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Spanish Mayor bids for village tradition to be given UNESCO heritage status

'Charla al fresca' are common across Spain as a way to escape the heat on summer evenings.
'Charla al fresca' are common across Spain as a way to escape the heat on summer evenings.   -   Copyright  Unsplash
By Rosie Frost

A small village with just 1,400 residents in Cádiz, Spain is hoping to get one of its nighttime activities recognised as a cultural treasure by the United Nations.

As temperatures rise throughout summer, pulling up a chair in the cool evenings and chatting to your friends or neighbours out in the street is a common activity in Algar. Relishing the cool evening air is a chance for its residents to share gossip, offload their worries and find out what’s new with village life that day.

Mayor José Carlos Sánchez believes that the lure of screens is putting the village’s nightly chats at risk. With more young people using social media to communicate, he’s worried that this simple face to face form of communication could die out.

To protect this centuries-old social network from modern technology, Sánchez is hoping to have the tradition added to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage. It would join other historic customs such as watchmaking in Switzerland, sauna culture in Finland and the sport of Hurling in Ireland.

The tradition has become more important than ever

In the long 18 months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, these nightly forums have become more important than ever - especially for the elderly or frail. For those that have been otherwise isolated they have offered an opportunity for face to face conversations with minimal risk of infection.

“In Algar, we don’t want to lose our customs, our traditions our way of connecting with our neighbours so we are going to start the process for our ‘Charla al Fresco’ to be declared part of UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage of Humanity,” the Ayuntamiento de Algar said in a Facebook post.

To start the bid for UNESCO status, residents of this tiny village were asked to turn out in force for their nightly chat at the end of July. They reacted well to this call for support and a video was made by the local town hall for Algar’s application to protect this tradition.

“We are very excited and hopeful that with everyone’s efforts we are going to get this recognition for our village.”

It could take years for the process to formally recognise the ‘Charla al Fresco’ as a piece of intangible cultural heritage but for now, the story of this Andalucian village has started to spread. Media coverage has come in from across Spain and the rest of Europe, helping Sánchez to show off the unique charms of his home.