DECEMBER 2021 - JUNE 2022
Photos: M.L.

Manuel Lacerda

Manuel Lacerda is an Architect at the Direção-Geral do Património Cultural, an UNESCO World Heritage Focal Point, a representative of the Ministry of Culture in the World Heritage Working Group, an expert of the European Commission's Cultural Heritage Working Group, Portugal’s representative in the Steering Committee of the Enlarged Partial Agreement for the Cultural Itineraries of the Council of Europe, director of Património magazine, former national coordinator of the European Heritage Days and the International Day of Monuments and Sites, and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Historical Route of the Lines of Torres Vedras.

We talked with architect Manuel Lacerda about the relationship between heritage and culture, tourism, sustainability, and the quality of life of communities.

You quoted Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “We inherited the Earth from our ancestors, we borrowed it from future generations,” in an issue of Revista Património, to illustrate how human positioning should be thought of in relation to the planet's global resources. What do you think of the measures being taken to safeguard and enhance cultural heritage in order to ensure its sustainability? 

Thinking about cultural heritage and its continuity for the future makes no sense if we do not view it within the broader framework of the extreme situation in which planet Earth finds itself today. We can find stratagems to alleviate the effects that will be felt more and more intensely from climate change, for example in coastal areas around the world, where a huge source of the heritage is concentrated, we can look for long-term solutions, like the Dutch are doing, or like Venice, but all this will not make much sense if each and every one of our actions does not take into account that the problem is greater, and that the safeguarding of heritage in the future is after all a small problem within a big one. Droughts, which are beginning to affect expressive parts of the world, causing hunger, migrations and wars, are indeed the big problem. For heritage to last, we need to have the intelligence to understand what role it can play in helping to solve these key issues, and to invest our energy in that path.
What are the biggest challenges cultural heritage faces? 

An excellent question, but a difficult one to answer. In 2018, during the European Year of Cultural Heritage, I had the opportunity to organise an International Conference at Gulbenkian exactly under this theme, organised into three panels, basically on knowledge, sustainability, and management. Let me tell you that, after three years, everything has changed, not only with the Covid19 pandemic that broke out at the beginning of 2020, the global awareness of climate change driven by global warming has been changing a lot also in the meantime... and I return to the same question. Today, such a conference would likely be focused on global sustainability and its relationship to heritage, and possibly envisage the changes needed in applying our knowledge about it and the contributions it can make to this issue. Knowledge and its application are never neutral. Today, the biggest challenges for cultural heritage are undoubtedly climate change, excessive mobility around the planet, excessive mass tourism, the uncontrolled growth of real estate speculation and gentrification phenomena, the loss of identities, of the characteristics and specifics of places, the degradation of landscapes and the built environment, ‘uglyism’... as you can see, it is a long list. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is knowing how to use heritage really for the benefit of people and the balance of communities...
In practical terms, what is the value of cultural heritage for society?

I think that for economists, in general, cultural heritage is just a stock of capital, and that is exactly why they justify that it should be preserved. This is the case of real estate investors in historic centres, or large tourist investments in buildings with high historical value… not from a perspective of global development of society, but from the perspective of economic growth. On the contrary, cultural economists, or at least some of them, take a broader view, interpreting cultural heritage as an economic resource to be exploited to initiate development processes. Then we have the fundamental and irreplaceable value of heritage, for people and society, as a reference of their individual and collective identity. The Faro Convention of the Council of Europe, which is precisely related to the value of cultural heritage for society, is a very rich reference text for the whole of Europe that clarifies very well the value of heritage in economic, political, social, and cultural processes, in territorial planning, with an integrated vision, with the objective of strengthening social cohesion. Its focus is, in essence, on human development, on development at the expense of growth, on quality at the expense of quantity. A society without cultural heritage is a society without references and without memory and therefore condemned to disappear.

As an expert in the European Commission's Cultural Heritage Working Group, how do you understand the relationship that should be established between social, environmental, and economic sustainability and cultural sustainability?

We must look at these apparently disconnected aspects in an integrated way, like the different drawers of a file that only makes sense as a whole. Without looking for the environment to rebuild itself and not deteriorate further, how can one think about economic and social sustainability for the future, when climate change is one of the main causes of migration and wars? In the middle of all this is culture, and I'm not talking about entertainment here. Culture is what makes a person and a community, a society, to be what they are, with their particular characteristics, with their references, which give them balance, which provide peace and justice, for example. Culture has a fundamental role in the cohesion of society, just like education, it is transversal to the society and therefore should be taken into account in all its activities and sectors. The issue of sustainability is a global issue, we cannot separate parts that are inseparable.

What place do culture and cultural heritage have in the framework of the 2030 Research and Innovation Agenda?

Well, there is a Thematic Agenda for Innovation and Research for Culture and Cultural Heritage, published in 2019, which is an extremely well-written document, and whose preparation was very participated. This Agenda has influenced the options that have been taken in this area. I know that it has served as a basis for identifying themes in several initiatives in the launch of transnational competitions of the Joint Programming Initiative in Cultural Heritage, in which the Foundation for Science and Technology participates, and from now on also associated with the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage. These are important and current issues, such as the conservation, protection and use of cultural heritage, or identities and perspectives on cultural heritage, in a context of changes in societies. This thematic agenda is an important reference, it is a map that helps understand what is more or less pertinent at a given moment, and this is important because the investigation contributes to grounding cultural policies in their relationship with other sectors, the economic, the social and the environmental.

Portugal is present in 14 or the 45 European Cultural Itineraries. How can the country contribute to boosting cultural, heritage and tourist dynamism, giving greater visibility to these itineraries? 

First, the Itineraries and Routes, at the national level, must be consolidated in their different aspects: the cultural, the touristic, the educational, the creative, and in the aspect of the relationship with communities. Currently, the Routes in Portugal are in different stages of development. Some are already very well structured; others are still making their way. On the other hand, Routes can have very different characteristics; some are confined to well-defined territories, they can be traversed, they have a regional character; others are national in scope, the partners are far from each other, what unites them is more the theme than the territory. Some have many partners, others have very few... the diversity is very large, and therefore the question you ask must have several answers. If the Route is structured and functioning, I think that the path will be to add more and more partners, who will be able to bring new projects and activities, deal with all aspects related to communication with special attention, and intensify relations with other countries; I think this last aspect always presents the most difficult challenge, bringing this European dimension to the terrain. In the case of Routes that are still taking their first steps at the national level, they will necessarily have to grow in scale; a Route is not made with a site, it presupposes a considerable investment of work in finding the right partners and structuring a minimal network that can gradually grow. Articulation and exchange with networks in other countries is of utmost importance to find good examples and good models. There are also cases where the networks are exclusively at European level, where the partners are not organised at national level, but in my opinion, it is essential that they are. Only in this way will they be able to have the necessary scale to promote the cultural, heritage and tourist dynamism I spoke about internally, thus giving these sites greater visibility.
What benefits can Portuguese heritage expect from being a part of this network of itineraries? 

It is indisputable that being present in networks that enable the exchange of ideas, the development of common projects, and the joint promotion itself, is essential for two aspects: first, for the growth of each of the partners in these networks, and second, to project and give scale to the activities that are done. If we think about the fourteen European itineraries that are also in our country and the set of partners they have as a whole, as well as the cultural and heritage resources they involve, perhaps a large number of hundreds throughout the territory, we can get an idea of ​​the potential for projection of all these heritage sites through this vast network. On the other hand, because it is a demanding process, European accreditation, such as World Heritage or the European Heritage Label, confers international prestige. And this prestige opens the door to programs, facilitates access to candidacies, gives visibility to tourist and cultural promotion, requires greater investment in knowledge.
The "Council of Europe Cultural Itinerary" certification is a guarantee of excellence for a network that should include cooperation in research and development, the enhancement of European memory, history and heritage, educational and cultural exchanges aimed at young Europeans, culture contemporary arts and artistic practice, as well as cultural tourism and sustainable development. However, people still have little knowledge of these itineraries and what they have to offer. What measures are being taken to make this communication more “democratised” and inclusive?

It is true that these Cultural Itineraries certified by the Council of Europe are still little known as such. It should be noted that these Itineraries, or Routes, accredited by the Council of Europe are networks of partners from different European countries, managed by entities such as associations, foundations or federations, and there are several types of organisation, involving both private and public actors. Then, depending on the characteristics of this Route, there may or may not be a tighter network in each country; this is the case, for example, of the Historical Route of the Lines of Torres or the Route of the Romanesque. They are national routes, at a regional level, which bring together different partners and sites. In these cases, the partners are, basically, municipalities. By this I mean that people know the national routes, but eventually they are unaware of their European dimension, which is not surprising. This is one of the tasks that I consider complex in these projects, transmitting the European cultural dimension in its diversity. In other projects that I coordinated, such as the European Heritage Days, this was the most difficult part, the vast majority of activities ended up focusing on local or regional aspects, which in itself is not bad, it responded to the objective of promoting the meeting of people with their heritage, but, of course, the European dimension was overlooked. To answer your question more specifically, since 2019 we have started to hold meetings with representatives of the different European Itineraries in Portugal to get to know each other and exchange experiences, and in 2021 we started a series of training actions, the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage, in collaboration with Turismo de Portugal, focused on practical aspects of the management of Itineraries, which were very well received. It is a project that will continue and that will certainly contribute to enriching this program in our country.

The Lines of Torres Historical Route is part of the European Cultural Itinerary ‘Destination Napoleon’. As a member of the RHLT Advisory Board, how do you think RHLT can contribute to adding visibility and operability to this itinerary?

This European Itinerary, despite being quite recent, was accredited in 2015 and is based on a very consistent network of partnerships, the European Federation of Napoleonic Cities, founded in 2004. Therefore, there is a lot of work developed to reach recognition by the Council from Europe. It currently comprises more than fifty cities in ten countries and has a very consistent schedule, with competent management. I think that the celebration, in 2021, of the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, which had a strong expression in Portugal, was a good example of what can and should be done to achieve the visibility mentioned above. It is interesting to see how the different perspectives on the same historical event, which marked not only Europe but the whole world, the French Invasions, can be reintroduced through these actions; in a time in which the actions that took place in this world in another time, in another context of mentalities and values, are almost systematically questioned. On the other hand, for example, the work being developed by the Historical Route of the Lines of Torres with other national partners through the NAPOCTEP application in the Interreg cross-border program between Portugal and Spain, led by the Intermunicipal Community of the Region of Coimbra and also involving the Beiras and Serra da Estrela Intermunicipal Community, Turismo Centro de Portugal, the Junta de Castylla y León or the Santa Maria la Real Historical Heritage Foundation, among others, is a sign of vitality that not all itineraries currently display. I think this is the right way.

The Torres Vedras Lines constitute a unique heritage in Europe, whose construction philosophy coincided with the affirmation of the European values ​​of freedom, equality, and fraternity, playing an important role in a historical period that mobilised nearly all European nations and which, currently, constitutes an important cultural symbol and a powerful educational resource. If we consider that the European Cultural Itineraries must reconcile culture with tourism and education, how can this heritage reinforce its presence in the ‘Destination Napoleon’? 

Heritage networks work with common goals. The stronger your partners are, the greater your projection, and the greater your projection is, the more visibility each partner will have. It is interesting not to lose sight of what is, after all, the ultimate goal of Cultural Itineraries and to know what distinguishes them from other tourist routes. We are talking about models for the organisation of cultural resources, which function in a network and which would ideally function as rhizome models, that is, from each of the elements of this network, new networks multiply, in this case articulating the partners who develop activities in the field of education, in the field of content construction, in the field of creative activities around different themes and in the field of all types of visitor activity, if we want to use a tourism expression. Thus, it is in the conceptualization and implementation of these rhizome networks, in this case the Historical Route of the Lines of Torres from each of its nuclei, strengthening them, that one can find the reinforcement of this national route in the context of the European network.
The Lines of Torres Vedras cross the territory of six municipalities and are spread over approximately 80km, with thirty forts to be visited, six thematic routes, and a network of six interpretation centres. How can this heritage achieve its sustainability, strengthen its connection to the community, and contribute to its quality of life? 

I think that today heritage only makes sense in its relationship with people and communities; if not, what meaning will it have and for whom? But this is a complex relationship, and it circles around the use we can make of these heritages. Heritage is an important economic resource, as I mentioned before, which like any resource can be exploited for the creation of companies, in these contexts usually small companies, businesses and activities that serve users, visitors, tourists and those who work in the Route itself. The consistency and diversification of these businesses and activities associated with Rota, avoiding exclusive dependencies, looking at different types of consumers, are what can give such sustainability as much as possible nowadays, but I think the effort should go in that direction. And then, heritage is the fundamental resource to help maintain what is called cultural identity in a given geographic area, which, with the phenomenon of globalisation, sometimes becomes very difficult, an almost impossible mission. It is often necessary to recreate this identity, or rather these identities, and seek that communities re-weave some kind of relationship with the ideas and values ​​associated. For this, it must start at the beginning, precisely with children and schools, with school communities, through school groups, bringing teachers, who are the key elements of this process and the multiplying elements with hundreds, thousands of children and young people.
What management instruments can contribute to achieving a balance, essential for the inhabitants of each location, between tourist and community activities, between tourist trade and that of proximity? 

The cultural itineraries and routes do not have the characteristics to feed mass tourism. The experience of a place is at its core. They can become new spaces of discovery, and an innovative tool to be used in territories, with great potential to give greater value to the social, economic, and cultural sectors. One of the assets of the Itineraries and cultural routes lies in the fact that they value the local identities shared by the communities. These identities, to which numerous factors contribute, and which are interesting to know in depth, are unique, singular, non-reproducible cultural resources, which may, due to their peculiarity, and even their rarity, authenticity, and quality of conservation, attract many visitors and specific groups of tourists. Also attract new professionals to new types of activities. Attract young people, framing them in educational and artistic projects. Basically, everyone has a common expectation, which is to discover and feel the identity of a place, of a territory, whether it is constituted by an image, a subject, a story, or a myth. And if we manage to get the message across on a European scale, the goal will be fulfilled.
How important are the European Heritage Days for the dissemination of heritage to the public? 

It is the Council of Europe's most attended annual program, which brings people of all ages into the world of heritage during the last weekend of September each year. To get an idea, every year in Portugal alone, we have several hundred public and private entities, associations and many municipalities that promote thousands of activities. It is always difficult to estimate the number of people involved, but I don't err much if we talk about several tens of thousands of participants. It is clear that the European dimension behind this program is not always explicit, it is not always direct, or it does not always exist at all. But what is most important, in the end, is for two or three days to be able to bring people closer to issues related to heritage, so that they can get to know it better and take care of it, and this is undoubtedly fully achieved.
What guidelines, in terms of general policy, would you highlight from the World Heritage Convention?

The Convention for the protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage aims to protect and enhance the heritage that is recognized as having exceptional universal value. However, we all know that in the last decades there have been huge changes in the world at the economic, political, social, and cultural level, given the gradual globalisation of the planet. And that this has been changing society's perception of cultural heritage and natural heritage, as well as world heritage, and also its gradual use by one of the largest industries in the world, tourism, with a rapid growth driven by much greater mobility on the planet and the expansion of new communication technologies and social networks. All of this has been shaping and changing perspectives on world heritage… for some decades now, politicians and managers of cities and world heritage sites have started battles to polarise tourists and investments, capitalising on the heritage emblems of these cities and those sites, a phenomenon that lasts, with nuances, but more or less widespread. In recent years, excessive tourism and its negative side effects, such as the emptying of cities of their inhabitants, the decrease and change in the type of commerce, increasingly directed towards tourists, the unaffordable rise in housing prices and the consequent phenomenon of gentrification, of which the city of Venice is an ex-libris, came to draw attention to the unsustainability of these situations. However, the Covid-19 pandemic showed the world what these cities and these places could be without the excess of mass tourism… on the other hand, the dependence of urban economies on tourism itself highlighted the absolute need to establish more targeted urban policies for the inhabitants, less dependent on an industry that, from one moment to the next, can stop, as we have seen, to have policies more directed towards development than towards growth, demanding more quality and less quantity. Therefore, to implement the good principles of the Convention, these other policies will necessarily have to be implemented. A lot of work has been done by UNESCO in analysing these issues, in studying and defining guidelines to try to overcome and minimise these various perverse effects of growth, in monitoring the thousands of sites inscribed on the World Heritage List and in advising managers of these sites and to governments themselves.

Considering your experience, what strategy would you advise the RHLT for the sustainability and dissemination of the heritage of the Lines of Torres Vedras?

I think there are four important aspects: firstly, strengthening local partnerships. Cultural tourism, and in particular itineraries and routes in the spirit of the Council of Europe, must seek to differentiate itself from other tourism. How? Through what it offers to visitors. Nobody stays indifferent if they manage to get to know more than what they knew before a visit. Second, the reinforcement of knowledge; it is essential to invest in knowledge, which ends up having a practical application in numerous aspects associated with the Routes. Partnerships with universities and polytechnic institutes are important. Universities themselves are very important dissemination vehicles. Try to associate quality complementary services to the Route, for example, guides, restaurants, and commerce, which can enrich the entire visit time. Try to establish associations with various promoters of shows, who bring spectators who will be future visitors and capture the interests of young people. Bringing artists to work in a unique context, through temporary residencies for creation and innovation, experimental activities, attracting mainly young creators. Thinking about integrated communication with other heritage tour promoters, going beyond the regional scale. Thirdly, the strengthening of the connection to the community, fundamentally through school groups and teachers, the great multipliers of knowledge. Finally, bring the digital world into the project; knowledge, communication, content construction, promotion, are all areas of activity that currently require the use of digital; the way I find my project in this huge web of information from communication networks, social networks, exchange networks, tells me what my project is, who knows it, who talks about it, who is interested in know about it. This is another reality that we cannot ignore.