There have been celebrations in the northern Portuguese city of Guimarães as it officially became one of two European Capitals of Culture for 2012.
It shares the honour with Maribor in Slovenia, and becomes Portugal’s third culture capital after Lisbon in 1994 and Porto in 2001.
The inaugural show was called “the nation’s cradle”, the name often given to Guimarães because of its historical role in Portugal’s birth.
Amid a spectacular lights display, a giant horse symbolising Portugal was united with a giant man, representing Europe.
José Manuel Barroso, the Portuguese EU Commission President, was among the guests.
“Without culture, Europe has no direction,” he said, adding that creative industries were increasingly important to the economy. He said the Commission was proposing to boost the budget for the EU’s Creative Europe programme by 37 per cent.
Guimarães saw its own culture capital funding cut by some 20 per cent, a victim of government austerity measures in response to an international bailout package.
The city hopes the hundreds of planned events will attract around 1.5 million visitors.