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The BBC's Julian Keane
"A rail and road suspension bridge would bring jobs, wealth, tourists"
 real 28k

Friday, 4 May, 2001, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Postcard from Messina
Milan 8 May South Tyrol 7 May Rome 11 May Rome 12 May Rome 14 May Messina 9 May Palermo 10 May

9 May

Cut a line lengthways across Italy, they say, and you'll get two different countries.

Messina harbour
If the south feels forgotten, Sicily feels abandoned
While one side, to the north, enjoys relative prosperity, the other lags behind.

Political leaders have come and gone, announcing great plans to give the south, the "mezzogiorno" as it's known, an economic shot in the arm.

Promises have been made - few kept.

If the south feels forgotten, Sicily feels abandoned.

Unemployment is higher than elsewhere, crime rates growing every year.

Both in the towns and the countryside one can see visible signs of a faltering economy - half finished building projects, roads which have clearly seen better days.

And yet, the Mediterranean's largest island has much to offer - breathtaking scenery , a rich cultural heritage.

This is a place of history and mythology: where Ulysses is said to have tricked the Cyclops, Polyphemus; where Giacomo da Lentini invented the sonnet; where the Greeks and the Romans dreamed of world conquests.

They dreamed also of uniting Sicily with the mainland.

And the idea has resurfaced again, this time in the form of more promises from the politicians on the campaign trail.

A ferry approaches Messina
The plan for a road bridge to Sicily would bring jobs and tourists
The difference now is that there's actually a concrete proposal on the table - a rail and road suspension bridge spanning the three and a half kilometres across the Messina straits.

The project's been given the thumbs-up by both Silvio Berlusconi, of the centre-right, and Francesco Rutelli of the centre-left.

It would bring jobs, wealth, tourists.

But there's a catch: the bridge will only become a reality if the private sector provides half of the $5bn it will take to build.

The people here have a saying for describing an unattainable dream: "cuando fanno il ponte", "when they build the bridge" - Sicily's equivalent of "That'll be the day..."


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02 Feb 01 | Europe
Timeline: Italy
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