“While we celebrate heritage two days a year, we destroy it quite a bit the rest of the time”

Lhe European Heritage Days, including the 40the edition takes place Saturday September 16 and Sunday September 17, are a chestnut tree as France likes them. Let’s take this opportunity to say that this healthy tree hides a sick forest. The Days are going well, heritage is not.

The numbers tell part of the problem. In 2011, under Nicolas Sarkozy, the state spent 314 million euros to restore monuments in France, which was already a modest sum – it would take at least 400 million euros per year to keep the monuments in good condition. emblems of the country. What followed were ten unprecedented years of decline and slump under François Hollande, with for example the same sum of 300 million euros in 2016 and 2017.

The sector has regained some color with Emmanuel Macron, the recovery plan decided
following the Covid-19 pandemic causing an unprecedented increase in the budget: no less than 430 million euros spent in 2022. The improvement is however very far from making up for the decade of scarcity, burdened by inflation. “Heritage clearly remains the poor relation of culture”notes specialist Didier Rykner, host of the site La Tribune de l’art.

An “event affair”

Covid-19 also shows that the health of castles and cathedrals depends heavily on factors beyond them. An accident, an emotion, an imagination propels a site, especially if it is remarkable. Because the money goes to the big and the rich. Some 840 million euros flowed to the bedside of Notre-Dame, devastated by the fire of 2019 – mainly private donations.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Notre-Dame emerges from the fog, not from friction

During a conference in 2020, the historian Eric Michaud said that the notion of heritage has seen such a broadening of its definition and its issues that the terrain of history has been gradually eclipsed by that of spectacle, where it “is a matter of event much more than of memory”. Heritage Days, which are already an event in themselves, are for example given each year a theme aimed at putting them in the news: in 2022, “sustainable heritage”, this year sport.

The effects of this mutation are profound. While we celebrate heritage two days a year, we destroy it quite a bit the rest of the time. This is true abroad. Unesco, after recommending, on July 31, to place Venice “on the list of world heritage in danger”believing that the city was too timid in the face of the deterioration of the site, decided, Thursday, September 14, not to do so.

This is also true in France. Didier Rykner notes that although protection rules have been strengthened throughout the 20the century, particularly during the 1980s with Jack Lang (the inventor of “Journes”), they have declined significantly since the election of Emmanuel Macron. “The architects of Bâtiments de France, guardians of heritage, have less power, for the benefit of prefects and elected officials. As a result, fewer sites are protected. »

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