Patras designated as 2006’s cultural capital

European Union authorities have officially designated the western city of Patras as European Cultural Capital for 2006. Though the city’s bid had been submitted and accepted – unofficially – some time ago, last Tuesday’s approval by the European Union Council of Culture Ministers was still pending. The council’s vote, a unanimous one, put an end to concerns over infrastructure raised by the European Commission several months ago. Patras is the third Greek city to be named European Cultural Capital, following Athens in 1985 and Thessaloniki in 1997. Reactions to the news by local officials have been mixed. Enthusiastic responses were countered by more skeptical reactions from individuals concerned about certain delays to preparations. At this stage, authorities are considering portraying Patras as a bridge between East and West. The idea was included in a revised bid submitted to the European Union. No other cities submitted bids. As European Cultural Capital, Patras will operate in conjunction with the Cypriot city of Limassol which is twinned with the Greek provincial city, as was recently announced. The two cities will join forces for a series of events. No specific plans have yet been made. Officials said a programme would be announced at a later date. At this stage, vital operational, artistic and financial aspects remain unresolved. An organizing committee has not been assembled, there is no artistic director yet, and, finally, the year-long event’s financial source, or sources, remain unclear. Moreover, and even more crucially, some basic infrastructure work has not begun. During last year’s pre-election campaign, the current mayor of Patras, Andreas Karavolas, had committed himself to utilizing the city’s old – and idle – Ladopoulos factory. At the time, talk focused on converting the spacious facility measuring 5,700 hectares into a plush concert hall. New plans have since emerged, and authorities are slating the venue as a future cultural complex equipped with a theater, various museums, including a carnival museum – Patras has the country’s longest carnival season tradition – and exhibition halls. The city’s overall plans also include revamping its Old Municipal Hospital, which is located close to significant archaeological sites, utilizing a campsite in nearby Ayia, and restoring various cultural facilities in Patras, such as its municipal Apollon Theater and numerous neoclassical buildings. The only project which seems to have begun is the upgrading of the Roman-era hippodrome. Completion of the city’s prospective Archaeological Museum, a huge project that was ratified only recently by the Central Archaeological Council (KAS), by 2006, remains a troubled affair. Responding to Tuesday’s official designation of Patras as European Cultural Capital, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos expressed satisfaction and added that the decision marked a new era for the region. Bearing in mind this country’s notoriety for delays, this latest challenge offers a new opportunity for a timely start to works and financial arrangements to back them.

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