Helsinki will spend the first year of the new millennium celebrating for two reasons: it is one of the nine European Cities of Culture 2000 (along with Avignon, Bologna, Bergen, Brussels, Cracow, Prague, Reykjavik and Santiago de Compostela) and also celebrating the 450th anniversary of its own foundation.
The programme for the year features a vast array of events that will be seen and felt in the everyday lives of the people of the capital and its neighbouring cities Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen. There will be something for all tastes and preferences. All in all, the programme includes some 450 events and projects.
The word "culture" need not put off those who associate it mainly with concerts and art exhibitions, in which they have no interest. The idea is that for the whole twelve months there will be something for everyone to see and experience. That includes a great number of events that are free for all. Indeed, a specific goal is to enhance the quality of life in Greater Helsinki, whilst mediating to the rest of Europe and the world a message about Finnish culture and capability. A good culture also means a good quality of everyday life.
The twelve months actually comprise four parallel years. There is the "Children's Year", which offers many things to do and experience - and also an opportunity to learn and grow. There will be children's theatre - movies, musical trips, art education. "Everybody's Year" will be seen and heard in the streets, squares and parks - not forgetting sauna culture.
The "Year of Art" features everything from the very small and delicate to large-scale spectaculars. The range of performances spans the spectrum from folk music to jazz and rune singing, from Placido Domingo to church music. The "International Year" will introduce the other eight cities and strengthen links within the Baltic Sea region; the programme includes an extensive totality highlighting the history and present day of St. Petersburg.
The double jubilee actually has a third aspects in that it happens to be the 125th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius. A competition for conductors in May is named in honour of the composer, as is another for violinists in December. Both events will bring some of the most outstanding international talents to the Finnish capital.
450th birthday in summer
Helsinki always officially marks its birthday on 12 June, which is a day of music and celebration everywhere. This year the day will culminate in two enormous parades presenting the story of the city from its foundation to the present day and projecting it forward to the year 2050. Both parades will end in large squares, where elaborate celebrations will follow. The programme in Hakaniemi Square will be mainly rock, whilst the Senate Square will resound to the strains of more historical music.
Helsinki was founded by King Gustavus Vasa of Sweden in 1550. Its first inhabitants were burghers from several other small towns whom the monarch commanded to move there. It was elevated to the status of capital by Czar Alexander I in 1812.
Helsinki is a "human scale" metropolis where nearly everything, not least the main cultural amenities, is within walking distance. The city itself has a population of somewhat over half a million and the metropolitan area around twice that.