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2004 ICTC Annual Meeting and European Heritage Days Workshop in Hungary and Czech Republic

Members of the ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee joined with their Hungarian colleagues to review the activities associated with the European Heritage Days festival in Hungary.  The workshop comprised two days of site inspections, over the weekend of 18-19 September, in the region known as the Balaton Uplands, around the scenic Lake Balaton.  The festival theme for 2004 in Hungary was “A Heritage to Breathe In”, emphasising the links of heritage and nature.  A full day workshop was then held in Budapest on Monday 20 September, to review the activities. 

Prior to the activities in Hungary, some members of the Committee enjoyed a similar series of inspections in the Czech Republic, over the weekend of 11-13 September, where the 2004 theme was ‘Music awakens Monuments”. 

The primary conclusions arising from the workshop and site inspections was the strong localised nature of the festivals activities and the potential, over the long term, for the Heritage Days festivals to raise public awareness and political support for local heritage resources.  The Council of Europe now coordinates the festival.  As a mark of the success of the event, in 2004 some 20 million people were expected to participate, in 47 countries across Europe. 

The Committee members concluded that the European Heritage Days festivals were closely aligned with the concept and spirit of the ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Charter, in making the heritage accessible, thereby raising public awareness and support.  The potential for the concept to spread to other regions throughout the world was a strong theme that emerged from the review workshop held at the conclusion of the Balaton site inspections. 

The Committee gratefully thanks Erzsebet Kovacs, from Budapest and Tomas Drdacky, from Prague, and their respective colleagues, for their generosity and enormous energy in making all of the arrangements for the successful outcomes of the Workshop and Study Tours.

Opening Ceremony, Hungarian Heritage Days, Budapest, 17 September 2004
The Hungarian European Days were officially launched at a ceremony held in the Natural History Museum in Budapest.  Two Ministers of State joined together to launch the event, indicating the success and importance placed upon the festival by the national government. 

Our Committee member Emil van Brederode participated in the opening ceremony, providing a brief overview of the history of the event and how it has grown to become a major part of the cultural calendar for the council of Europe.

Balaton Region Field Trip, Day One, 18 September 2004
Representatives of the Hungarian Cultural Tourism Committee and a number of invited experts joined members of the International Cultural Tourism Committee to participate in the study tour.  Lake Balaton is the largest inland lake in Europe, outside Scandinavia, and is regarded as Hungary’s inland sea.  The surrounding countryside is characterised by wooded hills, gently sloping vineyards and agricultural or pastoral activities on the flat valley floor.  Small villages and towns are scattered across the landscape. 

The first stop was Salföld, a working demonstration farm run located within the Balaton Uplands National Park that encompasses the cultural landscape of the greater valley.  EHD activities included a local produce market, children’s games and demonstrations of various aspects of the traditional rural economy.  Delegates were given a guided tour of the farm then inspected the adjacent village, now a thriving artist’s colony, where the long narrow plots of land that stretch away from the main road were progressively developed by adding new wings of accommodation to the original houses set near the street frontage.  The urban character of the village still reflects the atmosphere of the 19th century. 

The afternoon saw a brief stop at the historic cemetery of Balatonudvari before a trip on an historic motor cruiser across the lake to Tihany, a place of great historical significance, partly for its Abbey Church, which sits on high on the headland of the small peninsula that juts out into the lake.  The Benedictine Abbey Church is famous for its Deed of Foundation (1055), which contains one of the earliest known uses of any Hungarian words, some 50 place names, within a mostly Latin text.  A detailed inspection of the Church and monastery, generously guided by the Abbot, was followed by an explanation of the importance of the surrounding national park with its small inner lake and important geological formations.

Balaton Field Trip, Day Two, 19 September 2004
Overnight accommodation was arranged in one of the great soviet era tourism hotels in Balatonfüred.  This lakeside town is one of the oldest and most popular resorts on the northern shore, and was famous for its thermal baths.  A morning inspection of the town, comparing the current townscape with historic postcards gave a clearer understanding of how tourism has long been a component of this landscape.  There are numerous villas and mansions surrounding the centre of the town, which contains some fine public gardens and public buildings. 

The small, historic water mill in the village of Örvényes was the next stop.  Delegates were again met by a small welcoming committee and given an introduction to this important local landmark.  The heritage and nature theme was then amply demonstrated by a visit to the Hegyestű geological demonstration site.  Here the basalt cone of the ancient volcano was used for many decades as a quarry before closure and incorporation into the national park. 

An introduction to a traditional vineyard in Pécsely, where the family has revived a long tradition of occupation, was followed by an exceptional lunch and generous sampling of the vineyard’s produce. 

Before returning to Budapest the late afternoon was spent in the walled hilltop town of Veszprem, particularly its Castle Hill district, with many listed 18th century monuments, museums and a very beautiful art gallery in a small restored building that was part of the ramparts. 

Many of the sites visited during the inspection were well sign posted with the standard European Heritage Days graphics.  All were included in the special Guide Book that had been produced by the Hungarian National Office of Cultural Heritage. 

It was apparent that most of the sites were receiving a steady flow of visitors during both days of the weekend festival.  Local media coverage also encouraged people to participate and learn more about the special features of their local heritage.

Review Workshop, Budapest, 20 September 2004
The Review Workshop held in Budapest brought together those who had undertaken the study tour over the weekend and others from various public sector and educational agencies. 

The day began with a number of presentations from local specialists and members of the International Cultural Tourism Committee before a lively discussion session in the afternoon. 

Many of the presentations concentrated on the links between heritage places and tourism and the need to work together.  Committee representatives presented experiences from the Netherlands, Slovakia, Flanders, Australia and China, with Graham Brooks, as Chairman, providing an overview of the potential for the festival idea to be fostered in many other countries around the world. 

Observations by Committee members Emil van Brederode and Guido de Dijn identified a number of key conclusions that are summarised below.  Each has been deeply involved with the festivals in their home countries of the Netherlands and Flanders, for many years. 

The Heritage Days festivals gave a regional focus and high public profile to local heritage places and events.  Their focus is primarily on raising local community awareness and attracting people from elsewhere in the particular country.  There is little attempt to actively draw in international visitors, although with the events spread across all weekends in September, opportunities arise for people to travel elsewhere in Europe to participate in different festival activities. 

The workshop highlighted the tremendous effort put in by the organisers of the festivals in each country and the “bottom up” nature of the more successful events.  The central organisers tend to act as coordinators and promoters who encourage local committees to identify their sites and arrange for specific events.  Some tensions emerged in Hungary when communications between local communities and the organisers in Budapest were delayed and announcements or material were not distributed in accordance with schedules.  The discussion identified more need for local promotional activities before the festival and the need to continue building local organising committees to translate the national effort into local heritage places. 

In general, however, the weekend was regarded as being very successful and a good basis for moving forward with future events.  The work of both the Council of Europe and the National Office of Cultural Heritage, who had supported the festival for some years, were praised by all concerned.

Conclusions from the Hungarian Workshop
Several important conclusions arose from the Workshop. 

  1. Although the overarching roles of the Council of Europe and individual National Governments were of great importance, the most critical need is to foster organising committees that represent local communities. 
  2. While the central, permanent slogan for the European Heritage Days is “Europe: a common heritage”, individual countries select a specific theme for each year.  Examples for 2004 ranged from “Modernism – Art Deco” in Brussels to “Intangible Heritage” in Albania.  Others included “Jewish Heritage” in Lithuania, “The Common Transborder Heritage” in Monaco, “Windmills” in Malta, “Manor Houses” in Denmark, “Old Sources New Purposes” in Slovakia, and “Our Home” in Finland. 
  3. The most successful events in many countries, over a long period of time, are those that rely on local organising committees working under some form of central coordination.  Those countries where the activities are centrally organised and passed down to local people, tend to have less participation and numbers of events. 
  4. An example of the potential and popularity of the EHD events was the Netherlands, where in 2004, some 800,000 people visited the 3,500 places that were open to the public. 
  5. Central organisations have an important role to play in each European country, but mostly to identify the annual theme, and to ensure some degree of continuity and consistency in the way that local communities undertake their individual festival events.  A great deal of coordination and many meetings throughout the year with local communities are an essential part of any central coordinating role. 
  6. Many places that are open to the public during EHD are not necessarily of great historic interest or of a high heritage status.  Some of the most popular are those special places in a local community that are not normally open to the public.  They might range from the office of the local mayor to the corridors of the national parliament, from the boardroom of an local commercial enterprise to the working heart of a local industrial complex.  
  7. Places such as defence establishments, prisons, lighthouses, and educational centres or government offices can give people an insight into the workings of places that are essential to their well-being but which are normally not accessible to large sections of the community. Places that are normally open, such as churches, art galleries or exhibition venues, need to stage special events or waive entry fees to make their contribution to the festival. 
  8. Volunteer support is essential and is a good way to increase local interest. 
  9. Local politicians usually enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to participate.  It gives them an insight into how popular heritage has become and how the local community expects them to support its future.

Pre-Workshop Study Tour, Czech Republic, 10-13 September 2004

With the tremendous support of our Czech associate, Tomas Drdacky and his colleague Natalia Cavina, members of the Committee and other colleagues enjoyed several days in Prague and the Czech countryside reviewing the EHD activities there, as a prelude to the main Workshop in Hungary. 

The activities commenced with a welcome dinner in Prague when the delegates discussed the overall aims and objectives of the Workshop and met with some colleagues of the Romanian National Trust who had been in Prague working with Milos and Tomas Drdracky over the previous days. 

Saturday morning was spent travelling to the medieval town of tabor, where the opening ceremony of the Czech EHD took place.  The townspeople dressed in medieval costume and delighted in traditional foods and entertainment, while special events for children gave them an opportunity to express their youthful energy learning about traditional aspects of their locality.  The centre of the town was closed during the day, with entry tickets required for all visitors.  The highlight was a major parade during the afternoon, followed by music in the square until late for those who had not eaten to excess in the local restaurants. 

Sunday morning saw a short but informative inspection of the small town of Prahatice, located on a traditional salt trade route.  Delegates were given an introduction in the local museum, followed by a view over the historic roofscape from high in the church bell tower.  After lunch we travelled to the world heritage listed town of Cesky Krumlov, with its fabulous Baroque Theatre, still in working order, impressive castle and attractive winding streets.  Tourism management in the town is well organised and necessary, given that Cesky is within a day trip distance from Prague and is well established on the tourism map. 

The visit extended into Monday, with an extended inspection of Cesky, which had not been possible the previous evening due to heavy rain.  A long drive to the remarkable town of Telc, also on the World Heritage List, culminated in a most interesting visit of the local castle, a meeting with the mayor and a climb of the clock tower for an elevated view of the main square and surrounding countryside.  We were then privileged to meet Tomas’ 95 year old grandmother, who has lived in Telc all her life.  Telc is well organised for hosting tourism, with over 250,000 per annum visitors in a town of 6,000 inhabitants.  The local authority was proud of the recently opened art gallery in a former fire station that faced onto the main square. 

Tuesday was spent inspecting Prague Castle, where tourism numbers have totally overwhelmed the existing management arrangements.  On Wednesday Tomas arranged a meeting with a representative of the Prague Historic Town Club, who provided valuable insights into the long term struggle by community based conservationists to save and enliven key historic buildings and neighbourhoods in the city. 

Prague is an excellent, if somewhat sad example of a major historic city that is being totally overwhelmed by mass tourism.  Tourism is heavily focussed on quite limited but key precincts and streetscapes in the city, but has changed the “feel” of the city.  Travel into eastern Europe has become so cheap with packaged tours that Prague has become the epicentre of an experience that swept across the Mediterranean after the 1960s.  The historic buildings are well presented and the townscape will survive the current peak, provided suitable controls are in place to prevent unnecessary destruction due to the construction bubble that often accompanies mass tourism. 

The Czech countryside, with its rich collection of historic monuments and regional towns presents an enormous potential for increased tourism.  This is largely, if only temporarily constrained by the current restriction on taking hire cars from Western Europe into the eastern countries.  Planning for tourism management will need to be rigorously undertaken if such places are not to be overwhelmed by poorly organised activity. 

Our initial conclusions, following a review of the Czech EHD activities was disappointment that there was little attempt to engage international tourists in the event.  Most of the signage and publicity were primarily in Czech and the individual events seemed to have a strong local focus, at the expense of a wider focus. 

A week later, when we had completed the Hungarian Workshop we came to the inevitable conclusion that the EHDs were primarily aimed at local people and were most successful in terms of raising public awareness and pride in local heritage when they remained true to the local people.