An in-person event: 120 people spending three days immersed in heritage interpretation in 2021. Sounds like a dream, and it felt like one, too.
In October, an in-person event gathered around 120 participants, mostly heritage interpretation professionals, and took them on an interpretive journey through Terra Magica. That is a romantic nickname for the Croatian region of Istria. It is indeed magical for many reasons. For example, it contains a lot of folklore about enchanting creatures. This event helped us realise that the most magical creatures in Istria were of flesh and bone. They are all those people behind numerous projects that turn heritage into experiences for visitors in the most respectful and nourishing manner.
The central part of the conference took place in the small Istrian town of Svetvinčenat. It consisted of presentations by interpreters from all over Croatia. The entire event was filled with short examples of live interpretations by Istra Inspirit, the organiser. Istra Inspirit is an example of an innovative experiential tourism provider in Croatia. They’re best known for their theatre plays and theatric tours based on peculiar local history or legends in an authentic setting. Snippets of their shows served as perfect interludes between the formal presentations. We also had a chance to enjoy two of their plays. Night Ghost Stories covered the renaissance castle of Svetvinčenat in a dark cloak. Morgan’s Treasure in Dvigrad showed us how theatre and live interpretation build imaginary walls on a ruinous castle and bring history to life.
Throughout the conference, local heritage products and services were promoted. A wine workshop, wine and beer tastings, authentic food… Interpreters from the towns of Žminj and Vrsar unveiled their cooking skills and prepared traditional specialities.
The presentations were short but inspiring. We had a chance to listen to the experience, and get educational tips and ideas from more than 20 interpretive planners, trainers, guides, travel writers, and destination managers. Most of the presenters were also active Interpret Europe members, and there were many certified members. But the event was not limited to IE members. Many experts outside IE’s pool joined the event. Some people were only starting to explore heritage interpretation. Overall, it was a place of inspiration, networking, and exchange of ideas.
This event would not have taken place without IE’s Country Coordinator Croatia, Manuela Hrvatin. It was one of her goals when she applied to become a coordinator, and she started working on it the moment she took the role. Despite the strict covid prevention measures, she pulled it through with her enchanting ability to gently motivate people and unite them around common goals. She wasn’t alone, of course. She was supported by a big and dilligent team. Nevenka Lorencin, Ivana Maružin, Sandra Domijanić Dravec and Lucija Šorić deserve a special mention for making sure that everything went as planned and making sure each and every attendee felt welcome and special.
The event received financial support from Croatian tourism and cultural authorities. That makes a significant step towards the recognition of interpretation by public bodies. Interpretation proved to be a link between two worlds that go hand in hand, yet are often hard to connect on an institutional level.
We visited several examples of good interpretive practice. We walked an interpretive trail near Vrsar and learned about the visions for the newly built scientific-educational centre. In the Miners House Arsia in Raša, we were all impressed by the history of the town, and humbled by the destinies of the miners. On the last day, we visited three ecomuseums. We kicked off the day with a taster of a traditional way of life by visiting Istrian de Dignan in Vodnjan. Boško, the authentic boškarin ox from their farm, stole our hearts! We went to Spacio Matika, part of Ecomuseum Batana, included in UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices. We were all caught singing the traditional songs there.
We admired the brave people who defied all odds to bypass three types of armed guards in the middle of the woods and the still of the night, just to exchange their produce for a pack of coffee. We learned about their culture and life in the emotional exhibition of ecomuseum Vlaški puti (Vlach paths).
The people behind all of these projects are passionate interpreters, the enchanting creatures of Terra Magica. What we get to visit and experience is usually just the visible tip of an iceberg made out of their dedicated life-works.
Three days were not enough to experience everything there is to experience, but it was a great start. Hopefully, a similar event will take place next year in another region of Croatia. I can’t wait!
Download the Manual for Participatory Tourism Connecting Community and Culture Through Storytelling that brings that shares the experience of Istra Inspirit: https://mint.gov.hr/UserDocsImages//AAA_2020_ABC/c_dokumenti//200212_storrytelling_eng.pdf
Follow the event’s Facebook page to get a better picture of what it all looked like: https://www.facebook.com/nfib.hrvatska
Contact IE’s Country Coordinator Croatia, Manuela Hrvatin, for more information about Interpret Europe activities in Croatia: [email protected]
Iva Silla is the author of Secret Zagreb walking tours (www.secret-zagreb.com) and the Croatia Underrated podcast (www.croatiaunderrated.com). She is an experienced Interpret Europe Certified Interpretive Trainer. Contact her at: [email protected].
To cite this article: Silla, Iva (2021) ‘First Croatian national forum of heritage interpretation’ in Interpret Europe Newsletter 4-2021, pg.30-31