Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Capturing the Immaterial: Videos of UNESCO's Intangible Heritage in the Balkans   
Travellers usually associate UNESCO with places: buildings, ruins, towns, natural phenomena. Its impressive World Heritage list contains nearly 900 properties in 148 countries and is considered by many as the best guide to what is really important to see in a country. But the organization has another side to its
activities, which although less known is certainly not any less important: the recognition of immaterial cultural heritage. Watch 17 videos, showing the Balkans' intangible heritage, listed by UNESCO.

Currently 166 elements are inscribed on its Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage - practices in the domains of oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge, related to nature and the universe practices and traditional craftsmanship.

Corresponding to 77 countries around the world, the list offers a combination of well-known, almost cliché, cultural practices with new and unheard-of insights. For example, the Tango is an entry for Argentina and Uruguay, while one of Mali’s two intangible elements is the much more obscure-sounding “septennial re-roofing ceremony of the Kamablon, sacred house of Kangaba.”

The Balkans altogether boasts 17 intangible elements, all of which but one are linked to a single specific country in the region. offers the list of elements in the Balkans, accompanied by a UNESCO-provided short explanations and video clip of each one. And, next time you are in the area, don’t just visit the Old City of Dubrovnik, but try witness the yearly celebration of the city’s patron, Saint Blaise.


Folk Iso-polyphony: Albanian iso-polyphony is characterized by songs consisting of two solo parts, a melody and a countermelody with a choral drone. Over the last few decades, the modest rise of cultural tourism and the growing interest of the research community in this unique folk tradition have contributed to the revival of Albanian iso-polyphony. However, the tradition is adversely affected by poverty, the absence of legal protection, the lack of financial support for practitioners and young people’s rural exodus, threatening the transmission of the vast repertoire of songs and techniques.


Nestinarstvo, messages from the past: The ancient barfoot fire-dancing rite nestinarstvo is the climax of the annual Panagyr ritual on the feast days of Saints Constantine and Helena, on 3 and 4 June of every year, in the village of Bulgari, in the Mount Strandzha region of south-east Bulgaria. The ritual is held to ensure the well-being and fertility of the village.

The Bistritsa Babi – Archaic Polyphony, Dances and Rituals from the Shoplouk Region
: The traditional dances and polyphonic singing found in the Shoplouk region of Bulgaria are still performed by a group of elderly women, the Bistritsa Babi. This tradition includes diaphony, or what is known as shoppe polyphony, ancient forms of the horo chain dance and the ritual practice of lazarouvane, an initiation ceremony for young women.


Annual carnival bell ringers’ pageant from the Kastav area: During the January carnival period, bell ringers march through the villages that dot the Kastav region in north-west Croatia. Clothed in sheepskin throws with bells around their waists and sporting distinctive hats embellished with sprigs of evergreen, two to more than thirty ringers swagger in groups behind a guide carrying a small evergreen tree.

: At least three distinct traditions of lacemaking in Croatia persist today, centred on the towns of Pag on the Adriatic, Lepoglava in northern Croatia and Hvar on the Dalmatian island of the same name. Each variety of lace has long been created by rural women as a source of additional income and has left a permanent mark on the culture of its region. The craft both produces an important component of traditional clothes and is itself testimony to a living cultural tradition.

Procession Za Krizen (‘following the cross’) on the island of Hvar
: After mass on Maundy Thursday before Easter, each of six villages on the Dalmatian island of Hvar in southern Croatia sends out a group that will proceed through the other villages in a circle, covering 25 kilometres in eight hours before returning home. Each party in this community-organized Za Krizen (‘following the cross’) procession is led by a cross-bearer who walks barefoot or in socks, never resting. A long-established and inalienable part of Hvar religious and cultural identity, the procession connects the communities of the island to each other and to the world Catholic community.

Spring procession of Ljelje/Kraljice from Gorjani
: The Procession of Queens is performed by the young girls of the village of Gorjani in the Slavonia region of north-east Croatia every spring. The entire community, including the elementary school, the church and many of the town’s families, assist in the preparations for the procession, which is a source of particular pride for the women who have participated in it. Although the meaning and origin of the ritual are uncertain, villagers view it as a symbol of Gorjani and a showcase for their children’s beauty and elegance.

The festivity of Saint Blaise, the patron of Dubrovnik
: The evening before the festivity of Saint Blaise in Dubrovnik, Croatia, as all the church bells in the city ring and white doves are released as symbols of peace, worshippers gather for a ritual healing of the throat to preserve them against illness. On the third of February, the official day of both saint and city, parish banner bearers flow into the city in folk costume for the centrepiece of the festival, a procession attended by bishops, ambassadors, civic leaders, visiting notables and the people of Dubrovnik. The festivity embodies many aspects of human creativity, from rituals to folk songs, from performance to traditional crafts. The ritual dates back in some form to at least 1190 and has reinforced a close identification of Dubrovnik’s residents with the city’s patron, Saint Blaise.

Traditional manufacturing of children’s wooden toys in Hrvatsko Zagorje
: Villagers along the pilgrimage route to the Marian shrine of Our Lady of the Snow in Marija Bistrica in Hrvatsko Zagorje in northern Croatia developed a technique for traditional manufacturing of children’s wooden toys that has now been handed down for generations. The men in a family take soft willow, lime, beech and maple wood from the region and dry, hew, cut and carve it using traditional tools; the women then apply ecologically-friendly paint in improvisational floral or geometric patterns, painting ‘from imagination’.

Two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale
: On the Istrian peninsula in western Croatia, several varieties of two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale are preserved by Croatian, Istro-Romanian and Italian communities. The style is characterized by vigorous, partly nasal singing. It involves a degree of variation and improvisation in both vocal parts but always ends with two performers singing in unison or an octave apart. Typical musical instruments are the sopele shawms, always played in a pair, bagpipes, flutes and the tambura lute.


Doina: Known by various names throughout Romania, the doina is a lyrical, solemn chant that is improvised and spontaneous. As the essence of Romanian folklore, until 1900 it was the only musical genre in many regions of the country. Technically, the doina can be sung in any context (outdoors, at home, at work or during wakes), and is always performed solo, with or without instrumental accompaniment. It has a wide-ranging expressive and thematic palette that spans joy, sadness, solitude, social conflicts, brigand attacks, love, etc.

The Căluş Ritual
: Performed in the Olt region of southern Romania, the Căluş ritual dance also formed part of the cultural heritage of the Vlachs of Bulgaria and Serbia. Although the oldest documented music used in this dance dates from the seventeenth century, the ritual probably derived from ancient purification and fertility rites using the symbol of the horse, which was worshipped as an embodiment of the sun. The Căluş ritual features a series of games, skits, songs and dances, and was enacted by all-male Căluşari dancers to the accompaniment of two violins and an accordion.


Karagöz: Karagöz is a form of shadow theatre in Turkey in which figures known as tasvirs made of camel or ox hide in the shape of people or things are held on rods in front of a light source to cast their shadows onto a cotton screen. The usually comic stories feature the main characters Karagöz and Hacivat and a host of others, including a cabaret chanteuse called Kantocu and an illusionist-acrobat named Hokkabaz, and abound in puns and imitations of regional accents. Once played widely at coffeehouses, gardens, and public squares, especially during the holy month of Ramazan, as well as during circumcision feasts, Karagöz is found today mostly in performance halls, schools and malls in larger cities where it still draws audiences. The traditional theatre strengthens a sense of cultural identity while bringing people closer together through entertainment.

Novruz, Nowrouz, Nooruz, Navruz, Nauroz, Nevruz
: This holiday marks the New Year and the beginning of spring across a vast geographical area covering Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan. Celebrated on 21 March every year, it is associated with various local traditions, ranging from leaping over fires and streams in Iran to tightrope walking, leaving lit candles at house doors, traditional games such as horse racing or the traditional wrestling practised in Kyrgyzstan. Children are the primary beneficiaries of the festivities and take part in a number of activities, while qomen play a key role in organizing the holiday and passing on its traditions. Novruz promotes the values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families, as well as reconciliation and neighbourliness, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and various communities.

Read more about
Newroz celebrations in Turkey on

Âşıklık tradition: The Âşıklık (minstrelsy) tradition of Turkey is performed by wandering poet-singers known as âşıks. Dressed in traditional clothes and plucking a stringed saz, the âşık is a common performer at weddings, in coffeehouses and during public festivals of all sorts. The âşık is called in a dream to undertake a long apprenticeship in the arts of playing string and percussion instruments, singing, storytelling and repartee that form the heart of the vocation. Because âşıks travel between communities, they help to spread cultural values and ideas and to facilitate a robust social dialogue, in part through topical poetry and social and political satire. At weddings in particular, âşıks are regarded as instructors and guides whose tradition draws on and enriches Turkish literary culture and the daily lives of communities throughout the country.

The Arts of the Meddah, Public Storytellers
: Meddahlik was a Turkish theatre form performed by a single storyteller called a meddah and practised throughout Turkey and Turkishspeaking countries. Historically, meddahs were expected to illuminate, educate, and entertain. Performing in caravanserais, markets, coffeehouses, mosques and churches, these storytellers transmitted values and ideas among a predominantly illiterate population. Their social and political criticism regularly provoked lively discussions about contemporary issues. Although some meddahs still perform at a number of religious and secular celebrations and appear on television shows, the genre has lost much of its original educational and social function due to the development of mass media.

The Mevlevi Sema Ceremony
: The Mevleviye, renowned for their whirling dances (in the opening photograph), is an ascetic Sufi order founded in 1273 in Konya, from where it gradually spread throughout the Ottoman Empire. As a result of secularization policies, all mevlevihane were closed in 1925. In the 1950s, the Turkish government began to allow performances again, though only in public, and restrictions were eased in the 1990s. Over the thirty years the tradition was practised clandestinely, transmission focused rather on music and songs than on spiritual and religious traditions, which has deprived performances of part of their religious significance. Consequently, many sema ceremonies are no longer performed in their traditional context but for tourist audiences, and have been shortened and simplified to meet commercial requirements.

Read more about the
Mevlevi and the whirling dervishes on

The full Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage can be seen on UNESCO's official website.




Foreign Wines Outnumbered Bulgarian Ones on Vinaria 2014 Competition

11 March 2014 | National wine tastings, preceding Bulgaria’s biggest wine fair, Vinaria 2014, started today with a surprise: foreign wines exceeded in number Bulgarian ones first time in history of the competition. Full Story

Curiosity Chest

Dimitur, who visualisеd the Bulgarian expression “Pumpkin Head!”

26 February 2014 | He is 26 and he tried to enroll in the national Fine Arts academy. Academics, though, refused to recognize his talents, and this is how he searched for consolation in food carving. Full Story


Bansko Jazz Festival in Bulgaria: The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music

Although Bankso is still best known as Bulgaria’s biggest and most modern winter resort and a skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts’ favourite, the town – nestled in the Pirin Mountain, has also established a reputation among music lovers as the host town of one of the country’s biggest jazz festivals. Full Story