Just as Romania is about to join the European Union, the city of Sibiu in Transylvania has been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2007. Launched as the European City of Culture project in1985 to “contribute to bringing the peoples of Europe together,” the project was renamed European Capital of Culture in 1999. This year’s honoree is Patras, Greece.

When most people think of Romanian cities, Bucharest is usually the first to come to mind. Of course, among genre travelers, the Transylvanian region and Bran Castle are also top of mind. Last year, I was fortunate enough to participate in a trip for writers in Romania. On my last day, I did a whirlwind tour of Transylvania and found it to be a beautiful land full of contrasts. At one moment we’d be driving through old-growth forest and then the next we were on a flat plain filled with farmland.

Sibiu, or Hermannstadt as it is known in German, is a city in the central Transylvania region of Romania, northwest of Bran, and is little known outside of Eastern Europe. Taking advantage of its selection as European Capital of Culture, Sibiu is planning a year of festivals and events, hoping to put it on the cultural and tourist map.

“Our city awaits you to discover its music, dance, theatre, visual arts and other events,” Mayor Klaus Werner Johannis told David Browne, eTN European Editor. Mayor Johannis, is a young and dynamic mayor, and has spearheaded this project, giving the city a facelift and planning events “in the streets and squares, lofts and cellars, fortification walls and churches.”

According to Browne, Sibiu’s “squares are lined with grand architecture and the lower town is one of Europe’s best examples of a medieval neighbourhood, full of narrow streets and colourful ancient houses.” It is home to well-respected universities and its economy thrives on light industry, electronics, textiles and clothing.

Culturally, Sibiu offers weekly concerts of classical and modern symphonic music performed by its own Philharmonic orchestra, classical and modern drama at Romania’s national theatre Radu Stanca, and the Theatre Gong, which presents puppet shows, mime and non-conventional theatrical events. In addition, the city has several fine museums, galleries and churches. “An 18th century governor of Transylvania, Samuel von Brukenthal, amassed an art collection that is on display in the Brukenthal Museum in the city centre,” writes Browne. “It includes works by Rubens, Botticeli, Titian and Van Dyck.”

Sibiu has one of Europe’s largest open-air museums set in more than 100 acres of forest and parkland around a lake. Built up between 1963 and 1989, the Astra Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization is an elaborate scientific-documentary and technical collection and archives (pictures, photos, films) dealing with pre-industrial folk technology in Romania providing a demonstration of life and material continuity in this part of Europe. The museum, already a popular attraction for visitors, will be a major venue for events in 2007.

“Due to its unique architectural heritage,” said Mayor Johannis, “Sibiu is a perfect platform for projects taking place in public spaces.”

Each year, Sibiu hosts a theatre festival, as well as a jazz festival and several outdoor concerts on temporary stages in the Big Square. More than 200 major events have been selected by an organizing committee, plus hundreds of smaller events and exhibitions, for next year’s program. Many of the events will showcase Romanian art and music, as well as some international artists.

According to Wikipedia, the European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the European Union for a period of one year during which it is given a chance to showcase its cultural life and cultural development. A number of European cities have used the City of Culture year to completely transform their cultural base and, in doing so, the way in which they are viewed internationally. Sibiu is no different.

“This is the most important event for Sibiu in decades,” said Mayor Johannis. “We are convinced it will change Sibiu, make it better known and really put it on the map. We expect a huge increase in the number of tourists and investors and so it is important that we devote a lot of energy into improving the city’s infrastructure.”

The opening of the 2007 year of cultural festivities should coincide with Romania’s entry into membership of the European Union, Browne writes is scheduled for January. The Capital of Culture project is intended to demonstrate the city’s and the country’s commitment to full integration into modern Europe.

Sibiu’s international airport has direct links to Munich and Stuttgart in Germany and Bresica in Italy, and to Bucharest through Romania’s flag-carrier Tarom. Talks are under way with the airline operators to increase the frequency of direct flights, writes Browne.

For more information about Sibiu, visit their website at www.sibiu.ro/index-en.htm.