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Cultural itineraries to discover Europe. Territories, history, sacred art unveiled by a tourist proposal at everyone’s reach

From the Way of Santiago to the Via Francigena, from art nouveau to vineyards and olive oil routes; enriched by thermal cities, great cathedrals, the most inspiring corners in the continent… A third of the proposals are of a religious nature. The program promoted by the Council of Europe falls in the Year of Cultural Heritage proclaimed by the EU. The Holy See recently joined

For over thirty years, since 1987, the program of cultural itineraries initiated by the Council of Europe invites citizens to discover the continent through some thirty “certified” proposals. The cultural map of Europe presently includes 31 itineraries: linear routes, such as the walks (from the first certified route of Santiago de Compostela in 1987 to the Via Francigena, to the route of Saint Martin of Tours); landscape routes, or pertaining to specific geographic areas, like the itinerary of olive trees or vineyards. There are also reticular itineraries, like that of the Hanseatic League in northern Europe, the art nouveau route, or routes of historic thermal towns. “Every itinerary is a network of activities, statutes, detailed programmes, all available online. Not virtual itineraries but veritable programs, full of life”, pointed out on Stefano Dominioni, Executive Secretary of the Enlarged Partial Agreement of Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe (EPA), director of the European Institute of Cultural Routes, a technical structure with head offices in Luxembourg that promotes and supports its implementation. One of the tasks of the Institute is to verify that applicants requesting certification meet the criteria defined in the 2013 CoE Resolution and support them throughout this process. The Institute founded 20 years ago also gives visibility to the programme with various initiatives. It coordinates a network of universities that showed interest for the interdisciplinary study of Cultural Routes. A few days ago it was made known that in the next meeting of the Executive board of the Program, held April18-19 in Luxembourg, the Holy See will officially join the Enlarged Partial Agreement, thus becoming its 32nd member.


What is the overall balance of the past 30years of the Council of Europe’s cultural programme?  It registers constant growth. The routes have contributed to the protection, promotion and value of the rich and diversified European cultural heritage.

The networks have put into practice intercultural dialogue, cultural diversity and active citizenship

They have been recently recognized as important tools for the promotion of heritage, highlighting the needs and values of local communities, acting also as drivers of social-economic growth for territorial development. The initiative is expanding constantly, in geographic, numerical and territorial terms, alongside with the related certifications.

What does it mean to receive a certification?

New Cultural Routes are certified by the Council of Europe Partial Agreement, based on compliance with three criteria evaluated by international and independent experts: the first is to involve a theme common to at least three countries in Europe; creating a European network with legal status; participation at local and regional level of public and private bodies, local and regional municipalities; the Routes must be characterized by lively cultural initiatives, with creative and educational tourism for the young with the involvement of small and medium enterprises; finally, visibility. The Board of Directors of the Program deliberates on the certification of the proposals and evaluates every three years if the certified itineraries still fulfil the criteria. For the 2018/2019 certification cycle there are two candidate cultural itineraries: the Charlemagne Way and the Impressionisms Routes.

Are some parts of the European map less covered?

We are devoting our attention to East and South-East Europe, marked by growing interest for the Routes and with increasing involvement of civil society networks. We recently discussed the adhesion of the vineyard and olive-tree Route in Montenegro and expressed interest for the art nouveau network, seeking to promote the development of local itineraries within a European perspective. Georgia recently joined the Programme and adhered to cultural Routes such as the European Jewish Heritage Route, the Route of historic thermal towns and Prehistoric Rock Art. These are just two examples of the increasing success of our Programme.

Moreover, the idea is to give visibility also to European heritage located in minor destinations

through our networking approach, including the Arab-Muslim tradition of Al-Andalus in the Iberian Peninsula.

There are 11 itineraries with a clear religious connotation: this is an interesting figure given the political domain claimed to be secular, and within an ever-secularised society…

The religious connotation is a fundamental aspect of our continent, in all its expressions at national level, in the different historical epochs, in the cultural diversity of its traditions. The Routes retrace this history with a historical-scientific approach: the Cistercian abbeys, Saint Martin of Tours, the European Jewish heritage, the Cluniac sites, the route of the Waldenses and the Huguenots … For the Council of Europe it is also an instrument of intercultural and interreligious dialogue, which gives voice to all expressions of Europe’s religious history.

What is your connection with the European Year of Cultural Heritage?

The Institute provides certified Routes with the European Year of Cultural Heritage label.

Our specific contribution consists in the European dimension of these intiatives that extend beyond their national scope, as do many events of the Year:

an initiative in France linked to Saint Martin of Tours involves other events taking place in Italy, Germany or Hungary. The activity of the Transromanica cultural network in Germany and Portugal brings with it activities in Italy. The European Heritage Days, an integral part of the Council of Europe’s activities, are also integrated into the European Year of Cultural Heritage.

I assume that populisms and divisive drifts are the chief enemies of your programme. How do you react?

Our message is to highlight the European spirit and mission of the Program, along with the importance of constantly reaffirming our shared identity, the common foundation, linked to the values we reaffirm, that extends beyond historical differences. It’s a way to continue cultivating this common bond also at local and regional level, a fabric that brings together also distant peoples. We deeply value also pedagogical activities and youth mobility, swimming against the tide of the difficult situation experienced by Europe today. In a Europe divided on an ideological and political level, the 1987 Santiago de Compostela Declaration marked the creation of a Program aimed at unity, at building bridges between countries in a spirit of mutual sharing. This message continues to hold great topical relevance.

Being a tourist in Europe has become an expensive luxury: do you follow the opposite trend also in this case?

Most of our network members are located in rural areas.

Ours is a form of cultural tourism closely related to the local territory, slow-paced, open to population brackets with diverse economic resources;

It envisages low-cost means of transport – on foot, bicycle or public transport, and affordable accommodation. The routes can also start “from the door of our home.” It’s also the idea of the program: extending cultural tourism to include larger population brackets in a difficult economic situation, and to use the routes to reach destinations with major cultural heritage sites that are located off the beaten path, and are thus are less known to the public at large.

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