Spain’s UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage assets – part 1
UNESCO World Heritage Sites are the international designation set up in 1972 to conserve buildings and locations of outstanding cultural or natural importance under the umbrella of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Who has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites?? – Italy with 45. Who comes second? Spain with 42. Yes, that’s right Spain has 42 UNESCO World Heritage Sites!
In 2008, UNESCO set up its UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list to safeguard ‘contemporary living expressions and traditions that countless groups and communities worldwide have inherited from their ancestors and transmit to their descendants.
National governments can submit their nominations to a panel of experts who update the list annually. (Surprisingly, neither America nor the UK are yet represented.) Currently the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage “assets” includes 213 traditions from 81 countries, ranging from the expected (the Argentinean tango, Chinese calligraphy); the unexpected (Croatian gingerbread-baking, Lithuanian crucifix-making) and some downright oddities (a hopping procession from Luxembourg) as well as folk dancing, regional cuisine, opera, martial arts and oral epic poetry.
So what are Spain’s UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites?
Some are obvious to anyone who has a smattering of knowledge about Spain – the Alhambra Palace in Granada (Andalucia), the natural wonders of Doñana National Park (also Andalucia) and the Paleolithic Cave Paintings of Altamira in Cantabria.
But what UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage “assets” does Spain have? Pata negra jamon from the Alpujarras, paella, the paintings of Pablo Picasso or Salvador Dali ……? Unfortunately, they don’t get a look-in but Spain does have its fair share, from the wondrous to the just plain weird, and here we reveal what they are starting with Flamenco and The Mediterranean Diet.
There were cheers of ‘Olé’ from aficionados throughout Spain last year when flamenco was added to Spain’s UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage assets, giving the tradition official protection for the first time in its history. It was a huge coup for Spain in particular, as the roots of flamenco are a topic for debate, although historians generally agree that the tradition stems from centuries of Moorish presence in Spain, principally in Andalucia. An artistic expression fusing song, dance and musicianship, flamenco first emerged in the 18th century as an outlet for poor people to express everything from sorrow to happiness, a tradition popularised by Spain’s gypsy community. Cante is the vocal expression of flamenco, featuring expressive lyrics sung by men and women with no backing singers; baile is a dance expressing a wide range of emotions which differ, depending on whether the performer is male (heavier use of the feet) or female (gentler, more sensual movements); toque, originally the art of guitar playing, also extends to other instruments including castanets, as well as hand-clapping and foot-stamping. Performed in many situations, from religious festivals to private celebrations, it is also the badge of identity of numerous communities and groups, in particular the gitanos (gypsies) who played an essential role in flamenco’s development and have kept its traditions alive, especially in Andalucia.
THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Spain shares this UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage with Greece, Italy and Morocco but if you thought it was only about food, think again. UNESCO defines it as ‘a set of skills, knowledge, practices and traditions ranging from the landscape to the table, including the crops, harvesting, fishing, conservation, processing and preparation.’ The Mediterranean Diet was first coined in 1945 but it has proved to be one of the healthiest nutritional models in the world, with its focus on high consumption of fresh and dried fruit and vegetables, olive oil, fish and seafood, cereals and spices, and lower consumption of dairy and meat products. But there are other reasons why it should be preserved as a tradition. States UNESCO: ‘More than just food, it promotes social interaction, since communal meals are the cornerstone of social customs and festive events; it has given rise to a considerable body of knowledge, songs, maxims, tales and legends; and it is rooted in respect for the territory and biodiversity, ensuring the conservation and development of traditional activities and crafts linked to fishing and farming in the Mediterranean communities.’ So now you know!
Books4Spain as an extensive selection of books about Spanish food and restaurants, ranging from tapas to regional cooking of Andalucia, Catalonia, Castile la Mancha and more. We also have The Book of Mediterranean Food from Elizabeth David, the “queen” the Mediterranean Diet
By Belinda Beckett and originally published in Essential Magazine, southern Spain’s leading lifestyle title, now in its 14th year of operation, recently selected as the Best Free Publication in Spain by the AEEPP (Asociación Española de Publicaciones Periodicas).
Belinda is an ex-Fleet Street journalist, TV and theatre critic who has also travelled halfway round the world as Features Editor for one of Britain’s top travel trade newspapers. She has written for most of the Costa del Sol’s leading publications since packing up her PC for Spain in 1992. Adding ‘sizzle’ to any topic is her passion – travel and lifestyle articles, business features, humour columns – as you’ll see if you check out her website and blog at www.belindabeckett.com
Coming soon – more about Spain’s UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage “assets” which include:
- THE CASTELLS OF CATALUNYA
- THE CHANT OF THE SYBIL ON MALLORCA