Wroclaw: the European Capital of Culture 2016 Flickr: Maciek Lulko
Old Town market square in Wroclaw (Poland) in the morning.

The European Commission has embraced a new strategy to place culture at the heart of international relations. The EU High Representative and Vice-President, Federica Mogherini, said: Culture is a powerful tool to build bridges between people (…) and reinforce mutual understanding. It can also be an engine for economic and social development. One of the most successful EU projects in the field of cultural diplomacy, and indeed the longest running European, of all such initiatives, is the European Capital of Culture.

The Capital of Culture project was initiated in 1985 by the then Greek Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri, who had a strong vision of binding citizens of the European Union ever more closely together. The central mission of the project is to showcase and celebrate the richness of European diversity and creativity, its shared history and heritage, as well as to establish and engage in peaceful dialogue, build long-term relationships, and promote openness and tolerance between people and cultures.

Over the 31 years of the project so far a total of 54 cities have participated in the initiative: from Athens in 1985, to Wroclaw in Poland and Donostia-San Sebastián in Spain in the current year. The project is not just a beautiful idea. It aims to bring real and lasting benefits to host cities. It creates an economic growth, generates tourism, it strengthens the sense of community thanks to the involvement of citizen volunteers in events. Investment at private and state level is encouraged. Cities receive boosts to vital infrastructure, such as roads and hotels, cultural institutions, museums and art galleries.

Most significantly perhaps a host city benefits from a new, higher profile nationally and internationally.  The significance of a host city is shifted and its profile is raised. Host cities establish collaborative relationships and partnerships with other cities and regions, and foster international co-operation between artists, institutions and organisations. The European Capital of Culture programme promotes the host city across Europe and beyond.

This year the status of the European Capital of Culture has been granted to Wroclaw. Why Wroclaw? It is a city with a remarkable international history, and a new widely recognised dynamism. The national status of Wroclaw has changed more often than any other city in Europe. It has passed between Polish, Bohemian, Austrian, Prussian, German and finally back to Polish hands. It is a city of remarkable cultural and religious diversity: with Poles, Germans, Bohemians, Austrians and Jews all contributing to its development. With such a history of diversity and co-operation there should be no surprise that Wroclaw has been chosen to be the European Capital of Culture 2016.

For the twelve months of its tenure of the role Wroclaw lives and breathes culture and art. 400 projects and 1,000 cultural events are planned in the field of architecture, film, literature, music, opera, performance, visual arts, and theatre and also sport!  To mention only a few of these: UNESCO's World Capital of Books with a special edition of the European Literature Night, the opening of the Pan Tadeusz Museum dedicated to not only the renowned epic poem of Adam Mickiewicz, but also to Polish history and culture, and also the New Horizons International Film Festival which brings Basque documentaries and Lithuanian cinema, and more. There is definitely something for everyone. Immerse yourself in culture and art. And when you have your fill of these explore the beauty of Wroclaw itself, one of Poland’s best preserved historic cities, with the brightest of futures.