This year they are Tallinn (Estonia) and Turku (Finland). Each year, one or more European cities display the title "European Capital of Culture". And today Andalucia is abuzz with the possibility that in 2016, this title will be held by Cordoba, one of the three great historic cities of the region, along with Seville and Granada.
The whole idea for European Capital of Culture started back in 1986, when Greek singer-turned-politician Melina Mercouri decided to designate one city each year, in order to highlight the richness and diversity of European cultures. And it's been proved that holding the title functions as a catalyst for the cultural and socio-economic development of the city, with a considerable effect. All good news, and without the massive investment made for an Expo (Seville 92), some of which (overland train, various buildings and other infrastructure), though not all, of which was never used after the event finished. The last Spanish city to hold the title was Salamanca, in 2002. Up to 2011, countries could be from outside the European Union, but from this year, a new stipulation states that they have to members of the EU.
The exciting thing about Cordoba's bid is the knock-on effect being European Capital of Culture would have on the entire region - tourists who come for all the special events which will be organised in the city that year, will most probably visit other cities and regions of Andalucia, while they're here. Malaga was also in the running in the early stages, but didn't make the final, which was a terrible disappointment to all involved. So it would be good if this still-underrated cultural hothouse still enjoyed part of the benefits, were Cordoba to be successful.
Cordoba's bid is playing largely on its multicultural history. The main evidence for this is the Mezquita, a mosque-inside-a-cathedral, although there's also a synagogue and Cordoba was the home city of two great 12th-century philosophers, the Muslim Averroes, and Maimonides, who was Jewish. The city is a World Heritage site - the Mezquita and historic centre.
Every year, in May, Cordoba is home to a succession of colourful festivities, including the Patios competition and the Cruces de Mayo (May Crosses). Other regular annual events include Cosmpoetica poetry festival, and the Guitar Festival, while competitions have been held in photography and design.
On 3 June, Cordoba had its "practical exam" for European City of Culture, when the international jury came to see the city, a which was reported in minute detail, both through social media, and in the local and regional press.
Now, this morning, was the "theory exam", with a 30-minute presentation in Madrid, followed by a one-hour question-and-answer session. And, thankfully, there's not too long to wait for the much-anticipated result: tomorrow, at 5pm ("una hora muy lorquina", said the Diario de Sevilla), the baited-breath Cordobans will find out whether their beloved city will join Wraclow (Poland - no, I've never heard of it either) as European Capital of Culture for 2016.
The criteria for the proposed programme of events in the city, according to the EC, specify that the programme must foster cooperation between cultural operators, artists and cities from host country and other EU countries in any cultural sector; highlight the richness of cultural diversity in Europe; and bring the common aspects of European cultures to the fore. So it's all about the city's European identity and its role in European culture. Back in the 12th century Cordoba was the capital of the Moorish kingdom of Al-Andalus.
The EC also stipulates that the programme must also foster the participation of citizens living in the city and its surroundings and raise their interest as well as the interest of citizens from abroad; and be sustainable and be an integral part of the long-term cultural and social development of the city.
In terms of citizen participation, the Cordoba bid team is confident that it has a strong case, with 156 cultural projects suggested, including 83 coming from Cordobans themselves. On social media, there are 30,000 followers - not bad for Spain, which isn't as technologically switched-on as the rest of Europe, though it's catching up fast.
The other Spanish cities - the two designated countries for 2016 are Spain and Poland - which have made the final section of the running (curiously, not mentioned in the regional press coverage - not interested in sizing up the opposition?) are: Burgos, Donostia-San Sebastián, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Segovia and Zaragoza.
So listen out at 5pm tomorrow evening - if Cordoba wins, there will be dancing in the streets here in Andalucia.