Each year, the European Union designates a city (or cities) within the continent to be the Capital of Culture for the next 12 months. Over the years, there has sometimes been one city named and sometimes two, but 2015 is the turn of Mons in Belgium and Pilsen in the Czech Republic.
The main task of each city chosen is to hold events throughout the year which will highlight the culture of Europe (and in particular that city). These will hopefully help to bring tourism to the area whilst also bringing communities closer together and creating a general feel-good atmosphere. Let's take a look at these two destinations in more detail.
Size: 56.59 square miles
Mons, meaning mountains, is the capital of Hainaut province and can be found close to the border that Belgium shares with France. Its history includes multiple battles which led to it being under Spanish, Dutch and French rule at differed periods before Belgium gained its independence in 1830. This historic mining town, which was also the setting for the British Army's first battle of WW1, is now a much more picturesque place. This is something that anyone who climbs the hill in the town centre will be able to testify.
The city has its own Grand Place, just like the Belgian capital of Brussels, along with an impressive Gothic town hall that dates back to the 15th century. Other tourist attractions in Mons include the house where Vincent Van Gogh lived between 1879 and 1880, the science museum, and the famous monkey statue that is said to grant good luck to all those who touch its head.
The official opening ceremony takes place on the 24th of January across the entire city; promising lights, fireworks, music and even fluorescent robots. Throughout the year, there will also be a variety of different events that fall into a number of categories, including gastronomy, music, art, fashion and digital. Specific festivals include 'Le Dimanche Toqué', during which six local chefs will cook up a giant feast for thousands of guests in the gardens of the historic Belfry, and a photography project which takes a subversive look at Google Street View after the search engine giant installed a data centre just outside the city.
Pilsen, Czech Republic
Size: 53.15 square miles
Pilsen, or Plzen as it is written in Czech, is the original home of Pilsner beer. It is here, in 1842, that Josef Groll brewed the first batch of this now world famous tipple, using local hops and Pilsen's own soft water. This important trade centre and industrial city, found in the west of the Czech Republic, was also the place where the first ever book inside of Bohemia was printed. Today, Pilsen displays many Baroque and Gothic influences; a great example of which is its cathedral which has the tallest tower in the Czech Republic.
As well as embarking on brewery tours and marvelling at the architecture, visitors to Pilsen can also tour the historic tunnels that run underneath the city. Only a section of these are open to the public, but they offer a unique insight into the trade activities of the past. There is also a zoo to explore, with a dedicated 'Dino-park' area, and an interesting science museum; both of which are sure to appeal to those travelling with children.
Pilsen's opening ceremony will take place on the 17th of January during an event that will include four parades that represent the four rivers that flow through the city. There's also sure to be plenty of music, dancing, and, of course, beer. As with Mons, there will be further events happening throughout the year. These will range from an Olympics dedicated to the sporting prowess of the Czech Republic's children to the Bohemia Jazz Fest in June and July and a parade of giant puppets in August. This masterful puppet parade is performed by the talented 'Royal De Luxe'. These are the same people who brought their art to Liverpool last year to tell a story inspired by WW1, in which a girl, accompanied by her dog, meet up with her grandma.
If you would like to book a trip to either of these 2015 European Capitals of Culture or indeed any of the other cities we have to offer, please call us today. Alternatively, you can submit an online enquiry and we will get back to you. Fred.\ Holidays can tailor-make any experience to suit your needs.