The cities of Matera, Italy; and Plovdiv, Bulgaria, are set to take their turns next year as the European Capitals of Culture. These featured destinations will be promoted extensively throughout 2019 by the European Union, which organizes the initiative as a way to highlight unique spots across its member countries.
The program is designed to promote increased unity with the European Union by celebrating the cultural similarities of EU citizens, as well as promoting the richness and diversity of its members.
Located in the southern tip of Italy, Matera, dates back to the Paleolithic period and is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. It lies in a small canyon and is known as the Subterranean City, and many of its stone structures are carved into the rock with their roofs forming some of the local streets.
Twenty-five years ago, UNESCO added Matera’s historical center, Sassi, and the Park of Rupestrian Churches to its list of World Heritage sites. Sassi contains a number of caverns that have been restored in recent years to their centuries-old glory. Other caves have been modernized and now are some of Matera’s most popular restaurants, bars, shops and hotels.
The city has established five themes for the year-long celebration: Ancient Future, Continuity and Disruptions, Reflections and Connections, Utopias and Dystopias, and Roots and Routes. These values will be expressed through special exhibits and events, as well as other cultural programming.
The other cultural capital, Plovdiv, also traces its roots back for millennia (to the sixth century B.C.). It is the second-largest city in Bulgaria and is located in the south-central region of the country.
During its time in the spotlight, Plovdiv will showcase many aspects of local culture, ranging from music and contemporary art to architecture and design. The programming will integrate the creative efforts of the region’s diverse ethnic and minority groups with those of talented international artists.
All told, Plovdiv’s offerings will include nearly 500 events and more than 300 expositions and projects, many of which will elaborate on the city’s theatrical heritage. One of the most famous landmarks is the Roman theater that dates back to the first century A.D. The horseshoe-shaped seating bowl faces the stage, and audience members have great views of the Old Town area beyond the theater.
Top photo: Plovdiv’s Roman theater
Photo by CC Flickr/BrankaVV: bit.ly/2zyQGfr