Definition: what is heritage?
Until very recently, rural heritage was defined in very narrow terms. It was considered to consist of buildings associated with agricultural activity, and particularly with “minor rural heritage” such as wash-houses, mills or chapels. Planners now assign a wider definition to heritage, which is considered to include all the tangible or intangible elements that demonstrate the particular relationship that a human community has established with a territory over time.
This is the most easily identifiable part of heritage. It is made up of various elements:
Landscapes, since they result from centuries of human activity on the environment;
Property: this includes buildings for agricultural use and those related to crafts or industry, holiday homes or public buildings that are evidence of specific activities or simply of an architectural style;
Moveable property: this includes objects for domestic use (furniture in regional styles), for religious purposes (furnishings in churches and chapels) and for festive events (carnival floats, village or corporation emblems);
Products which result from an adaptation to local conditions and to cultivation, rearing, processing and culinary traditions.
These include plant varieties (plants, fruit, vegetables, etc.) and local animal species as well as more “elaborate” produce (wine, cheese, pork products, etc.).
This part of heritage is made up of a series of intangible assets that are inseparable from tangible heritage: the techniques and skills that have enabled landscapes to be created, houses and furniture to be built and local products to be developed; the local dialects, music and oral literature that have emerged from non-written traditions. These means of expression are evidence of a community’s particular influence on its territory and, more generally, of a specific way of living together. This includes stories and legends describing individuals or sites that played a part in local history, as well as place names (toponyms), which reflect particular uses or representations; ways of organizing social life and specific forms of social organization, such as certain customs and festivals (seasonal, agricultural, etc.). All these elements make up a living heritage. By identifying and laying claim to these elements, the various parties involved in the rural world invest them with meaning, both for the community and in terms of their heritage value.