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Cultural heritage

The challenge

Europe has significant cultural diversity together with exceptional ancient architecture, built environment and artefact collections which attract millions of tourists every year to its historical cities and sites, museums, libraries, etc.. However, despite this richness, we have failed in our duty to take sufficient care of historical physical artefacts – both indoors and outdoors. In particular, environmental change – further complicated by the increasing influence of climate change – presents one significant threat to the sustainability of Europe’s cultural heritage.

Research history and policy relevance

There has been a long tradition in and awareness of the importance of cultural heritage since Antiquity, in particular at national level. This idea of restoration really crystallised in the 19th and 20th centuries, with these ideas being put into practice also at European and global level. Indeed the first EU initiatives in cultural heritage were undertaken from 1974, while the first research projects supported by the European Commission in this field began in 1986. Since 1993, the EU Treaty (Article 167) specifies that safeguarding moveable and immoveable cultural heritage of European significance must be treated as a priority for the EU and is the legal basis for protection initiatives including research on cultural heritage. From its beginning in 1986, cultural heritage research in the EU has been supported and managed within the framework of the Commission's environmental research programmes; since then, some 120 projects have been supported involving more than 500 stakeholder organisations from all European countries.

Cultural heritage in FP7

During FP7, research efforts focus on better assessing and understanding the mechanisms by which damage to cultural heritage occurs, and on finding the best possible measures and means to ensure that tangible cultural heritage is protected. Particular support is given to the development of advanced methodologies, technologies and tools which can be applied to a wide range of cultural heritage assets and specific damage risks.

Such research topics focus on the impact assessment of extreme events (earthquakes, fires, storms, etc.) or non-extreme events (climate change); the integration and rational management of cultural heritage in urban and historic sites; archaeology and cultural landscapes; as well as the protection of submerged-maritime and coastal cultural heritage. Within the Public-Private-Partnership on Energy Efficient Buildings, a part of the European Economic Recovery Plan, special emphasis is put on improving the energy efficiency of historic buildings.

The ERA-NET project NET HERITAGE will ensure a comprehensive overview of the status of cultural heritage research throughout Europe and provide help in coordinating the sector by allying different domains such as art, history, conservation, maintenance and restoration with architecture, chemistry, physics and engineering.

The new Joint programming initiative (JPI) "Cultural Heritage and Global Change: a new challenge for Europe" will ensure a better coordination between the European Member States, Associated countries, and the European Commission regarding future calls for cultural heritage research. For more information, read the Citizens' Summary, “EU countries join their research programmes on cultural heritage”  and the full text of the recommendation. The Council welcomed  the recommendations of the European Commission and encouraged the implementation of the JPI "Cultural Heritage and Global Change: a new challenge for Europe".