Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 15.COM 8.B.27

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Finland has nominated Sauna culture in Finland (no. 01596) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Sauna culture in Finland is an integral part of the lives of the majority of the Finnish population. Sauna culture, which can take place in homes or public places, involves much more than simply washing oneself. In a sauna, people cleanse their bodies and minds and embrace a sense of inner peace. Traditionally, the sauna has been considered as a sacred space – a ‘church of nature’. At the heart of the experience lies löyly, the spirit or steam released by casting water onto a stack of heated stones. Saunas come in many forms – electric, wood-heated, smoke and infra-red. Approaches vary too, with no hierarchy among them. Sauna traditions are commonly passed down in families and though universities and sauna clubs also help share knowledge. With 3.3 million saunas in a country of 5.5 million inhabitants, the element is readily accessible to all. Traditional public saunas in the cities almost disappeared after the 1950s. In recent years, new public saunas have been constructed thanks to private initiatives.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   The sauna is a multisensory experience that strengthens people’s connection with nature. Traditions related to the sauna are commonly passed on to children by their parents and other relatives, and by anyone – through word and gesture – to people who are new to the tradition. According to the nomination, sauna bathing brings together relatives, friends, colleagues, sports teams and even strangers. There is a feeling of equality and respect among bathers. The nomination file provides an ample reflection on the impact of sauna culture on sustainable development, and mentions continued efforts to lower its impact on the environment.

R.2:   The inscription could lead to more dialogue, contact and exchange of experiences between representatives of sauna culture in Finland and of bathing traditions elsewhere in the world. As a result of the inscription, people may increasingly reflect on their own intangible cultural heritage and that of others, and on its values and functions, drawing attention at the international level to the importance and perception of everyday practices as a central aspect of individual communities’ living heritage. The inscription would draw attention to a practice of living heritage that benefits from the inclusion of findings from vernacular and formal medicine.

R.3:   The nomination provides a comprehensive list of safeguarding measures. These include: safeguarding through continued practice and transmission; strengthening cooperation in the sauna community; and awareness-raising and promotional activities. The involvement of different entities and of the communities concerned is ensured and encouraged by the State Party, especially when it comes to the preservation of the architecture surrounding traditional saunas, for generations to come. Further measures include achieving increased media attention, additional research projects and documentation efforts, and ensuring the participation of all community members regardless of their gender, age, social status or any other factors.

R.4:   The nomination process began with a bottom-up initiative. The Finnish Heritage Agency facilitated a meeting to which all sauna clubs and associations known to exist in Finland were invited. A directive board was also established, giving rise to the ‘sauna to UNESCO’ initiative. Community participation and free, prior and informed consent (in relation to both the nomination and the proposed safeguarding measures) are evident throughout the description and in the letters of consent.

R.5:   The element was included in the National Inventory of Living Heritage in 2017. New entries to this inventory are made biennially. The information on the listed elements is updated and revised every three years. The updating is coordinated and supervised by the Finnish Heritage Agency.

  1. Decides to inscribe Sauna culture in Finland on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;

  2. Commends the State Party for its first inscription;

  3. Invites the State Party to ensure that the safeguarding measures adequately address the potential negative impacts of over-commercialization of the element, keeping in mind that all safeguarding measures should be aimed at enhancing the viability of the element.