The ‘cradle of Christian culture and civilisation’ and one of the most visited cities in the world, Rome – the capital of Italy – hopes to showcase its growth and grandeur to the world with renewed vigour over the next eight years and beyond.
Having presented its candidacy to host the Expo 2030 (during Expo 2022 Dubai), this bastion of culture and science, propped up by the Italian government, the citizens of Rome, the private sector, and the academic and scientific community, is committed to embarking on this ambitious journey with unflinching support from its ministry of foreign affairs, its diplomatic and consular network in the world, as well as international cooperation.
“Romans are a very special category of citizens in Italy and in the world. They are inordinately proud of their city, near to the point of arrogance,” asserted H E Federica Favi, Ambassador of Italy to Oman. “In the past, Romans never called Rome as Rome – they just called it the ‘City’ because they took it for granted that it was the only real city and the rest were just villages.”
Taking special interest in doing her bit to paint a very beckoning picture of Rome, especially for tourists from Oman who would treasure every moment spent in Rome, H E Federica said it was important for people to get insights into the past of the city of Rome to understand its evolution and present day appeal, making it one of the most visited cities in the world every year.
Underlining the impact of ancient Rome on modern civilisation, she said, “For example, Roman law was qualified in 1449 B C by a group of distinguished lawyers and senators and written on 12 tablets of bronze that have now been preserved. This provided the fundamental principles of the current legal system in Italy. This was meant to guarantee substantial stability of the state for millenniums.”
She also pointed out that modern parliamentarian governance was also inspired by ancient Rome while civic water supply systems as well as infrastructure, like roads in some areas, are still the same as was provided centuries ago by the ancient Romans. “All this was intended to facilitate commerce in the Roman empire as well as improve the standard of living,” she said adding that the technology used then was unbelievable as it lasted for so many centuries.
Drawing attention to inclusiveness as one of the key characteristics of Rome, H E Federica said, “The ancient Roman empire had three basic categories of inhabitants – citizens, foreigners and slaves. However, one did not have to be born in Rome to become a citizen, one never remained a slave forever and many foreigners could reach higher positions and even become senators. This was surely a form of inclusiveness that we need to learn from.”
Inter-religious dialogue, too, has always been present in Rome. In Rome, one can see the dome of St Peter’s Cathedral – the house of the Catholic church, as well as the Tempio Maggiore di Roma – the largest synagogue in Rome. Also, the first mosque of Italy – Moschea di Roma – with its white minarets is also dominant in the landscape of Rome and is the largest mosque in the western world, she disclosed, adding that people of different cultures reside harmoniously in a cosmopolitan environment in Rome.
Asserting that Rome offers a very Arab-friendly environment, and for Muslim tourists from around the world, H E Federica assured that Muslim tourists can rest assured of a happy stay in Rome, enjoy cuisine that suits their taste best, have access to halal food/prayer rooms, as well as visit cultural/historic/educational and scientific institutions, besides avenues for entertainment.
About the historic links between Rome and the Arab world, she said, “As a matter of fact, the coast from Bab el Mandeb to Duqm was known to us as Arabia Felix – which means ‘Happy Arabia’ – due to the brisk trade in frankincense and spices. This is the way we knew this region, and the relationship with this part of the world has always been very peaceful because our main link was commerce.”
She further said, “Rome today is very active as the capital of Italy and populated with people of different nationalities. In fact, before the pandemic, Rome hosted tourists to the tune of 30 million per year. For the past 28 centuries, it has been a capital of art, culture, science, dialogue, creativity, in a constant process of regeneration, yet everything from ancient times is still there for the current generation to see and learn.”
Referring to Sigmund Freud’s metaphorical reference to Rome as an entity comprising different layers, just like the human memory, H E Federica said this description fits very well for the nature of Rome – one that is intimate, regenerative, adapting, flexible and open.
Lamenting that Rome, as many other cities in the world, lost out on tourism due to the pandemic during the past two years, she said, since March, the city has opened up to tourists. And with all COVID-19 protocols in place, fully vaccinated tourists have been flocking to Rome just like before amid a happy and safe atmosphere all over.
Leave like Romans
When asked how tourist-friendly is the populace of Rome, or do they expect visitors to follow their dictated behaviour – in line with the popular saying ‘When in Rome, do like the Romans’,
H E Federica stressed, “The Romans are very much used to seeing tourists in their city since centuries and they don’t expect any change in their behaviour. In fact, it is quite the opposite – those who come to Rome like to leave Rome like Romans.”
To catch the soul of the city, it would be ideal for tourists to go around with a citizen who can show them the right places to visit, dine, relax or get entertained. However, it may not be always possible for people to stay with locals within Rome to get an authentic experience as that would be possible only in the nearby villages that surround the city.
Known for its gastronomical delights, Rome also offers a wonderful cuisine for visitors from around the world. And Arab tourists need not worry about savouring food that doesn’t suit them – they simply need to state their preference and would be catered to accordingly with utmost respect.
Recalling how Italy was among the first countries to face the wrath of the current pandemic during the early stages, H E Federica emphasised that Rome currently has undertaken a very important project to renew itself and to be a sustainable city of the future.
“We can’t just remain stuck in the past or the present. So, we are now investing in the future and the candidacy of Rome to host Expo 2030 is an initiative in that direction – to be different yet inclusive, and to be sustainable and link the city with its surroundings. We want to be fully digital in this digital age and we also hope to have direct flights between Muscat and Rome in the near future,” she said, hoping that Oman would support its candidacy, too.