The Embassy of Italy in South Africa is made up of a Chancery and the Ambassador’s residence in Pretoria, seat of the South African Government. There is also a Chancery and an Ambassador’s residence in Cape Town, seat of the South African Parliament. All the buildings are the property of the Italian Government.
The Chancery in Pretoria is made up of a welcoming group of buildings of various styles, located in the suburb of Arcadia, lined with jacarandas, the famous trees with purple flowers that are so characteristic of this city. The Chancery is located in a small area known as “Embassy row”, parallel to Church Street which is the longest Street in South Africa, 26 kms. The residence of the President of South Africa may be found on this Street, as well as the State Theatre and the old Reserve Bank – which still has counters open to the public, with its beautiful brass finishings – currently occupied by the Department of Finance. Very close to the Embassy, on a hill, stand the Union Buildings, seat of the Presidency of the Republic and the Offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The Ambassador’s residence in Pretoria is located in Waterkloof, one of the most prestigious suburbs of Pretoria. It was built about a century ago. The residence is nestled in about 4,000 square metres of gardens, brimming with indigenous and European plants and flowers, a necessary setting for a series of terraces that are embellished by numerous trees. The architectural style of the home itself, known as Cape Dutch, is characterised by an open veranda in the front and curved gables framing the white facade. The Italian flag and that of the European Union fly against a background of ancient cypress trees. The residence distinguishes itself from others in Pretoria as much for the period in which it was built as for the rarity of its style which is much more common in the Paarl region, near the Cape of Good Hope. The gardens are opened on the occasion of the Italian national day, every 2nd June, and much admiration is shown by guests for its discreet and rare beauty.
The Chancery in Cape Town is on the second Floor of an early twentieth century building where one may find the Consulate of Italy on the Ground Floor. The Chancery is in the centre of Cape Town, virtually adjoining “The Company’s Gardens”, one of the main parks in the city, a green lung that absorbs the fumes of the intense city traffic. A wooden staircase takes you up to the Chancery, the secretarial offices and the Head of Mission’s office. The ceiling in this office is made of wood, inlaid with elaborate designs by artisan inlayers from Venice, a gift from the first Ambassador of Italy to South Africa, Natale Labia.
The Ambassador’s residence in Cape Town, built in 1920 in the exclusive suburb of Bishopscourt, is set in a park of conifer pine trees, an apt background to the entrances, one of which opens onto a terrace that flows out into an ample lawn. The walls on the ground floor of the residence are lined with wood which emphasises the wooden staircase leading up to the second floor. The staircase is illuminated by a big window through which one can see the whole city, its thousand lights twinkling, and the park with its beautiful trees, day and night. Opposite one of the entrances to the Ambassador’s residence is a hill topped with pine trees which are hundreds of years old and which further enhance the harmony of the rounded framework, giving it a more streamlined look. Inside the residence the original structure has been preserved as it was from the time of construction, including a board that lights up in accordance with which room rings a bell, amongst which is a billiard room, a bar and a children’s playroom.
During the period of the opening of Parliament and two days before the Minister of Finance’s Budget Speech, a reception is held at the Ambassador’s residence which is now part of tradition, attended by Members of Parliament and representatives of the Government as well as prominent personalities of the Cape Province.