THE SECOND weekend in January saw the French city of Marseilles inaugurated as the other European Capital of Culture for 2013 with a downtown parade, fireworks and the launch of several exhibitions. The event took place one week before Košice, its Slovak counterpart, launched its own year in the cultural spotlight.

“Marseille-Provence 2013 is a perfect illustration of dialogue between peoples,” said European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who attended the French ceremonial opening on January 12, as quoted by the AP newswire.

On the same day, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault inaugurated the Museum of European and Mediterranean Cultures – MuCEM. The museum’s striking building was designed by Marseilles-born architect Rudy Ricciotti for this year’s celebration. MuCEM will house the permanent collection of the Musée de l’Homme, an anthropology museum formerly based in Paris.

The port city of Marseilles, long plagued by a reputation for gang crime and lawlessness, hopes that its year as the European Capital of Culture will finally give its image a makeover, the AFP newswire wrote.

Councils from Marseilles to nearby Arles, and several towns in between, have invested more than €90 million in the event, known locally as Marseille-Provence 2013 (MP 2013). Ahead of the launch, Marseilles underwent a major facelift, with the Old Port remodelled, many museums renovated and new facilities opened as part of a €660-million public-private investment programme.

The MP 2013 project, touching upon an area with a population of 1.8 million, reflects three dimensions important for Marseilles: local, international and Mediterranean. The project programme consists of three phases. The opening weekend, January 12-13, marked the start of the first, called Marseille-Provence Welcomes the World. This phase will last until May.

The second phase, to be held under the name Marseille-Provence under the Open Sky, will occupy the summer months of June, July and August. The final phase will be branded “Thousand Faces of Marseille-Provence” and will last from September until December, the TASR newswire wrote.

Organisers have prepared about 400 events, performances, concerts, exhibitions and other cultural happenings for all sections of the public during 2013.

Marseilles is the fourth French city to carry the title European Capital of Culture, following Paris in 1989, Avignon (along with eight other cities) in 2000, and Lille in 2004. Marseilles won the ECOC 2013 title against competition from Lyons, Bordeaux and Toulouse.