Europe's Cultural Capitals for 2004: Lille and Genoa

Reply Thu 1 Jan, 2004 11:59 am
Pity poor Lille and Genoa, those industrial-minded stepsisters to the north, respectively, of Paris and Rome. For decades they have been sidestepped by tourists, and their historical treasures have been obscured by the machineries of modern progress.

This is set to change, however, in 2004, when Lille and Genoa begin their co-reign as Europe's Cultural Capitals, an appointment conferred annually since 1985. If Europe is in your travel plans, these cities are worth a detour. Nowhere else on the continent can a visitor expect to be entertained every week by a new festival, a major concert, a superb museum exhibit or something unexpected and undreamed of in performance art. And nowhere else can one find another major European city undertaking such a bold cultural transformation, altering its very appearance.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 1 Jan, 2004 12:00 pm

The reign as Cultural Capital in Genoa comes with a theme, that of the Voyage, appropriate for the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. What interests a visitor is not a theme, of course, but the surprises and changes that will be rung in with the New Year.

Genoa is using the occasion to redesign itself as a cultural city. The port (Porto Antico) and dockyards (Darsena) have been transformed from industrial locations to places for recreation, museum-going and tourism. Here the Museum of the Sea and Navigation, next door to Europe's largest aquarium, opens March 18. Its centerpiece will be a reconstructed 17th Century Genovese galley 138 feet long that can be boarded by visitors and that reflects the life at sea of the early oarsmen, slave drivers, soldiers and passengers of Renaissance society, Genoa's golden age.

At the same time, the museums along Via Garibaldi, Genoa's main downtown avenue, have been restored to create a "museum street" of art and architecture. Three grand palaces there will be linked via gardens, terraces and courtyards to Genoa's two national museums. Among the pleasures awaiting visitors along this new "museum street" are rooms with period furnishings and art masterpieces of 16th and 17th Century Genoa.

The renewal of Genoa's harbor and downtown is accompanied by restoration of its landmark lighthouse (Lanterna), the opening of the castle of a local sea captain (Castello D'Albertis) as a seafaring museum, the refurbishment of many lavish patrician homes and noble palaces of the 16th Century, and a freshening up of the medieval quarter, hailed here as Europe's oldest, along the Ripa district's seafront. Stone pavements will be restored, monumental painted facades will be refurbished, villas and mansions will be opened to the public for the first time, and spacious public squares will be created, all making Genoa a city that invites a pleasant stroll into the past.

A raft of special events will be launched in this new Genoa of the past. The premier art exhibit, "The Age of Rubens: Genovese Homes, Patrons and Collectors," runs March 20-July 11 in the Doge's Apartment at Palazzo Ducale, Genoa's ancient seat of power and site of the G8 summit in 2001. This exhibit draws upon local private collections, with some works that first hung in the aristocratic homes that Rubens captured in his "Palaces of Genoa" etchings, published in 1622. The Doge's rooms will be furnished in the silver and tapestries of the period, and among its 120 pieces are those by other artists of the Renaissance who visited Genoa, including Van Dyck, Brueghel and Caravaggio.

Another cultural exhibition of special note opens on April 3 and continues through July 4 at the Diocesan Museum in Genoa. Here there will be an unveiling of an ancient image of Byzantine culture that has been stored for centuries in the Church of Saint Bartholomew of the Armenians: Mandylion, or the Sacred Face. This icon, the central panel of an old triptych that came to Genoa in the 14th Century, is held by its believers to be an imprint of the face of Christ created during the Passion.

In addition, from April 19 to June 30, Genoa's new Jewish Museum, to be created on the upper floor of the city's 1935 synagogue, will host an exhibit of religious works by Marc Chagall. The Jewish Museum will be formally inaugurated in September.

Theater also will be a highlight of 2004. The grand Carlo Felice Opera House in downtown Genoa will present a special production of Verdi's "Simon Boccanegra," which focuses on the first Genovese doge of the 14th Century, Feb. 24, 26, 28-29, and March 2, 4, 6-7. From Sept. 16 through Oct. 25, the Opera House hosts a series of events and concerts spotlighting another of its notable natives, Niccolo Paganini, and his famous violin, a Guarneri del Gesu of 1742 known as "Cannon."

On a lighter note, from March through December, the Genovese Potileama Theatre will try to make Genoa the European capital of the musical by staging revivals of international musicals, from "Guys and Dolls" to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." The top theatrical special of a more modern note opens in October at the Teatro della Corte. "The Great Actresses" brings together on stage Isabelle Huppert, Mariangela Melato and Vanessa Redgrave, who will interweave the stories of the celebrated heroines of Ibsen's plays, from Nora to Hedda.

Genoa's stages and streets will be filled with music, a hallmark of past Cultural Capitals. The Mediterranean Music Festival, in its 13th edition, will bring performers from as far away as Tibet and Argentina to perform at locations along the harbor and in the medieval quarter July 2-11. The International Festival of Music and the Sea, in its 10th edition July 8-11, is a chamber music series concentrating this year on the piano. The Goa Boa festival, dedicated to pop and rock music, brings alternative music groups to the center of the city July 15-17. And in August, the "Live Aid Genoa 2004" concerts will feature international stars on one stage and Italian musicians from the '60s and '70s on another, both to raise funds for the fight against AIDS in Africa.

Nor has Genoa ignored the role of sports in culture. The annual Marathon of the Sea will be routed along 26 miles of the city's streets Feb. 22. Race day will be enhanced by a "Tourist Run" of 12K through the monumental sectors of the city, a mini-run of 5K for families and school children and a "pesto party" to feed 1,000 participants. The Italian Yacht Club will commemorate its 125th year with a traditional regatta, "A Thousand Sails," April 16-18, highlighted by a vintage sailboat race. The cultural year's sports calendar concludes Oct. 24-25 with the NBA Basketball Cup as the NBA champions from America take on the European and Italian champions.

Genoa's cultural reign winds up Dec. 14-31 with the "Circumnavigando Festival," a showcase for street theater and "nouveau cirque" performers that will range across the downtown boulevards, the medieval quarter, and Genoa's revitalized harbor and dockside sectors.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 1 Jan, 2004 12:01 pm
In contrast to Genoa's rather formal reinvention of itself as a European capital of culture, Lille's redesign seems more inventive, playful and modern. This large city in northern France, not far from Flanders Fields, is also transforming its cityscape, but in a more decorative manner. A dozen factories and disused buildings will become refurbished artistic spaces and residences for performers.

Other installations spread across the city include "Le Bouquet Lillois," a metallic structure capped with shrubs where visitors, two at a time, can ascend using an attached ladder into what's described as "a discrete hideaway to whisper of love"; a mobile two-story "soda fountain" of sorts with glass walls, tables, and chairs that will be whisked about the city streets like panels in a cartoon strip; a suspended forest of light and image hung upside down some 40 feet above astonished onlookers in nearby Roubaix; and on the rue Faidherbe in Lille a fanciful takeoff runway for an astroport employing 25-foot-high arches.

The whimsical tone also resonates at the Lille Flanders Train Station, which will be bathed in light and glassworks. That's where visitors will also find a vending machine dubbed "Drink Your Colors" that illuminates customers in green, orange or pink, depending on the drink selected. The Lille Metro gets into the act too. At the Fives Metro Station, expect to find a colony of robots entrenched on a vacant quay waiting to catch a train.

In fact, Lille appears to have robots on the brain. An exhibition at the Tri Postal building through March 7 will showcase a display of several hundred robots fashioned by artists and researchers alike. Lille will also stage what's billed as the world's first operetta featuring robots, "Armageddon," running March 5-7 at the Aeronef.

Lille's most interesting cultural transformation occurs on weekends from dusk Friday to dawn Monday with the presentation of "Les Mondes Parallels" as certain streets and squares take on an appearance from elsewhere. March 26-28, for example, will find certain streets in Lille imitating those of China. Expect to find performances of Beijing Opera, the works of Chinese underground film directors, even a few Beijing drag queens--and Shanghai's best chefs will be cooking at the Tri Postal that weekend. Aug. 20-22, to cite another example of these worlds in collision, Lille will create a Marrakech street market, complete with stalls, tents, a spice garden, dancers, storytellers and gazelle horn pastries.

Lille promises to become a capital of festivals during its reign. The fourth edition of the International Soup Festival stirs the pot April 30-May 2. A kite festival gets off the ground at Berck-sur-mer April 16-25. "La Noche," a festival of electronic, crossover and world music, plays June 11-13. An Argentine tango festival hits the streets and stages June 11-13. Giants pound the pavement in an international parade of fantastic, larger-then-life figures on stilts July 9-11. The Teatro de Los Sentidoes from Barcelona will build a fairground dedicated to the transformation of the grape in September. And glass artists from Venice and northern Europe will gather Oct. 20-24 to create new pieces.

Between the non-stop weekends and intervening street festivals, Lille has scheduled some specials for its concert halls, theaters and museums. The National Orchestra of Lille performs Steve Reich's "Desert Music" Feb. 9. The Opera de Lille will stage Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" March 11, 13, 16, 19, 21 and 23. Shakespeare will grace Lille's Theatre du Nord with "Richard II" Feb. 6-19 and "Antony and Cleopatra" March 25-April 16. Hip-hop dance with Chinese characteristics, the brainchild of the Melting Spot Company, performs March 26-28. And Sept. 30-Oct. 14 Peter Brooks premieres a new production based on the work of Amadou Hapate Ba, "The Life and Teachings of Tierno Bokar, the Wise Man of Bandiagara."

Lille's major art exhibition, paralleling the one in Genoa, is a Rubens show March 6-June 14 in the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. The Flemish master, whose works are deeply rooted in the history of Flanders, will be honored in Lille with the largest showing of his work in over a quarter of a century.

Topping off the cultural year in Lille is French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, who will be creating 10 new films, one a month, from Sept. 30, 2004, to June 30, 2005. The public is invited to attend and view these works-in-progress as they unfold at Godard's Le Fresnoy studio in nearby Tourcoing.

This year's two European Cultural Capitals, both shunned by tourists as industrial wastelands in the past, are bringing their cultural heritages to the surface for the first time in decades. The streets of Lille and Genoa promise to rival those of Paris and Rome in the coming year.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 1 Jan, 2004 12:02 pm


Lille is located near the Belgian border 130 miles north of Paris, which is two to three hours away by highway or one hour by TGV rail. The Eurostar train from London, using the Chunnel, stops at Lille, a journey of about two hours.

United Airlines offers daily service from Chicago to Lille, using a one-hour rail connection from the Paris airport. Total travel time to and from Lille is about 11 hours on the most efficient schedule. A recent check of United's Web site showed round-trip fares midweek in January started at $568, midweek in June at $1,238, including tax, but lower fares were found using other Internet sites, such as Travelocity. For more information call United at 800-538-2929 (www.ual.com).

More information about Lille's cultural capital events can be found at www.lille2004.com. Passes and tickets can be purchased on the Internet at www.transpole.fr or www.fnac.com. Also: The French Government Tourist Office in Chicago, 312-751-7800; www.franceguide.com


Genoa, Italy's largest seaport, is located on the Mediterranean 90 miles southwest of Milan and 300 miles northwest of Rome, which is one hour away by air.

United Airlines offers daily service from Chicago to Genoa.

Total travel time varies from 12 to 15 hours, including a stopover in Munich. The Munich-

Genoa segment (one hour) is served by United's code-sharing partner, Lufthansa. A recent check of United's Web site showed round-trip fares midweek in January started at $779, midweek in June at $1,615, including tax, but lower fares were found using other

Internet sites, such as Orbitz.

For more information call

United at 800-538-2929 (www.ual.com).

More information about

Genoa's cultural capital events can be found at www.genova-2004.it and about Genoa for tourists at www.apt.genova.it. Also: Italian Government Travel Office, 500 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 2240, Chicago; 312-644-0990 or 312-644-0996; www.italiantourism.com
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 1 Jan, 2004 12:03 pm
For all the above:

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune
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Reply Thu 1 Jan, 2004 12:15 pm
Wow. Very interesting, this directed refurbishing.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 1 Jan, 2004 12:34 pm
For some genearl background information ("How to become
a European Capital of Culture?" "Future Capitals" "History" etc)
see here:

European Capitals of Culture
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Reply Thu 1 Jan, 2004 12:44 pm
Thanks, Walter, I read those. Seems like a great program.
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Reply Thu 1 Jan, 2004 12:54 pm
Well, 2 places I have Confused memories of! (or - for the pedantz - of which I have Confused memories).

Genoa - was there many years ago - and the strongest memory is pollutiion Confused

Lille - was there 2 years ago - and got hopelessly lost trying to find the way out of town to the south (and a toilet!)

A bit of focus and refurbishment can only help either of them!Neutral
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