Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Short Story: Egypt Through Italian Eyes

Basanieri offers Hawass the 2015 Cortonantiquaria award
Nevine El-Aref celebrates the 2015 Year of Egyptian Culture in Italy in the Tuscan city of Cortona

The ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra won the heart of not only the Roman general Julius Caesar but also Mark Antony. Her country went on to seduce Italy as well. In the seven centuries of the Roman Empire in Egypt, a strong relationship was built between the two countries. In the Middle Ages, Italians were present in Egypt as merchants.

After Napoleon Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt at the end of the 18th century, the Italian community started to grow in Egypt and reached its peak during the late 19th century. Some of the first educational missions sent to Europe by Mohamed Ali at the beginning of the century headed to Italy to learn the art of printing.

He also engaged a number of Italian experts to assist in building a modern state, including the search for antiquities and minerals, the conquest of Sudan, the design of the city of Khartoum and the drawing up of the first survey map of the Nile Delta.

ancient Egyptian collection in MAEC
During the rule of the khedive Ismail, in the late 19th century, Italian architects were chosen to design palaces, suburbs and public buildings in Egypt. 

The most famous building connected to the Italian community was the Royal Opera House in Cairo, designed by the Italian architects Pietro Avoscani and Mario Rossi.


The Opera House was inaugurated in 1869 with the opera Aida by the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, but burned down in 1971. Avoscani also designed the Alexandria Corniche.

Nowadays, both Egypt and Italy continue their strong bilateral relations and both pay great attention to multilateral dialogue and culture. The two countries are members of the Union for the Mediterranean, a regional group, and Italy is

Egypt’s largest trading partner in the European Union and the third largest internationally.

Cortonantiquaria
Italy’s investments in Egypt are worth some $2.6 billion, mostly concentrated in transport and banking services, among other sectors, making it the fifth-largest European investor in the country. By the end of 2014, the volume of trade between the two countries had reportedly reached $6 billion.

To build on the strong ties between the two countries, the Italian Ministry of Heritage, Culture and Tourism has designated 2015 as “Year of Egyptian Culture in Italy.” It coincides with the tenth anniversary of the Etruscan Academy Museum in the city of Cortona in Italy, which displays a rich collection of ancient Egyptian and Roman artefacts collected by the Italian bishop Monsignor Guido Corbelli in the 19th century.

The year “is a great opportunity to help promote Egypt as a safe tourist destination and restore the number of Italian tourists visiting the country, which declined after the Arab Spring,” Emad Fathy, director of the Egyptian Tourism Authority (ETA) in Italy, told the Weekly. 

Cortona Market
He added that dedicating 2015 to promoting Egypt’s culture in Italy came within the framework of celebrating the reopening of the world’s second largest collection of Egyptian artefacts after the Cairo Museum, the Turin Ancient Egyptian Museum. This followed five years of renovation that nearly doubled the building’s space.

Another event within the framework of the year came in August when the 11th International Congress of Egyptologists took place in Florence. The Congress included 700 delegates representing the broadest range and highest standards of Egyptology. Commenting on the two events, Fathy said Italy is one of the most important markets for Egypt’s tourism industry.

In 2010, more than one million Italians visited Egypt, making the country fourth in the world league of countries sending tourists to Egypt. Unfortunately, the instability following the 25 January Revolution had negative impacts on tourism to the region, and the number of Italian tourists coming to Egypt plummeted by 60 per cent and fell to only 400,000 in 2014.

“This number started to decrease more this year after the Ansar Beit Al-Maqdes (Supporters of Jerusalem) jihadist group in Sinai announced its affiliation to the Islamic State (IS) group,” Fathy said.

Part of a Sarcophagus
He added that the IS video of Egyptian Copts being killed in Libya and the IS threat to conquer Rome contributed to the decline in the number of Italian tourists coming to Egypt. Marsa Alam in Sinai and Marsa Matrouh on the northern coast had previously been main destinations for Italian visitors.

To revive Italian tourism to Egypt and to confirm that Egypt is a safe country for visitors, Fathy said the ETA bureau in Italy, in collaboration with the Italian Tour Operators Federation, has launched a 30-day promotional campaign with the slogan “Egypt, a dream that does not end.” The campaign has thus far proven a success, he said, as the 20 per cent decline in the number of tourists previously noted has decreased to just 12 per cent in August.

The Ministry of Tourism has also signed an agreement with a top international media organisation to launch media campaigns to promote Egypt as a safe tourist destination abroad, Fathy said. These campaigns are to start in October and last for three years in 27 markets that export tourists to Egypt, including Germany, Italy, Russia, India, Latin America, the United States and the Arab countries... Read More.

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