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Beijing-International » News » Beijing Today » International Communications
Italian bridges cultures

Elio Matacena likes talking about the two scientific projects his company is currently engaged in in China.

One of them is the "Enermar Project," which is aimed at exploiting the energy contained within marine currents through the use of an innovative patented turbine.

The other, which sounds more fantastic, is called "Archimedes Bridge." It involves the innovative use of a submerged floating tunnel to build permanent crossings to link the shores of lakes, rivers and straits.

An "Archimedes Bridge" is a tube-like structure held afloat by pontoons.

Such bridges can be large enough to carry cars and trains. Fixed 20 to 30 metres below the surface, they will not impede the passage of ships.

The idea is based upon the concept of buoyancy, which was defined by the famous ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes.

The technology, Matacena says, is most suitable where the distance between shores is too long to build ordinary bridges.

So far, the technology has not been put into practical use. Matacena and his Chinese partners are now working on a test project in Qiandaohu (Thousand-Island) Lake in East China's Zhejiang Province.

If they succeed, then a 3-kilometre long Archimedes bridge will be built in the province's coastal area to link the Zhoushan Archipelago in the East Sea with the continent.

"It will be the first such construction in the world," said 80-year-old Matacena, president of an Italian company specializing in new technologies in the infrastructural and energy sectors.

"The engineering projects I have initiated in China hold promise to find application in many countries of the world," he said proudly.

His eyes glinted, as if envisioning the fanfare when his dream comes true. Excited, he looked energetic and much younger than his actual age.

This has been the eighth time in eight years for Matacena to visit China.

In 1996, the Italian businessman came to Beijing to work on a project jointly conducted by China and the European Union. That was his first time to set foot on the ancient soil of the Orient.

Since then, Matacena has been engaged in promoting science and technology co-operation between China and Italy, and contributing a great deal, in many different ways, to strengthening this goal, such as funding research projects for scientists as well as financing workshops.

He has donated US$1 million to the China Academy of Sciences. With the money, a foundation has been set up to reward eminent young scientists in the field of earth sciences research.

He has also maintained important ties with both the authorities and ordinary people in China.

"Friendship between peoples brings culture, civilization, and progress," he said. "This award conferred upon me is an encouragement to undertake further action to promote scientific and cultural co-operation between the two nations."


Matacena said that since he is Italian, he feels quite proud of his compatriot Marco Polo, the first European to cross the entire continent of Asia and travel in China.

Before his first visit in 1996, Matacena said his only impression of China was that it was "a mysterious country."

"Italy and China are quite similar in that both countries have a long history and splendid ancient civilization. That makes me feel very close to China," said Matacena.

He said the mere mention of China reminds him of Confucius, fireworks, and so on.

He is a loyal fan of Chinese culture. During his short stay in Beijing last week, he set aside an evening to attend Peking Opera.

In his garden in Italy, he has given a special place to a big "Taihushi," stone from Taihu Lake in East China, an important design element in Chinese classic gardens. He paid an "expensive price" for it in China, he said.

Like all foreigners who have formed their understanding of China gradually over the past decade, Matacena said he is deeply impressed with the dynamic speed at which China is developing.

"Eight years ago when I first came to China, there was nothing but bicycles on that street. But now, there are so many autos," said Matacena, pointing his finger at Chang'an Avenue outside the window, the main avenue in Beijing that links together Tian'anmen Square and the city's two most important commercial areas, Wangfujing and Xidan.

"The changes are so tremendous," said Matacena. "You won't notice that since you are living with them, but to outsiders, they are impressive."

But he said that despite the rapid development, he is still able to find traces of ancient Chinese culture in modern China.

He still remembers the time he ran into an old-style pharmacy selling traditional Chinese medicine in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province and the twin city of his birthplace Naples.

There, he was surprised to find clerks still using the abacus, a manually operated computing device consisting of a frame holding parallel rods strung with movable counters that is unique to China.

The background music played there was traditional Chinese folk music.

"It was fascinating," he said.

Besides academic and scientific co-operation, the Italian businessman is also making efforts to promote cultural exchanges.

"It has long been my wish to create a centre for cultural exchange in the People's Republic of China to allow young Chinese students to learn about Italian culture, whose roots are very ancient, as well as for Italian students to learn about the millennial Chinese culture," he said.

He said he had submitted to the University of Zhejiang a proposal to set up such a centre in Hangzhou. He has even come up with a name for the centre.

"I will call it Villa Italia," he said. "This centre will become a cultural centre where young Chinese and Italians will have the opportunity to study each other's venerable cultures and strengthen the bonds of friendship between our two nations," he said.