ROME – Luminaries as disparate as Pope Benedict and fashion guru Giorgio Armani will follow the Olympic flame’s relay up and down the Italian peninsula for the start of the 20th Winter Games, organizers said yesterday. The flame, carried in a «magic lantern,» will touch down in Rome on December 7 after a flight from Greece’s Ancient Olympia. From there it will make a 64-day journey south to Sicily and back north again to the host city, Turin. On its way, it will be held aloft by Venetian gondoliers, Roman soccer players, Milanese showgirls and even ride in a flame-red Ferrari. «It is a route that will show all the beauty and variety of our country,» Turin Games chief Valentino Castellani told a news conference. The relay of the «flame of peace» has become a spectacle in past Olympics and Italy has had a lot to live up to for the February 10-26 Games, the first Italy has hosted since 1960. Before the Athens Olympics in 2004, the flame circled the world on a six-week tour under tight security, in a specially chartered jumbo dubbed Zeus. Italy’s torch relay will be a much smaller affair. Still, organizers hope its 11,000-kilometer trek to 140 cities, from Sicily to the border with Austria, will ignite national interest and so-far sluggish ticket sales. Olympic marathon champion Stefano Baldini will be the first torchbearer on Italian soil after President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi lights it from the «magic lantern.» Armani, Italy and Roma striker Francesco Totti and thousands of others selected for their community work, will be among the 10,001 torchbearers. Among highlights will be Pope Benedict XVI’s blessing of the torch when it passes through St Peter’s Square, its ride in a Ferrari in the racing car’s hometown of Maranello, and a cruise on a gondola in Venice when it blazes across the lagoon city. The flame arrives in Turin on February 10 for the spectacular ceremony to open the Games, which will take place there and in a host of surrounding towns.