A WALK THROUGH WESTERN BALKAN CULTURAL HERITAGE

An EU-funded project supports a unique way of promoting cultural heritage in the Western Balkans

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Imagine a region where you can find monuments from ancient Greece, the Roman and Ottoman empires, and socialist regimes. This is a place where eastern and western cultures are blended – in food, traditional clothes, language, and other cultural heritage traits: this is the Western Balkans. Now an NGO from Serbia – Association Manifesto – has, along with partners from Montenegro and North Macedonia, developed a unique way of promoting this little-known heritage.

Their innovative concept developed as part of the EU-funded project, Heritage Walks and Talks. They bring heritage locations closer to visitors and increase the appeal of lesser-known sites by employing innovative storytelling methods to present facts, but also oral history and urban legends and by promoting them through contemporary online methods, including social media and a dedicated mobile application. The project includes the promotion of monuments from the Second World War, through imperial palaces and ancient settlements, walking all the way to prehistoric settlements set in beautiful landscapes.

The Heritage Walks concept was first introduced within the Council of Europe’s Faro Convention on the values of cultural heritage for society, as good practice for community-based heritage-led initiatives. The project idea was developed from this concept, where participants are introduced to hidden corners of their nearby area through an interesting storyline. As well as bringing tourists to local curiosities, heritage walks bring visitors to local service providers, all connected through a particular story.

“In every museum or cultural institution we have professionals who are good at their specific subject such as archaeology, anthropology or biology, but are not as good at storytelling. We wanted to take a new approach.”

Ivan Svetozarevic, Project Manager, Association Manifesto

A different kind of storytelling

Ivan Svetozarevic is a Project Manager from Association Manifesto which won a grant for this project from the Tourism Development and Promotion Project, funded by the EU and implemented by the Regional Cooperation Council. He explains that the project idea was developed based on a number of specific challenges that the tourism industry was facing in promoting cultural heritage. The main challenge was the lack of attractive interpretation and storytelling methods for cultural heritage in general, and cultural heritage in rural areas in particular.

“In every museum or cultural institution, we have professionals who are good at their specific subject such as archaeology, anthropology or biology, but are not as good at storytelling,” he says.

The project picked eight locations in three Western Balkan countries  including Felix Romuliana in Serbia, medieval fortress Svač in Montenegro, Samoil’s fortress in North Macedonia and similar, and hired professionals to develop stories based on facts but also on oral history  and urban legends and came up with a unique approach which sets a story in a wider context. “We wanted to offer a new storytelling approach for heritage in the Western Balkans: a new product,” says Ivan. In parallel, the project developed specific routes around the sites. The routes include local businesses such as small shops and restaurants and in this way provide an opportunity for engaging and creating benefits for local communities and businesses around the sites.

“Most visitors by default choose bigger towns and cities when it comes to cultural tourism. The sites selected by our project are mostly in rural areas which now benefit economically from tourism” 

Ivan Svetozarevic, Project Manager, Association Manifesto

The selected sites are from Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia. The routes and stories are uploaded on the web page and mobile app developed by the project so visitors can independently visit and enjoy the sites. This provides an opportunity for the visitors to have a cross-border experience while enjoying the cultural heritage promoted by the project. In this way, the project contributes to joint promotion of the regional cultural tourism offer, lengthens visitors’ stay in the region and increases revenues and employment in the tourism industry.

Most of the sites selected by the project are in rural areas and Ivan explains, “Most visitors by default choose bigger towns and cities when it comes to cultural tourism. The sites selected by our project are mostly in rural areas which now benefit economically from tourism”.

About the project

The Tourism Development and Promotion Project, funded by the EU and implemented by the Regional Cooperation Council, is worth €5 million. It works to develop and internationally promote joint regional cultural and adventure tourism offers, increasing the number of tourists visiting the six Western Balkans economies, and extending tourist stays in the region. Association Manifesto was among grant recipients in the second round of grants – worth up to €54,000 each –awarded in October 2019. The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) is an EU co-funded initiative that promotes cooperation, reconciliation, and economic and social development in the region.

Photo credits: Association Manifesto

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