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Watch: Thousands see Valletta crowned as Europe's Capital of Culture

Festa theme dominates opening ceremony

Updated 8.30pm

After years of preparations, Valletta was crowned the European Capital of Culture on Saturday.

Valletta's four main squares each hosted performances until the early hours of Sunday. The inauguration paved the way for a year-long series of cultural events around the capital and beyond.

More than 140 projects and 400 events have been planned for Valletta 2018 around three main themes: 'Island Stories', 'Future Baroque' and 'Voyages'.

Organisers estimated between 80,000 and 100,000 attended the celebrations on Saturday night.

The festa theme dominated the opening ceremony, with footage and images of fireworks and statues beamed as a backdrop to the speeches at the Mediterranean Conference Centre.

The overwhelming emphasis on the festa theme initially sparked a negative reaction from many on social media, especially those involved in the arts scene. Among them was Toni Attard, former director of strategy at the Arts Council who said the opening ceremony gave the impression there was no space for contemporary art in Malta.

Watch: 'I'd run through walls for Valletta,' says Jason Micallef

There appeared to be broader consensus on the quality provided by the four acts in the city - Spain's spectacular La Fura dels Baus, ZfinMalta, the choral symphony Elfejn u Tmintax, and the 3D projections on Auberge de Castille. Many foreigners, however, wondered why all the narration was in the Maltese language.

During the ceremony, the President said the title of Capital of Culture reminds us that the underlying importance of culture is to bridge differences and strengthen friendships that transcend borders.

We will not reinvent the wheel or exaggerate to create an image of something we are not
- Joseph Muscat

“When we acknowledge, respect and value our diverse cultures, we make a real investment in the essential strategies for social inclusion, solidarity and peace, while also ensuring prosperous, just, fair and equitable economies,” Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said, encouraging all citizens to feel a shared sense of ownership.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat promised “we will not reinvent the wheel or exaggerate to create an image of something we are not.”

“Rather, we will show exactly what we are - how we lived in the past and how we live our everyday lives. This Maltese festa will be marked by authenticity,” he said.

Photo: Darrin Zammit LupiPhoto: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The title, he said, was an opportunity for the country to show off its heritage and to show, on a European and global level, a contemporary city that developed on the foundations of the past.

In commending all those behind the event, Dr Muscat also thanked his predecessor Lawrence Gonzi.

“We will show everyone that Malta is one country – authentic, full of life, vibrant, and filled with contrasts despite being geographically small,” Dr Muscat said.

In his address, the Prime Minister noted that every stone, window, channel and corner told a story. Valletta was filled with auberges and chapels, whose architecture varied from Rococo and Baroque to modern. It hosted beautiful palaces and modest houses on the same roads, Dr Muscat added, describing Valletta as a city that was filled with life and colour where people lived in peace.

Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaPhoto: Mark Zammit Cordina

European Commissioner Tibor Navracsics spoke of the opportunity of safeguarding and promoting Europe's cultural diversity through the title, underlining how culture contributed to the continent’s society and its economy.

Dr Navracsics presented Jason Micallef, who chairs the Valletta 2018 Foundation, with a commemorative plaque, which also marks the award of the Melina Mercouri Prize, in recognition of the work carried out to highlight the city’s rich cultural diversity.

The EU Commissioner presented V18 chairman Jason Micallef with a commemorative plaque.The EU Commissioner presented V18 chairman Jason Micallef with a commemorative plaque.

Parliamentary Secretary Deo Debattista and Culture Minister Owen Bonnici also addressed those present.

Valletta’s bid to serve as the European Capital of Culture was formally submitted in 2011, with the verdict announced in 2012. The Maltese capital is sharing the role with Leeuwarden, a city in the Netherlands.

Mayor Alexiei Dingli said he knew from the very beginning that the title was a golden opportunity for the city to “pass through a phase of much needed regeneration”.

The activities planned for the year “will not only showcase our glorious past, but more important, where we’re going.

“Valletta is today a global city, a melting pot of different cultures. And this can be clearly seen not just in the architecture of the city but more importantly, in the interaction between the people that make up the soul of the city,” he said.

Read: Thousands expected in Valletta as the city is crowned Capital of Culture

Around 1,000 local and international artists, curators, artist collectives, performers, workshop leaders, writers, designers, choirs and filmmakers, will be involved in the Valletta 2018 Foundation’s cultural programme, which is packed with more than 400 events and 140 projects.

Read: V18 Cultural Programme

Based on a €10 million investment in the cultural sector, the programme features a number of key infrastructural projects, among them MUŻA, Malta’s new museum of art, the Valletta Design Cluster, is-Suq tal-Belt and a revamped Strait Street.

Aerobatic dancers perform during final rehearsals for the opening of Valletta 2018 on Friday. Picture: Darrin Zammit Lupi, ReutersAerobatic dancers perform during final rehearsals for the opening of Valletta 2018 on Friday. Picture: Darrin Zammit Lupi, Reuters
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