Egypt celebrates 20th anniversary of UNESCO convention with inauguration of House of Heritage

Amira Noshokaty , Monday 21 Aug 2023

Egypt inaugurated the House of Heritage at the Foustat Traditional Crafts Centre in Old Cairo on 20 August.

 House of Heritage
Minister of Culture launching the House of Heritage


The launch is part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) (2003-2023).

Among the attendants were Egypt’s Minister of Culture Nevine El-Kilany, Nahla Imam, the ministry’s consultant for intangible heritage, and Nuria Sanz, UNESCO's regional director. Also in attendance were Soha Gendy, the Egyptian minister of emigration, Khaled Abdel-Aal, the governor of Cairo, and the representatives of Brazil, Mexico, Italy, Greece, and France.

"Today Egypt, in collaboration with UNESCO, celebrates 20 years of the ICH convention. The Ministry of Culture inaugurates the House of Heritage to complete yet another link of safeguarding heritage and accomplish its assigned mission to preserve the Egyptian identity.

"This mission started earlier with the ministry using all resources to create a National Archive for Intangible Cultural Heritage and a space for heritage elements. Today the Ministry of Culture made space to celebrate all elements of intangible cultural heritage, where all Egyptians can learn more about the heritage of the ancestors and interact with the findings," stated El-Kilany.

Aragouz, Tahteeb, and Semsemya

The event kicked off with a heartwarming speech by Ali Abu Zeid, Wamda manager and performer of Wamda troupe, Egypt's Aragouz and Shadow puppet troupe. "From this day onwards our heritage will have its own house," commented Abu Zeid as he stood next to the Aragouz puppet, one of the elements of Egypt's ICH, added on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2018. 

This was followed by a Tahteeb, or stick dance, also enlisted on UNESCO's World Heritage List 2016, and the finale was a traditional Port-Said dance on the musical notes of the Semsemya.

"This House of Heritage is the best bridge between intangible heritage and creative industries," Sanz said in her speech.

The house is located in the heart of Old Cairo, at the same premises of The Artizans of Egypt (a government programme to introduce and train youth on traditional handicrafts to ensure their sustainability. 

From pottery to Koshary

Among the side exhibitions of the ceremony were the live performances of the masters and students of the Artisans of Egypt programme. 

The participants exhibited pottery, ceramics, copper, traditional khayameia patchwork, woodwork, and traditional jewellery-making. 

Among the iconic elements of heritage was the food, such as the iconic Erq Sous and Basbousa sellers. 

Renowned Koshary maker Abu Tarek was present with his traditional colourful handmade wooden Koshary cart. Abu Tarek inherited the craft from his father who started the business in 1920. 

At first, it was just a small street station. By the 1930s they had customised handmade wooden carts with stained glass to ensure mobility and hygiene. "In 1958, we changed the colour of the bottom of the cart to the colour of the flag of Egypt's union with Syria," he told Ahram Online.

The mission

The House of Heritage has a board of trustees that reflects the diversity and elements of Egyptian ICH. Its main mission will be to safeguard, host, and encourage the practice of such heritage.

"At this historic moment, we open our hearts with the House of Heritage for all prior efforts to collect, document and enlist the heritage elements of Egypt's oral heritage and intangible cultural heritage and transmission of knowledge and practices to the new generations," Imam said.

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