sites in technologically developed countries
Thymio Papayannis (*) & Josep M. Mallarach (**)
Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos
23 Voucourestiou Street, 10671 Athens, Greece
(**) Fundación de Estudios Tradicionales
Apt. 148 17800 Olot, Catalonia, Spain
Delos Initiative is the only working group issued from the IUCN/WCPA
Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual values of Protected Areas that
is focusing on Sacred Natural Sites in technologically developed and
transitional countries. After discussing some crucial considerations
related to the context and background of the dominant western
ideology with respect to natural areas, this paper presents the
purpose, objectives, methodology, action plan and current
developments of the Delos Initiative, namely the establishment of
the working group and the site selection in three continents.
pilot plans will be carried out in several countries during 2005,
most actions are expected to be performed during the next years.
designation, planning and management of current protected area
systems in technologically developed and transitional
countries is usually based on approaches that only take into
consideration a certain number of the multiple dimensions that can
link people and nature. These technical scientific approaches do
not give a balanced account to the full spectrum of values of
protected areas: cultural values tend to be reduced to their
material components, whereas spiritual values are usually ignored.
Consequences of this loss are widespread and more significant that
one tends to accept.
International Symposium on Natural Sacred Sites-Cultural Diversity
and Biological Diversity Conservation, held in Paris in 1998, and
the 5th World Park Congress held in Durban, South Africa, in 2003,
stressed the need to give full recognition to cultural and spiritual
values in order to promote a truly integral policy of nature
conservation, which can obtain a much broader social support.
UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Immaterial Cultural Heritage,
which endorsed Durban’s conclusions in 2003, was a significant step
towards the international recognition of non-material values.
As a result of the Durban Congress, the IUCN/WCPA Task Force on Cultural
and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA) was established.
Since then it has done considerable work on sacred natural sites in
several continents, mostly in developing countries of Central and
South America and Asia.
attitude in technologically developed countries with respect to
natural protected areas is determined by the prevalent
positivistic and materialistic outlook of modern science, which
has caused a weakening, or even a loss, of the spiritual
dimension of nature, as well as other deeply rooted cultural
connections related to the immaterial values of natural areas.
The once pervasive concept of sacredness of nature has usually
been reduced to certain exceptional locations, such as “natural
sanctuaries” related to theophanic manifestations or to the
Founders or main saints of world religions, if not completely
eliminated, except in those countries where native people,
having a primordial spiritual tradition, are still safeguarding
this concept as a crucial component of their way of life.
adoption of a holistic approach
of the protected areas and the non-material values they carry
serious challenge. It has been acknowledged that taking into
consideration vernacular knowledge, the connection to the land
and deep rooted traditions, such as pilgrimages or celebrations
developed in natural environments, would increase understanding
and support of protected areas by local population. On the other
hand, the qualitative values of nature, such as beauty,
grandeur, loneliness, harmony and balance are of immediate and
universal understanding, demanding recognition and protection.
In short: a more receptive attitude towards spiritual and
cultural values could help the inclusion of wide social feelings
that had been marginalized by the materialistic scope, fostering
a more balanced management approach of protected areas where
these values are significant.
Since the context
found in developed countries is quite differentiated than in the
rest of the world, the idea came up to initiate within CSVPA a
parallel and complementary action on sacred natural sites found
in technologically developed countries. It followed an exchange
of views on the significance of these sites in the developed
world, held in July 2003.
The concept was
circulated among the members of the Task Force in early June
2004 and, at that time, Thymio Papayannis, member of CSVPA,
became the co-ordinator of this action, later assisted by Josep
M. Mallarach, also member of CSVPA, while the secretariat is
ensured by social-anthropologist Irini Lyratzaki.
This is the first
paper that has been prepared for public outreach purposes.
The Initiative was named after the Aegean island of Delos, a
biotope with considerable marine interest, which was considered
sacred in classical times, dedicated to Apollo (the god of
light) and the centre of a long lasting alliance.
General purpose and objectives
purpose of the Delos Initiative is to identify the pertinence and
meaning of sacred natural sites found in the technologically
developed world, and to investigate whether and how spiritual values
can contribute to the conservation and wise use of significant
natural areas, as well as the maintenance of cultural heritage, in
this part of the world. It will focus on sites of high natural
heritage value with a definite protection status that are
representative of world religions and spiritual traditions.
specifically, the objectives of the Initiative are the following:
Understand the position of the major religions and primal
spiritual traditions in developed and
countries on nature and on the sanctity of natural sites.
Assess the pertinence and importance of sacred natural sites for
contemporary people, and
estimate the significance of their spiritual values.
Study how these spiritual values can be maintained and enhanced
and investigate whether
values can be used as a tool for the conservation of sites.
Attempt to resolve eventual conflicts between the character of
sacred sites and conservation
and management requirements, establishing instead synergies,
methodology of the Delos Initiative combines two complementary
approaches: a bottom-up and a top-down. The bottom-up approach will
be based on the analysis of specific sites, in order to:
identify participants and sites in representative countries;
examine the objectives at the local level;
debate results of analysis with different stakeholders to reach
generalise results and extrapolate them to a broader level.
The top-down approach will apply the basic metaphysical principles
that all spiritual and religious traditions share, such as the
symbolic character of nature, the sacredness of -at least certain-
natural theophanies, and, as a corollary, the awe and deep respect
for the natural order, as a terrestrial reflection of a celestial or
divine order. So it will be possible to proceed to:
identify underlying principles of different spiritual traditions;
examine their pertinence and influence on different contexts;
propose and validate relationships and analogies.
work of the Delos Initiative will proceed in a sequence of a number
Establishment of a
representative working group
present there are 14 people involved, from eight countries in three
continents: E. Barrow, Kenya; Boot, Australia; D. Byrne,
Australia; E. Conner, Australia; J. Falgarona, Spain; J. García-Varela,
Spain; L. Hamilton, USA; I. Lyratzaki, Greece; J.M. Mallarach,
Spain; G. Oviedo, Switzerland; T. Papayannis, Greece; G. Pungetti,
Italia; A. Putney, USA and R. Wild, United Kingdom.
Selection of case
studies in different world regions
Participating members have proposed, or will propose, one or more
significant sacred site(s) selected from technologically developed
or transitional countries, with which
they are familiar. The target is to have a representative sample of
sacred natural sites from all continents, including diversity of
mainstream religions and primal traditions in countries with
different social attitudes regarding nature and the sacred.
Sacred natural sites
should be selected among those that have been established as natural
protected areas. They should
have a strong
contemporary religious / spiritual importance, as well as those that
represent past beliefs and maintain only heritage values, giving
priority to sites
where people are
interested in an integrated approach to the spiritual and natural
heritage. Their spiritual significance, present or past, is
essential. Thus, it is intended to include sites that have a strong
contemporary religious importance, as well as those that represent
past beliefs and maintain only heritage values.
Therefore, the Delos Initiative will deal with five major types of
sacred natural sites:
natural sites related to ancient religions, such as the Gaelic,
Egyptian or Greek,
either historical or
pre-historical, that may have, or have not, spiritual significance
for contemporary people.
natural sites related to contemporary world religions, which often
have been considered sacred in past spiritual traditions, as well.
natural sites of indigenous peoples living in developed or
natural sites that are shared by different world religions and/or
primal spiritual traditions.
landscapes based on a number of related sacred natural sites or
pilgrimage trails, belonging to any of the previously mentioned
types, or combinations of.
Potential conflicts, on the other hand, are very diverse. They
include public use and tourism with inappropriate attitudes towards
sacredness, massive religious pilgrimages that may locally conflict
with conservation of fragile habitats or species, traditional
ecological knowledge that is not recognised, leading to the loss of
cultural and natural values at landscape scale, and so on.
pilot plans and presentations
After finalising the list of sites, each participant would be asked,
first to establish contact with appropriate local stakeholders (religious
groups, local authorities, etc.) and convince them to participate in
the action; and next, to provide information on these sacred natural
sites, on the basis of a uniform questionnaire.
The Delos Initiative
has already been presented at some national and international
conferences, such as the Congress of the Europarc Federation (the
largest organization of for protected areas in Europe) in 2004 and
the Congress Esparc 2005 in Spain.
Debate on key issues
A debate will then be
organised among the participants on key questions related to the
objectives listed above. Each issue will be presented with a short
introduction, and will be discussed for a given period of time. The
participants will be asked to relate their comments to the specific
site for which they are responsible, after discussion with their
local contacts, as well as to analyse threats and challenges and to
suggest concrete measures that could be implemented. At the end of
each round, the conclusions will be edited and disseminated.
parallel, there will be a systematic exchange of views with the
executants of the other projects of the CSVPA that are concerned
with indigenous and traditional peoples in developing countries, so
that the understanding of common issues can be enriched.
The following steps
will include the development and analysis of selected case studies,
intranet debates, and finally a participatory workshop to elaborate
the conclusions. Conclusions of the Delos Initiative will include a
diagnose, proposals to IUCN, WCPA, UNESCO, etc. and results
dissemination through different channels: a book, web pages and,
possibly a DVD. If the Initiative is sufficiently participative, the
final publication would include guidelines on the management of
sacred natural sites in technologically developed countries,
illustrated by the case studies that have been analysed.
Development of the Delos Initiative activity will be hosted at the
following web site:
http://www.med-ina.org/delos/, allowing the participation of other
interested individuals. The first phase of the work can rely on
auto-financing by the participants, including the co-ordination
tasks, as the costs involved would be limited. Workshops, and
further work could result in one or more projects with outside
funding. The eventual edition and publication of a book would
require raising the necessary funds.
Proposed sacred natural sites
So far there have been proposed the following sites, in three
- Patmos island, Aegean Sea, Greece, Natura 2000 site.
- Mt. Athos Peninsula, Greece, World Heritage Site and Natura
- Delphi and Parnassos National Park, World Heritage Site,
- Meteora World Heritage Site, Greece.
- Montserrat Nature Park, Catalonia, Spain.
- Doñana National Park – El Rocío, Andalusia, Spain.
- Serra de Tramuntana Protected Area – Lluc, Balearic Islands,
- Covadonga - Picos de Europa National Park, Asturias, Spain.
- Holy Island of Arran, Scotland, United Kingdom.
- San Francisco Peaks, California, USA.
- Large cultural sacred coastal area, which includes Mumbulla
National Park, New South Wales, Australia.
Additional sites are being evaluated in Italy, France, Canada
and the Russian Federation. It is intended to include some sites
from Asiatic countries such as Japan and China.
Appendix: Summary description and interest of some case studies
Mt. Athos, Greece
‘Holy Mountain’ is a peninsula of rich history, with a continuous
living tradition of more than a millennium, with rich biodiversity
and a unique landscape beauty. Although its access is limited (women
are not allowed) the flow of visitors has become a menace and has
necessitated the setting of quotas. Modern living requirements
(especially transportation by automobiles) have resulted in the
construction of a dense network of roads, with negative impacts on
thriving communities of monks on Mt. Athos are now young,
well-educated and coming from urban backgrounds.
Environmental problems, especially waste disposal, remain unsolved.
Well-known as St. John’s island, where he wrote the Apocalypse,
Patmos is located in the Aegean Sea, crowned by a famous monastery
and has been considered sacred even to our days. Thus restrictive
regulations have been legislated on both building and recreation
activities. Tourist pressures, however, and the spreading secular
character of modern Greece, have eroded the implementation of such
regulations, with noisy bars operating close to the monastery and
tourist facilities being constructed in the vicinity of particularly
most important wetland of Spain, Doñana National Park is located at
the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, Atlantic coast, in SW
the border of the marshland is located the shrine of the Virgin of
El Rocío (the Dew), where the most important pilgrimage of Spain
takes place every spring. Over one million pilgrims participate
either by foot, by horse, or by wagon, walking through the dunes
and marshlands, chanting and praying for several days, causing, some
times, local conflicts with the protection of fragile flora
its thousands of stony pillars of outstanding beauty, Montserrat has
been considered a sacred mountain since prehistoric times, becoming
a Nature Park in 1994.
includes a medieval monastery dedicated to the Holy Virgin Mary,
patroness of Catalonia, which was the main pilgrimage centre of the
Aragon Crown from XIV-XVII. The Benedictine monastic community still
has significant cultural and spiritual influence.
Montserrat is currently receiving about two million visitors per
year, both tourists and pilgrims, causing stress to both the calm of
monastic environment and to the natural integrity around it.
South Coast Sacred Cultural Landscape,
New South Wales, Australia
It includes an
inter-connected and inter-related network of landscape features that
form a large sacred cultural landscape. These mountains include
Gulaga (Mount Dromedary) and Didthul/Balgan (Pigeon House Mountain)
among others, and also other associated geographical features such
as islands and coastal lakes. It contains the Mumbulla Mountain, a
mountain sacred to the Yuin Aboriginal people.
Yuin led a campaign to stop logging
at Mumbulla Mt. and this eventually led to the area being declared a
National Park. Negotiations are taking place to return the park to
Aboriginal ownership, after which time it would be jointly managed
by the Yuin people and the NSW National Park