Via Francigena

Cultural Routes of Europe and Accessibility

Picture of Redazione AEVF
Redazione AEVF

In light of their positive experiences concerning the Via Francigena and the Camino de Santiago, we have invited two Italian organizations – the Social Cooperative Acca of Aosta and the Association of Free Wheels Lombardy (Varese Somma) to an interesting meeting in Strasbourg, dedicated to the accessibility of Cultural Routes in Europe.

The Aosta Valley delegation attended the meeting in Strasbourg dedicated to the accessibility of Cultural Routes in Europe, June 2016.

A meeting was recently held in Strasbourg organized by the European Institute of European Institute of Cultural Routes, in collaboration with CAST (the Centre for Advanced Studies in Tourism at the University of Bologna) and with the contribution of students in the Degree programme ITALI (International Tourism and Leisure Industries) at the University of Bologna (Rimini Campus), operating within the spheres of the projects Erasmus and Hector.

The meeting was attended by over a hundred people, including twenty-five managers of Cultural Routes which are currently recognized by the Council of Europe, and also representatives of the nine itinerary candidates seeking this important certification.

Through interactive methods and group work, participants addressed issues related to communication (new media, corporate communications, how reach different audiences etc.) and held, among other things, a workshop entitled ‘Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and accessibility’.

The last meeting addressed the issue of accessibility to the Routes of Europe, and included some organizations from European states, such as the French Braille & Culture Association, the German Via Regia, the British In the Footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, and, for Italy, the Cooperativa Sociale Val d’Aosta and the Lombard Association of Free Wheels, selected for their experience in recent years in relation to the Via Francigena and the Cammino di Santiago  di Compostela.

The Via Francigena is the ancient road of the pilgrims going from Canterbury in England – from where Archbishop Sigeric departed for Rome in the tenth century – on through France, Switzerland and Italy, all the way to Rome, continuing on to the Holy Land .

The experimental project referred to as ‘the Via Francigena for everyone’ concerns the implementation of operations on a section of the Aosta Valley of about 2 km, from the Monastery Mater Misericordiae to the Castello di Quart, near the regional capital.

A proposal by the local Lions Club, the initiative has two goals; first, to involve people in  economic difficulty in the necessary work of adapting the route,  and secondly, to implement interventions aimed at improving accessibility , particularly for people with sensory disabilities, mild motor disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities.

For its part , the Cooperative Acca has collaborated the analysis and individualization of the various adjustments (guiding aids, fences, handrails and an audio guide for visitors  with visual impairments or with minor physical disabilities), which are taking place at this time along the Francigena. In addition, also by Acca, and in collaboration with the Association Girotondo of Aosta, the first guide developed in the Region has been published, addressing in particular people with intellectual disabilities.

The Association of Free Wheels of Somma Lombardo (Varese), founded by Peter Scidurlo, has been particularly involved in recent years on the Routes, including the famous, Santiago de Compostela .  Scidurlo , together with Luciano Callegari, has also produced  the Guide to the Camino de Santiago for Everyone, published by Terre di Mezzo, and he now plans to produce one for the Via Francigena.

Drawing from their experiences, the organizations present in Strasbourg were asked to give feedback on projects that have already been realized, or on ones that are currently underway, in order to define a common set of standards on accessibility, but also to identify best practices in disseminating and promoting the routes. It was therefore, a first positive exchange on these issues, based on common interests to maximize the potential of existing assets through accessibility.

Cultural Routes, although they are all very different, they are linked by the same objective, which is to enhance the memory, history and European heritage, highlighting the cultural diversity of each country. This is an integral part of our European heritage and it is therefore, more important than ever that the issue of the use and accessibility also concerns the Routes and cultural aspects related to them, thus moving in the direction of effective participation and equal opportunities for all citizens and highlighting above all, the economic development opportunities related to accessible tourism, which allows an increase in potential participants.

 ( Maria Cosentino and Stefano Borgato )