India and Italy, both ancient civilizations having rich cultural heritages, have known, interacted and traded with each other for over 2000 years. Italian port cities were important trading posts on the spice route. These exchanges also offered opportunities for interactions in the fields of art, culture, philosophy, etc. Significance of bilateral ties could be seen from the travel of the Venetian merchant, Marco Polo to India in the 13th century and travelogue about his experiences; Mahatma Gandhi's visit to Rome in December 1931 on his way back to India after attending the Round Table conference in London; presence of Indian troops belonging to Rajputana and Gurkha Rifles, serving with the British Indian Army, in Italy during the World War II, etc.
To cement and further deepen bilateral relations, various agreements, have been signed and are operational. A bilateral agreement for cultural cooperation between India and Italy had been in existence since 1976. The agreement, which was renewed in 2004, offers a general framework for facilitating the exchanges under a Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP).
An umbrella agreement on co-operation in Science & Technology was also signed in 1978 which was later replaced in 2003. An Agreement for Audio-Visual Co-production, signed in May 2005, came into force w.e.f. June 12, 2008 and its Rules of Procedure are being finalized by the two sides. A Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation for conservation of paintings of the Ajanta and Ellora caves, signed in 2006, has also been in place. Around 106 other direct MoUs/Agreements between Indian and Italian Universities/Institutions are also operational.
Several Universities in Italy have departments of Indian Studies, where Indian languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, Sanskrit and other subjects as history of modern India, Indian culture, art, religion and philosophy, and also Indian performing arts are taught. Italian students willing to study in India are actively supported through grants of scholarships under the Cultural Exchange Programme. A wide array of Indian cultural activities in the field of audio-visual performing arts, fine arts, handicrafts, films etc. are organized in Italy to further promote bilateral relations.