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Portugal 2027, A journey among the 12 candidate cities: Évora

Evora 2027 Evora 2027 Photo by Carolina Lecoq

Ecocnews continues its journey among the 12 Portuguese cities that are candidates for European capital of culture for 2027. Since its foundation, Évora has been in constant transformation. Despite its geographical position in the interior of the country it has been a city of convergence where people meet to think about the world. It was the meeting place of civilisations and kings, then a centre of expansionist knowledge, and then one of the main cities of the Portuguese Renaissance.

Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage since 1986, Évora still boasts a rich tangible and intangible heritage today. The marks of their history as human beings remain visible in its megalithic archaeology, yet it is simultaneously a place where innovation is growing, with an ambitious smart city agenda on the horizon.

Évora 2027 is a bid by both the city and its surrounding area, the Alentejo region. For three different reasons: geostrategic, historical-cultural, and political. Évora is a medium-sized Portuguese city with a population of just over 50,000. Yet the fact that it performs the functions of a regional capital gives it additional importance and responsibility as an urban centre of representation, innovation, and economic, social, and cultural diffusion. The city's bid for European Capital of Culture therefore includes Central Alentejo as an active partner. Évora is centrally located in the Alentejo region, at the intersection of the main transverse axis of southern Portugal, the Lisbon-Madrid connection, and the North-South interior axis.

The application has been put together by an Executive Board that embodies a political commitment made in 2016 by eight local and regional entities: Évora City Council; the Alentejo Regional Coordination and Development Commission; the Alentejo Regional Directorate for Culture; the Intermunicipal Community of the Central Alentejo; the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation; University of Évora; the Alentejo Regional Tourism Entity and the Ribatejo and Alentejo Regional Tourism Promotion Agency.

What is the title of your first bidbook?

In Évora and in the Alentejo region, throughout a history made of social, cultural and also economic resilience, we have built another way of living and being, of looking at ourselves and the world. We call it vagar, and like ‘saudade’, it's difficult to translate it. The Alentejo’s vagar is the full awareness that we as humans are always one with the universe. It means coexistence, coevolution, restraint, creation and construction, distance (in space and time), memory and collectivity. This idea has shaped the Alentejo people's way of doing things, specially the way they plan for the future, manage resources and organise the land.

Considering the successive threats to the survival of humanity — climate change, the transfer of decisions to algorithms, the dispute over space, forced migrations and the precariousness of global cooperation — we believe that Europe and the world need a new global narrative. Although ancient, we believe that vagar is more relevant today than ever.

How are you involving citizens in this journey?

The involvement of the local population and civil society are at the heart of Évora 2027. The first evidence of this is the constitution of the Executive Board, Évora 2027, led by the Municipality of Évora. Bringing together various city and regional entities, the Board’s constitution has already mobilised widely across the region

during the application stage. Therefore, the whole application created (and keeps creating) opportunities for the local population and civil society to be involved, ensuring that their participation is continuous rather than episodic. In collaboration with a multidisciplinary team from the University of Évora and the University of Lisbon, Évora 2027 started The Voice that Matters, an initiative that included an online survey and several discussion groups — targeted at young people and over-65s — on local communities’ expectations of Évora’s application to be ECoC.

We also launched #BEING, a cycle of short documentaries to promote the various projects developed in distinct areas such as innovation/research, documentation/archiving, cultural entrepreneurship, artistic residencies/artistic projects, popular art, heritage and natural resources, archaeology, architecture, and built heritage, among others. All the short films are available on our Youtube channel.
We ran graphic design workshops under the title Outlining. People were invited to participate in the construction of Évora 2027's visual identity. From specialists to those less experienced in graphic design, from children to the elderly, these workshops were led by the design duo Lizá Defossez Ramalho and Artur Rebelo, the R2’s. Together they are responsible for creating the application’s visual language.

And finally, we have challenged four musicians from Évora to create the soundscape of Évora 2027. O Céu do Pastor (Shepherd 's heaven) is an original work by Tó Zé Bexiga, António Pinto de Sousa, Mestre André and Dj Sims, with the participation of ‘Vozes do Imaginário’ and direction by Luís Pereira. This contemporary piece of music will draw inspiration from the region's Musicality — a unique intangible heritage.

What objectives do you intend to achieve?

Nowadays there are also new issues that have come to anchor the Évora 2027’s approach — issues generated and amplified by the pandemic crisis, as well as by collective responses being developed at the European level, where new challenges are emerging around the climate, energy and digital transitions and the organisation of new adaptive capacities. For that matter, the city will adapt itself to contemporary challenges, re-evaluating the past, boosting present resources, and investing in a shared future. In view of this “shared future”, Évora 2027 already established several links with other ECoC cities.
With Évora 2027 we want to promote connections between culture and other sectors and areas of intervention — connections that may give rise to transformations and help generate value, specifically through the urban agenda, social inclusion and equal opportunities, and adaptation to climate change, all of which provide opportunities to tackle the challenges of sustainable transitions (The European Green Deal and the Renovation Wave — the New European Bauhaus). And to all this, from now to 2027 and beyond, we want to put forward the concept of vagar as a motto with which we can challenge ourselves as a community and transform Évora (and the Alentejo region) into a cultural centre for thinking about humanity.

Serafino Paternoster

Ecocnews Founder, Journalist, repentant jazz guitarist, music critic and film lover.