THEY are some of the world's best known cities boasting the finest architecture, grandest museums, galleries, opera houses and cultural attractions.

From Paris to Madrid, Reykjavik to Genoa they have all been a recognised as a showcase for the diverse cultural wealth Europe has to offer.

For more than two decades cities across the European Union have competed vigorously to win the coveted title, currently held by Liverpool.

Now city councillors have launched a bid to join their number and make Southampton a European Capital of Culture - with the help of Portsmouth.

They want to use a recent city vision as a platform to catapult Southampton and its south coast rival towards winning the prestigious title by the 2020s.

Labour councillor Sarah Bogle has won cross party backing for the ambitious goal which would bring jobs, investment and boost the profile of the region.

Started 20 years ago, and now officially known as the European Capital of Culture, the title has previously showcased the likes of Paris, Madrid, Reykjavik, Genoa and is now held by Liverpool.

Cllr Bogle said while it was an aspiration at this stage with much work to do Southampton needed to "think big".

"We need to be focusing on the long term to make a difference, and this is a real measure of success for the 2026 vision already set out and agreed for the city," she said.

She said Southampton would have to put aside its historic rivalry with Portsmouth to come up with a "joint and complementary offer" across south Hampshire.

Lib Dem councillor Adrian Vinson, Cabinet member for economic development, backed the move.

He said: "Too few people even among residents realise what jewels we have among our crown."

He said that in the coming years the council plans to create a cultural and artistic quarter in centre of Southampton which would confirm it as a "regional capital for arts and culture" and a "centre of national excellence."

The plans include a new £13m arts complex, a revamp of Guildhall square, and a heritage attraction at the Civic Centre.

Councillor Terry Hall, Portsmouth city council's executive member for culture and leisure said he was "fully behind" the move for a joint bid.

"We are already working together on a range of initiatives and it makes perfect sense for us to combine our energies and talents," he said.

"With our long background of heritage and history, the two cities can offer a region of culture' - and a wonderful way to promote our south Hampshire tourism and economy."

See today's Daily Echo for the full story.