European Heritage Days are a time in September when Europeans get together to commemorate their common cultural heritage. The promotion of preservation efforts and the necessity of protecting historical buildings, works of art, records, and artifacts for future generations is another important objective of European Heritage Days.
A Tradition of Open Doors
European Heritage Days began in France in 1984 as European Heritage Days or Journées du patrimoine. The idea was to open up historically and culturally significant buildings and sites that are usually closed to the public. This gave people a chance to appreciate architectural and cultural treasures in their own neighborhoods that they may have walked or driven by many times without realizing their significance.
Opening Up Castles and Palaces
Some of the most popular sites to open their doors for European Heritage Days include royal palaces, aristocratic homes, medieval castles and fortifications. Getting inside these structures allows visitors an intimate look at how European nobility and royalty lived over the centuries. Places like Buckingham Palace in London, Schloss Neuschwanstein in Germany and the Doge’s Palace in Venice showcase ornate furnishings, artwork and architectural details usually off limits.
Industrial and Religious Sites
Along with royal and noble homes, European Heritage Days give the public access to commercial spaces, businesses, religious buildings, and more. An understanding of the labor and technology that propelled Europe’s economic growth may be gained from old mines, factories, and mills.
The aesthetic and spiritual assets of churches, monasteries, and other religious institutions are shared.
A Growing Pan-European Event
Expanding Beyond France
What began as a French initiative soon spread to other European countries. In 1991 it became European Heritage Days and now involves over 40 nations across the continent. Each country celebrates on different weekends in September, with Ireland, Malta and the UK opting for weekends in October. Participation has grown tremendously, with over 1.5 million cultural sites opening their doors each year.
The promotion of preservation efforts and the necessity of protecting historical buildings, works of art, records, and artifacts for future generations is another important objective of European Heritage Days.
Opening monuments usually closed to limit wear helps people recognize the fragility of cultural heritage and that its continuance depends on ongoing stewardship. Generous donations during these weekends support maintaining Europe’s heritage treasures.
Highlights from Across Europe
France – Château de Chambord
In the Loire Valley, one of the must-see sites is the magnificent Château de Chambord, known for its architectural blend of French, Italian and Spanish styles. Free tours are offered along with activities like medieval jousting tournaments and craft workshops.
Germany – Berlin State Opera
The lavishly decorated Berlin State Opera opens backstage areas and holds guided tours discussing its illustrious history as one of Europe’s premier theaters. Concerts are also scheduled during the days.
Italy – Pompeii Archaeological Site
European visitors flock to Pompeii in southern Italy. On these weekends entry is free, and special exhibits and presentations share new discoveries about this ancient Roman city destroyed by Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD.
United Kingdom – Edinburgh Castle
Towering over Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh Castle sees large crowds for European Heritage Days. Reenactors in period attire combined with displays of arms and armor entertain as well as educate.
European Heritage Days have been effective for more than three decades in promoting European identity and cooperation, opening cultural and historical riches, and increasing conservation awareness. As the custom spreads across the continent, it continues to be one of the best chances each year for both Europeans and foreigners to enjoy Europe’s rich past in an approachable and interesting way.