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2008 Arab Capital of Culture
Location(s) Damascus, Syria
Date(s) 2008

The 2008 Arab Capital of Culture was chosen to be Damascus, Syria. The Arab Capital of Culture is an initiative undertaken by UNESCO,[1] under the Cultural Capitals Program to promote and celebrate Arab culture and encourage cooperation in the Arab region. The preparation for the festivity began in February 2007 with the establishing of the Administrative Committee for “Damascus Arab Capital of Culture" by a presidential decree.


The Administrative Committee

The committee was headed by the well known professor and scholar Hanan Qassab Hassan, dean of the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus. She was the General Secretary of the event until its closing ceremony. The committee included a board of directors comprising:[2]

Additionally, there was an advisory board of respected intellectuals, artists and literati including such figures as Adunis, Asaad Fidda, Abed Azrie and Ghassan al-Maleh.

Opening ceremony

The festivities were officially launched on January 18, 2008 with fireworks and a spectacular visual and light show at the Umayyad Square. The opening ceremony included levitated dancing, musical segments, floating acrobatics, and hot air balloons. The ceremony was attended by the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Foreign guests included the Turkish prime minister Abdullah Gul, the Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa and the secretary general of the Arab League Amr Moussa.[3]

The Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, attended a concert at the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain along with Queen Sophia of Spain on January 31, 2008. The concert was a musical presentation of the poems of Wallada bint al-Mustakfi the daughter of Muhammad III of Córdoba, one of the last Umayyad Caliphates in Spain.[4]

For the opening ceremony of Damascus, Arab capital of Culture 2008 Studio Festi proposed the show Le Rideau se Lève (the Curtain Rises), designed and produced by Monica Maimone e Valerio Festi.

The show afforded citizens of Syria the first opportunity to witness a grand 'piazza' celebration. To the collective emotion that the show aroused, the grand finale was added: a fireworks concert witnessed by the 1.6 million inhabitants of Damascus, launched from the hills of Quaisun.

Highlights of the festivities

Over the course of 12 months many major cultural events were sponsired and numerous festivals and exhibitions were held, turning Damascus into a cultural center.

Highlights of the events of the festival include by month:





  • A musical concert by the Orchestra of Mari.[10]
  • Bahok, a dance performance by Akram Khan.[11]
  • House of Cinema, a celebration of Arab cinema.[12]
  • World Poetry Day, a series of poetry workshops in celebration of the World Poetry Day.[13]



  • Women Sing... Their Voices Converse, a music performance by Arab female musicians at Azm Palace.[15]




  • A series of concerts by the Lebanese musician Ziad Rahbani at the Citadel of Damascus. It was the first time Rahbani performs in Syria.[22]
  • The Festival of Oak of Mallajeh, the 12th edition of this annual cultural festival was held under the patronage of Arab Capital of Culture festival.[23]


  • Spiritual Music Days, a series of concerts by a number of traditional and spiritual musical groups. [24]
  • Memory Club hosts Colette Khoury, an event and talk by the Syrian writer.[25]



  • Contract, a dance performance by the Myosotis Dance Theatre Group.[32]



  1. ^ Herbert, Ian; Nicole Leclercq, International Theatre Institute (2003). The World of Theatre: An Account of the World's Theatre Seasons 1999-2000, 2000-2001 and 2001-2002. Routledge. p. 225. ISBN 0415306213. 
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