Heritage in Belgium
UNESCO is determined to protect cultural heritage in all its forms: built heritage, intangible heritage and documentary heritage.
The 1972 World Heritage Convention aims to better conserve outstanding cultural or natural sites in humanity’s common heritage, for the benefit of future generations.
More than 190 member states have signed the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Belgium has been one of the signatory states since 1996. On the World Heritage List there may be natural, cultural or mixed sites.
Belgium has a total of thirteen sites listed as world heritage:
- Flemish Béguinages (1998)
- La Grand-Place, Brussels (1998)
- The Four Lifts on the Canal du Centre and their Environs, La Louvière and Le Roeulx (Hainaut) (1998)
- Belfries of Belgium and France (1999)
- Historic Centre of Brugge (2000)
- Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai (2000)
- Major Town Houses of the Architect Victor Horta (Brussels) (2000)
- Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes (Mons) (2000)
- Plantin-Moretus House-Workshops-Museum Complex (2005)
- Stoclet Palace (2009)
- Major Mining Sites of Wallonia (2012)
- The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement (2016),including Le Corbusier’s Maison Guiette in Antwerp
- Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe (2017),including the Forest of Soignes
The UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage aims to preserve and perpetuate intangible cultural heritage. This ‘living heritage’ is both a source and expression of cultural identity and diversity.
Intangible cultural heritage has various forms: From oral traditions to music and dance, rituals, festive events and social practices as well as knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe and craft-making know-how.
More than 170 member states have ratified the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Belgium is also one of the signatory states, and has been since 2006. Countries who are signatories to the convention undertake to list intangible cultural heritage in their territory and to protect it by adopting suitable measures. The convention is therefore a springboard for preserving intangible cultural heritage. Its aim is also to inspire recognition by the communities, groups and persons concerned by the value of intangible cultural heritage; to raise greater awareness among people at local, national and international level about the importance of this heritage and to generate cooperation and an international framework.
There are several inventories of intangible cultural heritage in Belgium: for Flanders, for Wallonia, for the German-speaking community and for the Brussels Region. Our country can, on the basis of these inventories, propose nominations for one of the three international lists that have been drawn up within the framework of the convention.
The first is the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity which aims to increase visibility and awareness surrounding the importance of intangible cultural heritage. This list is an instrument intended to preserve this wealth. It is also meant to reflect global cultural diversity and human creativity. The following items are on the List for Belgium:
- Ommegang of Brussels (2019)
- Beer culture in Belgium (2016)
- Shrimp fishing on horseback in Oostduinkerke (2013)
- Marches of Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse (2012)
- Leuven age set ritual repertoire (2011)
- Falconry (international dossier 2010, extended in 2012 and 2016)
- Houtem Jaarmarkt, annual winter fair and livestock market at Sint-Lievens-Houtem (2010)
- Krakelingen and Tonnekensbrand, end-of-winter bread and fire feast at Geraardsbergen (2010)
- Procession of the Holy Blood in Bruges (2009)
- Carnival of Binche (2008)
- Processional giants and dragons in Belgium and France, including in Belgium, the Ath Ducasse, the Mons Ducasse, the Brussels Meyboom, the Malines Ommegang and the Dendermonde Ros Beiaard (2008)
The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding is the second list that exists within the framework of the 2003 convention. On this list are items that the communities concerned and the signatory states consider require urgent safeguarding measures to ensure they are passed on. The entries on this List help mobilise international cooperation and assistance enabling stakeholders to take adequate safeguarding measures. Belgium does not have any items on this list.
The third list is the Register of Best Safeguarding Practices which comprises programmes, projects and activity that best reflect the convention’s principles and goals. Good protective measures are put in place through this register in order to inspire communities, experts and member states to protect their intangible cultural heritage. Belgium’s best safeguarding practices are as follows:
Note that alongside these lists, there are other activities and dynamics surrounding the 2003 convention. It also highlighted the importance of intangible cultural heritage as a source of cultural diversity and guarantee of sustainable development. It’s an instrument that especially focuses on international solidarity and cooperation as well as on dialogue and strengthening capabilities. Empowering people (intangible heritage of communities, groups and individuals) who use, invent or continue to pass on best practices surrounding heritage on a daily basis is a challenge in the constantly changing world that we know today.
The UNESCO ‘Memory of the World’ programme has, since 1992, stimulated conservation and access to documentary heritage as well as raised society’s awareness to its value. Documentary heritage is constantly threatened not only by natural conditions and the test of time, but by negligence or deliberate destruction by men themselves: paper disintegrating, computer bugs or documents deliberately destroyed during conflicts, etc. Documentary heritage is however an essential key to understanding the past and anticipating the future better.
The UNESCO Memory of the World Register lists documentary heritage with exceptional value for humanity. Documents must meet several criteria such as authenticity and ‘irreplaceability’.
The following items have been entered on the Register for Belgium:
- Business Archives of the Officina Plantiniana (2001)
- The Bibliotheca Corviniana Collection (2005)
- Archives Insolvente Boedelskamer Antwerpen (2009)
- The Archives of the University of Leuven 1425-1797 (2013)
- Universal Bibliographic Repertory, Mundaneum (2013)
The regional and national Memory of the World committees support the ‘Memory of the World’ programme.