23 July 2024
Culture Education Lifestyle

The Significance of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH): Greece’s 4 New Additions to its ICH

As an expat residing in Greece, you have most probably immersed yourself in the country’s rich cultural heritage by exploring its historical sites and museums, and delving into reputable history books. The Acropolis of Athens, the archaeological site of Delphi, the Minoan Palace of Knossos, and the National Archaeological Museum offer testaments to Greece’s ancient civilization, providing tangible glimpses into its storied past. However, cultural heritage encompasses more than just the undoubtedly important physical monuments and artifacts; it also includes the living traditions, practices, and expressions passed down through generations—what UNESCO refers to as Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH).

According to UNESCO, Intangible Cultural Heritage includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. UNESCO’s efforts to safeguard ICH began with the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This landmark initiative continues to protect and promote traditions, oral histories, performing arts, rituals, and crafts that are at risk of disappearing. It underscores the importance of ICH in maintaining cultural diversity and fostering intercultural dialogue in an increasingly globalized world.

International Examples of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Two examples of ICH from around the world include the traditional Chinese Dragon Boat Festival and the the Festivals Related to the Journey of the Holy Family in Egypt.

The Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated for over 2,000 years, honors the poet Qu Yuan through dragon boat races, zongzi (sticky rice dumplings) making, and cultural performances, demonstrating cultural resilience and community cohesion in China.

The Festivals Related to the Journey of the Holy Family in Egypt commemorate the Holy Family’s voyage from Bethlehem to Egypt to escape King Herod’s oppression. Celebrated for centuries, these festivals involve Egyptians, including Muslims and Coptic Christians of all ages and genders, participating in large numbers through religious processions, re-enactments of the journey, traditional games, body-painting, singing, and sharing traditional foods, illustrating cultural resilience and community cohesion in Egypt.

© Folk Customs in Hubei. Hubei Fine Arts Publishing House, 2003
© Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the High Committee for specialist studies of festivals related to the journey of the Holy Family in Egypt, and to place the festivals on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List

Greece Enriches National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage with Four New Additions

Greece has taken significant steps to preserve its Intangible Cultural Heritage, aligning with UNESCO’s guidelines and fostering cultural diversity. The establishment of the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Greece serves as a testament to this commitment. Initiated to document and safeguard the country’s diverse cultural practices, the inventory aims to provide a valid and up-to-date picture of Greece’s intangible cultural heritage.

It represents a collaborative effort involving the bearers of ICH—communities, groups, and individuals—who share their cultural experiences with both domestic and international audiences. The information related to each element of intangible cultural heritage inscribed on the National Inventory is completed and updated regularly by the community of bearers in cooperation with the Directorate of Modern Cultural Assets and Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports. This process is supported by the National Scientific Committee for the Implementation of the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, ensuring comprehensive documentation and protection.

Greece continues to enrich its National Inventory of ICH with four recent additions that highlight its diverse cultural tapestry. Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni underscores their significance, stating, “The National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Greece is enriched with four new entries, reflecting our country’s cultural wealth. These additions are integral to our heritage, embodying historical depth and variety. The intangible cultural heritage, which the Ministry of Culture documents and contributes to its preservation, constitutes a fundamental element of our culture. It deserves honor and respect because it connects modern society with its roots, traditions, history, and the experiences of the people who created culture before us, in this place.”

Greece’s 4 Newest Additions to its Intangible Cultural Treasures

Maniatiko Moiroloi by a graveside in Mani, Greece, 1962. 
© CONSTANTINE MANOS/ MAGNUM PHOTOS
A group of people reliving the traditions of Evangelizou in Nea Moudania, town in Macedonia, Greece.© Greek Ministry of Culture
Thermiotikos Ballos (Thermia Ballos Dance), Kythnos, Greece.
© Greek Ministry of Culture
The Dance of the Mechanic, Kalymnos, Greece.
© Greek Ministry of Culture

  • Maniatiko Moiroloi (Mani Lament): A mourning ritual from Mani, predominantly performed by women known as ‘moirologistres’ or lamenters, through which the women honor their deceased loved ones and convey their testimonies beyond the realm of mourning, serving as a collective oral history that endures over time.
  • Evangelizou (Annunciation Hymn): This church hymn, dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, was traditionally sung at dawn on the Feast of the Annunciation by groups of children or adults in the streets of Mudanya, Bursa, and nearby villages. Residents eagerly awaited these groups and, as they passed through the neighborhoods, people would come out of their homes to offer sweets, mainly loukoumi or homemade liqueurs.
  • Thermiotikos Ballos (Thermia Ballos Dance): The heart of Kythnos (Thermia)’s lively musical and dance tradition is the paired dance called “ballos.” What sets it apart from other island dances are its unique “voltes” or turns, and its lively, improvisational style, which has been performed continuously over time. This tradition helps strengthen community ties through performance.
  • The Dance of the Mechanic: Also known as “The Dance of the Diver,” this mimetic dance imitates the movements of the semi-disabled sponge diver who has been afflicted by decompression sickness, otherwise known as “diver’s disease.” In the past, the lack of knowledge about decompression rules resulted in disabilities and deaths. The yearning for life and resilience of the afflicted “Diver” was transformed into this dance, which is taught by the Lyceum of Greek Women of Kalymnos and continues to be performed at every event, celebration, and festival by the people of Kalymnos, both on the island and among the diaspora worldwide.

These additions join a rich array of previously recognized elements that collectively celebrate Greece’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Below you may find the Complete Greek National Intangible Heritage Inventory:

The Importance of ICH in Fostering Deeper Cultural Understanding

Preserving Greece’s Intangible Cultural Heritage is crucial for maintaining cultural diversity amid globalization. This preservation ensures the endurance of unique traditions and knowledge systems, enriching our collective understanding of identity. Initiatives like the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage and local revitalization efforts underscore Greece’s commitment to safeguarding its cultural mosaic.

For expatriates residing in Greece, acquainting oneself with these lesser-known aspects can deepen appreciation and understanding of Greek culture. Delving into traditional festivals, local customs, and artistic expressions enhances personal experiences and fosters a profound connection with Greece’s diverse heritage. Embracing these hidden treasures not only promotes cultural exchange but also plays a vital role in preserving Greece’s rich cultural tapestry for future generations to cherish.

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