Malta Diary Valletta’s grand panorama – European Capital for Culture 2018
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Described by Victorian-era Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli as “a city built by gentlemen, for gentlemen”, and Malta’s capital city since its inception in 1568, Valletta unfurled a panorama of cultural events that will mark its tenure as the European Capital for Culture 2018.
The chimes of midnight on 31st December 2017 were accompanied by a highly spectacular electronic light show beamed from St George’s Square onto the Presidential Palace to welcome 2018 and the start of a great adventure that will incorporate a calendar year of over 400 cultural events and 140 different projects, a number of them spread throughout the island.
The New Year welcome was attended by an estimated 85,000 people, that is one fifth of the island’s population, heralding a year of anticipation and an optimism that the detailed and complex planning of the Valletta 18 Committee in recent years will bear the expected results.
The whole concept of a European City for Culture came into being in 1985, the brain child at the time of the Greek Minister for Culture who was well-known Greek and international actress Melina Mercouri who had earlier sprang to fame in her role in the classic film “Never on Sunday”, The EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, summed up the whole concept as being that of bringing Euro communities together in a sharing and spreading of cultural events, the basis of which make up the raison d’être of national identity. A designated city cannot merely project its own national culture but may project its own culture infused in a multi international sense.
As coincidence will have it, 2018 is also designated as the European Year for Cultural Heritage, giving Valletta’s designation an even greater profile.
Valletta’s role may have come into effect after midnight gave way to 1st January 2018, but the proper inauguration ceremony is designated to take place on 20th January with a Valletta spectacular that has been designed around the traditional Maltese village “festa”, which has been one of Malta’s greatest cultural features throughout the centuries.
This itself is a source of paradox, a traditionally culturally-infused event that has in some instances been overtaken by commercialism and manifestations of drunkenness and drug-taking, underscored by boisterous brass-band music based on macho Maltese-Italian-Spanish marches.
However, in its pure form, the village festa is a manifestation of liturgical tradition, arts, music, fireworks and culture with churches decorated in full and rich resplendence, exquisite external street decorations, band clubs that teach youngsters the playing of instruments and give regular concerts and renderings and a grand display of aerial and ground fireworks. The event is rounded off with a highly-revered procession accompanied by the titular statue and accompanied by band music and spectacular fireworks.
The cultural year will be based on three main themes, these being “The Stories of an Island”, “Future Baroque” and “Voyages”. In all there will be over a 1,000 participants but the underlying theme is that of interaction between performers and public, rather than just a static audience viewing a performance and clapping at the end.
One of Valletta’s main features is that it is a city of famed baroque architecture which inspired Disraeli to describe it as “a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen” and the inauguration will be preceded by the initiation of the sixth edition of The International Baroque Music Festival which is sponsored by the Manoel Theatre, one of the world’s oldest preserved theatres which has recently been refurbished.
The opening on 13th January will be heralded by Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, followed by concerts in theatres and churches throughout the island with music by Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederic Handel as well as baroque music by a number of Maltese composers.
For the last four years, Valletta 18 Chairman Jason Micallef and his committee have been working assiduously and relentlessly to ensure the city’s transformation to gear up in readiness for the big year. A fund of €10 million was made available for cultural investment but vast works for the constructional refurbishment internally and externally of a large number of Valletta buildings, works that had been neglected for years was also taken in hand and completed.
This included the refurbishment of the magnificent Tritons Fountain at the city entrance, a monument that was literally disintegrating, and the completion of the entrance into Valletta and the completion of the new Parliament building designed by international architect Renzo Piano as well as the facing colonnades across the road. These, together with the surrounding environment of the war-damaged theatre that had lain in a dilapidated state for decades and a beautiful square leading to Castile Square have given the city a “new look”.
Other works have included a new Museum for Art, the refurbishment and transformation of Valletta old slaughter house into a Valletta Design Cluster, a revamped Strait Street and the complete refurbishment of the old Valletta Suq (market) which has been turned into a resplendent catering eatery and retail outlet.
Sparked by so much goodwill and enthusiasm, all the preparations have gone smoothly and have been completed to schedule, leading Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Valletta 18, Dr Deo Debattista, to comment that this is to be the most significant international event to have ever been organised in Malta.
Pictures courtesy of TV Malta and “The Times of Malta”.
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