At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

18 April 2019

18 April

Lucrezia Borgia – Pope’s daughter


Notorious blonde beauty inspired painters and poets

Lucrezia Borgia, the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, was born on this day in 1480 in Subiaco near Rome.  A reputedly beautiful woman, she entered into arranged marriages to important men to advance her family’s political position and rumours have abounded about the fate of her first two husbands.  Macchiavelli wrote about the Borgia family in his book, The Prince, depicting Lucrezia as some kind of femme fatale and this characterisation of her, whether just or unjust, has lasted over the years, being reproduced in many works of art, books and films. Apart from her marriages, Lucrezia also had an affair with the poet, Pietro Bembo, with whom she exchanged love letters, which are now in the collection of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, along with a lock of her hair. Read more…

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Ilario Bandini - racing car maker


Farmer's son who created beautiful and successful cars

Ilario Bandini, a businessman and racing driver who went on construct some of Italy’s most beautiful racing cars, was born on this day in 1911 in Villa Rovere in Emilia-Romagna. His cars won races in Europe and America and his designs earned the respect of the great Italian performance car maker Enzo Ferrari.  Bandini was from a farming family but was fascinated with cars and motorcycles and began to work part-time as a mechanic while he was still at school, eventually becoming an apprentice in a workshop in nearly Forlì.  At the age of 25 he took the bold decision to move to Eritrea, then an Italian colony, in northern Africa, where he repaired trucks and in time set up a transport business, which was very successful.  The venture made him enough money to open a garage in Forlì. when he returned to Italy in 1939, running a repair workshop alongside a car rental and chauffeured limousine business. Read more…

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Ippolita Maria Sforza – noble woman


Learned lady sacrificed happiness for a political alliance

Ippolita Maria Sforza, a cultured young noblewoman who wrote poetry, letters and documents in Latin, was born on this day in 1446 in Cremona. She was married to Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, who later became King Alfonso II of Naples, because it was a politically advantageous alliance, but she did not live long enough to become his Queen consort.  Ippolita was the eldest daughter of Francesco I Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Bianca Maria Visconti.  She was tutored along with her six younger brothers and one younger sister by a Greek scholar who taught her philosophy and Greek.  When she was 14 years old she composed a Latin address for Pope Pius II, which became well known after it was circulated in manuscript form. She wrote many letters, which were published in Italy in one volume in 1893. She also wrote poetry and a Latin eulogy for her father, Francesco. Read more...

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17 April 2019

17 April

Giovanni Riccioli – astronomer


Jesuit priest had a crater on the moon named after him

Giovanni Battista Riccioli, a Jesuit priest who became one of the principal astronomers of the 17th century, was born on this day in 1598 in Ferrara. He was renowned for his experiments with pendulums and falling bodies and for his studies of the motion of the earth and the surface of the moon. Riccioli entered the Society of Jesus when he was 16 and after completing his training began studying the humanities. Between 1620 and 1628 he studied philosophy and theology at the Jesuit College in Parma, where he was taught by Giuseppe Biancani, who had accepted new ideas such as the existence of lunar mountains. After Riccioli was ordained he taught physics and metaphysics at Parma and engaged in experiments with falling bodies and pendulums. He is believed to be the first scientist to measure the rate of acceleration of a freely falling body. Read more…

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Graziella Sciutti - operatic soprano


Vivacious performer who became a successful director

The operatic soprano Graziella Sciutti, a singer known for a vivacious stage presence and engaging personality who excelled in the work of Mozart, Puccini and Verdi, was born on this day in 1927 in Turin.  Her early childhood was spent in Geneva in Switzerland before the family moved to Rome, so that she could attend the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, which is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious musical institutions. Sciutti wanted to play the piano like her father but it became clear she had a notable voice and she caught the eye as a soloist when she was still a student.  She was asked at the last moment to appear in a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, conducted by Herbert von Karajan. It was a daunting prospect, forced on her at short notice after another singer became ill, but she rose to the challenge and won accolades as a result.  Read more…

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Riccardo Patrese - racing driver


Former Williams ace was first in Formula One to start 250 races

The racing driver Riccardo Patrese, who for 15 years was the only Formula One driver to have started more than 250 Grand Prix races, was born on this day in 1954 in Padua.  The former Williams driver reached the milestone in the German Grand Prix of 1993, having three years earlier been the first to make 200 starts.  Patrese retired at the end of the 1993 season with his total on 256 and his  record of longevity was not surpassed until 2008, when the Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello made his 257th start at the Turkish Grand Prix.  Ferrari ace Michael Schumacher passed 250 two years later and Patrese’s total has now been exceeded by six drivers, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa having all joined the 250 club. Read more…

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16 April 2019

16 April

Felice Pedroni - prospector


Italian’s discovery sparked Fairbanks Gold Rush

The gold prospector known as Felix Pedro was born Felice Pedroni on this day in 1858 in the village of Trignano, near the small Apennine town of Fanano in Emilia-Romagna.  In July 1902, on or around the 22nd, Pedroni discovered gold in the Tanana Hills northeast of the fledgling town of Fairbanks, Alaska in a small, then unnamed stream (later to be called Pedro Creek).  Some claim that Pedroni was the prospector who, on his return to Fairbanks from his prospecting mission, uttered the famous words "There's gold in them there hills", although there are other accounts of where the phrase originated.  What does not seem to be disputed is that Pedroni’s discovery triggered what became known as the Fairbanks Gold Rush as more than 1,000 other gold diggers flooded the area. Read more…

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Antonio Starabba Marchese di Rudini – Prime Minister


Bloodshed in Milan marred liberal premiere’s time in office

Political leader Antonio Starabba, Marchese di Rudini, who twice served as prime minister of Italy, was born on this day in 1839 in Palermo in Sicily.  During his second term in office, Di Rudini’s Government passed social legislation to create an obligatory workmen’s compensation scheme and a fund for disability and old age pensions but they were also blamed for the army’s brutal treatment of rioters in Milan.  Di Rudini was born into an aristocratic but liberal Sicilian family and grew up to join the revolutionaries in Sicily.  He became Mayor of Palermo and successfully resisted the opponents of national unity. He was then promoted to Prefect and given the task of suppressing the brigands in Sicily.  After entering parliament, Di Rudini became leader of the right wing but when he became premiere in 1891 he formed a coalition with the left and began economic reforms. Read more…

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Adelaide del Vasto – Countess of Sicily


Prudent ruler who looked after Sicily for her young sons

Adelaide del Vasto, who served as regent of Sicily during the 12th century, died on this day in 1118 in Sicily.  One historian described her as ‘a prudent woman’ and a Greek and Arab document listed Adelaide – known in Italian as Adelasia - as ‘a great female ruler and protector of the Christian faith’. Born in Piedmont, Adelaide was from an important family with branches that ruled Liguria and Turin. She became the third wife of Roger I of Sicily in 1089. When he died in 1101 she became regent of Sicily for her young sons, Simon and Roger II, when she was about 26.  After rebellions broke out in parts of Calabria and Sicily, Adelaide dealt with them severely, but this did not tarnish her reputation as a good ruler.  Adelaide’s eldest son, Simon, was enthroned at about the age of nine but he died in 1105 leaving her as regent again until Roger II became old enough to take control. During her regency Palermo officially became capital of the Kingdom of Sicily. Read more…

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Fortunino Matania - artist and illustrator


War artist famous also for images of British history

Chevalier Fortunino Matania, a prodigiously talented artist who became known as one of the greatest magazine illustrators in publishing history, was born on this day in 1881 in Naples.  Matania made his name largely in England, where in 1904 he joined the staff of The Sphere, the illustrated news magazine that was founded in London in 1900 in competition with The Graphic and the Illustrated London News.  The use of photography on a commercial scale was in its infancy and artists who could work under deadline pressure to produce high-quality, realistic images to accompany news stories were in big demand.  Matania’s best known work was from the battlegrounds of the First World War but he also covered every major event - marriages, christenings, funerals and state occasions - from the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 to that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.  He produced illustrations of the Sinking of the Titanic for The Sphere. Read more…


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Felice Pedroni - prospector

Italian’s discovery sparked Fairbanks Gold Rush


Felice Pedroni, a photograph taken in Alaska  in the early 20th century
Felice Pedroni, a photograph taken in Alaska
in the early 20th century
The gold prospector known as Felix Pedro was born Felice Pedroni on this day in 1858 in the village of Trignano, near the small Apennine town of Fanano in Emilia-Romagna.

In July 1902, on or around the 22nd, Pedroni discovered gold in the Tanana Hills northeast of the fledgling town of Fairbanks, Alaska in a small, then unnamed stream (later to be called Pedro Creek).

Some claim that Pedroni was the prospector who, on his return to Fairbanks from his prospecting mission, uttered the famous words "There's gold in them there hills", although there are other accounts of where the phrase originated.

What does not seem to be disputed is that Pedroni’s discovery triggered what became known as the Fairbanks Gold Rush as more than 1,000 other gold diggers flooded the area.

Brought up in a family of subsistence farmers in Trignano, Pedroni was the youngest of six brothers. He left Italy in 1881 after the death of his father. He moved first to France, then took the bold decision to board a steamship to America.

After disembarking in New York City, where he was registered as Felix Pedro, he found work as a labourer but, having heard about the gold in Alaska and was determined to get there. As soon as he had saved enough money, Pedroni moved on, first to Ohio, then Washington State, British Columbia and Yukon, each time taking a job and biding his time until he could afford to move on. He became an American citizen in 1888.

Fairbanks quickly developed as a city with the wealth  generated by the gold rush sparked by Pedroni's find
Fairbanks quickly developed as a city with the wealth
generated by the gold rush sparked by Pedroni's find
Once in Alaska, Pedroni panned for gold in the Fortymile, the Piledriver Slough and various other waterways, including the 'Lost Creek' in which Pedroni and his partner, Tom Gilmore, claimed to have found a sizable amount of gold in 1898, but were forced to abandon due to lack of food.
Despite marking the spot and searching for it for the next three years, they were unable to find it again.

It was while trying to locate the creek that they were drawn to the camp that would become Fairbanks after seeing plumes of smoke from a steamboat. They dropped down from the hills above the settlement, stocked up with supplies and returned to their search.

This time they did find gold, in the Tanana Hills, northeast of Fairbanks.

Pedroni died in July, 1910 at age 52 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Fairbanks - which by then had grown rapidly to be the largest city in Alaska - reportedly of a heart attack.

This was later disputed by business partner Vincenzo Gambiani, who suspected Pedroni's Irish wife, Mary Ellen Doran, of poisoning him.

The inscription on Felice Pedroni's simple grave in Fanano, the town near his birthplace in Emilia-Romagna
The inscription on Felice Pedroni's simple grave in Fanano,
the town near his birthplace in Emilia-Romagna
Pedroni had intended to marry an Italian girl and, in fact, returned to Italy in 1906 a wealthy man, in search of a bride. He thought he had found one in Egle Zanetti, a young teacher from Lizzano in Belvedere with whom he fell in love. She turned down his proposal, however, and returned to Alaska, heartbroken.

By contrast, Mary Doran was said to be a saloon girl of loose morals. Gambiani believed she killed Pedroni so that she might inherit his fortune.

Pedroni’s body was initially shipped to Colma, near San Francisco, to be buried, which is where it remained until October, 1972, when it was found, exhumed, and moved to Italy to be re-interred in Fanano. First, however, some hair samples were tested, the results of which reportedly supported the theory that Pedroni had been murdered.

Today, Pedroni is remembered in Alaska as one of the founding fathers of Fairbanks. In 1947, the Felice Pedroni Monument was erected on the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks, near what is still known as Pedro Creek. The annual Fairbanks Golden Days celebration always begins with a rededication of the monument.

The countryside of the Valle di Ospitale, close to Fanano in the Frignano regional park in Emilia-Romagna
The countryside of the Valle di Ospitale, close to Fanano
in the Frignano regional park in Emilia-Romagna
Travel tip:

Fanano is a town of some 2,500 inhabitants within the Regional Park of the Modenese High Apennines, otherwise known as the Frignano regional park, a rich and colourful natural area of lakes and mountains maintained for the growth and preservation of rare species, animals and plants. The park covers 15 thousand hectares, rising to a height of 2,165 metres (7,100 feet) at the summit of Monte Cimone. Among the several rare species to be found in the park are Alpine Marmots and Apennine Wolves. The area is popular for mountain biking, trekking and orienteering, and snow tracking in the winter. Fanano itself is close to the lakes of Scaffaiolo and Pratignano and the Passo della Croce Arcana, an alpine pass at 1,669m (5,475ft) between outlying areas of Fanano and Cutigliano.

The Ducal Palace in Modena, which dates back to 1635, was once the most sumptuous palace in Europe
The Ducal Palace in Modena, which dates back to 1635, was
once the most sumptuous palace in Europe
Travel tip:

Fanano is just over 60km (37 miles) from the city of Modena, which is well known for a variety of reasons, as a centre of the car industry - Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati all have connections with the city - the home of balsamic vinegar, and the birthplace of the great tenor, Luciano Pavarotti. One of the main sights in Modena is the huge, baroque Ducal Palace, which was begun by Francesco I d’Este, Duke of Modena, on the site of a former castle in 1635. His architect, Luigi Bartolomeo Avanzini, created a home for him that few European princes could match at the time. The palace is now home to the Italian national military academy. In the Galleria Estense, on the upper floor of the Palazzo dei Musei in Modena, there is a  one-metre high bust of Francesco by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

More reading:

The Italian origins of San Francisco's Ghirardelli Chocolate Company

How Gaetano Merola founded the San Francisco Opera

Carlo Camillo di Rudio - the Italian aristocrat who fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn

Also on this day:

1118: The death of Adelaide del Vasto, Countess of Sicily

1839: The birth of politician Antonio Di Rudini, twice Italy's prime minister

1881: The birth of magazine artist Fortunino Matania


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15 April 2019

15 April

Leonardo da Vinci – painter and inventor


Artist regarded as most talented individual ever to have lived

Leonardo da Vinci, painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect and engineer, was born on this day in 1452 near Vinci in Tuscany. Leonardo’s genius epitomises the Renaissance ideal of possessing all round accomplishments and his wall painting of the Last Supper and his portrait of the Mona Lisa are among the most popular and influential artworks of all time. His surviving notebooks reveal a spirit of scientific enquiry and a mechanical inventiveness that were centuries ahead of their time. Leonardo was apprenticed to Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence when he was 15, in whose workshop he was trained in painting and sculpting. There are many superb pen and pencil drawings still in existence from this period, including sketches of military weapons and apparatus.  Read more…

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Filippo Brunelleschi – architect


Genius who designed the largest brick dome ever constructed

One of the founding fathers of the Renaissance, Filippo Brunelleschi, died on this day in 1446 in Florence. He is remembered for developing a technique for linear perspective in art and for building the dome of Florence Cathedral. His achievements also included sculpture, mathematics, engineering and ship design. Brunelleschi was born in 1377 in Florence. According to his biographer, Antonio Manetti, and the historian Giorgio Vasari, Filippo was enrolled in the silk merchants guild, which also included goldsmiths and metal workers, and he became a master goldsmith in 1398.  Brunelleschi’s first architectural commission was the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Foundling Hospital) in Florence. In 1418, he won competition to design the dome of the new cathedral in Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore. The dome, still the largest brick-built dome in the world, would take up most of the rest of Brunelleschi’s life and its success has been attributed to his technical and mathematical genius. Read more…

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Jacopo Riccati – mathematician


Venetian nobleman who was fascinated by Maths

Respected mathematician Jacopo Francesco Riccati, who had an equation named after him, died on this day in 1754 in Treviso. He had devoted his life to the study of mathematical analysis, turning down many prestigious academic posts offered to him. He is chiefly remembered for the Riccati differential equation, which he spent many years studying. Riccati was born in 1676 in Venice. His father, Conte Montino Riccati, was from a noble family of landowners and his mother was from the powerful Colonna family. His father died when Riccati was only ten years old, leaving him a large estate at Castelfranco Veneto. After receiving a doctorate in law in 1696 be began to study mathematical analysis. He was invited to Russia by Peter the Great to be president of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, also to Vienna to be an imperial councillor, and he was offered a professorship at the University of Padua, but he declined them all, preferring to remain on his estate with his family studying on his own. Read more...

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14 April 2019

14 April

Gianni Rodari - children’s author


Writer whose books reflect the struggles of the lower classes in society

Writer and journalist Gianni Rodari, who became famous for creating Cipollino, a children’s book character, died on this day in 1980 in Rome. Regarded as the best modern writer for children in Italian, Rodari had been awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for children’s literature in 1970, which gained him an international reputation. Cipollino, which means Little Onion, fought the unjust treatment of his fellow vegetable characters by the fruit royalty, such as Prince Lemon and the overly proud Tomato, in the garden kingdom. The main themes of the stories are the struggle of the underclass against the powerful, good versus evil and the importance of friendship in the face of difficulties. Read more…

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Lamberto Dalla Costa -- Olympic bobsleigh champion


Fighter pilot who became first Italian to win a Gold medal

Lamberto Dalla Costa, part of the team that brought Italy its first gold medal for Olympic bobsleigh, was born on this day in 1920 in Crespano del Grappa, a small town in the Veneto. Dalla Costa was an adventurous individual with a passion for flying. He joined the Italian Air Force as a volunteer during World War Two and became a combat pilot who rose eventually to the rank of air marshall.  When Italy was chosen to host the 1956 Winter Olympics at Cortina d'Ampezzo they was a tradition of looking towards the military to provide the crews for the bobsleigh events and Dalla Costa was selected, even though he had never been involved with high-level competitive sport, after demonstrating the right level of skill and discipline. Read more...

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Girolamo Riario - papal military leader


Assassinated after failed attempt to unseat Medici family

Girolamo Riario, the 15th century governor of Imola and Forlì who was part of a major plot to displace the powerful Medici family as rulers of Florence, was assassinated on this day in 1488. Riario, a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV who had appointed him Captain General of the Church, was unpopular with his subjects as a result of imposing high taxes, but his murder was thought to be an attempt by the noble Orsi family of Forlì to seize control of the city. Two members of the family, Checco and Ludovico, led a group of assassins armed with swords into government palace, where Riario was set upon.  Despite the presence of guards, Riario was stabbed and slashed repeatedly.  Eventually, his dead body was left in a local piazza, surrounded by a crowd celebrating his demise, as the Orsi brothers and their gang looted the palace. Read more...

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Gasparo da Salò – violin maker


Founder of the Brescian school of stringed instrument craftsmen

One of Italy’s earliest violin makers, Gasparo da Salò, died on this day in 1609 in Brescia. He developed the art of string making to a high level and his surviving instruments are still admired and revered. Da Salò was born Gasparo Bertolotti in Salò, a resort on Lake Garda in 1542. His father and uncle were violinists and composers and his cousin, Bernardino, was a violinist at the Este court in Ferrara and at the Gonzaga court in Mantua. Bertolotti received a good musical education and was referred to as ‘a talented violone player’ in a 1604 document about the music at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. Bertolotti moved to Brescia on the death of his father and set up shop in an area where there were other instrument makers. He became known as Gasparo da Salò and his workshop quickly became one of the most important in Europe. Read more...


Gianni Rodari - children’s author

Writer whose books reflect the struggles of the lower classes in society


Gianni Rodari originally trained to be a schoolteacher
Gianni Rodari originally trained to
be a schoolteacher 
Writer and journalist Gianni Rodari, who became famous for creating Cipollino, a children’s book character, died on this day in 1980 in Rome.

Regarded as the best modern writer for children in Italian, Rodari had been awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for children’s literature in 1970, which gained him an international reputation.

Cipollino, which means Little Onion, fought the unjust treatment of his fellow vegetable characters by the fruit royalty, such as Prince Lemon and the overly proud Tomato, in the garden kingdom.

The main themes of the stories are the struggle of the underclass against the powerful, good versus evil and the importance of friendship in the face of difficulties.

Rodari was born in 1920 in Omegna, a small town on Lake Orta in the province of Novara in northern Italy.

His father died when he was ten years old and Rodari and his two brothers were brought up by their mother in her native village of Gavirate near Varese.

Rodari trained to be a teacher and received his diploma when he was 17. He began to teach elementary classes in rural schools around Varese.

Rodari's character Cippolino, with  Prince Lemon and Tomato
Rodari's character Cippolino, with
Prince Lemon and Tomato
During the Second World War his poor health prevented him from serving in the army but he was forced to join the National Fascist Party to get work.

The shock of losing his two best friends and discovering that his favourite brother, Cesare, had been sent to a German concentration camp led Rodari to join the Italian Communist Party and join the resistance movement.

He had become interested in the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky when he was a young man and after the war he worked for the Communist newspaper, L’Unità, as a journalist.

The Communist Party later made him editor of a new, weekly children’s magazine, Il Pionere.

Rodari published his first books, Il Libro delle Filastrocche and Il Romanzo di Cipollino, in 1951.

He married Maria Teresa Feretti in 1953 and four years later they had a daughter, Paola.

He began making regular trips to the Soviet Union and continued to write for children until the 1970s. Rodari became ill after returning from the Soviet Union in 1979 and died the following year after undergoing an operation in Rome.

Omegna is on the shores of Lake Orta in northeast  Piedmont, about 100km (62 miles) from Turin
Omegna is on the shores of Lake Orta in northeast
Piedmont, about 100km (62 miles) from Turin
Travel tip:

Omegna, where Rodari was born, is a town in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in Piedmont. At 100km (62 miles) northeast of Turin, it is situated at the northernmost point of Lake Orta, which is reputed to be one of Italy’s prettiest small lakes. During the Second World War, Omegna was a centre of partisan resistance against the German-Fascist occupation. For many years the main centre for production of pots and small home appliances in Italy.

Gavirate, 55km (34 miles) north of Milan, is situated on the shore of Lake Varese
Gavirate, 55km (34 miles) north of Milan, is situated
on the shore of Lake Varese
Travel tip:

Rodari and his brothers were brought up in Gavirate, a village near Varese, which is a city in north western Lombardy, situated 55 km (34 miles) north of Milan. Overlooking Lake Varese, the city is home to the Sacro Monte di Varese, the sacred mountain of Varese, a place of pilgrimage and worship and one of the Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

More reading:

How a painful childhood inspired the verse of Giovanni Pascoli

The first Montessori school opens in Rome

Giulio Einaudi, the publisher who defied the Fascists

Also on this day:

1488: The assassination of papal military leader Girolamo Riario

1609: The death of violin maker Gasparo da Salò

1920: The birth of Olympic bobsleigh champion Lamberto della Costa


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