Greek Music & Festivals Recognized As UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage

  • by XpatAthens
  • Wednesday, 11 January 2023
Greek Music & Festivals Recognized As UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage
Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also 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, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has been pivotal in changing and expanding the term ‘cultural heritage’: in it’s 2003 General Conference, the organization adopted the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Since then, 180 States have become party to this text, which is now considered a key instrument – not only for the safeguarding of heritage in all its diversity, but also for peace. According to the 2003 Convention, ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ , is according to UNESCO manifested in the following domains: (a) oral traditions and expressions, including language; (b) performing arts; (c) social practices, rituals and festive events; (d) knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;(e) traditional craftsmanship.

While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural diversity in the face of growing globalization. An understanding of the intangible cultural heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual respect for other ways of life. As UNESCO notes, the importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next. Intangible cultural heritage is: traditional, contemporary and living at the same time, inclusive, representative and community-based.

Greece, which has been a party to the Convention since 2007, has 10 inscriptions on UNESCO's representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, half of which are related to music, dance and folk festivals. The list includes collective practices transmitted from older to younger generations in an informal way that reinforces the cultural identity of the community and contributes to facilitating social integration. These collective practices often offer the opportunity to make the collective memory last, through song, dance and the telling of old tales and stories. The most recent inscription from Greece was made in 2022 and it relates August 15th (Dekapentavgoustos) festivities in two Highland Communities of Northern Greece: Tranos Choros (Grand Dance) in Vlasti village in Western Macedonia and the Festival of Syrráko, a small stone village perched in Epirus.

Tranos Choros (Grand Dance) in Vlasti and Syrrako Festival (2022)

The Tranos Choros (Grand Dance) and Syrrako festival are celebrated in Greece to commemorate the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. Historically, these Orthodox festivities originating in Vlasti and Syrrako marked the annual reunion of pastoral communities before the sheep or cattle farmers moved to their winter pastures. Although the population of most highland communities has greatly diminished, today the festivals are associated with the reunion of the communities whose inhabitants have migrated to cities. The main feature of both festivals are the ritualistic dances.

For the Tranos Choros in Vlasti, dancers of all ages form a large open circle, holding hands and dancing to a slow and imposing rhythm while singing a cappella. In the Syrrako Festival, a band and singers accompany the dance. In the communities, youth learn the customs by watching the participants and preparations from an early age. Today, cultural organizations also play a key role in transmitting the dances and cultural context. The festivities are viewed as a celebration of both villages’ identities, providing an opportunity for younger generations to connect with their cultural heritage.

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