UNESCO awards Dutch ‘corsos’ with intangible cultural heritage status

Dutch corsos have been added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH).

The coveted UNESCO status aims at safeguarding the corso practice, its intrinsic values, knowledge and skills.

A Corso (which derives from the Italian corso or avenue)  is a parade of floats (or boats) decorated with flowers, fruit, vegetables and, in some cases, people in costumes. The parade is often accompanied by bands and performers. A corso is a competition: the float judged best by the jury wins a prize.

Typical corsos use flowers including tulips, hyacinths and daffodils in the spring, and dahlias in August and September. There is also a fruit corso held in Tiel. Many corsos also feature vegetables, reeds, bark, grass, seeds, plants and other decorative flowers. Dutch corsos are not afraid of rejuvenating themselves; 1997 saw the inaugural edition of Varend Corso; a floral flotilla that each year sails through Westland, Midden-Delfland, Schiedam, Vlaardingen, Maassluis, Rijswijk, The Hague and the beautiful city of Delft.

Corsos take place across the world, but ‘corso culture’ is at its strongest in the Netherlands. There are about thirty different parades held annually in the country, of various sizes and character. There are very small, local parades, but the Netherlands also hosts the world’s longest flower parades. Some also take place at night  and are illuminated. The biggest parades have floats that are twenty metres long and ten metres high, often with moving parts. One float can contain up to 500,000 dahlia flowers. Hundreds of volunteers are involved to decorate each float with flowers during the last hectic days before the parade.

Corso culture is about much more than the parade alone. Groups of friends or communities often spend months preparing their floats. Having a drink or meal together after working on the floats and organising regular parties is an important part of it all. The sense of social cohesion and contributing to a feeling of solidarity is often people’s main reason for taking part. Each corso has its own construction groups or neighborhoods which build floats and plant and maintain flower fields together. The size of these groups varies from ten or so people to several hundred. In the Netherlands an estimated 75,000 volunteers are actively involved in the parades. Corso events in the past have attracted more than 1,500,000 visitors from the Netherlands and abroad every year. Live broadcasts are watched by an estimated 2,000,000 viewers.

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