Italy hasn’t gotten much of a good rep recently with its economic and political stagnation and the brain drain of the country’s talented youth. But not just Matteo Renzi is out there to change this.

In rough times like these it's encouraging to hear that an unexpectedly high number of Italian cities joined the European Capital of Culture competition last year. The ECoC title is awarded each year to two cities from two different European countries – Umea in Sweden and Riga in Latvia are the European Capital of Cultures 2014. Italy’s turn is up again in 2019 and a fierce competition is going on right now between the participating Italian cities to secure the title.

Past European capitals have proved that ECoC cities with a thought-through program receive major investments, speed up local development, and secure a long-lasting influx of culturally interested travelers - the welcome species of tourists, who prefer quality of experience to number of sights seen in a day. 

Made in China souvenir stall in front of Siena's cathedral
Less Cinghiale store, more contemporary art please

No surprise then that a total of 21 Italian cities had handed in bid books to join the competition last September; never before had there been so many competitors for the title in a European country. No doubt a clear sign for the ailing economy and the need for profound change all through Italy. Last November the jury assessed the bid books and six cities made it into the second round (again a surprisingly high number).

Still in the race are Cagliari, Lecce-Brindisi, Matera, Perugia-Assisi, Ravenna and Siena (see map of Italian ECoC bidding cities) . The winner will be announced in autumn 2014 and having made my home in Southern Tuscany, I’m obviously cheering - if not praying! - for Siena to win (see my short review of the Siena 2019 program here). But whoever brings back home the ECoC 2019 title, the five defeated cities still have reason to rejoice. Considering the intellectual and financial resources invested into the project, these forward thinking Italian cities haven't been waiting for Renzi to ring in a cultural awakening of a country no longer resting on its laurels.

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