New Europe interviewed Lidija Plibersek, the president of the Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe (ASCE). She spoke about this important part of our heritage that has also become a new ‘niche’ tourist market.
Tell us about your association?
The Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe (ASCE) was established in 2001 in Bologna. ASCE is a European network of organisations that preserves and presents cemeteries as an important part of cultural heritage. It also increases awareness about how cemeteries are an important part of each city. They reflect their history, architecture, culture and their people through time.
How do you promote historical cemeteries in Europe?
We do this through different projects. European Cemeteries Route is a proposal for tourism and heritage promotion developed by ASCE. It is ASCE’s most visible and still active project that has been awarded by UN World Tourism Organisation, where cemeteries are presented as tourist points of each city.
Cemeteries are a new important “niche” market in tourism that has great potential to grow and to provide positive economic impacts on the cities. European Cemeteries Route is also recognised as a Cultural Route of the Council of Europe (read more here: http://culture-routes.net/routes/the-european-cemeteries-route).
Our second initiative is the Week of Discovering European Cemeteries when the cemeteries and the members of ASCE organise various different events (like concerts, exhibitions, guided tours etc.) which attract thousands of people and interest of media across Europe. We also have the project EUCEMET that promotes cemeteries through international photo exhibitions with photos of many European cemeteries (members of project partners). This is the “musealisation of the cemeteries” that should be achieved and innovative technologies that have been developed and used in cemeteries – a pilot project of “Augmented Reality Browser for Mobile Technologies”.
Why is it important to have a European network to promote cemeteries?
Cemeteries are sacred and emotional spaces but at the same time they are witnesses of local history for cities and towns. They are common to all cities and towns in Europe and, therefore, they clearly reveal their cultural and religious identity. Cemeteries are part of our tangible heritage, for their works, sculptures, engravings, and even for their urban planning. Likewise, cemeteries are part of our intangible heritage, of our anthropological reality, giving support to the environment surrounding the habits and practices related to death. Both make up the funerary heritage. Cemeteries provide unique settings where you find part of our historical memories. They are places where you remember periods of local history that communities do not want and should not forget, and that we have the duty to preserve and transmit to future generations.
Cemeteries are places of life, settings that, as urban spaces, are directly linked to the history and culture of the community they belong to and where we will find many of our references.
The significance of the European Cemeteries Route resides in its multicultural diversity, which is mainly given by the interaction among its members rather than the simple value of its individual components.
Which tools are important to promote your initiatives to the public?
As our mission is to raise public awareness about cemeteries being a very important part of the cultural heritage of Europe, as well as interesting sites for tourists, we want to make it easier for our members to promote their culturally rich cemeteries. Exclusively for our members and partners we offer already prepared marketing material that can be used freely. Among the materials you can find: insigna, postcards, mobile guide posters, poster flyers about route, photo exhibitions repository and a new automated custom designed leaflet for members/cemeteries. Very interesting for the public are, as mentioned before, the different events at cemeteries (concerts, workshops, photo exhibitions, guided tours etc.). Different projects with: local community, local schools etc. By using new technologies at cemeteries we try to attract younger population to visit cemeteries and to learn about local and international cultural heritage resting in cemeteries (mobile guide tours through cemeteries by using their own smart phones, iPads etc.). You can read more about ARTOUR mobile guide at http://cemeteriesroute.eu/mobile-guide.aspx
Can you give us some examples of very successful cases of cemeteries in Europe where the number of visitors has increased?
First of all, Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris receives millions of tourists per year. Then there is Mirogoj in Zagreb with nine out of 10 city tourists visiting this cemetery park. Lastly, the city of Varaždin, in Croatia, is mostly known thanks to its cemetery.