It can be difficult to work out exactly where in Europe to go for your culture fix – luckily the European Union announces the capital of culture every year to give you an easy choice of destinations. As we come into the closing months of 2013, we will look toward 2014 and the European Capitals of Culture, Riga in Latvia and Umeå in Sweden.
Riga is the largest city in the Baltic states and an important centre for industrial, commercial, cultural and financial businesses in the Baltic Sea Region. Its historical centre, filled with medieval and wooden architecture, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it also has one of the largest collections of Art Nouveau buildings anywhere in the world, after the movement reached Riga at the end of the 19th century.
The city has many theatres including the Latvian National Opera and the Latvian National Theatre, the Latvian State Puppet Theatre and the New Riga Theatre which opened in 1992 and shows primarily modern shows for socially aware and educated audiences. The Daile Theatre shows modern foreign plays and the Riga Russian Theatre is one of the oldest professional drama theatres in the city showing a variety of performances from the classic to the experimental.
Umeå shares the title of Capital of Culture and is the most northerly to have occurred so far. The city boasts nearly 24 hour days in the summer and displays from the northern lights in the winter and since the opening of the University in 1965 housing has doubled in the city, with regular displays of film and music festivals including an annual Jazz Festival. The Sculpture Park, Museum of Image and the Museum of Contemporary Art and Visual Culture all show why Umeå seems like an ideal place for a cultural experience.
The two cities will be working together for the year, showing off their greatest talents. Umeå is going for a “co-created” event, operated by the curiosity and passion of the city’s inhabitants, and the Museum of Fateful Objects in Riga encourages Rigans to bring objects which have changed their lives or are memoirs of the time. With the help of a holiday comparison site, you may even be able to make it to both of the cities, as they both have an equally impressive line-up for the year. Riga will also be promoting its literary history with 500 years of printed books and a human chain in January which will transfer the contents of the old National Library over to the newly built Gaismas Pils new National Library.
Possibly Umeå’s biggest cultural experiment will be the U x U (you by you) music festival which is being crowd-funded, one of the first attempts at such an event but hardly unsurprisingly coming from the alternative cultural hub that gave us the influential heavy metal band Meshuggah. Riga will be celebrating its own musical culture with a multimedia performance of the opera Rienzi which Wagner started writing in the city.
There is so much to do throughout the year in both these incredible cities that picking where to go may be difficult: both will be hosting workshops, exhibitions and festivals with no aim other than to celebrate the vibrant and diverse culture and heritage of their people.
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