Two very different cities in eastern and southern Europe — Kosice, Slovakia, and Marseille, France — begin their yearlong tenures as official European Capitals of Culture in 2013, a tradition dating to 1985.
The two co-Capitals of Culture share little in terms of geography or history. But Marseille and Kosice will be linked together in September by a special round-trip performance-art train, which will make festive stops at cities along the way.
With 80 artists on board, the train departs Kosice Sept. 15, pulls over for an all-day festival in Budapest (Sept. 16), rolls on to Ptuj, Slovenia, and Venice for all-day festivals on Sept. 18 and 20, respectively, and pulls into Marseille Sept. 21 for a two-day fete. The train reverses course Sept. 24, arriving home well ahead of the Transart Communication Performance Art Festival finale in Kosice Sept. 27-30.
Minutes from the Hungarian border, Kosice (population about 240,000) is the second-largest city in Slovakia. Its largest employer is the United States Steel Corp., but Kosice also boasts a lively arts and party scene and a vibrant Main Street (Hlavna Ulica) in Slovakia's largest Old Town. Main Street is lined with aristocratic palaces, heritage churches and historic dwellings as well as boutiques, cafes and restaurants, but Kosice's chief treasure, also located downtown, is St. Elizabeth Cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece with newly restored interiors, which dates to 1230, the year the city was founded.
The hometown of tennis star Martina Hingis also is the site of the Kosice Peace Marathon (begun in 1924). On Oct. 16, runners will lap the city center twice.
Other medal winners on Kosice's 2013 calendar include the following events:
Jan. 19-20: Opening ceremonies. The usual fireworks are reinforced by the British group Jamiroquai, led by Jay Kay, performing at the Steel Arena on Sunday.
May 15: Night of Literature. Czech, Slovak and international writers read every half-hour 6-10:30 p.m. in unconventional settings, from swimming pools to police stations.
May 18: Night of Museums and Galleries. One ticket opens every door, from the exhibition of presidential aircraft at the Museum of Aviation to the jarring displays at Miklus Prison.
June 26-30: Cassovia Folk Fest. Folk performers run the gamut, from step dancers to majorettes, as Main Street Old Town fills with local craftspeople, food vendors and animals from a special farm display.
Aug. 3: Andy Warhol Birthday Party. This pop-art party features sounds of the 1970s and '80s, a mobile art gallery and a projection of iconic Warhol works on the walls of the Aupark Shopping Center just south of Main Street. Warhol was the son of Czechoslovak immigrants.
Sept. 13-15: Kosice Wine Festival. The finest wines of Tokaj, Eger and eastern Slovakia are uncorked in a medieval tent on Vaznici Street, in the underground archaeological museum at Lower Gate and inside the walls of historic Miklus Prison.
Dec. 13: Closing ceremony. In connection with the city's annual Christmas Market, Kosice posts a photo retrospective of its Cultural Year along Main Street, accompanied by fireworks.
The pretty Mediterranean port of Marseille, France's second-largest city (population about 850,000) and its oldest (founded in 600 B.C.), has provided the setting for paintings by Renoir, Cezanne, Braque and Dufy. At the same time "the world's wickedest port" has furnished the rough-and-tumble settings for "The French Connection" and "The Bourne Identity." It is a city both beautiful and bad.
In 2013, Marseille's Cultural Capital domain will extend into the countryside of Provence, with festivities scheduled for Aix-en-Provence, Arles and other idyllic villages. But the center of 2013's cultural celebration will remain the "considerable town" of Marseille that food writer M.F.K. Fisher championed, especially its Old Port (Vieux Port) on the Mediterranean. Flanked by two forts (Saint-Nicolas and Saint-Jean) and punctuated by the island of Chateau d'If (setting for "The Count of Monte Cristo"), the port will harbor many of the year's biggest to-dos.
The Cultural Year has enabled Marseille to concentrate resources on renovating and expanding not only its Old Port but its museums, monumental spaces and cultural venues, from the Museum of Civilizations from Europe and the Mediterranean at Fort Saint-Jean to the J1 Hangar at the Docks, opening to the public for the first time as an information and entertainment center for the Cultural Year.
Top events dropping anchor in Marseille and throughout Provence in 2013 include:
Jan. 12-13: 2013 Rendezvous. Foghorns, church bells and sirens roust all of Marseille, and a "Parade of Lights" leads to dancing in the streets as Provence launches its Cultural Year.