A derelict terminal in Rome has been transformed into a food-lovers’ paradise as Eataly opens its biggest branch ever, offering everything from gourmet Slow Food produce to cooking lessons with top chefs.

The megamarket, which already has shops in north Italy, New York and Tokyo, has transformed the vast domed building into a food connoisseur’s haven, with dozens of tasting stands and restaurants as well as culinary exhibitions and projects.

“Welcome to the biggest place in the world dedicated to Italian food. Our aim is to make it the third most visited place after the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums,” said Eataly owner Oscar Farinetti as he showed off the site ahead of its opening last Thursday.

The food hall, which produces its own mozzarella, ice cream and beer, covers four floors and has around 20 restaurants, bars, cafes and tasting stands, as well as specialist markets for olive oils, pastas, wines, cheeses and hams.

Just as it chose run-down buildings for its previous stores – an old factory in Turin, an ageing cinema in Bologna and a historic palace in Genoa for example – Eataly hopes to transform the area around the terminal in Rome.

Built in the Ostiense quarter as a hub for trains to Fiumicino airport when Italy hosted the football World Cup in 1990, the terminal designed by the postmodern architect Julio Lafuente was abandoned after only a few months.

As urban decay set it, it quickly degenerated into a wasteland and stood out like a sore thumb among Rome’s stunning historic buildings.

“The neighbourhood is not very attractive but it’s much better than Lingotto (in Turin) was before we arrived, and we have a habit of breathing fresh life into abandoned places,” Farinetti said.

In its mission to tickle taste buds, Eataly plans to teach between 5,000 and 6,000 children a year for free about how to eat seasonal foods, recycle leftovers or keep a kitchen garden. Retired people will also be eligible.

Budding cooks will also be able to sign up for lessons with renowned chefs from as little as €30 a go, using eco-friendly Made in Italy products.

Farinetti opened the first Eataly in an industrial area of Turin in January 2007 and the Rome branch is its ninth in Italy and the 19th in the world.

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