The New Year marks an especially prestigious occasion for the Mediterranean island of Malta. The country’s capital city Valletta has officially taken on the title of European Capital of Culture, and with the accolade comes an entire year of unique activities designed to showcase the very best of Maltese culture.

What is the European Capital of Culture?

The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the Council of Ministers of the European Union to formally take on the title for a calendar year, during which that city will organise a series of cultural events to highlight both local and European culture.

Originally conceived in 1983 by the then-Minister of Culture in Greece, Melina Mercouri, the European Capital of Culture programme started out as the European City of Culture. At the time, it grew from Ms Mercouri’s belief that culture was not given the same importance as politics and economics within the European member states. She recognised that a programme of this kind might bring Europeans closer together by showcasing the diversity of their cultures, along with their common history and values.

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The European City of Culture programme was launched in 1985, with Athens being the first to take on the title. The programme continued as such until being renamed as the European Capital of Culture during the German presidency of 1999.

How does being named European Capital of Culture affect a City?

With more than 40 places having taken the title so far, being a European Capital of Culture is an opportunity for a city to raise its profile on an international level, with visitors travelling there for the occasion from across Europe and around the world.

Meanwhile, the accolade can inspire extensive social, economic and cultural benefits to the local community, both in the city and in the host country in general, that last well beyond the end of the title year.

Why Valletta?

Already a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right, Malta’s capital city of Valletta is brimming with history, beautiful scenery and elegant Baroque architecture.

A fortified city built in the 1500s by the Grand Master of the Knights of St John, Jean Parisot de la Vallette, Valletta can boast the best of both historic and contemporary worlds.

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The city’s abundance of history is uniquely preserved alongside modern amenities, street markets, cafés, art galleries and museums, in the thriving environment typical of a modern European capital.

Indeed, this constantly-developing city has recently undergone its latest evolution, in the form of a total redesign of the city gate entrance, the building of a new parliament, and the transformation of the Opera House, formerly devastated during World War Two, now reimagined as an open-air theatre.

How was Valletta Chosen to be European Capital of Culture 2018?

Valletta was officially declared to be European Capital of Culture for 2018 on October 12th 2012. The title-holder is chosen by an international panel of cultural experts, who assess all proposals according to the specific criteria specified by the EU.

In Valletta’s case, the jury visited Malta to ensure that the city met with the vigorous requirements set by the EU. After reaching a unanimous decision, the chairman of the selection board, Manfred Gaulhofer, commented that “there is the will, drive and ambition as well as the strongly needed esteem to make Valletta European Capital of Culture in 2018”.

The Valletta 2018 Foundation put together the initial bid for Malta’s capital to take the title, and, having won it, was put in charge of implementing the project both in Valletta and throughout all the Maltese Islands.

As two cities per year now hold the European Capital of Culture title, Valletta will be sharing it with a partner Dutch city, Leeuwarden. After 2018, Malta is next scheduled for nomination as European Capital of Culture in 2031.

What Events are Part of the V18 Cultural Programme?

Having piloted Malta’s successful bid, the Valletta 2018 Foundation set about creating an ambitious vision for cultural events in the capital and throughout the Maltese islands in 2018.

With the Cultural Programme required to promote European dimension and encourage citizen participation, the Valletta 2018 Foundation worked closely with the Maltese population to garner ideas for celebrations in the Capital, as well as for introducing activities that involve the local community.

Based on the four themes of Generations, Routes, Cities and Islands, Valletta’s extensive Cultural Programme will not only feature exciting, fun and fascinating events, but will also include consistent and accessible research and evaluation linked to culture.

The key, unmissable events included in the programme are the opening ceremony in January, the Valletta 2018 Main Exhibition, and the Valletta ‘Festa’, which kick-start Malta’s year as European Capital of Culture.

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Also check out the vibrant social hub of Strait Street, ‘Muza’ at the Auberge d’Italie (which is the new location for the National Museum of Fine Arts), and the Valletta Green Festival, where the capital’s main square will be carpeted in flowers.

These are just a small selection of the countless events, performances and exhibitions that will make Valletta’s year as European Capital of Culture one to cherish for years to come.

Click here for more articles about Valletta, including our monthly round-up of unmissable events!