Tale of two cities: Capitals of Culture 2008

Conceived as a means of bringing citizens closer together European City of Culture was launched on 13 June 1985 by the European Council of Ministers on the initiative of Greek Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri. That year Athens was chosen as the city for this prestigious event and a long list of others followed.
The concept, rules and title were revisited and in 1999 European City of Culture was changed to European Capital of Culture. In 2005 the Irish city of Cork was first to be awarded the prestigious title. In guidelines set by the Council of the European Union, the designated city …“shall establish a community action whose objectives shall be to highlight the richness and diversity of European cultures and features they share, as well as promote greater mutual acquaintance between European citizens”.
During one year the European Capital of Culture is given a chance to showcase its cultural life and cultural development. A number of European cities have used the event to transform their cultural base and, in doing so, the way in which they are viewed internationally. Culture can also be seen as a driving force for civilised urban development from which the chosen cities have derived significant economic and tourist benefits.
Tale of two cities In 2008 Liverpool (United Kingdom) and Stavanger (Norway) share the prestigious title European Capital of Culture. Norway is the first non-European Union country to be awarded the title. In January ceremonies were launched and celebrations with a mix of cultural and other activities are underway in both cities and in Stavanger region.
They are seaport cities with a long tradition of maritime and industrial activity. Their historical and cultural treasures will be put on display throughout the year.
In north-west England, Liverpool is situated at the east side of the mouth of the River Mersey and is the second largest export port of the United Kingdom.
Originally trading with Ireland, it grew rapidly in the eighteenth century as a result of trade with America and the industrialisation of South Lancashire. Along with the import of cotton from America and the export of textiles produced in Lancashire and Yorkshire, it became an important centre of shipbuilding and engineering. The city is linked with Birkenhead and Wallasey on the Wirral Peninsula by two tunnels under the Mersey.
Liverpool has a thriving historical, architectural and cultural centre with the Walker Art Gallery (built 1876), the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Tate Gallery (1988) in the restored Albert Dock area. Notable buildings include the Royal Liver Building (1910) at the Pier Head, St. George’s Hall (1854) and the Roman Catholic cathedral (1962-67). The city captured early headlines as 2008 European Capital of Culture. Visitors will see streets of neat brick Georgian terraces, neighbourhoods of Victorian houses and monumental Georgian city centre.
Four of its famous sons are the pop and rock group the Beatles. Remembered for the quality and stylistic diversity of their songs, from the first success Love Me Do (1962) the group was catapulted on to the world stage. It brought international fame to Liverpool while enhancing the city’s already vibrant cultural, club and night life.
At Stavanger airport there is a poem – Arne Garborg’s Mot soleglad – written in white bales of hay to mark the prestigious occasion.
There rises from the sea a country of elves With peaks and moorland It can be clearly seen against the horizon In the blue of the evening sun
Situated on a peninsula in south-west of Norway it has the country’s fourth largest population. Visitors to Stavanger will see wood in a city with a long tradition and history.
The old part of the city has the largest surviving wooden house settlement in northern Europe, an area of white homes, cobbled streets and artists studios set along the west side of the harbour. More than 170 houses built in the late 1700s and early 1800s are preserved and renovated. An ‘architectural jewel’ the wooden house capital of Europe was a pilot city during the European Architectural Heritage Year in 1975 and has received several Europa Nostra awards.
Deeply rooted in religious and Christian life the city was founded in 1125. It became a bishopric in the twelfth century when its unique national religious monument, Cathedral of St. Swithin, was built. The most important industries have been shipping, shipbuilding and canning industry associated with other industries. Discovery of black gold in the 1960s has made Stavanger Norway’s oil capital. Servicing lucrative offshore oilfields in the North Sea has helped to share cosmopolitan influence with traditions in the region. . The 2008 European Capital of Culture theme “Open Port” – of art and expression and arts of hospitality – aims to develop the region’s cultural exchanges between Norway and Europe with a programme of architecture, film, music, literature and arts to encourage international artists to come and work with local artists and generally galvanise the population.
In 2008 over 150 events are programmed in the Stavanger region. Among them is a Greek drama to put the concept of a European cultural heritage into perspective. It will involve the entire community from the theatre and symphony orchestra to amateur choirs and bands including a cast of thousands of extras amongst inhabitants from the Stavanger region to participate in the drama.
From the Greek city of Athens to the Greek drama in Stavanger, a cultural leap will be made to “promote greater mutual acquaintance between European citizens”.
Ita Marguet, February 2008
Note: Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this article.