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The concept of the European Capital of Culture puts culture at the heart of European cities.
It highlights the richness and diversity of cultures in Europe and celebrates the
cultural features that Europeans share. To date, more than sixty cities
across the EU and beyond have been designated European
Capital of Culture four of which were Spanish cities.



The European Capital of Culture (ECOC) programme,  initially the European City of Culture, was conceived in 1983 by Melina Mercouri, then the minister of culture in Greece. Mercouri believed that culture was not being given the same attention as politics and economics and a project for promoting European cultures within the European Union (EU) member states should be pursued. The European City of Culture programme was launched in 1985 with Athens as the first title-holder. In 1999, the European City of Culture programme was renamed European Capital of Culture.

To date, more than 60 cities across the EU and beyond have been designated European Capital of Culture. Designated by the EU for a one-year duration,  the European Capital of Culture involves a series of cultural events with a strong pan-European dimension.

The concept of the ECOC puts culture at the heart of European cities made effective with EU support for a yearlong celebration of art and culture.

The reason for celebrating the ECOC is quite simple and profound. The ECOC initiative is there to

  • Highlight the richness and diversity of cultures in Europe
  • Celebrate the cultural features that Europeans share
  • Increase European citizens’ sense of belonging to a common cultural area
  • Foster the contribution of culture to the development of cities

Experience has shown that ECOC events are an excellent opportunity for

  • Regenerating cities
  • Raising the international profile of cities
  • Enhancing the image of cities in the eyes of their own inhabitants
  • Breathing new life into a city’s culture
  • Boosting tourism


European Capitals of Culture 2023

In 2023, the three European Capitals of Culture are

How the European Capitals of Culture are designated:

The process of selection
Six years prior, cities interested in participating in the ECOC competition must submit a proposal for consideration, usually through their Ministry of Culture.

The applications are then reviewed vis-à-vis a set of established criteria by a panel of independent experts in the field of culture or culture-based city development.

Once the panel has a short-list of applicant cities, these are asked to submit more detailed applications. After which the panel reconvenes to assess the final applications and recommends one ECOC per host country. The relevant authority in the Member State concerned then formally designates the recommended city as European Capital of Culture.

It behoves the European Commission to ensure that the rules established at EU level are respected all along the way.

Who can aspire for the ECOC title
Cities in EU candidate countries or members of the European Free Trade Association party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EFTA/EEA countries) can also hold the title in 2022, 2024, 2028, 2030 and 2033. These cities are selected through an ‘open competition’, meaning that cities from various countries may compete with each other.

The selection procedure is similar to the one in EU Member States, but the European Commission is the authority validating the panel’s recommendations.

From designation to implementation…
European Capitals of Culture are formally designated four years before the actual title year. This long period of time is necessary for the planning and preparation of such a complex event.

Melina Mercouri in 1985

It is also the time needed to embed the event in a longer-term cultural strategy, to significantly engage with the citizens, to make the necessary European connections and to ensure that the right infrastructure is in place.

The panel, under the auspices of the European Commission, has a continuing role during these four years in supporting European Capitals of Culture with advice and guidance and taking stock of their preparations.

At the end of this monitoring period, the panel will consider whether to recommend or not that the European Commission pay the Melina Mercouri Prize (currently €1.5m funded from the EU Creative Europe programme)

Kostanjevica Monastery, Nova Gorica, Slovenia

Designated European Capitals of Culture
European Capitals of Culture have already been designated as far as the year 2027. To wit:

2024: Bad Ischl (Austria), Tartu (Estonia) and Bodø (Norway)

2025: Chemnitz (Germany) and Nova Gorica (Slovenia)

2026: Oulu (Finland) and Trenčín (Slovakia)

2027: Liepāja (Latvia) and Évora (Portugal)

Spain as ECOC
Four times, Spanish cities have been designated ECOC: Madrid, 1992; Santiago de Compostela, along with eight other cities, exceptionally designated by the EU-EC in conjunction with “the millennium year”, 2000; Salamanca, 2022; San Sebastian, 2016.

Santiago de Compostela, its Cathedral

In 2031 the Spanish cities of Burgos, Caceres, Granada, and Jerez de la Frontera are potential ECOC candidates.

Main Source: ©The European Union-European Commission, CC BY4.0
Other sources:
History of the ECOC, Wikipedia
Spain as ECOC, Wikipedia


Featured image, a Guidepost collage consisting of Hungary/Csendesmark, CC BY-SA4.0; Romania/Frentescu, CC BY-SA4.0.; Greece/Carole Roddato, CC BY-SA2.0. All via Wikipedia.)
Quote mark/Oakus 53, CC BY-SA4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
European Capital of Culture and European Commission logos, PD via Wikipedia
ECOC 2023 collage/European Commission, CC BY4.0
Melina Mercouri/Bart Molendjik-Anefo Nationaal Archief 933-529, CCO via Wikipedia
Slovenia/Viator slovenicus, CC BY-SA3.0
Santiago de Compostela/Juan Antonio Segal, CC BY2.0 via Flickr, cropped