UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) decided on December 17, 2020 to inscribe sauna culture as a Finnish heritage on their list of intangible cultural heritage elements. Sauna culture is the first Finnish tradition to be included on this list.

The “Sauna culture on UNESCO” project, which has now reached a successful conclusion, began many years ago with the determination of Finnish sauna enthusiasts to have sauna culture inscribed on the international list of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage elements. The aim of the “Sauna culture on UNESCO” project has been to nurture the continuity of the sauna tradition, strengthen the vitality of Finnish sauna culture and highlight its significance.

When Finland signed the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013, practical steps could be taken. However, the road was long and arduous: for example, the proposal could not be made until Finland received the national list of Living Heritage elements. The Finnish state, represented in this matter by the Ministry of Education and Culture, is maintaining relations with UNESCO. The competent authority is the Finnish National Board of Antiquities. The authorities and representatives of the sauna communities have worked closely together. In total, the application process took 10 months to complete. The application was sent to UNESCO in March 2019.

The Finnish Sauna Society has had an active role in this project through its contribution to adding sauna culture to the Living Heritage Wiki list and preparing the UNESCO application. The Sauna Society has brought together Finnish sauna operators to promote Finnish sauna ideology and Finnish sauna culture. Inscription on the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mankind is a testament to the vitality of Finnish sauna culture, but also to the power of the Finnish sauna community to achieve significant goals together. More than 25 sauna operators from all over Finland were involved in the implementation of the UNESCO project, Sauna from Finland included.

Finnish Sauna Bathing

For Finns, the sauna has always been a sacred place. In today’s hectic world, the sauna is a perfect place to wash away the stresses and strains of everyday life, bringing psychological and physical benefits. Inscription on the UNESCO list helps to ensure the preservation of this beloved national treasure in a changing world, while giving the whole world the opportunity to discover Finnish sauna culture. The sauna tradition may well play a role in Finland’s ranking as the happiest country in the world.

Sauna culture in Finland goes beyond the steam rooms: poems, songs and games have all celebrated sauna culture orally for generations. Outside the confines of the sauna space, the saunas have created a unique culture and way of life for us Finns, where the sauna is endowed with a greater power than mere washing. Women used to give birth in the sauna, it has served as a place for profound discussions on life and was once used for washing the bodies of loved ones before their last journey. The Finnish Sauna Society supports sauna culture projects with annual grants.

Finland signed the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013. The convention promotes the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage and increases the visibility of different cultural traditions of peoples, communities or groups. Sauna culture is protected in Finland by local sauna communities. To support this work, a network of sauna operators called “Saunarinki” (Sauna ring of people in English) has been established, and sauna communities from all over Finland are welcome to join their activities.

For more information:

Mirva Mattila, Cultural Affairs Adviser, Ministry of Education and Culture, mirva.mattila(at)minedu.fi, Tel. +358 2953 30269

Leena Marsio, Specialist, Finnish National Board of Antiquities, leena.marsio(at)museovirasto.fi, Tel. +358 2953 36017

Ritva Ohmeroluoma, Finnish Sauna Society & Saunarinki, ritvaohmeroluoma(at)gmail.com. Tel. +358 400 109 021

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The following entities contributed to the Sauna culture on UNESCO project:

Finnish Sauna Society, sauna of Alisniemi, Nokia, Helsinginniemen Heitto ry, Hyvinkään Löylynlyömät, Imatra Winter Swimming Association, Jyvässeudun Perinnesaunojat ry, Jäämeren uimarit / Sallan Latu ja Polku ry, International Sauna Association (ISA), International Smoke Sauna Club, Lauhanvuoren perinne ry, Löylyveljet ry, Oulun Rantasaunaseura ry, Paimion Saunaryhmä, Pispala Sauna Association – Rajaportin Sauna, Polarin Saunakerho ry, Polytechnic Sauna Society, Saimaan Saunaseura ry, Sauna Arla perinneyhdistys ry, Sauna from Finland ry, Saunahermannin Ystävät ry, Saunamestari Kilta ry, Sauna Society Kipakka, Saunaseura Kuuma ry, Saunaseura Löylynlyöjät ry, Saunaseura SaunaMafia ry, Saunaseura Vastaisku ry, Siirrettävien saunojen kokoontumisajot ry, Sompasaunaseura ry, Suomen Kupparit ja Saunaterapeutit ry, Association of Finnish Sauna Culture, Finnish Sauna Society, Taivaannaula ry, Teuvan Saunaparaati Saunanturvajoukot, Yläkaupungin Saunaseura, The Mansion of Experience and Friendship, Forum Hoitosauna, Herrankukkaro Oy, The city of Lappeenranta, Saunat.co, Saunat.fi, Saunaterapia.com, Saunologia.fi, Sisu savusauna, Travellamo and Villa Furuvik.

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