A tour through Europe: Plovdiv 2019


Plovdiv was European Capital of Culture (ECoC) in 2019 together with the Italian city of Matera. Plovdiv is also the second largest city in Bulgaria with a population of around 347 000, as well as the cultural and business center of Southern Bulgaria. The city is around 8000 years old, which makes it one of the oldest still inhabited cities in the world. Plovdiv was originally a Thracian settlement, but was later inhabited by Persians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Goths, Bulgars, Slavs and Turks. Because of this the city has a very diverse cultural heritage and a multi-ethnic population. Plovdiv’s location on the banks of the Maritsa River, the longest river in the Balkans, and at the foot of the Rhodope Mountains makes it an attractive tourist center. The city’s economy has been supported for a long time by manufacturing, commerce, transport, communications and tourism. Moreover, Plovdiv was recently ranked by the Financial Times among the top three European cities in the category “Foreign Direct Investment Strategy” in the ranking “European cities of the future 2018/2019”. The city’s six universities and over 70 schools ensure a vibrant and youthful atmosphere. Although Plovdiv has gained reputation for its economic development in recent times, the city is known among Bulgarians as the city of Ayliak, a Turkish word meaning a relaxed, laissez-faire attitude to life.

Plovdiv has over 200 archaeological sites, the most significant being the Ancient Theater, which was built in the 1st century AD and is one of the best-preserved ancient theaters in the world. The theater has a capacity of 5000 spectators and is still used for performances, concerts and festivals. Another famous ancient site in Plovdiv is the Roman Stadium, built in the 2nd century AD and located underneath the main street of the city. There are also many museums, galleries, theaters and an opera house in Plovdiv, as well as a unique Center for Contemporary Art, based in the premises of an ancient bath from the time of the Turkish Empire. Furthermore, due to the diverse religious communities in the city, many churches, mosques and synagogues displaying the architecture and iconography typical to the region can be found in Plovdiv. Major ongoing cultural events in Plovdiv include the Opera Open festival in the summer, held at the Ancient Theater, the Night Festival in September, taking place at museums, galleries and night clubs and One Dance Week, which is dedicated to contemporary dance. In addition, the Kapana Fest, taking place in an old neighbourhood that has been revived as a creative industries district, attracts many visitors as well.

During the title year there were 513 public events with cultural content in Plovdiv, in addition to which 54 events related to the ECoC were held in other cities and abroad. Plovdiv’s culture programme can be considered to have been very accessible in the sense that 61% of the ECoC events had free entrance. Indeed, according to the final monitoring report the share of citizens who attend cultural events relatively often in Plovdiv rose from 27% in 2017 to 44% in 2019. Moreover, survey results indicate that 60% of the city residents attended at least one cultural event during the title year. The ECoC also had several projects targeted at specific minority groups, such as the Roma, young people from deprived neighbourhoods and senior citizens from smaller towns and villages in the wider Plovdiv region, which helped in increasing the participation of individuals from these groups in cultural events.

Altogether over 1,5 million people participated in ECoC events in Plovdiv and the wider South-Central region in 2019. 80% of the participants were national visitors, around 11% were residents of Plovdiv and the remaining 9% were international visitors. Statistics show that the ECoC had a clear influence on the increase of tourism in Plovdiv. According to monitoring data the proportion of Bulgarians visiting Plovdiv increased from 28% in 2015 to 39% in 2019. Furthermore, the number of visitors stating cultural events as the primary reason for their visit increased from 11% in 2015 to almost 39% for the title year. Also, the number of international visitors increased from the year 2015 by 27% for 2019, as there were 121 478 international tourists in Plovdiv during the title year.



Ex-post evaluation of the 2019 European Capitals of Culture – Final report

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A tour through Europe: Matera 2019


Matera was one of the two European Capitals of Culture (ECoC) in 2019 together with the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv. The city is located in the Basilicata region in Southern Italy and has a population of around 60 000. Matera is also the capital of the Province of Matera and is also known as the “Cittá Sotteranea” (The Underground City). Nowadays the city is famous for its historical center known as “I Sassi”, which has ancient cave dwellings that have been inhabited since the Palaeolithic period. Today I Sassi is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Agriculture has been the main economic activity in Matera for hundreds of years, but nowadays its economic sector is more diversified, affected notably by the rise of the tourism, handcraft and research fields, which are replacing the local “furniture” district that emerged towards the end of the 20th century.

As an ancient city Matera has a number of ancient and rupestrian churches and archaeological sites. There are also several museums and theaters in the historical center of the city, including the National Archaeological Museum “Domenico Ridola” and the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art. Matera has gained reputation also through several movies shot in the city in recent years. Since 2014 Matera has been the venue for around 30 movies and short films, including Ben-Hur (2016), Wonder Woman (2017) and No Time to Die (2021), the latest, yet to premiere, James Bond movie.

Matera’s ECoC programme provided a diverse range of cultural, artistically high-quality activities. The programme featured a large number of both national and international artists and altogether over 1300 events, 65% of which were free, as the rest were accessible with the Matera 2019 Passport. In total the different events attracted almost half a million visitors. A clear majority of respondents to the ECoC Foundation’s survey was satisfied with the content, quality and originality of the cultural programme (64%) and with the diversity of the cultural offer (66%). The diverse cultural offer and the direct engagement of the citizens in the co-creation process of the event increased the number of people accessing cultural activities. Furthermore, many people felt that Matera became more culturally vibrant (78%) and more open to cultural differences and diversity in general (82%).

The number of tourists in the Basilicata region increased from around 520 000 to nearly 950 000 between 2012-2019, more than in the rest of Italy. According to a survey conducted with tourists in 2019 almost 70% of the respondents visited Matera at least partially because of its ECoC status. The tourist numbers also boosted Matera’s market revenue. AirBnB listings between 2017-2019 show a 25% increase on the average daily rate for one-night stay accommodation.



Ex-post evaluation of the 2019 European Capitals of Culture – Final report

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A tour through Europe: Leeuwarden 2018


The Dutch city of Leeuwarden was European Capital of Culture (ECoC) in 2018 together with the Maltese capital Valletta. Located in northwestern Netherlands, Leeuwarden has a population of 100 000 inhabitants. Leeuwarden is the main city in the region of Friesland which has a population of 646 000. Altogether Friesland has 11 cities which are connected by water. Leeuwarden is also one of the oldest cities in the north of the country as its history dates back to the Roman age. Due to its location the inhabitants initially worked in agriculture, fishery and trade by the sea. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the “Golden Age” of the Northern Netherlands, Leeuwarden became quite wealthy. Friesland has two official languages, Dutch and the local Frisian, which makes it the only bilingual region in the Netherlands. Frisian is taught in many of the region’s schools and the people in Friesland are recognized as having a strong cultural identity and sense of local pride.

The cultural sector of Leeuwarden-Friesland is often described as locally focused in terms of its target audience and ambition. Especially considering the population of the region, Leeuwarden-Friesland can be considered to have a diverse offering of cultural infrastructure and activities. Leeuwarden is known for the impressive Fries Museum that opened in 2013, the Princessehof National Museum of Ceramics as well as many smaller galleries and exhibition and performance areas. The world-famous artist M.C. Escher was born in Leeuwarden and his work was significant also for the ECoC programme. Prior to the ECoC the cultural offer of the region consisted mainly of works and performances by local cultural artists and performers, with not many cultural operators visiting from outside the north of the Netherlands. In fact, the primary motivation of visitors to Leeuwarden-Friesland was to enjoy the isolation and rural nature of the area as opposed to enjoying the cultural offer of the region.

Leeuwarden-Friesland’s ECoC programme’s central motto was “Iepen Mienskip” (Open Community). The central values of this concept are mutual respect, participation, grass-roots development, equality and civic responsibility. Out of the 800 projects in the culture programme over 700 were part of this “open programme” that dealt with the bottom-up mienskip approach. The open programme and its projects were mostly planned and organized by locals, while the ECoC Foundation guided and supported them. The main focus of the cultural programme was to bring people together to find solutions to common societal challenges through culture. Themes such as child poverty, the threat to biodiversity, equality, the integration of migrants, the detachment of the city from the countryside and water management (i.e. flooding) were central to the ECoC. Although other ECoCs have also had a community aspect in their programme, its scale and importance in Leeuwarden-Friesland’s ECoC was far more significant than witnessed before. Indeed, the ECoC was often viewed more as a social programme that aimed to educate, promote and highlight societal issues rather than simply a cultural programme merely for entertaining people, and stakeholders felt that because of this the locals were more engaged with the programme than they otherwise would have been.

In addition to the open programme the ECoC included the “main programme” which consisted of 60 projects. Projects of the main programme had generally much larger budgets and profiles as well as larger attendance figures than the open programme projects. Another notable difference was that the projects of the main programme were generally organized by professional cultural operators both from Friesland and elsewhere.

The ECoC also had a very strong European dimension, which could be seen in the 1600 international collaborations with 87 countries that took place as a result of the ECoC. These collaborations included visits, exchanges, joint performances and joint marketing campaigns. Furthermore, many new connections with international networks were established. Those responsible for the European dimension of Leeuwarden-Friesland’s cultural programme estimated that the ECoC generated 10 times more international collaborations than there would have been without the title.

It is estimate that 5,4 million people attended ECoC projects between 2015 and 2018. Furthermore, around 10% of the total population of the region participated in the ECoC by either delivering a project or by volunteering in projects. The increase of overnight stays from 0,8 million in 2017 to 2,1 million in 2018 suggests that the ECoC had a notable direct impact on the increase in tourism in Leeuwarden-Friesland. Moreover, hotel managers in Leeuwarden stated in interviews that most of these increased overnight stays were from foreign tourists who had arrived in the region specifically because of the ECoC.



Ex-post Evaluation of the 2018 European Capitals of Culture – report

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A tour through Europe: Avignon 2000


Avignon was one of the nine European Capitals of Culture (ECoC) in 2000. The town is located in the Provence region in southern France, on the left bank of the river Rhône, and has a population of around 92 000. Avignon has long traditions in agriculture and has become famous for its food-processing and other related industries. The fertile ground in the region has enabled Avignon to offer top-class Provençal cooking around the year. Avignon is also a popular tourist destination and its amazing architecture has been included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Due to the increased international reputation of the Festival d’Avignon, the performing arts have increased their popularity in the town, which can be seen in the events, shows and various gatherings that take place every month.

Avignon’s ECoC programme’s theme was “Art and creativity” and the programme had three levels: the European programme, the national programme and the local programme. The European programme included cooperation with other ECoCs and there were around 50 projects that were presented in the other ECoCs and in Avignon. Furthermore, local artists presented original creations in Bergen, Helsinki, Brussels and Dozza (a town near Bologna). As a part of the national programme it was decided that an exhibition called “Beauty” would take place in Avignon. This exhibition was a catalogue of beauty of the 20th century and included works by famous international artists as well as local artists. The idea of the local programme was to promote the culture and heritage of the region. Avignon wanted the programme to be as inclusive as possible, which is why a very broad view of culture was adopted, covering all social, artistic and economic practices of the society.

The total operating income for the ECoC was around 21 million euros, over half of which came from the national government and from the town. Avignon also managed to raise around 2,2M€ through sponsorship deals. The most significant economic outcome of the project was probably the approximately 25% increase in cultural tourism. Indeed, the main goal of the events was to draw in a large crowd, and the total amount of around 1,5 million visitors at different events far surpassed the expectations of the project team. Some significant long-term effects rated as having had a positive effect on the development of Avignon were cultural infrastructure improvements, new networks and increased collaboration in the cultural sector as well as the raised international profile of Avignon and the region.



European Cities of Culture for the Year 2000: A wealth of urban cultures for celebrating the turn of the century

European Cities and Capitals of Culture – City Reports: Study Prepared for the European Commission (PART II)

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A tour through Europe: Brussels 2000


Brussels was one of the nine European Capitals of Culture (ECoC) in the year 2000. The city is known as the capital of Belgium and also as the administrative capital of the European Union. The city of Brussels includes 19 communes, with a total population of around 1,2 million inhabitants. Belgium has three official languages – Dutch, French and German. The cultural life of Brussels is very diverse with over 50 nationalities represented and with a strong integration of Latin and Germanic traditions. Due to its position as the capital of Europe, Brussels has many international workers, such as diplomats, administrators, press, media and support staff who are employed by the EU or other major international institutions and businesses. Altogether there are 80 museums and 30 performing spaces in Brussels. Also, a large number of artists and art organizations are based in the city. Every year 15 festivals, in the fields of film, jazz, contemporary music, theater etc., take place in Brussels. Besides the French and Flemish cultural organizations there are lively multicultural communities with a lot of people from the Mediterranean, North Africa and other places.

The goal of the Brussels 2000 programme was to promote partnerships and dialogue between different communities, artists and artistic sectors. The programme was not planned as a mass event for tourists, but primarily it was seen as an opportunity to include the city’s cultural communities in a long-term process that would last beyond the title year. The cultural programme consisted of 350 projects, most of which were collaborations with one or more of the 500 arts organizations in the city. Furthermore, infrastructure developments were central to Brussels’ programme, consisting of the renovation of cultural facilities, historic buildings and public spaces. As a part of this a musical instrument museum was opened, the city’s largest concert hall was completely refurbished, and the Centre for Architecture was opened.

According to former mayor of Brussels, Freddy Thielemans, the ECoC was a significant support for local organizations, allowed collaborations between different cultural activities and increased the coherence and visibility of the public. Regarding the legacy of Brussels’ ECoC, Thielemans feels that the Zinneke parade, which was introduced during the title year and has taken place annually ever since, is still important for the city and captures Brussels’ spirit. Thielemans also mentions the significance of the restoration projects, such as the restoration of the Hall of Justice and of the many famous buildings around the Royal Museum of Fine Arts.



European Cities of Culture for the Year 2000: A wealth of urban cultures for celebrating the turn of the century

European Capitals of Culture: the road to success (From 1985 to 2010)

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A tour through Europe: Santiago de Compostela 2000


Santiago de Compostela, located in northwestern Spain, was one of the nine European Capitals of Culture (ECoC) in 2000. The city is the political and administrative capital of Galicia, was founded around the year 830 and nowadays has a population of around 120 000. Santiago is also famous for being the culmination point for the thousands of pilgrims who follow the Way of Saint James. The city was built after the remains of the apostle Saint James were found there. Nowadays the remains are stored in the city’s cathedral. Because of its monumental and historical nature Compostela has been designated Historic-Artistic City by the Spanish Government, World Heritage City by UNESCO, Europe Prize and Flag given by the Council of Europe, Firenze Prize from the Commune de Firenze, Real Fundación de Toledo Prize, Europa Nostra Prize from the Foundation of the same name, and Gubbio Prize of the Association of Artistical Centres of Italy, just to name a few distinctions. Compostela’s historical city center is one of the best preserved in the world and is completely inhabited and reserved for pedestrians.

Belén Mendoza, member of the cabinet of the mayor of Santiago de Compostela and person in charge of international relations, cooperation and development, says that the most successful part of the programme was The Millennium Festival, which lasted from 1998 until 2000. The festival included activities from eight different categories: cultural dialogue, theater, world cultures, opera, classical music, dance, jazz and exhibitions. Activity highlights included the Latin Jazz Festival and the premiere, in Compostela, of the movie Calle 54 by Oscar-winning director Fernando Trueba. Other major events included the showing of North American director Robert Wilson’s spectacles “The Days Before: Death, Destruction and Detroit III” and “Persephone”, with the man himself in attendance. Also, British composer Michael Nyman performed his opera “Facing Goya” for the first time as a part of the festival.

According to Mendoza the most significant impact of the ECoC for the city was the increase in the number of visitors, which was estimated to have been around 15% compared to previous years. In regard to the long-lasting effects of the ECoC for Santiago de Compostela, Mendoza mentions the consolidation of an orchestra in the city, the Royal Philharmonic of Galicia, that provides a stable programme of classical music performed by renowned musicians. Also consolidated due to the ECoC was the School of High-Level Music Studies, which is linked to the orchestra and offers musical training to young people. Moreover, Mendoza says that the ECoC strengthened the work of the Eugenio Granell Foundation, which offers exhibitions, guided visits to exhibitions, chamber music, theater, workshops for students and groups and an abundance of publications and catalogues.



European Cities of Culture for the Year 2000: A wealth of urban cultures for celebrating the turn of the century

European Capitals of Culture: the road to success (From 1985 to 2010)

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