In many European countries waterways are an important heritage asset. Canals and rivers are a significant part of urban and rural history, essential to expanding commercial networks, flood control strategies, agriculture and industrial development. Canals have also served as sites of artistic inspiration, through literature, painting, poetry and song, and therefore are the focus of a unique heritage, both tangible and intangible. Inland waterways have bequeathed fascinating artefacts to our built environments, including towpaths, bridges, locks, shipyards, slipways, river ports, warehouses, etc: an architecture that has sustained livelihoods for centuries and, more recently, offers opportunities for leisure and recreation.
However, whilst the cultural heritage of major rivers and canals is quite well known, the case of minor rivers and canals is not shared and understood so readily. The EUWATHER project (“European Waterways Heritage: Re-evaluating European Minor Rivers and Canals as Cultural Landscapes”), which created the platform “Waterways Explorer”, aims to promote knowledge and rehabilitation of the cultural heritage of minor waterways and historic canals in Europe. Its objective is to develop new opportunities for eco-tourism and outdoor recreation as a driver for sustainable development.
A number of digital itineraries has been co-designed with local communities, commercial stakeholders and the public sector to generate new ways of approaching minor waterways. The creation of an on-line Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) with reliable online datasets has resulted from the archival and fieldwork research by the academic teams involved in this project. It brings together the tangible and intangible cultural history of waterscape heritage related to 11 European pilot areas. Such a database is easily accessible to private entrepreneurs in river tourism, to public/private institutions devoted to environmental education, to open air and other museums, and to rural tourism networks, particularly those involving hikers and cyclists.