Welcome to my 8th annual review of Capitals and Cities of Culture around the world. As usual I only include those where the title has been awarded by an external organisation rather than a self promoted marketing slogan.
The main news this year is Russia´s first Capital of Culture. Despite destroying Ukraine´s cultural infrastructure and killing thousands of Ukrainians in its illegal war of aggression Russia attempts to show “business as usual”. The competition was open to cities over 250,000. Selection has a novel twist: an online public vote, followed by a public presentation to an expert panel. The general criteria were: “Experts assessed the preservation of historical and cultural heritage, the level of development of the urban environment, theatres, museums and archives, education and enlightenment, the introduction of innovations and creative industries.” Nineteen cities put in bids leading to a shortlist of eight: Grozny, Kaliningrad, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Samara, Tomsk, Cheboksary and Chita. Nizhny Novgorod topped the poll with 189,151 votes, 2,000 ahead of Samara. The city is preparing a programme of around 150 events (well worth a read). Unexpectedly, Grozny the Chechen capital, was appointed as the 2025 title holder by the president of the organisers (a member of the Duma and under Western sanctions). It was a very controversial announcement. Several of the other shortlisted cities vented their surprise and anger at this impromptu decision. With the war continuing both Nizhny Novgorod and Grozny are to be boycotted. (No normal activity in an abnormal situation). The long standing regional Capital of Culture in Krasnoyarsk goes to Uzhursky.
The Cultural Cities of East Asia programme gains strength every year. Despite the frequent political differences between the three countries (China, South Korea and Japan) this cultural programme thrives. The 2024 title-holders are Weifang and Dalian in China, Ishikawa in Japan and Gimhae City in South Korea. Weifang is in the UNESCO Creative Cities network for crafts and folk art. Dalian stands out for its 30,000 cherry trees and their blossom. Ishikawa was hit by the earthquake on New Years day. The Korean title holders have formed a network. At their second meeting in September the five previous title holders and Gimhae held a workshop and “shared practical challenges of the current CCEA project and debated on diverse ways to overcome such limitations“.
The Cultural Capital of the Turkic World goes to Änew in Turkmenistan whilst the Commonwealth of Independent States selected Samarkand in Turkmenistan. Änew has important archaeological ruins from the 15th century and an impressive White Wheat Museum whilst Samarkand is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tripoli in Lebanon hosts the Cultural Capital of the Arab World. The original plan was to hold the title in 2023. It seems a combination of COVID19 and lack of preparations led to a postponement. Marrakesh In Morocco and Shushi in Azerbaijan are the two Cultural Capitals of the Islamic World. Let´s hope they have better luck than Benghazi who had to forgo their programme in 2023 due to the effects of Storm Daniel.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site becomes the Capital of Ibero-American Culture: Sucre in Bolivia. Designated by UCCI and known as the La Cuidad Blanca, reflecting the white painted colonial era houses. The State of Nayarit (Mexico) is the American Capital of Culture continuing the Spanish only nature of this NGO run title.
Time now to look at the 12 Capitals of Culture in Europe.
It is “welcome back” to the Portugal CoC. This lasted for just two editions in 2003 (Coimbra) and 2005 (Faro) before a change of government closed the programme. The restored title follows the example of Italy: the three unsuccessful shortlisted candidates for the European Capital of Culture 2027 are recompensed by holding a national title. In 2024 Aveiro takes the honours followed by Braga and Ponta Delgada before Évora holds the European title.
Pesaro holds the Italy title. A key takeaway from the handover from the 2023 holders, Bergamo/Brescia: In the coming years, at least 200-300 million new tourists are estimated in the world, strongly attracted by the beauty and culture of Italy. The problem is that the ‘historic’ art cities, therefore Rome, Venice, Florence, are already overbooked. For this reason, a network of medium-sized cities is needed, such as Pesaro, Mantua, Parma, Matera and Bergamo and Brescia themselves, to serve the country to increase its competitiveness and attractiveness “. No wonder 26 cities have sent in bids for the 2026 title, now reduced to a shortlist of 10, with decision in March.
The second Serbian title goes to Užice after bids from 12 cities. Kaišiadorys becomes the Lithuanian CoC. There was no Slovakian title holder last year. Humenné beat off competition from Brezno and Šaľa to take the 2024 title.
In the folk-art/traditions group the Finno-Ugric title has not yet been announced. Belarus has selected Belynichi from five candidates.
Regional Capitals of Culture in Spain continue with Sabadell taking the Catalan title and Monóvar (for places over 5,000) and Bicorp (under 5,000) the two Valencian titles. The latter has spectacular cave paintings, (another UNESCO Heritage site)..
And finally: the three European Capitals of Culture: Tartu (Estonia) and Bad Ischl/Salzkammergut (Austria) are joined by Bodø (Norway). The three are probably the smallest trio of ECOCs since the title started in 1985. All three are including rural communities to widen their appeal. The gap between national CoCs and the European title narrows. Bad Ischl is the first “inner Alpine” title holder and Bodø the most northerly. Bodø opens (with memories of Galway) on “On February 3, we’ll gather in a circle around the marina – regardless of the weather – and enjoy a spectacular show before moving inside and continuing the party in town.” All three cities appear in the Guardian´s top ten cultural destinations for 2024.
You may have noticed some missing CoCs. Several titles with 2 to 4 year cycles are in their “off–year” so no UK, Eixo Atlântico, London or Africa title holders. I´ve also dropped the cities which become a CoC on the basis of the location of the summit meeting of an inter-governmental organisation (eg ASEAN and Portuguese Speaking Countries). Has anyone heard if a regional CoC in the Veneto region of Italy exists?
25 and now 26 Cultural Capitals for 2024! Enjoy.