Milan's Expo 2015 world's fair has heady ambitions, the biggest of which is to devise a plan to feed the planet as it brings together 145 nations to focus on food and nutrition.
City officials hope the fair, which opens Friday for six months and is expected to attract 20 million visitors, will give Italy's fashion and banking capital a boost in international stature. The Italian government, which has invested 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in it, wants the fair to help push Italy out of its economic doldrums. Visitors, in any case, will get to sample a bounty of Italian culinary delights.
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Past world's fairs have given the world the sewing machine, the Eiffel Tower and ketchup. This one will produce the "Milan Charter," an expert document that seeks to raise awareness about the universal right to a "healthy, safe and sufficient" food supply.
The document seeks commitments from individuals, groups and businesses to ensure food security, decrease food waste and combat hunger and obesity. Pope Francis, who agrees that food is a basic right, is speaking Friday via video at the opening of the Expo.
MILAN GETS A FACELIFT
Milan has undergone an intensive urban renewal in anticipation of Expo 2015. A cluster of skyscrapers now rises above the city's predominant 18th-century architecture, competing in majesty with the background of the Italian Alps. The city has cleaned up its canals, a centerpiece of Milan nightlife, added bike paths and a large public park and renovated its monumental train station.
More than 200 new buildings have been built at the Expo site north of Milan, giving some of the world's top architects a blank slate for their creative whims. There's just one rub: With few exceptions, all the buildings have to be removed and recycled after the fair.
Angola plans to ship its pavilion home to become a national museum. The U.S. pavilion, designed by architect James Biber, will have stacks of weathered boardwalk planks available for the highest bidder.
The challenge has attracted architectural stars such as Daniel Libeskind, who designed a coiling, copper-covered pavilion for Chinese real estate developer Vanke, and Norman Foster, who designed the United Arab Emirate's pavilion to evoke the narrow streets of a desert city with tall, wavy walls.
Besides 53 national pavilions, there are also five corporate pavilions and nine clusters for smaller nations devoted to themes like islands, spices and rice.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
Officials estimate Expo 2015 will pump 25 billion euros ($28 billion) into the economy from 2012 through 2020, nearly half of that from tourism alone, a much-needed boost for an economy that slipped back into recession last year. Culinary tourism has long been Italy's strongpoint, and the nation's food and wine business is expected to get the biggest lift out of Expo, according to Matteo Caroli, a management professor at Rome's LUISS University.
Inside the Expo, Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti has created 15 regional restaurants for a culinary tour of the peninsula. The chain of high-end food emporiums/eateries already has locations in the United States, Japan and the Middle East
CULTURE ON THE SIDE
A plethora of events will keep visitors engaged beyond Expo's gates.
An exhibit of works by Leonardo da Vinci in Milan's Palazzo Reale is billed as the largest Leonardo exposition ever in Italy, with over 200 works on loan from museums worldwide.
Giorgio Armani has invited VIP guests to an exclusive fashion show on the eve of Expo and opens a museum recounting the 40-year history of his fashion business. The famed La Scala opera house has announced a special Expo series that will keep it open all summer, starting with a May 1 performance of Puccini's "Turandot" conducted by La Scala's new chief conductor and future musical director, Riccardo Chailly.
The Prada Foundation is opening a new exhibit space designed by architect Rem Koolhaas with a bar created by director Wes Anderson, whose unique stylistic vision has come through in such films as "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Moonrise Kingdom."
Other Italian cities are also hopping on the Expo bandwagon. In Turin, visitors can view the Holy Shroud through June 24, see a rarely exhibited self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci in the Palazzo Madama through June 2, or take in the expanded Egyptian Museum.