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Resurrected prior to the 2008 Olympics after nearly 70 years, Tianjin‘s Italian Style Town revitalized the former concession’s neighborhood that was once inhabited by hundreds, if not thousands, of colonialists from Italy. Today this vibrant area is especially directed towards tourists from within China and abroad. Italian Style Town (also known as ‘Italian Style Street‘) was first constructed in the early 20th century and now offers a plethora of westernized restaurants, boutique shops, bars, and outdoor bazaars – here’s our guide to the best.
Italian Style Town, formerly known as the Italian concession of colonial-era Tianjin, is situated right along Haihe River. It’s not solely dedicated to Italian food and culture, as other European nationality restaurants like German and French establishments are also on site. The area is commonly known for its historical residences, lavish yet authentic European cuisines, Western art displays, and chic bars. Italian Style Town’s name is used interchangeably with with ‘Italian Style Street’ since it’s a neighborhood and not one street. Just across the Haihe River is Ancient Culture Street and Financial Road.
First designated to the Italian colonists of Tianjin in 1902, this concession was occupied by Italy until the end of World War II, and in 1946, was finally handed over to local Chinese authorities. With the intention of revamping the once thriving area into a tourist hub, in 1999 Tianjin’s city government entered into an agreement with a construction corporation to protect and redevelop the Italian concession into ‘Italian Style Town’. The renovation was completed in 2005 and opened to the public in 2008. Today, Italian Style Town is one Tianjin’s most favored attractions and in 2013 it garnered plaudits as a class 4A tourist destination.
At the epicenter of Italian Style Town is the famed Marco Polo Plaza, and the entire town is said to resemble the shape of a chessboard, squarely checkered with establishments and streets. The Free Path is the Street’s sole pedestrian-friendly walkway and is marked with street lamps, green trees, and refurbished fences from the old era. Its original European buildings are what give the Street its true Italian feel.
The main driver of tourists is not only the pursuit of authentic, imported-ingredient rich Italian cuisines like pizza and pasta, but also Italian cultural live events such as musical performances, clothing and art exhibitions. Italian Style Street is among Tianjin’s only neighborhoods that are friendly to all-nighters, as some of its bars stay open until the small hours.
The obvious draw of Tianjin’s Italian Style Town is its food scene, with both ingredients and even chefs hailing from Italy itself. Some of the city’s best dishes are served right here, but are more on the expensive side. Venezia Club Italian Restaurant is highly regarded for its plates of pasta while Brasserie FLO serves high-end French and European dishes.
A number of of Italian Style Town’s classic buildings housed some of the most famous figureheads in Tianjin history. Former residences include those of Liang Qichao, Feng Guozhang, Cao Yu, Hua Shikui, the First Worker Cultural Palace and the Italian Military Barracks.