by CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]
A gala to celebrate Guimarães as the ‘European Capital of Culture 2012’ was kicked off on Saturday with arts performances and an impressive 900 strong line-up of Portuguese political, artistic and social dignitaries.
The President of the European Commission José Manuel Durão Barroso, the President of the Portuguese Republic Aníbal Cavaco Silva and his wife Maria Cavaco Silva, former President of Portugal Jorge Sampaio and current Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho all attended the opening ceremonies and concert at the multi-purpose pavilion in the ancient city.
The programme started with a theatrical and multimedia open-air show and concert with classical music by the Portuguese composer Jolly Braga Santos. It focused on the city’s history as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“Even in times of difficulty such as we’re living in now, culture should never be seen as a lesser asset,” said the Prime Minister in statements to the press at the opening ceremony.
He said the year-long celebrations and cultural programme would provide the medieval city, considered the cradle of Portugal and the birthplace of its founder and first king, Dom Afonso Henriques, with the ideal opportunity to put itself on the map as a cultural centre.
Yet, despite the crowds of curious onlookers in the streets of Guimarães on Saturday throughout the day, most people admitted they did not know what the year’s cultural and entertainment programme entailed and hadn’t even looked at it.
The President of the Republic, Cavaco Silva, said that culture was “an asset of the greatest importance for a country’s credibility and its international relations” and added that “science and culture” were the two greatest indicators in that respect.
Cavaco Silva added that Guimarães was a city where “development hadn’t been achieved by sacrificing the city’s historic heritage”.
Thirty years ago, there had been plans afoot to demolish parts of the historic city centre which was badly run down and in need of restoration. “The modern could not wipe out the old,” he said.
After the opening gala ceremony, entertainment continued throughout the night with a concert by the group La Fura dels Baus and a disco in the city’s Largo do Toural square.
The beginning of the European Capital of Culture 2012 was reported in the international press including the German station Deutsche Welle which referred to the city as one which “looked with pride to more than 1,000 years of history but which was the city with the largest population of youth in Portugal with more than half of its 50,000 inhabitants under the age of 30”.
The event’s distinctive heart-shaped logo, ‘the Heart of Guimarães’, is inspired by the youthfulness of the city and is included in an exhibition of 200 artworks created by local primary school children.
Guimarães, sometimes referred to as the ‘Florence of Portugal’, shares the title of European Capital of Culture 2012 with the Slovenian city of Maribor.
Among the artists and musicians booked to perform in the city over the year include a show about Guimãraes’ Castle on April 7, an international conference on Portugal’s greatest epic literary work Os Lusíadas (June 10), a recital by the Chinese Orchestra of Macau (July 27) and German cabaret diva Ute Lemper (July 28).
For further information on the complete year’s programme and what to do and see in Guimarães, go to the official European Capital of Culture site www.guimaraes2012.pt (in English).
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