The flamboyant Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has fallen in love in Italy. Not with an Italian beauty but with an undiscovered mountain town in central Italy.
He was smitten with the tiny town of Antrodoco last summer when he made a brief stop on his way to earthquake stricken L'Aquila, where he was joining world leaders at the G8 Summit as the leader of the Arab League.
Gaddafi is known for exasperating local officials and diplomats on his foreign visits with his unusual requests, unscheduled stops and insistence that his driver take the most circuitous routes to reach a destination. Some say this is due to a fear of going through mountain tunnels and using highways; others say he just adores the mountains.
On his first stop at Antrodoco, the quixotic leader paused to stretch his legs and admire the view of the mountains. On his return from the summit, he stopped again at the town's entrance and was greeted warmly by about 20 villagers who surrounded his motorcade and, when he emerged, happily posed with him for photographs. To their delight, the Libyan leader even exchanged a few words in Italian.
Until now, this small town of 2,800 inhabitants had another claim to fame. On a nearby mountainside, where pine saplings were strategically planted before World War II, rows of now-mature pine trees spell out the word "DUX," the Latin word for leader, in a tribute to Italy's dictator Benito Mussolini.
Like many small towns in Italy, Antrodoco, with its high unemployment and lack of tourist attractions, is slowly emptying out.
Spurred on by the chance encounter with Gaddafi, the mayor and town council hope the Libyan leader is enamored enough with the place to want to invest in putting it on the map as a vacation destination. They hope Gaddafi will fund a luxury hotel, a bottling plant for local mountain spring water, new sports center and soccer-training center.
The colonel has indicated he will do this and more. He sent his emissaries, the Libyan Ambassador to Italy and his aide to the town last November to hand-deliver the colonel's own snapshots of the town as a personal gift and to get a thorough report on the town and its needs.
The mayor said, "They listened to me very intently and assured me that they would pass everything back to the colonel, who seemed to have been enchanted by Antrodoco. "
He was reportedly struck by the natural beauty of the land and the special warmth of the local people. He wanted to do something for them.
Emboldened by the compliments and attention, the mayor and a delegation of 13 town councillors, local businessmen and town representatives set off for Libya on Sunday to meet with Gaddafi himself. They met yesterday for 90 minutes and Gaddafi paid great attention to the detailed presentation of the various proposals. He repeated to them in person that he had been struck by the beauty of the town and its ancient Roman history. Antrodoco was the birth place of Roman Emperors Vespasianus, Titus and Domitianus.
Reached by phone in Libya, Councillor Italo Cricchi, who is in charge of Public Works, Budget and Environment in Antrodoco, told ABC News the mayor was 'euphoric' about the very cordial meeting.
"The delegation is still at work today meeting with government technicians and officials in Tripoli to study the proposals in detail and work out what next to do," said Cricchi.