New additions to the UNESCO List

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 16 Jan 2024

More cultural practices have been registered on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List, bringing the number of Egyptian listed elements to eight, reports Nevine El-Aref

New additions to the UNESCO List


More and more traditional Egyptian cultural practices have been finding their way onto the UN cultural agency UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

Intricate and time-honoured arts and practices associated with engraving on metals like gold, silver and copper have been officially recognised, casting a spotlight on the artisans who continue to shape history with each delicate stroke.

From the glistening treasures of the pharaohs to the delicate adornments of everyday life, metal engraving has been an integral part of Egypt’s material culture for millennia.

After two years of hard work Egypt along with 10 other Arab countries including Iraq, Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen, succeeded in inscribing the arts, skills and practices associated with engraving on metals on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during the 18th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage held in December in Kasane in Botswana.

“It is a great achievement and a protection of Egypt’s intangible heritage,” said Minister of Culture Neveen al-Kilany, adding that Egypt was particularly rich in intangible heritage and the Ministry was working hard to register it.

She explained that the achievement is the outcome of a collaborative effort involving 11 Arab countries over the past two years in coordination with the Arab Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALECSO), which crafted the nomination proposal.

The focus was on highlighting the cultural diversity inherent in the intangible cultural heritage across the Arab region, a heritage that multiple generations have passed down and preserved over the millennia.

“The essence of this collective effort conveys a message of mutual respect and peace among all nations,” al-Kilany said, adding that Egypt, with its rich history dating back to the dawn of civilisation, has been witness to the enduring legacy of metal engraving. The continuous sustainability of this heritage reflects the nation’s commitment to preserving and showcasing its cultural roots.

The nomination file submitted to the Committee highlighted the history and tradition of metal engraving, saying it is a traditional craft involving the manual cutting of words, symbols, or geometric patterns onto surfaces of items made from gold, silver, or copper.

These items, which can be decorative, utilitarian, religious, or ceremonial, often feature engravings that may be concave or convex, showcasing intricate designs or Qur’an verses. The practice sometimes involves combining different metals like gold and silver. The social and symbolic meanings of the engravings vary across communities.

Engraved objects, ranging from jewellery to household items, hold cultural significance and are frequently exchanged as traditional gifts during weddings or used in religious ceremonies and traditional medicine. Some metals are believed to possess healing properties.

The transmission of metal-engraving skills predominantly occurs within families through hands-on practice and observation. Additionally, training centres, organisations, and universities conduct workshops to pass down the craft. Publications, cultural events, and social media also contribute to the dissemination of knowledge and skills related to metal engraving.

Practiced by individuals of all ages and genders, metal engraving serves as a means of expressing cultural, religious, and geographical identity, as well as the socioeconomic status of the communities involved. The artistry and cultural significance embedded in metal engraving make it a dynamic and enduring craft that continues to be cherished and passed down through generations.

The Committee agreed to inscribe this tradition on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity because the information included in the submitted nomination file satisfied several criteria.

According to the UNESCO Website, this age-old decorative craft is intricately linked to customs, rituals, celebrations, and traditional craftsmanship. By examining the metal objects individuals use, one can discern their affiliations, religious and geographical ties, and social standing. Furthermore, the craft is integral to various social events and rites of passage. Not only does it create employment opportunities and income, but the materials used are environmentally friendly, contributing to overall sustainability.

As a result of being inscribed, local young people can now develop a heightened interest in preserving their heritage. This, in turn, can prompt governments at the national level to create legislation and formulate strategies concerning intangible cultural heritage.

At the international level, existing collaborations can be furthered, and new ones initiated and expanded upon. Facilitating dialogue can be achieved through organising joint activities such as competitions, seminars, cultural forums, training workshops, conferences, and festivals, promoting the exchange of ideas.

The act of inscription can contribute to the encouragement of human creativity and the fostering of respect for cultural diversity. It can act as a catalyst for innovation and artistic expression. Additionally, the involvement of practitioners from diverse backgrounds in the inscription process accentuates the importance of cultural diversity and how it enhances the cultural element.

Historical and present efforts to protect intangible heritage encompass activities like coordinating training workshops, organising exhibitions, and advocating through documentation and research. Governmental bodies in the submitting states have played a crucial role in supporting these protection measures. Their assistance includes facilitating documentation, conducting inventories and research, implementing preservation and protection strategies, and engaging in promotional activities.

Individual states propose diverse measures such as enacting national legislation, implementing tourism strategies, providing tax reductions, offering soft loans, supporting civil-society organisations and NGOs, hosting exhibitions, and aiding in the development of museum collections.

The backing of the states also involves the establishment of specialised committees to monitor and contribute to the effective implementation of such measures.


Cairo workshops: In the bustling workshops of Historic Cairo and quiet studios along the Nile, artisans adept in the alchemy of art and skill breathe life into metals.

The interplay between fire and metal, the dance of chisels, and the honing of techniques all converge to create masterpieces that transcend utility and become timeless works of art. The engraving process itself, whether depicting intricate scenes or geometric patterns, requires a delicate balance of precision and creativity.

Sayed Anis embarked on his journey in metal engraving as a teenager, perfecting his craft over the years. Now 66, this Egyptian artisan is not only a master engraver but also a dedicated mentor, passing down the ancient art to the next generation.

UNESCO has acknowledged the significance of this traditional craft, and Anis, who began his artistic endeavours in his family’s workshop in Historic Cairo, is playing a vital role in preserving it. Local craftsmen draw inspiration from the aesthetic, religious, and cultural references of their societies, creating exquisite works that reflect the rich heritage of the region.

For over three decades, Anis has been providing free apprenticeships to young enthusiasts eager to learn the delicate skill of manually carving words or symbols into a piece of art and household items, a practice deeply rooted in family traditions and often passed down from father to son.