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.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Franco Sensi - businessman

Oil tycoon who rescued AS Roma football club


Franco Sensi was president of AS Roma for 15 years after rescuing the club from financial collapse
Franco Sensi was president of AS Roma for 15
years after rescuing the club from financial collapse
The businessman Francesco ‘Franco’ Sensi, best known as the businessman who transformed a near-bankrupt AS Roma into a successful football club, died on this day in 2008 in the Gemelli General Hospital in Rome.

He was 88 and had been in ill health for a number of years. He had been the longest-serving president of the Roma club, remaining at the helm for 15 years, and it is generally accepted that the success the team enjoyed during his tenure - a Serie A title, two Coppa Italia triumphs and two in the Supercoppa Italiana - would not have happened but for his astute management.

His death was mourned by tens of thousands of Roma fans who filed past his coffin in the days before the funeral at the Basilica of San Lorenzo al Verano, where a crowd put at around 30,000 turned out to witness the funeral procession.

The then-Roma coach Luciano Spalletti and captain Francesco Totti were among the pallbearers.

Sensi, whose father, Silvio, had helped bring about the formation of AS Roma in 1927 in a merger of three other city teams, grew up supporting the club and followed his father into a business career after graduating in mathematics at the University of Messina.

Francesco Totti was among Sensi's pallbearers
Francesco Totti was among
Sensi's pallbearers
He became a board member at the club in 1960 but left after less than two years following disagreements with fellow board members over football issues.

For the next few years he devoted himself to his business career, among other things founding the Italpetroli Company, which would become a major player in the oil and petrochemical sector.  He also had interests in publishing and real estate.

At the same time he developed a career in politics, serving as the Christian Democrat mayor of Visso, the small town in the Marche region where his family originated, for 10 years.

Sensi’s return to AS Roma came in 1993 season, when club president Giuseppe Ciarrapico had to step down following his conviction for financial crimes following the bankruptcy of one of his companies.

The club itself was mired in debt and on the brink of collapse. Sensi and his fellow entrepreneur Pietro Mezzaroma stepped in to save the club, Sensi becoming outright owner in November 1994 but then discovering its debts were even greater than he imagined, paying 20 billion lire to own the club but finding that the total owed to creditors was 100 billion lire.

Sensi negotiated a way to stability off the field and then set about rebuilding the team’s fortunes on the field.  He hired Carlo Mazzone as coach but though the team finished 7th in Serie A in the 1993-94 season, Sensi wanted better.

Mazzone gave way to Carlo Bianchi and in turn to Zdenek Zeman but success proved elusive until the arrival, in 1999, of Fabio Capello, a proven winner with an impressive coaching CV that included four Serie A titles with AC Milan in the 1990s, and the La Liga championship in Spain with Real Madrid.

Rosella Sensi took over the running of the club after her father became ill
Rosella Sensi took over the running of the club
after her father became ill
Capello arrived as part of a massive investment by Sensi that included retaining the services of Totti, the forward who would become a club icon, as well as bringing in the likes of top players Gabriel Batistuta, Walter Samuel, Emerson and Jonathan Zebina.

Sensi also hired Massimo Neri as a fitness coach, which meant the injury problems that had regularly hampered the team’s progress became much less frequent.  Capello set up the team to get the best out of their attacking talent and, with a solid defence marshalled by Samuel, he led Roma to the 2001 Scudetto.

It was not long, unfortunately, before Sensi’s health began to fail him and he handed control of the club to his daughter, Rosella, while continuing to oversee the operation as chairman as Capello’s success continued and returned under Spalletti, who won three trophies in his four years in charge.

Sensi's business achievements were honoured when the President of the Italian Republic made him a Cavaliere del lavoro in 1995 and many Italians believe he should have been appointed head of the Lega Calcio - the Italian Football League.

He is buried in the Verano Cemetery, close to the basilica and to the Sapienza University of Rome in the Tiburtino quarter of Rome.

The village of Visso, in the Sibillini mountains, where Sensi was mayor for 10 years
The village of Visso, in the Sibillini mountains, where
Sensi was mayor for 10 years
Travel tip:

The beautiful village of Visso, situated in the national park of the Sibillini mountains, boasts medieval buildings and Renaissance palaces. It is located about 80km (50 miles) southwest of Ancona and about 50km (31 miles) southwest of Macerata. At the heart of the village of the Piazza Pietro Capuzzi, where can be found the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria, which houses a number of medieval works of art. A short distance outside the village is the Sanctuary of Macereto, a Renaissance-style chapel or Marian shrine, built between 1528 and 1538.

The Basilica di San Lorenzo, where Sensi's funeral took place in August 2008
The Basilica di San Lorenzo, where Sensi's funeral took
place in August 2008
Travel tip:

The Basilica of San Lorenzo al Verano, also known as the Basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, where Sensi’s funeral was held, is a shrine to the martyred Roman deacon San Lorenzo. An Allied bombing raid in July 1943 devastated the facade, which was subsequently rebuilt.  The Basilica is the shrine of the tomb of Saint Lawrence, who was martyred in 258. The Basilica is now known as one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. It can be found in the Tiburtino quarter, not far from Sapienza University of Rome.

More reading:

The glittering career of Fabio Capello

Marco Delvecchio - the AS Roma striker who became a dance show star

How Angelo Schiavio won Italy's first World Cup

Also on this day:

1498: Cesare Borgia shocks Rome by resigning as a Cardinal

1740: Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini becomes Pope Benedict XIV


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Thursday, 16 August 2018

Tonino Delli Colli – cinematographer

Craftsman who shot Life is Beautiful and Italy's first colour film


Tonino Delli Colli worked with some of the leading  directors in Italian movie history
Tonino Delli Colli worked with some of the leading
directors in Italian movie history
Antonio (Tonino) Delli Colli, the cinematographer who shot the first Italian film in colour, died on this day in 2005 in Rome.

The last film he made was Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, shot on location in Arezzo in Tuscany, for which he won his fourth David di Donatello Award for Best Cinematography.

Delli Colli was born in Rome and started work at the city’s Cinecittà studio in 1938, shortly after it opened, when he was just 16.

By the mid 1940s he was working as a cinematographer, or director of photography, who is the person in charge of the camera and light crews working on a film. He was responsible for making artistic and technical decisions related to the image and selected the camera, film stock, lenses and filters. Directors often conveyed to him what was wanted from a scene visually and then allowed him complete latitude to achieve that effect.

Delli Colli was credited as director of photography for the first time in 1943 on Finalmente Si (Finally Yes), directed by László Kish.

Toto a colori was the first Italian movie to be filmed in colour
Totò a colori was the first Italian movie
to be filmed in colour
In 1952 Delli Colli shot the first Italian film to be made in colour, Totò a colori. He had been reluctant to do it but was given no choice by his bosses.

The cinematographer once recalled in an interview that he had to make do with lighting for black and white films as colour lamps didn’t exist at that time and that he felt sorry for Totò, the comic actor, who was being constantly showered with light.

The arrival of colour changed everything and Delli Colli had to study each new product carefully. He became infuriated with Kodak as whenever a new product came out he had to start again from scratch.

He went on to work with acclaimed directors such as Sergio Leone, Roman Polanski, Louis Malle, Jean-Jacques Annaud and Federico Fellini. Annaud's The Name of the Rose (1986), based on the book by Umberto Eco, is regarded as among Delli Colli's best work.

Delli Colli shot three of Leone's biggest triumphs -  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America.

Delli Colli received a number of awards for his achievements
Delli Colli received a number
of awards for his achievements
He worked particularly well with Pier Paolo Pasolini, with whom he made 12 films and formed a close bond.  The two teamed up on Pasolini’s first film as a director, Accattone (1961), and remained together throughout the director’s career, culminating with Salò (1976), which he helped restore after Pasolini’s death.

In 2005, at the age of 81, Delli Colli was awarded the American Society of Cinematographers’ International Achievement award.

Later that same year he suffered a heart attack and died at his home in Rome on August 16.

Delli Colli was posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 13th annual Camerimage Film Festival in Poland.

The Cinecittà complex in Rome, situated about 12km (8 miles) southeast of the city centre
The Cinecittà complex in Rome, situated about
12km (8 miles) southeast of the city centre
Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome, the hub of the Italian film industry, is a large studio complex to the south of the city, built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio. Delli Colli began working there just a few months after it opened for business. 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 and it has its own dedicated Metro stop.

The Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla in Arezzo
The Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla in Arezzo
Travel tip:

Life is Beautiful, for which Delli Colli won a David di Donatello Award in 1998, was shot in the centro storico of Arezzo, an interesting old town in eastern Tuscany. One of the scenes was filmed in front of the Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla, a medieval abbey. Right in the centre of the town, the 13th century Basilica di San Francesco is the most famous tourist attraction, as it contains Piero della Francesco’s cycle of frescoes, The Legend of the True Cross, painted between 1452 and 1466 and considered to be his finest work.

More reading:

The actress who stood by Pier Paolo Pasolini

The distinctive style of Sergio Leone

How Roberto Benigni became the first Italian male actor to win an Oscar

Also on this day:

1650: The birth of globe maker Vincenzo Coronelli

2006: The death of Umberto Baldini, who saved hundreds of artworks damaged in Florence floods


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Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Carlo Cipolla - economic historian

Professor famous for treatise on ‘stupidity’


Carlo Cipolla's tongue-in-cheek book about human stupidity became a bestseller in Italy
Carlo Cipolla's tongue-in-cheek book about human stupidity
became a bestseller in Italy
Carlo Maria Cipolla, an economic historian who for many years was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and taught at several Italian universities, was born on this day in 1922 in Pavia.

He was one of the leading economic historians of the 20th century and wrote more than 20 academic books on economic and social history but also on such diverse subjects as clocks, guns and faith, reason and the plague in 17th century Italy.

Yet it was for his humorous treatise, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, that he became famous. The book, written very much tongue in cheek, became a bestseller in Italy after it was published in 1976.

In it, Cipolla produced a graph that divided the human species into four types, each sharing one characteristic of another type.

He proposed that there are (a) bandits, whose actions bring benefits for themselves but losses for others; (b) intelligent people, whose actions bring benefits for themselves and for others; (c) naive or helpless people, whose actions bring benefits for others but who tend to be exploited and therefore incur losses for themselves; and (d) stupid people, whose actions result not only in losses for themselves but for others too.

His Five Laws of Human Stupidity argued that everyone underestimates the number of stupid people in society, that certain people had a strong likelihood of being stupid irrespective of other characteristics, that a stupid person inevitably causes losses to other people while deriving no gain from his or her actions, that non-stupid people repeatedly underestimate the damage likely to result from dealing or associating with stupid people, and that because of the lack of predictability and logic in a stupid person’s behaviour, a stupid person was more dangerous than a bandit.

The matrix that Cipolla included in his Basic Laws  of Human Stupidity was something like this
The matrix that Cipolla included in his Basic Laws
of Human Stupidity
was something like this
Growing up, Cipolla’s ambition was to teach history and philosophy in an Italian high school.

He studied political science at Pavia University but thanks to one of his professors he discovered his passion for economic history, which he subsequently studied at the Sorbonne and the London School of Economics.

After obtaining his first teaching post in economic history in Catania in Sicily at the age of 27, he embarked on an academic career that would see him appointed to positions at the universities of Venice, Turin and Pavia, the European Institute in Florence and the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa.

He began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1959 and, for more than 30 years, Cipolla and his American-born wife Ora divided their year between Berkeley, where they would spend the late summer and autumn, and Pavia, to which they returned for spring and early summer.

Cipolla was a member of the Royal Historical Society of Great Britain, the British Academy, the Accademia dei Lincei, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia. He was awarded the Premio della Presidente della Repubblica in Italy, and the Premio Balzan, as well as honorary degrees in Italy and Zurich, Switzerland.

His wide range of interests was evident in his passion for collecting as well as academic study. His homes were filled with impressive collections of ancient coins, old clocks, 18th century Italian paintings and Roman surgical instruments among other things.

Cipolla died in Pavia in 2000 at the age of 78, having for many years suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.

The Certosa di Pavia, which dates back to 1396
The Certosa di Pavia, which dates back to 1396
Travel tip:

Pavia is a city in Lombardy, about 46km (30 miles) south of Milan. Its university was founded in 1361 and was the sole university in the Duchy of Milan until the 19th century. Its alumni include explorer Christopher Columbus, physicist Alessandro Volta and the poet and revolutionary Ugo Foscolo. Pavia is also famous for its Certosa, a magnificent Renaissance monastery complex north of the city that dates back to 1396 and includes a number of important sculptures and frescoes. A pretty covered bridge over the River Ticino leads to Borgo Ticino, where the inhabitants claim to be the true people of Pavia.

The Palazzo dei Cavalieri, main seat of the Scuola  Normale Superiore in Pisa
The Palazzo dei Cavalieri, main seat of the Scuola
Normale Superiore in Pisa
Travel tip:

The Scuola Normale Superiore - known and the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa until it was expanded to include faculties in Florence in 2014 - is often known in Italy simply as the Normale. Opened in 1810, its origins are in the Napoleonic era, when it was the equivalent of France’s École normale supérieure. The adjective "normal" was used in the sense of teaching societal “norms". In the 19th century, teachers' training schools were called "normal" schools for this reason.  Many scientists, researchers and intellectuals, as well as prominent public figures, including two Presidents of Italy, were students there. It admits only a relatively small number of students per year and is seen as one of the most prestigious universities in Italy.

More reading:

The University of Pavia professor known as the 'father of criminology'

Alessandro Volta - the scientist who invented the first electric battery

Ugo Foscolo - poet and revolutionary

Also on this day:

1702: The birth of landscape painter Francesco Zuccarelli

1944: The birth of fashion designer Gianfranco Ferré


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Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Giorgio Chiellini - footballer

Juventus star renowned for defensive excellence


Giorgio Chiellini won 97 caps for the Italian national team but missed out on trophies
Giorgio Chiellini won 97 caps for the Italian
national team but missed out on trophies
The footballer Giorgio Chiellini, renowned as one of the world’s best defenders, was born on this day in 1984 in Pisa.

Chiellini has played for much of his career at Juventus, winning an incredible seven consecutive Serie A titles from 2012 to 2018, as well as numerous other trophies.  He was Serie A Defender of the Year in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and in 2017 was named in Juventus’s Greatest XI of All Time.

He also earned 97 caps for the Italy national team before announcing his retirement from international football in 2017, establishing himself as an automatic choice in a back three or four under five different coaches.

All of Chiellini’s successes so far have been in domestic football.  He was considered too young and inexperienced to be part of Marcello Lippi’s 2006 World Cup squad and hung up his boots with the azzurri without winning a trophy.

He has also missed out so far on success in European club competitions. He missed the 2015 Champions League final, which Juventus lost to Barcelona in Berlin, and finished on the losing side in the 2017 Champions League final, when the Italian champions were thumped 4-0 by Read Madrid in Cardiff.

Chiellini has won seven consecutive Serie A titles during a 13-year career with Juventus
Chiellini has won seven consecutive Serie A titles during
a 13-year career with Juventus
But he still has hopes of winning a Champions League medal now that Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored two of Real Madrid’s four goals in that match, has joined Juventus for the 2018-19 season.

Chiellini is regarded as a character of contradictions. As a player, he has broken his nose four times and been sent off five times. When he scores a goal he pounds his chest with closed fists. He is the archetypal Italian defender - rugged, ruthless and uncompromising.

Yet away from football he is softly spoken and a lover of literature, a calm and reflective personality not given to excess or displays of temper.

He was brought up in Livorno, a dockyard city on the coast of Tuscany with a seamy side, yet was always a conscientious student and would have left high school for university had he not been occupied with becoming a footballer. In the event, after becoming an established player, he enrolled at the University of Turin, where he completed a laurea - a bachelor’s degree - in economics and commerce and a master's in business administration.

The son of an orthopaedic surgeon, he would have studied medicine but found the work involved incompatible with being a footballer.

Chiellini in action against Cesc Fabregas of Spain
Chiellini in action against Cesc Fabregas of Spain
Growing up, being an enthusiastic follower of the Los Angeles Lakers, he dreamed of playing basketball, before his talent for football won out.

One of twin boys, he joined his local Livorno team at the age of 13. He played as a central midfielder and a winger before settling into the role of left-back, making his senior debut at the age of 17 in 2000.

Livorno then sold him to Roma but he was immediately loaned back to the Tuscan club, before being sold to Juventus, who loaned him to Fiorentina. He finally made his Juventus debut in the 2005-06 season and was part of a title-winning team, although the prize was later taken from them because of the so-called Calciopoli corruption scandal.

Many players left the club after the scandal, which also led to the team’s demotion to Serie B, but Chiellini remained as part of the squad that won promotion under Didier Deschamps in 2006-07 and became a key element in the rebuilding of bianconeri fortunes under a succession of coaches, culminating in three consecutive Serie A titles under Antonio Conte and four more under current coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Chiellini retired from international football in 2017 but is continuing his domestic career
Chiellini retired from international football
in 2017 but is continuing his domestic career
Chiellini made his debut for the Italian national team in November 2004 against Finland under Lippi, at the age of 20. He scored his first of his eight goals for the azzurri three years later.

Roberto Donadoni made him a regular member of the national team, although his first call-up for a major tournament did not get off to the best start. Preparing for the Euro 2008 finals, he collided with the national captain, Fabio Cannavaro, during a training session, with the result that Cannavaro missed the whole tournament.

He made up for that with some impressive performances, particularly against the eventual winners Spain in the quarter-final, which ended in a 0-0 draw before Italy were eliminated in a penalty shoot-out.

Subsequently, Chiellini was one of the first names on the teamsheet for Lippi in his second spell in charge of the national team, and for Cesare Prandelli, Conte and Gian Piero Ventura, even though his international career did not bring him the trophies he probably deserved.

His two World Cups were disappointing, ending in early elimination for Italy in 2010 and 2014, and though Prandelli’s team reached the final of Euro 2012 they were beaten 4-0 by Spain, with Chiellini substituted due to injury.

He announced his retirement from international football after Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia, beaten in a play-off by Sweden.

In July 2014, Chiellini married his long-time girlfriend Carolina Bonistalli at the Sanctuary of Montenero in Livorno. The couple have a daughter, Nina, born in 2015.

Livorno's elegant Terrazza Mascagni promenade
Livorno's elegant Terrazza Mascagni promenade
Travel tip:

Livorno is the second largest city in Tuscany after Florence, with a population of almost 160,000. Although it is a large commercial port with much related industry, and also suffered extensive damage as a prime target for Allied bombing raids in the Second World War, it retains many attractions, including an elegant sea front – the Terrazza Mascagni - an historic centre – the Venetian quarter – with canals, and a tradition of serving excellent seafood.

The Sanctuary of Montenero in the Livorno Hills
The Sanctuary of Montenero in the Livorno Hills
Travel tip:

The Sanctuary of Montenero, where Chiellini was married, can be found in the village of the same name, part of the area south of the city known as the Livorno Hills. The complex, now elevated to the rank of basilica and maintained by Vallumbrosan monks, originated in the early 17th century and was expanded in the 18th century before a suppression of religious orders in the later part of the century led it to fall into disrepair.  It was fully restored in the last century.  A series of grottos exist behind the church, once a hide-out for robbers and a shelter during the Second World War, but these are now closed over safety concerns.

More reading:

The story of record-breaking coach Massimiliano Allegri

Marcello Lippi and Italy's fourth World Cup

Franco Baresi - Italy's greatest defender?

Also on this day:

1742: The birth of Pope Pius VII

1988: The death of car maker Enzo Ferrari


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Monday, 13 August 2018

Camillo Olivetti - electrical engineer

Founder of Italy’s first typewriter factory


Camillo Olivetti in 1930, at around the time he handed the reins to son Adriano
Camillo Olivetti in 1930, at around the
time he handed the reins to son Adriano
The electrical engineer Camillo Olivetti, who opened Italy’s first typewriter factory and founded a company that would become a major player in electronic business technology, was born on this day in 1868 in Ivrea in Piedmont.

The Olivetti company that later produced Italy’s first electronic computer was developed by Adriano Olivetti, the oldest of Camillo's five children, but it was his father’s vision and enterprise that laid the foundations for the brand’s success and established the Olivetti name.

Camillo came from a Jewish middle-class background. His father, Salvador Benedetto, was a successful merchant. His mother, Elvira, came from a banking family in Modena but her interests were more cultural. She was fluent in four languages.

Elvira had full care of Camillo after Salvador died when the boy was only one and sent him to boarding school in Milan at a young age.  Although his mother’s fluency in four languages was a help - he learned English early in his life - she understood his inclination to work in electronics.

After graduating from the Royal Italian Industrial Museum (later the Polytechnic of Turin) with a diploma in industrial engineering, Camillo broadened his knowledge by travelling. He spent more than a year in London working in an industry that produced electrical instrumentation and later went to the United States with his former university professor, Galileo Ferraris, who in Chicago in 1893 introduced him to his hero, Thomas Edison.

The first Olivetti typewriter, the M1, which Camillo designed himself for production at the Ivrea factory
The first Olivetti typewriter, the M1, which Camillo
designed himself for production at the Ivrea factory
Olivetti remained in the United States after Ferraris returned to Italy, taking up a position as electrotechnical assistant at Stanford University. 

Back in Italy in 1894, he teamed up with a couple of old college friends in his first business venture, importing typewriters, before deciding to go into production with a factory making electrical measuring instruments, entering into partnership with a number of investors.

The business grew, moving to factories in Milan and then Monza to enable increased production, but Olivetti had disagreements with his investors over how much of their budget should be spent on research, so the venture ended.

Taking 40 workers with him, he then moved back to Ivrea and, in 1908, opened the first dedicated Olivetti typewriter factory, a distinctive building in local Canavese red brick.

The original red brick factory was retained when Olivetti built new modern premises in Via Jervis in Ivrea
The original red brick factory was retained when Olivetti
built new modern premises in Via Jervis in Ivrea
The first typewriter produced - from 1911 onwards - was the M1, which Olivetti designed himself based on the knowledge he had acquired in the United States.

At first, production was on a relatively small scale - about 1,000 machines per year - and the business began to grow exponentially only after the First World War, when Olivetti shrewdly diversified into aircraft parts, which were technologically advanced and therefore in constant demand.

When life returned to normal after the war, Olivetti was well placed to expand and developed a much improved typewriter, the M20.  His business model, visionary at the time, included setting up Olivetti branches in Milan and then other Italian cities - and eventually abroad - to provide assistance to customers at local level.

Throughout much of his life, Camillo Olivetti was active politically. As a young man, a socialist by inclination, he was appalled by the what he saw as contempt for working people by the ruling classes and travelled to Milan in 1898 to take part in the so-called bread riots, when soldiers opened fire on protesters, resulting in 500 deaths. Angered by what he had seen, he considered raising his own armed force with the intention of stirring up revolution.

Adriano Olivetti shared his father's vision and concerns for the workforce and the local community
Adriano Olivetti shared his father's vision and concerns
for the workforce and the local community
He was dissuaded from such drastic action but spent much of his life campaigning, mainly through newspaper columns, on the side of the working man.  When the Fascists rose to power, he became an outspoken critic of Mussolini’s regime, taking part in a protest in Ivrea in 1924 following the murder of the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti.

He scaled down his activities only when he began to fear Fascist reprisals against his factory in Ivrea. At one stage, after Mussolini introduced his race laws, Camillo had his family flee the country for their own safety.

Although he was a businessman foremost, he recognised the need for good relationships between employers and workers and supported the establishment of trade unions.

Olivetti would become a famous name worldwide, well-known for its technical excellence and modern designs as Camillo and later Adriano employed many famous designers and architects to work on their products and publicity campaigns, including Ignazio Gardella and Marco Zanuso.

But the company would also be admired for consistent social welfare policies. When Adriano became chairman of the company in 1938, he increases production to around 15,000 machines per year but at the same time, as the town’s biggest employer, instigated projects that would change the face of Ivrea, building schools, houses, roads and recreational facilities.

Camillo died at the age of 75 in 1943, having moved to Biella, not far from the border with Switzerland, in the 1930s because of the anti-Jewish political climate further south.

Ivrea's cathedral, with its neoclassical facade
Ivrea's cathedral, with its neoclassical facade
Travel tip:

Ivrea, where Camillo Olivetti was born and established his business, is a town in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, about 50km (31 miles) north of Turin. It has a 14th century castle and the ruins of a 1st century Roman theatre that would have been able to hold 10,000 spectators. The town’s cathedral, which originated from a church built on the same site in 4th century, itself at the site of a pagan temple, was reconstructed in around 1000 AD in Romanesque style and, in 1785, rebuilt again in a Baroque style. The current neoclassical façade was added in the 19th century. Ivrea hosts an annual carnival before Easter, which includes the Battle of the Oranges, where teams of locals on foot throw oranges at teams riding in carts.

The Palazzo Cisterna in Biella
The Palazzo Cisterna in Biella
Travel tip:

Biella, which sits in the foothill of the Alps, is about 85km (53 miles) northeast of Turin and slightly more than 100km (62 miles) west of Milan. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains and divided into two districts - Biella-Piano and Biella-Piazzo, which are connected to each other by steep streets and a funicular railway. Biella-Piazzo, the Medieval district, is dominated by the magnificent Palazzo Cisterna. Biella-Piano is the home of the Duomo, the pre-Romanesque Baptistery and a museum of Biellese history.

More reading:

Ignazio Gardella - the modern designer with an eye for the classical

Marco Zanuso, architect and designer who put Italy at the forefront of contemporary design

How Karl Zuegg turned the family farm into an international company

Also on this day:

1819: The birth of Risorgimento activist Aurelio Saffi

1912: The birth of award-winning microbiologist Salvador Luria

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Sunday, 12 August 2018

Vittorio Sella - mountain photographer

Images still considered among the most beautiful ever made


A 1909 photograph by Sella of K2, on the China-Pakistan border
A 1909 photograph by Sella of K2, on
the China-Pakistan border 
The photographer Vittorio Sella, who combined mountaineering with taking pictures of some of the world’s most famous and challenging peaks, died on this day in 1943 in his home town of Biella in Piedmont.

Even though Sella took the bulk of his photographs between the late 1870s and the First World War, his images are still regarded as among the most beautiful and dramatic ever taken.

His achievements are all the more remarkable given that his first camera and tripod alone weighed more than 18kg (40lbs) and he exposed his pictures on glass plates weighing almost a kilo (2lbs).  He had to set up makeshift darkrooms on the mountain at first because each shot had to be developed within 10 to 15 minutes.

Sella had exploring and photography in his blood. He was born in 1859 in Biella, in the foothills of the Italian Alps. It was an important area for wool and textiles and his family ran a successful wool factory.

Sella’s father, Giuseppe, was fascinated with the new science of photography A few years before Vittorio’s birth, he published the first major treatise on photography in Italian.

Meanwhile, Sella’s uncle, Quintino Sella, led the first expedition to the top of Monte Viso (or Monviso), the highest mountain in the French-Italian Alps, and in 1863 founded the Club Alpino Italiano, which remains Italy’s principal mountaineering club.

Le Siniolchu (6895 m) and the glacier Zemu, in the
Himalayas, often seen as one of Sella's greatest pictures
Sella’s father died when he was 16 and he was placed in the care of his uncle, which only encouraged Vittorio’s interest in mountaineering. His uncle was a famous man in his day, one of Italy's foremost mountaineering experts, who also helped establish a royal museum of mineralogy in Turin. 

Quintino Sella was also well known as a politician, serving as Italy’s minister of finance in 1862, after Italy was unified.

Vittorio decided he wanted a career that combine his father's passion with his uncle's and he was a pioneer in mountaineering as well as photography. In 1882, he led the first group to successfully climb the Matterhorn - Monte Cervino to Italians - the largest mountain on the Italian–Swiss border, during the winter.

He also made the first winter ascent of Monte Rosa and the first winter traverse of Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco).

Further afield, he undertook three expeditions to the Caucasus (where a peak now bears his name) and also climbed Mount Saint Elias in Alaska and the Rwenzori in Africa. He was part of the 1909 expedition to K2 and the Karakoram. 

Vittorio Sella attempted to climb the Matterhorn at the age of 76
Vittorio Sella attempted to climb
the Matterhorn at the age of 76
The remarkable fact of Sella’s climbing career is that, where most mountaineers consider reaching distant summits and returning safely home as the limit of their ambitions, Sella often repeatedly climbed to the same summits in order to create still more stunning photographic images.

Age did not lessen Sella’s appetite for climbing. He attempted to scale the Matterhorn at 76 years old, the attempt failing not because of any weaknesses on his part but because one of his guides was injured.

The American photographer Ansel Adams, who saw Sella make a presentation in the United States, said his photographic work inspired "a definitely religious awe".

Sella died in Biella a few days before what would have been his 84th birthday.  He was buried at the Monumental Cemetery of Oropa, a little over 15km (9 miles) northwest of Biella in the Sacro Monte di Oropa nature reserve.

The Vittorio Sella Refuge, once a hunting lodge belonging to King Victor Emmanuel II, located at 2,588m (8,490ft) in the Gran Paradiso National Park on the Piedmont-Aosta border, is dedicated to him.  The refuge has beds for 150 people and a restaurant.

His collections of photographs is now managed by the Sella Foundation (Fondazione Sella) in Biella.

Biella's Roman baptistery, which dates back almost 1,000 years, is next to the town hall
Biella's Roman baptistery, which dates back almost 1,000
years, is next to the town hall
Travel tip:

Biella is a well-established town of almost 45,000 inhabitants in the foothill of the Alps, about 85km (53 miles) northeast of Turin and slightly more than 100m (62 miles) west of Milan. Its attractions include a Roman baptistery from early 1000s and the church and convent of San Sebastian. Wool and textiles have been associated with the town since the 13th century and although the best years of the industry have now passed, with many mills and factories closed, brands such as Cerruti 1881, Ermenegildo Zegna, Vitale Barberis Canonico and Fila still have a presence.

A classic view of the Matterhorn, showing the east and north faces
A classic view of the Matterhorn, showing
the east and north faces
Travel tip:

The Matterhorn, also known as Monte Cervino, which straddles the Swiss-Italian border about 60km (37 miles) northeast of Aosta, is an almost symmetrical natural pyramid, with four steep faces, whose peak is 4,478 metres (14,692ft) high, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps. The north face was not climbed until 1931 and the west face, which is the highest of the Matterhorn's four faces, was completely climbed only in 1962. More then 500 alpinists have died on the Matterhorn, including four on the first attempted ascent in 1865, making it one of the deadliest peaks in the world.

More reading:

How bitter rivalry marred the career of climber Walter Bonatti

War hero who was first to complete more than 100 climbs

Felice Beato - the world's first war photographer

Also on this day:

1612: The death of Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli

1990: The birth of controversial football star Mario Balotelli


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Saturday, 11 August 2018

Alfredo Binda - cyclist

Five times Giro winner who was paid not to take part


Alfredo Binda is presented with a  bouquet after the 1933 Giro
Alfredo Binda is presented with a
bouquet after the 1933 Giro.
The five-times Giro d’Italia cycle race winner Alfredo Binda, who once  famously accepted a substantial cash payment from the race organisers not to take part, was born on this day in 1902 in the village of Cittiglio, just outside Varese in Lombardy.

The payment was offered because Binda was such a good rider - some say the greatest of all time - that the Gazzetta dello Sport, the daily sports newspaper that invented the race, feared for the future of the event - and their own sales - because of Binda’s dominance.

He had been the overall winner of the coveted pink jersey in 1925, 1927, 1928 and 1929, on one occasion winning 12 of the 15 stages, on another racking up nine stage victories in a row.

Binda, who was perceived as a rather cold and detached competitor, was never particularly popular outside his own circle of fans and his habit of ruthlessly seeing off one hyped-up new challenger after another did nothing to win him new fans.

By 1929 it became clear to the Gazzetta’s bosses that interest in the race was waning, sales of the famous pink paper were falling and advertisers were less willing to part with their cash.

Although in today’s market, football is the driver of the Gazzetta’s popularity, at that time the Giro was its lifeblood. There were fears that another Binda procession in 1930 could mean that the race would have to be discontinued, even that the paper might be forced to close.

Binda struggled to win over Italian fans. who did not care for his cold and ruthless nature
Binda struggled to win over Italian fans. who
did not care for his cold and ruthless nature
As a result, the Gazzetta approached Binda and made him an unprecedented offer, rumoured to be in the region of 22,000 lira, in cash, NOT to take part in the 1930 Giro.  The story is that Binda did not need long to think about the offer, calculating that it was enough to buy a property in Milan, possibly two, that he could keep as investments and guarantee him a future income.

Instead, he took part in that year's Tour de France, winning two stages.  He returned to the Giro in later years, however, winning for the fifth time in 1933.

Binda’s early career was in France, where he had moved as a teenager, working for an uncle as an apprentice plasterer. He and his brother Primo spent all their free time cycling.

A gifted time trialist and climber, he began racing in September 1921, aged 19. He rode from his home in Nice to Milan in order to compete in the 1924 Tour of Lombardy, where he believed he might win the 500 lire prize on offer for the King of the Mountains. He did win it, in fact, finishing fourth in the race, and was offered a contract with the Legnano professional team.

Yet he could not endear himself to the cycling public, in which respect he was not helped by what happened in the 1925 Giro d'Italia, his first.

Binda's popularity increased after he won the World Championships in Rome
Binda's popularity increased after he
won the World Championships in Rome
The race was to be the last of the legendary champion Costante Girardengo and virtually the whole of Italy was willing him to come out on top. So when Binda, the 23-year-old debutant in the 22-day 3,520km (2,188 miles) event, turned up and won, it dashed a nation’s dreams.

In the event Girardengo continued racing, and he and Binda developed an abrasive rivalry.

In 1929, Girardengo introduced his protégé, Learco Guerra, as the latest "anti-Binda". Not only was Guerra, an expansive and open personality, popular with the public and the press, he also was favoured by the Italian Fascist Party. Binda was not cowed, however, and every defeat of Guerra only increased the antipathy towards him.

Not until 1932, when Binda won a third World Championship in front of a patriotic crowd in Rome, did the public start to warm to him.  World Champion in 1927, 1930 and 1932, he was the first to achieve three victories.

Afterwards, he could not be accused of giving nothing back to the sport.  Under his guidance as manager of the Italian national team, Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali and Gastone Nencini all became Tour de France champions.

Binda died in his home village of Cittiglio in July 1996, aged 83.

Visitors to Cittiglio want to visit the village's three waterfalls
Visitors to Cittiglio want to visit the
village's three waterfalls
Travel tip:

Alfredo Binda’s home village of Cittiglio is in the province of Varese and forms part of the mountain community Valli del Verbano, about 60km (37 miles) northwest of Milan and 15km (9 miles) from Varese.  Formerly the seat of the noble Luini or Luvini family, it has a well-preserved centre and the parish church of San Giulio has some interesting architectural features but most visitors to the area are drawn to the Cascate di Cittiglio, a series of three waterfalls set in woodland behind the town formed by the San Giulio stream, at heights between 474m and 324m above sea level.

The fifth of the Sacro Monte di Varese's chapels
The fifth of the Sacro Monte di Varese's chapels
Travel tip:

The city of Varese is in an area in the foothills of the Alps that owes its terrain to the activities of ancient glaciers that created 10 lakes in the immediate vicinity, including Lago di Varese, which this elegant provincial capital overlooks.  Most visitors to the city arrive there because of the Sacro Monte di Varese (the Sacred Hill of Varese), which features a picturesque walk passing 14 monuments and chapels, eventually reaching the monastery of Santa Maria del Monte.  But the town itself and the handsome villas and palaces in the centre and the surrounding countryside are interesting in their own right, reflecting the prosperity of the area. The grand Palazzo Estense is one, now the city's Municipio - the town hall.

More reading:

The forgotten champion Gastone Nencini

The cycling star who was a secret war hero

The tragedy of Marco Pantani

Also on this day:

1492: The controversial Rodrigo Borgia becomes Pope Alexander VI

1967: The birth of football coach Massimiliano Allegri


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