European Cultural Routes Embody Diversity and Connection

Updated on January 25, 2023 by Meg
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European cultural routes have shaped the heritage of the world's second-smallest continent. Stefano Dominioni is uniquely qualified to offer meaningful perspectives on the cultural significance of both mobility and the power of Place. Stefano is Executive Secretary, Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe (EPA) and Director of the European Institute of Cultural Routes (EICR).

EICR is a non-profit that oversees the continuity and development of a pan-European cultural routes program of the Council of Europe. The routes defined by the Council of Europe--there are currently 32--serve as channels for intercultural dialogue and promote a better knowledge and understanding of European history and cultural heritage.

European Cultural Routes | European Cultural Routes
Executive Secretary, Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe (EPA) and Director of the European Institute of Cultural Routes (EICR), Stefano Dominioni.

The Route is the Destination

In learning about The Council of Europe cultural routes programme and the role of the EICR through my conversation with Stefano, I was struck by how its mission seems aligned with that of People Are Culture–to honor the uniqueness of a given region, as well as its commonalities, synergies and integration with a greater whole. At the heart of humanity’s affinity for both the journey and Place is a desire to connect. During a moment in time when there has been a troubling focus in the world on our apartness, I think you’ll appreciate the visionary nature of the Cultural Routes Programme of the Council of Europe and the role of the EICR, and Stefano’s insights about Europe’s diversity being its strength.

Meg: Can you describe the notion of a “Cultural Route”?

Stefano: Over the past 30 years, the notion of cultural heritage has evolved. Once thought of simply as a particular architectural or monumental object which needed to be preserved for future generations, the term now means an appreciation of a broader cultural and territorial heritage context imbued with its immateriality. This evolution has fostered a deeper understanding of the value of a culture and a place, and the meaning its inhabitants attach to its heritage, in both its tangible and intangible manifestations, spanning from churches to local traditions, and from architecture to landscapes.

The definition of Cultural Route provided by the Council of Europe is “a cultural, educational heritage and tourism co-operation project aiming at the development and promotion of an itinerary or a series of itineraries based on a historic route, a cultural concept, figure or phenomenon with a transnational importance and significance whose historical, artistic or social interest is patently European.”

Conceiving of heritage in a more holistic form has given latitude to include more categories as its expressions, such as industrial heritage; thermalism, the therapeutic use of hot springs; vernacular and totalitarian architectures; and also the memory and places where a historical character left a footprint--for example, Napoleon in history or Mozart in music.

What constitutes heritage is now more inclusive. As a result, locals and tourists become more aware of a real European cultural identity via its heritage. This concept of enlarged cultural heritage is beautifully translated with the term ‘Cultural Route.’ The Cultural Routes are open-air spaces where European identity is made tangible and cultural heritage and sustainable tourism find concreteness and come to reality through the current 32 certified Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe.

A Cultural Route is, therefore, to be understood not only in the restricted sense of physical pathways. It is that and more. It is a European theme unveiled and expressed by means of the identity of each locality, from the Viking Routes with their collection of sites, stories and heritage related to the shared legacy in Northern Europe, to the Routes of the Olive Tree, which marks the landscape and everyday lives of the communities in the Mediterranean Basin.

European Cultural Routes | The Routes of the Olive Tree, Cultural Route symbol of peace and dialogue across the Mediterranean.
The Routes of the Olive Tree, Cultural Route symbol of peace and dialogue across the Mediterranean. Photo: The European Institute of Cultural Routes (EICR)

Cultural Routes are itineraries created with the aim of translating European values, history, identity and principles into a program that recognizes transnational and cultural cooperation among countries. This aspiration has demonstrated its usefulness in uniting countries under the aegis of a common program. Thirty years ago, Europe was in need of roots and identity due to historical reasons and war legacy. Today, Europe continues to need the values Cultural Routes represents as an emblematic expression of diversity and inclusion in the face of current issues of globalization, threats to intercultural dialogue, and loss in cultural diversity.

Meg: The Council of Europe established three core values to guide its mission: human rights, cultural democracy and diversity, and mutual understanding and exchanges across boundaries. Can you describe these and how they are operationalized by the EICR?

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Guiding Principles for the Cultural Routes

Stefano: The European Institute of Cultural Routes works in close cooperation with the Council of Europe and its Cultural Routes program and applies its core values.

The Council of Europe is Europe’s leading human rights organization and all Council of Europe member States have signed and agreed to adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty designed to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

The diversity of themes of the Cultural Routes is what makes the program of the Council of Europe - which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year! – so innovative and so culturally rich. Diversity is strength for the 47 Council of Europe member States. Through its different themes, the Cultural Routes show diverse cultures coexisting in a democratic society.

In 2010, the Council of Europe established a specific institution to oversee the implementation of the cultural routes programme by the EICR. The Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes (EPA) of the Council of Europe brings together Ministries of Culture and Tourism responsible to set out the strategic priorities of the programme and award the “cultural routes certification”. EPA is open to member and non-member states of the Council of Europe aiming at providing financial and political support for national, regional and local initiatives to promote culture and tourism. As of January 2017, the EPA had 27 Member States, including Observers such as the European Commission, the European Parliament, UNWTO and UNESCO. Its headquarters is located at the EICR in Luxembourg, thanks to the continued support of the Ministry of Culture of Luxembourg.


The uniqueness of the Cultural Route program is embedded in its governance model whereby each cultural routes is managed autonomously by a legally established association composed of local and regional authorities, museums and institutions, with its own governing bodies, legal statutes and financial resources. The uniqueness of the program is also linked to its certification process, whereby cultural routes candidate applying for certification by the EPA need to undergo a rigorous evaluation process before being awarded the label “Cultural Route of the Council of Europe.” The certification criteria has been established by a Resolution of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (Res (2013)67). The criteria is reviewed by independent experts on the basis of documentation submitted by the candidate route, and reviewed by the EPA Governing Board at its annual meeting every Spring in Luxembourg. The Governing Board is the sole authority responsible for awarding the cultural route of the Council of Europe label.

The Route of Saint Olav Ways represents a pilgrim’s journey through Scandinavia and follows Saint Olav’s history through Denmark, Sweden and Norway, on remnants of historic routes leading ultimately to Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim where Saint Olav lies buried. The historic trails have been used by pilgrims and other travelers since the year 1032. Saint Olav is one of the last famous Western saints before the occurrence of the Great Schism and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and commemorated by some members of the Anglican Communion. The pilgrim way is built on intercultural and inter-religious activities open to all, and features handicrafts, food, stories, music, art and religion through the rediscovery of ancient traditions and the pilgrimage.

European Cultural Routes | Hansa Harbour in Bergen, Norway.
Hansa Harbour in Bergen, Norway. Photo: EICR

The European Route of Jewish Heritage was awarded certification as Cultural Route of the Council of Europe in 2005 and aims at the preservation and promotion of Jewish heritage, providing an in-depth exploration of cultural diversity and the recognition of “The Other.” Jewish heritage is an integral part of European history and culture. The sad happenings of World War II are remembered every year with the International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorating the Holocaust’s victims. Human rights, non-discrimination, and equal treatment are topics dear to the hearts of Jewish and other communities or minorities throughout Europe and worldwide. Much of Jewish history is rooted in Europe, with a story of migrations, persecutions and precariousness, but also of exchanges, humanism and a profusion of mutual enrichment.

The European Days of Jewish Heritage is the flagship project of the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ). The event has been taking place since 1999 in some 25 European countries along the Cultural Route and aims at promoting a wider knowledge and a deeper understanding of the Jewish culture, as part of the European culture and heritage, through a wide range of activities such as open door at synagogues and museums, exhibitions, workshops and concerts.

The Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ activities are strongly encouraged to be based on cross-border cooperation. In fact, the 2005 Faro Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society created by the Council of Europe represents the willingness and the commitment to “develop knowledge of cultural heritage as a resource to facilitate peaceful co-existence by promoting trust and mutual understanding with a view to resolution and prevention of conflicts.” The definition is wonderful.

European Cultural Routes | The Umayyad Great Mosque Baalbek.
The Umayyad Great Mosque Baalbek. Photos: EICR

European Cultural Routes | Jewish heritage Italy
Jewish heritage Italy

Exemplifying this value is the Routes of El Legado of Andalusí, which promotes and disseminates the cultural patrimony of Andalusia, paying particular attention to the artistic expression and monuments of the Hispano-Moslem period. El Legado Andalusí has been working for over 15 years in the recovery of the Hispano-Muslim culture in conjunction with the countries from the Arab World, and especially with its neighbours in the southern Mediterranean. The Umayyad project, named for the first Islamic dynasty and its outstanding cultural and architectural heritage throughout the Mediterranean, has created a set itinerary crossing six countries sharing common history and cultural background and is an eloquent example of multicultural approach to mutual understanding and inter-knowledge.

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Meg: The Santiago de Compostela Pilgrim Routes was the first Cultural Route chosen by the Council of Europe as an illustration of European unification and identity, “a European space bearing a collective memory and crisscrossed by roads and paths which overcome distances, frontiers and language barriers”. I love this description--it is poetic and inspiring. It is also a subtle reminder that being out in the world has never been without challenges, tensions, and obstacles. With a seemingly heightened emphasis in the world of late on our "differences", how do you think the selection of this ideal represented by the Santiago de Compostela can serve as "road map" for the world today?

Stefano: The Santiago de Compostela Declaration was signed on 23 October 1987 and states: “May the faith which has inspired pilgrims throughout history, uniting them in a common aspiration and transcending national differences and interests, inspire us today, and young people in particular, to travel along these routes in order to build a society founded on tolerance, respect for others, freedom and solidarity”.

The Declaration is the founding text of our Cultural Routes Programme, adopted by the Council of Europe at the occasion of the certification of Saint-James Ways, the first Cultural Route of the Council of Europe. The certification defined the objectives of the program and, since then, the Cultural Routes have become the visible reflection of multiple cultural and spiritual identities and emblematic spaces for inter-cultural dialogue and inter-religious dimension in Europe and beyond.

European Cultural Routes | A path on the Santiago de Compostela Ways, Cultural Route of the Council of Europe.
A path on the Santiago de Compostela Ways, Cultural Route of the Council of Europe. Photo: EICR

The 1987 Cultural Routes Programme of the Council of Euope and Saint-James Ways as its first route were as highly the symbolic as at the forefront of of the process of reunification of Europe, promoting through the sharing of cultural identity, history and heritage, through and cooperation among countries until then divided for decades due to the ideological differences of their past political regimes.

Pilgrimages remain a dominant portion of the certified Cultural Routes. Saint James Ways was the first certified; other examples include Via Francigena, the Saint Martin of Tours Route, and the Route of Saint Olav Ways in Scandinavia. Pilgrimages are paths for shared experiences and intercultural dialogue, intermingling social groups and cultures from different backgrounds. It is exactly intercultural dialogue--an open exchange based on mutual understanding between individuals and groups of different origins, cultures, religions and languages exerted on all societal levels--that allows us to prevent religious, linguistic and cultural divides, and to move forward together, to deal with our different identities constructively and democratically on the basis of shared universal values.

Meg: Travelers may well think of Cultural Routes as only ones that pilgrims walked upon centuries ago. The ATRIUM Architecture Route really blows that view out of the water in a refreshing and really thought-provoking way. Can you describe that Route and how it came into being, and the intention behind it?

European Cultural Routes | Architecture of Totalitarian Regimes of the 20th Century in Europe's Urban Memory.
Architecture of Totalitarian Regimes of the 20th Century in Europe's Urban Memory. Photo: EICR

Stefano: For its thematic, ATRIUM is definitely one-of-a-kind for the Cultural Routes program, promoting awareness and knowledge of totalitarian architectural heritage defined as “dissonant.” In fact, the Cultural Route contains elements of a very difficult past for many European countries, both in the West and in the East. The totalitarian regimes which characterized much of Europe during the central decades of the twentieth century had a major impact on the urban landscape. These regimes founded and rebuilt cities often drawing on the most advanced architectural and urban design projects that existed at the time. While, today, democratic Europe firmly opposes these totalitarian regimes, their built heritage remains on our street as an uncomfortable heritage that needs to be studied and understood.

ATRIUM fosters a critical appreciation of past century regimes, from Mussolini’s Fascist period of the 1920s and 1930s in cities such as Predappio and Forlì in Italy to the communist Eastern Europe societies for the period 1950s-1980s in Labin, Iasi or Sofia. Via the development of sustainable tourism around these architectures and urban landscapes, a historical and aesthetic approach may be applied to understand at its fullest this “dissonant” past of these architecture expressions.

Meg: The Phoenicians’ Route is another one that greatly interests me personally. The Institute has referred to the Phoenicians Route as the intercultural model on which a “Cultural Route of the Council of Europe” is based. What exactly does that mean?

Stefano: The Phoenicians’ Route is a network of the great nautical courses which Phoenicians used since the XII century B.C. as their main trade and cultural lines of communication in the Mediterranean Sea contributing in ancient times to the creation of a koine, “a Mediterranean cultural community,” and to the circulation of this culture. Incorporated into the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe program in 2003, it is one of three Cultural Routes crossing three continents – Europe, Africa and Asia - touching 18 different countries and more than 80 towns of Phoenician-Punic origin and culture. These cities and towns were the stopping places on a journey along the Mediterranean Sea through which people exchanges goods, knowledge and experience. The local authorities and cultural activities along this network of cities are good examples of cooperation and intercultural dialogue among different countries along the Mediterranean.

The Phoenicians were the renowned shipbuilders, sailors and traders of the ancient Mediterranean. The cultural heritage – both tangible and intangible - inherited from the Phoenicians is remarkable. That legacy includes important archaeological sites as well as the discoveries they handed down such as the alphabet, astronomical observations and navigation techniques. While the tangible Phoenician-Punic heritage is rare to find, there are examples in Lebanon and Italy. This cultural route promotes didactic activities with schools and in partnership with universities or in collaboration with museums fostering the values of cultural pluralism and intercultural dialogue to strengthen social cohesion, solidarity and peace.

Saint-Angelo, Malta.
Saint-Angelo, Malta. Photo: EICR

Today, the Phoenicians route, as well as the Olive tree and the Iter Vitis cultural routes, all represent a cross-cultural model aimed at promoting the Mediterranean culture and strengthening bonds among the Mediterranean countries that share the same history and cultural identity. The Phoenicians’ Route also promotes cultural tourism in collaboration with public and private organizations at local, national, and international levels. More recently, a collaboration between the UNWTO and the Council of Europe aims at implementing a pilot program on cultural tourism along the Phoenicians’ Route.

Meg: I recently had a conversation with an executive at a global destination marketing agency who told me she did not believe there is enough demand or revenue to break out cultural tourism as a distinct practice. Your thoughts?

Stefano: It is estimated that cultural tourism accounts for 40% of global tourism and these figures are growing every year. The concept of tourism itself is nothing new and dates back to the Grand Tour, a trip lasting from several months to years, that the European bourgeoisie’s offspring of the XVIII century did in order to learn and experience the Monumenta et Mirabilia (monuments and wonders) of the European continent. These journeys nowadays would be considered as cultural tourism.

What we are seeing today, however, is the welcome democratization and expansion of cultural tourism embraced by an increasing number of tourists interested in authentic experiences of culture, heritage and landscape. World-wide easy internet access, the booming industry of affordable air travel to small regional airports and the digital economy allowing individuals to create their personalized cultural experience are all trends supporting the growth of this type of tourism: authentic, off-the-beaten track, sustainable.

The importance of cultural tourism and its economic and social potential was recognized by two important charters; one in 1999 by ICOMOS, i.e. the International Cultural Tourism Charter and the Charter on Cultural Routes in 2008 and by a 2003 Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the promotion of tourism to foster the cultural heritage as a factors for sustainable development. A number of sites and cities along the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe are among some of the most visited destinations but the majority of the paths wind through rural areas and agricultural landscapes, offering a potential for the economic and sustainable development of cultural tourism. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe issued in 2004 a Resolution on the promotion of cultural tourism as a factor for development of the regions.

For example, Iter Vitis Route, the Cultural Route of the vine, winemaking and viticultural landscapes, involves 18 countries and has its origins in the role of agricultural landscapes as an element of both European identity and economic and territorial revenue linked to wine production.

The project of a Cultural Route itself must pertain to certain priority fields of action. Among the various examples, I would like to cite the Via Francigena, certified by the Council of Europe in 1994. The Cultural Route follows the path taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who traveled in 990 AD from the UK, passing through France, Switzerland and arriving to Rome to receive the investiture pallium. Via Francigena presents the means to understand the European cultural unity and diversity of Middle Ages.

Iter Vitis Route.
Iter Vitis Route. Photo: EICR

The Growth of Cultural Tourism

Today, cultural tourism is becoming a creative laboratory for young people developing start-ups and SMEs proposing related services and products. According to a research conducted in Tuscany for the period 1994-2012, rural areas crossed by the Cultural Route experienced a positive trend in tourists’ presence in comparison to other rural areas, with hundreds of thousands of tourists and pilgrims creating revenue along rural areas but also in the cities crossed en route to the final destination, Rome.

Our own research conducted in the framework of a Joint Programme with the European Commission shows that cultural routes networks benefit SMEs (small-to-medium-sized enterprises) by providing new market opportunities for SMEs’ products and thus contribute to tourism revenue generation in local, regional, often remote destinations. An increasing number of our routes have developed partnerships with the private sector--specifically, SMEs developing authentic cultural products, hospitality and gastronomy, local hotels, transportation, local restaurants, museums, etc.

Meg: At different points in history, political regimes have impacted the ability to travel freely between and across Eastern and Western Europe. Has that been a factor in forging alliances as routes are created?

Stefano: We see Europe’s cultural diversity and identity as strengths, assets in transcending political and historical divisions: The cultural routes program established in 1987 wanted to do exactly this--create bridges to build cultural cooperation and cross-border tools developed around the artistic, cultural and commercial common fabric that had for centuries established relations across people, cultures and countries across Europe. Exchanging cultural heritage practices and knowledge to go beyond ideological barriers that had marked Europe during the 20th century was among the Council of Europe’s tools used to foster a culture of human rights and democracy across the whole continent.

The Via Regia is a very good example as it is the oldest and longest road linking Eastern and Western Europe. Today the route connects ten European countries and has a length of 4500 Km. Over the last 2,000 years, merchants, soldiers, kings, pilgrims, migrants have left their marks on the Via Regia. This long historical background is reflected by a rich heritage, ranging from the architectural heritage to intangible traditions that have shaped the European continent.

The Ommegang (medieval walk round) of Brussels, The European Routes of Emperor Charles V.
The Ommegang (medieval walk round) of Brussels, The European Routes of Emperor Charles V. Photo: EICR

Meg: The European Institute of Cultural Routes was set up in 1998, as part of a political agreement between Council of Europe and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Can you explain what motivated these two organizations to align for this purpose?

Stefano: Founded in 1949, the Council of Europe is not only the oldest European international organisation but also the “most European” with its 47 member States covering the whole European continent. From its origin, the Council of Europe has had the purpose to achieve a greater unity between its members and to protect and promote their fundamental rights--human rights, democracy, rule of law. The Council's mission also includes safeguarding and realizing the principles which are its members' common heritage, and to facilitate social progress.

One of the most innovative initiatives encouraging this noble vision was to launch a program in 1987 to render shared European cultural identities into a tangible reality, beyond political and ideological divisions which divided the European continent at the time. The Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe programme was born.

In 1998, the Ministry for Culture, Higher Education and Research of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg entered into a long-term commitment with the Council of Europe, and financed an Institute to serve as a technical and specialized agency responsible for implementing the Cultural Routes program.

The Cultural Routes program spread across Europe and beyond with routes crossing over 50 countries, and the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes (EPA), spread across Europe and beyond, have s their its home in the prestigious European Cultural Centre of the Abbaye de Neumünster in Luxembourg. Thanks to the continuous support of the Ministry of Culture of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the European Institute of Cultural Routes (EICR) is custodian of the program's memory; its thirty-year history is documented in a specialized library. EICR's main mission is to assist the EPA of the Council of Europe in its regular three-year evaluation of cultural routes that have been certified, and with the review of new candidate projects submitted for certification. The Institute also administers regular training to Cultural Routes’ network operators and managers, collaborates with researchers and academics, and coordinates a university network, hosting the best students from these universities for internship and training.

Meg: I know the the Cultural Routes program operates on several levels inter-disciplinary and inter-country as well as on very local levels. I am boggled at the number of stakeholder organizations that are participants in the management of the Cultural Routes. Can you provide an overview of the scope of those participants?

Stefano: The Council of Europe Cultural Routes program operates on different but interrelated levels by virtue of the Council of Europe's transnational missions and intercultural mandates.

The Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe (EPA) is the institutional body responsible for the program and is composed of a group of Council of Europe member States, represented by their Ministries of Culture and/or Tourism, all committed to further guaranteeing the interdisciplinary and multifaceted collaboration among different stakeholders and institutions. This agreement is open to non-member States of the Council of Europe who may decide to join this Agreement and participate in the cultural route program in their own countries. As of January 2017, 27 States from Europe and beyond are members of the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes.

The EPA helps strengthen the democratic dimension of cultural exchange and tourism through the involvement of grassroots networks and associations, including the general managers, directors and representatives of the Cultural Routes, local and regional authorities, universities and professional organisations. The EICR is its operational arm, its technical agency in charge of daily operations.

It is important to underline how each route is represented by an independent, legal entity composed of a network of dozens, sometimes hundreds of members, most often municipal, local and regional authorities, institutions such as museums, local cultural institutes. Each route is managed by its governing board with its own rules of procedures, financial resources and programme of activities. Each route establishes working relations and agreements with local, regional authorities across several countries, as well as a variety of public-private partnerships. It is a very rich web of connections and exchanges.

Family picture at the 2016 Annual Advisory Forum in Vilnius.
Family picture at the 2016 Annual Advisory Forum in Vilnius. Photo: EICR

Meg: Are there organizations in other parts of the world that are comparable to the Institute? And do you think the Cultural Routes program of the Council of Europe is replicable on a smaller scale and if so, what words of advice would you offer to those who might seek to create a similar network/alliance?

Stefano: This is a quite interesting question. The idea to launch a program at the end of the 1980s to link cultural heritage towards the encouragement of collaborative grass-roots initiatives was and still in many ways is very innovative in both Europe and countries beyond our continent. Cultural tourism was then taking its first timid steps, and the program in fact anticipated recent developments--tourism that is responsible and respectful but also reflects a search for authentic experiences typical of the current "experience economy" of the 21st century.

The Cultural Routes methodology is as innovative in that it is based on establishing cultural networks across several countries sharing common heritage, history, culture and landscape. Over the last few years, the program has had an increasing success and attention in the media, and from national ministries of culture and tourism and among leading international organisations. UN Organisations such as UNESCO and UNWTO have demonstrated increasing interest in the program. As a matter of fact, the Council of Europe and the UNWTO recently signed a Memorandum of Cooperation to further develop the touristic offer along our cultural routes.

Although our main focus is the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, we are increasingly committed to expanding the Cultural Route program to the Mediterranean region beyond our traditional membership. Moreover, we are now taking steps to provide training and ad-hoc assistance to initiatives interested in our methodology outside Europe. We have been approached by Chinese regions in South East Asia and Latin America interested in learning the criterias the Council of Europe we uses in awarding the cultural route “label” and the methodology to develop sustainable networks in charge with the development and promotion of these routes.

Bath, England - on the The European Route of Historic Thermal Towns.
Bath, England - on the The European Route of Historic Thermal Towns. Photo: EICR

Meg: Tell me about the Training Academy for Cultural Routes.

Stefano: Our Cultural Routes Programme organizes an annual training session for managers of our certified cultural routes and candidate routes, usually hosted along one of our cultural routes. Last year we held two training seminars, one in Strasbourg (Headquarter of the Council of Europe, and one in Luxembourg at the European Institute of Cultural Routes). The Strasbourg Training Academy focused on “communication” (covering institutional communication to new technologies, social media, and so forth). The Luxembourg training focused on fundraising for cultural routes.

Over the two-day training, Cultural Routes managers discussed issues linked to communication, addressing topics varying from new media, communication with different audiences, institutional communication for governance, as well as Cultural Routes communication and accessibility. The HECTOR University network (Heritage and Cultural Tourism Open Resources for innovative training schemes related to the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe) delivered training modules using interactive methodologies and working groups. Moreover, a special workshop was devoted to presenting Council of Europe activities in the education, culture and youth fields.

The Training Academy is open to candidate routes and networks interested in developing the cultural routes methodology. The 2017 edition will be hosted by TRANSROMANICA in partnership with one of their members, the city of Alba Iulia in Romania. It will focus on developing cultural tourism products for our cultural routes and exchange of best practices. The 2018 training Academy will be hosted by the European Routes of Emperor Charles V in the Monstery of Yuste, Estremadura, Spain.

The Annual Advisory Forum, the most important annual event of our program, is held at the invitation of one of our member States to foster exchanges and the development of common, innovative strategies to support cultural and economic development, sustainable tourism and European citizenship. The 2015 Forum took place in Spain and the 2016 Forum in Lithuania. This year, the Forum will celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Cultural Routes Programme in Tuscany (Lucca) Italy on 27-29 September. We are expecting around 400 participants among Cultural Routes and tourism professionals!

A church along the Transromanica, The Romanesque Routes of European Heritage.
A church along the Transromanica, The Romanesque Routes of European Heritage. Photo: EICR

Meg: How are Routes agreed to? What are the criteria?

Stefano: The creation of a cultural route is a complex project involving several actors over a relatively long period of time. A cultural route starts from the interest of representatives of municipalities, local authorities, museums, institutions, academics, and foundations to establish a transnational cooperation project around a selected theme representative of European history and memory. This initial step is usually followed with the establishment of a scientific committee and a legal association (a cultural route network) representing the various members. Before being submitted to possible candidacy for certification as a “Cultural Route of the Council of Europe”, the network needs to demonstrate that the project fulfills all the criteria established by the Committee of Ministers, and it actively carries out a program of activities engaging its various members along the routes.

The project network will then submit a full application with all supporting evidence to the European Institute of Cultural Routes in Luxembourg for review.

The EICR will then recruit one of more experts specialized in the particular field who will review all submitted evidence, interview the project network manager and members, and carry out field visits to review the findings.

Projects need to fulfill the following criteria before being considered for certification: 1. Involve a theme representative of European values and common to at least three countries in Europe; 2. Be the subject of transnational, multidisciplinary scientific research; 3. Enhance European memory, history and heritage contributing to interpretation of Europe’s present-day diversity; 4. Support cultural and educational exchanges for young people; 5. Develop exemplary and innovative projects in the field of cultural tourism and sustainable cultural development; 6. Develop tourist products aimed at different groups.

European Cultural Routes
Header image courtesy of Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe programme.

Following the expert review and the advice of the EICR, the Council of Europe is responsible for the award of the “Cultural Route of the Council of Europe” certification. Members of the Governing Board of the EPA meet once a year in Luxembourg to review all new candidate routes and evaluate current ones. Certified routes are evaluated every three years for compliance of the criteria. If no longer in conformity, cultural routes are provided with a one-year warning period to redress the situation. Although decertification of existing cultural routes does not happen often, it does happen – in 2016 the Committee of Ministers decertified one cultural route as it no longer fulfilled the criteria for certification.

The 2016-2017 evaluation cycle started last September and is seeing the regular evaluation of four Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe: the European Mozart Ways, The Saint Martin of Tours Route, The Huguenot and Waldensian trail and The European Route of Megalithic Culture. Nine new projects presented their application to become Cultural Route of the Council of Europe last year. Among them: the European Route of Impressionisms, the Chocolate Ways, the Via Charlemagne, and the Longobard Ways across Europe

A new certification was awarded in 2016 to “The Fortified Towns of the Greater Region," located in the heart of Europe. The region between France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg was long a place of military struggle. Today, this transnational space called “The Greater Region” has turned into a remarkable example of economic and cultural exchanges. The fortresses are the best witnesses of this past of war and peace. The route of the fortified towns brings together today twelve sites, which are typical of European military architecture in a region long regarded as Europe’s battlefield.

Fortifications in Luxembourg.
Fortifications in Luxembourg. Photo: EICR

Meg: The Institute sponsors an annual bloggers trip. What is the objective of this initiative?

Stefano: “Crossing Routes – Blogging Europe” was created in the framework of the Council of Europe-European Commission Joint program on European Cultural Routes. It presents stories of bloggers who are travelling across Europe and experiencing some of our certified cultural routes.

The group of five bloggers are asked to share their impressions and experience along Cultural Routes selected each year to “host” the event. By connecting cultural, spiritual and historical heritage of Europe, photos, videos and articles are presented as chronicles of their trip. The first bloggers’ trip took place in 2014 along the European Route of Megalithic Culture, tracing the megalithic culture of Europe with its monuments built 6, 000 years ago in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. The second bloggers trip took place in Italy along the XIX century European Route of Historic Thermal Towns and along the ancient Via Francigena. In 2016, five bloggers from China, Brasil, the United States, India and Italy experienced two history-themed Cultural Routes - Transromanica, and the Roman Emperors and Danube Wine Route - travelling back to Roman and Medieval times through Slovenia, Austria and Serbia. The bloggers trip is a real popular program reaching a very wide audience among through social media. Thanks to this program the visibility of the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe has been increasing constantly!

Meg: Can you tell me a little bit about the influence of culture on you as you were growing up, and what drew you to a career in international relations?

Stefano: I grew up in Lombardy, Italy, an economically rich region not far from the Swiss border. A region surrounded by history and beautiful landscapes of lakes and mountains. A region rich in history and a vibrant economy made up of small and medium enterprises. As a child, I traveled extensively with my family across Italy, visiting many of the great cultural heritage landmarks of our country. I had the opportunity to attend a European school, where my father was the director of finance. Here, I experienced from a very young age other cultures, languages, and traditions. I had the opportunity to travel across Europe, both with my family and my school, develop my interest in European and international affairs, and a broader interest in cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue. From an early age, I developed the sense and need to connect with other cultures, to appreciate our diversity, to be exposed to a variety of cultural influences.

Meg: You attended Boston College and Yale University--what kind of perspective on global relations did you get while receiving an American education?

Stefano: While at the University of Milan I had the opportunity to spend a year as an Erasmus student in France, at the University of Aix-en-Provence. After graduating from the University of Milan, I worked in Milan at the Institute for European Studies teaching Political Science and European History. I then went to the United States to complete my graduate education, first as a Philosophy Master student at Boston College and then as a Sociology doctoral student at Yale.

What I appreciated the most about the United States is the dynamism and diversity of its society, the openness and respect for cultural diversity. The senses of freedom, the role of research, the idea of constant progress, all embedded in the American identity, were important elements that guided my growth both as a person and as an academic during this time. During my years in the US, I had the opportunity to live, study and work in an extremely open, diverse and enriching academic environment with outstanding academic resources, and extremely interesting faculty and fellow students. I spent almost ten years studying and working in America, coming to appreciate the importance and richness of its cultural diversity and the belief in constant scientific and economic progress. It is in Boston where I met my wife Isela and her family from North Andover, MA and from El Salvador. We visit them often, trying to stay in touch with our friends and family whenever we can.

Stefano Dominioni
Stefano Dominioni, Director, European Institute of Cultural Routes.

I like to think that our family is a true product of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue! After our second child was born in New Haven, CT we moved to the University of Cambridge, England and then to the Council of Europe, France. We speak several languages at home (or a mix of them!) and try to raise our family practising what we preach! We now live in Luxembourg and have developed an extended network of colleagues and friends across Europe and beyond.

Meg: Philosophy has been a focus of your education. How has immersion in that field of study shaped your career?

Stefano: I chose to study Philosophy as a graduate student as a way to challenge myself to read the classic thinkers that shaped our civilization –to be able to go to the roots of human thinking in order to be better prepared both as a social scientist and an active citizen. I saw the study of philosophy as a pre-condition for social research and social policy. Then at Yale I was able to apply this education to the field of social research, benefiting from the lessons of our great philosophers. I would like to think that study of philosophy and the social sciences has taught me the ability to see the world in different ways, to appreciate different perspectives, to be open to change and respect others points of views –to come to appreciate and promote the diversity of our cultural heritage! This is an essential skill when working in international relations and cultural heritage, constantly being exposed to ‘multi-perspectivity.’

I also like to think that my academic background is serving me well in management of the cultural routes program, together with the fifteen years I spent in my professional career at the Council of Europe as a policy specialist first in the social field and after in in the field of education, culture and youth. Both my academic background and my earlier professional experiences have provided me I hope with the necessary tools to better understand and manage a complex, multidisciplinary field such as cultural heritage. As a matter of fact, the program of the cultural route is at the intersection of many policy fields and requires an integrated approach to take into account culture and cultural heritage, local and regional development, environmental policy, cultural tourism, access to employment –all in an international context! A fascinating challenge, and a mission I am honored to be able to contribute to with our program, Institute and my colleagues both in Luxembourg and Strasbourg and all the wonderful managers of the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe.

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Header image courtesy of Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe programme.


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