January 19, 2014 / 5:40 PM / 6 years ago

Latvians pass books along human chain to kick off culture capital year

RIGA (Reuters) - Latvians of all ages formed a human chain in the freezing cold this weekend to pass books from the old national library to a new one two km (1.2 miles) away as part of festivities to celebrate Riga as Europe’s culture capital for 2014.

People pass books by hand from the historic National Library of Latvia to the new building during "Chain of booklovers" in Riga January18, 2014. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Some 14,000 people, including children and the elderly, stood in temperatures of minus 12 degrees C (10 F) on Saturday to pass some 2,000 books hand to hand to a new library designed by Latvian-born U.S. architect Gunnar Birkerts.

The remainder of the library’s more than 4 million books and printed items will be moved by motorized transport.

The concrete building, clad with glass panels and stainless-steel plates and resembling a mountain with a crown atop, sits on a bank of the Daugava River near the capital’s Old Town and has been dubbed the Castle of Light.

Formerly a medieval outpost of the Hanseatic League of trading nations, Riga’s art nouveau buildings have earned its historical center a place on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.

As Europe’s rotating culture capital this year in conjunction with Umea in northern Sweden, Riga will host more than 200 concerts, exhibitions, festivals, conferences and performances.

The number of tourists to the city is expected to rise by 25 percent from 2013 to 2.1 million people, mayor Nils Usakovs said.

The arts program was kicked off with the Latvian National Opera’s production of Richard Wagner’s early opera “Rienzi” on Friday. Wagner once lived in Riga, to escape his creditors back in Germany, and it is where he started working on “Rienzi”.

In July, a series of concerts, “Born in Riga”, will bring together world-renowned Latvian performers, including violinist Gidon Kremer and opera singers Maija Kovalevska, Inese Galante and Aleksandrs Antonenko.

The same month the “world choir games” will bring together around 20,000 singers from 70 countries in Latvia, which is famous for its choral-singing tradition.

Contemporary art works of Latvian-born American artist Vija Celmina will be on display from April to June.

The Baltic state suffered the worst economic downturn in the European Union in 2009, but after several years of austerity has become one of the fastest growing economies in the bloc. The country of 2 million adopted the euro on January 1.

Initiated in 1985, the European Capital of Cultures programme is intended to highlight the richness and diversity of culture in Europe, according to the EU’s website.

Editing by Michael Roddy and Sonya Hepinstall

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