By Žikica Milošević
Build it once, preserve it forever, make your money from it! This is, in short, the philosophy exercised by the entire Europe, and especially Italy with the emphasis on the word “preserve”. Who of you know that, in 1890, Kansas City looked exactly like Milan or Budapest? Only those of you who have seen the postcards and old photographs from that era… Who knows what Siena looked like 500 years ago? Those of you who are looking at it now!
All in all, progress is inevitable, but not inevitably good if you let it run amok. The nations that gave in to pure progress thought that it was perfectly fitting and normal to destroy old town centres for the sake of being “more modern” or “more economical”. Italians, on the other hand, refused to cave in. They embraced their new motor toys, and they do have the most beautiful motorbikes and cars, and yet, despite loving them so much, they did not demolish palaces in order to build motorways in towns. It is the ancient civilization in Italy that draws the tourists in, mixed with the contemporary technology.
In 2014, a total of 48.6 million tourists visited Italy which is still not enough for the country to rank first in the world, but fifth. Most of the tourists come from Germany, and this ‘love affair’ between Germans and Italy and vice versa can be seen and heard in every corner. I guess opposites do attract in a way – Germans miss the relaxed attitude of the Italians, while the Italians admire German precision. Still, regardless of the nation they come from, tourists who come to Italy all resemble each other – they come for wine, art, history, fashion, culture and the beautiful nature which is not that obvious or even visible when you are driving down the motorway between Verona and Milan. However, if you are driving along the Amalfi coast or in Calabria, you will witness spectacular sights, and little towns and bays that you only dreamed of. If you like islands, than Italy is the country to visit. If you forget about high prices and crowds (unfortunately), than Capri is exactly what you want. If you want an island as big as a small state, then go to Sardinia or Sicily. The first is home to very unusual and isolated customs, and the oldest Romanic language in the world. If you think that it resembles Spanish, than you are not entirely wrong. However, if you want to listen to a dialect that is closest to the Latin language, then pop over to Sardinia. The Sard language is 80% like Latin, linguists say. Even when everything fails, and the economy slips, like in 2008, there is an industry that is always propulsive. Tourism! This is the fastest growing and the most profitable industry in Italy, with the annual revenue of an unbelievable 190 billion EUR and a tendency of growing to 200 billion.
HOW DID IT ALL START?
It is no secret that people have always loved Italy. Some wanted to come to the centre of the Roman Empire to see how a well-regulated state looks like in the first Euro-Asian-African Union from 2,000 years ago. Later they came for the Pope and the saints. Then there was art and science, universities and beauty. Albrecht Duerer was one of those people who succumbed to the Italian charm, and took it over to the German culture. With the exception of tourists like him, the first tourists, in the modern sense of the word, who came to Italy were aristocrats from abroad, especially those from Great Britain. In the late 17th and during the entire 18th century, there was the so-called Grand Tour, i.e. a tour that comprised of all major towns in what was still a disunited country. It is this Grand Tour that actually tourism was named after. Back then, in addition to reading classical literature (Shakespeare set many of his plays in a magical, faraway country called Italy), these very first tourists, who travelled for the sheer joy of it, toured the Mediterranean, and especially Greece and Italy, wanting to have a first-hand experience with the classics. It all started with a book called Voyage to Italy, written by a Roman Catholic priest, Richard Lassels in 1670. The Grand Tour started in Turin, as the western gate of Italy, with the next stop being Milan, the location of the Last Supper painting (it is still there), followed by Genoa. Then, things got more ‘serious’, and the tourists usually moved onto exploring Venice, Padua, Verona or Vicenza, all mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays as well as by other famous artists. Further on, the tourists travelled to Tuscany, namely the towns of Siena and Pisa with its Leaning Tower, Lucca and its cathedral, and San Gimignano known for its medieval towers. Of course, Florence was the second biggest town to visit here, after which the tourists headed down to Rome, “the eternal city”, followed by Naples, the Pompei and Herculaneum (after the discovery of two towns here in 1756). If you were persistent enough like Goethe, then you would reach Sicily, full of ancient Greek buildings.
HOW DID IT ALL CHURN OUT?
Of course, with the invention of railway around 1840. You no longer travelled for days and months on a horse or in a carriage, like Byron and Shelley did, who wrote about the beauty of Italy a several decades earlier. The Grand Tour became easier and more comfortable also because luxury inns called grand hotels kept popping up en route. In order to attract rich tourists, towns like San Remo or Lido di Venezia, build numerous grand hotels. When visiting Lido, Thomas Mann got an idea for his book in which the main character loses his mind. Soon after, the world lost its mind too particularly during the ensuing two world wars, and the period in-between. What followed after that was La Dolce Vita. The sweet life that attracted people to come to Italy where everybody expected to experience love, beauty, relaxation, good style, good food and joy…. After all, tourism is an industry that is sold on dreams and expectations, and Italy is everybody’s dream where you expect everything to happen.