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Byzantine Chant of Greece and Cyprus on UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage List

The Right Choir of chanters during the Divine Liturgy at the Transfiguration of Christ’s Cathedral, Kallithea, Athens. Photo: Silas Michalakas © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports 2018

The vocal art of Byzantine chanting and transhumance and the seasonal droving of livestock along migratory routes in the Mediterranean, have been included on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity for 2019.

The decision was announced this week during UNESCO’s 14th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for Safeguarding the Intangible Cultural Heritage held for the first time in Latin America, in Bogota, Columbia.

The Byzantine chant of Cyprus and Greece has survived for over 2,000 years. This significant cultural tradition and comprehensive music system developed in the Byzantine Empire and can be heard today through psaltic art at monasteries and churches across Greece and Cyprus. The vocal art form is passed on from one generation to the next and forms an integral part of Greek Orthodox Church services, inextricably linked with spiritual life and religious worship.

Transhumant farmer grazing the flock in summer. Photo: Maria Karatassiou © Athanasios Ragkos, 2012

A second element of Greece, included on the list is the practice of “transhumance”, or the seasonal droving of livestock along migratory routes in the Mediterranean. Transhumance involves nomadic-style movement from one geographical location to another shaping along the way relations among people, animals and ecosystems. It involves shared rituals and social practices, caring for and breeding animals, managing land, forests and water resources, and dealing with natural hazards.

According to UNESCO, the importance of this pastoral practice lies in the fact that herders have in-depth knowledge of the environment, ecological balance and climate change, making it one of the most sustainable, efficient livestock farming methods of the times.

Other elements of Greece already inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage are the art of dry stone walling, known as “xerolithia”, the rebetiko or Greek blues genre, the centuries-old custom of the Momoeria” held annually in the Kozani region, the Mediterranean Diet, the traditional harvesting and produce of mastic (masticha Chiou) on the island of Chios, and the marble mastery of Tinos.

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