foreigners have not heard of it. Many Slovaks would not think of traipsing across
the country to check it out. But Košice, Slovakia’s second city and one of 2013’s
European Capitals of Culture, is set to surprise everyone.
One of the least-known
cities to ever get the accolade (previous winners include Athens, Madrid and
Liverpool), this city, located
400km east of Bratislava and 250km northeast of Budapest, is a Renaissance-Baroque
architectural jewel. It has a fantastic glut of historical buildings around its
central namestie (square), including a
treasure chest of palatial mansions in the Old Town and the country’s most
impressive cathedral, St
Elizabeth’s. Underneath this veneer a cultural energy pulsates. Košice is home to the Slovak
State Philharmonic as well as a fantastic contemporary art scene with a
heavyweight pedigree, including Slovakia’s famous son, Andy Warhol.
With an understated
quality that is typical of the nation in which in sits, Košice is quietly capitalising on its extensive artistic and architectural
legacy for 2013. In a Glasgow-style revamp of existing buildings, visitors will
see the city enlivened by exciting citywide renovations hosting a variety of innovative
performances and exhibitions.
Artistic and literary draws
with just one major arts hub, Košice is preparing three. The biggest
project, to the tune of around 30 million euros, is the reconstruction of the
abandoned 19th-century military base south of the Old Town into a 21st-century
cultural platform. The Kulturpark, whose
high walls protect a vast tranquil tract of green in the heart of the city, will
be an oasis of budding creativity, with workshops for artisans and
interchanging exhibitions when it opens in June. A permanent onsite interactive
exhibition, Steel My Heart, will celebrate the historic link between the city
and its main employer, US Steel Košice, transporting visitors into a factory
world where they can operate an electromagnetic crane or help manufacture cars
on a production line.
The Kunsthalle, opening
on 3 July, will rise from the ruins of the city’s famed Art Nouveau swimming
pool in Metský Park, the city’s main green space, which was
abandoned after the Hornád River was diverted from the city centre
during the Communist 1970s for appearing too bourgeois. This new international
exhibition and performance venue will have a water and light theme running
throughout to maintain links to the days when people flocked here to take the
exhibition will feature the work of Guyula Kosice, a Košice-born artist living in Argentina who has become one of Latin
America’s chief exponents of artes
plasticos (modern art) and one of the world pioneers of hydrokinetic art
(art using moving water). The exhibition, The Hydrospatial City, follows a
month of citywide exhibits around the theme of “returning water to the city”,
and, while the real River Hornád is unlikely ever to return, its
essence is brought to life through a series of innovative installations.
arts hub is the Ampitheatre.
Built in 1954 and once the largest open-air cinema in then Czechoslovakia, its reconstruction
will pave the way for hosting such festivals as Cassovia,
an annual international folkloric extravaganza running from 26 to 30 June 2013,
which offers visitors the opportunity to learn traditional folk dancing, make
typical Slovakian handicrafts and participate in a torchlight parade.
Košice’s literary heritage will be also celebrated, courtesy of the city’s
famous writer, Sándor Márai, who wrote in Hungarian
while the city was under the Austro-Hungarian empire’s influence, becoming a
key figure in 20th-century Hungarian literature. But Košice was his
home and many city landmarks can be found in his books. Head to his newly
renovated former house (Mäsiarska 35; open 1 pm to 3 pm daily), to learn about his
life and works, or contact the Košice Information Centre (Hlavná 59; 55-625-8888) for their daily Sándor Márai tours, which explore his city haunts.
A year of festivals, from Warhol to wine
Košice will sparkle in 2013 as it brings its art and music scene to its streets.
The Use the
City festival from 22 to 26 May will spruce up the city’s Communist-built neighbourhoods
with art, theatre and dance performances as well as outdoor film screenings.
In August, Pop
Art Party celebrates Košice’s ties to Andy Warhol – even if the artist himself was not keen
to. Warhol’s parents grew up in eastern Slovakia near the town of Medzilaborce,
115km northeast of Košice, and Košice’s Muza Hotel has one of the best private
collections of Warhol originals in the world. The city streets will reverberate
with artwork, film screenings and artsy workshops throughout his birth month;
fans should not miss his artworks projected onto city buildings on 2 August, when
the Muza Hotel’s usually private Mihal
Gallery will be open for public viewings.
Košice is also making use of the six Unesco World Heritage Sites that lie
within an easy day trip. These include the national parks of Slovak Karst (comprising some of
Central Europe’s most extensive and impressive cave systems) and Slovensk Raj (a vast mountainous,
forested wilderness filled with exhilarating hiking through waterfall-splashed
gorges), as well as the idyllic low hills of the Tokaj wine region to the south
of the city. Toast one of Eastern Europe’s best-regarded drops at September’s
Festival (12 to 14 September 2013), and learn more about the amber-hued nectar
through guided tasting sessions, lectures and workshops.
partial to a tipple should also give a hearty na zdravie (cheers) to Košice Gold, a cocktail (recipe
strictly secret) on offer at many venues around town to pay homage to Europe’s
biggest hoard of gold treasure, discovered underneath the city in 1935. The
treasure is making a much-heralded return to the East Slovak Museum on 24
August following a tour around Europe.
Košice’s take on 2013 seems primarily about concentrating on the small
things that officials believe will make big differences, ensuring its arts
scene thrives for years to come. The city with the oldest
coat of arms in Europe looks as though it is coming of age. At least, it is
glimmering with far more than just steel this year.