In my last month’s installment of the World Showcase pavilions, we covered the United Kingdom. So for this month, I decided that since I am a full-blooded Italian, the Italian pavilion was the logical choice! Italy has always captivated me. Since both my grandparents came from the old country, Sicily and Rome, as a child I would sit enthralled by the stories and descriptions they would tell of the cities and countryside of their native land. But what makes the Italian pavilion a bit different from the rest of the countries, the whole pavilion is mirrored after the city of Venice, whereas the other countries portray architecture and buildings from different regions. Why! Perhaps the Imagineers believed that most people contemplate Venice, with its gondolas and barber-pole moorings, countless bridges and waterways with Italy. But the most romanticized image is of the gondolier, singing the classic tune, “’O sole mio” (Italian for “My Sunshine). But whatever the reason, the Italian pavilion, although smaller than most of the pavilions, embodies amazing detail, history and architecture. These are all around for the sharp-eyed guest!
A quick history of Venice…There are no historical records of its founding, but most historians say that its founding coincides with the dedication of the first church, San Giacomo on the Isle of Rialto(High Shore) at noon, on March 25th, 421AD. The city sits on 118 small islands in the marshy Venetian lagoon between the mouths of the Piave and Po rivers. The name of the city came from the ancient peoples who lived in the area around the 10th century BC, the Veneti. Venice was once a part of the Roman Empire. It is known today as the city of water, of bridges, of canals, and of masks. Today it is acknowledged as a World Heritage Site.
Coming upon the pavilion, the first clue to its being part of Venice is the group of Gondolas in front in the World Showcase Lagoon. This area, with its raised area, is connected by several bridges, which are the only way to get across from one isle to another in Venice. The Imagineers did a masterful job of this part of the city. From this large area, (Which offers an amazing view of Illuminations, but usually is on a reserved basis) you can see several gondolas mooring against their iconic “Barbershop Poles” This area represents one of the islands of Venice, the Isola del lago, or the Isle of the Lake. For many centuries, the gondola was the main form of transportation in Venice. But today, modern watercrafts are still the main source, leaving the romanticized gondola to plying tourists around the city. An interesting note…The oar lock that the gondolier uses, is a specially constructed piece of wood known as a fórcola. The forcola has a very complicated shape, allowing several positions of the oar for slow forward rowing, powerful forward rowing, and turning, slowing down, rowing backwards, and stopping. Only a few craftsmen know how to make these fórcola, and they are piece of art into themselves (See the close-up picture!)
The smaller Italian pavilion is very much like Morocco. It is narrow and goes a long way back, ending up at the Via Napoli restaurant, like Morocco does with Restaurant Marrakesh. You will also notice that the colors used in both countries are similar, earthen tones and warm colors. The entrance of the pavilion has three eye-catching structures…The two columns; right and left and the massive Campanile di Piazza San Marco, or the Bell Tower of San Marco Square. Again, be a sharp observer here. Atop the left column is a winged lion and the right is Saint Theodore of Amasea slaying a dragon. Now if you recall the German pavilion, on the fountain is a statue of Saint George slaying a dragon. Saint Theodore sports a similar legend, saving a city by slaying the dragon terrorizing it. Saint Theodore was the first patron Saint of Venice, but over the years in its effort to detach itself from the Roman rule in the east, Saint Mark became the patron Saint of Venice. This was confirmed when in 828AD; two Venetian merchants stole the remains of Saint Mark from a tomb in Alexandria, Egypt and brought them back to Venice. This is why Saint Mark is now the patron Saint of Venice. This leads us to the beautiful bell tower. The original tower was constructed in the 9th century and was used originally as a watchtower. However, due to several severe earthquakes over the years, it collapsed. This is a replica of the replacement one standing in Saint Mark’s Square. The tower was then changed over to a bell tower, containing five bells, each one when rang would signify a different event…calling members to council meetings, executions, one at the beginning and end of the day, one a midday and gatherings of the Senate.
In the Piazza San Marco, the bell tower sits to the left of the Doge’s Palace, but here the Imagineers decided that placing the tower between the Doge’ Place and the Wine Crib, or cellar would be more symmetrical and eye-pleasing from afar. Again, here is where a keen eye makes enjoying these pavilions so much more. Atop the bell tower is the Archangel Gabriel. Italy, a hugely devote Christian nation utilizes many religious symbols and personages in its architecture. You will find Saints, angels, cherubs and the like all over Italy. If you continue on to the back of the pavilion, look to your right just past the Kidcot station. You will see an exact replica of Gabriel in stone. The statue of Gabriel atop the tower is covered in gold leaf. Since gold is literally “indestructible” the statue will never have to be cleaned or refurbished.
The Italian pavilion only has a few shops. The large white, ornate building on the left is called the Doge’s Palace, where the local Magistrate functioned. The building was constructed between 1309 and 1424 and its architectural style is considered Renaissance style. On the right, across the piazza is the Enoteca Castella, or Wine Crib in Italian. The buildings architecture is similar to structures found in the 15th or 16th century. In the rear is the La Bottega Italiana, or the Italian Shop. And next to the wine crib, or cellar as you care, is the Kidcot fun stop. Let’s examine the shops in the Doges palace. First is the Il Belle Cristallo (The Beautiful Crystal) you will find leather goods, clothing, jewelry and beautiful fragrances. In the back of the store is the shop, La Gemma Elegante, the Elegant Gem. This is one of the most amazing stores in World Showcase. They sell exquisite Venetian Masks, all made from papier-mâché, which in French means “chewed paper” Chris, the Cast-Member on duty took the time to show me some amazing and detailed masks. It is hard to believe they are made from paper. The masks, Le Maschere di Venezia; the Masks of Venice are used to celebrate a carnival that began over 550 years ago, from February to March. The masks also were used to hide the identities of the persons, so social status would be on an even keel. In addition to the masks, they sell papier-mâché clocks and porcelain products. All are imported from Italy. Across the piazza is the Enoteca Castello, or wine crib. Italy is one of the world’s greatest producers of fine wines, in fact Italians consume over twice wine per year as Americans. There is an outside area where you can enjoy a glass of wine or snacks. In the rear is the La Bottega Italiana, the Italian Boutique shop. Here you will find all kinds of sweets, cookies, pasta, olive oil and almost everything else Italian, even clothing. And the Kidcot station is at the end.
Italian is perhaps the most popular culture cuisine in the United States. And the Italian pavilion does not disappoint. The main eatery is Tutto Italia, translating into “All Italy” The original restaurant since the pavilion’ opening in ’82, L’Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante was run by Alfredo’s of Rome and was one of the most successful and profitable eateries on property. But for some reason, Disney did not renew the contract. The Patina Restaurant Group took over, renaming the eatery “Tutto Italy” Dishes from all over Italy are represented and the interior is elegant. Utilizing the Florentine style of architecture, it has beautiful and ornate chandeliers, carpet and eye-catching murals all around. These appear to be 3-dimensional, using a styling of art called trompe l’œil, which is French for “To deceive the eye”. The restaurant venue features the cuisine of Master Chef Joachim Splichal. In addition to the elegant dining, there is a large and airy outdoor (Covered) seating area if you so choose. For Italy’s other eatery, what could be more Italian than Pizza! This new restaurant opened on August 5, 2010 with a huge press event that I was fortunate to attend. Via Napoli, or the Way of Naples, also run by the Patina Restaurant Group has an amazing back-story and even more amazing food. We learned at the grand opening that Marsalli Flour and Caputo Brand Mozzarella are used exclusively and both are imported from Italy, and since the water is the key ingredient, two wells were found in the United States with the exact chemical composition of wells in Naples, ensuring the Pizza is as authentic as if you were dining in Naples.
In addition to Pizza, there is Pasta, chicken, eggplant, calamari and classic Italian desserts; gelato and Tiramisu, torts and Sundaes. Wines, (Of Course) beers, fruit coolers and sparkling waters. There is an outdoor seating area. Inside, the wood burning ovens have terra-cotta faces of the active volcanoes in Italy over their openings… Mt. Etna, Vesuvio and Stromboli. The inside is huge and cavernous, with plenty of room around. The kitchen is open, and you can see you choices being prepared, and the smell is glorious! The dining area also features beautiful murals on the walls, ornate columns and arches and the color scheme is warm earthen tones. In the middle of the dining area is a long, long table with beautiful tile work on the top, depicting pivotal moments in Italian history. The table was made in Florence Italy.
Almost done with our tour of Italy. You will notice that like many of the Countries, that a large Plaza dominates the pavilion. Like in Germany and Morocco, the plaza plays an important part in everyday life. Many plazas have drinking fountains. People would get their water, converse and socialize. It was like the “Facebook” of the day. In the center of the Piazza, you will notice a raised, circular area with steps leading up to it. I imagine it was for certain performances, but I have never seen it utilized. Rounding up the food and beverage part of the tour, next to Tutto Italy is the Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar. Inside, there is a cozy bar and seating area, complete with a fireplace. You can have a glass of vino and if you have the munchies, a full cooler of treats, such as Cannoli, Caramel Budino, salads, cheeses and even shrimp.
Next to the raised platform is one of the most colorful donkey carts you’ll ever see. In Italy, donkeys and carts have been used for centuries for hauling and transportation. In the hills of Italy, a surefooted donkey was the best way to travel. This cart is a colorful refreshment cart. It offers Wine, Gelato, Italian Spumone, water and liqueurs. In front of the Doges’ building is another snack outlet. You can have gelato, smoothies, and all kinds of desserts, coffees, wine, milk, sodas beer and water. The last attraction, so to speak is the huge statue of the Roman god of the sea, Neptune. The original statue in Venice is not in front of any structure, but in the open. This is a very popular place for a Kodak moment. This beautiful sculpture of Neptune and his two messenger Dolphins is reflected by two similar ones, the Trevi Fountain in Rome and the Neptune Fountain found in Florence. The Italian Pavilion has no ride attraction, but an amusing street performer, Sergio, the Italian mime makes scheduled shows, and he is very popular. Check the time schedule for details.
Well, this wraps up the Italian pavilion. I am sure I could talk about it even more, but this is not a book! Again, when visiting any of the Countries in World Showcase, remember this…Almost EVERYTHING you see; colors, buildings, statues, ornamentation, signage, even numbers; everything has some meaning or reference. Disney’s Imagineers have gone to great lengths to insure accuracy and details to ensure that you can believe you are in that country. Arrivederci!
Please enjoy this gallery of pictures that Bill Iadonisi took around the Italy Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase!