The Flemish city of Bruges, whose reputation as a tourist destination is second to none, intended to present an image of itself moving beyond its languorous canals and medieval charm. It must show how its cultural dimension, across the board, is on a par with its architectural and historic wealth. Therefore, the capital of Western Flanders organised over ten months some 160 musical, sculptural, scenic and literary events at around 50 different venues.
On 20 February 2002, the inauguration of the Concertgebouw, an impressive music centre designed by the Belgian architects Paul Robbrecht and Hilde Daem, marked the informal start of the Bruges 2002 season. Three days later, the "O-Day - art in every corner of the town" marked the official beginning of a unique year in the annals of the ancient Venice of the North. For 2002 was also the 700th anniversary of the famous Battle of the Golden Spurs, in which Bruges played a very important part. Today, this victory is a fine symbol of the cultural emancipation of Flanders. Its anniversary date is the Belgian Flemish Community's official holiday.
The European Commission's Culture 2000 Programme gave its support to the three key events during the year, which attracted the interest of visitors, not least on account of their European dimension. The exhibition "Jan Van Eyck, de Vlaamse Primitieven en het Zuiden" revealed the fascinating artistic exchanges that took place between Flanders, Spain and Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The exhibition included, alongside works by Van Eyck, others by such giants of European painting as Hans Memling, Petrus Christus, Antonello da Messina, Giovanni Bellini, Bartholemew van Eyck and Pedro Berruguete. The event "HANZE@MEDICI.COM" renewed the link between the ancient Hanseatic cities and those of southern Europe at a time when Bruges was becoming a crossroads of international trade. On the quaysides, in the little squares and behind the façades of the former merchant quarter, visitors had the opportunity to rediscover the rich past of the town, in the light of its contemporary dynamism. Lastly, the exhibition "Besloten Wereld, Open Boeken" offered a European collection of XV century manuscripts and illuminations, and a modern art exhibition. In the corridors of a majestic Cistercian abbey, the universal questions of yore - man's place in the world - encountered today's answers from a series of famous sculptors: José María Sicilia, David Claerbout, Giuseppe Penone, Ettore Spalletti, Michel Frère and Shirin Neshat.
Apart from the three major exhibitions we have already described, other landmark events of Bruges 2002 included: the new creations by the Flemish choreographers Jan Fabre and Wim Vandekeybus, the visit by the Wiener Symphoniker, the new production of the Rosas dance company, the international literary meetings on the "Myth of Europe", and many more.
Apart from building the Concertgebouw and renovating its city centre, Bruges has also initiated two more symbolic architectural projects. Although rather small in scope, they are nonetheless clearly in tune with the firm intention of the European Capital of Culture to link the heritage of the past to that of the present. The contemporary villa by the Japanese architect Toyo Ito can be found on the Burg. A covered passage is reminiscent of both the famous Bruges lace and the fourth side of the square where it occupies a place of honour. The footbridge by the Swiss architect Jürg Conzett has the same intention. With its pure line and construction in natural materials, this particularly ingenious mobile bridge at last makes it possible for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the canal that divides the old town, following the traditional route of the night watchman's round. Modern architecture thus serves ancient traditions.
The "Youth" programme of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Education and Culture also gave its support to Bruges 2002. A budget of 380 000 euro was set aside for this event. 85% of this sum was intended to finance the participation - under the European Voluntary Service - of 20 young people from all over Europe (including the candidate countries) in the organisation of the event. The remaining 15% was earmarked to fund an international artistic event for young people which enabled around 150 young Europeans to come to Bruges between 18 and 25 August 2002.
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European Capital of Culture for the years 2007 to 2019