European Capital of Culture 2015
Pilsen, Czech Republic

The prize was named after the founder of the European Capital of Culture programme, Greek actress, singer and politician, Melina Mercouri. She proposed the idea of creating this project in 1983, and due to her conclusive arguments the European Union established European Capital of Culture programme in 1985. Athens was nominated as the first title-holder in 1985. Over the last 29 years this project emphasized the cultural wealth and diversity of Europe, helped many European countries build cultural ties and support the idea of European citizenship. Every year the European Union makes a financial contribution to the city through the European funding programme Melina Mercouri Prize which is worth €1.5 million. The funding sum is used by the city administration in order to finance the cultural projects or the renovation of some historical monuments.   

Belgian city Mons and Czech Plzeň were already designated as 2015 European Capitals of Culture. The Czech Plzeň or Pilsen is known worldwide due to the popular beer style (pale lager) Pilsner. With the population around 167.000 inhabitants it is considered the 3rd biggest city in Czech Republic which is situated in the western Bohemia. Except famous brewery the Plzeňský Prazdroj, where was launched the most important brand of it Pilsner Urquell in 1898, Pilsen can offer a rich cultural history for its visitors. The main place in Pilsen represents Náměstí Republiky Square that is considered the biggest square in Czech Republic with the area of 27,000 square meters. In the northern part of the square is situated the St. Bartholomew's Church which was constructed in the course of more than two centuries beginning with 1295. The tower of the cathedral is so high (102,30 meters) that it can open the view of the Bohemian forest which is located 70 kilometers away. Other significant sights of Pilsen are Great Synagogue (the 3rd largest synagogue in the world), the West Bohemian Museum, Josef Kajetán Tyl Theatre and the Brewery Museum dating from the 15th century. If you are interested in the schedule of cultural events in Pilsen for the upcoming year, it would be useful to explore the official site, specially designed for the 2015 European Capital of Culture. 

Mons (Bergen in Dutch) is one of the most beautiful cities in Wallonia (mainly French speaking southern region of Belgium). It is situated only 50 km southwest of Brussels and 200 km northern from Paris. Significant historical monuments of Mons include the collegiate Church of St. Waudru, the Town Hall constructed in the 15th century, the Press House build in traditional Spanish style which dates back to the 17th century and the Baroque-style belfry which takes part from the list of belfries in Flanders and Wallonia designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. Besides, the city has rich traditions that date from the Middle Age. One of this is the Doudou or Ducasse de Mons festival organized on the Trinity Sunday (57 days after Easter) from 1349. The festival comprises two parts: first one is the procession honoring the descent and the uprising of the Waltrude’s Shrine, the second one represents the fight between the good Saint George and the evil dragon, and this event is also known by the name Lumeçon. The battle takes place in the central city square, and it is a spectacular event that attracts all residents and many tourists all other the world. As to the programme for the upcoming “cultural” year in Mons you can view the official site

But there are several important things that we should know about the special upcoming year in Mons. Firstly, from 24 January to 17 May 2015 the Mons 2015 Foundation will host the exhibition Van Gogh in the Borinage, the birth of an artist in the Museum of Fine Arts, Mons. The famous Dutch painter lived in Borinage (not far from Mons) almost for two years and got inspired by the everyday life of peasants and workers.

Mons is putting itself on the map in a peculiar way, according to the main artistic project of the “cultural capital”, it will appear like a street view of Google Maps, but the shots of the city due to the locals help will have an extremely unusual and comical appearance. This project is directed by two artists from the French theatre group X/TNT that will shoot 10 km of the Mons’ streets with the inhabitant, including even the police, as they want to show not only the historical beauties of the city or create a simple street view application, but they want inhabitants to represent their city by themselves in a playful and creative way in order to show the heart and the pulse of the city.

In the video presentation of the city which was prepared already in 2011, we can see a virtual excursion in the city with a lovely pair that will show us in 4 minutes the most charming parts of Mons. This creative and captivating video presentation even with Chinese subtitles can serve as a “teaser” for those who got interested in the city and are thinking to visit it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yD7WBOSyeAM#t=45

It is important to remind that in 2014 the cultural epicenters of Europe were named Riga (the capital of Latvia) and Umeå (Sweden). Many Europeans were familiar with Riga before as it is the biggest city in all Baltic countries, and it was named UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the largest in the world collection of art nouveau buildings. As to Umeå it can be considered a true discovery of this year, while the city located 600 km northern from Stockholm was not in the list of the tourists, even if they were going for a tour through Scandinavia. But still the popular Swedish detective writer Stieg Larsson lived here for a long time, besides the Universiteit van Umeå was known in the scientific sphere due to its innumerable researches. As European Capital of Culture it offered unusual sights, for example Älgens Hus located 70 km from the city gave an opportunity to get acquainted with the tamed elks and reindeer. The outdoor museum Gammlia where you can find out more about the life of Sami people (indigenous Finno-Ugric people), about the history of fishery and ski. Besides, the city is a cradle of popular hardcore and metal bands, the fans of this genre can discover many new bands and concerts with this kind of music.

The project European Capital of Culture was born in Greece and became the most successful cultural project of the EU. In 2015 it will mark its 30th anniversary that is proving not only the significance of cultural ties in Europe but also emphasize the importance of preserving the historical heritage of Europe and investing in these projects.