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.

12 November 2019

12 November

Umberto Giordano - opera composer

Death of the musician remembered for Andrea Chenier

Composer Umberto Giordano died on this day in 1948 in Milan at the age of 81.  He is perhaps best remembered for his opera, Andrea Chenier, a dramatic work about liberty and love during the French Revolution, which was based on the real life story of the romantic French poet, André Chenier.  The premiere of the opera was held at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1896. At the time, its success propelled Giordano into the front rank of up-and-coming Italian composers alongside Pietro Mascagni, to whom he is often compared, and Giacomo Puccini.  Another of Giordano’s works widely acclaimed by both the public and the critics is the opera Fedora.  This had its premiere in 1898 at the Teatro Lirico in Milan. A rising young tenor, Enrico Caruso, played the role of Fedora’s lover, Loris. The opera was a big success and is still performed today.  Some of Giordano’s later works are less well-known but they have achieved the respect of the critics and music experts and are occasionally revived by opera companies.  Giordano was born in Foggia in Puglia in August 1867. He studied under Paolo Serrao at the Conservatoire of Naples.  Read more…


Silvio Berlusconi resigns as PM

Financial crisis brings down 'untouchable' premier 

Silvio Berlusconi resigned as Prime Minister of Italy on this day in 2011. A controversial, polarising figure, he had dominated Italian politics for 17 years.  With Italy in the grip of the economic crisis that had brought severe consequences to other parts of the Euro zone, Berlusconi lost his parliamentary majority a few days earlier and promised to resign when austerity measures demanded by Brussels were passed by both houses of the Italian parliament.  The Senate had approved the measures the day before. When the lower house voted 380-26 in favour, Berlusconi was true to his word, meeting president Giorgio Napoletano within two hours to tender his resignation.  His last journey from the Palazzo Chigi to the Palazzo Quirinale, the respective official residences of the prime minister and the president, was not a dignified one.  When he arrived at the Quirinale, he was booed by a large and somewhat hostile crowd that had gathered, entering the building to shouts of 'buffoon' and 'mafioso'.  A gathering of musicians and singers serenaded him with a version of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah.  After the meeting concluded, he left by a side entrance to avoid further barracking.  Read more…


Giulio Lega – First World War hero

Flying ace survived war to look after health of Italy’s politicians

Credited with five aerial victories during the First World War, the pilot Giulio Lega was born on this day in 1892 in Florence.  After the war he completed his medical studies and embarked on a long career as physician to Italy’s Chamber of Deputies.  Lega had been a medical student when he was accepted by the Italian army for officer training in 1915.  Because he was unusually tall, he became an ‘extended infantryman’ in the Grenadiers. He made his mark with them at the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo, for which he was awarded the War Merit Cross for valour. The following year he won a Bronze Medal for Military Valour in close-quarters combat, which was awarded to him on the battlefield.  Lega volunteered to train as a pilot in 1916 and was sent to Malpensa near Milan. After gaining his licence he was sent on reconnaissance duty during which he earned a Silver Medal for Military Valour. After completing fighter pilot training he joined 76a Squadriglia and went on to fly 46 combat sorties with them.  His first two victories in the air, near Col d’Asiago and over Montello, were shared with two other Italian pilots. During the last Austro-Hungarian offensive he downed a Hansa-Brandenburg C1 over Passagno single-handedly.  Read more…


Treaty of Rapallo 1920

Agreement solves dispute over former Austrian territory

The Treaty of Rapallo between Italy and the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was signed on this day in 1920 in Rapallo near Genoa in Liguria.  It was drawn up to solve the dispute over territories formerly controlled by Austria in the upper Adriatic and Dalmatia, which were known as the Austrian Littoral.  There had been tension between Italy and the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes since the end of the First World War when the Austro-Hungarian empire was dissolved.  Italy had claimed the territories assigned to it by the secret London Pact of 1915 between Italy and the Triple Entente.  The Pact, signed on 26 April 2015, stipulated that in the event of victory in the First World War, Italy was to gain territory formerly controlled by Austria in northern Dalmatia.  These territories had a mixed population but Slovenes and Croats accounted for more than half.  The London Pact was nullified by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the war after pressure from American President Woodrow Wilson. Therefore the objective of the Treaty of Rapallo two years later was to find a compromise.  Read more…


11 November 2019

11 November

Luca Zingaretti - actor

Found fame as TV detective Inspector Montalbano

The actor Luca Zingaretti, best known for his portrayal of Inspector Montalbano in the TV series based on Andrea Camilleri's crime novels, was born on this day in 1961 in Rome.  The Montalbano mysteries, now into a 10th series, began broadcasting on Italy's RAI network in 1999 and has become a hit in several countries outside Italy, including France, Spain, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.  Zingaretti has played the famously maverick Sicilian detective in all 28 feature-length episodes to date, each one based on a novel or short story collection by the Sicilian-born author Camilleri, now in his 92nd year but still writing.  Although he had established himself as a stage actor and had appeared in a number of films, it was the part of Montalbano that established Zingaretti's fame.  Yet he had hoped to become a star on another kind of stage as a professional footballer.  Growing up in the Magliana neighbourhood in the south-west of Rome, he spent as much time as he could out in the streets kicking a ball and played for a number of junior teams.  Read more…


Andrea Zani – violinist and composer

Musician who ushered in the new classical era

Andrea Teodora Zani, one of the earliest Italian composers to move away from the Baroque style, was born on this day in 1696 in Casalmaggiore in the province of Cremona in Lombardy.  Casalmaggiore, nicknamed ‘the little Venice on the Po’, was a breeding ground for musical talent at this time and Zani was an exact contemporary of Giuseppe Guarneri, the most famous member of the Guarneri family of violin makers in Cremona. He was just a bit younger than the violinist composers, Francesco Maria Veracini, Giuseppe Tartini and Pietro Locatelli.  Zani’s father, an amateur violinist, gave him his first violin lessons and he later received instruction from Giacomo Civeri, a local musician, and Carlo Ricci, who was at the time court musician to the Gonzaga family at their palace in Guastalla.  After Zani played in front of Antonio Caldara, who was Capellmeister for the court of Archduke Ferdinand Charles in nearby Mantua, he was invited to go to Vienna to be a violinist in the service of the Habsburgs.  A lot of Zani’s work has survived in both published and manuscript form, some of it having been recovered from European libraries. His early works show the influence of Antonio Vivaldi. Read more…


Victor Emmanuel III

Birth of the King who ruled Italy through two world wars

Italy’s longest reigning King, Victor Emmanuel III (Vittorio Emanuele III di Savoia), was born on this day in Naples in 1869.  The only child of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy, he was given the title of Prince of Naples. He became King of Italy in 1900 after his father was assassinated in Monza.  During the reign of Victor Emmanuel III, Italy was involved in two world wars and experienced the rise and fall of Fascism.  At the height of his popularity he was nicknamed by the Italians Re soldato (soldier King) and Re vittorioso (victorious King) because of Italy’s success in battle during the First World War. He was also sometimes called sciaboletta (little sabre) as he was only five feet (1.53m) tall.  Italy had remained neutral at the start of the First World War but signed treaties to go into the war on the side of France, Britain and Russia in 1915. Victor Emmanuel III enjoyed popular support as a result of visiting areas in the north affected by the fighting while his wife, Queen Elena, helped the nurses care for the wounded.  But the instability after the First World War led to Mussolini’s rise to power. Read more…


Germano Mosconi – sports writer and presenter

Short-tempered journalist who became the news

Germano Mosconi, who became a well-known television personality, was born on this day in 1932 in San Bonifacio in the Veneto.  Mosconi became notorious for his short temper and swearing on air and was regarded as a bit of a character on local television. But he became known all over Italy and throughout the world after a video of him someone posted anonymously on the internet went viral.  In the 1980s Mosconi delivered sports reports on Telenuovo in Verona and in 1982 he received the Cesare d’Oro international award for journalistic merit.  But he later became known for his excessive swearing and blaspheming. The anonymous video showed his irate reactions to various problems he encountered while broadcasting, such as people unexpectedly entering the studio, background noises and illegible writing on the news sheets he received.  His use of swear words, blasphemy and insults in both Italian and Venetian dialect and his other humorous antics made the video compulsive viewing all over the world.  Read more…


10 November 2019

10 November

NEW - Charles Ferdinand - Prince of the Two Sicilies

The heir presumptive whose marriage earned him exile

Charles Ferdinand, the Bourbon Prince of the Two Sicilies and Prince of Capua and heir presumptive to the crown of King Ferdinand II, was born on this day in 1811 in Palermo.  Prince Charles, the second son of King Francis I of the Two Sicilies and Maria Isabella of Spain, gave up his claim to the throne when he married a commoner, after his brother, King Ferdinand II, issued a decree upholding their father’s insistence that blood-royal members of the kingdom did not marry beneath their status.  In 1835, at which time Ferdinand II had not fathered any children and Charles therefore held the status of heir presumptive, Charles met and fell in love with a beautiful Irish woman, Penelope Smyth, who was visiting Naples.  Penelope Smyth was the daughter of Grice Smyth of Ballynatray, County Waterford, and sister of Sir John Rowland Smyth. Ferdinand II forbade their union, in accordance with his father’s wishes, but the lovers would not be parted.  On January 12, 1836 the couple eloped. Two months later, Ferdinand II issued the decree that forbade their marriage but three weeks after that Charles and Penelope reached Gretna Green, the town just over the border between England and Scotland.  Read more...


Ennio Morricone - film music maestro

Composer who scored some of cinema's greatest soundtracks

Ennio Morricone, who composed some of the most memorable soundtracks in the history of the cinema, was born on this day in 1928 in Rome.  Morricone has written more than 500 film and television scores, winning countless awards.  Best known for his associations with the Italian directors Sergio Leone, Giuseppe Tornatore and Giuliano Montaldo, he has also worked among others with Pier Paolo Pasolini, Brian de Palma, Roland Joffé, Franco Zeffirelli and Quentin Tarantino, whose 2015 Western The Hateful Eight finally won Morricone an Oscar that many considered long overdue.  Among his finest soundtracks are those he wrote for Leone's 'Dollars' trilogy in the 1960s, for the Leone gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America two decades later, for Joffé's The Mission and De Palma's The Untouchables.  He composed the score for Tornatore's hauntingly poignant Cinema Paradiso and for Maddalena, a somewhat obscure 1971 film by the Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz that included the acclaimed Come Maddalena and Chi Mai, which later reached number two in the British singles chart after being used for the 1981 TV series The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.  Read more…


Gaetano Bresci - assassin

Anarchist who gunned down a king

Gaetano Bresci, the man who assassinated the Italian king Umberto I, was born on this day in 1869 in Coiano, a small village near Prato in Tuscany.  He murdered Umberto in Monza, north of Milan, on July 29, 1900, while the monarch was handing out prizes at an athletics event.  Bresci mingled with the crowd but then sprang forward and shot Umberto three or four times with a .32 revolver.  Often unpopular with his subjects despite being nicknamed Il Buono (the good), Umberto had survived two previous attempts on his life, in 1878 and 1897.  Bresci was immediately overpowered and after standing trial in Milan he was given a life sentence of hard labour on Santo Stefano island, a prison notorious for its anarchist and socialist inmates.  He had been closely involved with anarchist groups and had served a brief jail term earlier for anarchist activity but had a motive for killing Umberto.  A silk weaver by profession, he was living in the United States, where he had emigrated in the 1890s and had settled in New Jersey with his Irish-born wife.  Working as a weaver in a mill in Paterson, New Jersey, Bresci and others set about propagating anarchist ideas among the large local Italian immigrant population. Read more…


Vanessa Ferrari - gymnast

First Italian woman to win a World Championship gold

The gymnast Vanessa Ferrari, who in 2006 became the first Italian female competitor to win a gold medal at the World Championships of artistic gymnastics, was born on this day in 1990, in the town of Orzinuovi in Lombardy.  Ferrari won the all-around gold - consisting of uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise - at the World Championships in Aarhus in Denmark when she was only 15 years old. It remains the only artistic gymnastics world title to be won by an Italian woman.  Earlier in 2006, Ferrari had picked up her first gold medal of the European Championships at Volos in Greece as Italy won the all-around team event.  Naturally small in stature, Ferrari was inspired to take up gymnastics by watching the sport on television as a child, when the sport was dominated by Russian and Romanian athletes.  With the help of her Bulgarian-born mother, Galya, who made many sacrifices to help her daughter fulfil her ambitions, Ferrari joined the Brixia gym in the city of Brescia. Brixia was co-founded by Enrico Casella, a former rugby player who was technical director of the Italian women’s gymnastics team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.  Read more…


Lord Byron in Venice

Romantic English poet finds renewed inspiration

Aristocratic English poet Lord Byron and his friend, John Cam Hobhouse, arrived in Venice for the first time on this day in 1816.  They put up at the Hotel Grande Bretagne on the Grand Canal and embarked on a few days of tourism.  But it was not long before Byron decided to move into an apartment just off the Frezzeria, a street near St Mark's Square, and settled down to enjoy life in the city that was to be his home for the next three years.  Byron has become one of Venice’s legends, perhaps the most famous, or infamous, of all its residents.  Tourists who came afterwards expected to see Venice through his eyes. Even the art critic, John Ruskin, has admitted that on his first visit he had come in search of Byron’s Venice.  Byron once wrote that Venice had always been ‘the greenest island of my imagination’ and he never seems to have been disappointed by it.  He also wrote in a letter to one of his friends that Venice was ‘one of those places that before he saw them he thought he already knew’. He said he appreciated the silence of the Venetian canals and the ‘gloomy gaiety’ of quietly passing gondolas.  Read more…


Charles Ferdinand - Prince of the Two Sicilies

The heir presumptive whose marriage earned him exile

Charles Ferdinand with his wife, the Irishwoman Penelope Smyth
Charles Ferdinand with his wife, the
Irishwoman Penelope Smyth
Charles Ferdinand, the Bourbon Prince of the Two Sicilies and Prince of Capua and heir presumptive to the crown of King Ferdinand II, was born on this day in 1811 in Palermo.

Prince Charles, the second son of King Francis I of the Two Sicilies and Maria Isabella of Spain, gave up his claim to the throne when he married a commoner, after his brother, King Ferdinand II, issued a decree upholding their father’s insistence that blood-royal members of the kingdom did not marry beneath their status.

In 1835, at which time Ferdinand II had not fathered any children and Charles therefore held the status of heir presumptive, Charles met and fell in love with a beautiful Irish woman, Penelope Smyth, who was visiting Naples.

Penelope Smyth was the daughter of Grice Smyth of Ballynatray, County Waterford, and sister of Sir John Rowland Smyth. Ferdinand II forbade their union, in accordance with his father’s wishes, but the lovers would not be parted.

On January 12, 1836 the couple eloped. Two months later, Ferdinand II issued the decree that forbade their marriage but three weeks after that Charles and Penelope reached Gretna Green, the town just over the border between England and Scotland, a few miles north of Carlisle, where under Scottish law young lovers needed no parental consent to be married, merely to declare their wish to be joined in matrimony in front of witnesses.

Charles's father, Francis I of the Two Sicilies, set the family's roles of marriage
Charles's father, Francis I of the Two Sicilies,
set the family's roles of marriage
Charles sought approval from the Archbishop of Canterbury for a further ceremony at St George's, Hanover Square, in the hope that this would give the marriage legitimacy. However, the Master of the Faculties, Dr John Nicholl, refused to grant the licence on the grounds that the royal succession might be affected by the non-recognition of the marriage in Naples.

Ferdinand II never forgave Charles, who was forced to live for the rest of his life in exile. All his estates were confiscated except the county of Mascali in Sicily, which he had inherited from his father. Mascali provided him with only a small income and his life in London, though without major extravagance, still caused him to run up debts.

His pleas with his brother to be allowed to return to Naples fell on deaf ears, as did requests from the United Kingdom government of Lord Palmerston that the exile be lifted.  Charles eventually moved to Turin, but was pursued constantly by creditors and could not remain in the same place long.

For someone who had been made a vice-admiral at 19 and was a candidate at around that time to be made king of Greece or Belgium, it had been a spectacular fall from grace.

When Ferdinand II died in 1859, the new King Francis II, his nephew, ordered the restoration of Charles's estates. However, before Charles could see any of the funds promised him, the Bourbons were overthrown by Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Piedmontese army.

The king of the new united Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, offered him an allowance. But Charles turned it down, fearing that it would affect his legal claims. He died in Turin in 1862, aged 50.

The town of Mascali was largely destroyed by the eruption of Sicily's volcanic Mount Etna in 1928
The town of Mascali was largely destroyed by the eruption
of Sicily's volcanic Mount Etna in 1928
Travel tip:

The town of Mascali, which can be found on the eastern coastline of the island of Sicily, midway between Messina and Catania, sits in the shadow of Mount Etna. It has suffered as a consequence, needing to be almost completely rebuilt after the volcano erupted in November 1928 and destroyed a significant part of the historic town. Mascali was rebuilt a few years later with an urban checkerboard layout influenced by towns in Sicily dating between the 16th and 18th centuries.  The town’s cathedral, dedicated to the patron saint San Leonardo, was consecrated in 1935.

The extraordinary Byzantine mosaics that decorate the interior of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo
The extraordinary Byzantine mosaics that decorate
the interior of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo
Travel tip:

The Palermo of today, the capital of Sicily, is an attractive tourist destination, a vibrant city with a wealth of history, culture, art, music and food. It has many outstanding restaurants as well as fine examples of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches, palaces and buildings.  Top attractions include the extraordinary Cappella Palatina, featuring Byzantine mosaics decorated with gold leaf and precious stones, and the Teatro Massimo, the largest opera house in Italy and the third biggest in Europe after the Opéra National de Paris and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna.

Also on this day:

1816: The arrival of the English poet Lord Byron in Venice

1869: The birth of Gaetano Bresci, the assassin who killed King Umberto I

1928: The birth of film music composer Ennio Morricone

1990: The birth of world champion gymnast Vanessa Ferrari


9 November 2019

9 November

Giuseppe Panini - entrepreneur

News vendor who started football sticker craze

Giuseppe Panini, the entrepreneur and businessman who created an international craze for collecting football stickers, was born on this day in 1921 in the village of Pozza in Emilia-Romagna, not far from Modena.  Since the stickers’ first appearance in Italy in the 1960s and the first World Cup sticker album in 1970 took the concept into an international marketplace, Panini has grown into a publishing company that in 2017 generated sales in excess of €536 million ($643 million US) in more than 120 countries, employing more than 1000 people worldwide.  Giuseppe Panini, who died in 1996, grew immensely wealthy as a result, selling the business in 1989 for a sum said to be around £96 million, the equivalent of £232 million (€266 million; $303 million US) today, after which he spent the remaining years of his life building on an already established reputation for philanthropy.  He came from humble working-class origins and left school at the age of 11. His father, Antonio, worked at the military academy in the city of Modena. Life changed for the family, however, when in 1945 they acquired the license to operate the popular newsstand near the cathedral in the centre of the city.  Read more…


Enrico De Nicola - politician

Italy’s ‘reluctant’ first president

The man who was to become the first president of the Republic of Italy was born on this day in Naples in 1877.  Enrico De Nicola studied law at Naples University and went on to become one of the most esteemed criminal lawyers in Italy. He also worked as a journalist writing about legal issues.  He later joined the Italian liberal party and was elected to the Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies) in 1909.  He held minor government posts until the advent of Fascism when he retired from public life to concentrate on his legal career.   De Nicola took an interest in politics again after Mussolini’s fall from power in 1943.  At first King Victor Emmanuel III tried to extricate the monarchy from its association with the Fascists and his son Umberto became Lieutenant General of the Realm and took over most of the functions of the Sovereign. Victor Emmanuel later abdicated and his son became King Umberto II.  But after a constitutional referendum was held in Italy, the country became a republic in 1946.  Umberto went into exile and Enrico De Nicola was elected head of state on 28 June 1946 with 80 per cent of the votes.  He is remembered by his colleagues as a modest man who was unsure at the time whether to accept the nomination.  Read more…


Alessandro Del Piero – World Cup winner

Former striker is all-time record goalscorer for Juventus

The retired footballer Alessandro Del Piero, who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006 and holds the club records for most goals (290) and most appearances (705) for Juventus, was born on this day in 1974 in Conegliano in the Veneto.  Regarded as one of Italy’s greatest players, his overall goals tally of 346 in Italian football in all competitions has been bettered only once in history, by Silvio Piola, who was a member of Italy’s winning team in the 1938 World Cup and who scored 390 goals in his career.  Del Piero also finished his career having scored at least one goal in every competition in which he took part.  Del Piero was a member of six Serie A title-winning Juventus teams between 1995 and 2012 and would have had eight winner’s medals had the club not been stripped of the 2005 and 2006 titles due to the so-called Calciopoli corruption scandal.  He also won a Champions League medal in 1996 after Marcello Lippi’s team beat Ajax on penalties to lift the trophy in Rome.  Del Piero played in three World Cups but was never able to reproduce his club form more than fleetingly in any of them.  He started only one match in the 2006 triumph of the Azzurri in Germany.  Read more…


Niccolò III d’Este – Marquis of Ferrara

Soldier who built up the importance of Ferrara

The military leader - condottiero in Italian - Niccolò III d’Este was born on this day in 1383 in Ferrara.  He was the son of Alberto d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara, and became ruler of the city when he was just ten years old on the death of his father, under the protection of Venice, Florence and Bologna.  A relative, Azzo d’Este, who was working for Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, tried to attack Ferrara, but Venice, Florence and Bologna helped Niccolò see off the challenge to his rule.  In 1403 Niccolò joined the league formed against the Duke of Milan and was appointed Captain General of the Papal Army by Pope Boniface IX.  At the age of 13, Niccolò was married for the first time, to Gigliola da Carrara, the daughter of Francesco II da Carrara, Lord of Padua.  Although his first marriage was childless, he fathered an illegitimate son, Ugo, in 1405.  After the death of his wife, he was married for a second time to Parisina Malatesta, the daughter of Andrea Malatesta, and they had three children.  In 1425, Niccolò had Parisina and Ugo executed on charges of adultery, accusing them of having an affair.  Read more…


8 November 2019

8 November

Virna Lisi - actress

Screen siren turned back on glamour roles to prove talent

The actress Virna Lisi, born on this day in 1936, might have become the new Marilyn Monroe if she had allowed Hollywood to shape her career in the way the movie moguls had planned.  She was certainly blessed with all the physical attributes to fulfil their commercial ambitions - no less a screen goddess than Brigitte Bardot called her 'the most beautiful woman in the world' - but decided she was too good an actress to be typecast as mere window dressing or eye candy and ultimately rejected their advances.  In time she proved to herself that she made the right decision when her portrayal of the manipulative Catherine de' Medici, the Italian who was Queen of France between 1547 and 1559, in Patrice Chéreau’s 1994 film La Reine Margot won her three awards - Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, a César (the French equivalent of an Oscar) and the Italian film critics' award, the Nastro d'Argento (Silver Ribbon).  Born Virna Pieralisi in the town of Jesi, in the province of Ancona  in Marche, where her father had a marble importing business, she moved with her family to Rome in the early 1950s.  Read more…


Francis I of the Two Sicilies

Death of the king who failed to impress Lady Blessington 

Francis I died in Naples on this day in 1830 after having been King of the Two Sicilies for five years.  The Two Sicilies was the largest of all the Italian states before unification, originally formed as a union between the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples.  It lasted until 1860 when it was annexed by the Kingdom of Sardinia, which became Italy in 1861.  The Two Sicilies originated when the Kingdom of Sicily was divided in 1283. The King at the time lost the island of Sicily but kept control of his part of southern Italy, which was also referred to as Sicily. The Two Sicilies had capitals in Palermo and Naples.  After Francis succeeded his father Ferdinand I in 1825 he took little part in government and lived with his mistresses in constant fear of assassination.  He is remembered for getting the Austrian occupation force removed from Naples, where it had been billeted at the expense of the treasury, and for founding the Royal Order of Francis I to reward civil merit.  We are fortunate to have been left with an impression of him by Lady Blessington, an English aristocrat, who lived in Naples between 1823 and 1826 and kept a fascinating diary of her time there.   In July 1823 she encountered Francis while he was still Prince of Salerno and heir presumptive to the throne.  Read more…


Francesco Molinari – golfer

Second win in Italian Open gave him unique status

Francesco Molinari, one of two golfing brothers who have advanced the cause of the sport in Italy more than anyone in the modern era, was born on this day in 1982 in Turin.  He and Edoardo, who is 21 months’ his senior, won the Mission Hills World Cup in China in 2009, the first time Italy had won the two-player team event.  And when he sank a 5ft (1.5m) putt to beat the Masters champion Danny Willett to win the Italian Open in Monza in September last year, Francesco became the first Italian to win his country’s open championship twice since it became part of the European tour in 1972.  He had won it for the first time in 2006 at the Castello di Tolcinasco course just outside Milan, which gave him his first European tour victory at the age of 23 and made him the first Italian to win the tournament since Massimo Mannelli in 1980.  The success made such an impact in Italy, and in Turin in particular, that Francesco was asked to be one of the official torch carriers on behalf of the host nation at the 2006 Winter Olympics, which were staged in Turin. Francesco had yet to win a major at the time this was originally posted but went close in the 2017 PGA Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, before winning the Open Championship at Carnoustie in Scotland in 2018.  Read more...


Paolo Taviani - film director

Half of a successful partnership with brother Vittorio

The film director Paolo Taviani, the younger of the two Taviani brothers, whose work together won great acclaim and brought them considerable success in the 1970s and 80s in particular, was born on this day in 1931 in San Miniato, Tuscany.  With his brother Vittorio, who was two years his senior and died in April of this year, he wrote and directed more than 20 films.  Among their triumphs were Padre Padrone (1977), which won the Palme d’Or and the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) prize at the Cannes Film Festival, La notte di San Lorenzo (The Night of the Shooting Stars, 1982), which won the Grand Prix du Jury at Cannes, and Caesar Must Die (2012), which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.  The brothers famously would work in partnership, directing alternate scenes, one seldom criticising the other, if ever. The actor Marcello Mastroianni, who starred in their 1974 drama Allonsanfàn, is said to have addressed the brothers as “Paolovittorio.”  They were both born and raised in San Miniato by liberal, anti-Fascist parents who introduced them to art and culture.  Read more…


7 November 2019

7 November

Luigi Riva - an Azzurri great

Italy's record goalscorer and hero of Cagliari

Luigi 'Gigi' Riva, who was born on this day in 1944, is widely regarded as one of the finest strikers in the history of Italian football.  Despite playing in an era when football in Italy was notoriously defensive, he scored more than 200 goals in a 16-year club career, 156 of them in Serie A for Cagliari, with whom he won the Scudetto (shield) as Italian League champions in 1970.  Nicknamed 'Rombo di tuono' - thunderclap - by the football writer Gianni Brera, Riva is also the all-time leading goalscorer for the Italian national team with 35 goals, his record having stood since 1974.  After his playing career, Riva spent 23 years as part of the management team for the Azzurri and was a key member of the backroom staff when Italy won the World Cup for a fourth time in 2006.  Born in Lombardy, not far from Lake Maggiore, Riva spent virtually his whole football career with Cagliari and made his home in Sardinia.  The 1969-70 title is the only championship in the club's history and Riva, who scored 21 goals in the title-winning season, is as revered on the island as Diego Maradona is in Naples.  Although he came from a loving home in the small town of Leggiuno, just a few kilometres inland from the shores of Lake Maggiore, Riva had a tough upbringing.  Read more…


Niccolò Machiavelli - statesman and diplomat

Enforced retirement gives public servant time to write about his ruthless ideas

Statesman and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli, whose name has become synonymous with the words ‘cunning’ and ‘duplicity’, was dismissed from office in Florence on this day in 1512 by a written decree issued by the Medici rulers.  Machiavelli was forced to withdraw from public life and retired to his home in the Chianti region of Tuscany, where he wrote his most famous work, ‘The Prince’, which was to give the world the political idea of ‘the ends justify the means’.  Had the Medici not distrusted him, Machiavelli might have continued to serve in Florence as a diplomat and military leader.  He may never have passed on to mankind the ideas he had learnt from his work during the turbulent period in Italian history when popes and other European countries were battling against Italy’s city states for power.  In ‘The Prince’ he was able to write with first-hand knowledge about the methods he had seen used by Cesare Borgia and his father Pope Alexander V1 to take over large parts of central Italy.  The ideas he put forward were to make the word ‘machiavellian’ a regularly used pejorative adjective and the phrase ‘Old Nick’ to become an English term for the devil.  Read more...


Feast day of Ercolano – patron saint of Perugia

Bishop was martyred after trying to save city

Today sees the Umbrian city of Perugia celebrate one of the two annual feast days of one of its patron saint, Ercolano, who according to legend was martyred on this day in 549 at the hands of the Ostrogoths, who ruled much of Italy at that time and had placed the city under siege.  Herculanus, as he is also known, was the Bishop of Perugia and as such was charged with trying to bring comfort to his flock in the face of inevitable capture by the Ostrogoths, the tribe, thought to have originated in Scandinavia, which had swept into Italy at the beginning of the sixth century.  They had a large, well-equipped army – more powerful than the army Perugia possessed, although it had enough soldiers to deter an advance – and the Ostrogoth leader, Totila, was prepared to wait outside the walls of the city for as long as it would take to starve the population into surrender.  Perugia’s authorities did all they could to prolong the siege, rationing supplies and ensuring none were wasted, but days passed into months and years and there was no evidence that the amply fed army at the gates of the city was planning to move on.  Read more…


Gaspare Tagliacozzi - surgeon

Professor invented rhinoplasty procedure

Pioneering plastic surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi died on this day in 1599 in Bologna.  During his career, Tagliacozzi had developed what became known as ‘the Italian method’ for nasal reconstruction.  He improved on the procedure that had been carried out by the 15th century Sicilian surgeons, Gustavo Branca, and his son, Antonio.  Tagliacozzi wrote a book, De Curtorum Chirugia per Insitionem - On the Surgery of Mutilation by Grafting - which described in great detail the procedures carried out in the past to repair noses amputated during battle.  Surgeons who came after him credit him with single-handedly revolutionising the procedure and inventing what is today referred to as a rhinoplasty procedure.  Tagliacozzi was born in Bologna in 1545. He studied medicine, natural sciences and anatomy at the University of Bologna, gaining a degree in philosophy and medicine by the age of 24.  After he was appointed professor of surgery and professor of anatomy at the University he taught at the Archiginnasio, famous for its anatomical theatre, where he procured the bodies of executed prisoners to use in dissections.  Read more…