After an international selection process, the title ‘European Capital of Culture’ has been awarded to the cities of Marseille, on the southeast coast of France, and Kosice, the second largest city in Slovakia.
This sought-after European title was created in 1985 at the initiative of the European Union by Melina Mercouri, then Greece’s Minister of Culture, and her French counterpart Jack Lang. It contributes to highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and serves as a powerful catalyst for the city’s cultural and economic development, its attraction and influence on the world stage.
“The event is an exceptional opportunity for the city organising it to put new energy into its cultural life, but also to showcase its transformation to the world, improve its visibility at an international level and stimulate its tourist sector,” says Jacques Pfister, president of Marseille-Provence 2013, the body in charge of the event.
Marseille, with its diversity, its rich history and heritage, enjoys a privileged position, open both to Europe and to the Mediterranean. Over twelve months in 2013, Marseille and the region (100 or so towns including Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Salon de Provence and La Ciotat) will host over 500 innovative, original and surprising cultural events, exhibitions, shows and festivals, dedicated entirely to art and culture in all its different forms: dance, music, theatre, heritage, contemporary art, but also science and technology, sport, cuisine and popular culture.
This high-quality cultural program, highlighting young talented artists from Europe and the Mediterranean, will promote dialogue between European and Mediterranean cultures. It will also bring about lasting regional cultural and socio-economic benefits, as well as foster urban regeneration through an unprecedented building program. The world’s leading contemporary architects, including Rudy Ricciotti, Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry, are working on redesigning the cities’ profiles and transforming heritage sites into modern venues. These cities are developing a new modern appealing look on the foundations of their historical and industrial past.
Respecting sustainable and environmental principles, nearly 60 different spaces dedicated to culture have been created or renovated, including museums, concert halls, exhibition spaces and artists’ workshops. Some major renovations include a new design for Aix-en-Provence’s Conservatoire de Musique, the oldest French academy of dance and music created in 1849; the refurbishment of the Eden Theatre at La Ciotat, the world’s oldest existing cinema, built in 1889, which screened the first films of the Lumière brothers in 1898; major cultural transformations of the entire seafront in Marseille.
This project is called The Marseille-Euroméditerranée and it is considered an “Operation of National Significance”. It is the largest urban renewal project in southern Europe, which will transform Marseille and the region into modern and influential cities which will provide a bridge between Europe and the Mediterranean.
Here are a few examples:
MuCEM – the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations
Designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti, who recently created the Cocteau Museum in Menton, the MuCEM is a new national museum and a major component of the project. Strategically located between the restored historic fortress Fort Saint-Jeant and the new docklands, the museum will house a national collection dedicated to the cultures of the Mediterranean.
The Silo d’Arenc was built in 1926 and became a listed heritage building in 2004. Initially the building was used to store and process wheat. Today, a symbol of Marseille’s industrial past, the silo has been beautifully converted by Marseille-based architect Eric Castaldi into a new concert arena on the docks. It also includes offices for technology companies and cultural organisations. Most of the original building has been retained, such as the concrete grain funnels in the foyer.
French Pritzker prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, famous for creating architecture that responds to its local environment, such as the Quai Branly Museum in Paris and the Sydney architectural masterpiece One Central Park, has designed on the Arenc Quays striking residential luxury apartments and new-generation offices, hotel services and local shops on the site of a former warehouse.
The Winner of the international competition Villa Méditerranée in 2004, BOERISTUDIO with Italian architect Stefano Boeri designed the Villa Méditerranée, CeReM. This multifunctional spectacular and symmetrical C-shaped building space, with the lower part submerged in the water, is dedicated to cultural and artistic exchanges between Mediterranean countries. It aims to become a forum space for the peoples of the Mediterranean basin. This center will host exhibitions, concerts, screenings and an underwater gallery where visitors will be able to “see and live” the experience of the Mediterranean.
FRAC (Regional Contemporary Art Fund)
The new building FRAC (Regional Contemporary Art Fund), home for contemporary art collections, exhibition spaces, a café and studios for artists in residence, is designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, well-know for his superb bamboo structures. “The FRAC PACA project is the three-dimensional version of André Malraux’s ‘museum without walls.’ It’s a museum without a museum, a living, changing museum, in which the works are in permanent movement and are part of a notion of dissemination and interaction with the public,” explained Kengo Kuma. Kengo Kuma has also been in charge of the design of the Aix-en-Provence Conservatory, France’s oldest academy of dance and music created in 1849.
The International Centre of Photography and Imagery at the SNCF workshops, Arles
Designed by architects Edwin Chan and Frank Gehry, who created the new UTS building in Sydney, the centre will be dedicated to exhibitions, conservation and creation of imagery and digital arts.
Musée Départemental de l’Arles Antique, Arles
Designed by French architect Henri Ciriani, this archaelogical museum provides an overall vision of Arles’ history, from Roman times to today. Designed as a “museum-city”, it gives the visitors the feeling they are actually walking through a Roman city. Through its triangular layout, the museum clearly defines its three sections: permanent exhibitions, culture and science with spaces for an archaeology laboratory and for workshops.
Other developments include la Friche, an ex-tobacco factory which has been transformed into a community art and performance centre, Camp des Milles, a building, used for the transit, imprisonment and deportation of prisoners during WWII has been transformed into a space for cultural activities, debates, conferences, concerts, performances and readings, Regards de Provence Museum, an old Station Sanitaire quarantine unit, originally constructed by Champollion, Fernand Pouillon and René Egger in 1948, has been turned into a museum and the Vieux Port has become more pedestrian-friendly with a large open area overlooking the port.
The investments in this project have been significant. “Already over €660 million are being earmarked for the refurbishment or construction of major cultural facilities in our region”, said the organisers. But the benefits are just as massive. They are not merely economical, with new jobs created in the commercial, hotel and catering sector, or within the tourism industry with tourist numbers expected to increase by 10% with a total of 12 million visitors from all over the world. This cultural project is also an agent of social cohesion, building a hub for creativity, artistic encounters, exchange and dialogue in the Mediterranean region.
Capitals of Culture: past and future
The first Capital of Culture was Athens in 1985. Thirty cities have since been awarded the title.
2005: Cork (Ireland)
2006: Patras (Greece)
2007: Luxembourg (Greater Region) and Sibiu (Romania)
2008: Liverpool (United Kingdom) and Stavanger (Norway)
2009: Linz (Austria) and Vilnius (Lithuania)
2010: Essen (Germany), Pécs (Hungary) and Istanbul (Turkey)
2011: Turku (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia)
2012: Giumaraes (Portugal) and Maribor (Slovenia)
2013: Marseille (France) and Kosice (Slovakia)
2014: Umea (Sweden) and Riga (Latvia)
2015: Mons (Belgium) and Plzen (Czech Republic)
2016: San Sebastian (Spain) and Wroc?aw (Poland)
2017: Aarthus (Denmark) and Paphos (Cyprus)
2018: The Netherlands and Malta
2019: Italy and Bulgaria
2020: Romania and Serbia