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.

20 May 2019

20 May

Hieronymus Fabricius - anatomist and surgeon


Research pioneer known as “Father of Embryology”

The pioneering anatomist and physiologist known in academic history as Hieronymus Fabricius, whose Italian name was Girolamo Fabrizio, was born on this day in 1537 in Acquapendente, in Lazio.  Fabrizio, who designed the first permanent theatre for public anatomical dissections, advanced the knowledge of the make-up of the human body in many areas, including the digestive system, the eyes and ears, and the veins.  But his most significant discoveries were in embryology.  He investigated the foetal development of many animals and humans and produced the first detailed description of the placenta. For this he became known as the "Father of Embryology".  Fabrizio spent most of his life at the University of Padua, where he was a student under the guidance of Gabriele Falloppio, who discovered the tube connecting the ovaries with the uterus that became known as the Fallopian tube.  He succeeded Falloppio as chair of surgery and anatomy. Read more…

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Albano Carrisi - singer


Performer best known as Al Bano has sold 165 million records

The singer Albano Carrisi, better known as Al Bano, was born on this day in 1943 in Cellino San Marco, a town in Puglia about 30km (19 miles) from Lecce.  He enjoyed considerable success as a solo artist in the late 1960s but became more famous still in Italy and across mainland Europe for his collaboration with the American singer Romina Power – daughter of the actor Tyrone Power.  They met during the shooting of a film - one of several, mainly romantic comedies and a vehicle for his songs, in which he starred during the 1970s.  They not only formed a professional partnership but were married for almost 30 years.  They twice performed as Italy’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, finishing seventh on both occasions, and appeared several times at Italy’s prestigious Sanremo Music Festival, winning the top prize in 1984.  They divorced in 1999 but reunited on a professional basis in 2013 and performed at the Arena di Verona in 2015 before a sell-out crowd of 11,000. His record sales are put at more than 165 million. Read more…

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Pietro Bembo – poet and scholar


Lucrezia’s lover helped with the development of modern Italian

Pietro Bembo, a writer who was influential in the development of the Italian language, was born on this day in 1470 in Venice.  He is probably most remembered for having an affair with Lucrezia Borgia while she was married to the Duke of Ferrara and he was living at the Este Court with them. His love letters to her were described by the English poet, Lord Byron, centuries later, as ‘the prettiest love letters in the world.’  As a boy, Bembo visited Florence with his father where he acquired a love for the Tuscan form of Italian which he was later to use as his literary medium. He later learnt Greek and went to study at the University of Padua.  He spent two years at the Este Court in Ferrara where he wrote poetry that was reminiscent of Boccaccio and Petrarch.  It was when he returned to the court at Ferrara a few years later he had an affair with Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI.  Read more…

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19 May 2019

19 May

Andrea Pirlo - footballer


Midfielder who won multiple honours with AC Milan and Juventus

The footballer Andrea Pirlo, who some commentators bracket with Roberto Baggio as one of the two best Italian footballers of the last 25 years, was born on this day in 1979.  The midfielder, who ended his career playing for the Major League Soccer team New York City, played in six Italian championship-winning teams with AC Milan and Juventus and was a double winner of the Champions League.  In international football he was a member of the 2006 Italian national team that lifted the World Cup in Germany.  The fulcrum of the Azzurri midfield, he scored one goal and was credited with the assist for three other goals during the tournament.  One of those assists resulted in the crucial opening goal for Italy scored by Fabio Grosso in the classic semi-final against the host nation.  He was named man of the match three times in the tournament, more than any other player.  In all he won 119 caps for his country, the fourth highest total of all Italian internationals. Read more…


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Vittorio Orlando - politician


Prime minister humiliated at First World War peace talks

Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, the Italian prime minister best known for being humiliated by his supposed allies at the Paris peace talks following the First World War, was born on this day in 1860 in Palermo.  Elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 1897, Orlando had held a number of positions in government and became prime minister in 1917 following Italy’s disastrous defeat to the Austro-Hungarian army at Caporetto, which saw 40,000 Italian soldiers killed or wounded and 265,000 captured. Orlando, who had been a supporter of Italy’s entry into the war on the side of the Allies, rebuilt shattered Italian morale and the military victory at Vittorio Veneto, which ended the war on the Italian front and contributed to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire, saw him hailed as Italy’s ‘premier of victory’.  However, his reputation was left in tatters when he and Sidney Sonnino, his half-Welsh foreign secretary, when to Paris to participate in peace talks but left humiliated after the territorial gains they were promised in return for entering the war on the side of Britain, France and the United States were not delivered.  Read more…

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Michele Placido – actor and director


Role of anti-Mafia police inspector turned actor into a TV star

Actor and director Michele Placido was born on this day in 1946 in Ascoli Satriano in Apulia.  Placido is best known for his portrayal of the character, Corrado Cattani, in the Italian television series, La piovra.  Cattani, a police inspector investigating the Mafia, was the lead character in the first four series of La piovra (meaning The Octopus, a name that referred to the Mafia). It was popular on television in the 1980s and the first three series were shown in the UK on Channel Four.  Placido’s family were originally from Rionero in Vulture in Basilicata and he is a descendant of the folk hero, Carmine Crocco, sometimes also known as Donatello. Crocco had fought in the service of Garibaldi but, after Italian unification, he became disappointed with the new Government and formed his own army to fight on behalf of the deposed King of the Two Sicilies, Francis II.  Placido also played the part of Giovanni Falcone, the anti-Mafia crusader, in the 1993 film of the same name directed by Giuseppe Ferrara.  Read more...

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18 May 2019

18 May

Giuseppe Ayala – politician and magistrate


Judge joined in struggle against the Mafia

Anti-Mafia prosecutor Giuseppe Ayala was born on this day in 1945 in Caltanissetta in Sicily.  Ayala became well known as an anti-Mafia magistrate and anti-Mafia judge. He was a prosecutor at the so-called Maxi Trial in Palermo in 1987, which resulted in the conviction of 342 Mafiosi.  He has continually raised doubts about whether it was the Mafia working alone who were responsible for the killing of his fellow anti-Mafia investigator Giovanni Falcone in 1992.  The deaths of Falcone and another prominent anti-Mafia magistrate, Paolo Borsellino, also murdered by the Mafia, came a few months after the killing of Christian Democrat politician, Salvatore Lima, who was thought to be the Mafia’s man on the inside in Rome and had close links with Italy’s three-times prime minister, Giulio Andreotti.  A member of both the Democratic Alliance and the Italian Republican party in the 1990s, Ayala was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1992 and served as under secretary for justice in the governments of Romano Prodi and Massimo D’Alema.  Read more…

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Ezio Pinza - opera and Broadway star


Poor boy from Rome who made his home at the Met

The opera star Ezio Pinza, who had 22 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1926 to 1948 and sang to great acclaim at many other of the world’s most famous opera houses, was born on this day in 1892 in Rome.  Pinza, a bass who was blessed with a smooth and rich voice and matinee idol looks, also had a successful career in musical theatre on Broadway and appeared in a number of Hollywood films.  Born Fortunio Pinza in relative poverty in Rome, he was brought up in Ravenna, close to the Adriatic coast about 85km (53 miles) from Bologna.  He dropped out of Ravenna University but studied singing at Bologna’s Conservatorio Martini and made his opera debut at Cremona in 1914 in Bellini’s Norma.  After serving his country in the First World War, he was invited to perform at Italy’s most prestigious opera house, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where he came under the baton of the brilliant conductor Arturo Toscanini, under whose guidance, Pinza began to prosper. Read more…

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Domenico di Pace Beccafumi – artist


Painter from Siena experimented with rich colour 

Considered one of the last true representatives of the Sienese school of painting, Domenico di Pace Beccafumi died on this day in 1551 in Siena.  He is remembered for his direction of the paving of the Duomo - cathedral - of Siena between 1517 and 1544, when he made ingenious improvements to the technical processes employed for this task, which in the end took more than 150 years to complete.  Domenico was born in Montaperti near Siena in about 1486. His father, Giacomo di Pace, worked on the estate of Lorenzo Beccafumi, whose surname he eventually took.  Seeing his talent for drawing, Lorenzo had taken an interest in him and recommended that he learn painting from the Sienese artist, Mechero.  Di Pace Beccafumi is renowned for his use of rich, almost luminous colours. One of his paintings, his Madonna with Child, St Jerome and the Infant St John, shows Mary wearing a blue robe lined with an almost iridescent pale green. Read more…

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Giovanni Falcone - anti-Mafia crusader


Sicilian lawyer made life's work of taking on Cosa Nostra 

Giovanni Falcone, who would become known as an anti-Mafia crusader during his career as a judge and prosecuting magistrate, was born on this day in 1939 in Palermo.  The son of a state clerk, he was raised in a poor district of the Sicilian city. Some of the boys with whom he played football in the street would go on to become Mafiosi but Falcone was determined from an early age that he would not be drawn into their world.  Educated at the local high school, he studied law at Palermo University. In 1966, at the age of 27, he was appointed a judge in Trapani, a crime-ridden port on the west coast of Sicily and began his lifelong quest to defeat the criminal organisation.  In time, Falcone became the Mafia's most feared enemy and by 1987 he was the chief prosecutor at the so-called 'maxi-trial' in Palermo which convicted 342 members of the so-called Cosa Nostra.  His success almost certainly led to his murder in 1992 when a half-ton of explosives was detonated under his car as it travelled along a motorway. Read more...

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Giuseppe Ayala – politician and magistrate

Judge who was part of struggle against the Mafia


Giuseppe Ayala was a prosecutor at the Maxi Trial of 1987
Giuseppe Ayala was a prosecutor at the
Maxi Trial of 1987
Anti-Mafia prosecutor Giuseppe Ayala was born on this day in 1945 in Caltanissetta in Sicily.

Ayala became well known as an anti-Mafia magistrate and anti-Mafia judge. He was a prosecutor at the so-called Maxi Trial in Palermo in 1987, which resulted in the conviction of 342 Mafiosi.

He has continually raised doubts about whether it was the Mafia working alone who were responsible for the killing of his fellow anti-Mafia investigator Giovanni Falcone in 1992.

The deaths of Falcone and another prominent anti-Mafia magistrate, Paolo Borsellino, also murdered by the Mafia, came a few months after the killing of Christian Democrat politician, Salvatore Lima, who was thought to be the Mafia’s man on the inside in Rome and had close links with Italy’s three-times prime minister, Giulio Andreotti.

There was speculation that it suited senior figures in the Italian government that the two magistrates were killed because they knew too much about corruption at the highest level.

Ayala studied at the University of Palermo and obtained a degree in jurisprudence. Afterwards he worked as a public prosecutor.

Ayala participated actively in the Tangentopoli trials and became a member of both the Democratic Alliance and the Italian Republican party in the 1990s. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1992 and served as under-secretary for justice in the governments of Romano Prodi and Massimo D’Alema.

Ayala (right) with his friend and colleague Giovanni  Falcone, who was murdered by the Mafia in 1992
Ayala (right) with his friend and colleague Giovanni
Falcone, who was murdered by the Mafia in 1992
In 1993 he published a book, La guerra dei giusti: I giudici, la mafia, la politica (The war of the righteous: The judges, the mafia, politics).

Ayala joined the Democratici di Sinistra - Democrats of the Left - a social-democratic political party, after it was formed in place of the Democratic Party of the Left and the Italian Communist Party.

During his time serving in the pool of anti-Mafia judges in Sicily, along with Falcone and Borsellino, Ayala constantly had to have armed bodyguards with him.

Now living in Palermo, Ayala had to be rushed to hospital there in April 2018 after he was involved in a car accident in the city. He had been out driving on his own, when his car was in collision with a Fiat Punto being driven by an elderly person. Ayala suffered a fractured femur as a result.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nova is one of the main buildings in the town of Caltanisetta
The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nova is one of the main
buildings in the town of Caltanisetta
Travel tip:

Caltanissetta, where Giuseppe Ayala was born, is a town in the centre of Sicily and is also the capital of the province of Caltanissette. It is the sixth highest municipality in Italy by elevation, at 568m (1,864ft) above sea level, and the second highest in Sicily after the city of Etna. The inhabitants of the are known as Nisseni. One of the main sights in Caltanissette is the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nova, which was built in Piazza Garibaldi, the main square, between the years 1560 and 1620 in late Renaissance style. The interior is decorated with a series of frescoes by the Flemish painter, Guglielmo Borremans.

The church of San Cataldo in Piazza Bellini in Palermo is an example of the city's fusion of architectural styles
The church of San Cataldo in Piazza Bellini in Palermo is
an example of the city's fusion of architectural styles
Travel tip:

The vibrant city of Palermo, where Giuseppe Ayala lives now, is the capital of Sicily, and has a wealth of beautiful architecture, plenty of shops and markets to browse in, and an opera house, the Teatro Massimo, which is the largest theatre in Italy.  The city’s architecture reflects a history of northern European and Arabian influences.  The church of San Cataldo on Piazza Bellini is a good example of the fusion of Norman and Arabic architectural styles, having a bell tower typical of those common in northern France but with three spherical red domes on the roof.

More reading:

How Giovanni Falcone became an anti-Mafia crusader

Did murdered magistrate Paolo Borsellino know too much?

Was Salvatore Lima the Mafia's insider in government?

Also on this day:

1551: The death of Sienese painter Domenico di Pace Beccafumi

1892: The birth of opera singer and Broadway star Ezio Pinza

1939: The birth of anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone

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17 May 2019

17 May

Sandro Botticelli – painter


Renaissance master was forgotten until the 19th century

Early Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli died on this day in 1510 in Florence.  Years before his death he had asked to be buried in the Church of Ognissanti in Florence at the feet of a woman for whom it is believed he suffered unrequited love.  She was Simonetta Vespucci, a married noblewoman, who had died in 1476. She is thought to have been the model for Botticelli’s major work, The Birth of Venus, which was painted years later in 1485, and that she also appeared in many of his other paintings.  After his death, Botticelli was quickly forgotten and his paintings remained in the churches and villas for which they had been created until the late 19th century, when people started to appreciate his work again.  Botticelli was born Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi in 1445. He was active during the golden age of painting in Florence under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici and Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici. Read more…

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Luca Cadalora - motorcycle world champion


Modena rider won titles in 125cc and 250cc categories

Luca Cadalora, the motorcycle racer who was three times a world champion, was born on this day in 1963 in Modena, Emilia-Romagna.  Currently working as coach to Italy’s seven-times world champion Valentino Rossi, Cadalora began his professional motorcycle racing career in 1984, riding an MBA in the 125cc world championship.  After switching to the Garelli team, he won a season-long battle with team-mate Fausto Gresini to claim the 125cc world title, before being promoted to the 250cc class. He rode first for Giacomo Agostini's Marlboro Yamaha factory racing team, then switched in 1991 to the Rothmans Honda factory racing team, for whom he won the world championship twice, in consecutive seasons. He prevailed over the German Helmut Bradl in 1991, before beating the Italian Loris Reggiani, riding for Aprilia, the following year.  Read more…

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Federico II Gonzaga – Duke of Mantua


Ruler spent childhood as a political hostage

Federico Gonzaga, who became the ruler of Mantua and Montferrat, was born on this day in 1500 in Mantua.  He spent his childhood living as a political hostage, first at the court of Pope Julius II in Rome and then at the court of Francis I of France.  It wasn’t perhaps an ideal start in life, but historians believe the political, social and cultural education he received in the company of popes, cardinals, and kings helped shape him as a future ruler.  Federico was the son of Francesco II Gonzaga and Isabella d’Este. His godfather was Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli’s model for the ideal Renaissance Prince.  His father, Francesco, was captured by the Venetians during battle and held hostage for several months. While he was absent, his wife, Isabella, ruled Mantua.  Francesco managed to secure his own release only by agreeing to send his son, Federico, to be a hostage at the papal court.  Read more…

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16 May 2019

16 May

Laura Pausini - singer-songwriter


Grammy Award-winner has sold more than 70 million records

Laura Pausini, one of Italy's best-selling recording artists of all time and the the first Italian female performer to win a Grammy Award, born on this day in 1974 in Solarolo, in the province of Ravenna.  Pausini's records have sold more than 70 million copies worldwide, more than both Zucchero and Eros Ramazzotti, two giants of Italian popular music.  The figure is all the more remarkable for the fact that Pausini has only scratched the surface of the English-language market, which is by far the most lucrative.  She records mainly in Italian but has also enjoyed considerable success with recordings in Spanish and, more recently, in Catalan. She is the first non-Spanish artist to sell more than a million copies of a single album in Spain.  Pausini's background and upbringing always made it likely she would pursue a career in the music industry.  Her father, Fabrizio, is a pianist who played as a session musician for Abba's Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Read more…

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Massimo Moratti - business tycoon


Billionaire chairman oversaw golden era at Internazionale

The billionaire tycoon and former chairman of the Internazionale football club, Massimo Moratti, was born on this day in 1945 in Bosco Chiesanuova, a small town in the Veneto about 20km (12 miles) north of Verona.  His primary business, the energy provider Saras, of which he is chief executive, owns about 15 per cent of Italy’s oil refining capacity, mainly through the Sarroch refinery on Sardinia, which has a capacity of about 300,000 barrels per day.  Moratti is estimated to have net wealth of about €1.28 billion ($1.4 billion) yet is said to have spent close to €1.5 billion of his personal fortune on buying players during his chairmanship of Inter, which lasted from 1995 until 2013 and encompassed a period of unprecedented success.  Between 2005 and 2011 Inter won the Serie A title five times, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana four times each, the Champions League once and the FIFA World Club cup once.  Read more…

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Mario Monicelli - film director


Life’s work put him among greats of Commedia all’Italiana

Mario Monicelli, the director who became known as ‘the father of Commedia all’Italiana’ and was nominated for an Oscar six times, was born on this day in 1915 in Viareggio.  He made more than 70 films, working into his 90s.  He helped advance the careers of actors such as Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale, and forged successful associations with the great comic actors Totò and Alberto Sordi.  Commedia all’Italiana was notable for combining the traditional elements of comedy with social commentary, often addressing some of the most controversial issues of the times and making fun of any organisation, the Catholic Church in particular, perceived to have an earnest sense of self-importance.  The genre’s stories were often heavily laced with sadness and Monicelli’s work won praise for his particular sensitivity to the miseries and joys of Italian life and the foibles of ordinary Italians. Read more…

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15 May 2019

15 May

Claudio Monteverdi – composer


Baroque musician who gave us the first real opera

The composer and musician Claudio Monteverdi was baptised on this day in 1567 in Cremona in Lombardy.  Children were baptised soon after their birth in the 16th century so it is possible Monteverdi was born on 15 May or just before.  He was to become the most important developer of a new genre, the opera, and bring a more modern touch to church music.  Monteverdi studied under the maestro di cappella at the cathedral in Cremona and published several books of religious and secular music while still in his teens.  He managed to secure a position as a viola player at Vincenzo Gonzaga’s court in Mantua where he came into contact with some of the top musicians of the time. He went on to become master of music there in 1601.  It was his first opera, L’Orfeo, written for the Gonzaga court, that really established him as a composer.  Read more…

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Anna Maria Alberghetti - singer and actress


Child prodigy who rejected Hollywood to become Broadway star

The actress and operatic singer Anna Maria Alberghetti was born on this day in 1936 in the Adriatic resort of Pesaro.  She moved with her family to the United States in her teens and became a Broadway star, winning a Tony Award in 1962 as best actress in a musical for her performance in Bob Merrill’s Carnival, directed by Gower Champion.  Alberghetti was a child prodigy with music in her blood. Her father was an accomplished musician, an opera singer and concert master of the Rome Opera Company, who also played the cello. Her mother was a pianist.  They influenced the direction in which her talent developed and by the age of six she was singing with symphony orchestras with her father as her vocal instructor.  After success touring Europe, Anna Maria was invited to perform in the United States and made her debut at Carnegie Hall in New York at the age of 14. Given the state of Italy after the Second World War, the idea of settling permanently in America became too attractive for the family to resist.  Read more…

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Pippo Barzizza - band leader


Musician was an Italian pioneer of jazz and swing 

The musician and bandleader Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Barzizza, who helped popularise jazz and swing music in Italy during a long and successful career, was born on this day in 1902 in Genoa.  Barzizza was active in music for eight decades but was probably at the peak of his popularity in the 1930s and 40s, when he led the Blue Star and Cetra orchestras.  He continued to be a major figure in popular music until the 1960s and thereafter regularly came out of retirement to show that his talents had not waned.  He died at his home in Sanremo in 1994, just a few weeks before his 93rd birthday.  As well as arranging the music of others, Barzizza wrote more than 200 songs of his own in his lifetime, and helped advance the careers of such singers as Alberto Rabagliati, Otello Boccaccini, Norma Bruni, Maria Jottini and Silvana Fioresi among others.  Read more…

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