World Heritage

A result of the 2003 Convention for Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Representative List was designed to preserve intangible heritage, which is defined as ‘the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases individuals, recognize as part of their Cultural Heritage’ (Article 2)

The Representative List includes celebrations or elements of intangible heritage that comply with a series of criteria: their nature as intangible heritage, their contribution to raising awareness and prompting dialogue, the existence of safeguarding measures, and the involvement of the community in their application for inclusion on the list. Find out more about the lists here:

The preparation of UNESCO application was led by the Government of Andorra. It was the result of a considerable amount of work that was coordinated and promoted by the fallaire communities, non-governmental organizations, and presented by Andorra, Spain and France. 63 villages were involved in the application, which was backed up by documents on the different characteristics of the festivities that were produced by local governments and organizations.

The summer solstice fire festivals take place in the Pyrenees each year on the night when the sun is at its zenith. Once night falls, people from different towns and villages carry flaming torches down the mountains to light a variety of traditionally constructed beacons. The descent is a special moment for young people, signifying the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

The festival is considered a time for regenerating social ties and strengthening feelings of belonging, identity and continuity, with celebrations including popular folklore and communal dining. Roles are assigned to specific people. In some municipalities, the mayor is involved with lighting the first beacon. In others, a priest blesses or lights the fire.

Elsewhere, the most recently married man lights the fire and leads the descent to the village. Often, young unmarried girls await the arrival of the torchbearers in the village with wine and sweet pastries. In the morning, people collect embers or ashes to protect their homes or gardens. The element has deep roots among local communities and is perpetuated thanks to a network of associations and local institutions. The most important locus of transmission is the family, where people keep the memory of this heritage alive.

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The UNESCO description refers principally to practices on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees. To the north, in Commenges and Barousse, for example, a tree trunk is cut and dragged into the village a few months before St. John’s Day. It is then cut lengthwise, and dozens of wedges are inserted to dry it out. The tree trunk, called “brandon,” “har/halhar” or “haro” (in Les) is raised shortly before the festival, covered with straw, and crowned with a bouquet of flowers. It is then burned on or around St John’s Eve (June 23). The festival is an opportunity to strengthen village communities and build social and family ties.

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