Larissa, the capital of Thessaly and the metropolis of Central Greece has a rich and long lasting history. Built 8000 years ago on the banks of Pinios river, lying in the shadow of the mythical Mount Olympus and almost next to the Tempi Valley is, according to a large number of historians, one of the oldest cities in Europe.
Its geographical location has distinguished it for centuries as a multiracial and multicultural city, a wonderful melting pot of cultures and people. European travelers of the 18th and the 19th century that travelled in Thessaly and visited the city of Larissa in their writings refer to a motley multinational, multilingual and multireligious whole that thronged in the streets of Larissa, creating a colorful mosaic with a cosmopolitan character. Even the contemporary character of the city has been shaped by the coexistence of various cultural groups. Larissa was, is and will be an open city, both literally and figuratively.
The candidacy of Larissa to claim the title of the Cultural Capital of Europe comprises a creative experiment and simultaneously a unique challenge. The city takes part in a race, where the cultural forces of the city will unite in order to bridge the cultural heritage, new and older generations, producing new cultural assets and capabilities.
The local community and all the creative forces of the region are carving a common vision for the future of Larissa.
I am certain that the candidacy of Larissa will bring cultural change in the same path with strategic planning and vision for Larissa, a modern and open city in the heart of Greece, and from there, in the heart of Europe as a cultural capital.
The Paleolithic findings, the Neolithic artifacts, one of the four menhir in the world, the two ancient theaters within the city centre, the wall of Justinian, the Basilica of Saint Achilles, Bezesteni, but also the significant works of modern artists of Larissa demonstrate the huge and continuous supply of the city in European culture for a period of about 10,000 years.
Our cultural policy is based on the production of culture by the local artistic potential, the emergence and development of cultural infrastructure and the development of institutions through which the opportunity arises for expression, interaction and innovation. In this way, we assume our new cultural identity and the city becomes more attractive. The active participation of citizens is for us the main feature of this policy.
For all these reasons, and believing that culture in times of economic crisis can become an opportunity we decided that we must bid for the institution of the European Capital of Culture 2021. It is a challenge to which we believe we can live up to.
The cultural capital is an old institution of the European Union, an idea of Melina Merkouri and a suggestion that touches deeply the essence of the existence of a union of countries.
Contrary to what most people believe, that economy (common currency, common economic policy, common banking practices, etc.) consists the base for different peoples to get together, history shows that approaching peoples demands primarily contacting them, getting to know them and comprehending their way of thinking and first and foremost their civilization. If we assume, for argument’s sake, that culture is the way a country consumes whatever it produces (production in the broader sense) and the manner or at least the possibility of assimilating the production of another country, then we can understand how the civilization, for instance, of Mesopotamia, has been assimilated and at the same time developed by the Greeks and how that this civilization, the Greek thought, has influenced, has been assimilated and developed by the rest of the European countries and served as the base that even today, supports the European notion.
Has there been another example of union or influence among countries via economy or via other techniques of such extent and efficiency? No. Can this be achieved, apart from the economy, by the power of politics or by the power of weapons? A lot of examples throughout the centuries, in different continents, prove that all attempts have failed as far as the people are concerned. We, therefore, strongly believe in the power, the potential of culture in bringing people together and contributing to a great extent to the prosperity, peace, and to individual and social welfare.
Bearing these in mind, the Mayor and the city council and all these people that have joined the cause of preparing the application file for the candidacy of our city so that it can be declared Cultural Capital 2021 endorse this wonderful effort. Eight to ten Greek cities will be candidates. However, our aim is not competition but rivalry. Only one city will get the title, yet, the other cities will not lose as they will all have motivated their citizens and this will prove an important benefit for the local communities.
The citizens of Larissa have shown a great interest in this endeavor in this short preparation time span. We hope that this positive social attitude will grow bigger, because the higher the participation rates of this common desire, the higher the probability rates of success will be.
With this endeavor we hope to change the everyday reality of the city, to bring it to the proportions of a capital, that is rich and dynamic, or to further reinforce its potential in culture with the Book Festival, The Pinios river festival, the agricultural fairs, etc.
The festivals will give a creative impetus to the foreign artists and a promotional step to their country, for which they will act as representatives. At the same time they will be given the chance to acquaint themselves with the city of Larissa and Greece. They will serve as “carriers” of the civilization and the hospitality that they will find and they will have this experience as a point of reference in their career. Artists from Larissa and from the rest of Greece will learn what and how artists from other European countries create in a direct way. They will also be able to judge, compare, compete and rejoice the whole process. Even the citizens of Larissa will be given the opportunity to feel as creators and innovators in new paths of development and creation of culture, see local creators and artists collaborating and competing on a European level, meet creators from all over Europe as well familiarize themselves with the contemporary art currents in Europe.
The citizens of Larissa along with the visitors will get acquainted with people, tendencies and works of art that they haven’t had the chance to do before. They will see the city structures that are many and suitable, acquire a breath of fresh air and without doubt they will experience a positive change in their everyday life. Artists and the city will experience a boom from an artistic point of view and assume a new contemporary and more European mentality.
The programme will also highlight the cultural tradition of groups that coexist in the city for centuries, as Jews, Vlachs, refugees from Eastern Rumelia, Pontus or Asia Minor, Sarakatsans, Roma.
The programme will develop in all art forms. Consequently there will be theatre, sculpture, literature, music, opera, dancing, cinema, photography and comics.
It is going to be a wonderful endeavor. Join, suggest, volunteer. It will be exceptional to feel that all these are happening for you, concern you and that you are actively involved both in the present and the future of this city for both our and our children’s sake.