What is cultural heritage?

Knowsy Kids is all about celebrating cultural heritage, but what is it exactly?

The word “heritage” refers to something that can be inherited, in other words, something that is passed on from one generation to the next.

So, what do you think of when you hear the term “cultural heritage?” What cultural things do we inherit from our elders and pass on to our children?

Cultural heritage can be defined as:



the legacy of physical artefacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. (UNESCO)

When we talk about cultural heritage, we are talking about both the tangible and the intangible aspects of culture, the things we can see and touch like clothes and statues, buildings and artefacts, as well as non physical things like songs and dances, ideas and traditions.

Often, the tangible and intangible aspects of culture are interlinked, working together to communicate the parts of our culture that are meaningful to us. For example, did you know that cathedrals are built in the shape of a cross, or that mosques are designed to face Mecca? Here, we see how the design of a building can communicate intangible aspects of culture, such as religious beliefs.

Similarly, intangible aspects of culture can tell us about the tangible aspects, such as the environment and notable landmarks. This is commonly seen in the songs and dances we learn as children. One example is this popular English nursery rhyme:

Hickory, dickory, dock.
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, dickory, dock

Although known for its fun lyrics and catchy tune, this rhyme is thought to be about an actual clock which can be found at Exeter Cathedral. This clock is known as an astronomical clock, telling showing the day of the lunar month and the phase of the moon, and has a small hole in the door which allows the cathedral’s cat to hunt mice!

Cultural heritages also overlap and intertwine. Many cultures share practices and beliefs, foods and clothing. As culture is passed from one generation to the next, some things may be lost, and other things added. Some things lose significance and other things gain significance. Also, individuals may belong to multiple cultural groups, bringing together different aspects of different cultures in a new and unique way.

Cultural heritage is not just about what happened in the past; it is about our culture in the present, and hundreds of years into the future. When we attempt to preserve or promote aspects of cultural heritage, we are deciding which aspects of our culture we think are too important to be forgotten.

Knowsy Kids believes that cultural heritage is something we can share with children from an early age. What are your favourite aspects of your culture? What can you do to preserve them for generations to come?