The Carpathians from a Cultural Heritage Point of View

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What is Cultural Heritage?

Cultural heritage means a legacy of cultural value, or in other words, the moral, intellectual, and artistic goods, values and perspectives passed on from one generation to another. Cultural heritage refers to both tangible and intangible forms of culture.

The tangible forms of cultural heritage are the material results of human activities such as architecture, land alterations, and tools produced by past cultures and civilizations. The intangible forms of the cultural heritage include the practices, folklore, expressions, traditional knowledge, skills, as well as the instruments, artifacts and cultural spaces associated there within.

Intangible cultural heritage, passed on from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.

Among traditional knowledge, practices of agriculture, forestry, fishing, popular medicine, common law, cultural values, and proverbs, many others can be included.

Both tangible and intangible cultural heritage is threatened by consumerism and globalization. Tangible forms of heritage are being affected by pollution, industrial or demographic expansion and lack of interest. Such effects generally only become visible over a long period of time, and up to a certain point in time it is even possible to stop the gradual degradation and restore the heritage.

In the case of intangible forms, losses are often unrecoverable. Without the passing on or documentation of a traditional way of tilling the soil, a specific way of building a wooden house, or even weaving a carpet the cultural knowledge will disappear forever if they cannot be reproduced due to lack of people who are familiar with the practices.


Cultural Heritage in the Carpathians

The Carpathian Mountain region represents dynamic space of life (natural, cultural, political, and socio-economic), important in terms of cultural and natural heritage. Although each ethnographic region is unique, rural communities in the Carpathian Mountains have generally preserved ancient traditions, customs, and techniques that are efficient and effective up to the present day.

The relatively homogeneous character of the natural conditions and the lengthy historical periods during which the Carpathian area had a relatively identical administration encouraged the interaction and blending of the various populations. For native inhabitants, the Carpathian curve acted as an avenue for the circulation of goods, peoples and ideas.

Recording, studying, promoting and respecting the cultural wealth present in the Carpathians and using the experiences of our ancestors, we may discover and learn how to apply learned knowledge to the challenges we face for the future. That is why in some regions of the Carpathian countries there have been serious discussions about enlarging the Carpathian Heritage Inventory.


The Threats
The Carpathian region, with its impressive ecological and economic potential, is undergoing rapid environmental, social, and political changes. The increasing technological development of the past few decades has begun to rapidly invade the isolated world of mountain villages. These technological advances have brought with it changes in the way of life of the native households. These changes are leading to a loss of traditional knowledge and lifestyle, of customs and values that were preserved through centuries.


The Challenges
The challenges that the Carpathian countries and communities now face are similar to those present in countries and communities all over the world: namely, to develop intelligent, credible and sustainable management of biodiversity and of the ecosystems on which the health, lifestyle and economic prosperity of each community depends.

It is important to preserve the potential and uniqueness of a region while simultaneously allowing and encouraging it to develop sustainably. For this, well-adapted and responsible actions are necessary, actions that take into consideration the global, regional and trans-border contexts and connections, as well as the specific environment of the Carpathians and the unique lifestyle of the inhabitants of these mountainous areas.


Carpathian Heritage Inventory – on ongoing effort

Considering that the Carpathian area covers around 209,000 km² and has a population of about 18 million inhabitants spread across seven countries, a complete description of the Carpathian cultural heritage would be a lengthy documentation process that provides information on important human and financial resources.

The general objective of the Inventory is to help protect and develop cultural heritage in the Carpathian region and to include it in all aspects of the region's development. The inventory should reflect Carpathian cultural values, improve the reputation of the region and its diversity, support the breadth of uniqueness and strengthen the community well-being.

Consulting and pilot testing the creation and development of the inventory took place in 2007-11 within the framework of ANPED activities within the Carpathian Convention Working Group on Cultural Heritage.

Carpathian Heritage Inventory proposal for the 3rd Conference of the Parties to the Carpathian Convention. Download PDF

Cultural Heritage and Traditional Knowledge within the framework of the Carpathian Convention - Report and Recommendations based on consultations carried out in the Carpathian region by ANPED, compiled in June 2008. Download PDF


Heritage and Tourism

The Carpathian Convention recognizes that natural and cultural heritage of those living in the region, including customs and traditional technologies specific to each region, contribute essential features to tourism. The aesthetic value of the mountain environment plays an important role in attracting tourists, who have the opportunity to discover ancient environmentally sensible technologies in the isolated mountain areas which are still used successfully in everyday life. In order to support the sustainable use and preservation of old technologies, local initiatives are key in establishing and observing certain quality standards and environmental indicators.
Authors: Sebastian Catanoiu, Luminita Chicinas

More information about the cultural values of the Carpathians

The Carpathians constitute a major ecological, economic, cultural, recreational and inhabited environment located in the heart of Europe which is shared by numerous peoples and countries.

The Carpathians are home to numerous different nationalities and ethnic groups bound together by the highland way of life. More than five million people live in and around the Romanian region alone. The most important cities in or near the Carpathians are: Bratislava and Košice in Slovakia; Kraków in Poland; Cluj-Napoca, Sibiu and Braşov in Romania; and Miskolc in Hungary.

Culturally, the Carpathians are steeped in age-old traditions, and marked by peoples who have shared climate, hardships and the same sense of isolation.

The influence of humans dates back to ancient times in the foothills of the Southern Carpathians, however the north was not settled until late medieval times. An important process for the development of the entire region was the movement of the Walachian shepherds from the Balkans along the entire Carpathian chain in the Middle Ages. The Walachians were the first people to inhabit the more remote areas in the interior of the mountains. By cutting and burning forests along the mountain ridges they created numerous glades and meadows, which since have been a distinct feature of the Carpathian landscape. Traditional forms of grazing cattle, sheep and horses still persist in the Southern and Eastern Carpathians in Romania and in Ukraine, but are rapidly declining in the Western Carpathians. Agriculture is restricted to the valleys and foothill areas and does not play an important economic role. Logging and wood-processing industry is the main source of income in many areas of the Carpathians. The exploitation was very intense in the 19th and early 20th century, when many native forest stands were clear-cut and replaced by even-aged monocultures of Norway spruce. Clear-cutting is still taking place currently, especially in the Eastern Carpathians in Romania and Ukraine. In the Western Carpathians large scale clear-cuts have been abolished and the forest management is conducted mainly by employing various kinds of shelter-wood and selective cutting systems.

Mountain shepherding has been one of the strongest elements of Carpathian culture, though under the Communistic era the number of sheep fell by two-thirds. Today these traditional occupations are in decline because of economic development and increasing pressures on the natural environment. Now conservation organisations are helping revive sheep farming in the mountains; sheep help keep the territorial equilibrium between man, carnivore and grazed land, conserving endemic plant species such as orchids. Despite their immense value, the region is currently facing many threats. From the aftermath of the important political changes in 1989, the anticipated increase in economic development that will follow the EU accession will mean major changes.

However, five Carpathian countries have now joined the European Union, which should increase the potential for sustainable development through new environmental policy stipulation.

Now, more than ever, cooperation in conservation and between protected areas has become of central importance.


Download PDF:

Carpathian Heritage Inventory proposal for the 3rd Conference of the Parties to the Carpathian Convention.
Cultural Heritage and Traditional Knowledge within the framework of the Carpathian Convention - Report and Recommendations


The development of this website is financially supported by the Danube Transnational Programme within the TRANSGREEN (January 2017 - June 2019)
and the ConnectGREEN Project (June 2018 - May 2021); the ETC Programme South East Europe within the BioREGIO Carpathians project
(January 2012 – June 2014) and the MAVA Foundation within the Protected Areas for a Living Planet Project (January 2007 – March 2012).