Open days galore!

© Katja Condy - European Heritage Open Days at Belfast City Hall

© Katja Condy - Krakow Wawel Royal Castle, one of Poland’s 1,500 venues open in 2011

© Katja Condy - The Mansion House in Cardiff

© Katja Condy - Martello Tower in Londonderry

Heritage Open Days 2011 may be over but are you aware that it’s still open door season? If you missed our event, caught the explorer bug or happened to be one of our volunteers and too busy to sample others’ events, why don’t you check out what’s open in London, Wales or Scotland, or hop across the Channel? For Heritage Open Days is part of European Heritage Days. Read on to get the bigger picture.

A bit of history: vive le patrimoine

It all began with a proposal by the French Culture Minister Jack Lang. France had just held their first Portes Ouvertes dans les Monuments Historiques. They were an instant success, and in 1985, at a European conference of ministers responsible for heritage, a resolution was adopted “on the promotion of the architectural heritage in socio-cultural life and as a factor in the quality of life”. It recommended that countries implement policies to “promote the general public’s awareness of and access to its heritage”. In the years that ensued, a number of European countries followed France’s example. In 1991 finally, the Council of Europe officially launched European Heritage Days and set up a dedicated office to co-ordinate and encourage participation among its member states. Starting out with a dozen or so schemes, there are now 50 nations from the Baltic to the Balkans, from Iceland to the Iberian Peninsular, which every year in September join in this Europe-wide celebration of our distinct and common heritage.

By the way, France’s theme this year is “voyage du patrimoine”, the journey of heritage – the styles and techniques that travelled continents and time; architects, artists and craftsmen on the road; and the movement of objects, artefacts and collections. Have a safe trip.

British patchwork: Doors Open, Open House, Open Days, Open Doors…

In the UK, Scotland was the first to adopt the idea. And this year, the Scottish Civic Trust is celebrating their Doors Open Days’ 21st birthday with over 800 venues and some great highlights still on show such as Scotland’s oldest, purpose-built, continuously operating cinema. You can explore Scottish gems every weekend in September but please note that different areas open up on different weekends.

In England, Gosport Society was first to pilot the scheme in 1992, and two years later the now defunct Civic Trust rolled out Heritage Open Days as a national scheme. In our first year, some 700 venues took part across the country, or more precisely, in England’s regions outside London. Because since 1993, London has been staging their own brand of open days on the third weekend in September, Open House. Run by the charity Open City, this extravaganza of architecture and design is your once-a-year chance to step inside and climb up some of the capital’s most famous iconic buildings and has even found imitators around the world.

With more than 500 events at over 300 sites and spanning the whole month of September, 2011 is also Wales’s best year to date. The Civic Trust for Wales has been running Open Doors, European Heritage Days in Wales since 1994. One of this year’s highlights is the Mansion House, which is only used for official functions by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff and unless you’re invited, you can’t normally get inside.

Our youngest sister event is Northern Ireland’s European Heritage Open Days. Over the past fourteen years, the programme has grown to over 300 events. It usually coincides with our event, taking place on the second weekend in September. So, I’m afraid, you’ll have to wait until next year to sample Northern Irish heritage delights.

Voilà, that’s the open days puzzle completed, and if you happen to visit any of the events above, send us a postcard!

View more: Behind the scenes, Programme preview

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