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.

24 June 2019

24 June

Vittorio Storaro - cinematographer


Triple Oscar winner among best in movie history

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, whose work has won three Academy Awards, was born on this day in 1940 in Rome.  Storaro won Oscars for Best Cinematography for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, for the Warren Beatty-directed historical drama Reds in 1981, and for The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertolucci’s story of imperial China, in 1987.  Described as someone for whom cinematography was “not just art and technique but a philosophy as well”, Storaro worked extensively with Bertolucci, for whom he shot the controversial Last Tango in Paris and the extraordinary five-hour epic drama 1900.  He filmed many stories for his cousin, Luigi Bazzoni, collaborated with Coppola on three other movies and recently has worked with Woody Allen, whose latest picture, A Rainy Day in New York, is due to be released next month.  Read more…

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Battle of Solferino


Suffering of soldiers led to the founding of the Red Cross

The Battle of Solferino took place on this day in 1859 south of Lake Garda between Milan and Verona.  It was the last battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs.  The French army under Napoleon III was allied with the Sardinian army commanded by Victor Emmanuel II. Together, they were victorious against the Austrian army led by Emperor Franz Joseph I.  The battle lasted more than nine hours and resulted in thousands of deaths on both sides.  The Austrians were forced to retreat and it was a crucial step towards the eventual unification of Italy under an Italian king.  Jean-Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman, toured the battlefield afterwards and was horrified by what he saw, joining in with the efforts of local people to care for the injured.  Greatly moved by the suffering of the thousands of wounded and dying soldiers, he wrote a book about what he had seen and set about establishing the International Red Cross.  Read more…

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Piero Barone – singer


Young tenor found fame on TV talent show

Piero Barone, one of the three singers who make up the Italian opera and pop group, Il Volo, was born on this day in 1993 in Naro, a town in the province of Agrigento in Sicily.  Il Volo hit the headlines after winning the Sanremo Music Festival in 2015. They came third when they represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest with their hit Grande Amore later that year in Austria and have since acquired growing popularity world wide.  In 2016, the group, together with tenor Placido Domingo, released Notte Magica – A Tribute to the Three Tenors, a live album featuring many of the songs performed by the Three Tenors (Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras) for their iconic concert held at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome on the eve of the Italia ’90 World Cup.  Piero’s musical talent was discovered by his grandfather, Pietro Ognibene, when he was just five years of age. Pietro was a blind musician who had written a song in Sicilian and when Piero sang it for him he was amazed by his voice.  Read more…

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Battle of Custoza


Austrians thwart Italy’s hopes of unifying the peninsula

An army of the recently unified Kingdom of Italy was driven out of Custoza in the Veneto region by Austrian troops on this day in 1866.  Although the Italians had twice the number of soldiers, the Austrians were victorious strategically and drove the Italians back across the Mincio river and out of the area then known as Venetia.  King Victor Emmanuel II’s younger son, Amadeo, was severely wounded in the battle but he survived his injuries and went on to reign briefly as King of Spain from 1870 to 1873.  The German Kingdom of Prussia had declared war on the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy seized the opportunity to join forces with Prussia, with the intention of annexing Venetia and uniting the Italian peninsula. The Austrian Imperial army joined up with the Venetian army.  The Italians divided their troops into two armies, one led by General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora, accompanied by the King, and the other led by Enrico Cialdini.  La Marmora’s troops crossed the Mincio river and invaded Venetia.   Read more…

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Vittorio Storaro - cinematographer

Triple Oscar winner among best in movie history



Vittorio Storaro has won three Oscars as one of film's greatest cinematographers
Vittorio Storaro has won three Oscars as
one of film's greatest cinematographers
Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, whose work has won three Academy Awards, was born on this day in 1940 in Rome.

Storaro won Oscars for Best Cinematography for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, for the Warren Beatty-directed historical drama Reds in 1981, and for The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertolucci’s story of imperial China, in 1987.

Described as someone for whom cinematography was “not just art and technique but a philosophy as well”, Storaro worked extensively with Bertolucci, for whom he shot the controversial Last Tango in Paris and the extraordinary five-hour epic drama 1900.

He filmed many stories for his cousin, Luigi Bazzoni, collaborated with Coppola on three other movies and recently has worked with Woody Allen, whose latest picture, A Rainy Day in New York, is due to be released next month.

Storaro inherited his love of the cinema from his father, who was a projectionist at the Lux Film Studio, which was based in Rome from 1940 having been established in Turin by the anti-Fascist businessman Riccardo Gualino in 1934.

Storaro at the Portuguese Academy in 2017 to receive a lifetime achievement award
Storaro at the Portuguese Academy in 2017
to receive a lifetime achievement award
He began studying photography at the age of 11, enrolled at the CIAC (Italian Cinemagraphic Training Centre) and continued his education at the state cinematography school Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, the institute created by Mussolini, who was intrigued by the movie boom and wanted to see Rome become one of the most important film-making centres in the world.

When Storaro enrolled at age of 18, he was one of the youngest students in the centre’s history.

Soon finding work as a camera operator, Storaro drew inspiration from visiting art galleries and studying the works of great painters, which helped him understand how light and darkness could be used to create different effects.

It is said that his philosophy is largely based by the 18th century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's theory of colours, which explores the psychological effects created by different colours have and the way in which colours influence our perceptions of different situations.

He worked as as an assistant cameraman on Before the Revolution (1964), one of the first films directed by Bertolucci. His long collaboration with Bertolucci began to develop when he was credited as cinematographer on The Spider's Stratagem in 1970.

Bernardo Bertolucci worked with Storaro on several films
Bernardo Bertolucci worked with
Storaro on several films
Later in the same year, he shot Bertolucci’s political drama The Conformist, based on the novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia. Following Last Tango in Paris in 1972, they would work together on Luna (1979), The Sheltering Sky (1990) and Little Buddha (1993), as well as The Last Emperor.

His collaboration with Beatty generated another Oscar nomination, for Dick Tracy in 1990.

Storaro worked outside Italy for the first time on Apocalypse Now (1979), for which director Coppola gave him free rein on the film's visual look.

He had at first been reluctant to take on the assignment because he considered Gordon Willis to be Coppola's cinematographer, but Coppola wanted him, having been impressed by Storaro’s filming of the star of Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando, in Last Tango in Paris. 

Some great moments of in late 20th century cinema resulted from their collaboration. They would work together again on One from the Heart (1981) and Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) and the Life without Zoe segment of New York Stories (1989).

In addition to his three Oscars, Storaro won a BAFTA for Best Cinematography for Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky (1990), as well as a Primetime Emmy Award, a Goya Award, and a David di Donatello Silver Ribbon Award, in addition to numerous lifetime achievement honours from various film organizations, including, in 2017, the George Eastman Award for distinguished contribution to the art of film.

With his son Fabrizio, he created the Univisium format system to unify all future theatrical and television movies into one respective aspect ratio of 2:1. His first work with the format was the television science fiction mini-series Dune in 2000.

The Cinecittà studios in Rome are the largest in Europe
The Cinecittà studios in Rome are the largest in Europe
Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome is the largest film studio in Europe, spreading over an area of 100 acres with  22 stages and 300 dressing rooms. Situated six miles south of the city centre, it is the hub of the Italian film industry. Built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio, the studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there.

The Palazzo del Podestà in Parma
The Palazzo del Podestà in Parma
Travel tip:

Much of the location shooting for 1900, the colossal movie Storaro shot for Bernardo Bertolucci, took place in Parma, the historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the true ‘parmesan’. In 1545 the city was given as a duchy to the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, whose descendants ruled Parma till 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regio.

More reading:

Why Last Tango in Paris caused outrage

Francesco Rosi and the birth of neorealism

Luchino Visconti, the aristocrat of Italian cinema

Also on this day:

1866: Austria defeats Italy at the Battle of Custoza

1859: Italy sees off the French at the Battle of Solferino

1993: The birth of Piero Barone, tenor with Il Volo

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23 June 2019

23 June

Giuseppina Tuissa - partisan


Key figure in capture and execution of Mussolini

Giuseppina Tuissa, who was among a group of partisans who captured the deposed Fascist leader Benito Mussolini as he tried to escape to Switzerland in 1945, was born on this day in 1923 in Abbiategrasso, near Milan.  Tuissa and her comrades seized Mussolini at Dongo, a small town on the shores of Lake Como, on April 27, 1945, along with his mistress Clara Petacci.  Having heard that Hitler was preparing to surrender to the Allies, Mussolini was trying to reach Switzerland before flying on to Spain in the hope of finding refuge under Franco’s nationalist dictatorship.  He and Petacci and their entourage were executed at the village of Giulino di Mezzegra the following day before the partisan group took their bodies to be put on public display in Milan.  Tuissa, however, would herself be killed less than a couple of months later, probably at the hands of fellow partisans who suspected her of betraying comrades. Read more…

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Francesca Schiavone – tennis player


First Italian woman to win a Grand Slam

French Open tennis winner Francesca Schiavone was born on this day in 1980 in Milan.  When she won her title at Roland Garros in 2010 she became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam event in singles. She was the runner-up in the French Open final the following year.  To date she is also the last one-handed backhand player to win a Grand Slam title on the women’s tour.  Schiavone has won six titles on the WTA tour and has also been the runner up in events 11 times.  Her highest career ranking is World Number Four, which she achieved in January 2011.  She has helped Italy win the Federation Cup in 2006, 2009 and 2010 and she has had the most wins for the Italian team.  She also appeared in the women’s doubles final at the 2008 French Open.  Read more…

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Claudio Capone – actor and dubber


The Italian voice of a host of stars

Italy lost one of its most famous voices on this day in 2008 with the premature death of Claudio Capone.  The Rome-born actor was working in Scotland when he suffered a stroke. He was admitted to hospital in Perth but despite the best efforts of doctors he died two days later, at the age of only 55.  Although he began his career with the ambitions of any actor to reach the top of his profession, he was offered an opportunity only a few years out of drama school to do some voice-over work and found the flow of work in dubbing to be so consistent he ultimately made it his career.  Unlike some countries, Italian cinema and TV audiences have always preferred to watch imported films and TV shows with dubbed Italian voices rather than subtitles, which meant that a talented dubbing actor was seldom unemployed.  Capone was among the best and it was down to him that many foreign stars became famous in Italy, even though many did not speak a word of Italian.  Read more…

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22 June 2019

22 June

Galileo Galilei convicted of heresy


'Father of Science' forced to deny that earth revolved around sun

One of the more bizarre episodes in the history of human intellectual advancement took place in Rome on this day in 1633 when Galileo Galilei, the brilliant astronomer, mathematician, philosopher and engineer – often described as ‘the father of science’ - was convicted of heresy.  His crime was to support the view – indeed, to confirm it with scientific proof – that the sun rather than the earth was the centre of the solar system, as had been theorised by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus in the previous century.  This flew completely in the face of a major plank of orthodox Roman Catholic beliefs, within which the contention that the sun moved around the earth was regarded as a fact of scripture that could not be disputed.  Galileo, something of a celebrity in his day who won the patronage of such powerful Italian families as the Medicis and the Barberinis following the discoveries he made with his astronomical telescope, was summoned to Rome for trial by Inquisition in 1633 and despite the strength of his evidence was found guilty of heresy. Read more…

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Walter Bonatti - mountaineer


Climber's outstanding career marred by 50-year row

Walter Bonatti, the Italian who some would argue is the greatest alpine mountain climber that ever lived, was born on this day in 1930 in Bergamo in Lombardy.  He was the first to complete some of the most demanding climbs in the Alps and the Himalayas, including the first solo climb in winter of the North face of the Matterhorn.  But those achievements were marred for half a century by the bitter row that sprang from the part he played in the 1954 Italian expedition to conquer K2, the 8,611-metre peak north-east of the Himalayas that is the second highest in the world - behind Mount Everest (8,848 metres) - but is regarded as the more difficult climb.  Incredibly fit and able to survive at high altitudes without oxygen, he was already such an accomplished climber at just 24 years of age that he was chosen to join the expedition, which aimed to succeed where five previous attempts over 52 years had failed.  The row stemmed from the decision taken by expedition leader Ardito Desio as the party neared the summit that the more experienced Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni should be the climbers to make the final ascent, even though Bonatti was in better physical condition than either.  Read more…

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Lucrezia Tornabuoni - political adviser


Medici wife one of most powerful women of the Renaissance

Lucrezia Tornabuoni, who became one of the most influential and therefore powerful women in 15th century Italy through family connections and her own political and business acumen, was born on this day in 1427 in Florence.  Connected by birth to the powerful Tornabuoni family on her father’s side and the Guicciardinis through her mother, Lucrezia entered a third powerful family when she married Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici.  Yet she was an important figure in her own right, revealing politic skill and a talent for diplomacy during her husband’s time as de facto leader of Florence and when their son, Lorenzo, succeeded him.  She was also a successful property owner, buying houses, shops and farms in and around Pisa and Florence, which she would then lease out. She bought and renovated a hot spring, Bagno a Morba, turning it into a resort and spa for paying guests.  And she enhanced her popularity in Florence by supporting religious convents and working with them to help widows and orphans. Read more…

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21 June 2019

21 June

Pier Luigi Nervi - architect


Striking designs from football stadiums to churches

The brilliant structural engineer and architect Pier Luigi Nervi was born on this day in 1891 in Sondrio, an Alpine town in northern Lombardy at the heart of the Valtellina.  Nervi made his mark with a number of strikingly original designs at home and abroad and was noted both for his innovative use of reinforced concrete and his multi-dimensional designs, which enabled him to create structures that were both strong and elegant.  His major works in Italy include the Palazzo del Lavoro in Turin, the bell tower of the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore in Florence and the Papal Audience Hall at the Vatican City, as well as a number of important sports facilities.  The Stadio Artemio Franchi (formerly the Stadio Communale) in Florence - home of the Fiorentina football club - was one of his first important projects and he designed several stadia for the Rome Olympics in 1960, including the Stadio Flaminio and the Palazzo dello Sport EUR.  Around the world, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the George Washington Bridge Bus Station in New York, the Stock Exchange Tower in Montreal, St Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco and the Italian Embassy in Brasilia are among Nervi's legacy.  Read more…

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Pope Paul VI


Former pontiff made a saint by Pope Francis

Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini was elected as Pope Paul VI on this day in 1963 in Rome.  He succeeded Pope John XXIII. Pope Paul had been born in Concesio near Brescia in 1897 and was ordained a priest in Brescia in 1920. He took a doctorate in Canon Law in Milan and afterwards studied at various universities, therefore never working as a parish priest.  After the outbreak of the Second World War, he created an information office for prisoners of war and refugees, producing more than 11 million replies to enquiries about missing persons.  He was attacked by Mussolini’s government several times for allegedly meddling in politics.  Pope Pius XII made him archbishop of Milan in 1954 and Pope John XXIII made him Cardinal Priest of SS Silvestro e Martino ai Monti in 1958.  After Pope John XXIII died of stomach cancer in 1963, Cardinal Montini was elected as his successor on the sixth ballot.  Pope Paul VI became the first pope to visit six continents, earning the nickname ‘the Pilgrim Pope.’  A man tried to attack him with a knife after he had arrived at Manila in the Philippines in 1970 but one of his aides managed to push the aggressor away.  Read more…

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Paolo Soleri - architect


Italian greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright

The groundbreaking architect and ecologist Paolo Soleri was born on this day in 1919 in Turin.  Soleri is largely remembered for the Arcosanti project, an experiment in urban design in the Arizona desert influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright that was like no other town on the planet, a unique fusion of architecture and ecology.  Originally conceived as providing a completely self-sufficient urban living space for 5,000 people when it began in 1970, only about five per cent of the proposed development was ever completed.  At its peak, Arcosanti’s population barely exceeded 200 yet the buildings Soleri erected in accordance with his vision are still there, rising from the desert as an assortment of concrete blocks, domes and soaring vaults.  In Italy, in 1954 he built an extraordinary factory for a producer of ceramics in Vietri sul Mare, of which the exterior interspersed conical shapes covered with multi-coloured ceramic tiles and inverted triangles of glass.  Among many wonders of Campania’s spectacular Amalfi coast, the Ceramica Artistica Solimene is a tourist attraction in its own right.  Read more…

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20 June 2019

20 June

Valerio Evangelisti - novelist


Writer's stories of the Inquisition are bestsellers

The bestselling novelist Valerio Evangelisti, best known for his science fiction, fantasy, historical novels and horror stories, was born in Bologna on this day in 1952.  He is famous in Italy for his series of novels featuring the inquisitor Nicolas Eymerich and for the Magus trilogy, all of which have been translated into many languages. Eymerich is a real historical character, a member of the order of the Dominicans and of the Spanish Inquisition who was born in 1320 in Girona, Catalonia.  Evangelisti portrays him as a cruel and ruthless man who acts without mercy to protect the Catholic Church against threats of both natural and supernatural origin.  Evangelisti uses the Eymerich novels to investigate the mysterious phenomena in medieval Europe that strategically influenced the great historical events of the time, creating a dark and nightmarish picture of the epoch.  Read more…

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Luigi de Magistris - politician


Popular and progressive Mayor of Naples

Luigi de Magistris, who became Mayor of Naples with a shock win in the 2011 local elections, was born on this day in 1967.  A former public prosecutor with a reputation for standing up against corruption and organised crime, De Magistris was the Member of the European Parliament for Southern Italy between 2009 and 2011, when he ran for Italy of Values, the centre-left party founded by another former magistrate, Antonio di Pietro.  He stood in the 2011 mayoral elections in Naples with the support of minor parties on the left and the right and won in the second round of voting with 65 per cent of the vote, defeating Gianni Lettieri, the candidate for a centre right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party. In office, De Magistris has faced difficult times because of the city’s precarious financial situation, which at times has seen local transport suspended because fuel bills were not paid and rubbish piling up in the streets because of continuing problems with the disposal of domestic refuse that had reached a peak in 2008.  Read more…

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Giannina Arangi-Lombardi – opera singer


Soprano’s superb voice was captured in early recordings

Soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi was born on this day in 1891 in Marigliano near Naples in Campania.  She studied singing at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella in Naples and made her debut on the stage in Rome in 1920. Arangi-Lombardi sang mezzo-soprano roles for the next three years at theatres in Rome, Sicily, Parma, Florence and Naples.  She then underwent further study and returned to the stage as what is known as a spinto soprano, a singer who can reach the high notes of the lyric soprano but can also achieve dramatic climaxes with her voice.  Arangi-Lombardi’s second debut, this time as a soprano, was in 1923. The first time she sang the role of Aida in Verdi's opera of the same name the audience was stunned by her voice and her fame quickly spread.  She appeared on stage at Teatro alla Scala in Milan for the first time in 1924 singing Elena in Boito’s Mefistofele. The orchestra for her debut performance was conducted by Arturo Toscanini.  Read more…

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Valerio Evangelisti - novelist

Writer's stories of the Inquisition are bestsellers


Valerio Evangelisti is best known for his science fiction,
fantasy and historical novels, popular across Europe
The bestselling novelist Valerio Evangelisti, best known for his science fiction, fantasy, historical novels and horror stories, was born in Bologna on this day in 1952.

He is famous in Italy for his series of novels featuring the inquisitor Nicolas Eymerich and for the Magus trilogy, all of which have been translated into many languages.

Eymerich is a real historical character, a member of the order of the Dominicans and of the Spanish Inquisition who was born in 1320 in Girona, Catalonia.  Evangelisti portrays him as a cruel and ruthless man who acts without mercy to protect the Catholic Church against threats of both natural and supernatural origin.

Evangelisti uses the Eymerich novels to investigate the mysterious phenomena in medieval Europe that strategically influenced the great historical events of the time, creating a dark and nightmarish picture of the epoch.

The Magus trilogy is a romanticized biography of the famous Middle Ages writer of prophecies, Nostradamus. The three novels, Il presagio (The Omen), L’inganno (The Deceit) and L'abisso (The Abyss) were also bestsellers in Italy.

Evangelisti had a job at the
Treasury Department 
Evangelisti graduated with a degree in Political Science from the University of Bologna in 1976 with a historical-political thesis. He began a career in the Ministero delle Finanze (Treasury Department), but wrote in his spare time, mainly historical essays, books and articles.

In 1993, his first novel, entitled Nicolas Eymerich, inquisitore won the Urania Award, established by a magazine with the aim of discovering new talent in the field. He wrote more novels in the series, at a rate of approximately one a year until 2002, after which they became less frequent. He returned to the character from time to time, however. The most recent, Il fantasma di Eymerich - Eymerich’s phantom - was published only last year.

Evangelisti's novels are popular in France (where he won several literary awards), Spain, Germany and Portugal as well as in his home country. Some recent works reflect his enthusiasm for heavy metal music, namely the short stories collection Metallo urlante (referring to the French magazine Metal Hurlant).

He has written other novels set during the American Civil War, while one of his latest novels, Noi saremo tutto - We Shall Be All - spans several decades of the last century, exploring the life of Eddie Florio, an Italian-American gangster, against the background of the history of the trade unions and the workers' battles for civil rights, including many real-life characters from the New York underworld.

Evangelisti, who has a home in Mexico as well as in his native Bologna, sets two novels - Il collare di fuoco (The Fire Collar) and Il collare spezzato (The Broken Collar) - in the Central American country, as well as another - Tortuga, a story about pirates - in the Caribbean.

A lifelong Communist, Evangelisti stood as an independent candidate in the 2009 European elections in the Anticapitalist List (formed by the union between the Communist Refoundation and the Italian Communist Party in the so-called Federation of the Left) and in 2011 in the administrative elections for the municipality of Bologna for the Federation of the Left.

He is now a vocal backer of the extreme left-wing list of Power to the People.

Piazza Maggiore is the hub of the historic city of Bologna
Piazza Maggiore is the hub of the historic city of Bologna
Travel tip:

The history of Bologna, one of Italy's oldest cities, can be traced back to 1,000BC or possibly earlier, with a settlement that was developed into an urban area by the Etruscans, the Celts and the Romans.  The University of Bologna, the oldest in the world, was founded in 1088.  Bologna's city centre, which has undergone substantial restoration since the 1970s, is one of the largest and best preserved historical centres in Italy, characterised by 38km (24 miles) of walkways protected by porticoes.  At the heart of the city is the beautiful Piazza Maggiore, dominated by the Gothic Basilica of San Petronio, which at 132m long, 66m wide and with a facade that touches 51m at its tallest, is the 10th largest church in the world and the largest built in brick.

The Archiginnasio at the  University of Bologna
The Archiginnasio at the
University of Bologna
Travel tip:

Bologna University, where Evangelisti studied, was founded in 1088 and is the oldest university in the world. The oldest surviving building, the Archiginnasio, is now a library and is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 7 pm, and on Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm. It is a short walk away from Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica di San Petronio in the centre of the city.

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