At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Antonio Salieri - composer

Maestro of Vienna haunted by Mozart rumours

Antonio Salieri was director of Italian opera in the Habsburg court of Joseph II
Antonio Salieri was director of Italian opera
in the Habsburg court of Joseph II
Antonio Salieri, the Italian composer who in his later years was dogged by rumours that he had murdered Mozart, was born on this day in 1750 in Legnago, in the Veneto.

Salieri was director of Italian opera for the Habsburg court in Vienna from 1774 to 1792 and German-born Mozart believed for many years that “cabals of Italians” were deliberately putting obstacles in the way of his progress, preventing him from staging his operas and blocking his path to prestigious appointments.

In letters to his father, Mozart said that “the only one who counts in (the emperor’s eyes) is Salieri” and voiced his suspicions that Salieri and Lorenzo Da Ponte, the poet and librettist, were in league against him.

Some years after Mozart died in 1791 at the age of just 35, with the cause of death never definitively established, it emerged that the young composer - responsible for some of music’s greatest symphonies, concertos and operas - had told friends in the final weeks of his life that he feared he had been poisoned and suspected again that his Italian rivals were behind it. Salieri was immediately the prime suspect.

Despite being put forward as truth in works of literature such as Pushkin’s Little Tragedy and hardly discouraged by the portrayal of Salieri in the film Amadeus, it is largely accepted now that the story is a myth and that the two composers enjoyed a relatively cordial and mutually respectful relationship.

Mozart felt the Italians in Vienna wanted to block the progress of his career
Mozart felt the Italians in Vienna wanted
to block the progress of his career
Yet Salieri had to live with the rumours during his lifetime. Rossini apparently teased him about it and Mozart’s father-in-law pointedly shunned him. When he became old and mentally frail, Salieri began to believe he must be guilty and while in a deranged state he supposedly confessed to the murder.

Salieri began his musical studies at home in Legnago, taught by his older brother Francesco, and by the organist of the Legnago Cathedral, Giuseppe Simoni. When he was about 13, both his parents died. He was looked after by another brother, a monk in Padua, before for unknown reasons becoming the ward of a Venetian nobleman, Giovanni Mocenigo.

While living in Venice, Salieri’s continuing musical studies brought him to the attention of the composer Florian Leopold Gassmann, who was so impressed with his protégé's talents that he took him to Vienna, where he personally directed and paid for the remainder of Salieri's musical education.

There, influenced by Gassman and Christoph Gluck, he was introduced to the emperor, Joseph II, who invited him to join in chamber music sessions. His appointment in 1774 as court composer and conductor of the Italian opera made him one of the most influential musicians in Europe.

He became a pivotal figure in the development of late 18th-century opera, helping to establish many of the features of the genre. He dominated Italian-language opera in Vienna and his works were performed across Europe. In all he wrote 37 operas, enjoying great success with many from Armida in 1771 to Cesare in Farmacusa in 1800.

Although he wrote no new operas after 1804, he remained a much sought-after teacher. Franz Liszt, Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven, and Mozart’s son, Franz Xaver Mozart, were among his pupils.

By the time of his death in 1825, his music was already disappearing from the repertoire but has enjoyed a revival in the last decade or so.

In 2004, the renovated La Scala in Milan reopened its doors with L'Europa riconosciutaEurope revealed - the work Salieri had written for its first performance in 1778.

The soprano Cecilia Bartoli recorded an album devoted to his arias, while recordings have been made of Salieri overtures and some complete operas.

The Teatro Salieri in Legnago
The Teatro Salieri in Legnago
Travel tip:

Legnago is a town in the Veneto about halfway between Verona and Ferrara, straddling the Adige river. It was formerly a centre for textile production although most of the factories have now closed. Legnago has had an important military role since the early Middle Ages. In the 19th century it was one of the Quadrilatero fortresses, the main strongpoint of the Austrian Lombardy-Venetia puppet state during the Italian Wars of Independence.  Legnago's theatre, constructed in the early 20th century, is called Teatro Salieri.

The Palazzi Mocenigo complex on the Grand Canal
The Palazzi Mocenigo complex on the Grand Canal
Travel tip:

The history of the Mocenigo family in Venice, who held influence from the 14th to the 19th centuries, is preserved in a complex of palaces on the Grand Canal roughly opposite the San Tomà vaporetto (water bus) stop, named the Palazzi Mocenigo.   The English poet Lord Byron stayed there in the early 19th century. Seven of the Mocenigo family were doges. Another Palazzo Mocenigo, in the San Stae area of Santa Croce, is a museum of textiles, costumes and perfume.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Pope Benedict XIV

Erudite, gentle, honest man was chosen as a compromise

Pope Benedict XIV succeeded Clement XII as a compromise candidate after a six-month conclave
Pope Benedict XIV succeeded Clement XII as a
compromise candidate after a six-month conclave
Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini began his reign as Pope Benedict XIV on this day in 1740 in Rome.

Considered one of the greatest ever Christian scholars, he promoted scientific learning, the baroque arts and the study of the human form.

Benedict XIV also revived interest in the philosophies of Thomas Aquinas, reduced taxation in the Papal States, encouraged agriculture and supported free trade.

As a scholar interested in ancient literature, and who published many ecclesiastical books and documents himself, he laid the groundwork for the present-day Vatican Museum.

Lambertini was born into a noble family in Bologna in 1675. At the age of 13 he started attending the Collegium Clementianum in Rome, where he studied rhetoric, Latin, philosophy and theology. Thomas Aquinas became his favourite author and saint. At the age of 19 he received a doctorate in both ecclesiastical and civil law.

Benedict XIV's monument by Pietro Bracci in  St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Benedict XIV's monument by Pietro Bracci in
St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Lambertini was consecrated a bishop in Rome in 1724, was made Bishop of Ancona in 1727 and Cardinal-Priest of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in 1728.

Following the death of Pope Clement XII, Lambertini was elected pope on the evening of August 17, 1740, having been put forward as a compromise candidate after a papal conclave that had lasted six months.

During his reign he carried out many religious reforms and issued a papal bull against the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

He also set in motion the cataloguing of the contents of the Vatican Library.

At the University of Bologna, he revived the practice of anatomical studies and established a chair of surgery and he was one of the first popes to voice displeasure about the use of castrated males in church choirs.

After a battle with gout, Benedict XIV died in 1753 at the age of 83. His final words to the people surrounding his deathbed were: ‘I leave you in the hands of God.’ He was buried in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Horace Walpole later described him as ‘a priest without insolence or interest, a prince without favourites, a pope without nephews.’

The anatomical theatre in the Archiginnasio at the University of Bologna
The anatomical theatre in the Archiginnasio
at the University of Bologna
Travel tip:

The world’s first university was established in Bologna in 1088 and attracted popes and kings as well as students of the calibre of Dante, Copernicus and Boccaccio. Benedict XIV revived anatomical studies and established a chair of surgery there while he was pope. You can visit the university’s former anatomy theatre in the oldest university building, the Archiginnasio, in Piazza Galvani. It is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 1pm, admission free.

Travel tip:

The monument to Benedict XIV in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome was created by Pietro Bracci in 1769 in the late baroque tradition. It shows the Pope standing and blessing his flock with statues of Wisdom and Unselfishness at his feet, to reflect his character.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Umberto Baldini – art restorer

Saved hundreds of artworks damaged by Arno floods

Umberto Baldini
Umberto Baldini
Umberto Baldini, the art historian who helped save hundreds of paintings, sculptures and manuscripts feared to have been damaged beyond repair in the catastrophic flooding in Florence in 1966, died on this day in 2006.

Baldini was working as director of the Gabinetto di Restauro, an office of the municipal authority in Florence charged with supervising restoration projects, when the River Arno broke its banks in the early hours of November 4, 1966.

With the ground already saturated, the combination of two days of torrential rain and storm force winds was too much and dams built to create reservoirs in the upper reaches of the Arno valley were threatened with collapse.

Consequently thousands of cubic metres of water had to be released, gathered pace as it raced downstream and eventually swept into the city at speeds of up to 40mph.

More than 100 people were killed and up to 20,000 in the valley left homeless. At its peak the depth of water in the Santa Croce area of Florence rose to 6.7 metres (22 feet). 

The Basilica di Santa Croce partially submerged under flood water
The Basilica of Santa Croce partially
submerged under flood water
Baldini was director of the conservation studios at the Uffizi, the principle art museum in Florence and one of the largest and most well known in the world, where some of the most precious and valuable treasures of the Renaissance were kept, supposedly secure and protected.

The main galleries on the second floor of the Uffizi complex, situated just off Piazza della Signoria in the heart of the city and right by the river, escaped but the water – not only muddy but full of oil after tanks in its path were ruptured – poured into storerooms, where more than 1,000 medieval and Renaissance paintings and sculptures were kept.

Once the flood subsided, it was Baldini’s task to save what he could from the mess that remained, with everything in the storerooms covered in oily mud.  Similar scenes confronted the wardens and curators of churches, libraries and museums all over Florence.

It was estimated that between three and four million books and manuscripts were damaged, as well as 14,000 works of art.

Baldini not only oversaw a painstaking restoration project at the Uffizi, he was called on to advise in similar efforts taking place across the city, with almost every church possessing priceless works by one Old Master or another.

The bespectacled academic called in experts from around the world and rapidly organised the hiring and training of hundreds of volunteers – the so-called Mud Angels – to dry, clean and restore such damaged material as could be salvaged.

Baldini examines some of the restoration work
Baldini examines some of the restoration work
Books were washed, disinfected and dried, pages often removed to be later rebound. Paintings were dried with the application of rice paper, with techniques employed in some cases to remove entire paint layers and reapply them to a new surface.

The work went on for decades after the streets had been cleaned up and Florentine life restored to normal but by the mid-1980s it was thought up to two-thirds of all the damaged items had been repaired, including high-profile casualties such as Cimabue’s wooden crucifix in the Basilica of Santa Croce.

Others took much longer. For instance, work on Giorgio Vasari’s huge panel painting of The Last Supper, also housed in the Santa Croce basilica and submerged for 12 hours, was not completed until 2016, half a century after the flood.

Much of the successful restoration was down to the work by Baldini in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, when he reorganized the Uffizi’s conservation facilities under a single institute and put in place formal training programmes for students of conservation to provide a steady supply of highly-skilled staff.

In 1983, Baldini was appointed director of the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro in Rome, Italy’s most prestigious conservation body, in which capacity he led the project to clean and restore the 15th- century Masaccio frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel of the Carmine Church in Florence.

Completed by Fillipino Lippi, the frescoes depict scenes from the life of St. Peter and the Book of Genesis. Baldini’s team discovered a virtually unspoiled portion of the fresco hidden behind an altar.

Born in 1921 at Pitigliano, near Grosseto in Tuscany, Baldini wrote books on the Brancacci Chapel, Masaccio and the restorations of Botticelli’s Primavera and Cimabue’s crucifix.

He died at his home in Marina di Massa, a Tuscan coastal town north of Viareggio, some 125km (78 miles) west of Florence, aged 84. His funeral took place at the church of San Giuseppe Vecchio in Marina di Massa and his body was interred at the Cemetery of the Holy Gate at the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte in Florence.

The church of San Miniato al Monte and adjoining cemetery
The church of San Miniato al Monte and adjoining cemetery
Travel tip:

San Miniato al Monte stands at one of the highest points in Florence and has been described as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Italy. Work on building the church began in 1013 at the sight of a chapel marking a cave supposedly occupied by Minas – later St. Miniato – an Armenian prince serving in the Roman army under Emperor Decius, who was denounced as a Christian after becoming a hermit. The Emperor ordered Minas to be thrown to the beasts in an amphitheatre outside Florence only for the animals to refuse to devour him, and instead had him beheaded, upon which he is alleged to have picked up his head, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Fiorentinus to his hermitage.

Cimabue's partially restored crucifix in the  Basilica of Santa Croce
Cimabue's partially restored crucifix in the
Basilica of Santa Croce
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Santa Croce, consecrated in 1442, is the main Franciscan church in Florence and the burial place among others of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Ugo Foscolo, the philosopher Giovanni Gentile and the composer Gioachino Rossini.  It houses works by some of the most illustrious names in the history of art, including Canova, Cimabue, Donatello, Giotto and Vasari.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Francesco Zuccarelli - landscape painter

Tuscan-born artist appealed to English tastes

Richard Wilson's 1751 portrait of  Francesco Zuccarelli is at Tate Britain
Richard Wilson's 1751 portrait of
Francesco Zuccarelli is at Tate Britain
Francesco Zuccarelli, who was considered to be the most important landscape painter to emerge from Venice in the 18th century, was born on this day in 1702.
Zuccarelli’s picturesque Arcadian landscapes were especially appealing to English buyers, and he was more famous in England even than his contemporary, Canaletto.

His fame in England prompted Zuccarelli to spend two periods of his life there. He settled in London for the first time at the end of 1752 and remained for 10 years, enjoying great success.

After returning to Italy after being elected to the Venetian Academy, he went back to England from 1765 to 1771, during which time he was a founding member of the Royal Academy and became one of George III’s favourite painters.

Born in Pitigliano, a medieval town perched in top of a tufa ridge in southern Tuscany, Zuccarelli received his early training in Florence, where he engraved the frescoes by Andrea del Sarto in SS Annunziata.

The Finding of Moses (1768), commissioned by George III, is part of the Windsor Castle collection
The Finding of Moses (1768), commissioned by George III,
is part of the Windsor Castle collection
Zuccarelli’s father Bartolomeo owned several local vineyards. With considerable income at his disposal, he sent Francesco to Rome at the age of 11 or 12 to begin an apprenticeship with the portrait painters Giovanni Maria Morandi (1622–1717) and his pupil Pietro Nelli (1672–1740).

From around 1730 he was active in Venice, where he was influenced by Marco Ricci and extensively patronised by British travellers and became friendly with Richard Wilson, who painted his portrait.  The art collector Joseph Consul Smith, the patron of Canaletto, became his patron too.

He moved to London in October 1752, rapidly achieving great success with his Italianate landscapes, which were probably less real places than idealistic paintings of Italy, imagined as a country with well-behaved peasants, delightful weather and pretty rural scenery.  No other Italian painter in London in the 18th century could match Zuccarelli’s success.

Zuccarelli's Bull-Hunting is housed at the Galleria dell' Accedemia in the Dorsoduoro quarter of Venice
Zuccarelli's Bull-Hunting is housed at the Galleria dell'
Accedemia in the Dorsoduoro quarter of Venice
Zuccarelli designed a series of tapestries for Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont  at Petworth House in West Sussex, now a National Trust property. He decided to return to Venice late in 1761, holding a sale 70 of his works in February 1762 with the intention of making his way back to Italy once all the works were sold.

He had achieved his goal by November 1762 and arrived in Venice before Christmas.  The following year he became a member of the Venetian Academy but the demand for his work in England remained high and he went back for a second stay in February 1965.

He received at least one commission from George III - Finding of Moses (1768, Royal Collection). 

Zuccarelli became a founder-member of the Royal Academy in 1768, exhibiting there from 1769-71 and 1773. He also exhibited at the Free Society of Artists in 1765-6, and 1782, and at the Society of Artists in 1767-8.

He returned to Venice in late 1771, putting himself in a position to be elected President of the Venice Academy the following year. Shortly afterwards, he retired to Florence, where he died in 1788.

Despite the fame he experienced in his lifetime, Zuccarelli's reputation declined in the early 19th century with naturalism becoming increasingly favoured in landscapes.

Many of Zuccarelli's landscapes are in Windsor Castle, the summer residence of Queen Elizabeth II, Consul Smith having willed his collection to the English monarchy on his death.

Pitigliano in Tuscany, where Zuccarelli was born, appears to be carved out of the rock on which it sits
Pitigliano in Tuscany, where Zuccarelli was born, appears
to be carved out of the rock on which it sits
Travel tip:

Pitigliano, which can be found about 200km (125 miles) south of Florence close to the border between Tuscany and Lazio, rises dramatically from a tufa ridge, the stone of its houses blending with the tufa as if carved from the rock. The town is known as Piccola Gerusalemme - Little Jerusalem - after the large Jewish population that settled there in the middle of the 16th century, fleeing from the south to avoid the Vatican's persecution. The town still has a synagogue, although very few of the current population of just under 4,000 are Jewish. The Orsini Fortress and the former cathedral of Santi Pietro e Paolo are among the attractions for visitors and some restaurants still serve dishes with Jewish influences. The Orsini Palace Museum contains some of Zuccarelli's work.

The Ospedale degli Incurabili, current home of  the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia
The Ospedale degli Incurabili, current home of
the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia
Travel tip:

The Venice Academy of Fine Arts – the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia – was first housed in 1750 in the Fonteghetto della Farina, a flour warehouse and market on the Grand Canal near Piazza San Marco. In 1807, it was moved to premises in the Palladian complex of the Scuola della Carità in the Dorsoduro quarter, which today houses the Gallerie dell’Accademia, where a number of Zuccarelli’s works can be found . The academy itself is now based at the Ospedale degli Incurabili, also in Dorsoduro, looking out over the Giudecca Canal.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Enzo Ferrari – car maker

Entrepreneur turned Ferrari into world’s most famous marque

Enzo Ferrari at the 1967 Italian GP in Monza
Enzo Ferrari, the founder of the Scuderia Ferrari motor racing team and later the Ferrari sports car factory, died on this day in 1988 at the age of 90.

Known widely as Il Commendatore, he passed away in Maranello, a town in Emilia-Romagna a few kilometres from Modena, where he had a house, the Villa Rosa, literally opposite Ferrari’s headquarters, where he continued to supervise operations almost to his death. He had reportedly been suffering from kidney disease.

Since the first Ferrari racing car was built in 1947 and the Scuderia Ferrari team’s famous prancing stallion symbol has been carried to victory in 228 Formula One Grand Prix races and brought home 15 drivers’ championships and 16 manufacturers’ championship.

Always an exclusive marque, the number of Ferraris produced for road use since the company began to build cars for sale rather than simply to race is in excess of 150,000.

Born Enzo Anselmo Ferrari in 1898 in Modena, he attended his first motor race in Bologna at the age of 10 and developed a passion for fast cars rivalled only by his love of opera.

He endured tragedy in 1916 when both his brother and his father died in a flu epidemic and was fortunate to survive another epidemic two years later, when he became seriously ill while serving with the army.

A young Enzo Ferrari pictured at the  wheel of a racing car
A young Enzo Ferrari pictured at the
wheel of a racing car
In 1919, he moved to Milan to work as a test driver, joining Alfa Romeo the following year. It was after winning a race in 1923 that he met the parents of First World War flying ace Francesco Baracca, who suggested the young driver use the emblem that decorated their son's plane for good luck – a prancing horse.

In 1929, he formed the Scuderia Ferrari motor racing team, which was essentially the racing division of Alfa Romeo, although that arrangement came to an end in 1937 – six years after he retired as a driver – when Alfa claimed back control of its racing operation.

Soon after leaving Alfa Romeo, Enzo Ferrari opened a workshop in Modena but the outbreak of the Second World War stalled its progress, and the first Ferrari racing car – the 125S - was not completed until 1947.

The marque scored its first win in the same year, at the Rome Grand Prix, and went on to notch victories at the Mille Miglia in 1948, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1949 and the British Grand Prix in 1951.

In 1952 and 1953, Ferrari driver Alberto Ascari won the newly launched Formula One world championship. Around this time, the company also began producing cars for road use, with rich and famous clients soon queuing up for the chance to own one as its reputation grew as the ultimate automotive status symbol.

The Ferrari museum at Maranello has a reconstruction of Enzo's  office with a waxwork of 'il Commendatore' at his desk
The Ferrari museum at Maranello has a reconstruction of Enzo's
 office with a waxwork of 'il Commendatore' at his desk
Enzo suffered more personal tragedy in 1956 with the death of his son Dino from muscular dystrophy, during a period in which six of his drivers were killed and one of his cars went out of control in the 1957 Mille Miglia, killing nine spectators. Afterwards he became increasingly reclusive.

Financial issues prompted him to sell 50 per cent of Ferrari to Fiat in 1969 and he formally resigned as president of the company in 1977, although he remained involved with day-to-day running.

The Ferrari name lives on as a public company with its legal headquarters in Amsterdam. Enzo’s second son, Piero, owns 10 per cent of the company.

Ferrari's famous 'prancing horse' at the Maranello factory
Ferrari's famous 'prancing horse'
at the Maranello factory
Travel tip:

Maranello, a town of around 17,000 inhabitants 18 km (11 miles) from Modena, has been the location for the Ferrari factory since the early 1940s, when Enzo Ferrari transferred operations from Modena, due to bombing during the Second World War. The public museum Museo Ferrari, which displays sports and racing cars and trophies, is also in Maranello. In another sport, Maranello is also the starting point of the annual Italian Marathon, which finishes in nearby Carpi.

Travel tip:

Modena should be high up the list of any visitor’s must-see places in northern Italy. One of the country’s major centres for food – the home of balsamic vinegar and tortellini among other things – it has a large number of top-quality restaurants among its narrow streets. The ideal base for visiting Ferrari’s headquarters at Maranello, it also has a beautiful Romanesque cathedral and is the birthplace of the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti, whose former home in Stradello Nava, about 8km (5 miles) from the centre of the city is now a museum.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Aurelio Saffi – republican activist

Politician prominent in Risorgimento movement

Giacinto Pin's portrait of Aurelio Saffi
Giacinto Pin's portrait of Aurelio Saffi
The politician Aurelio Saffi, who was a close ally of the republican revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini during Italy’s move towards unification in the 19th century, was born on this day in 1819 in Forlì.

He was a member of the short-lived Roman Republic of 1849, which was crushed by French troops supporting the temporarily deposed Pope Pius IX, and was involved in the planning of an uprising in Milan in 1853.

Saffi was sentenced to 20 years in jail for his part in the Milan plot but by then had fled to England.

He returned to Italy in 1860 and when the Risorgimento realised its aim with unification Saffi was appointed a deputy in the first parliament of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

At the time of Saffi’s birth, Forlì, now part of Emilia-Romagna, was part of the Papal States. He was educated in law in Ferrara, but became politically active in his native city, protesting against the administration of the Papal legates.

He soon became a fervent supporter of Mazzini, whose wish was to see Italy established as an independent republic and saw popular uprisings as part of the route to achieving his goal.

Giuseppe Mazzini captured in an early photograph
Giuseppe Mazzini captured in an
early photograph 
One such uprising took place in Rome on November 15, 1848, when the assassination of Pellegrino Rossi, a minister in the Papal government, was followed by mass demonstrations on the streets of the city, demanding a democratic government, social reforms and a declaration of war against the Austrian Empire.

The Pope slipped out of Rome dressed as an ordinary priest and fled to Gaeta in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The new Roman Republic was declared in February 1849,  led by Mazzini, Saffi and Carlo Armellini.

The Roman Republic, however, lasted only until July 3, when a French army sent by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the new president of the French Republic - later the emperor Napoleon III - whose restoration of the papacy repaid his Roman Catholic supporters, defeated the republic’s army, led by Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Saffi retired to exile in Liguria and later joined Mazzini in Switzerland before moving with him to London.  He returned to Italy in 1852 to plan a series of uprisings in Milan similar to the so-called Five Days of 1848, when the Austrians were temporarily driven out by Italian nationalists.

Again the project ended in failure.  Saffi went back to England, being sentenced in his absence to 20 years in jail. Obliged to put down roots in England, he was appointed the first teacher of Italian at the Taylor Institute in Oxford and married Giorgina Craufurl, an Italian-born English supporter of Mazzini, with whom he had four sons.

In 1860, Saffi moved to Naples, then under the control of Garibaldi, and was elected a deputy in the parliament of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy the following year.

He spent his last days in his villa in the countryside near Forlì after taking up a professorship at the University of Bologna.  He died in 1890 at the age of 70.

Aurelio Saffi's statue stands at the heart of Piazza Saffi
Aurelio Saffi's statue stands at the heart of Piazza Saffi
Travel tip:

Formerly Piazza Maggiore, the main square in the elegant city of Forlì was renamed Piazza Saffi in 1921 in honour of Aurelio Saffi, who by then was recognised along with Giuseppe Mazzini as an Italian hero thanks to their part in the unification.  A large square, it has a statue of Saffi at its centre and is bordered along its southern side by the Abbey of San Mercuriale, which was completed in the 12th century. On the opposite side is the Palazzo Comunale, which dates back to the 11th century. The most recent addition is the Palazzo delle Poste – the city’s Post Office – that was built in the 1930s.

Saffi's study at the Villa Saffi museum
Saffi's study at the Villa Saffi museum
Travel tip:

The Villa Saffi, about 4km (2.5 miles) south-west of the centre of Forlì, at which Saffi spent much of his time when he was living in Italy, is a former Jesuit convent bought by Aurelio’s grandfather, Tommaso Saffi, as a summer residence.  Much of Saffi’s collection of historical documents connected to Giuseppe Mazzini and the Risorgimento remains in the house, which is now municipally owned and open to the public as a museum with free admission.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Mario Balotelli - footballer

Volatile star of Milan clubs and Manchester City

Mario Balotelli in action for Italy's national team
Mario Balotelli in action for Italy's national team
Controversial footballer Mario Balotelli, who has played for both major Milan clubs in Serie A and for Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League in England, was born on this day in 1990 in Palermo.

He currently plays in Ligue 1 in France for Nice, who finished third behind Monaco and Paris St Germain in the 2016-17 season, helped by 15 goals from the Italian international Balotelli.

Balotelli scored 20 goals in 54 Premier League matches for Manchester City and made the pass from which Sergio Aguero scored City’s dramatic late winning goal against Queen’s Park Rangers on the last day of the 2011-12 season, which gave City the title for the first time since 1968.

He had a difficult relationship with City manager Roberto Mancini, with whom he first worked at Internazionale in Milan, and with Mancini’s successor in charge of the nerazzurri, Jose Mourinho.  His volatile temperament has also brought him more red and yellow cards than he and his managers would have liked.

Yet he still won three Serie A winner’s medals with Inter in addition to his English title and won the Coppa Italia with Inter and the FA Cup with Manchester City.

Balotelli is also a Champions League winner, having been part of the Inter squad in 2009-10, when Diego Milito’s two goals beat Bayern Munich in the final in Madrid.

Balotelli was a sensation in his  early days at Internazionale
Balotelli was a sensation in his
early days at Internazionale
The son of Ghanaian immigrants, Balotelli was born Mario Barwuah.  His parents had little money and after the family moved to Bagnolo Mella, a municipality near Brescia, in northern Italy, when he was two, they placed Mario in foster care.  He was a sickly child with intestinal problems and they felt he would do better in a family that could give him a modern home and good food.

He was taken in by Francesco and Silvia Balotelli, a white couple from the town of Concesio, in pretty countryside in the Val Trompia to the north of Brescia. 

Although bureaucratic obstacles prevented the Balotellis from ever adopting Mario formally, they raised him as their own son, alongside their own children Giovanni, Corrado and Cristina, who made him feel part of the family.

Subsequently he came to regard Francesco and Silvia as his true parents and distanced himself from his blood family.  He insisted that without the Balotellis' love and support his football career would not have happened and when he scored twice for the Italian national team as they beat Germany 2-1 in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 in Warsaw his first instinct at the end of the match was to look for his adoptive family in the crowd.

A picture of him embracing Silvia appeared in newspapers round the world.

Much as he felt safe and loved by the Balotellis, he still regularly encountered racism as he grew up.  Although Italy accepts many immigrants, including refugees, from northern Africa, they form a tiny percentage of the population and tend to be more widely scattered than in some European countries.

Mario Balotelli lines up with the Italian national team at the finals of Euro 2012
Mario Balotelli lines up with the Italian national
team at the finals of Euro 2012
Thus, Balotelli’s skin colour made him stand out and many believe his sometimes erratic behaviour is a consequence of feeling he was not accepted as an ordinary Italian as he grew up. It did not help that he was not allowed to apply for Italian citizenship until he was 18.

His talent for football did help, but only up to a point. He encountered jealousy at school and when he made his debut at 15 years of age for Lumezzane, the Serie C club 20 minutes from his home where he took his first steps towards a professional career, he was subjected to racial abuse by a section of the crowd.

This continued after he joined Inter at the age of 16, with racist chants and monkey noises a particular problem in matches against the Turin club Juventus.

Nonetheless, his talent shone through.  He made his Inter debut aged 17 in a friendly in England in November 2007, scoring twice in a match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, to mark the 150th anniversary of Sheffield FC, the world’s oldest association football club. He also scored twice in his first competitive start, in a Coppa Italia match against Reggina on December 19.

Balotelli in his time at Liverpool
Balotelli in his time
at Liverpool
His first Serie A goal came in April the following year against Alalanta in Bergamo as Inter closed in on the 2007-08 Serie A title.

In all, Balotelli scored 20 goals in 59 Serie A appearances for Inter, 20 in 54 Premier League games for Manchester City and 26 in 43 top-flight matches for AC Milan, to whom City sold him in 2013 for €20 million, a move Mancini believed would be better for his career, allowing him to live closer to his family home.

The only fallow periods in his career came at Liverpool, for whom he scored only once in 16 Premier League matches, and in a second spell with AC Milan, on loan, which again yielded just one goal in 20 Serie A appearances.  But his goalscoring form has been restored since moving to France, where his 15 goals for Nice in his first season, following a free transfer from Liverpool, came in 23 Ligue 1 games, including two on his debut against Marseille.

At 18 years and 85 days, Balotelli was the youngest goalscorer in Champions League history when he found the net for Inter against against Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta in November 2008. His career tally of Champions League goals stands at eight, with 13 from 33 appearances for Italy, for whom he last played in the 2014 World Cup finals.

Balotelli has been an object of fascination for the media, from the glossy magazines for whom he has done fashion shoots to the tabloid newspapers in England, who reported many off-field incidents of unusual behaviour, some of the them true, others not.

Val Trompia is notable for spectacular scenery
Val Trompia is notable for spectacular scenery
Travel tip:

Concesio, where Balotelli grew up, is in the Val Trompia, historically a mining area due to its rich mineral deposits. The route between the valley and the city of Brescia has been called La Via del Ferro e delle Miniere - The Road of Iron and Mining - which takes visitors through a largely undiscovered area of forests, adventure parks and ski slopes with many restaurants featuring local cheeses, meats, game and river trout.

The dome of Brescia's Duomo Nuovo
The dome of Brescia's Duomo Nuovo
Travel tip:

Likewise, the city of Brescia tends not to attract many tourists, partly because Bergamo, Verona and the lakes are nearby.  Yet its history goes back to Roman times and there are many notable attractions, including two cathedrals – the Duomo Vecchio and its younger neighbour, the Duomo Nuovo – and the pretty Piazza della Loggia, with a Renaissance palace, the Palazzo della Loggia, which is the town’s municipal centre.