Urban Journalism Institute

Elefsina, Timisoara and Veszprém

Art and culture in 2023

The European Capital of Culture dates back to 1985. Melina Mercouri, Greek Minister of Culture, and Jack Lang, French Minister of Culture, had the idea of choosing the European Capital of Culture once a year, intending to connect people in Europe and raise awareness of common history and values. The same year, the project was launched by the European Union Ministers of Culture resolution. This initiative soon became one of the most prestigious events in Europe. Since then, more than 40 European cities have borne the title of European Capital of Culture (ECoC). Each year, the selected cities are examples of the richness and diversity of European cultures. 

At the end of 2020, on 23 December, an official decision was made by the European Commission to postpone the ECoC title year from 2021 to 2022 due to the global crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The decision came into force on 1 January 2021, and Novi Sad (Serbia) joined Kaunas (Lithuania) and Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg) as the European Capitals of Culture in 2022, while Timisoara (Romania) pushed its title to 2023 to join Elefsina (Greece) and Veszprém (Hungary). 

The ECoC was established to emphasise richness and diversity of European cultures, strengthen bonds between citizens of Europe, connect people from different European countries, learn about other cultures, promote mutual understanding, and strengthen the sense of Europeanness. The most important legacy of the project is to put culture in the very centre of social development and redefine culture as a key for economic development based on knowledge, innovation, and creativity. 

Many capitals of culture took the opportunity to develop cultural infrastructure during and after the project, provide wider access to culture, improve the image of a city, develop the tourism economy, and strengthen cultural and creative industries – let us see how Elefsina in Greece, Timisoara in Romania, and Veszprém in Hungary will use the opportunity in 2023. 

Castle in Veszprem in winter
©Csák István
Union Square of Timisoara
© Cornel Putan

ECoC2023 Elefsina is taking actions in support of a tangible and intangible legacy that ensure the cultural continuity and singularity of the city as an historic landmark in ancient and modern Greek history. For example, the city is adapting and reusing selected abandoned industrial buildings. This conversion will provide spaces for the promotion of culture today – which is to say, ongoing artistic and performative interventions into the life of the city. Elefsina is remodelling and transforming an environmentally degraded industrial site in the area – a site now known as “Dogteeth” – to create a landscape theatre. 

Interestingly, Elefsina is also using its ECoC title to improve connections between Elefsina and the Athens metropolitan area by developing a maritime transport link, for reasons both practical and tourism-related, thus activating the coastal nature of Elefsina – as well as pushing for the re-activation of existing rail transport links, such as the historic train that once led to Elefsina. 

Timisoara started 2023 off by building itself up as a place where cultural excellence gives its citizens self-confidence and the power to cause change through participation and involvement. Given its historic role in initiating transformations at crucial times, Timisoara is using its ECoC2023 title to restore the capacity of citizens to initiate changes and contribute to a revitalised Europe, setting civic energy in motion. Starting from the vivid and powerful metaphor of light, Timisoara is using the slogan “Shine your light – Light up your city!” 

The infrastructure development of ECoC2023 focuses on developments that serve cultural and community programmes, paying special attention to the revitalisation and reinterpretation of the city’s and the region’s existing, disused, and underused building heritage and public spaces. 

The city of Veszprém defined the cultural district and public space system conjoining the Petőfi Theatre, the Eötvös Károly County Library, the Laczkó Dezső Museum, the Hangvilla, the Csermák Antal Music School and the University of Pannonia. The Bishop’s Garden, the Erzsébet Park, and the Erzsébet promenade, located in Veszprém’s downtown, represent a contiguous, four-hectare, lively, landscaped, green area. The area of the former St. Nicholas Hill will be developed into one of the sub-centres of the existing cultural, educational, and music centres in Veszprém. 

Having won the ECoC2023 title, Veszprém is implementing interventions at specific sites (both architectural and urban) to give the city a makeover. For example, the University of Pannonia’s University Street campus is currently separated from the city’s public space system by various traffic barriers and fences near Elizabeth Park and Elizabeth promenade. The areas between the central buildings of the university are typically used as parking facilities. ECoC2023 is bringing a new network of public open spaces to the city.

View of Eleusina from the archaeological site of Eleusis (Eleusina)
© Haris Andronos