Scientific Symposium

Section IV: Cultural routes: the challenges of linear settings for monuments and sites.




Dear President, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen

As President of the International Scientific Committee on Cultural Routes (CIIC) of ICOMOS, I am pleased that Section 4 of the Symposium accompanying this 15th ICOMOS General Assembly will be devoted to them, precisely in the year of their recognition by the UNESCO as one of four currently existing World Heritage categories. In this regard, I wish to thank the President of ICOMOS and the organizers of this Assembly for their interest and support.

I would also like to express my congratulations to the members of the CIIC, who, since more than a decade ago, have made great efforts in the field of research and have overcome numerous difficulties and lacks of understanding, maintaining their conviction that Cultural Routes deserve to be studied, recognized and treated as an historic heritage reality of unquestionable value.

As the Scientific Symposium starting tomorrow will consist of four sections dedicated to different topics of great interest, and thus will not allow all participants to simultaneously attend all sessions, I would like to offer this plenary session a brief summary outlining the doctrinal postulates and methodological lines which form the basic framework for the presentations by the 45 authors included in the program.

Nowadays, Cultural Routes represent a new approach in the currently evolving and quickly expanding process that affects the conceptual universe of cultural heritage.

It is obvious that the more we progress in the field of preserving cultural properties and stimulating social awareness, the more complex this universe becomes, and thus we need to found this process on rigorous scientific bases.

Within this context, and given the increasing importance and complexity of the vast territorial ensembles involved in the field of cultural heritage, it seems necessary that ICOMOS contributes to clarify terms and concepts and setting operational guidelines.

This way, the efforts carried out by the International Scientific Committee of ICOMOS on Cultural Routes for the last decade, besides trying to identify the existing differences between Cultural Routes and other ensembles of elements thematically related by a real or ideal common link, have been addressed to the establishment of scientific bases for the identification of Cultural Routes and a methodology of work in this specific field.

The results of these efforts, which are embodied in the current project of developing a Charter for Cultural Routes, may help to understand that they offer new perspectives and tools for preserving cultural heritage.

They may not only provide conservation policy with a territorial breadth, cultural integrity and harmonization of actions and contents that has not been accomplished before. By recognising and respecting cultural diversity, Cultural Routes may also contribute to the enhancement of intercultural dialogue and sustainable development.

Independently of these efforts carried out by ICOMOS, and thanks to the interest shown by various member country delegations to the World Heritage Committee, the newest version of the Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO, approved in February of 2005, has recognized Heritage Routes as one of the four existing categories established to date. This new category may obviously involve both natural routes, like the migratory movements of birds, and cultural routes, which should be the more specific field of interest for ICOMOS.

We firmly believe that Cultural Routes, as a heritage category, are the fruit of the cultural dynamics generated through the historic ways of communication deliberately created or used by mankind for the accomplishment of a specific and well defined purpose. Therefore, Cultural Routes reveal the heritage content of a concrete phenomenon of human mobility and exchange that pursued a specific and peculiar purpose. They include not only the physical ways of communication that facilitated their flow, but the cultural properties and values, both material and immaterial, uniquely associated with their specific purpose and historic functionality.

The notion of Cultural Routes -besides representing a historic reality which is evident in their vestiges- shows the evolution of ideas with respect to the vision of cultural heritage, as well as the growing importance of values related to its setting and territorial scale, and reveal the macrostructure of heritage on different levels. It also helps to illustrate the contemporary social conception of cultural heritage values as a resource for sustainable social and economic development. This concept introduces a model for a new ethic of conservation that considers these values as a common heritage that goes beyond national borders, and which requires joint efforts.

This way, Cultural Routes help to confirm to us, at the end of the day, that universal civilization is a heritage that belongs to us all, resulting as it does from a historical process to which all of the world’s peoples-never mind who writes the history-have contributed through their reciprocal cultural influences.

Nevertheless, it's important to recognize that, in general terms, there is a great deal of conceptual confusion with regard to this new category. Unfortunately, up to now this lack of conceptual clarity has meant that various sections of Cultural Routes of historical importance, proposed by various member states, have not been able to be listed in the WH List as such. Let us hope that the recognition of this new category of cultural heritage will provide a new opportunity for them.

Fortunately, the Scientific Symposium accompanying the 15th General Assembly of ICOMOS may contribute to clear away the existing conceptual confusion around this topic. Taking into account the scientific role corresponding to ICOMOS as an advisory body of UNESCO, we believe that this will be an excellent opportunity for the achievement of this objective.

I am therefore very pleased to invite all those wishing to attend to take part in the Section dedicated to Cultural Routes, in which we plan to have 6 presentations dealing with theoretical reflections, doctrine and methodology, and 39 case studies. In addition, the current project for an International Charter on Cultural Routes will be presented, and copies of the latest book published with articles by members of the CIIC from five continents will be distributed. We also invite you to attend the meeting of this International Committee that will be held next Wednesday at the end of the Symposium sessions, in which the project for the Charter will be reviewed and theoretical and practical issues related to Cultural Routes will be discussed.

María Rosa Suárez-Inclán

Head, Section 4



Rapporteur: Alfredo Conti

The main purpose of this thematic section was to explore conservation and management of cultural routes as connecting systems of sites and settings. During the working sessions forty-four papers were presented, coming from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.   

Presentations allowed confirming that cultural routes constitute a new approach in the currently evolving and expanding process of the universe of cultural heritage. In this sense, the cases presented during the working sessions consisted on several national and regional cultural routes, together with continental (Caminos de Santiago de Compostela, Andean Pre-Hispanic Routes) and intercontinental scopes (Colonial Spanish and Portuguese Royal Routes, Silk Road).

Cultural routes can be defined as an ensemble of material and immaterial heritage components, linked by a basic element consisting of a land, water or mixed road.  They are the result of precise historical circumstances, related to specific functions and geographical conditions. The papers presented during the working sessions allowed identifying different types of cultural routes, related to their historical functions (trade, religion, transportation, production) and/or to their geographical scope.

Taking into account that cultural routes may include heritage components belonging to every heritage category –monuments, ensembles, towns, natural and cultural landscapes- the concept implies a value as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts and gives the route its meaning. At the same time, the meaning of material or immaterial cultural heritage components located along the route can be only thoroughly and properly appraised when linked to the route as a territorial system.

The case studies showed that sometimes cultural routes preserve their historical function up to the present days; in other cases it is possible to verify that primary functions changed over time and cultural routes present components related to every stage of their evolution. In this case and in order to proceed to identify a cultural route, it becomes necessary to take into account what the historical functions were and how they are expressed by material and immaterial components that bear testimony of the exchange of ideas, goods, skills and other cultural influences over a period of time.

The setting of a cultural route can consist of a variety of situations, including different natural or cultural landscapes, rural or urban environments. Since cultural routes imply territorial linear heritage structures, sometimes of intercontinental scope, the setting may include quite different types of cultural and natural landscapes, including sea as a possible context of a cultural route.  

The most appropriate context and method of defining the setting for a specific cultural route can vary, depending upon which pattern of the cultural route to be categorized the property in question falls under.

The setting of cultural routes, always within the framework of territorial dimension can bear as well diverse degrees of change over time. It is clear that protection and conservation of a cultural route must include its setting up to an extension to be defined according to the nature and type of the route.

Taking into account the specific nature of this heritage category, management of cultural routes imply a complex system of legal, technical and administrative instruments. Management and protection measures of the cultural route and its setting will be proposed from the viewpoint of conserving the different types of outstanding values inherent in the heritage as well as preserving its physical existence for transmission to future generations.

Some case studies showed that protection of cultural routes and their settings vary according to different administrative or politic units included along the route. It is evident that the concept of cultural routes is not yet fully understood and thus incorporated by official spheres responsible of heritages policies and management.

It becomes then necessary to proceed to disseminate the new concepts on cultural heritage, stressing the idea of cultural routes as heritage category, so that they are incorporated in the agencies responsible for heritage identification and protection. It is also important to encourage the concern of community in the consideration of the concept of cultural route as a whole that contributes to understand the meaning of the territorial structure and of the heritage components included in the ensemble.

The proper management of a cultural route implies to encourage the common work of different levels of authorities concerned, since it implies the definition and implementation of policies and management plans and actions that go beyond the boundaries of the administrative divisions of the territory.

The recognition of cultural routes as a specific heritage category through its inclusion in the Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention approved by the World Heritage Committee in February 2005 takes to the peremptory necessity of adopting theoretical and practical principles for their identification and management. As an advisory body of the World Heritage Committee, ICOMOS should therefore be ready to the assessment of Cultural Routes and their management conditions. It was recognized that the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Cultural Routes (CIIC) has developed and intense work intended for the clarification of terms and concepts and to define operational guidelines to undertake, on a scientific base, these tasks. It is then desirable that the draft of the Charter on Cultural Routes elaborated by CIIC is adopted as soon as possible as an official doctrinaire text of ICOMOS.