Piazza Regina Elena, Tientsin

Feeling like in Italy
Feeling like in Italy

This post is not strictly about Shanghai, but about its little less known sister, TianJin. Shanghai colonial is well known, researched and documented… but it was not the only treaty port. Along the Chinese coast other international concessions were built on with foreign buildings, including ShaMienDao (Guangzhou), GuLanYu (Xiamen), Qingdao (old German colony) and Tianjin (Tientsin). Tianjin was surely the most developed of the treaty ports after Shanghai, having been the location for up to 8 concessions (French, English, German, American, Austrian-Hungarian, Russian, Belgian and Italian). I had always heard that very little remain of the old buildings until a friend actually went there and took a tour. In fact, although quite a bit has been destroyed, the Tianjin municipality is doing a great job at keeping and restoring the remains. The most amazing part is probably the Italian concession.
The Italian concession was created in 1902 and is probably the only Italian colony in Asia. It was located on the North side of the Hai He river, between the Russian one and the Austrian-Hungarian one, connected with the French concession by the “International Bridge”. The main attraction is Piazza Regina Elena (earlier named Piazza Marco Polo) and the surrounding streets. The area is a gem as most building are now restored in their original state.  It was described as bustling with life and noise before 1949 and was surely overpopulated afterwards, but it is now deserted. The renovation project was supposed to come along with an Italian-Chinese touristic development. Renovation was done by the Chinese part, but the Italian partners seem to have disappeared. The Sunday we were there, streets were empty apart from the occasional car and the weather was really hot. Looking at the statue on Piazza Marco Polo, it felt like we were enjoying the hot summer in a small town in Italy, thousand miles away from China.
Having walked through the English and French concession to reach the Piazza, we were dreaming of pizza and ice cream looking at this Italian ghost town in China. The wait was not in vain, since an Italian restaurant has opened its door in one of the villas around the plaza. “Buitoni’s” chef probably never went near a real Italian dish judging by the poor quality of the pizza. However, along with a nice gelato and an espresso, it just did the trick. It was the perfect end for our short trip to this little piece of Italy in China.

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