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Cultural Identities: Luxemburg (Luxemburg)
A new cultural development
The city of Luxembourg, despite the fact that it is rather small in size, is the administrative and cultural capital of the Grand Duchy, and constitutes an important local and regional point of attraction as well as being a European Capital in its own right. The international renown of the Grand Duchy and its capital may be mainly founded on banking, media and serving as host to crucial European institutions, but the more than 1,000-year-old city of Luxembourg also contains an important cultural and historical patrimony.
This was formally acknowledged in December 1994, when the historic core of the old town, as well as sections of the fortress still in good condition, were declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. One of the peculiarities of the old part of Luxembourg is the way in which a small area of space reveals a wondrously rich blend of contrasting architectural styles: this mixture steadily developed over five centuries under the influence of forever changing foreign occupations.
A second very important event further contributed to reinforcing the cultural identity of the city as well as of the country as a whole, namely Luxembourg's designation as European Cultural Capital in 1995. Given the long tradition of a large population of non-nationals and the fact that Luxembourg is wedged between two great cultures and is itself trilingual, the opportunity was seized to assert the need for exchange and understanding as a means of countering the threat posed by rising neo-nationalism within Europe. This fundamental concept of dialogue was mirrored in the motto of the cultural year 'Luxembourg European City of All Cultures'.
These two major events, which took place almost simultaneously, encouraged the City of Luxembourg in its decision to contest international stereotypes about the Grand Duchy and to present culture and cultural heritage as an important complement to the country's customary reputation. They also opened up the national debate on the cultural identity of the Grand Duchy and its place within Europe, with its distinctive position between strong external cultural influences and the parallel strength of its own political and cultural traditions. Unsurprisingly, this matter has contributed significantly to building confidence, understanding and pride with regard to this central dimension of the national lifestyle and history.
The designation of a World Heritage site by UNESCO was an important launch pad for the restoration of the historic parts of the city, the partial excavation and rebuilding of the fortress, the implementation of educational tours of the city and the development of a new brand of 'cultural' tourism.
A case in point is the Wenzel circular walk. Named for the Duke of Luxembourg between 1383 and 1419, it crosses the oldest parts of the city and passes many historically outstanding and architecturally compelling edifices. It explains the development of the city and the relevance of the ring walls, while mainly focusing on the geology and natural history of the place, most notably the topology of the former, fortified, city.
In1993, the Luxembourg Government created the 'Fonds de rénovation de la Vieille Ville', which is in charge of the restoration of some parts of the old town under the authority of the Ministry of Public Works. Its mission comprises archaeological excavations, historical analyses, and the restoration and the transformation of the ancient buildings in order to create new housing space in the town centre.
Parallel to this, the city of Luxembourg, which owns an important number of houses in the lower part of the town, is carrying out renovation works in order to safeguard the quality of life of people living there.
Culture and arts
The European Cultural Capital Year was the catalyst for development in the cultural field by the retention and further exploitation of the expertise and network linkages established during the year 1995. The cultural year fostered an exceptional growth of interest in cultural events in Luxembourg and was a stepping-stone for the modernisation of vital aspects of cultural management in the Grand Duchy. 1995 proved that the cultural sector could hold its own among international competition, and demonstrated ways in which increased benefits could be obtained for the country, thereby enhancing the quality of life in the Grand Duchy, especially for the young, as well as putting Luxembourg on the map, internationally, and stimulating tourism. In fact, throughout 1995, Luxembourg reinforced its position as a regional centre in the greater 'Saar - Lor - Lux' area, as many as 60% of exhibition visitors pouring in from abroad.
The success of 1995 was at the origin of a new ambitious cultural policy aiming at the upgrading and expansion of existing cultural networks, encouraging investment in new cultural infrastructure, promoting the conference and incentive markets and exploring the cultural tourist potential of Luxembourg, including an enhanced image for the Grand Duchy.
In fact, a whole series of cultural buildings and institutions have been realised or are presently under construction:
Casino Luxembourg (1)
Location: rue Notre-Dame
Architect: Urs Raussmuller
Converted from a club into a temporary exhibition centre for contemporary art, the Casino opened in 1995 and contributed substantially to the success of the cultural year.
Museum of the History of the City of Luxembourg (2)
Location: rue du St. Esprit
Owner: City of Luxembourg
Architect: Conny Lentz and Repérages
Situated in the very heart of the old town, this museum succeeds in reconciling the specific qualities of the archaeological heritage, the limitations of the site and the necessities of the programme by exhibiting its own history. The Museum is located inside a cluster of four restored aristocratic residences and reflects the urban and architectural development of the city from its foundation in the 10th century up to the present day. The excavation of five basements into the rocks enhances the layout of the museum along the natural topography and creates a bond between lower town and upper town. The opening of the museum took place in 1996.
National Museum of Natural History (3)
Location: rue Münster
Architect: Architecture et Environnement Herr & Huyberechts
The National Museum of Natural History is located in St. John's Hospital, which was founded in 1307. The museum focuses on geology and zoology; knowledge is conveyed through samples of locally found natural phenomena.
Restoration of the National Museum of History and Art (4)
Location: place du Marché aux Poissons
Architect: Christian Bauer & associés
Museography: Richard Peduzzi
The ancient part of the National Museum for History and Art in Fish Market consists of a main building and several adjacent patrician houses dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. In its new form, currently under construction, the museum is planned to be supplemented by three more groups of buildings, including a three-level structure erected under the Fish Market square. (Expected opening 2002)
Museum of the Fortress (5)
Location: Fort Thüngen
Architect: Robert Becker
Museography: Jean-Michel Wilmotte
After the dismantling of Fort Thüngen, built in 1733, the arrow-shaped redoubt with its three impressive towers (the 'three acorns') was preserved. After its complete reconstruction, this Redoubt will house the Museum of the Fortress emphasising the important role the city of Luxembourg played during a great many centuries in European history. (Expected opening 2002)
Museum of Modern Art Grand-Duc Jean (6)
Location: Fort Thüngen
Architect: Ieoh Ming Pei (Pei Cobb Freed & Partners) and Georges Reuter
The Museum benefits from an extraordinary natural and archaeological environment. Its architectural concept is based on a clear and rational structure creating large exhibition spaces covered by a glass construction. (Expected opening 2002)
Philharmonic Concert Hall (7)
Location: place de l'Europe
Architect: Christian de Portzamparc
In the middle of the Place de l'Europe, a geometrically complex space, the Philharmonic Concert Hall will be the jewel as well as the baptistery of the place. Its elliptical form gives the Philharmonic Concert Hall its autonomy and its identity as the centre of the polygon of the surrounding buildings, mainly offices of the European Union. (Expected opening 2004)
Modernisation of the Municipal Theatre (8)
Location: Rond-point Schuman
Owner: City of Luxembourg
Architect: Alain Bourbonnais (initial construction 1964)
Kurt Gerling Werner Arendt (transformation)
The transformation of the Municipal Theatre consists mainly of the expansion of the stage infrastructure and the technical and structural modernisation of the acoustics, the lighting and the security equipment. The initial building, which is most interesting, architecturally, will be preserved in its entirety. (Expected reopening 2003)
Cultural Meeting Place of Neumünster (9)
Location: rue Münster
Architect: Jean Ewert
The Neumünster Abbey, built in the 16th century, comprised a church and four wings enclosing an inner courtyard. At the end of the 18th century the abbey was converted into a military hospital, which was in constant use until 1867. After the State had taken over the premises, Neumünster was used as a prison for male inmates up to 1980. After extensive restoration work, the whole complex will be the venue for social and cultural events and will be known as the 'Cultural Meeting Place of Neumünster'. (Expected opening 2002)
All these facilities will contribute, over the coming years, to reinvigorating cultural life in the city of Luxembourg. The term culture is used in its broadest sense here, covering history and heritage as well as the arts. Because of the small size of the city, the symbiosis of the historical aspect and the artistic aspect of culture will be near perfect: the new buildings set to accommodate manifestations of culture are erected on historic sites, whilst buildings that constitute an important part of the national cultural heritage will come to house new cultural institutions. Cultural heritage and cultural life will be closely linked and continuously flow into one another. This new cultural dynamic will heighten the attractiveness of the city for its inhabitants as well as improve the 'international image of Luxembourg'. Ideally, the city will project an image of itself in the first place as cultural.
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