Obama lunches with 'friend' Napolitano, sees Colosseum

U.S. president mixes official business with pleasures of Rome

(By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, March 27 - From the colourful pageantry of the Swiss Guards in Vatican City and its Apostolic Palace, to the Renaissance Palazzo Madama and finally, the iconic Colosseum, United States President Barack Obama was treated to some of the eternal city's greatest sites Thursday while conducting international business, including a working lunch with President Giorgio Napolitano.
    Rome's eternally snarled traffic was partially blocked and diverted away from the historic centre as Obama moved from an official visit to Pope Francis, where the pair shook hands over a small wooden table in the Papal Library, to the central Quirinale Hill and the presidential palace for a working lunch with his friend and ally, Napolitano.
    Helicopters clattered overhead and tourists gawked along the routes taken by the presidential entourage that included a 50-car motorcade accompanying Obama in his Chevrolet SUV.
    Like every visitor to Rome, the US president could not miss a chance for a private tour of the near-2,000-year-old Colosseum, accompanied by Italy's Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini.
    There, Obama doffed his tie but kept his dark raincoat as he toured the ancient Flavian Ampitheatre under threatening skies.
    Television footage showed a relaxed Obama asking questions of his tour guide, Barbara Nazzaro, technical director of the Colosseum, who had in 2009 provided a similar tour for Obama's wife Michelle and their two children.
    Franceschini could not resist tweeting about the experience. "I welcomed President Obama to the Colosseum. A pride for our country to see the wonder and admiration in his eyes," posted Franceschini on his Twitter feed.
    Obama later teased Franceschini about his position: "Minister of Culture? Great job"! To which a smiling Franceschini replied, "In Italy, it is the best job"! Obama also expressed his amazement at the Colosseum's dimensions.
    "This is bigger than some current baseball stadiums," including Chicago's Wrigley Field, he said. "I have to check on what it seats. It's remarkable.
    The day's business opened at the Vatican and a 50-minute visit with the pope that began with the American delegation being led past the ceremonial Swiss Guard, in their bright blue, orange, and yellow uniforms, along a richly frescoed hall before reaching the Papal Library.
    There, they exchanged warm greetings and discussed their shared concerns over the fight for income equality, the rights of refugees and migrants as well as international peace. Obama presented Francis with a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House's garden. "These I think are carrots," he said, holding a pouch. "Each one has a different seed in it. The box is made from timber from the first cathedral to open in the United States in Baltimore," he explained.
    "If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well," Obama added.
    "Why not?" the Argentine-born pope replied in Spanish.
    For his part, Francis gave the president an encyclical. "I actually will probably read this in the Oval Office when I'm deeply frustrated. I'm sure it will give me strength and calm me down," the president said with a smile.
    Obama also asked the pope to pray for him and his family and as he left the Vatican, the president joked that: "His Holiness is probably the only person in the world who has to put up with more protocol". From there, Obama travelled to a lunch appointment with Napolitano, Italy's 88-year-old president who has been a pillar of stability for Obama, who has seen four different premiers managing Italy. The two are known to have a cordial relationship, with the White House calling Napolitano "a good friend". Back across the historic centre Obama travelled to meet Italy's newest and youngest-ever premier, 39-year-old Matteo Renzi to discuss a range of issues from trade agreements, to military funding to youth employment and the US participation in Milan Expo 2015. Italy deployed 1,000 police in the capital to watch over the American president as well as any other potential targets, such as embassies. The bomb squad as well as dog units combed the presidential itinerary, while river police scoured the Tiber river near St.
    Peter's Basilica and the Holy See.
    Throughout the visit, Obama's motorcade was watched over by a helicopter and by snipers placed on every building along the route.