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venerdì 1 Marzo 2024
And if tomorrow, and I stress if...Lusitanian Chronicles. A8. The UNESCO Highway

Lusitanian Chronicles. A8. The UNESCO Highway

This year I am celebrating the date of a famous trip to Italy, in the end of the glamorous 90s, a time when the country experienced the assumption of a notoriety as a tourist destination worldwide, in fact, for me Italy has always been the cradle of Europe, in which we could taste its world renowned gastronomy inloco in a beautiful and cosy trattoria, and without being through a culinary TV show; the excellence of the design  with all the rigor of the detail, and whose quality contaminated an urban and sophisticated way of life, all in a tourist destination where a still moderate mass-tourism crowd, was felt in queues of only 3 hours to enter the Ufizzi galleries in Florence … but this is not all. Italy was then the European country that had the best preparation in the tourist industry, that the whole world wanted to have the opportunity to visit, to be able to remember a gondola trip on the canals of Venice, a tour of the roads of Laco di Como or the request of a I wish in the Fontana di Trevi, the most popular fountain of Rome, that the films of the mid-60s of the Italian cinema made famous.

Practical joke: In Italian, ” to be Portuguese ” means to try to get in without paying for a ticket. Of course, few people know the true story of 13 January 1732, when the only people who tried to get in without paying were Romans masquerading as Portuguese.

Let’s proceed in detail. Giovanni V of Bragança was the king of Portugal, a powerful and wealthy nation thanks to its African and South American colonies, from which it extracted gold and all kinds of precious metals and stones. At that time, Protestantism was rampant in Europe, and Catholic Portugal was particularly close to the ruling Pope of Rome. In that year, the Sforza Cesarini family opened the Teatro Argentina, still in operation today, one of the most important opera houses in the world. King Giovanni V, whose policy based on culture was known throughout Europe, decided to offer Portuguese citizens living in Rome free admission to a performance of Berenice, an opera by Domenico Sarro. This initiative was not surprising, both because the policy of promoting the arts reinforced the idea of Portugal’s economic power and because the Portuguese community was very strong in Rome due to their relationship with the Pope. So, that evening, by claiming to be Portuguese, you can enter the theatre for free. It seems that the Romans appeared en masse declaring their Portuguese citizenship and it seems that more than a few, unable to speak a single word of Portuguese, were unmasked. Imagine the scene of a crowd of Romans arriving at the theatre and standing in the queue declaring: I am Portuguese, I am Portuguese..

Therefor being Portuguese is still associated with a medieval bourgeois merchant or smarty-pants who avoided paying the entrance ticket or appeared uninvited to a party, but I always felt at home when traveling through Italy and doing so, the immersion in this environment of glamor and sophistication is so distinguished, that even today is not equated by any other people. Time and again I fell in love with the Tuscany fields that remind me so much of the Alentejo of south of Portugal, the friendliness and warmth of the people whose Portuguese so much practice all over, the exaggerated neighborhood fanatism of the celebration of the Palio in Siena that remembers me of the Santo António in Lisbon , the exhilarating beauty of the waters of the Isola de Elba paralleled by the South Coast of the Algarve.

Since then, being Portuguese has meant escape to pay for a ticket. It’s time to explain to the Italians who don’t know the truth.

Forgive me Italy for wanting to draw a parallel between Portugal and Italy, but isn’t this the very essence of Europe? The essence of a democracy where the valorization of the European destiny and the values ​​that we defend, are the permanence of human rights and the struggle to safeguard a world that we can inhabit with the valorization of its resources and its people. My friend Aldo di Russo and his strong European side, taught me to think bigger than my country and since then I have been feeling more and more European and I want to bring this European values to all the life I live.

Today and after 2 decades of my first trip to Italy in the 90s, I face with a very Lusitanian (soon of Luso, the people from the origin of Portugal who fought against the Romans) reality, whose epicenter is the city I inhabit, in a Tourist Region of excellence, where the centrality of the cult of the Templar mysticism of the Order of Christ, Garter and Cister guarantee the ambition of a people who inhabit this cultural and creative ecosystem today. There is no concentration in the world, of such close and concentrated UNESCO nominations in such a small piece of land, something that in the space of 87 kilometers, names 6 municipalities in a row, for this distinction of excellence.

I quote that on a next trip to Portugal, one of the most popular European destinations to travel before lockdown and foreseeing a recovery when the pandemic allows:

Ilha da Berlenga (UNESCO Biosphera Nature Reserve) whose underwater ecosystem preserves a unique animal life in the world; Vila de Óbidos, the medieval village of the 12th century, today a Literary and creative UNESCO UNESCO diaspora of poets and artists looking for a place of inspiration to create, home to an unusual network of bookstores in unusual spaces where knowledge is celebrated in a setting uniquely preserved medieval;

City of Caldas da Rainha, land of water and clay, the UNESCO creative city of Handicrafts and Popular Arts (2019), the birthplace of the oldest Thermal Hospital in the world and a creative community of excellence in the art of designer ceramics and more recently the handmade cutlery; Alcobaça the city that preserves the tombs of Dom Pedro and Inês de Castro, our Romeo and Juliet, on the cruise of the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Alcobaça, the Cistercian monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site, 1989), a company that marked rural development and academic since the 12th century and which still persists in the territory;

Monastery of Santa Maria da Vitória da Batalha, built after the battle of 1383 in the 14th century and erected in 1386 by Dom João I of Portugal, a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983 and finally

Leiria, creative city of music that has developed a work of excellence, appears on the national and international scene at the forefront of social and artistic projects that work on social equity, human dignity and inclusion. Here grew up internationally renowned musicians, dancers, writers and artists; here the most emblematic projects of the relationship between music and human dignity began, celebrated UNESCO’s creative city of Music in 2019.

The A8 Motorway is the road 66 in the West of Portugal, the backbone of the people who inhabit the coast between the capital of Lisbon and the mythical city of Coimbra, in reality it could have another name or have no name at all or be any other region. Anyway, I just want to say that geography is also important here, but what matters to reflect in my opinion is the way in which since the foundation of the nation of this Lusa land, people have been concentrated in this portion of land, people so valuable that they dignify this piece of land for their differentiation, to the point that in a very short space of time, in a car journey of just over 80 kilometers, there are 6 UNESCO nominations (Biosphera, Creative City and World Heritage), which are assumed as places of heritage of decisive value for Humanity.

Italy and Turin forgive me, but for those who want to know authenticity and value in Portugal, the West of Portugal is the Cristiano Ronaldo of UNESCO Heritage. Do you feel like it?

A new section

Among the many doubts that plague my mind, just like yours these days, I have only one certainty: when we return to everyday life, nothing will be the same as before. We are facing a challenge that is reductive to call it organizational, it is a philosophical challenge, it is the vision of the world that will change and on which we will have to build the new. And if tomorrow... and I stress "if" is a new column (the title is taken from the verses of a song very popular in Italy) that is open to contributions from intellectuals, scientists, artists, from all over Europe. Follow us and send us your impressions which we will publish periodically with the intention of creating an anthology of ideas.

Giampaolo Sodano

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