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Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity

The Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity was made by the Director-General of UNESCO starting in 2001 to raise awareness on intangible cultural heritage and encourage local communities to protect them and the local people who sustain these forms of cultural expressions. Several manifestations of intangible heritage around the world were awarded the title of Masterpieces to recognize the value of the non-material component of culture, as well as entail the commitment of states to promote and safeguard the Masterpieces. Further proclamations occurred biennially until 2005.

Until 2005, a total of 90 Masterpieces from 70 countries had been proclaimed. 76 more elements were added on 30 September 2009, during the fourth session of the Committee.

UNESCO defines oral and intangible heritage as “the totality of tradition-based creations of a cultural community expressed by a group or individuals and recognized as reflecting the expectations of a community in so far as they reflect its cultural and social identity.”Language, literature, music and dance, games and sports, culinary traditions, rituals and mythologies, knowledge and practices concerning the universe, know-how linked to handicrafts, and cultural spaces are among the many forms of intangible heritage. Intangible heritage is seen as a repository of cultural diversity, and creative expression, as well as a driving force for living cultures. Since it can be vulnerable to forces of globalization, social transformation, and intolerance, UNESCO encourages communities to identify, document, protect, promote and revitalize such heritage.

Upon the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity on November 2001, UNESCO encouraged recognition and protection of intangible heritage in the same way as natural and cultural treasures of tangible heritage are protected.

Proclamation Date Jury president Number of candidature files received Number of Masterpieces proclaimed Reference
1st May 18, 2001 Juan Goytisolo (Spain) 32 19
2nd November 7, 2003 Juan Goytisolo (Spain) 56 28
3rd November 25, 2005 Princess Basma Bint Talal (Jordan) 64 43

  • forms of popular and traditional cultural expressions; or
  • cultural spaces, i.e., places where cultural and popular activities are concentrated and regularly take place (markets squares, festivals, etc.)


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