The Central Romanian city of Sibiu became the Cultural Capital of Europe for a whole year on January 1, 2007, an honor that caught the usually quiet medieval burg in full swing of progress, yet far from what many would have expected from a place that expects hundreds of thousands of visitors this year.

The official ceremonies including unmatched fireworks, official speeches, concerts and other performances marking the start of the Cultural Capital year took place across Sibiu on Monday. But the tens of thousands of people that faced winter rain to attend the events left home with a split opinion.

On one hand, the New Year’s Eve ceremonies and massive works to rebuild the historical center of the city over the past two years have left their positive marks: much of downtown Sibiu, with its never-have-the-same-color-with-your-neighbor houses, hi-tech ornaments and jaw-dropping shows of light and sound looks nothing like the grayish city landscape of the communist past.

On the other hand, on the first day of the Cultural Capital year most museums remained closed - as did most shops and restaurants in the key spots across the old town. On the streets, only a couple of people sold hot (yet sour) wine and small plastic cups of vodka to freezing revelers. And when President Basescu attended a ceremony to open a library, the lights went off for several minutes.

While many local businesses hope to make a good profit on the backs of the European program, the honor also costs big money - some 90 million euro, shared by the Culture Ministry and the Sibiu City Hall. The money goes both on cultural programs and on infrastructure projects.

Some 1700 cultural events involving about 200 cultural operators are to be organized in Sibiu this year. But one man is expected to draw most profit - Mayor Klaus Johannis, whose popularity locally exceeds 80% due to works to rehabilitate the city infrastructure.

Sibiu shares the title with Luxembourg, which marked the beginning of its 2007 Cultural Capital programs in December 2006.