European Capitals of Culture

This year there are 3 capitals, Istanbul in Turkey, Essen in Germany and Pecs in Hungary. Now that there are so many countries in the EU it is getting to the point where one place each year will mean it will take 27 years to get around to the same country again. So we will have at least two per year and probably three. Yes, I know Turkey isn’t in the EU but the definition they use of Europe is wider than the geographical or political definitions.

So, a little about each

Istanbul is already a favorite city break destination. As the link between Europe and the Middle East, Turkey has been one of the tourist hot spots since its south coast beach areas offer almost guaranteed sun and inexpensive prices. Istanbul offers what most city breaks provide but with a very definite non-European flavor.  The Blue Mosque, the covered bazaar (about 4,000 “shops” are here,) the Spice Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia Museum, the Hippodrome, the Sulieman Mosque are tourist draws of international appeal.  And from Camlica Hill you have a tremendous view of not only Istanbul but the Bosphorus as well.

Essen started its year as a capital of culture this past weekend at a ceremony in at its world heritage site, Zeche Zollverein which was once the world’s largest colliery. Essen, in the Ruhr, is associated with heavy industry so you may not think of it as a tourist destination. Lose that idea by going to Kettwig, the old town or go to Essen cathedral and see the oldest Madonna sculpture which dates back to about 1000 AD.  We have a number of garden cities in our countries and in Essen there is a place called Margarathenhohe which was designed as a housing estate for workers. Even though it has altered and become gentrified it is well worth a visit as is the Villa Hugel, formerly the home of the Krupp family and which now houses an art collection.

Pecs also launched its year at the weekend with a day-long cavalcade including street acts with 450 performers. This city is, I’m told, a fascinating mix of cultures with Turkish influences left from an occupation by the Ottomans lasting 150 years. Oddly, the Gazi Kasan Mosque is now a consecrated church! There are Celtic, Roman, Christian, and Slavic (it is not far from the border with Croatia) influences all through the city and the cemetery (Sopiane) has world heritage status. This is one city I don’t know at all and one that sounds well worth a visit this year.

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