural heritage in the strict sense, we mean monuments, groups of buildings, sites of historical, aesthetic, archaeological, scientific, ethnological, anthropological value but also cultural landscapes, agricultural landscapes and wine-growing landscapes. The penultimate site that Italy has registered is precisely a wine landscape, that of the Langhe Roero and Monferrato: for the first time in 2013, UNESCO recognized an Italian wine landscape as a World Heritage Site.

By “natural heritage” we mean those sites characterized by physical, biological, geological uniqueness, by a habitat of animal and plant species of particular exceptional value, unique in the world. Italy has entered in this category, for example, the Dolomites and the Aeolian Islands. The second convention, the one dedicated to the Intangible Heritage, more recent because it was born in 2003 and ratified by Italy in 2007, concerns all those practices, those traditions, those knowledge, that know-how that cannot be touched.