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.

21 February 2019

21 February

Domenico Ghirardelli – chocolatier


Built famous US business with skills learned in Genoa

The chocolatier Domenico Ghirardelli, founder of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in San Francisco, was born on this day in 1817 in a village just outside Rapallo in Liguria. Ghirardelli arrived in San Francisco from Peru in 1849 during the rapid expansion years of the Gold Rush. After making money ferrying supplies to prospectors in the gold fields, he set up his first chocolate factory in 1852, drawing on the skills he acquired as an apprentice in Genoa. By the end of the century, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was one of the city’s most successful businesses. Read more…

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Death of Pope Julius II


Pope who commissioned Michelangelo for Sistine Chapel

Pope Julius II, who was nicknamed ‘the Warrior Pope’, died on this day in 1513 in Rome. As well as conducting military campaigns during his papacy he was responsible for the destruction and rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica and commissioning Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He is also remembered by students of British history as being the Pope who gave Henry VIII dispensation to marry Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow. Read more…

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Giuseppe Abbati - painter and revolutionary


Early death robbed Italian art of bright new talent

Italy lost a great artistic talent tragically young when the painter and patriot Giuseppe Abbati died on this day in 1868 aged only 32, having contracted rabies as a result of being bitten by a dog.  Abbati was a leading figure in the Macchiaioli movement, a school of painting advanced by a small group of artists who began to meet at the Caffè Michelangiolo in Florence in the late 1850s. The group were also for the most part revolutionaries, many of whom had taken part in the uprisings that occurred at different places in the still-to-be-united Italian peninsula in 1848. Read more...

20 February 2019

20 February

Francesco Maria II della Rovere - the last Duke of Urbino


Last male in famous family line

Francesco Maria II della Rovere, the last holder of the title Duke of Urbino and the last surviving male from a famous noble family, was born on this day in 1549 in Pesaro in Le Marche.  Descended from the 15th century Pope Sixtus IV, Francesco Maria II’s only male heir, Federico Ubaldo della Rovere, died without fathering a son, which meant the Duchy reverted to Francesco Maria II, who in turn was convinced he should give it to Pope Urban VIII, of the Barberini family. Read more...

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Ferruccio Lamborghini - car maker


Tractor manufacturer inspired by Enzo Ferrari's 'insult'

The performance car designer Ferruccio Lamborghini died on this day in 1993 at the age of 76. Lamborghini, who made his fortune from building tractors, set up as a car maker in 1963 in direct competition with Enzo Ferrari, who had been selling sports cars with increasing success since 1947. Their rivalry began after Lamborghini, who was a collector of fast cars, complained about problems with a two-seater 250GT he owned only for Ferrari to dismissively reply that he would not be lectured to about high performance cars by a tractor manufacturer.  Lamborghini decided he would hit back by making his own cars. Read more…

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Laura Bassi – scientist


Ground-breaking academic paved the way for women

Brilliant physicist Laura Bassi died on this day in 1778 in Bologna. She had enjoyed a remarkable career, becoming the first woman to earn a Chair in Science at a university anywhere in the world. Just 13 when her family’s physician recognised her potential and took charge of her education, she was the Academy of Sciences at the University of Bologna as an honorary member at the age of 20, the first female to ever be allowed to join. When she received her degree from the university there was a public celebration in Bologna. Read more…

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The Barber of Seville premieres in Rome


Rival fans wreck debut of Rossini’s most famous opera

The Barber of Seville, the work that would come to be seen as Gioachino Rossini’s masterpiece of comic opera, was performed for first time on this day in 1816 at the Teatro Argentina in Rome. It was originally entitled Almaviva or The Useless Precaution, out of deference to Giovanni Paisiello, the most popular composer in Italy in the 18th century, whose own version of the French comedy play Il barbiere di Siviglia had been very successful.  Nonetheless, Paisiello’s loyal fans saw Rossini’s opera as an attempt to steal their favourite’s thunder, whatever name he gave it, and sabotaged its opening night by jeering, shouting and catcalling throughout the whole performance. Read more…

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Francesco Maria II della Rovere - the last Duke of Urbino

Last male in famous family line


Francesco II della Rovere, as depicted by the Italian painter Federico Barocci in 1572 (Uffizi Gallery)
Francesco Maria II della Rovere, as depicted by Italian
painter Federico Barocci in 1572 (Uffizi Gallery)
Francesco Maria II della Rovere, the last holder of the title Duke of Urbino and the last surviving male from a famous noble family, was born on this day in 1549 in Pesaro in Le Marche.

Descended from the 15th century Pope Sixtus IV, Francesco Maria II’s only male heir, Federico Ubaldo della Rovere, died without fathering a son, which meant the Duchy reverted to Francesco Maria II, who in turn was convinced he should give it to Pope Urban VIII, of the Barberini family.

Federico’s daughter, Vittoria della Rovere, had been convinced she would be made Duchess of Urbino but had to be content with the Duchies of Rovere and Montefeltro, as well as an art collection that became the property of Florence after she had married Ferdinando II de’ Medici.

Pope Sixtus IV, best known for building the Sistine Chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official papal residence in Vatican City, had come from a poor family in Savona in Liguria, but once elected pope became wealthy and powerful and set about ensuring that his personal prosperity was used to the betterment of his family.

He soon made made his nephews Giuliano della Rovere (the future Pope Julius II) and Pietro Riario both cardinals and bishops, while appointing four other nephews as cardinals.

Vittoria della Rovere, granddaughter of Francesco Maria II, was the last to carry the family name
Vittoria della Rovere, granddaughter of Francesco
Maria II, was the last to carry the family name 
He made Giovanni Della Rovere - Giuliano’s brother - prefect of Rome, and arranged for him to marry into the da Montefeltro family, dukes of Urbino.

Guidobaldo da Montefeltro adopted Francesco Maria I della Rovere, his sister's child and nephew of Pope Julius II, and named him as heir of the Duchy of Urbino in 1504.

Francesco Maria I inherited the duchy in 1508 thereby starting the line of Rovere Dukes of Urbino. Francesco Maria II della Rovere was his grandson after the third Rovere to hold the title.

As a young man, Francesco Maria II was raised at the court of Philip II of Spain. He would have married a Spanish girl but his father, Guidobaldo II della Rovere, forbade it and demanded he return to Urbino.

Instead, he married Lucrezia d'Este, a daughter of Ercole II d'Este and became Duke of Urbino in 1574, when his father died.

Francesco Maria II inherited considerable debts, however, and was forced to sell the Duchy of Sora and the family’s historic seat in Arce in Lazio.

The Ducal Palace at Pesaro, where Francesco Maria II was born
The Ducal Palace at Pesaro, where
Francesco Maria II was born
His marriage to Lucrezia  remained childless, which was bad news because without an heir his family's would lapse on his death and his entire estate would be acquired, by default, by the Papal States.

It was fortunate, then, that the death of Lucrezia in 1599 allowed him to marry his teenage cousin, Livia della Rovere, who had a male child, Federico Ubaldo, in 1605. He became Duke of Urbino on being married in 1621 but died only two years later, from epilepsy, leaving only a daughter, the aforementioned Vittoria Della Rovere.

The aging Francesco Maria II took up the title of Duke again, but as there was no more hopes of there being a male heir he arranged for his Duchy to be annexed to the Papal States after his death in 1631.

Vittoria inherited the Duke's art collection but after marrying into the Medici family and had it transferred to Florence to the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Pitti, where it remains today.

The Fortezza del Priamar was built by the Genoese to protect the city of Savona in the 16th century
The Fortezza del Priamar was built by the Genoese to
protect the city of Savona in the 16th century
Travel tip:

The third largest city in Liguria after Genoa and La Spezia, Savona, where the Della Rovere family originated, used to be one of the biggest centres of the Italian iron industry, the iron-works and foundries providing materials for shipbuilding and railways among other things. It also has a busy port but as well as industrial areas the city has a charming medieval centre containing architectural gems such as the baroque Cattedrale di Nostra Signora Assunta - behind which is Italy’s other Sistine Chapel, like the Rome version erected by Pope Sixtus IV - and the Fortezza del Priamar, built by the Genoese in 1542 after their conquest of the city and later used a prison. It was there in 1830 that the revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini was imprisoned. There is a Palazzo Della Rovere built by Cardinal Giulio della Rovere and designed by Giuliano da Sangallo.

The resort city of Pesaro has a long stretch of sandy  beach that is free for public use
The resort city of Pesaro has a long stretch of sandy
 beach that is free for public use
Travel tip:

Pesaro, where Francesco Maria II was born, is a coastal city and resort in Le Marche about 35km (22 miles) from Urbino. It has a 15th century Ducal Palace, commissioned by Alessandro Sforza. The city has become well known for being the home of the opera composer Gioachino Rossini, who was born there in 1792. There is a Rossini Opera Festival every summer and Pesaro is home to the Conservatorio Statale di Musica Gioachino Rossini, which was founded from a legacy left by the composer. Look out also for the Rocca Costanza, a massive castle built by Costanzo I Sforza. Of the 17th century Mura Roveresche - the Della Rovere Walls - demolished in the early 20th century, only the Porta del Ponte and Porta Rimini gates remain.

More reading:

The death of Julius II, the 'Warrior Pope'

Vittoria della Rovere, Grand Duchess of Tuscany

Isabella d'Este - 'First Lady of the world'

Also on this day:

1778: The death of Laura Bassi, physics professor who broke new ground for female academics

1816: Rossini's opera The Barber of Seville premieres in Rome

1993: The death of car marker Ferruccio Lamborghini

(Picture credits: Ducal Palace by Italtrucker; Savona fortress by Diani Stefano; Pesaro beach by Whiskerdisco; all via Wikimedia Commons)


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19 February 2019

19 February

Massimo Troisi – actor, writer and director


Tragic star died hours after completing finest work

Massimo Troisi, the comic actor, writer and director who suffered a fatal heart attack in 1994 only 12 hours after shooting finished on his greatest movie, was born on this day in 1953 in a suburb of Naples. Troisi co-directed and starred in Il Postino, which won an Oscar for best soundtrack after being nominated in five categories, the most nominations in Academy Awards history for an Italian film.  Plagued by heart problems for much of his life, he was due to fly to London for a transplant the following day but died in his sleep at his sister’s house in Ostia, outside Rome. Read more…

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Luigi Boccherini – musician


Composer gave the cello prominence in his charming quintets

Cellist and composer Luigi Rodolfo Boccherini was born on this day in 1743 in Lucca in Tuscany. Boccherini is particularly known for a minuet from his String Quintet in E, which became popular after its use by characters posing as musicians in the 1955 film, The Ladykillers, which starred Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. Though his works became neglected after his death in 1805 they enjoyed a revival after the Boccherini Quintet was formed in Rome, who started performing them in the 1950s. Read more…

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Vittorio Grigolo - opera singer


Tenor courted public popularity as way to land 'serious' roles

The operatic tenor Vittorio Grigolo was born on this day in 1977 in Arezzo in Tuscany.  Grigolo has performed at many of the world's leading opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He attended the prestigious Sistine Chapel Choir School in Rome as a boy and was tipped for greatness yet he achieved fame as a serious performer after first releasing an album of popular songs and using reality TV shows to put himself in the public eye. Read more…

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18 February 2019

18 February

Roberta Vinci - tennis champion


Won five Grand Slam doubles titles with partner Sara Errani

The tennis player Roberta Vinci, one half of the most successful Italian women’s doubles partnerships of all time, was born on this day in 1983 in Taranto in Puglia.  Vinci and partner Sara Errani were the champions at the French Open and United States Open in 2012 and the Australian Open in 2013 and 2014 and Wimbledon in 2014. Vinci’s finest achievement in singles came at the US Open in 2015, when she defeated world No 1 Serena Williams in the semi-finals before losing to fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta in the final. Read more…

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Michelangelo – Renaissance painter and sculptor


‘Greatest artist of all time’ left amazing legacy of work

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni - universally known simply as Michelangelo - died on this day in 1564 in Rome. His death came three weeks before his 89th birthday while he was still working on his last sculpture, the Rondanini PietĂ , a version of the Virgin Mary with the body of the dead Christ. As a sculptor, painter, architect and poet, Michelangelo exerted an enormous influence on the development of art and he is considered to be one of the greatest - if not the greatest - artists of all time. Read more…

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Roberto Baggio - football icon


Azzurri star regarded as Italy's greatest player

The footballer Roberto Baggio, regarded by fans in Italy and around the world as one of the game's greatest players, was born on this day in 1967 in a small town north of Vicenza. Baggio, who won the Serie A title twice and played in three World Cups, scored 318 goals in his career, the first Italian for 50 years to top 300, despite having six knee operations during his career.  But for his injuries, Baggio might have been placed in the same bracket as Pele, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi as the best players in history.  Read more…

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Blessed Fra Angelico – painter


Talented Friar became patron of Catholic artists

The early Renaissance painter Fra Angelico died on this day in 1455 in Rome.  Fra Angelico is regarded as one of the greatest painters of the 15th century, whose works reflected his serene religious attitude. In 1982, more than 500 years after his death, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in recognition of the holiness of his life. In 1984, Pope John Paul II declared him ‘patron of Catholic artists’.  Among his most famous works were the altarpieces and frescoes he painted for the Church and Priory of San Marco in Florence. Read more...

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Roberta Vinci - tennis champion

Won five Grand Slam doubles titles with partner Sara Errani


Roberta Vinci won 10 singles and 25 doubles titles in her career, reaching a Grand Slam singles final at the age of 32
Roberta Vinci won 10 singles and 25 doubles titles in her
career, reaching a Grand Slam singles final at the age of 32
The tennis player Roberta Vinci, one half of the most successful Italian women’s doubles partnerships of all time and one of only four Italian women to rank in the world’s top 10 at singles, was born on this day in 1983 in the major port city of Taranto in Puglia.

Vinci and partner Sara Errani reached the women’s doubles final at eight Grand Slam tournaments between 2012 and 2014, winning five of them.

They were the champions at the French Open and United States Open in 2012 and the Australian Open in 2013 and again in 2014. When they won the Wimbledon title in 2014 they became one of only five women’s doubles partnerships to complete a career Grand Slam of all the four majors.

The pair, who reached No 1 in the world rankings in 2012, unexpectedly ended their five-year partnership in 2015, after which Vinci focussed on singles.

Vinci and her doubles partner Sara Errani, with whom she won five Grand Slams
Vinci and her doubles partner Sara Errani,
with whom she won five Grand Slams
Vinci’s finest achievement in singles came at the US Open in 2015, when she defeated world No 1 Serena Williams in the semi-finals before facing her compatriot and childhood friend Flavia Pennetta in the final, the first in a Grand Slam in the open era to pit one Italian against another.

Pennetta won 7-6, 6-2 but Vinci was spurred on by her achievement in reaching a Grand Slam final for the first time at 32 years old and in 2016 broke into the world’s top 10 for the first time in her career at 33 years and four days. It is the oldest at which any player has attained a top-10 ranking for the first time.

She did so on the back of winning a WTA tournament in St Petersburg, Russia, her first for three years. Errani, Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone are the other Italian women who have achieved a ranking in the top 10.

The daughter of an accountant, Vinci took up tennis at the age of just six and represented Taranto Tennis Club in numerous junior events. She and Pennetta, from Brindisi, won the women’s doubles at the Avvenire Trophy at just 14 years old.

They won the girls’ doubles at the French Open in 1999, the same year that Vinci made her professional debut.

Vinci and Flavia Pennetta show off their trophies after the US Open women's final of 2015 in New York
Vinci and Flavia Pennetta show off their trophies after the
US Open women's final of 2015 in New York
The first of her 35 titles came in 2001 at the Qatar Open, when she and the French player Sandrine Testud won the women’s doubles. In all she went on to win 25 doubles titles, all but three in partnership with Errani.

Vinci won the first of her 10 singles titles at the Copa Colsanitas in Bogota, Colombia, in 2007. She was also a member of the Italian team that won the Fed Cup women’s team event on four occasions.

Unusually for a modern player, Vinci used a one-handed backhand grip and the backhand slice was one of her favourite shots. Combined with a powerful forehand and excellent court coverage, her game was often likened to that of the great German champion Steffi Graf.

After a 21-year career, Vinci retired from professional tennis at the Italian Open in 2018, bowing out before an appreciative home crowd at the Foro Italico in Rome, signing off a tearful farewell speech with the words: “From tomorrow, I am on holiday!”

Taranto's Castello Aragonese, which stands guard over the canal linking the Mar Grande with the Mar Piccolo
Taranto's Castello Aragonese, which stands guard over
the canal linking the Mar Grande with the Mar Piccolo
Travel tip:

Taranto, a port city on the Ionian Sea which is home to Italy’s largest naval base, was once one of the largest cities in the world, founded by the Greeks in 706BC and growing so prosperous that it once had a population in excess of 300,000. It retained its status under the Roman Republic but declined under the Roman Empire after the Emperor Trajan redirected the Via Appia, which used to connect it with Rome, to Bari. Nowadays, it is still a substantial city, home to almost 200,000 people. It is built around two large bays - the Mar Grande, where the commercial port is located, and the Mar Piccolo, flanked by the historic town centre and also home to the city’s fishing fleets.  The city is notable for multiple architectural styles, including Byzantine, Saracen and Norman. The Cattedrale di San Cataldo, right in the heart of old Taranto, dates back to the 11th century and houses the relics of the city’s patron saint, Cataldo. Taranto’s other must-see monument is the Castello Aragonese, built by King Ferdinand of Aragon in the 15th century.

Find a hotel in Taranto with TripAdvisor

The uniquely ornate setting of Italy's national tennis centre at the Foro Italico, home of the Italian Open
The uniquely ornate setting of Italy's national tennis centre
at the Foro Italico, home of the Italian Open
Travel tip:

Foro Italico, the sports complex in Rome that is the home of the Italian Open tennis championships, was built between 1928 and 1938 as the Foro Mussolini. Inspired by the Roman forums of the imperial age, its original purpose was to host the Olympic Games of 1940 as a showcase for Fascist values. In the event, the Second World War meant the 1940 Games were cancelled, although it was the main host venue for the Rome Olympics of 1960. The complex of today includes the Stadio Olimpico, home of Rome’s two major football clubs - Roma and Lazio - and the largest sports stadium in Italy, the ornate Stadio dei Marmi athletics stadium - headquarters of the Italian National Olympic Committee - and the national tennis centre, which - like the Stadio dei Marmi is surrounded by classical statues of athletes.

Rome hotels from Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

Why Sara Errani can be called Italy's most successful tennis player of all time

Francesca Schiavone - the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam

How Camila Giorgi became Italy's No 1

Also on this day:

1455: The death of Renaissance painter Fra Angelico

1564: The death of Michelangelo

1967: The birth of soccer star Roberto Baggio

(Picture credits: Main picture of Roberta Vinci by Regasterios; Vinci and Errani by Marianne Bevis; Castello Aragonese by Livioandronico2013; all via Wikimedia Commons)


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17 February 2019

17 February

Giovanni Pacini – opera composer


Works of overshadowed musician have enjoyed recent revival

Composer Giovanni Pacini, who wrote operas in the early part of the 19th century to suit the voices of the great singers of the period, was born on this day in 1796 in Catania in Sicily.  By the mid 1830s, Pacini had withdrawn from operatic activity after he found his operas eclipsed by those of Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini. After he returned with his opera, Saffo, in 1840, which generally hailed as his masterpiece, he found himself overshadowed by Giuseppe Verdi. Read more...


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Raffaele ‘Raf’ Vallone – actor


Movie star who had four careers

Raffaele Vallone, the stage and screen actor who was born on this day in 1916, was remarkable for having embarked on three different career paths before he made his acting debut. A former apprentice professional footballer, he quit to join his father’s legal practice before changing course again and becoming a journalist. Then, after interviewing the film director Giuseppe De Santis, he was offered a part in a neo-realist movie that became a box-office hit and found his true vocation. Read more...

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Giordano Bruno - 'martyr of science'


Dominican friar condemned as a heretic

Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar and philosopher who challenged orthodox Christian beliefs in the 16th century, died on this day in 1600 when he was burned at the stake as a heretic. Among the beliefs that contradicted Catholic wisdom was his contention that God did not exist in some personal form with human traits, that everything in the universe was made of tiny particles (atoms), that Earth revolved around the sun, rather than the other way round and that our sun was only one of an infinite number of suns in an endless universe, each surrounded by planets. Read more…

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Arcangelo Corelli – musician


Baroque composer had a major influence on the development of music

Violinist and composer Arcangelo Corelli was born on this day in 1653 at Fusignano, a small town near Ravenna.  He is remembered for his influence on the development of violin style and for his use of the genres of sonata and concerto. Both Bach and Handel are said to have studied his work and been influenced by him. Correlli’s 12 Concerti Grossi established the concerto grosso as a popular medium of composition. Corelli was also a brilliant teacher and among his many students was the young Antonio Vivaldi. Read more…

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