By Andrea Corsale, University of Cagliari, Italy
Multicultural and cosmopolitan places, where different national groups have made their mark on the landscape and contributed to territorial identity, offer significant opportunities for niche cultural tourism. Aspects of a complex heritage can be created, recognised, highlighted, reinterpreted and ultimately sold, diversifying the image of a tourist offering even after previous phases of neglect or destruction.
In places where minority cultural heritage has (re)surfaced in recent times, majority groups may react in terms of nationalistic confrontation or cultural dissonance (Tunbridge and Ashworth 1996). However, in many cases there is a clearly visible trend toward greater appreciation of historical minority group heritage. Besides locally specific political, social and cultural reasons, a pragmatic, growing interest in the development of niche tourism products is often one of the driving forces of this ongoing change (Krakover 2016).
One of the most remarkable and controversial examples is the growing interest in Jewish history and culture in central and eastern Europe, even in countries where Jewish communities have disappeared, or have been reduced to tiny and barely visible minorities, Jewish history and culture is increasingly recognised as a significant part of local and national history and identity (Gruber 2002). This heritage can be metaphorically viewed, and used to re-think and re-define collective histories, representations and narratives which either consciously or unconsciously support dominant or minority group images. This growing interest has produced an expanding niche within cultural tourism (Schwarzbaum 2015). However, Jewish heritage tourism in Europe presents unique features, as the sites generally represent the legacy of a minority which either disappeared (in some cases centuries ago), or is now represented by small groups of people with high median age and advanced degrees of assimilation. This implies that Jewish communities are not always able to keep a central role in decision-making related to the management and promotion of their heritage.
Both positive and negative aspects can be identified in past, ongoing and planned practices of revitalisation and commodification of Jewish heritage (Silverman 2001). Rampant commercialisation of Jewish-related sites raised significant negative reactions in parts of the Jewish community; at the same time, rehabilitation and revitalisation of Jewish heritage in many European cities has turned decaying and forgotten neighbourhoods into vibrant and cosmopolitan urban spaces (Sandri 2013).
My recent paper (Corsale 2017), published in The Geographical Journal, discusses the case of Jewish heritage in Bucharest. In this historically cosmopolitan city, the large and vibrant Jewish community has been dramatically reduced by emigration, but has left a considerable cultural legacy and still asks for involvement and participation in the management and promotion of their tangible and intangible heritage.
Jewish heritage in Bucharest suffered significant destruction over World War II and especially during the last years of Ceauşescu’s regime, when a large part of the old Jewish district was demolished and replaced with wide avenues, standardised apartment blocks and empty spaces (see the image at the beginning of the blog post). In spite of these losses, Jewish heritage remains significant, and includes lavish Moorish Revival synagogues, the last Yiddish theatre in Europe, Ashkenazic and Sephardic cemeteries and valuable buildings once designed or decorated by Jewish architects and artists. Thus, tangible heritage shows elements of both cultural and architectural flourishing, as well as neglect and destruction (see the Jewish Virtual Library). The intangible Jewish heritage of Bucharest, on the other hand, includes a rich tradition of literature, music, traditions, folklore and food which has been dramatically undermined by mass emigration.
The strategies, practices and discourses of different stakeholders linked to Jewish heritage protection, production and management need to be assessed and understood. The largely unexpressed potential of this niche within the development of tourism in Bucharest, along with early signs of economic and political exploitation by non-Jewish stakeholders, makes this case study relevant for the broader study of sustainable cultural tourism.
I have described and analysed the case of Jewish heritage in Bucharest to illustrate how the Jewish community perceives the critical elements and economic potential of its cultural heritage, and envisions its development (see The Romanian Jewish Community), and compared these perceptions and practices with those of non-Jewish stakeholders interested in this niche tourism development. Controversial and contradictory signs, ranging from ongoing heritage destruction to restoration of key buildings, reveal the underestimation of and interest in this cultural tourism niche (Romania tourism). Significant growth of this tourism niche and its structural integration into the city’s image might perhaps risk powerful stakeholders taking control and excluding both the tiny Jewish community and the small-scale specialist tourist operators. Through this case study, my paper ultimately aims to contribute to the discussion about the complexity of niche heritage tourism practices in multi-ethnic contexts.
About the author: Andrea Corsale is Assistant Professor of Geography at the Department of History, Cultural Heritage and Territory, University of Cagliari, Italy. He has a Ph.D. in African and Asian Studies. His research interests include international migrations, ethnic minorities, rural and cultural tourism, participation and local development, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean Region.
Feature image caption: The Great Synagogue of Bucharest surrounded by communist apartment blocks, empty areas and new high-rise buildings. Source: Author’s own, 2016.
Corsale, A. (2017), Jewish heritage tourism in Bucharest: reality and visions. Geogr J. doi:10.1111/geoj.12211
Gruber R E (2002) Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish culture in Europe. University of California Press
Jewish Virtual Library http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/bucharest
Krakover S (2016) A heritage site development model: Jewish heritage product formation in south-central Europe Journal of Heritage Tourism 12 (1) 81-101
The Romanian Jewish Community http://www.romanianjewish.org/en/#
Romania tourism (n.d) Jewish heritage in Romania http://romaniatourism.com/jewish-heritage.html
Sandri O (2013) City heritage tourism without heirs: a comparitative story of Jewish-themed tourism of Krakow and Vilnius Cybergeo DOI : 10.4000/cybergeo.25934
Schwarzbaum L (2015) Tracing Jewish Heritage Along the Danube The New York Times, 13 March 2015
Silverman J (2015) Polish tourism benefits from Holocaust memories BBC news, 9 January 2001.
Tunbridge J E and Ashworth A (1996) Dissonant heritage: the management of past as a resource in conflict Wiley