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.

23 February 2019

23 February

John Keats – poet


Writer spent his final days in the Eternal City


English Romantic poet John Keats died on this day in Rome in 1821. He had been a published writer for five years and had written some of his greatest work before leaving England. He was just starting to be appreciated by the literary critics when tuberculosis took hold of him and he was advised by doctors to move to a warmer climate.  He arrived in Rome with his friend, Joseph Severn, in November 1820 to live in a house next to the Spanish Steps but sadly his health problems overtook him. Read more…

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Gentile Bellini - Renaissance painter


Bellini family were Venice's leading 15th century artists

Gentile Bellini, a member of Venice's leading family of painters in the 15th century, died in Venice on this day in 1507.  He was believed to be in his late 70s, although the exact date of his birth was not recorded. The son of Jacopo Bellini, who had been a pioneer in the use of oil paint in art, he was the brother of Giovanni Bellini and the brother-in-law of Andrea Mantegna.  Together, they were the founding family of the Venetian school of Renaissance art. Read more…

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Giovanni Battista de Rossi - Archaeologist


Excavations unearthed massive Catacomb of St Callixtus

Giovanni Battista de Rossi, the archaeologist who revealed the whereabouts of lost Christian catacombs beneath Rome, was born on this day in 1822 in the Italian capital. De Rossi’s most famous discovery – or rediscovery, to be accurate – of the Catacomb of St Callixtus, established him as the greatest archaeologist of the 19th century.  The vast underground cemetery, located beneath the Appian Way about 7km (4.3 miles) south of the centre of Rome, may have contained up to half a million corpses, including those of 16 popes. Read more…

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22 February 2019

22 February


Renato Dulbecco - Nobel Prize-winning physiologist


Research led to major breakthrough in knowledge of cancer

Renato Dulbecco, a physiologist who shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his role in drawing a link between genetic mutations and cancer, was born on this day in 1914 in Catanzaro in Calabria.  Dulbecco and two colleagues showed that certain viruses could insert their own genes into infected cells and trigger uncontrolled cell growth, a hallmark of cancer. Their findings transformed the course of cancer research, providing the first evidence that the disease involved genetic mutations. Read more...


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Mario Pavesi – entrepreneur


Biscuit maker who gave Italian motorists the Autogrill

Italy lost one of its most important postwar entrepreneurs when Mario Pavesi died on this day in 1990.  Pavesi, originally from the town of Cilavegna in the province of Pavia in Lombardy, not only founded the Pavesi brand, famous for Pavesini and Ringo biscuits among other lines, but also set up Italy’s first motorway service areas under the name of Autogrill. The forward-thinking businessman foresaw the way Italians would embrace road travel once the country developed its own motorway network. Read more…

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Giulietta Masina - actress


Married to Fellini and excelled in his films

The actress Giulietta Masina, who was married for 50 years to the film director Federico Fellini, was born on this day in 1921 in San Giorgio di Piano in Emilia-Romagna. Fellini gave her the lead female role opposition Anthony Quinn in La Strada (1954) and enabled her to win international acclaim when he cast her as a prostitute in the 1957 film Nights of Cabiria, both of which won Oscars for best foreign film. Masina's performance in the latter earned her best actress awards at the film festivals of Cannes and San Sebasti√°n and from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists (SNGCI). Read more…

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Enrico Piaggio -- industrialist


Former aircraft manufacturer famed for Italy's iconic Vespa motor scooter

Enrico Piaggio, who was born on this day in 1905 in the Pegli area of Genoa, was destined to be an industrialist, although he cannot have envisaged the way in which his company would become a world leader. Charged with rebuilding the business after Allied bombers destroyed the company's major factories during World War II, Enrico Piaggio decided to switch from manufacturing aircraft to building motorcycles, an initiative from which emerged one of Italy's most famous symbols, the Vespa scooter. Read more...


Renato Dulbecco - Nobel Prize-winning physiologist

Research led to major breakthrough in knowledge of cancer


Renato Dulbecco emigrated to the United States 1946 after studying at the University of Turin
Renato Dulbecco emigrated to the United States
1946 after studying at the University of Turin
Renato Dulbecco, a physiologist who shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his role in drawing a link between genetic mutations and cancer, was born on this day in 1914 in Catanzaro in Calabria.

Through a series of experiments that began in the late 1950s after he had emigrated to the United States, Dulbecco and two colleagues showed that certain viruses could insert their own genes into infected cells and trigger uncontrolled cell growth, a hallmark of cancer.

Their findings transformed the course of cancer research, laying the groundwork for the linking of several viruses to human cancers, including the human papilloma virus, which is responsible for most cervical cancers.

The discovery also provided the first tangible evidence that cancer was caused by genetic mutations, a breakthrough that changed the way scientists thought about cancer and the effects of carcinogens such as tobacco smoke.

Dulbecco, who shared the Nobel Prize with California Institute of Technology (Caltech) colleagues Howard Temin and David Baltimore, then examined how viruses use DNA to store their genetic information and, in his studies of breast cancer, pioneered a technique for identifying cancer cells by the proteins present on their surface.

Dulbecco found that viruses such as the human papilloma virus could cause cell mutations
Dulbecco found that viruses such as the human
papilloma virus could cause cell mutations
His proposal in 1986 to catalogue all human genes can be seen as the beginnings of the Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003.

The son of a civil engineer, Dulbecco grew up in Liguria after his family moved from Catanzaro to the coastal city of Imperia. He graduated from high school at 16 and went on to the University of Turin, receiving his medical degree in 1936. He became friends there with two other future Nobel prizewinners, Rita Levi-Montalcini and Salvador Luria, who were fellow students.

Immediately upon graduating, he was required to do two years’ military service. He was discharged in 1938 but soon afterwards called up again as Italy entered the Second World War, joining the Italian Army as a medical officer.

His role eventually took him to the Russian front, where he suffered an injury to his shoulder that meant he was sent back to Italy to recuperate. Disillusioned with Mussolini and horrified at learning of the fate of Jews under Hitler, he decided not to return to the Army, joining the resistance instead. He stationed himself in a remote village outside Turin, tending to injured partisans.

After the war, he was briefly involved with politics, firstly on the Committee for National Liberation in Turin and then on the city council, but soon returned to Turin University to study physics and conduct biological research.

Dulbecco's fellow Turin University graduate Salvador Duria also moved to America
Dulbecco's fellow Turin University graduate
Salvador Duria also moved to America
With the encouragement of Levi-Montalcini, who would win a Nobel Prize in 1986 for her work in neurobiology, in 1946, he moved to United States, rejoining Luria, who shared a Nobel in 1969 for discoveries about the genetics of bacteria, at Indiana University, where they studied viruses. In the summer of 1949 he moved to Caltech, where he began his work on animal oncoviruses.

Dulbecco worked with Dr. Marguerite Vogt on a method of determining the amount of polio virus present in cell culture, a step that was vital in the development of polio vaccine, before becoming intrigued by a thesis written by Howard Temin on the connection between viruses and cancer.

He left Caltech in 1962 to move to the Salk Institute, a polio research facility in San Diego, and then in 1972 to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now Cancer Research UK) in London.

There was a mixed reaction in Italy when it was learned that ‘their’ Nobel Prize winner had become an American citizen. In fact, his Italian citizenship was revoked, although when he moved back to Italy in 1993 to spend four years as president of the Institute of Biomedical Technologies at National Council of Research in Milan he was made an honorary citizen.

Married twice, with three children, Dulbecco died in La Jolla, California, in 2012, three days before what would have been his 98th birthday.

From its elevated position, Catanzaro has views towards the Ionian Sea and the resort of Catanzaro Lido
From its elevated position, Catanzaro has views towards
the Ionian Sea and the resort of Catanzaro Lido
Travel tip:

Occupying a position 300m (980ft) above the Gulf of Squillace, Catanzaro is known as the City of the Two Seas because, from some vantage points, it is possible to see the Tyrrhenian Sea to the north of the long peninsula occupied by Calabria as well as the Ionian Sea to the south.  The historic centre, which sits at the highest point of the city, includes a 16th century cathedral built on the site of a 12th century Norman cathedral which, despite being virtually destroyed by bombing in 1943, has been impressively restored.  The city is about 15km (9 miles) from Catanzaro Lido, which has a long white beach typical of the Gulf of Squillace.

Catanzaro hotels from Hotels.com

The waterfront of the Ligurian port city of Imperia, with the Basilica of San Maurizio on top of the hill
The waterfront of the Ligurian port city of Imperia, with
the Basilica of San Maurizio on top of the hill
Travel tip:

The beautiful city of Imperia, on Liguria's Riviera Poniente about 120km (75 miles) west of Genoa and 60km (37 miles) from the border with France, came into being in 1923 when the neighbouring ports of Porto Maurizio and Oneglia, either side of the Impero river, were merged along with several surrounding villages to form one conurbation.  Oneglia, once the property of the Doria family in the 13th century, has become well known for cultivating flowers and olives. Porto Maurizio, originally a Roman settlement called Portus Maurici, has a classical cathedral dedicated to San Maurizio, which was built by Gaetano Cantoni and completed in the early 19th century.

Find an Imperia hotel with Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

How Salvador Luria reached the United States after fleeing Paris on a bicycle

Grazia Deledda - the first Italian woman to win a Nobel Prize

The first physiologist to explain human movement

Also on this day:

1905: The birth of industrialist Enrico Piaggio

1921: The birth of actress Giulietta Masina

1990: The death of Autogrill pioneer Mario Pavesi

(Picture credits: Catanzaro view by Salvatore Migliari; Imperia waterfront by BMK)


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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 Caff√® 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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