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Ortigia and Europe

Villa del Tellaro
April 20, 2021
April 21, 2021
Ph. © Marcello Bianca

Ortigia and Europe. The story of a protagonist.

In 1994 the European Union approved the Urban Programme, designed to co-finance pilot urban requalification projects in degraded areas of cities in member states. The town administration of SIracusa took part in the programme with a project aimed at its historic centre, Ortigia, which was accepted. Dr. Ludovico Fulci, who at the time was director of the Istituto Nazionale per il Commercio Estero (national institute for foreign trade) in Brussels, was a privileged witness to that initiative.
In 1992 my administration, the Istituto per il Commercio Estero, transferred me to Brussels as the head of the Italian trade office of the permanent representation at the European Union and for the Embassy in Belgium. My role was to develop commercial and economic relationships for public Italian companies and entities, as I had done from 1981 to 1987. I was therefore informed about the general directions of the European Union and all the initiatives and programmes which could interest Italian companies and entities, and I took part in all the meetings for their completion.
In 1993 the General Direction of the Industrial Commission informed me that they had started a pilot programme for the promotion and redevelopment of European cities, which would be selected by the same General Direction. It was the normal procedure with which programmes in my field were started.
And so we began a series of meetings in which the programmes and initiatives to finance and the companies and entities to involve would be decided. Ever since the first meetings, at the beginning of 1994, it was clear to me that Siracusa could be one of the cities to join that programme. My maternal grandmother was from Siracusa and my mother adored the city where she would always take us to watch the performances at the Greek Theatre in the post-war period. I also loved the city and thought that it would be a good choice for the European Union.
I therefore contacted the town council of Siracusa, where I built a good relationship with the assessore Sorbello who really liked my idea.
During Easter that same year, having decided with my family to spend the Easter holidays in Malta, I stopped in Siracusa for two days, where I had a meeting with Assessore Sorbello and exchanged many ideas on the project. The assessore told me he had found the right person for the drawing up of the project and that he was going to join us at the restaurant.
It was the young engineer, Roberto De Benedictis, who on the occasion gave me a volume containing a study on the historic centre of Ortigia, which he had worked on along with the University of Rome..
Having returned to Brussels, I got in contact once more with the General Direction of the European Union, which on the 1st of July 1994 released the announcement for the Urban programme. I immediately called the town council of Siracusa, but was disappointed to find out that Sorbello wasn’t assessore anymore. I was about to end the phone call when I decided to ask who the new assessore was and was delighted to find out it was engineer De Benedictis.
I had a long phone call with him in which I informed him of the call for the Urban project and we decided that he would come to Brussels to meet the people responsible and discuss the proposal he would work on.
On the 8th and 9th of August, De Benedictis came to Brussels where he spoke to many people responsible for the project about the requalification of the island of Ortigia. In less than a month he had completed a great task of study and design which was greatly appreciated.
Ph. © Marcello Bianca
Ph. © Marcello Bianca
Once he returned to Siracusa, De Benedictis finished the project, which was sent to Brussels on the 20th of September 1994.
A long time passed without any news from the Commision regarding the proposals made by the participating cities, which were many.
On a morning in April 1996 I received a phone call from the Director General’s secretary, who informed me that SIracusa’s project had not been accepted. Other cities had taken precedence, it was said, because of their more critical social conditions, such as Palermo and Catania in Sicily.
I thanked her for the information but, having built a good working relationship with her over the years, thanks to the many meetings about the Urban projects I had been at, I asked her to read the project for Siracusa anyway..
I will never forget the surprise of receiving another phone call from her on the evening of that same day, around 10 pm. She apologised right away for phoning so late but she had read the project on Siracusa. “It's Beautiful”, she said, adding that she had spoken about it with the General Director and that they had decided to try and have it approved. They were going to speak to the German ambassador and they suggested I also speak to the Italian one. In the European Union, ambassadors are the permanent representatives of their respective States, and hold special powers.
And so we did. The European Union expanded the number of accepted cities, adding some more and including Siracusa with its project on Ortigia, which was approved on the 12th of December 1996.
In the early phases of the project, I came to several meetings at Siracusa with Assessore De Benedictis and with other interested economic and social parties, and was struck by their appreciation of the project.
Years later, coming to Siracusa, the owners of a bookstore and a restaurant, who most certainly didn’t know me, told me that the city was experiencing a notable reawakening. “You know - they said - we’ve been lucky here, because the European Union approved our Urban project.”. I left Brussels in 1998 but my new role included another few trips there.
I had the opportunity of meeting the people responsible for the Urban Project. They told me they had been extremely happy to have made that exception to include Siracusa among the chosen cities, as the one on Ortigia had proved to be one of the most interesting projects.
February 2021

Throughout his long career which began in the Ufficio studi dell’Istituto per il Commercio Estero, he directed the trade offices for the Italian embassies in Budapest, Tokyo, Moscow and Brussels and the office of Italian representation in the European Union. He has led many international trade missions.