Sunday, January 19, 2014

Riga: European Capital of Culture 2014

Every year since 1985 the European Union designates two cities as European Capitals of Culture, an honor that this year has been bestowed on Rīga, Latvia and Umeå, Sweden. During the year Rīga will host a number of cultural events, kicking off this weekend with all sorts of festivities.

The idea to designate an annual Capital of Culture was that of former actress Melina Mercouri, then Greece’s Minister of Culture, and her French counterpart Jack Lang. By highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values the designation serves to invigorate the chosen cities, bringing socio-economic benefits as well. For a  complete list of the more than 40 cities designated thus far, click here, and for a general article on the events occurring in Latvia this year, click here.

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The main event Saturday featured a human chain to transfer books from the old National Library of Latvia to the newly constructed Gaismas Pils (Palace of Light) National Library Building. The event was officially identified as Gaismas ceļš – Grāmatu draugu ķēde (the path of light – the chain of friends of books). In preparation for the move, the books were cleaned of dust and placed into plastic protective coverings, each individually labeled and classified.

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Over 14,000 volunteers signed up for 15-30 minute time slots, and between the noon start time and 4:32pm when the last book reached the library, over 2,000 books traveled to their new home. The first book to make the journey through Vērmaņa dārzs, down Brīvības iela and past the Freedom Monument, through Vecrīga and across the bridge to the new library was an 1825 edition of the Bible. Awaiting the books’ arrival were President Andris Bērziņš and a host of other important Latvian and European persons.

source here
This symbolic human chain brought to mind the Baltic Way (Baltijas ceļš), the peaceful political demonstration that occurred on August 23, 1989. Approximately two million people joined hands to form a chain spanning over 370 miles across the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These peaceful demonstrations were part of the road that led to renewed independence in 1991, and though the circumstances were different, I have no doubt that the participants of Saturday’s event hold just as much pride in their nation and culture. I can only imagine the titles that passed through Rīga’s streets on Saturday, the history and literary tradition that each participating member held in their hands if only for a brief moment. Although not able to participate in Saturday’s historic event, I wish to thank all those who helped transfer our national treasure to its new home, and eagerly await the chance to visit Gaismas pils for myself.

To view an album commemorating the occasion, click here.
For the LTV coverage of the inaugural festivities, click here.


  1. That's certainly a lot of volunteers! I've heard good things about Riga and would like to visit one day.

  2. I've been lucky to visit many of the Culture Capitals. maybe a trip to Riga is in order in 2014.

  3. Oh what an event.
    I shall give the name of Riga to my son. He loves to travel.


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