The cities of Europe have an infinite variety, influenced by a vivid history of wars, religious strife and economic turbulence. The art and culture of Europe are a reflection of its numerous nations’ struggles to assert their identity and make their mark on this crowded continent.
Rival cultural capitals
London’s status as a cultural city has been shaped in the last two centuries by its role as the capital of a sprawling empire. In post-colonial times, its current artistic movements have been strongly influenced by its immigrant populations. It’s possible to combine the traditional and the ultra-modern in the space of a short stroll along the south bank of the Thames. The restored Tudor structure of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre hosts productions of his classic plays by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Fifteen minutes upriver, the converted industrial spaces of the Tate Modern house the most challenging and spectacular contemporary artworks.
A two-hour journey on the Eurostar train brings you to London’s traditional rival, Paris, a cultural city where artistic activity ranges from the quaint watercolours offered to tourists by Montmartre street artists to masterpieces in the Louvre, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Like London, Paris has found its culture heavily influenced by its immigrant populations, and the small galleries and music clubs that cluster in the Marais district offer vibrant hints of Africa and Asia.
Florence remains one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, its magnificent architecture reflecting its heyday as a Renaissance cultural capital. Getting in line for the Uffizi Gallery is a familiar tourist experience, rewarded by the most impressive collection of masterpieces anywhere in the world. Works by Leonardo, Titian, Botticelli, Rafael and Giotto features are among the overwhelming collection.
Rome could claim to be the cradle of Western culture, the city from which the legions conquered much of the Western world and imposed Roman ideals of law, architecture, literature, philosophy and art. Many visitors are here to crane their necks in wonder at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s timeless work of genius.
It may be the definitive statement of Europe’s soaring cultural achievement.
Image: Rhombur – Fotolia