NEW YORK -- As the millennium approaches, perhaps no country in
Europe is expected to draw more crowds than Italy.
Officials predict that tourism will skyrocket during the
13-month period from Christmas 1999 through Jan. 6, 2001,
designated by Pope John Paul II as the Jubilee Year. The Italian
Government Travel Office, whose initials in Italian are ENIT,
already is gearing up with information designed to help travel
agents make sense of the various offerings available during this
"We reorganized our central office, offering better information
for travel agencies and for the public," said Pio Trippa, senior
travel commissioner for North America for ENIT. "Agencies that call
our number will receive sales manuals, and they can follow up with
a telephone call to our employees for more specific information. We
are satisfied that we are answering 100% of requests now."
The office is gearing for a big marketing push to highlight
Jubilee events, which, Trippa said, will take place throughout the
country. "We have to hurry because people already are trying to
plan their vacations," he said.
Programs will be a mix of events sponsored by the Catholic
Church and secular entities, Trippa said. "Rome is the most
important destination, of course, especially for people who want to
visit St. Peter's, and Mayor Francesco Rutelli [of Rome] has said
that about 100 restoration projects are under way for the year
In all the larger cities, such as Rome, Venice and Florence,
visitors will have the opportunity to visit exhibitions and events
tying in music, culture and art, he said.
Trippa stressed, however, that the major cities are not the only
attractions. "We have noticed in the last few years that, after the
second or third trip, Americans want to find new destinations, like
the smaller towns," he said. "Italy is an old country, and every
region, small city and town has its own church or shrine that can
be focused on during the Jubilee Year."
Although the whole country is preparing special events and
festivals for the Jubilee, secondary cities with religious
significance, such as Assisi, Loreto and Padua, should see a
significant share of the limelight, according to Trippa.
Despite the damage caused by last year's earthquakes, Assisi
remains an important destination for tourists interested in
churches and religious art. The St. Francis of Assisi Basilica was
hard hit by a pair of earthquakes last September that destroyed
portions of the bell tower and the vaulted ceiling as well as
frescoes attributed to Giotto and Cimabue. Restorations and repair
work are under way, however, and the town offers a variety of
monasteries and other points of interest.
Loreto is known for its Santa Casa, which, according to legend,
is the house Jesus' mother, Mary, lived in, a house that was
transported to Italy from Judea by way of a miracle centuries ago.
Other points of interest are the Piazza della Madonna and the
Gothic Basilica, and the town hosts several annual religious
Padua, a stop along the pilgrimage route in the Middle Ages,
still boasts a sculpture by Donatello and relics of the town's
patron saint, Sant'Antonio, in the local basilica.
Art lovers can take in the colorful frescoes of Giotto, one of
the most famous religious artists of the early Renaissance, in the
Capella degli Scrovegni.
"It is important that travel agents get to know the smaller
destinations, and we are trying to improve their acquaintance with
them," Trippa said. To that end, ENIT is designing a series of
seminars on the events of the Jubilee for travel agents, set to run
by the end of this year or early next year.
Meanwhile, an initial calendar of events is being drawn up with,
according to Trippa, "information we are getting every day about