Sofia and Rome - Closer from Millennia, Together in the Great European Home
Article by Yordanka Fandakova, Mayor of Sofia, for the "International Survey: Bulgaria-Italy" of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency)
This year Italy celebrates 150 years since its unification, of which 132 developing diplomatic relations with Bulgaria. This is one fact that shows the long-standing cooperation between the two countries and the two capitals, whose beginning goes far back in antiquity.
As long ago as 106 A.D., in the reign of the Emperor Trajan (98-117), Serdica received city rights, with the same status as Ephesus, Miletus, Pergamon. During the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180), Serdica had its own autonomous local mint, which lasted a century and a half, where copper, silver and gold coins were minted. The IV century, during the reign of Constantine the Great (306-337), was a flourishing period in the development of Serdica. Calling the city "Serdica is my Rome", he made it his permanent residence for nearly 13 years.
There are many historical examples that demonstrate the closeness not only of our two cities, but of our people. The partnership between Sofia and Rome has withstood the changes of time, to acquire new dimensions these days when both capitals are part of the common European family.
One of the most impressive monuments for Sofia, raised in honour of the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, the monument to the Liberator King, is the work of the Florentine sculptor Arnaldo Zocchi. Rome Fiumicino Airport hosts a statue of Leonardo da Vinci which was created by the Bulgarian artist Assen Peykov. A square in Rome bears his name.
In May 2010, Mayor Gianni Alemanno and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov inaugurated in Rome a monument to "The Patriarch of Bulgarian literature", Ivan Vazov.
In June, after less than a month, in Sofia, a monument to the great Italian revolutionary, Giuseppe Garibaldi, the work of Georgi Chapkanov, was inaugurated in the eponymous square. The event was attended by the Premiers of the two countries, Silvio Berlusconi and Boyko Borisov.
As a basis for our cooperation with Italy, one must point out the synergic activities that we have engaged with the Government and other Italian institutions on the territory of Sofia. The Embassy of the Republic of Italy is located in close proximity to the Sofia municipality: but it is not only that which has determined our excellent relationship.
The credit for this goes to H.E. Ambassador Stefano Benazzo, with whom - through activities in economic, educational, and cultural spheres - we have defined the relationship between the two capitals as cities of true friends and partners.
The Sofia Municipality gladly supports various initiatives under the proposals of the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade, the Italian Institute of Culture, the Italian Chamber of Commerce, and Casa Sicilia. I am happy that, in this way, the citizens of Sofia have more occasions to become acquainted with Italy, its economy and culture.
The Italian Festival, which this year will be held (June 15-21, 2011) for the eighth consecutive time, gives a peculiar flavour to the City of Sofia. This is an initiative by the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade (ICE), which presents the best achievements of "Made in Italy" around the world.
The Festival aims to promote Italian products in Bulgaria, to attract Bulgarian consumers to all that is "Made in Italy" and to take them to the shops that sell Italian goods. This festival is a valuable opportunity to establish business relations between Italian and Bulgarian companies, and many visitors will enjoy Italian specialties offered by participants from different regions of Italy.
The Festival features those sectors which epitomize the best of Italian production and design: furniture and lighting equipment, clothing and footwear, jewellery, cars, food and wines. The Director of the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade in Sofia, Fabrizio Camastra, chief organizer of the event, has managed with his colleagues each year to bring new energies to the Festival and so to attract more audience and participants.
In 2009, assisted by the Sofia Municipality and municipal company of „Stara Sofia"and the Museum of Sofia, the Italian Trade Institute was given the opportunity to organize and arrange festival shows and events in some halls of the Municipal mineral bath (Banja) in the centre of the City.
In the typical central part of the Municipal Mineral Bath, conceived as an area that became the Italian Centre in the heart of the capital, presentations, roundtables and workshops took place, devoted to topics such as the conservation and enhancement of historic buildings, energy efficiency in residential, commercial and industrial construction markets in the Balkans, the certification of food, textile products, wine - all facets of the trade between Italy and Bulgaria.
In 2010, the Festival included an Archaeological route to discover the treasures of ancient Serdica in downtown Sofia. The event, intended for the press, was organized by the Sofia Municipality and the municipal enterprise "Stara Sofia".
The many Italian companies that have chosen the city centre as a showcase for their performance in Bulgaria organized fashion shows and competitions. On the occasion of a children's drawings exhibition in a Benetton store on Vitosha Boulevard, the entrepreneur Luciano Benetton came to Sofia.
Since more than 10 years the Department of Culture of the Sofia Municipality has been carrying out joint projects with the Italian Cultural Institute in Sofia: exhibitions and concerts of famous Italian artists, singers and musicians.
In a joint initiative of Sofia Municipality and Sofia International Film Festival, the "Sofia Film Fest", the Award of Sofia for outstanding contribution to world cinema was presented for the second consecutive year to a representative of Italy. The 2010 award was presented to the director Giuliano Montaldo, and this year to the actress Claudia Cardinale, who was special guest of the Festival.
The Italian Cultural Institute is a partner of the Biennial Exhibition "Fair of the Dolls" – International Puppet and Street Theatre Festival, which is organized by the Sofia Puppet Theatre and supports the participation of Italian troupes in the festival.
For three consecutive years (2008, 2009, 2010), at the summer stage in "Borisova Gradina" Park, a week of Italian Culture was held – the "Italy Here" (Qui Italia) initiative. The idea is to create the opportunity for a meeting between Italians and friends of Italy, following the example of traditional folk celebrations.
In one June week in Sofia you will feel the Italian atmosphere with its cultural, artistic, musical and culinary diversity.
The Italian Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria, through its Chairman, Marco Montecchi, has signed a cooperation agreement on tourism with the Municipal Enterprise "Tourist services". In March this year, the Italy-Bulgaria Forum was organized, with shows about Sardinia and meetings between Bulgarian and Italian firms from the Sardinia Region operating in the tourism sector. The photo exhibition "A journey around Sardinia" was also revealed.
Casa Sicilia Bulgaria, which is located in the house of the poet Tzvetan Radoslavov, author of the hymn "Mila Rodino", enables friends of Sicily to learn about its culture and landmarks. With the support of Casa Sicilia Bulgaria, with its President Nino Di Giacomo, and the Sofia Municipality, the Association of Women Entrepreneurs "Selena" organized the Second International Forum for Women's Entrepreneurship in Bulgaria on the topic: "How women entrepreneurs react in times of crisis".
This year Casa Sicilia held a series of events under the slogan "Let's liberate Italian design to help needy Bulgarian children". The initiative, under the patronage of Sofia Municipality and the Association for the Development of Sofia, is dedicated to the cause of the development of artistic skills of children in institutions with no parental care.
The slogan of Sofia, "It grows but does not age", is very up to date right now because our city is definitely growing and evolving. The Sofia Municipality takes special care with the construction of kindergartens and schools. Sofia as a capital is a natural cultural and scientific centre and most of the country's best schools offering instructions in foreign languages are located оn its territory.
Of great importance for our close contacts with Italy is the study of the Italian language and getting to know Italian culture. In Sofia there are 8 schools that teach Italian, two of which grant Italian diplomas for completed secondary education, based on an agreement between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy and the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Bulgaria.
The Sofia Municipality supports many of the initiatives of these schools addressing the dissemination of Italian culture and fostering contacts between the two countries. During the autumn Sofia Municipality was visited by 30 students from the Giovanni Meli Lyceum in Palermo, accompanied by their teachers. They have been working for 4 years with "105 Atanas Dalchev" school on a project associated with local customs and intercultural communication.
In the hall of the Municipal Council, they had a meeting with Ms Malina Edreva, city councillor and chairman of the Committee on Culture and Education. In early March, for the first time in Sofia, the "Mascherina d'argento" Carnival was held. The Italian Cultural Institute, in collaboration with the Academic Department of the Embassy of the Republic of Italy and the Sofia Municipality, gathered students from all the schools that teach Italian language, which - with the typical masks and traditional costumes - re-created the atmosphere of the Italian Carnival on the stage of the Municipal Cultural Institute "Krasno Selo".
Together with Ambassador Benazzo we are working on a project of the utmost importance: the Center for the Prevention of Oncological Diseases. As he says: "The winner in this endeavour will be not the individual but all Bulgarian citizens and patients".
Our collaboration with Italy is developing not only in the territory of Sofia. Sofia Municipality and its Directorates: European Programs and Projects, Finance, Waste Management, Human Resources, Municipal Property, Transportation, Department of Information Services and Press, Center for Urban Mobility, successfully partnered with Italy in the development of various projects on European programs.
We are working on project WASTE KIT, with the Emilia Romagna region and other European partners. The project aims to achieve competitive results from interaction between regions, based on innovation, sustainability and specific waste management through the international exchange of best practices and a network of initiatives in sectors related to waste management.
With Rimini and other partners we are involved in the development of strategies for the management of municipal property and its effective use within the project PROMISE.
We are partners with the Veneto and Basilicata regions in the Operational Programme for INTERREG IVC Interregional Cooperation, with the PIMMS TRANSFER project, for the development of mobility management services through the sharing of knowledge and good practices, and the PIMMS CAPITAL project, on mobility management and the promotion of different modes of transportation in the European regions.
For the same Operational Programme, we are partners with Palermo for the construction of a network for the social cohesion of European cities.
As a leading partner we are developing the CCIC project to stimulate innovation in the public sector with the Lazio region and the cities of Genoa and Catania.
With the Marche Region and other European partners we are working on two projects – PRE-WASTE, to improve the efficiency of policies for the reduction and the prevention of waste generation in the regions of the European Union, and GOES, funded by the European Commission, for road traffic safety.
Sofia Municipality maintains contacts with the Municipality of Rome and its Mayor, Gianni Alemanno. Meeting with me, he expressed willingness to provide us with expert assistance in the field of archaeology, architecture and tourism for the archaeological project "The heart of Sofia", the Sofia "Sveta Gora" and the Central mineral bath, through which the Capital can become a global cultural center. These projects are a part of the European cultural heritage and their realization for us is particularly important.
In addition to support in the fields of cultural and historical heritage, Rome assists Sofia in respect of order and security. Sofia municipality received consulting assistance on the operation of the Municipal Police in Rome during the visit of Mrs. Ralitsa Stoyanova, Secretary General of Sofia Municipality in the Italian capital.
Thanks to H.E. Stefano Benazzo, she was received in Rome as the person responsible for the Municipal Police force in Sofia, met with the management, and also became practically acquainted with the duties of the police.
Confirmation of the friendly relations we have with the Italian capital has now been a tradition going back several years, with the initiative "Sofia greets Rome". It is organized by the Bulgarian-Italian Cultural Association "Phoenix" and includes the participation of Bulgarian artists.
With the decision of the Sofia Municipal Council, the Sofia Municipality co-financed the project through the budget of the Directorate Culture. Friends of Sofia near the river Tiber have enjoyed during these years evenings featuring Bulgarian documentary cinema, discussions on cultural relations between Bulgaria and Italy, photo exhibitions and numerous performances by famous Bulgarian singers and musicians.
Our ties with Italy have been in existence for thousands of years, and I am especially glad that once again we shall be working side by side in jointly hosting the European Capital of Culture in 2019. At the beginning of the year, when meeting with H.E. Stefano Benazzo, he agreed to assist in establishing contact with the Italian candidate cities. Such contacts have already been established with several cities and the first event to be held in the autumn of this year, in the building of Municipal mineral baths, is the exhibition of the mosaics from Ravenna.
A few days ago in Sofia I presented the Initiative Committee for Sofia 2019, among the members of which is our great friend, the Ambassador of Italy, Stefano Benazzo.
Whether Sofia will win the race with other Bulgarian cities is too early to say, but one thing is certain - it is developing and deepening its cooperation with Italy and this is а guarantee of the territorial cohesion of the two nations in the European family.
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