Hassan Rouhani is on a tour of Italy and France to drum up trade and diplomatic links after his country signed historic deal to limit its nuclear ambitions
Italy covered up marble statues of nude Roman goddesses in order to spare the blushes of the visiting president of Iran, who is on a visit to Europe to rebuild relations with the West after the recent deal on restricting its nuclear ambitions lifted years of economic sanctions.
With Italian businesses signing deals worth around 17 billion euros with Iranian companies, much was at stake and Rome was anxious not to offend the sensibilities of Hassan Rouhani.
But the decision to encase the statues of Venus and other female figures from antiquity prompted outrage from some commentators and politicians.
The act of self-censorship took place at the Capitoline Museums, one of Rome’s richest repositories of classical art, which the president visited with Matteo Renzi, the prime minister.
The offending statues lined a corridor along which the Iranian delegation passed before holding a press conference.
President Rouhani with Pope Francis at the Vatican
The president’s aides were also reportedly anxious that he not be photographed too close to a giant bronze statue of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback.
The Iranians objected to what one Italian newspaper delicately described as “the attributes” or genitalia of the huge horse, which dates from the second century AD.
At the function, wine was not served – again in deference to Iranian sensibilities.
“Italy bowing down to the Iranians like this is embarrassing,” said Daniele Capezzone, a centre-Right MP and a former spokesman for Silvio Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia.
Covering up the statues added “a touch of the ridiculous” to the state visit, he said.
“Is Italy reduced to this? And to not serve wine, again so as not to ‘offend’?” he asked.
Protests against the visit took place in Rome’s Pantheon Square
Giorgia Meloni, the head of the centre-Right political party Fratelli d’Italia, joked about what the centre-Left government of Matteo Renzi might be planning for the next visit of a prominent Muslim leader, the emir of Qatar, who will arrive in Rome on Wednesday/today.
“We have to ask ourselves what Renzi has in mind for the arrival this week of the Emir of Qatar – covering St Peter’s in an enormous box?” she wrote on her Facebook page.
“The level of cultural subjection by Renzi and the Left has surpassed the limits of decency.”
Fabio Rampelli, an MP in the same party, said: “The decision to hide the statues offends Western culture. It is shameful and needs to be explained by the minister for cultural heritage.”
Vittorio Sgarbi, an art critic and well-known TV personality, said only “ignorant goats” would have decided to hide the statues away.
“I don’t think President Rouhani would have been surprised to find there were nude statues in Rome,” he said.
Luca Squeri, from Forza Italia, another centre-Right party, called the move “overly zealous”.
He added: “Respect for others cultures should not mean denying our own. This is not respect, it’s submission.”
Giuseppe Musmarra, a political analyst, said: “Was there really a need for this humiliation?”
In an editorial for the Italian edition of the Huffington Post, he wrote: “Covering up the statues in the Capitoline Museum is to symbolically renounce our art and our culture and to abdicate every principle of secularism. It is the capitulation of a country. One can dialogue, and one must, but it needs to be done with dignity.”
The French have been less accommodating, at least on the issue of serving wine.
President Rouhani walks with the pontiff
After the Italy leg of his tour, president Rouhani will fly to Paris.
During planning for the trip in November, the Iranians asked that wine not be served at the Elysee Palace.
The request was reportedly rejected by French officials, who viewed the whole stand-off as “ridiculous”, according to Le Monde.
President Rouhani is in Rome along with a 120-strong delegation of Iranian ministers and business leaders.
On Tuesday he had a 40-minute meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, in which he asked the Argentinean pontiff to pray for him.
Francis thanked him for visiting the Vatican and added: “I hope for peace.”
The pair spoke about the recent nuclear accord, Iran’s role in the Middle East and the prospects for a peace deal in Syria.
Before arriving at the Vatican, President Rouhani told a forum of Italian business leaders that “Iran is the safest and most stable country of the entire region.”
Culled from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/12122665/Anger-in-Italy-after-authorities-cover-up-nude-Roman-statues-of-goddesses-so-as-not-to-offend-Iranian-president.html