Shining a light on the inter-connected Mediterranean

Ahead of the ROTOT seminar on intercultural dialogue in the Mediterranean, Dr Antonio Barone, Director of the Phoenicians’ Route, speaks to Tepdpr Reljic about this exciting approach to culturally-aware tourism

How would you describe the Phoenicians’ Route to somebody who may never have heard of it before?

“The Phoenicians’ Route” comes from the consideration that the Mediterranean Sea in ancient times was contact tool between the communities of different ethnic groups and the civilizations that inhabited it. Then it became a frontier.

This is why the Council of Europe, within the Cultural Routes Program (1997), includes the proposal for a route called “The Phoenicians’ Route” whose journey is not terrestrial (such as Santiago de Compostela Pilgrim Routes). It refers to the connection of the major nautical routes used by the Phoenicians and by other great Mediterranean civilizations: Greeks, Romans, Etruscans, Iberians and many others, since the 12th century BC, as essential routes for trade and cultural communication in the Mediterranean. These sea routes connecting all the shores of the ancient Mediterranean today unite the Mediterranean countries of Europe, Asia and Africa.

The theme of certification by the Council of Europe is the theme of the intercultural dialogue in the Mediterranean; conceived by the International Network responsible for management, as a cooperation between experts and stakeholders in the territories involved (11 countries), on the themes of the innovative enhancement of the material and immaterial cultural heritage, on sustainable, responsible, experiential and creative tourism practices and on heritage education/pedagogy. Therefore, the Phoenicians’ Route becomes an international reference for dialogue between peoples, between tourism and culture, between territories and global market (g-local approach), thanks also to the creation of specific networks for museums, for schools, for the nature sector. Furthermore, on March 7th at the ITB fair in Berlin, during a “Capacity building Forum for Tour Operators”, organised together with the UNWTO - World Tourism Organisation, the “Phoenicians’ Route Tour Operators Alliance” initiative will be presented. The more than 200 Tour Operators who follow the Phoenicians’ Route will join this alliance.

What happens on the Phoenician Route, and what do participants get out of it that transcends the merely touristic?

Every year on the Phoenicians’ Route, many people discover the different countries and the new proposals that the Tour Operators create together with our Cultural Route. On the Phoenicians’ Route schools, from eight countries belonging to the International Network of Mediterranean Schools (Edu.Net), meet each other; and many events are organized, dedicated to various themes related to the route in the various countries that are part of it, as in the case of the Malta event, scheduled for March. There is also an International University Network (IUN) of the Phoenicians’ Route to promote a Knowledge and Cooperation Network in the research and development of economic, scientific and cultural projects of common interest. The International University Network (IUN) proposes research conferences, seminars, research networks and internships at the various partner universities. Moreover, a particular form of communication and promotion of the ancient Mediterranean will soon be available through a videogame that will allow reaching even the most remote countries.

How would you describe the intimate link between the Phoenicians and the Mediterranean? How familiar would you say the general populace is of this link, and what can be gained –culturally, socially, politically – through a wider awareness of it?

The Phoenicians’ Route refers to the connection of the major nautical routes which, since the twelfth century BC, were used by the Phoenicians as essential routes for trade and cultural communication in the Mediterranean. Through these routes, the Phoenicians – genial sailors and merchants – gave origin to a great civilization, for some verses still little known, that asserted itself through an expansion towards the West, producing an intense exchange of manufactured articles, people and ideas and contributing in ancient times to the creation of a koinè, a Mediterranean cultural “community” and to the circulation of this culture. But even other great Mediterranean civilizations used these routes for the same purpose: Greeks, Romans, Etruscans, Iberians and many others.

Therefore, these routes have become an integral and essential part of Mediterranean culture. Even today, the Phoenician heritage is perceived throughout the Mediterranean: in languages, traditions, craft productions, in the landscape. It is the Phoenician landscape itself that suggests that salt processing was a key component of their economy, since their settlements lie along coastal areas in both the East and the West and, as is well known, the sun and the sea breeze facilitate the evaporation process. The Phoenicians are also attributed to the development of artisanal and tuna fishing techniques (later enriched by the Arabs), and a notable contribution to the diffusion of techniques of production and transformation of Mediterranean products. The Mediterranean diet has to thank the Phoenicians: their dishes, masterfully studied by archaeologists and gastronomists on several occasions, are the basis of dishes that still today we consume, perhaps with different versions in terms of taste.

Knowing the culture and the material and immaterial heritage that the Phoenicians have left us, we discover the bonds that still today unite the shores of the Mediterranean.

How important are events like the ROTOT seminar, and what do you hope to get out of the experience of participating in it?

ROTOT is an important opportunity to compare and dialogue is a meeting between important witnesses of the Route and of the territories represented. However, it is also an opportunity to present the Phoenicians’ Route and its potential in Malta. Events like these are very important because they stimulate discussion, ignite debate and involve local communities, with a special eye to the younger generations. The expectation is that Malta will be increasingly involved in the Route and takes on a role of relevance within it.

The ROTOT seminar will be taking place at the Malta Society of Arts, Palazzo de la Salle, Republic Street, Valletta on March 27 at 6pm. Entrance is free of charge