Foreign accents

Building a huge dome is only one way of marking the dawn of the third millennium, says Sharon Marshall. Things may be in the early stages but around the world there are other big plans to mark the year 2000.


France’s theme for the millennium is: “In 2000: France, Europe, the World. A new inspiration”. The events are intended to pursue the building of Europe while upholding values and traditions at a local level. A taskforce of around 20 members, the Mission pour la célébration de l’an 2000, will oversee the entire project. Special links have been made with the cities of Nazareth, Brussels, Hanover and Rome for the event and the French are liaising with the Greenwich Exhibition team.

There are several design projects underway which will be completed for the year 2000. All will be marked by a Tour de France, with cyclists passing through the main stops.

The Eiffel Tower, the architectural symbol of France, already has an electronic meter installed, counting down to the millennium.

Under one scheme called Gardens of the 21st Century, there are also plans to create a garden in each region. A symbolic route has been traced throughout France on the Paris meridian, along which everyone is being encouraged to plant trees. There will also be a symbol of Franco-German friendship called a Garden on the Two Banks which is a joint initiative between Strasbourg and Kehl.

On a different note, there are also plans to cast the world’s largest bell, weighing 30 tonnes. It’s peal will be audible over 30km away and towns are now applying for the privilege of hosting the bell.

The flagship project will be in Paris under the scheme City of the Year 2000. The “City” will be 15 000m2 and either located in an existing building or newly built through private funds. The owners, who have yet to be decided, will let it until the year 2001. Inside will be a multimedia area with links to the French regions and abroad for cultural, education and recreational purposes. It will also house three major international exhibitions, including a collection of masterpieces from around the world.

The River Seine will be revived, and reconstruction work on its borders is already underway. A continuous 12km East-West walkway will be opened. Other major restoration projects planned for completion by the millennium include the Gothic Amiens Cathedral.

Bordeaux, as the nominated French city of architecture for the year will hold a major architectural exhibition.

The Holy Lands

Pope John Paul II is holding the biggest party of the year. He plans a mass gathering of Christian leaders in the Holy Land to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ. Other faiths will also be invited to attend and millions of pilgrims are expected to turn up to the event – which is intended to mark a show of combined spiritual worship, as opposed to divisions of secular parties.

Details of construction work for the event are still sketchy and plans are being drawn up by Kamai Hanna Bathish, the Auxiliary Bishop of Jerusalem. Bethlehem and Jeru-salem will be at the centre of the events and some architectural structure is expected to house a gathering of children from across the world. The cost is being met by the Church but, true to form, it will be handing out a collection plate to worshippers to help contribute to costs.

The Chatham Islands

Usually the 750 inhabitants of these two tiny, remote islands hundreds of miles east of New Zealand, plus the 250 000 sheep who live there, are pretty much ignored by the rest of the world. But they are now locked in a battle with UK companies and the world’s media who have chosen it as the best place to mark the millennium.

The two tiny fishing and sheep farming-led villages will be, because of a geographical quirk, the first inhabited places in the world to witness the new dawn. The islands are situated just 35 miles from the international dateline, meaning they will greet the year 2000 around 45 minutes before everybody else.

There are plans, if the worldwide TV stations which are bidding for the rights have their way, to turn the two islands into a millennium-style theme-park for the world’s media and tourist industries. The current two hotels on the islands, which sleep just 50 people are expected to be joined by a rapid expansion in themed accommodation.

The Millennium Adventure Company, run by Norris McWhirter, former editor of the Guinness Book of Records, has already struck one agreement with two inhabitants Ken and Eva Lanauze, whose piece of headland has been judged to be the first part of the island to greet the sunrise. London sports promoter Bradley Roberts has also negotiated the rights to hold a party, through his firm FirstLight 2000, headlined by top acts such as Sting and Elton John to perform at a 20 000 per head party on the island. They plan to send a message of peace to the world.

The locals also want peace, however – peace and quiet. There is much local opposition over plans to recreate the islands and fears that the rich marine life and the delicate ecology of the island will be ruined by a tourist invasion. There are also bad memories of 1990, when the Japanese media descended, but the islanders received no income from the short-lived interest in their island.

Heavy negotiations are underway. As yet the only decision which has been given approval is for an unmanned balloon to float above the island on New Year’s Day. Fog and low cloud is more than likely and, should it obscure the view of the new dawn, the balloon will be used to beam images to those on the ground through fibre-optic cable.


The European Commission will mark the millennium in Brussels with a revamped version of the Berlaymont building. The building, which is shaped like a bent star, was once at the heart of Euro power but had to be abandoned in 1991 after it was found to contain 3000 tonnes of asbestos.

The architectural makeover of the deserted and derelict building will cost some 251m. After the year 2000 it will once again become the home of the Belgian government.

The new-look will not be too far removed from the building’s present appearance of being wrapped in white plastic. Visitors approved of the new look, with many believing it had been carried out by Christo, the artist, renowned for wrapping monuments. To honour the popularity of the “wrapped” look, the renovated building will be dropping its original grey glass in favour of a white facade as part of its millennium revamp.


To celebrate 2000 years of Christianity, St Peter’s Basilica in Rome will have a full structural facelift. In February the Vatican signed up Italian oil group Eni, at a cost of 3.4m, to oversee the project to check the basilica’s foundations and structures.

The oil group will also clean the marble facade which was built by Carlo Madero. There is however some local squabbling over the project, with fears that the finger on the statue of St James the Great may break off during the cleaning process.

The highest profile project is a plan to create a mile-long tunnel close to the Vatican which will ease riverside traffic. However, this project too has run into trouble. Unfortunately, the core-boring explorations have uncovered ancient ruins near to the fortress built around the tomb of Emperor Hadrian. It is unclear whether the project will be abandoned, or whether the tunnel will be re-routed.

Nothing is being helped by a row between the municipality of Rome and the Ministry of Public Works. There are arguments over how responsibility for the projects should be divided and the municipality has stated that it does not have the money for grandiose projects.

Even if differences are resolved there are fears that the events at the dawn of the millennium may not be as sombre and religious an affair as the Vatican may hope. One thousand members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an “order” of gay men who dress as nuns, say they fully intend to be there in Rome, and form a major part of the celebrations.


As befits the laid-back Aussies, plans have not yet been finalised for its millennium celebrations. The Australian Embassy says any design work is likely to link into the Olympic Games which are being held in Sydney in the year 2000. Celebrations will be centred on the 50 kilometre-long Sydney Harbour.

And elsewhere

Many countries have yet to fully finalise their plans for design. The American Embassy says it is not aware of any major design plans which have been formalised for the year 2000, although a series of celebrations will take place across the US. These will start at Guam which, rather unfortunately, is best known to the world as the site of the recent plane crash, but which has been chosen because it is on the other side of the international dateline. The celebrations will then cross the dateline to continue across the US, according to the embassy.

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