Temperatures of -17 degrees celsius failed to stop tens of thousands of people in Finland from celebrating Turku’s inauguration as the European Union’s Capital of Culture for 2011.
Situated on the southwestern coast, it is thought to be the oldest city in Finland and will share the honour this year with Tallinn in neighbouring Estonia.
Turku’s mayor, Aleksi Randell, said the city was a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered. Culture Minister Stefan Wallin said the culture industry had become a major employer during the recession, especially of young people, creating 10,000 jobs since the 2008 crisis.
The spectacular opening ceremony featured acrobats and dancers amid fireworks over the Aura river. Nearly 150 more events highlighting Finnish traditions are set to follow over the coming year – ranging from a sauna exhibition to a new potato festival, where the June harvest will be celebrated with a potato dance.
European Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said the status of culture brought an average increase in tourism of 12%.
“Here in Turku they have invited about fifteen different theatrical groups from outside to come and give performances for the people of Turku and of Finland and tourism as well. So this is an excellent way of co-operation and getting to know also each other’s cultures,” she said.