European Capital of Culture 2012, Guimarães, may cancel part of its program
European Capital of Culture 2012, Guimarães in Northern Portugal, ought to cancel part of its plans for the coming year, claims voices in the Portuguese media. This was debated at a conference this weekend at Paço dos Duques de Bragança in Guimarães organised by – among others – the regional organisation Minho IN. Reason is the austerity caused by the economic crisis. It is irresponsible to go forward with the planned programme in view of the social and economic cuts placed on welfare. Instead the money should be invested in rural tourism in the Alto Minho region. The organisation wishes to be a partner in the future development of the region and is already focusing on supporting sustainable entrepreneurship, green wines and traditional rural crafts.
No, said João Serra, president of the City of Guimarães Foundation to the Correio do Minho. At the present, when Portugal is under close economic scrutiny, it would be an international disaster not to fulfil the commitment made by the Portuguese government towards EEC, he claimed. Adding that culture is not responsible for the financial problems, but may instead be viewed as a solution. Furthermore at this point in the process, it would be more expensive to cancel all the arrangements, than to push forward, he added.
At stake seems to be the different views of what “culture” is. Is it traditional heritage? Or is it avant-garde dancing, experimental art and installations, highbrow debates and classical concerts galore? As is usual, the programme for the CEC 2012 in Guimarães presents the public with a mixture, thus not deciding one way or the other. Yesterday João Serra thus signed a contract for a Film Production Centre, which is going to promote temporary urban installations in the public spaces of the city, while at the same time financing a research project concerning tourism and development at the University of Minho. Finally 381.000 € were presented to the City in order to get the Tourist Office renovated and to further the production of audioguides in the city. Tit for tat!
Guimarães – cradle of Portugal
In many ways Guimarães is the perfect stage for the unfolding of this division concerning the different views of what “culture” is. On one hand it is a beautiful city, part of our world heritage and complete with medieval buildings galore plus several exciting museums. Further it is generally considered to be the cradle of Portugal in so far as the first king, Afonso Henriques was born and baptised here in 1109. According to legend the baptismal font may still be viewed in the small church, São Miguel do Castelo, next to the remains of his castle. On the other hand, the castle mount also houses the neo-medieval dream of the Estado Novo, the Paço dos Duques de Bragança. This is a monumental rebuilding of a late medieval castle, which was set in motion by the dictator Salazar in 1933. The devastating “restoration” was however undertaken in the spirits of the times, when politico-religious nationalism saw Guimarães as the center of the modern Portuguese nation. It is thus not surprising that the Palace was later transformed into an official residence for the “Presidente do Conselho” and the “President of the Republic”, becoming a monument to the political climate of Portugal in the 20th century. Today it is a museum.
No wonder that the creative classes in Guimarães are bent on dusting the somewhat sleepy, but monumental city off, propelling it into modernity by presenting Guimarães as so much more than the “national cradle”. We must not forget, that it is no more than 35 years since the so-called carnation revolution took place, which finally presented the Portuguese people with freedom and democracy.
Goals for CEC 2012
It is, however, also no wonder that the Portuguese nation is pushing the city to live up to its more traditional role. The first 8 months of 2011 showed accoding to the UNWTO an overall growth in the tourism industry by 11%. A lot of this was of course due to the revolutions in Northern Africa. People did not go to Tunisia to play golf this summer; they went (back) to Algarve. Nevertheless there is no doubt that the Alto Minho region and the cities there – and especially Guimarães – is a revelation waiting to happen for the discerning cultural tourist.
Now is by the way a perfect time to visit. The weather is beautiful and The Ducal Palace is mounting an exhibition on life of the house of de Bragança between the Douro and Minho 1442 -1580.
See the program for CEC 2012 Guimarães
The picture of the knight is from the Feira Afonsino – a medieval festival taking place in the summer.