In 2013, ninety delegates from 31 walled towns from 10 countries across Europe attended the 23rd annual meeting of European Walled Towns. From Ozmanagazi, Turkey in the east to Bandon, Ireland in the west, from Narva, Estonia in the north to Valetta, Malta in the south, the geographic range of Europe was represented. The Symposium asked the question: ‘Has heritage a role to play in the recovery of the European economy?’ It was an opportunity for local authorities and heritage organisations to share best practice in conserving and exploiting the cultural and economic value of their town walls. Equally importantly, the symposium was a statement from our sister cities and towns across Europe that Derry’s Walls are part of a shared European heritage resource.

Other walled towns in Ireland, from Bandon to Carlingford, were also at the Symposium and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan TD singled out Derry City Council for being one of the founder members of the Irish Walled Towns Network.

“ I recognize the initiative of the Heritage Council of Ireland in setting up the Walled Towns Network in 2005 and on the island both north and south we have 23 towns in the network, adding not only to an appreciation of the value of walled towns but also to our tourism product. Derry City was in there from the beginning supporting this initiative, something which I believe was very important.”

Michael Starrett, CEO of the Heritage Council of Ireland was forthright in his view that communities have a key role to play in the stewardship of Ireland’s heritage: ‘The Heritage Council is a organisation which seeks to provides frameworks which give back responsibility for the ownership of heritage to the people who know and value it best – that is the people, the length and breadth of Ireland.” Arguing against a tradition of believing that only experts should be involved in the  stewardship of heritage, Michael Starett confessed  his organization had occasional frustration at agencies which did not embrace this new approach fully or that were content to use Ireland’s heritage as a marketing tool without investing in its conservation and ongoing management: “It is cost effective. It is led and valued from the bottom up so it is also durable. It is not done simply because there is a whim and a project to complete. It is deep rooted in what is referred to more and more often as the distinctiveness of our Irish Cultural Heritage.  And if our walled towns are truly to play their part in driving not only economic recovery but our economy this is the type of approach that needs to be adopted.

The heritage we are seeking to promote in terms of value and significance is not the preserve of experts rather it is informed by them. It is not the heritage of imposition and directive rather it is the heritage of sharing knowledge and understanding and empowering and trusting communities to manage and conserve and enjoy their heritage.

Carole Souter Chief Executive of the UK Heritage Lottery Fund claimed that heritage enriches our lives. Using the Walls of Derry as an example, Carole Souter explained that today’s heritage buildings have seen their use change over time as new generations find fresh meanings for them: “ The Walls of Derry can be seen in a number of ways. They are protection or they can be seen as an obstacle. They provide safety or they could be seen as providing a threat. They are exclusive or they are inclusive. Every building, every aspect of our history has so many different ways of looking at it and there are various meanings depending on where you are in relation to that history and heritage.

So our sense of place – how people respond to the place that surrounds them- is absolutely crucial to how we exist as a people. Our built and landscape heritage is vital in this respct. You cannot separate people and place – one is enriched by the other.”

Carole explained that the forward plan for the Heritage Lottery Fund will focus on projects which link people, communities and heritage.

The Northern Ireland Minister with responsibility for tourism, Arlene Foster MLA, made two particularly interesting statements in opening the recent European Walled Towns Symposium. Firstly that she recognised that whilst the Walls had been built to exclude people, she remarked that “The symbolism of the Walls has shifted to become very much a cultural and heritage resource for all the people of this City”. And secondly that she and her Department

” … very much support the City’s aspiration to achieve UNESCO World Heritage Status for the City Walls. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we had two UNESCO World Heritage Sites here in Northern Ireland, in close proximity to each other. Imagine the interaction between the two if we were able to achieve this.”

Would putting in place a plan to achieve UNESCO World Heritage Status for the Derry Walls or the wider Walled City be a valuable legacy from the City of Culture Year?

What was discussed?

The  23rd European Walled Towns symposium examined the issues of:

  • Balancing heritage conservation with job creation/regeneration priorities,
  • Engaging people and businesses in heritage,
  • Heritage management in post-conflict or contested spaces,
  • Creating a heritage legacy from Cities of Culture.

Through a mixture of talks, workshops/site visits, exhibitions and networking events, the symposium offered the opportunity to examine how a large town, emerging from a period of conflict, is using heritage as a tool for economic regeneration and for writing a new narrative for itself. This was set in the context of heritage management across the Causeway Coastal Trail  in Northern Ireland and within the heritage village of Raphoe in the County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. The Programme can be downloaded here:

Symposium Flyer

The main presentations were recorded and can be viewed below:

Day 1 Presentations

Day 2 Presentations

Will be uploaded shortly.

Who attended?

31 cities and towns, historic and walled, from across Europe, registered:

Austria: Gmünd

Croatia: Karlovac ; Sinj

England: Berwick-on-Tweed; Bristol; Chester; Chichester; Norwich; York

Estonia: Narva

Germany: Meppen

Ireland: Bandon, Carlingford, Fethard, Westport

Northern Ireland: Derry-Londonderry

Italy: Scala; Viterbo

Malta: Birgu, Isla, Valetta

Netherlands: Den Bosch; Hellevoetsluis; Huesden; Woudrichem

Portugal: Almedia; Elvas;

Turkey: Osmangazi

Wales: Conwy; Denbigh;Tenby

Where next?

Narva, Estonia

Narva Executive MeetingThe next executive meeting was held in Narva, Estonia in May 2014

Chichester, England

The next EWT Symposium and AGM was held in Chichester, England, UK in September 2014.