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Heritage: We Must Save Our Old Stones!

For the European Heritage Days on September 15 and 16, 2018, France will organize a lottery whose proceeds will help restore endangered historical sites throughout France.

Thousands of monuments in rural areas or small communities across France are falling into disrepair, including bridges and garrets, abbeys and fountains, theatres and synagogues, factories, ramparts, orangeries, greenhouses, windmills, viaducts, châteaux, and hundreds of churches and chapels. In an effort to save them, French president Emmanuel Macron charged Stéphane Bern, a presenter of successful historical television shows in France, with the task of saving this heritage last year. This month he inaugurated a national Heritage Lottery, the proceeds of which will be donated to 250 carefully selected sites. We met with him to find out more.


France-Amérique: Why do you distinguish between urban and rural heritage?

Stéphane Bern: These two types of heritage are subject to different challenges. A private mansion in Paris with high visitor numbers generates enough profit to ensure its upkeep. The same cannot be said for a château located in a rural area that only welcomes 5,000 tourists per year. This is why we need to help the owners finance restoration work.

What is the Heritage Lottery?

It is a series of scratch cards that will be sold at 15 euros each in early September, with a special draw held during the European Heritage Days on September 15 and 16, 2018. The money generated will be placed in a specifically designed “Endangered Heritage” fund managed by the French Heritage Foundation. Eighteen iconic sites will receive full funding, and the French Regional Cultural Affairs Board will evaluate other applications on a case-by-case basis. A total of 250 monuments will benefit from the profits made by the Heritage Lottery. We also hope to encourage independent donations, including from Anglophone patrons.

You have received 2,000 applications. How did you make a decision?

We selected the most urgent projects. I wanted the iconic monuments from all regions to be taken into account. And not just the 13 administrative regions in mainland France, but also those in the overseas territories such as Guadeloupe, French Guyana, Martinique, La Réunion, Mayotte, Saint Martin, and Saint Barthelemy. The sites to be saved include Fort Cigogne in Fouesnant (the Finistère département), the Château de Carneville (Manche), the Varenne Forges in Champsecret (Orne), and Pierre Loti’s mansion in Rochefort (Charente-Maritime). I also wanted to include all types of heritage. Not solely religious and castral sites, but working-class, industrial, and archeological examples, as well as those that are often disregarded such as bridges, wash houses, fountains, and bread ovens. And gardens, of course!


Stéphane began his career as the editor in chief of Dynastie magazine before becoming a columnist for Madame Figaro in 1989. He has worked in radio on Europe 1, RTL, and France Inter producing his own show, Le Fou du roi, and on television with shows such as Monument préféré des FrançaisVillage préféré des FrançaisSecrets d’histoire (portraits of major historical figures such as Mozart, Molière, and Lafayette), and Visites privées (showcasing national heritage furniture). He has also styled himself as a worldly observer using his trademark humor and self-deprecation to offer an accessible take on French history, and is the author of numerous historical works and biographies.

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