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.

16 July 2019

16 July

Andrea del Sarto – painter


The brief career of an artist ‘senza errori’

Renaissance artist Andrea del Sarto was born Andrea d’Agnolo di Francesco di Luca di Paolo del Migliore on this day in 1486 in Florence.  He had a brilliant career but died at the age of 43 during an outbreak of plague and afterwards his achievements were eclipsed by the talents of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.  Andrea’s father, Agnolo, was a tailor and therefore the child became known as del Sarto, meaning son of the tailor.  As a young boy del Sarto was apprenticed to a goldsmith and then a woodcarver before being sent to learn to be an artist.  He decided to open a joint studio with an older friend, Franciabigio, and from 1509 onwards they were employed to paint a series of frescoes at Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence. Del Sarto also painted a Procession of the Magi, in which he included a self-portrait, and a Nativity of the Virgin for the entrance to the church.  After spending a year as court painter to Francis I of France in 1518, del Sarto returned home to his wife and was offered a major commission by the Medici family, to decorate the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano near Florence. Read more…

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Vincenzo Gemito - sculptor


Neapolitan who preserved figures from local street life

Vincenzo Gemito, one of the sculptors responsible for eight statues of former kings that adorn the western façade of the Royal Palace in Naples, was born on this day in 1852.  The statues are in niches along the side of the palace that fronts on to the Piazza del Plebiscito, displayed in chronological order beginning with Roger the Norman, also known as Roger II of Sicily, who ruled in the 12th century, and ends with Vittorio Emanuele II, who was on the throne when his kingdom became part of the united Italy in 1861.  Gemito sculpted the fifth statue in the sequence, that of Charles V, who was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556 and, by virtue of being king of Spain from 1516 to 1556, also the king of Naples.  Born in Naples, Gemito’s first steps in life were difficult ones.  The son of a poor woodcutter, he was taken by his mother the day after his birth to the orphanage attached to the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata Maggiore in the centre of the city and left on the steps.  He was brought up by a family who adopted him after two weeks at the orphanage. Read more…

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St Clare of Assisi


Birth of the founder of the Poor Clares

St Clare was born on this day in 1194 in Assisi as Chiara Offreduccio, the beautiful daughter of a Count.  As a young girl Clare was extremely devout and at the age of 18 she was inspired by hearing Francis of Assisi preach and went to see him to ask for help to live her life according to the Gospel.  In 1212, Clare left her father’s home and went to the chapel of Porziuncula to meet Francis. Her hair was cut off and she was given a plain robe and veil in exchange for her rich gown.  Clare joined a convent of Benedictine nuns and when her father tracked her down refused to leave it to return home.  Francis sent her to another monastery, where she was later joined by her sister. Over the years other women came to be with them who also wanted to serve Jesus and live with no money. They became known as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano because of the austere lifestyle they lived.  Clare took care of St Francis when he became old and after his death continued to lead her Order of Poor Women in the Franciscan tradition. Read more… 

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15 July 2019

15 July

Frances Xavier Cabrini – the first American saint


Missionary who was directed to the US by the Pope

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, who founded a religious institute to provide support for impoverished Italian immigrants in the United States, was born on this day in 1850 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, in Lombardy.  Frances went on to become the first naturalised citizen of the United States to be canonised in 1946.  She had been born into a family of cherry tree farmers, the youngest of 13 children. She was two months premature and remained in delicate health all her life.  After her parents died she applied for admission to the Daughters of the Sacred Heart but was told she was too frail for the life.  She became the headmistress of an orphanage in Codogno, about 30km (19 miles) from her home town and took religious vows in 1877. Along with other women who had taken religious vows, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Frances went to seek Pope Leo X’s approval to establish missions in China but he suggested she went to the United States instead, to help the many Italian immigrants who were living in poverty.  Read more…

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Guido Crepax - cartoonist


Erotic character Valentina captured spirit of 1960s Italy

The cartoonist Guido Crepax, whose character Valentina became a heroine of the 1960s generation in Italy and beyond, was born on this day in 1933 in Milan.  Valentina first appeared in May 1965 as a secondary character in another cartoon, the photographer girlfriend of an art critic and amateur sleuth.  But the sinuous, sensual female depicted by Crepax, her hair cut in a glossy bob, soon acquired fans both male and female.  In an era when Italian society was beginning to experience a sense of sexual liberation for the first time, Valentina’s eroticism naturally attracted a legion of male fans. But her assertive individuality struck a chord with many modern Italian women, too, even if her readiness to shed her clothes caused outrage among others.  Soon, Valentina left behind her fictional boyfriend and starred in a series of her own adventures, which Crepax continued to produce for three decades. She was outspoken in her left-wing political views, while her uninhibited fantasies increasingly reflected the world of dreams and psychoanalysis that fascinated her creator.  Read more…

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Fire damages St Paul Outside-the-Walls


Beautiful Basilica was faithfully rebuilt and restored

A blaze nearly destroyed the ancient Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls (Basilica Papale San Paolo Fuori Le Mura) in Rome on this day in 1823.   A workman repairing the lead in the church roof accidentally started a fire that burnt down the Basilica, which dated back to the third century and was unique in Rome, having retained its primitive style.  St Paul Outside-the-Walls is one of four major Papal Basilicas in Rome, along with St John in the Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano), St Peter’s (San Pietro in Vaticano) and St Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore).  After the fire, Pope Leo XII appealed for donations to help rebuild the church in exactly the same style.  The Basilica was reopened in 1840 and reconsecrated in 1855 in the presence of Pope Pius IX.  The redecoration was helped by contributions from all over the world, including pillars of alabaster from Egypt and malachite and lapis lazuli from Russia.  The Italian Government funded the work on the façade and declared the Church a national monument.  Read more…

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14 July 2019

14 July

Palmiro Togliatti – politician


Communist leader gunned down near Italian parliament

The leader of the Italian Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti, was shot three times on this day in 1948 near Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome.  Togliatti was seriously wounded and for several days it was not certain that he would survive, causing a political crisis in Italy.  Three months before the shooting, Togliatti had led the Communists in the first democratic election in Italy after the Second World War, which would elect the first Republican parliament.  He lost to the Christian Democrats after a confrontational campaign in which the United States played a big part, viewing Togliatti as a Cold War enemy.  On July 14, Togliatti was shot three times near the Parliament building. It was described as an assassination attempt, the perpetrator of which was named as Antonio Pallante, an anti-Communist student with mental health problems. While the Communist leader’s life hung in the balance a general strike was called.  He eventually recovered and was able to continue as head of the party until his death in 1964.  Read more…


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Collapse of St Mark’s Campanile


Dramatic fall of instantly recognisable symbol of Venice

The bell tower (Campanile) in St Mark’s Square in Venice collapsed on this day in 1902.  No one was killed but the Biblioteca Marciana nearby was partially damaged by its fall.  A crack had appeared in one of the walls of the bell tower a few days before and at approximately 9.45 am on Monday, 14 July, the entire structure collapsed into a heap of rubble.  Venetians regarded the event as a tragedy. The bell tower, just short of 100 metres (328ft) tall, had stood for around 1,000 years and was seen as symbolic of the city.  Built on foundations of wood and mud, however, there was always the danger it would become unstable over time.  On the evening of the day of the collapse, the Venice authorities approved funding for the reconstruction of the Campanile in exactly the same place in the piazza, to be built to resemble how it looked after 16th century improvements to the original ninth century design.  The rubble was painstakingly removed from the square, loaded on to barges and dumped in the sea about five miles offshore from Venice Lido.  Read more…


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Camillus de Lellis - saint


Reformed gambler who became devoted to caring for sick

Camillo de Lellis, a gambler and streetfighter who reformed his life and eventually set up a religious order to tend the wounds of soldiers on the battlefield, died on this day in 1614 in Rome.  He was made Saint Camillus de Lellis by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746. Nowadays he is recognised as the patron saint of the sick, hospitals, nurses and physicians. Sometimes his assistance is also invoked by individuals with gambling problems.  The Order of Clerks Regular, Ministers of the Infirm (M.I), better known as the Camillians, is seen as the original Red Cross on account of an incident during the Battle of Canizza in 1601, when a tent containing all of the Camillians’ equipment and supplies was destroyed in a fire.  Among the ashes, the red cross from the back of a religious habit belonging to one of the Camillians was found to have survived. It became known as the Red Cross of Camillus. It was on an inspection tour of hospitals around Italy that he fell ill and died. He had suffered periods of illness most of his adult life, mainly on account of a leg wound suffered while serving in the Venetian army. Read more…

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13 July 2019

13 July

Jarno Trulli - racing driver and winemaker


Ex-Formula One star still winning prizes

The racing driver-turned-winemaker Jarno Trulli was born on this day in 1974 in Pescara on the Adriatic coast.  Trulli competed in Formula One from 1997 until 2011, competing in more than 250 Grand Prix.  He enjoyed his most successful season in 2004, when he represented the Mild Seven Renault team and finished sixth in the drivers’ championship.  He retired from racing in 2014-15 to focus on his winemaking business, which he had established while still competing and which now produces more than 1.2 million bottles every year.  Trulli’s Podere Castorani vineyard, situated near the village of Alanno, some 35km (22 miles) inland of Pescara, focuses largely on wines made from Abruzzo’s renowned Montepulciano grapes.   Although he was familiar with vineyards as a boy - his grandfather was a winemaker - Trulli’s parents were motorsports fans and named him after a Finnish Grand Prix motorcycling champion, Jarno Saarinen, who had been killed at the Monza circuit the year before Trulli was born.  Trulli began kart racing at the age of seven and by 17 was Karting World Champion.  Read more…


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Tommaso Buscetta - Mafia ‘pentito’


Sicilian gangster’s testimony put hundreds behind bars

The Sicilian mobster Tommaso Buscetta, who was the first major Mafia figure to break the code of omertá and pass details of organised criminal activity to the authorities, was born on this day in 1928 in Palermo.  His evidence to the celebrated anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone paved the way for the so-called Maxi Trial, a process lasting six years that led to the conviction and jailing of 350 mafiosi.  Buscetta’s testimony in the Pizza Connection Trial in New York State at around the same time in the mid-1980s led to the conviction of several hundred more mobsters both in Italy and the United States, including the powerful Sicilian Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti.  Arguably the most shocking information he passed on to the authorities concerned Italy’s three-times former prime minister, the late Giulio Andreotti, whose links with the Cosa Nostra he exposed shortly after Falcone was murdered in May 1992, killed by a massive bomb placed under the motorway linking Palermo with the city’s international airport.  Read more…


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Giulio d’Este of Ferrara


Plots and prison ruin life of handsome son of Duke

Giulio d’Este, who spent more than half of his life in prison for taking part in a failed conspiracy against his half-brother, the Duke of Ferrara, was born on this day in 1478 in Ferrara.  He was the illegitimate son of Ercole I d’Este, an earlier Duke of Ferrara, born as a result of an affair the Duke had with Isabella Arduin, a lady in waiting to his wife.  Giulio was often in conflict with his half-brothers, Alfonso and Ippolito, which led to him eventually playing his part in a plot to assassinate them.  He had grown up in the court of Ferrara and later lived in a palace on the Via degli Angeli in Ferrara.  The first major conflict between Giulio and Ippolito arose over a musician, Don Rainaldo of Sassuolo. Rainaldo was in the service of Giulio, but Ippolito, who had by then become a Cardinal, wanted him for his chapel and so in 1504 he abducted Rainaldo and held him in the Fortress of Gesso.  Read more…

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The founding of the Carabinieri


Italy’s stylish ‘First Force’

The Carabinieri Corps was created on this day in 1814 in Italy by a resolution passed by Victor Emmanuel I of Savoy.  He established an army of mounted and foot soldiers to provide a police force, to be called Royal Carabinieri (Carabinieri Reali). The soldiers were rigorously selected ‘for their distinguished good conduct and judiciousness.’  Their task was defined as ‘to contribute to the necessary happiness of the State, which cannot be separated from protection and defence of all good subjects.’  Their functions were specified in the royal licence issued at the time, which underlined the importance of the personal skills required by the soldiers selected. It also affirmed their dual military and civil roles.  The sense of duty and high level of conduct displayed by the Carabinieri went on to win the respect of the Italian people.  They were called Carabinieri to avoid any comparisons with the former Napoleonic gendarmerie, and because they were equipped with carbines as weapons. Their dress uniform was designed to reflect the solemn image of the sovereign state, with a two cornered hat, known as the lucerna, and dark blue dress coat. The uniform is still in use today.  Read more…

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Jarno Trulli - racing driver and winemaker

Ex-Formula One star still winning prizes


Former F1 racing driver Jarno Trulli now produces wine from his Abruzzo vineyard
Former F1 racing driver Jarno Trulli now
produces wine from his Abruzzo vineyard
The racing driver-turned-winemaker Jarno Trulli was born on this day in 1974 in Pescara on the Adriatic coast.

Trulli competed in Formula One from 1997 until 2011, competing in more than 250 Grand Prix.  He enjoyed his most successful season in 2004, when he represented the Mild Seven Renault team and finished sixth in the drivers’ championship.

He retired from racing in 2014-15 to focus on his winemaking business, which he had established while still competing and which now produces more than 1.2 million bottles every year.

Trulli’s Podere Castorani vineyard, situated near the village of Alanno, some 35km (22 miles) inland of Pescara, focuses largely on wines made from Abruzzo’s renowned Montepulciano grapes.

Although he was familiar with vineyards as a boy - his grandfather was a winemaker - Trulli’s parents were motorsports fans and named him after a Finnish Grand Prix motorcycling champion, Jarno Saarinen, who had been killed at the Monza circuit the year before Trulli was born.

Trulli began kart racing at the age of seven and by 17 was Karting World Champion.

The Renault car that Trulli drove to victory at the 2004
Monaco Grand Prix, his only success in Formula 1
He made his debut in Formula Three in 1993 and in 1996, driving for the Benetton-sponsored Opel team, won the German F3 Championship, winning six races from 15 starts.

His F3 success led to him being handed a drive for Minardi in the 1997 F1 season, soon switching to the Prost team to replace an injured driver. He impressed by finishing fourth in the German GP at Hockenheim.

As an F1 driver, he was a respected figure renowned for his skill in qualifying, regularly achieving better grid positions than rivals with superior cars to his own.

On the track, he excelled in a defensive driving style which allowed him successfully to hold off quicker drivers, sometimes for an entire race. Often starting from high grid positions in comparatively slow cars, his skill in denying quicker cars the chance to pass him often resulted in a line of vehicles forming behind him during a race. Commentators began to refer to these lines of frustrated rivals as forming a ‘Trulli Train'.

Trulli was a very capable driver who had a reputation for positioning his car so he could hog the middle ground
Trulli was a very capable driver
 who was difficult to pass
Overall, Trulli’s F1 career was rather unsuccessful.  He was seldom in a car that was competitive enough to be in contention in the closing stages of a race and he managed only 11 podium finishes all told.

He won just one Grand Prix, although it was a memorable one. At Monaco in 2004, driving a Renault, Trulli achieved the first pole position of his career after setting a circuit record for the fastest lap.

Pole position had regularly failed to produce the winner at the Monaco street circuit but in the event Trulli beat the British driver Jenson Button to the first corner and led almost throughout, surrendering first place only briefly - to Michael Schumacher - before coming home almost half a second ahead of Button with Rubens Barrichello third.

It was with the encouragement of his father that Trulli invested in a future in the wine business.

In partnership with his manager, Lucio Cavuto, who also had a winemaking background, Trulli bought the Podere Castorani estate, which dates back to 1793, in 1999.

The label on Trulli's Castorani wines
The label on Trulli's Castorani wines
Between them, the two families invested around £5 million into the business over the next few years, increasing the number of wines in their range year on year and selling more bottles with each vintage.

Podere Castorani wines regularly win prizes and the vineyard was named Winery of the Year in the London Wine Competition in 2018.  Among Trulli's most successful wines are his Jarno Rosso and Majolica, two full-bodied reds made from Montepulciano grapes.

Trulli has generated orders for his company’s wines all over the world, capitalising on his fame as a racing driver by setting up promotion events to coincide with Grand Prix dates.

Married to Barbara, Trulli has two sons, Enzo, born in 2005 and named after Jarno’s father, and Marco, who was born in 2006.

A typical narrow street in medieval Alanno
A typical narrow street in
medieval Alanno
Travel tip:

Alanno is a medieval village situated in the hills between the Cigno stream and the Aterno-Pescara river, some 25km (16 miles) from the ancient city of Chieti. The most important landmark of Alanno is the Renaissance church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, built around 1485, which was built on a sacred site overlooking a valley 3km (2 miles) outside the town. There are also the remains of the village’s castle and medieval walls.  The Wildlife Oasis of Alanno is home to many species of wild birds.

The birthplace of  Gabriele D'Annunzio in Pescara
The birthplace of  Gabriele
D'Annunzio in Pescara
Travel tip:

Pescara, a city of almost 120,000 people on the Adriatic in the Abruzzo region, is known for its 10 miles of clean, sandy beaches, yet is only 50km (31 miles) from the Gran Sasso mountain range, the snow-capped peaks of which are visible even from the coast on a clear winter’s day. The city is the birthplace of the poet, patriot and military leader, Gabriele D’Annunzio. His childhood home, the Casa Natale di Gabriele D’Annunzio, which can be found in the historic centre of the city on the south side of the Fiume Pescara, which bisects the city, houses a museum about his life and works. The Museo delle Genti d'Abruzzo has exhibitions on regional industries like ceramics and olive oil. Pieces by Miró and Picasso are on view at the Vittoria Colonna Museum of Modern Art.

More reading:

How Alex Zanardi went from F1 star to paralympic athlete

Giamperi Moretti - racing driver turned entrepreneur

Elio de Angelis, the last of the 'gentleman racers'





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12 July 2019

12 July

Amedeo Modigliani – artist


Illness marred the life of creative genius 

Painter and sculptor Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was born on this day in 1884 in Livorno in Tuscany.  The artist went on to become famous for his portraits and his paintings of nudes, which were characterised by their elongated faces and figures.  Modigliani did not receive much acclaim during his lifetime, but after his death his work became popular and achieved high prices.  He was born into a Jewish family and suffered health problems as a child, but began drawing and painting from an early age and begged his family to take him to see the paintings in the Uffizi in Florence.  His mother enrolled him at the art school of Guglielmo Micheli in Livorno where he received artistic instruction influenced by the style and themes of 19th century Italian art.  In 1902 Modigliani enrolled in the school of nude studies at the Accademia di Belle Art in Florence and then moved on to Venice to continue his studies.  In 1906 he moved to Paris, where he set up a studio with Jacob Epstein.  Read more…

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Agostino Codazzi - soldier and map-maker


Italian who mapped first route for Panama Canal

Agostino Codazzi, a soldier, scientist, geographer and cartographer who became a national hero in Venezuela and plotted the route for the Panama Canal on behalf of the British government, was born on this day in 1793 in the town of Lugo in Emilia-Romagna.  When the canal was eventually built by United States engineers, they followed the precise route that Codazzi had recommended, although the Italian has not been credited in the history of the project.  Known in Latin America as Agustín Codazzi, he was born Giovanni Battista Agostino Codazzi.  As a young man, he was excited about the French Revolution and the idea of the ruling classes being overthrown by the people in pursuit of a more equitable society.  After attending the Scuola di Artiglieria military academy in Pavia, he joined Napoleon’s army and served with them until the Napoleonic empire collapsed in 1815.  It was then that he decided to travel further afield, finally settling in Venezuela, where he offered his military knowledge to another revolutionary, Simón Bolívar. Read more…

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Stefano della Bella – printmaker


Artist sketched important events preserving them for posterity

Stefano della Bella, who produced hundreds of sketches of court festivities held by the Medici, as well as visual records of important public occasions, died on this day in 1664 in Florence.  Della Bella was a draughtsman and printmaker known for his etchings of military and court scenes. He left more than 1000 prints and several thousand drawings, but only one known painting.  He was born into a family of artists in Florence in 1610 and was apprenticed to a goldsmith. However he went on to become an engraver and studied etching.  Thanks to the patronage of the Medici family, Della Bella was able to study for six years in Rome living in the Medici Palace in the Villa Borghese area.  Della Bella produced views of Rome, drawings of antiquities and sketches of crowded public occasions in a series of sketchbooks, many of which were later turned into prints.  He also made trips to Florence to record Medici court festivities.  Della Bella captured major events of his time, just like a photographer does today. Read more…

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11 July 2019

11 July

Giorgio Armani – designer


Former army medic forged brilliant career in fashion

Giorgio Armani, who is considered by many to be Italy's greatest fashion designer, was born on this day in 1934 in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna.  Known for his menswear and the clean, tailored lines of his collections for women, Armani has become a multi-billionaire.  His original career plan was to become a doctor and he enrolled in the Department of Medicine at the University of Milan but after three years left to join the army. Due to his medical background he was assigned to the military hospital in Verona.  After he left the army, Armani decided to have a complete career change and got a job as a window dresser for La Rinascente, a Milan department store.  He progressed to become a sales assistant in the menswear department and then moved on to work for Nino Cerruti as a menswear designer.  In 1973 Armani opened a design office in Milan from where he worked as a freelance designer for fashion houses. He founded his own company, Giorgio Armani, in Milan in 1975.  Read more…

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Giuseppe Arcimboldo – painter


Portraits were considered unique in the history of art

The artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who created imaginative portrait heads made up entirely of objects such as fruit, vegetables, flowers and fish, died on this day in 1593 in Milan.  Unique at the time, Arcimboldo’s work was greatly admired in the 20th century by artists such as Salvador Dali and his fellow Surrealist painters.  Giuseppe’s father, Biagio Arcimboldo, was also an artist and Giuseppe followed in his footsteps designing stained glass and frescoes for churches.  Arcimboldo (sometimes also known as Arcimboldi) at first painted entirely in the style of the time. His beautiful fresco of the Tree of Jesse can still be seen in the Duomo of Monza.  But in 1562 he abruptly changed his style after moving to Prague to become court painter to the erudite King Rudolph II.  He began to create human heads, which could be considered as portraits, made up of pieces of fruit and vegetable and other objects, which were chosen for the meaning attributed to the image.  Arcimboldo also painted settings for the court theatre in Prague and he became an expert in illusionist trickery.  Read more…

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Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo


The shocking fate of a Spanish noblewoman

The beautiful wife of Don Pietro de' Medici, Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo, was strangled to death with a dog lead on this day in 1576 in a villa near Barberino di Mugello in Tuscany.   The murder was carried out by her husband, Pietro, but he was never brought to justice. His brother, Francesco, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, gave out as the official line that his sister-in-law had died as a result of an accident.  Eleonora, who was more often referred to as Leonora, was born in Florence in 1553, the daughter of Garcia Alvarez di Toledo and Vittoria d’Ascanio Colonna. Her father and mother were living in Florence at the time because Garcia was in charge of the castles of Valdichiano.  When her mother died a few months later, the baby, Leonora, was left in the care of her aunt, Eleonora, the Duchess of Florence, and her husband, the Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, who raised her, preparing her for a life at the Medici court.  After the Duchess, Eleonora, died, her daughter, Isabella, took over the supervision of the young Leonora.  Read more…

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