Thessaloniki, the European Capital of Culture for 1997: The "European Capital of Culture" is a concept developed by the European Union to give a chance to a European city to showcase its cultural heritage and development to the rest of the world. A number of cities have been given this title since its inception in 1985 by the Council of Ministers on the initiative of the Greek Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri. The initiative has created a significant impact on the social and cultural status of the cities.
Thessaloniki was selected as the European Capital of Culture in the year 1997. It is one of the largest cities in southeastern Europe and also the second major economic, industrial, commercial and political center. Since its foundation in the ancient times till today, Thessaloniki has played an important role in the formation of the Greek culture and the culture of the whole Balkan area.
Many Christian priests in the Byzantine times started their mission to teach Christianity and the alphabet to the Slav tribes of the Balkans from Thessaloniki. Cyril and Methodius, the missionary brothers, invented and used the Cyrillic Alphabet and brought literacy and Christianity to the Slavs.
Some other notable personalities who raised the name of the city through their scholarly works include historian John Cameniates, Archbishop Eustathius of Thessaloniki and theologian Gregory Palamas. Also, note that the flourishing of the city those times was such that the Byzantine churches of Thessaloniki have today been declared by Unesco as World Heritage Monuments. Even when Thessaloniki fell to the hands of the Turks in 1430, the residents struggled to preserve their language and culture and succeeded to a great extent.
Today Thessaloniki is a modern city that has a lot to offer from terms of culture. Apart from its historical monuments and numerous museums, Thessaloniki organizes regular fairs and competitions. The International Trade Fair that organizes every September/ October is the largest trade fair of the Balkans. Moreover, the city also hosts an annual International Film Festival where renowned and new film-makers take part and present their work. Furthermore, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki is one of the most remarkable institutions of Greece and gives esteem to the city.
Taking into account these historical and cultural features, Thessaloniki was chosen as the Cultural Capital of Europe in 1997. Many celebrations and exhibitions were organized to broaden the history of the town all over Europe. From street performances and photo exhibitions to competitions among European artists, theatre performances and lectures, Thessaloniki had the chance for a whole year to prove her role as a powerful and important town.