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European Culture Capital Paphos aims for new beginning

Barbara Wesel kbm
January 30, 2017

The title of European Capital of Culture is passed around each year to lesser known cities, given them time in the limelight. Cyprus' tiny city of Paphos hopes the status will bring renewal, reports DW's Barbara Wesel.

Opening performance in European Capital of Culture Paphos
Image: DW/B. Wesel

The young singers are very nervous. "Paphos is a small city and hardly gets any attention. For us, it's a chance to show who we really are!" Bubbly with excitement, Christina, Nicoletta and Antigonae all speak at once. They hope many visitors will come this year to Paphos, a coastal city in southwestern Cyprus, to see their choir.

Even at the opening of the Culture Capital festivities, Paphos is one big construction site, but that doesn't bother the young women. "In three or four months, everything is certain to be done," they say confidently. 

The singers explain the things that the official speeches leave out - like how the budget for urban renewal dried up after Paphos won the Culture Capital bid and unfinished construction projects were abandoned. Just last year, a new and independent mayor was elected. (His predecessor is currently in jail.) Since then, there has been more progress.

Construction site in Paphos
There are construction sites everywhere in PaphosImage: DW/B. Wesel

Nevertheless, the run-down old town in Paphos is still a giant excavation pit. The square in front of the city hall is mostly finished, but there are construction fences set up nearly everywhere else. The cement mixer was even rolling this past weekend during the opening celebrations.

Hope for reconciliation in Cyprus

"Renewing the city is what we want to leave behind for Paphos," says Anastazia Anastassiou from the Culture Capital organization team. The goal was to rejuvenate the dilapidated old down with a budget of nearly 60 million euros ($64 million). Tourists mainly go to the harbor town of Kato Paphos, leaving the older part of the city with its dusty alleys and crumbling buildings to fall into neglect.

Now, for instance, the old Turkish-Cypriot restaurant Ismail's Khan is set to be restored; it is to serve as a future venue for events, concerts and performances. A "table of reunification" is to be set up here, which was designed by British artist Anthony Heywood's collective. It's made of wood that was found in the destroyed streets of the Turkish-Cypriot district Mouttala.

After the island was divided up between Cyprus and Turkey in the mid-1970s, the residents left their homes and moved to the northern part of the island. The table of reunification represents the political unification process on the divided island. While progress has been made, success has not yet been achieved.

Table of reconciliation in Paphos
This table stands for reconciliation between the Turkish and Cypriot parts of the islandImage: DW/B. Wesel

"The young people of Cyprus are hopeful," says Anastassiou, but she added that ethnic strife is still present among the older generations.

All events held outdoors

A few blocks further, the renovation of the old Markideion Theater has not yet been completed; the whole structure is just a shell. Performances won't be held there this year. The architectural master plan that was written up for Paphos 2017 will take several years to realize.

Still, the Paphos 2017 organizers are making the most of the situation. Since there are no finished concert halls or theaters, all of the events are taking place outdoors. The square in front of the medieval castle near the harbor will serve as a venue, as will the amphitheater in the ancient part of Paphos, which boasts mosaics that are thousands of years old.

Street theater and installations are on the agenda, and music in particular will be featured during the year of culture. In May, the Berlin Philharmonic is scheduled to perform. In addition to this classical highlight, Paphos 2017 also wants to present Mediterranean music: Luz Cazal from Spain, Mísia from Portugal and the Khoury Ensemble, with its mix of Arab and eastern music, are on the program.

Paphos 2017 opening event
The Paphos 2017 opening events took place outdoorsImage: DW/B. Wesel

Paphos' connection to the gods

The warm climate on the island is in itself something that should draw visitors during the whole year. In fact, the outdoor opportunities played an important role in Paphos' application to become a Culture Capital - and the organizers' tiny budget of just 8 million euros left them no other option.

It is said that the goddess Aphrodite stepped out of the sea near Paphos, and the opening celebration made many references to Greek mythology. Local choirs and dancers depicted the tales of the sculpture Pygmalion, who fell in love with one of his statues. She came to life and they had a child named Paphos. That is the story of the birth of the city - a story that is getting a new chapter this year.

Paphos shares the Culture Capital title this year with Aarhus in Denmark - which is sending a jazz orchestra to the Mediterranean island. The Danish connection actually goes back quite a few years. The medieval King Eric I fell ill on a pilgrimage to Constantinople. On his return journey, he was forced to stop in Paphos, where he died and was buried in 1103. The Danes look back at their own history, while helping Paphos write its future this year.

Paphos: European Capital of Culture 2017