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.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Aldo Serena - footballer

Azzurri striker left field in tears after penalty miss

Aldo Serena places the ball on the spot before his fateful penalty kick against Argentina
Aldo Serena places the ball on the spot before
his fateful penalty kick against Argentina
Aldo Serena, one of the two Italian players who most felt the agony of defeat after the Azzurri suffered the pain of losing at the semi-final stage when the football World Cup last took place on home soil, was born on this day in 1960 in Montebelluna, a town in the Veneto.

The match that ended the host nation's participation in the Italia '90 tournament took place in Naples against an Argentina side that included the local hero, Diego Maradona. It was decided on penalties after finishing 1-1 over 120 minutes. 

Italy converted their opening three penalties, as did Argentina.  Then Roberto Donadoni’s shot was saved by the Argentina goalkeeper, Sergio Goycochea.  Up stepped Maradona, who scored, to the delight of many in the crowd who had divided loyalties.

Suddenly, everything was down to Aldo Serena, who could not afford to miss if Italy were to stay alive in a tournament in which they had played football at times that deserved to win.

Serena, the Internazionale striker, had been a fringe player for Italy throughout the tournament, picked only as a substitute, although he had scored in that capacity against Uruguay in the round of 16 – on his 30th birthday.

Roberto Baggio consoles Aldo Serena (left) after  Italy's defeat in the semi-final
Roberto Baggio consoles Aldo Serena (left) after
Italy's defeat in the semi-final
He had said since that he never wanted such responsibility, but Azeglio Vicini, the Italy coach, said there was no choice.  Gianluca Vialli and Giuseppe Giannini, who would have been chosen ahead of Serena, had both been substituted, while Toto Schillaci, who had emerged as Italy’s talisman during the tournament, had finished extra time with a groin injury, which Vicini felt might be too big an impediment. Serena had scored more than 100 goals during his Serie A career. He knew what it took to put the ball in the net.

Yet though hit a firm enough shot Goycochea read his intentions, diving to his left to smother the ball. Unlike Donadoni, who had dropped to his knees, head in hands, Serena remained upright.  Hands on hips, he tipped his head back and looked towards the heavens.  Goycochea ran past him, eager to join his team-mates as they celebrated their passage to the final.

Serena had not done too much wrong throughout the tournament so to be held responsible in some ways for the Azzurri demise was unfair. Twenty-four hours later, it would be the turn of Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle to be Donadoni and Serena as England were knocked out by West Germany, also on penalties.

Serena with the trophy he won as Serie A's top scorer in 1988-89
Serena with the trophy he won as
Serie A's top scorer in 1988-89
Yet at that moment it must have seemed there was no consolation or comfort available. The hopes of a nation had rested on his shoulders and he had not been able to deliver. No wonder he left the field in tears.

The moment should not have defined his career but it has tended to overshadow his achievements, which were not inconsiderable.  He won the Serie A title no fewer than four times, with Juventus (1985-86), Inter (88-89), and AC Milan (91-92 and 92-93), although his contribution to the two Milan championships was minimal because of injuries.

A powerful, athletic centre forward with good aerial ability and a fierce shot in his left foot, his best years were at Inter, where he was Serie A’s leading scorer in 1988-89 with 22 goals.  Yet fans of the nerazzurri found it hard to forgive him for joining their arch rivals AC Milan under Fabio Capello.

He retired in 1993 as the only player to have played for both Milan clubs and both Turin clubs, having spent part of the 1984-85 season on loan with Torino.  Nowadays he works as a TV pundit.

The church of Santa Maria in Colle in Montebelluna
The church of Santa Maria in Colle
in Montebelluna
Travel tip:

Montebelluna is situated about 22km (14m) northwest of Treviso and about 67km (42m) from Venice on the way to the Valdobbiadene wine growing region famous for prosecco. A pleasant, orderly town, it is best known for its long tradition in the footwear industry, particularly the production of sports footwear, from ski boots to football boots.  There is a museum dedicated to the industry in Vicolo Zuccareda, not far from the church of Santa Maria in Colle. The international sportswear giant Nike has a factory nearby, while another, Fila, has a research facility based at Montebelluna.

Inside the Stadio San Paolo
Inside the Stadio San Paolo
Travel tip:

The football stadium in Naples, where the 1990 semi-final took, place is the Stadio San Paolo, built in the Fuorigrotta neighbourhood on the north side of the city and completed in 1959, more than 10 years after work began.  It is the third largest football ground in Italy with a capacity of 60,240. Diego Maradona played there for SC Napoli between 1984 and 1991, helping the club to the most successful period in their history, in which they won the Serie A title twice, the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup. The local council wanted to rename the ground Stadio Diego Maradona but Italian law prohibits the naming of a public building after any person who has not been dead at least 10 years.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Piero Barone – singer

Young tenor found fame on TV talent show

Piero Barone, one of the stars of the group Il Volo
Piero Barone, one of the stars
of the group Il Volo
Piero Barone, one of the three singers who make up the Italian opera and pop group, Il Volo, was born on this day in 1993 in Naro, a town in the province of Agrigento in Sicily.

Il Volo hit the headlines after winning the Sanremo Music Festival in 2015. They came third when they represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest with their hit Grande Amore later that year in Austria and have since acquired growing popularity world wide.

In 2016, the group, together with tenor Placido Domingo, released Notte Magica – A Tribute to the Three Tenors, a live album featuring many of the songs performed by the Three Tenors (Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras) for their iconic concert held at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome on the eve of the Italia ’90 World Cup.

Piero’s father, Gaetano Barone, is a mechanic and his mother, Eleonora Ognibene, a housewife.

His musical talent was discovered by his grandfather, Pietro Ognibene, when he was just five years of age. Pietro was a blind musician who had written a song in Sicilian and when Piero sang it for him he was amazed by his voice.

The family helped Piero develop his talent and his grandfather paid for him to have piano lessons. Piero sang at school and in the church choir and even earned money as a wedding singer.

Il Volo performing at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015
Il Volo performing at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015
Considered a spinto tenor, a singer who easily reaches high notes but has elements of a baritone, Piero’s voice is powerful and he can sustain notes for a long while.

He had professional singing tuition while he was growing up and won a number of singing festivals in Italy. When he took part in the TV talent show, Ti Lascio Una Canzone, in 2009 he met fellow contestants Ignazio Boschetto and Gianluca Ginoble, with whom he would later form the group, Il Volo.

On the show, Piero sang with them for the first time in a rendition of the famous Neapolitan song, O’ Sole Mio.

Il Volo describe their music as ‘popera’ and sing at venues all over Italy and abroad. They have so far released five CDs, which have been hits all over the world.

Grande Amore was part of an album issued as L'amore si muove - Love moves - in Italy, which reached number one in the Italian album charts.

The view over Naro from the medieval castle
The view over Naro from the medieval castle
Travel tip:

Naro in Sicily, where Piero Barone was born, dates back to Roman times and the remains of catacombs and villas have been found there. The town has a medieval castle, the ruins of a Norman Church and several Baroque buildings. It is famous for the festival held on 18 June every year to remember the patron saint, San Calogero, when a statue of the saint is carried through the streets in a procession. The composer, Achille Campisiano, was born in the town in 1837.

Piazza Santa Croce is one of the most famous squares in Florence
Piazza Santa Croce is one of the most famous
squares in Florence
Travel tip:

Il Volo’s album, Notte Magico – A Tribute to the Three Tenors, was recorded at a live concert held on July 1, 2016 in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence accompanied by the orchestra of the Teatro Massimo di Palermo. The tenor, Placido Domingo, conducted the orchestra for eight pieces and joined with Il Volo to sing Non ti scordar di me. Set in one of the most famous squares in Florence, the concert took place against the backdrop of the 13th century church of Santa Croce, which contains the tombs of many illustrious Florentines, including Michelangelo and Galileo.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Claudio Capone – actor and dubber

The Italian voice of a host of stars

The dubbing professional Claudio Capone  was the Italian voice of many stars
The dubbing professional Claudio Capone
 was the Italian voice of many stars 
Italy lost one of its most famous voices on this day in 2008 with the premature death of Claudio Capone.

The Rome-born actor was working in Scotland when he suffered a stroke. He was admitted to hospital in Perth but despite the best efforts of doctors he died two days later, at the age of only 55.

Although he began his career with the ambitions of any actor to reach the top of his profession, he was offered an opportunity only a few years out of drama school to do some voice-over work and found the flow of work in dubbing to be so consistent he ultimately made it his career.

Unlike some countries, Italian cinema and TV audiences have always preferred to watch imported films and TV shows with dubbed Italian voices rather than subtitles, which meant that a talented dubbing actor was seldom unemployed.

Capone was among the best and it was down to him that many foreign stars became famous in Italy, even though many did not speak a word of Italian.

The biggest example of this was the American actor Ronn Moss, who played the part of fashion magnate Ridge Forrester in the CBS soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful.

Moss, who had enjoyed a successful pop career as a member of a band he formed with friends in Los Angeles, called Player, was by no means an outstanding actor but when in 1990 the Italian station Rai bought the rights to The Bold and the Beautiful, which they repackaged as simply Beautiful, his fame took off – in Italy, at any rate.

The American actor Ronn Moss owed his fame in Italy at least in part to Claudio Capone
The American actor Ronn Moss owed his fame
in Italy at least in part to Claudio Capone
He became a favourite with Italian TV audiences, although his appeal owed as much to Capone as his own good looks or acting ability.

Capone gave him a deep, husky voice that female viewers found irresistible. The show quickly built a following, and when it was bought by Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest in 1994 and broadcast on Canale 5, Capone continued in the role.

Moss became a star in Italy, yet when he was a celebrity dancer in the 2010 series of Ballando con le Stelle – the Italian equivalent of America’s Dancing with the Stars and the UK show Strictly Come Dancing – audiences were shocked that his own Italian was so limited he needed the show’s host, Milly Carlucci, to interpret for him.

There was much more to Capone’s career than simply being the voice of Ronn Moss, although he also dubbed his part in an Italian-made Romantic comedy, Christmas in Love, in which Moss appeared as himself.

Indeed, his movie credits read like a cinema who’s who, such was his versatility and ability to tailor his voice for an extraordinary range of diverse parts.

He was the voice of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, of Brad Davis as Billy Hayes in Midnight Express, of Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde in Wilde, of Steve Guttenberg as Carey Mahoney in the Police Academy series and of Martin Sheen as Carruthers Kit in Badlands.

Claudio Capone at work behind a microphone
Claudio Capone at work behind a microphone
Others for whom he was the Italian voice – and this list is by no means comprehensive – included John Travolta, Alan Alda, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Walken, Chuck Norris, Michael Douglas, Jeff Bridges, Kyle MacLachlan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe and Michael York.

On the small screen, he dubbed for Don Johnson in Miami Vice and Michael Newman in Baywatch, and – again showing his versatility – for John Nettles as an English detective in Midsomer Murders (shown in Italy as Inspector Barnaby), a sitcom doctor played by Alexander Armstrong in TLC and the English vet in Africa (Stephen Tompkinson) in Wild at Heart, shown as Cuore D’Africa.

In addition to his film and TV drama roles, Capone’s other outstanding success was as the Italian voice of documentaries on the Discovery Channel, and as the narrator of the hit Italian science programme Quark.

He was in Scotland to narrate a documentary programme when he was taken ill.  The older of his two sons, David, also became a voiceover specialist.

Rome's Piazza del Popolo
Rome's Piazza del Popolo
Travel tip:

Claudio Capone’s funeral in Rome attracted many of his fans to pay their respects, with hundreds gathering as his coffin was carried through Piazza del Popolo.  The name of the large square at one end of the Via del Corso, the long, straight thoroughfare stretching north from Piazza Venezia, is often taken to mean the square “of the people”. In fact, many people believe Popolo derives from the Latin populus – poplar – after the trees from which the church of Santa Maria del Popolo is named.

The church of Santa Maria del Popolo
The church of Santa Maria del Popolo
Travel tip:

The Basilica Parrocchiale Santa Maria del Popolo, which can be found on the north side of Piazza del Popolo, is a minor, parish basilica yet contains works by several famous artists, including Raphael, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Caravaggio and Donato Bramante.  There is a tradition of appointing Catholic ministers from around the world as Cardinal Priest of the church. In fact, there has not been an Italian appointment since 1886. The last six Cardinal Priests have included two Spaniards, an American, a Canadian, a Senegalese and the present incumbent, a Pole.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Galileo Galilei convicted of heresy

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

This 1857 painting by Cristiano Benti depicts  Galileo's appearance before the Inquisition
This 1857 painting by Cristiano Benti depicts
Galileo's appearance before the Inquisition
One of the more bizarre episodes in the history of human intellectual advancement took place in Rome on this day in 1633 when Galileo Galilei, the brilliant astronomer, mathematician, philosopher and engineer – often described as ‘the father of science’ - was convicted of heresy.

His crime was to support the view – indeed, to confirm it with scientific proof – that the sun rather than the earth was the centre of the solar system, as had been theorised by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus in the previous century.

This flew completely in the face of a major plank of orthodox Roman Catholic beliefs, within which the contention that the sun moved around the earth was regarded a fact of scripture that could not be disputed.

Galileo, something of a celebrity in his day who won the patronage of such powerful Italian families as the Medicis and the Barberinis following the discoveries he made with his astronomical telescope, had been essentially under surveillance by the Church since 1609 after publishing details of observations he had made that supported Copernicus’s theory of heliocentrism.

In 1616 the Copernican view was formally declared heretical and the biblical interpretation of creation was reaffirmed, part of which said that “God fixed the Earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever.”

Pope Urban VIII - Matteo Barberini -  was sympathetic to Galileo
Pope Urban VIII - Matteo Barberini -
was sympathetic to Galileo
Galileo feared arrest but was given permission by Pope Urban VIII, a member of the Barberini faily, to continue his studies into Copernican theory provided his findings drew no definitive conclusions and acknowledged divine omnipotence.

However, when in 1632 Galileo published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems – namely that proposed by Copernicus and the traditional view put forward by the second century astronomer Ptolemy – he came down heavily in favour of Copernicus.  He was considered by the Church to have gone a step too far and Urban VIII, fearing for his future in a fiercely political climate, felt compelled to act.

Galileo was summoned to Rome for trial by Inquisition in 1633 and despite the strength of his evidence he was found guilty of heresy and forced to recant his own findings as “abjured, cursed and detested”. He did so with great reluctance but little choice, given that the alternative was to be burned at the stake.

As it was he was sentenced to be imprisoned indefinitely, his Dialogue was banned and the future publication of any of his research was forbidden.  He is said to have muttered the words “E pur, si muove” – “And yet, it moves” – after declaring the earth to be a fixed object, which had it been overheard might have enraged the court still further.

Yet he was again shown some clemency, the sentence of imprisonment being commuted to house arrest the following day, after which he was allowed to live out the remainder of his days at his villa at Arcetri, near Florence.  

He went blind in 1638 and died in 1642 but was able, nonetheless, to reconstruct and summarise the discoveries he had made earlier in his life in Two New Sciences, which was smuggled out of Italy and published in Holland.

The 1630 portrait of Galileo by Peter Paul Rubens resides in a private collection
The 1630 portrait of Galileo by Peter Paul
Rubens resides in a private collection
Of course, Copernicus and Galileo were subsequently proved beyond any doubt to be have been right.  Amazingly, it took the Catholic Church more than 350 years to formally acknowledge their error.

In 1757, Galileo’s Dialogue was removed from the Vatican’s list of banned publications and in 1984 a panel of scientists, theologians and historians, assembled in 1979 to look into the 1633 accusations, published a preliminary report which accepted that Galileo had been wrongfully condemned.

However, it was not until 1992 that the investigation was closed and Galileo was officially vindicated in a statement issued by Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the investigation, which said: “We today know that Galileo was right in adopting the Copernican astronomical theory.”

Galileo's house in Arcetri, the Villa Gioella
Galileo's house in Arcetri, the
Villa Gioella
Travel tip:

The house to which Galileo returned after his sentence was commuted to house arrest is called Villa Gioella, which he rented. It is situated just three or four kilometres – a couple of miles – from the centre of Florence in the Arcetri hills.  In Galileo’s time it was a farmhouse, surrounded by many acres of land. He lived there with his daughter Celeste, who was a nun in an adjoining monastery.

Travel tip:

The Palace of the Holy Office, the building in Rome to which Galileo would have been summoned for trial in 1633, is what is known as an extraterritorial property of Vatican City, in that it lies outside the confines of the Vatican itself. The palace, originally built in 1514 for Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci and called Palazzo Pucci, is situated south of St. Peter's Basilica near the Petriano Entrance to Vatican City. In 1566–67, the palace was purchased by Pope Pius V and it was converted into the seat of the Holy Office.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Paolo Soleri - architect

Italian greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright

Paolo Soleri envisaged buildings in  harmony with their environment
Paolo Soleri envisaged buildings in
harmony with their environment
The groundbreaking architect and ecologist Paolo Soleri was born on this day in 1919 in Turin.

Soleri is largely remembered for the Arcosanti project, an experiment in urban design in the Arizona desert that was like no other town on the planet, a unique fusion of architecture and ecology.

Originally conceived as providing a completely self-sufficient urban living space for 5,000 people when it began in 1970, only about five per cent of the proposed development was ever completed.

At its peak, Arcosanti’s population barely exceeded 200 yet the buildings Soleri erected in accordance with his vision are still there, rising from the desert as an assortment of concrete blocks, domes and soaring vaults, resembling a cross between the remains of some ancient civilisation and a set from Star Wars.

It has never been abandoned, however, and although Soleri died in 2013 the project is still home to between 50 and 100 of his most ardent disciples, still seeking to live as Soleri envisaged.

Although Soleri grew up in Italy and acquired his formal training in architecture and design at the Politecnico di Torino, where he obtained his master’s degree, it was a visit to the United States in 1946 that had the most profound influence on his life.

It was there that he met Frank Lloyd Wright, whose views on what he called organic architecture, in which buildings were designed in harmony with their environment, would form the basis of Soleri’s philosophy.

Soleri's ceramics factory in Vietri sul Mare
Soleri's ceramics factory in Vietri sul Mare
He returned to Italy, where in 1954 he built an extraordinary factory for a producer of ceramics in Vietri sul Mare, of which the exterior interspersed conical shapes covered with multi-coloured ceramic tiles and inverted triangles of glass.  Among many wonders of Campania’s spectacular Amalfi coast, the Ceramica Artistica Solimene is a tourist attraction in its own right.

It was not long, however, before he returned to the United States and to Scottsdale, Arizona, close to Wright’s concept home, Taliesen West, which on a smaller scale in that it was home also to a commune of Wright’s disciples could be seen as a forerunner of Arcosanti.

Soleri’s admiration for Wright waned over the latter’s Broadacre City project, an essentially low-rise development that went against the Italian’s belief that the urban sprawls that proliferated across America were a wasteful and inefficient use of land.  Soleri believed that in future man needed to build upwards rather than outwards.

In 1956, he settled in Scottsdale with his American-born wife Colly and established the Cosanti Foundation.  He built trial dwellings using a process he called "earthcasting", in which mounds of earth were built, concrete was poured over the top to create a shell, and the earth then dug away from beneath.

Soleri in Arizona in the early days of the Arcosanti project
Soleri in Arizona in the early days of the Arcosanti project
In Arcosanti, which he began in 1970, one of his favoured methods was to dig out troughs in the ground in order to create buildings that appeared to be semi-submerged in the earth as if they were a natural phenomenon in the landscape.  Every building in the town was carefully oriented to maximise the use of solar energy, which Soleri harnassed for heat and power.

In Vietri he had learned the techniques of ceramics and bronze casting, which he put to use in Arconsanti by setting up a small factory producing wind bells, which were sold to provide the town with an income.  

Soleri blamed himself for Arconsanti’s failure to grow much beyond its conceptual beginnings, admitting that he did not do enough to promote his work and persuade others to believe in the wisdom of his vision for urban living.

Nonetheless, through the Cosanti Foundation he and Colly devoted themselves to research and experimentation in urban planning and the support of innovative architectural ideas. Arconsanti may not have achieved its goals of becoming a cost-effective infrastructure, conserving water, minimizing the use of energy, raw materials and land, reducing waste and pollution, yet it remains an active project in which more than 6,000 people have had an input since it began.

Soleri died in Paradise Valley, Arizona, at the age of 93.

The distinctive dome of the Chiesa di San Giovanni  Battista in Vietri sul Mare
The distinctive dome of the Chiesa di San Giovanni
Battista in Vietri sul Mare
Travel tip:

The town of Vietri sul Mare is considered to be the southern gateway to the Amalfi coast. The town is best known for the production of ceramics, which goes back to the 15th century. The church of St John the Baptist is notable for its dome, which is decorated with blue and white ceramic tiles. Vietri borders the historic town of Cava dei Tirreni and is separated from the port of Salerno by nothing more than a sea wall.

Travel tip:

The historical base of the Politechnic University of Turin, as it is now, is the Castle of Valentino, a 17th-century House of Savoy on the River Po that houses the main teaching campus. The main campus of engineering is in Corso Duca degli Abruzzi in central Turin. Other facilities can be found close to the Mirafiori Motor Village and the Lingotto Building, which were both once car production centres for FIAT.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Giorgio Morandi - master of still life

Subtleties of tone created atmospheric effect in work

Giorgio Morandi pictured in his studio in Bologna in 1953
Giorgio Morandi pictured in
his studio in Bologna in 1953
Giorgio Morandi, a painter and printmaker who was known for his still life studies of simple objects such as bottles, jars and boxes, was born on this day in 1890 in Bologna.

What set his work apart was subtlety of tone and it could not really be identified closely with any particular school of painting, although he was said to have been influenced most strongly by the French Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne.

Although he had a close association for a while with the Futurist movement and then the Scuola Metafisica founded by Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà, Morandi was generally not seen as part of the Fascist art movement, even though he openly supported Mussolini in the 1920s.

Morandi grew up in streets on the north-western edge of the centre of Bologna and from 1907 to 1913 studied at Bologna’s Accademia di Belle Arti – the Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1910 he visited Florence, studying the works of Renaissance artists Giotto, Masaccio, Piero Della Francesca, and Paolo Uccello with great enthusiasm before forming friendships with the Futurist group there in 1914.  In the same year, he took an academic position as instructor of drawing for elementary schools in Bologna, a post he retained until 1929.

Morandi's 1956 painting Natura Morta
Morandi's 1956 painting Natura Morta
He enlisted to fight in the First World War but was discharged after suffering a mental breakdown.

The Metaphysical phase in Morandi's work lasted from 1918 to 1922, after which his style became consistent. He became increasingly concerned with variations in hue and tone and critics spoke of the objects in his paintings being arranged in “a unifying atmospheric haze.”

Regarded as an important forerunner of Minimalism, Morandi used colours that were generally subdued and rather drab, yet his work, which included landscapes as well as still lifes, was said by commentators to “convey a mood of contemplative repose reminiscent of Piero Della Francesca.”

In the late 1920s, Morandi was associated with the Strapaese – a literary and artistic movement that emphasised local traditions and was Fascist-influenced. Ironically, despite his unapologetic stance on Mussolini’s party, he was later arrested because of friendships with known anti-Fascist figures.

A 1952 still life from Morandi
A 1952 still life from Morandi
Morandi was never flashy; indeed he was generally seen as quiet and polite, enigmatic but likeable. For much of his life he lived in the Via Fondazza, on the south-east side of Bologna, where the family had moved in 1909 after the death of his father and where he lived in his later years with his three sisters, Anna, Dina and Maria Teresa. He died in 1964, two days before what would have been his 74th birthday, having been diagnosed with lung cancer.

His fans includes the filmmakers Federico Fellini, who paid tribute to him by featuring his paintings in his 1960 film La Dolce Vita, which featured Morandi's paintings, as did Michelangelo Antonioni, who similarly made them visible in La notte.

In literature, novelist Sarah Hall based her main character in How to Paint a Dead Man on Morandi, who was a favourite of the Scottish poet Ivor Cutler, who included a poem about the painter in his first anthology.

Two oil paintings by Morandi were chosen by former US president Barack Obama in 2009 to be part of the White House collection.

Travel tip:

Morandi’s works can be viewed in his own city at the Modern Art Museum of Bologna and at the Museo Morandi, both in Via Don Giovanni Minzoni, about 10 minutes' walk from Bologna's main railway station. The museum was founded in 1933 by the president of the Centro Studi Giorgio Morandi, Marilena Pasquali. Morandi’s former house in Via Fondazza is also open to the public, although only by appointment.

Porta delle Lame, with statues of partisans in the foregound
Porta delle Lame, with statues of partisans
in the foregound
Travel tip:

Via delle Lame, where Morandi lived as a child, is one of the oldest streets in Bologna, leading towards the centre from the Porta delle Lame, a gate in the former medieval walls of the city, built in 1334, rebuilt in 1677 and restored in 2009.  In November 1944, Porta delle Lame was the scene of a fierce battle between partisans and German troops, which resulted in a famous victory for the partisans, commemorated today in a series of bronze statues surrounding the gate.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Francesco Baracca – flying ace

Italy’s most successful First World War fighter pilot

Francesco Baracca alongside his Spad XIII with the  family's prancing stallion logo displayed on the side
Francesco Baracca alongside his Spad XIII with the
family's prancing stallion logo displayed on the side
Italy’s top fighter pilot of the First World War, Francesco Baracca, died in action on this day in 1918.

He had been flying a strafing mission against Austro-Hungarian ground troops in support of an Italian attack on the Montello Hill, about 17km (11 miles) north of Treviso in the Veneto, on which he was accompanied by a rookie pilot, Tenente Franco Osnago.

They split from one another after being hit by ground fire but a few minutes later, Osnago saw a burning plane falling from the sky.  Witnesses on the ground saw it too. Osnago flew back to his base but Baracca never returned.

Only when the Austro-Hungarian troops were driven back was the wreckage of Baracca’s Spad VII aircraft found in a valley.  His body was discovered a few metres away.

A monument in his memory was later built on the site. Osnago, fellow pilot Ferruccio Ranza and a journalist recovered his body. It was taken back to his home town of Lugo in the province of Ravenna, where a large funeral was held.

Francesco Baracca in his airman's uniform in 1916
Francesco Baracca in his airman's
uniform in 1916
It is thought that Barocca was seeking to provide Osnago with cover from above as he swooped on enemy trenches when he was attacked by an Austrian plane and downed.  The official version of events, written in the interests of propaganda, was that he had been hit by groundfire but records later showed a kill claimed by the crew of an Austrian two-seater, who noted the exact time and location of the engagement and took a photograph of the shot-down aircraft.

Mystery surrounded the condition of Baracca’s body, which reportedly bore the marks of a bullet to the head, while his pistol was out of its holster. This led to speculation that he had taken his life as the plane fell, rather than be killed in the crash or taken prisoner.

Baracca had claimed a total of 34 aerial victories, which made him the most successful of all Italy’s First World War flying aces.

His first came in 1916, flying a French-built Nieuport II, equipped with Lewis guns.  His victim was an Austrian Hansa-Brandenburg CI, which he hit in the fuel tank.  It was also Italy's first aerial victory in the war, brought about by what would become his favourite manoeuvre, which was to zoom in unseen behind and below an enemy.

The monument to Baracca erected on the spot where his plane fell
The monument to Baracca erected
on the spot where his plane fell
From the 1a Squadriglia Caccia, Baracca transferred to the 70a Squadriglia, where he was promoted to captain, before moving again, with nine victories, to the newly formed 91st Squadriglia, known as the "Squadron of the Aces", flying the Spad VII and Spad XIII planes. Soon, his ever-increasing list of victories made him nationally famous.

He had entered the Military Academy of Modena in October 1907 and became a cavalryman with the prestigious Piemonte Reale Cavalleria Regiment on his commissioning in 1910. He became interested in aviation and learned to fly at Reims, France, receiving his pilot's licence in July 1912.

From a wealthy landowning background, Baracca had the title of Count. The family’s coat of arms bore the black prancing stallion symbol he attached to all his aircraft.
Baracca's mother is said to have presented the emblem, the Cavallino Rampante, to Enzo Ferrari, who incorporated it as part of the badge displayed by cars belonging to his Scuderia Ferrari racing team and in time all Ferrari automobiles.

Lugo's main square contains a huge memorial to Baracca
Lugo's main square contains a huge memorial to Baracca
Travel tip:

The town of Lugo, Baracca’s place of birth, is situated in the Emilia-Romagna countryside between the cities of Bologna and Ravenna.  From above, coincidentally, some say the shape of the town resembles an aircraft. The town’s landmark is the Rocca Estense, an Este-family fortress that now contains the town hall. Next to the fortress is a monument to Baracca erected in 1936 and town also has a museum dedicated to him, in his former house, which displays mementos, uniforms, medals from Baracca's life, as well as rudders and guns taken from shot-down aircraft.

Artillery shells stockpiled in Crocetta, which was on the front line in World War One
Artillery shells stockpiled in Crocetta, which
was on the front line in World War One
Travel tip:

The village of Crocetta del Montello, once known as Crocetta Trevigiana, the nearest community to where Baracca was shot down, suffered badly because of the First World War. It had become prosperous after the construction, in 1882, of a vast hemp rope mill, providing employment and helping the area acquire resources including electricity, thanks to water-driven generators set up on the Brentella river. But the mill was destroyed during the 1918 battle that Baracca was supporting – the Battle of the Solstice. It was rebuilt only to be hit by global financial crises, forcing it to close in 1938, leaving an unemployment problem and triggering the bankruptcy of many local businesses that depended on it