Croatia’s Rijeka celebrates capital of culture kickoff

Citizens and tourists walk in the rain in Rijeka, Croatia, 1 February 2020. [Antonio Bat/EPA/EFE]

A day after the European Union waved goodbye to Britain, Croatia’s port city of Rijeka on Saturday (1 February) held festivities to celebrate its inauguration as a European capital of culture for 2020.

Thousands of people, including many tourists, braved the rainy weather to attend the cultural party with dozens of events held throughout the northern Adriatic port, according to an AFP photographer.

Hundreds of performers took part in the festivities, including concerts including at the city’s historic fish market building.

Visitors could also learn about Rijeka’s eventful recent history from a 200-meter-long (656-foot) timeline running along its main Korzo street.

Croatia’s third-largest city is the country’s first to be awarded the title of European Capital of Culture which is this year shared with Ireland’s Galway.

Croatia holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU. This is first time that a country holding the Presidency has also a city holding the Capital of Culture title.

The central ceremony dubbed ‘Opera Industriale’ was held Saturday evening at the Rijeka port, a symbol of the city’s openness.

The open-air event involved more than 100 performers, combining classical instruments, recitations and choral singing with industrial sounds, lighting effects and audience participation.

“It pays homage to the working class and conveys a message about … the strength of workers in the life of a modern city,” organisers said.

The event also “tells the story of Rijeka’s ‘Port of Diversity'” which is the motto of the year-long event, mayor Vojko Obersnel said earlier.

During the year the city will host hundreds of events, including a special edition of its known international carnival later in February.

Rijeka, with a population of around 120,000 people, was once a thriving industrial port and the centre of Croatia’s once prosperous shipbuilding industry, but is now struggling.

Its fall in fortunes is the consequence of both the 1990s Independence war and badly-managed privatisation exercises which led to the collapse of major companies.

With a rich history, having been run by different states over the 20th century — from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to two decades of Italian rule and subsequent Nazi occupation, Yugoslavia and finally Croatia — Rijeka is now banking on cultural attractions and tourism to boost its coffers.

Tourism is a key sector of Croatia’s economy.

Last year the country attracted nearly 21 million tourists, five times its own population.

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