The European Heritage Days (EHDs), a joint initiative of the Council of Europe and the European Commission, which the aim is to promote monuments. The project is attended by all member states of the Council of Europe, including Poland, which joined the action in 1993.
The European Heritage Days is the largest social and educational project in Europe, the most important celebration of cultural monuments of the Old Continent. The aim of EHDs is widely defined historical and cultural education, promoting the diversity of regional cultural heritage, highlighting the common roots of European culture and promoting intercultural dialogue.
Its idea originated in Granada where, on 3 October 1985, the 2nd Council of Europe Conference took place. On this occasion, the French Minister of Culture presented the initiative called “Monuments’ Open Doors”, launched in France in 1984, and suggested to extend it to a European level. Then for the first time numerous monuments and sites, usually closed to the public, opened their doors. This initiative enjoyed so much attention that, in 1991, became a joint action of the Council of Europe and the European Commission.
EHD in Poland
The year 2007 marked a breakthrough in the organisation of the European Heritage Days in Poland. It was back then that the National Heritage Board of Poland (then – the National Centre for Research and Documentation of Historical Monuments), the coordinator of the event at the national level, proposed a common theme. The idea was to choose a motto which would allow all the Polish regions – no matter how rich their local cultural heritage – to organise interesting regional events.
Using the European Heritage Days as a tool for the reinforcement of common social responsibility for the condition of historic monuments and being supported by self-governments, non-governmental organizations, hundreds of organisers of particular events as well as the Polish nationwide and regional media, we managed to create our own formula of this oldest cultural event in Europe within just a few years. European Heritage Days in Poland comprise mainly an educational programme, exhibitions, excursions, lectures, games and competitions aimed at familiarizing local communities with the history of their lands. Heritage and its value cannot be perceived without the history. We attempt to present this history regardless of how difficult it might be. Thanks to the contact with historical artefacts the past events seem less distant and more understandable.
“People of the Road. Travellers, Pilgrims, Wanderers” was the first common theme of the European Heritage Days that took place in September 2007 over two consecutive weekends. This motto, focused on the subject of travelling, was to draw attention to related historical artefacts and all other aspects – both physical and spiritual. Thus we were discovering roadside shrines, inns, monuments of technology as well as customs and traditions – travelling to holy places, pilgrims’ customs, ceremonies connected with passing from the world of the living to world of the dead. As a result, all the organised actions for the first time were interrelated. The edition 2007 also established a tradition of a national inauguration, and duration of the campaign extended over two weekends. About 1,400 happenings and cultural events attracted over 300,000 visitors to 240 places. The national inauguration took place on 8 September in Toruń (Kujawsko-pomorskie Voivodeship).
In 2008, after the great success of 2007, the developing of the idea was continued. The central theme – “The Roots of Tradition: From Patrimony to Homeland” – made all the participants truly involved. The joint search for the roots of the Polish culture and references to the multicultural society and the tradition of tolerance dating back to the Commonwealth of the Two Nations helped to emphasize important aspects of life of every human being – its identity and sense of belonging that leads to the formation of the sense of national value. Across Poland, under the EHD aegis, over 1,800 events were organised by local authorities, museums, schools, public libraries, parishes, social organisations, companies and individuals. Nearly 400,000 people were attracted to 246 places. The edition 2008 was inaugurated on 13 September in Byczyna (Opolskie Voivodeship).
In 2009, the campaign to protect historical military structures (“To the Rescue of Historical Monuments: Fortifications, Castles and Strongholds”) had its inauguration in Kołobrzeg (Zachodniopomorskie Voivodeship). The campaign covered 1,583 events that attracted 246,000 visitors, with 300 places involved. Participants had the opportunity to rediscover historical defensive architecture and get to know its role in the history of Poland, a country fighting for its independence for centuries, as well as to enliven places often unknown or forgotten.
Additionally, the second half of 2011 was a special period for Poland. The Polish Presidency in the Council of the European Union was an opportunity to promote and present our country in the international arena; an opportunity we used well. The 4th European Heritage Forum organised in Wrocław, one of the official events of the Polish Presidency, and the accompanying meeting of national EHD coordinators emphasized and increased the importance of the European Heritage Days in Poland. The element bringing together the EHD and the 4th European Heritage Forum was the English-language “Milestones” exhibition prepared by the National Heritage Board. It evoked the key events in the history of Poland as well as people, processes and occurrences that determined the place and importance of Poland in Europe. This lesson of history was much appreciated by the participants of the events. The exhibition generated lots of interest; its shortened, poster version was prepared to be displayed in schools across Poland.
In 2012, we celebrated a jubilee – the twentieth edition of the EHD, entitled the “Mysteries of Everyday Life”. Hundreds of events, including walks, outdoor excursions, meetings with the creators of culture, concerts and exhibitions took place during two September weekends. Once again the European Heritage Days proved they give to people a unique opportunity to explore their cultural heritage.
This particular theme was chosen in order to save from oblivion the beauty and charm of everyday events: ordinary domestic life, meetings, language, music, customs, rituals, work, holidays, games and toys, table etiquette, manufacturing and handicrafts. Our goal was to discover those of the customs which, although discreet, are still present in everyday life, not to mention those already forgotten traditions, together with objects associated with them that had been used in the past. Things can tell a lot about their owners, they retain the history of events and people who used them. Each case is interesting because of its history, stories, events connected with the object. As a visual symbol of the “Mysteries of Everyday Life” – published in numerous promotional materials of the EHD 2012 – served a beautifully decorated, historic chest, made in 1807, from the collections of the Ethnographic Museum in Wroclaw.
An Open Air Museum – Maurzyce, which presents the rural and sacred architecture of the former Duchy of Łowicz, was the place of the inauguration held on the 8th of September. Folk culture of the Łowicz region is very distinctive, outstanding when compared with the other ethnic groups of Poland. This is why it is not only a local pride, but often serves as a showcase abroad, representing the whole Polish culture. A large group of contemporary folk artists ensure the viability and continuity of the Łowicz culture. Its symbols, such as costume, cut-outs, embroidery, are often used by contemporary designers and artists as inspiration.
The jubilee year 2012 became a great EHD success – the campaign covered 1643 events that attracted 300,000 visitors, with 393 places involved.
“Poland was not built in a day” – this is the theme of the twenty-first edition – EHD 2013. The idea was to show Poland as a state with a long history, which dates back to the 10th century. We want to recall the historic process of its formation and bring to the notice of Polish people the precious value of having their own state. The sense of being part of the history, language and tradition is what we wish to emphasize in the EHD edition 2013.
European Heritage Days 2013 will be held traditionally in the second and third weekend of September and its inauguration, as the Minister of Culture and National Heritage decided, will take place in the Cistercian Abbey in Wąchock.
The choice of theme is largely due to the fact that the twenty-first edition of EHD coincides with the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the January Uprising.
Therefore, we would also like to pay special attention to the role of national uprisings, which for Poles are symbols of their commitment to create an independent state, and played a huge role in shaping and maintaining the national identity.
The twenty second edition of the European Heritage Days in Poland (13th, 14th, 20th and 21st of September 2014) is being promoted under the nationwide theme “The Heritage – a Source of Identity”. The choice of such a universal theme allows many interpretations. There are various aspects of the identity, which are rooted in our common past: a sense of belonging to community or nation, a sense of connectedness with the history, language, tradition and family. That all helps us to understand the broader context of relations with the environment and, as a result, our perception of historic monuments becomes a more conscious one.
The word “source” used in the theme was chosen intentionally – to draw attention to the noticeable correlation among culture, history and water. Water sources have left an indelible mark on the tangible heritage, being a key factor in the development of settlement and the waterway network. Through trade and cultural exchange, water sources became an important historical element in the development of the state. During this edition of the European Heritage Days we will focus on shipbuilding, ports, lighthouses, bridges, water mills, as well as intangible heritage, such as the rituals associated with water or maritime customs and traditions.
“The Lost Heritage” was the theme of the 23rd annual edition of European Heritage Days in Poland, which took place in September 12-13 and 19-20. During the event we discussed about all aspects of the subject. The first was the enormous losses within the Polish cultural heritage assets that the country suffered as a result of WWII whose ending’s 70th anniversary is to be celebrated this year. The next issue was the loss of the material sources of identity caused by changes on the political map of Europe after WWII which led to resettling many thousands of people from East to Poland. The next topic, frequently discussed recently was the loss of the national treasure, art collections, valuable architectural monuments and the forgotten local traditions and beliefs. And finally we talked about why we should make public opinion more aware of heritage that is about to be forgotten, but that still can be preserved.
“Where spirit meets space – temples, masterpieces, monuments”
This was the theme of 24th edition of EHD which took place on the 10th-11th and 17th-18th of September 2016. This theme drew people’s attention to the fact that the monuments are the best vehicle of the values relating to spirituality, art and history. The theme also refered to the great architects, culture’s creators, artists, visionaries who acted in the material and spirit spheres. The space around us has the element of memory of the past achievements and traditions which are worth caring about. The monuments and great works of art are a testimony of the past. They enables the societies, which are aware of their roots and universal values that they are based on, to develop.
The national theme for 2017 was “The heritage of the landscape – the landscape of the heritage”. The official opening of EHD’s was held in the Porta Posnania. We used this theme to show the landscape of history and tradition in the natural environment, as well as the record of the human action in the space!
The key to the effective preservation of cultural heritage is to involve local communities in the process of its protection. The European Heritage Days are an excellent opportunity for that, bringing local communities together in discovering their historical artefacts, getting to know more about history and intangible values of the region. Through numerous educational activities introducing a broad target group to its own heritage, we help to increase awareness of our common history, and develop the sense of community.
About The National Heritage Board of Poland
The board is a state agency, national coordinator of European Heritage Days. The board gathers and disseminates information on heritage, sets standards for its protection and conservation, and aims to raise the social awareness on cultural heritage of Poland in order to save it for future generations in accordance with the strategy for sustainable development.