President Tony Tan Keng Yam arrived in Italy at noon yesterday, and was saluted by Italian military police clad in full ceremonial dress at Fiumicino Airport in Rome.
He is on state visits to Italy and the Vatican City this week, and was received by Italy's Deputy Foreign Minister Mario Giro and Italy's Ambassador to Singapore Paolo Crudele.
Mrs Mary Tan was presented with a bouquet of cream and pink flowers by Mrs Crudele.
Italy was one of the first to establish diplomatic relations with a newly independent Singapore in 1965, "when few countries gave us much chance of survival as a sovereign state", Dr Tan said in a Facebook post before leaving Singapore.
It is now an important partner for Singapore in the European Union, he said, adding that bilateral relations are strong and growing in areas like trade, investment, culture, defence, education and research.
Dr Tan also highlighted the longstanding ties Singapore has with the Holy See.
"The Catholic Church has made valuable contributions to the development of Singapore, including in the areas of education, healthcare and social welfare," he wrote. "I hope to further the warm ties Singapore shares with Italy and the Holy See during this state visit."
Yesterday evening, Dr Tan hosted around 20 Singapore businessmen to a reception at the Westin Excelsior hotel. The bosses from local brands, including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), are on a mission organised by trade agency IE Singapore to make contact with potential business partners in industries such as fashion, furniture, logistics and education.
Ms Claire Cheong, a senior manager at IE Singapore's Europe group, said: "We hope SMEs can collaborate with Italian firms to build capability in product and business innovation, for more sustainable growth."
Mr Ernie Koh, executive director of furniture company Koda, said he hopes to see if Italian designers can develop products for Asia through his company.
Mr Andy Chaw, chief executive of shoe distributor and retailer Star 360, is hoping to find new brands to distribute across Asia.
His company has set up 11 new MBT stores in Italy over the past 18 months, after buying over the Swiss brand, and is focusing on e-commerce efforts in Europe.
Home-grown skincare brand Skin Inc also opened a concept store in Milan earlier this year, and Ms Rameet Kaur, managing director for SkinInc USA and Canada, hopes to deepen an understanding of the Italian market and connect with speciality retailers, luxury hotels and lifestyle concepts to expand the brand's reach.
Dr Tan will receive a ceremonial welcome today by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who will also host a state banquet in his honour.