Castells - Colles Castelleres de Catalunya

Intangible Heritage of Humanity

On 16 November 2010, UNESCO approved the inclusion of castells on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This made human towers a universal tradition, with the highest level of recognition that can be given to an element of popular culture. After going through the various filters, the final decision was made at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage, held in Nairobi (Kenya).

In its decision, among other elements, the Committee highlighted that: “Human towers are recognized by Catalan people as an integral part of their cultural identity, transmitted from generation from generation and providing community members a sense of continuity, social cohesion and solidarity”. You can find all the information concerning the inclusion of human towers here.

What is Intangible Heritage?

The origins of the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity go back to 1972, when UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) adopted the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, intended to protect large monuments and natural landscapes. Even then, voices could be heard calling for the creation of a similar list for traditional manifestations, festivals and rituals from all over the world, whose continuity is often threatened because of their intangible and ephemeral nature. Despite this, it was not until 2003 that UNESCO adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. That makes it a relatively recent initiative.

This Convention defined intangible heritage as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills […] that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage”. This definition includes social practices such as representations, traditions, festivals and rites, dramatic arts, crafts and, in general, knowledge and skills which, passed down from generation to generation, serve to give the community a sense of identity and continuity.

These are cultural elements without tangible content. They are maintained in the human mind and represented with the body. The knowledge and skills necessary to practice them are collective and their representation almost always involves the community.

Other elements recognised

UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity currently includes a total of 327 elements. That makes it quite a select club. As well as human towers, there is another Catalan element, the Patum festival in Berga, and others from the Catalan-speaking world: the Cant de la Sibil•la (Chant of the Sybil) on Majorca , the Misteri (Mystery Play) of Elx, the Algemesí festival and the Tribunal de les Aigües (Water Tribunal) of Valencia. Other elements from Spain are flamenco and the whistled language from the island of La Gomera, called silbo gomero in Spanish. Internationally, some of the most important elements are the Argentinian tango, the Mexican voladores, the traditional Chinese medicine and the Sicilian puppet theatre, in Italy. You can see the list of elements here.

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