Designed to host the first Portuguese Presidency of what was then, in 1992, the Council of the European Communities, the Centro Cultural de Belém (CCB) is once more the chosen venue, this time for Portugal's fourth Presidency of the Council of the European Union, during the first half of 2021.
An order signed by Prime Minister António Costa highlights the fact that “the geographic location of the CCB, its public spaces, its many meeting rooms and concert halls and its special architectural characteristics were the essential basis for this choice. Likewise, the history of the CCB was also taken into account when making this choice (...)” (Diário de República [Portuguese official gazette], 24 March 2020).
The decision to build the Centro Cultural de Belém was made in 1988 and the centre was completed in September 1992. The reason behind this project was the need for facilities capable of hosting Portugal's first presidency and which could later become a culture and leisure centre.
There were 57 candidate projects for the international tender, and the winning bid came from Portuguese architect Manuel Salgado and the architectural consortium of Italian Vittorio Gregotti. Their project provided for an architectural complex made up of five modules. However, only three were built during the first phase of construction: a meeting centre, a temporary exhibition centre and another one geared towards performing arts.
In 2002, the CCB was classified as a public interest building, included in the Monastery of the Hieronymites – Santa Maria de Belém special protection area. The building currently has a floor area of 97,000 square metres and stands on six hectares of land. Its several open air spaces, which include the Oliveiras and Água parks, the José Saramago Path and the CCB Square, are always open to visitors.
These almost 30 years have made the CCB a cultural landmark, following the success of the Spring Concert in 1993, which saw thousands of people who had never before been in a cultural building flocking to the centre.
Lisbon as European Capital of Culture, Expo 98, the Music Festival and many other cultural events of the time are inextricably linked to the CCB. Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, German choreographer Pina Bausch, Spanish maestro Jordi Savall, American composer Philip Glass, rock band Sigur Rós and American pianists Uri Caine and Keith Jarrett, to name but a few, were brought to Portugal via the stages in this centre.
It was also in the CCB that the Portuguese band The Gift made their début, and many others, including Maria João Pires, Bernardo Sassetti, Madredeus, GNR, Sérgio Godinho, Luís Represas, Mariza, Camané, Fausto and Jorge Palma have given performances.