Photo: Oskar C. Neubauer - Courtesy of Kulturhaupstadt Europas Bad Ischl Salzkammergut 2024

“Firsts” in three 2024 capitals of culture

This year’s three European Capitals of Culture are up and running after their opening ceremonies in late January and early February, with the Austrian region Salzkammergut first off the mark, then Tartu in Estonia and finally Bodø in Norway.
11. February 2024 5:52

The European Capitals of Culture program began in 1985, and nearly 40 years and some 70 venues later it is still possible in 2024 to produce a couple of “firsts” – the Salzkammergut event marks the first one to take place in a rural inner-Alpine region, and Bodø is the first within the Arctic Circle (this line of latitude around Earth is at about 66°30′ North, with Bodø at 67°28’. Tartu isn’t far behind, at 58°37’ North).

Bad Ischl is the banner town of the Salzkammergut events, although another 22 municipalities are also involved, with the organisers promising that together they are rich in exciting stories, places and people, and will bring to the fore the diversity of historically rooted and contemporary art and culture. The multi-layered region has an impressive history that began 7000 years ago with salt mining in Hallstatt and has made history in many respects ever since.

An estimated almost 75,000 people had Bad Ischl Salzkammergut buzzing over the four days of events from January 18-21 at the opening of their 12 months in the spotlight. The weekend reportedly saw all events very well attended, the pubs full, and great applause, loud enthusiasm and positive cheers for the diverse programme on offer.

Austria’s latest representative, after Graz in 2003 and Linz in 2009, is called “Bad Ischl Salzkammergut” in recognition of its status as a group of 23 Alpine communities with the “flagship city” of Bad Ischl as the central point of the bunch. The town (it’s a bit silly to call it a city) has a population just topping 14,000, compared with Tartu’s 93,000 and Bodø municipality’s 53,000.

Nineteen of the 23 communities are in the province Upper Austria and four in the province Styria. The full list is Altmünster, Bad Goisern, Bad Ischl, Ebensee, Gmunden, Gosau, Grünau, Hallstatt, Kirchham, Laakirchen, Obertraun, Pettenbach, Roitham, Scharnstein, St. Konrad, Steinbach, Traunkirchen, Unterach and Vorchdorf in Upper Austria, and Altaussee, Bad Aussee, Bad Mitterndorf and Grundlsee in Styria.

All are guided by the motto “Culture is the new salt” in recognition of the area’s traditions. Many of the locations exude a distinctive atmosphere thanks to the combination of mountains, forests, rivers, lakes and towns in a varied landscape that excites all five senses. This beauty inspired many artists such as Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and it continues to attract creative people to this day.

In Estonia, Tartu’s opening week of its European Capital of Culture year culminated on January 26 on the banks of the river Emajőgi with the extravaganza “All Is One”, featuring a cast of more than 100 artists, actors, musicians, dancers and surprising new ensembles. The show was opened by the President of Estonia Alar Karis, the representative of the European Commission Kadri Simson and Mayor of Tartu Urmas Klaas.

President Karis highlighted in his opening speech that Tartu has been the centre of Estonian culture and spirit throughout the ages. “I hope that the spirit of those, on whose shoulders we stand, powerfully carries the entire European Capital of Culture title year both here in my hometown and throughout the rest of Estonia,” he said.

The Baltic country’s second-largest city will host 1000-plus events throughout 2024 inspired by the artistic concept Arts of Survival, or the knowledge, skills and values that will help us lead a good life in the future. Previously, the Estonian capital, Tallinn, hosted the event in 2011.

In Norway, Bodø was the last of the three to get under way with a Sami Culture Week from February 2-11, in recognition of the Sami people who live in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The total Sami population in these four countries is estimated at 80,000, of whom around half live in Norway.

And slightly under half of these speak the Sami language. Those in Norway live in almost all parts of Northern Norway, and in the southern parts of the country in Trøndelag and Femundsmarka in Hedmark.

The opening ceremony of Bodø2024 culminated in fireworks followed by applause from up to 20,000 people in Molobukta, an inlet in Bodø. The opening ceremony of the first European Capital of Culture year in a city north of the Arctic Circle was followed by Queen Sonja from the balcony of the Radisson, with several prominent guests by her side.

Photo: David Engmo

Among them was a relieved Bodø2024 director, André Wallann Larsen. He said: “I’m the happiest man in Norway right now. We’ve had so much adversity. So much uncertainty. It was an absolutely fantastic show, and a great, great experience. Many thanks to everyone who has worked so hard over the past week with the storm, with rigging up and down repeatedly.

“Norway is not one of the 27 European Union Member States but rather is in the European Economic Area with Iceland and Liechtenstein, which allows them to be part of the EU’s single market. There are two European Union Capitals of Culture each year but every couple of years a non-EU country is added, as Novi Sad was in 2022 because of Serbia’s status as an EU candidate country. Norway’s Bergen in 2000 and Stavanger in 2008 were earlier hosts.

Salzkammergut program

Tartu program

Bodø program


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