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

21 March 2019

21 March

Alberto Marvelli - Rimini's Good Samaritan


Heroic deeds helped victims of bombing raids

Alberto Marvelli, who came to be seen as a modern day Good Samaritan after risking his life repeatedly to help the victims of devastating air raids in the Second World War, was born on this day in 1918 in Ferrara. He died in 1946 at the age of only 28 when he was hit by a truck while riding his bicycle but in his short life identified himself to many as a true hero. Marvelli's acts of heroism occurred mainly in Rimini, his adopted home town, which suffered heavy bombing from the Allies due to its proximity to the German defensive fortifications known as the Gothic or Green Line. As well as giving aid and comfort to the wounded and dying and to those whose homes and possessions had been destroyed, Marvelli also rescued many Rimini citizens from trains destined for concentration camps. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004. Read more…

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Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinello – Educator


Nun who promoted the rights of girls to a quality education

The Feast Day of Saint Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinello, who founded the Benedictine Sisters of Providence, is celebrated on this day, the anniversary of her death in 1858. Benedetta carried out pioneering work by rescuing poor and abandoned girls and promoting their rights to a good education. She was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002. Benedetta was born in 1791 in Genoa but her family later moved to Pavia. She dedicated herself to the education of young girls who had been abandoned or who were at risk in the area, eventually opening a school. She later founded the Congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of Providence, which concentrated on the education of young girls. Read more...

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Angela Merici – Saint


Nun dedicated her life to educating girls

Angela Merici, who founded the monastic Ursuline Order, was born on this day in 1474 in Desenzano del Garda. The Ursulines are the oldest order of women in the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to teaching and were the first to work outside a convent in the community. Merici became deeply religious after she was orphaned at 15. It is claimed she became suddenly blind on the island of Crete on her way to the Holy Land but was cured of her blindness on her return, while praying at exactly the same place.  where she had been afflicted. Merici and 28 of her followers formed the Company of St Ursula, named after a fourth century martyr, in 1535. Their idea was to provide for the Christian education of girls in order to restore the family and, through the family, the whole of Christian society. Merici was beatified in 1768 and canonised in 1807. Read more…

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Pope Pius VII crowned

Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Pope Pius VII, which is kept at the Louvre in Paris
Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Pope Pius VII,
which is kept at the Louvre in Paris

Last papal conclave to take place outside Rome


Barnaba Niccolo Maria Luigi Chiaramonti was crowned Pope Pius VII on this day in 1800 in Venice.

A papier-mâché version of the papal tiara had to be used as the French Revolutionary army had taken the original with them when they took the previous pope, Pius VI, to France as a prisoner.

French troops under Napoleon Bonaparte had invaded Rome in 1796 and seized Pius VI, who was taken to Valence, where he died in 1799.

The conclave to elect his successor met on 30 November that year in the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio in Venice. This was because Pius VI had issued an ordinance in 1798 saying that the city where the largest number of cardinals were to be found at the time of his death was to be the scene of the subsequent election. When he died there were 34 cardinals in Venice and others soon joined them.

After the conclave had lasted three months and the cardinals had been unable to agree on a successor, Chiaramonti was suggested as a compromise candidate and was elected. It was the last conclave to be held outside Rome.

The arrest of Pius VII in Rome in 1809, after which he remained in exile until 1814
The arrest of Pius VII in Rome in 1809, after which
he remained in exile until 1814
He was crowned in Venice on March 21 and then left the city by sea to return to Rome.

Chiaramonti was born in 1742 in Cesena, then part of the Papal States. He became a Benedictine and later was made Cardinal and Bishop of Imola by Pius VI, who was one of his relatives.

After his election, Pius VII wanted to make peace with Napoleon and negotiated the Concordat of 1801, which established reorganisation of the dioceses and declared Roman Catholicism as France’s chief religion.

But it was not long before his relationship with Napoleon deteriorated. Rome was occupied by French troops in 1808 and Napoleon declared the Papal States annexed to France.

Pius VII excommunicated the invaders in 1809 but was then taken prisoner by them and remained in exile until 1814.

After his release, Pius VII was greatly acclaimed on his journey back to Rome. The Congress of Vienna held between 1814 and 1815 restored nearly all the Papal States, including Rome, to him.

Pius VII died in 1823 after fracturing his hip in a fall in the papal apartments. After being briefly interred in the Vatican grottoes, Pope Pius VII was buried inside a tomb in St Peter’s Basilica.

In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI granted Pius VII the title, Servant of God.

The Basilica and former monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore is one of the most famous features of the Venetian lagoon
The Basilica and former monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore
is one of the most famous features of the Venetian lagoon
Travel tip:

The San Giorgio monastery, where the election of Pius VII took place, was a Benedictine monastery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. It stands next to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. The monastery building currently serves as the headquarters of the Cini Foundation, a cultural foundation set up in 1951 in memory of Count Giorgio Cini. The church itself was designed by Andrea Palladio, and built between 1566 and 1610 in the classical Renaissance style. Its brilliant white marble gleams above the blue water of the lagoon.

Venice hotels from Hotels.com

The reading room at the Biblioteca Maltestiana in Cesena, which was the first public library in Europe
The reading room at the Biblioteca Maltestiana in Cesena,
which was the first public library in Europe
Travel tip:

Cesena, the birthplace of Pope Pius VII, is a city in Emilia-Romagna, south of Ravenna and west of Rimini. One of the main sights in the town is the 15th century Biblioteca Maltestiana, which houses many valuable manuscripts and was the first public library in Europe. It is now a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. The city's castle, the Rocca Malatestiana, was used by Cesare Borgia as a jail for Caterina Sforza. It is octagonal, with two main towers.

Find a hotel in Cesena with TripAdvisor

More reading:

The papal appointment that sparked the Western Schism

The pope who excommunicated Henry VIII

How ruthless Sixtus V cleaned up Rome's criminal underworld

Also on this day:

The Feast Day of Saint Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinello

1474: The birth of Saint Angela Merici

1918: The birth of Alberto Marvelli, Rimini's wartime 'Good Samaritan'

(Picture credits: San Giorgio by Nau Kofi; Cesena library by Boschetti marco 65; via Wikimedia Commons)

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20 March 2019

20 March

Azeglio Vicini - 1990 World Cup coach


Semi-final heartbreak ended dream of victory on home soil

Azeglio Vicini, the coach who led Italy to the semi-finals when the nation hosted the 1990 World Cup finals, was born in Cesena in Emilia-Romagna, on this day in 1934. Vicini succeeded World Cup winner Enzo Bearzot as coach in 1986 with the onerous brief of winning the tournament on home soil, which Italy’s football hierarchy almost expected to happen. On the bedrock of a formidable defence comprising Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Giuseppe Bergomi and Riccardo Ferri, Vicini built an exciting team around such talented individuals such as Roberto Mancini, Giuseppe Giannini, Roberto Donadoni, Gianluca Vialli and the brilliant Roberto Baggio, and made an inspired choice by picking the largely unproven Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci, to lead his attack. Yet Italy ultimately failed, going out at the semi-final stage to Argentina after a penalty shoot-out at the Sao Paolo Stadium in Naples. Read more…

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Fulco di Verdura - jeweller


Exclusive brand favoured by stars and royalty

The man behind the exclusive jewellery brand Verdura was born Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, Duke of Verdura, on this day in 1898 in Palermo. Usually known as Fulco di Verdura, he founded the Verdura company in 1939, when he opened a shop on Fifth Avenue in New York and became one of the premier jewellery designers of the 20th century.  Among his clients were the Duchess of Windsor - the former socialite Wallis Simpson - and stars such as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Paulette Goddard, Millicent Rogers and Marlene Dietrich.  The most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction, the so-called Oppenheimer Blue diamond, which changed hands at Christie's in Geneva for $50.6 million (£34.7 million) in 2016, was set in a ring designed by Verdura. Read more…

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Giampiero Moretti - entrepreneur racing driver


Gentleman racer behind ubiquitous Momo accessories brand

Giampiero Moretti, a motor racing enthusiast who made his fortune almost literally by reinventing the wheel, was born on this day in 1940 in Milan. Known as 'the last of the gentleman racers' because of his unfailing courtesy, refined manners and an unquenchable determination to succeed on the track, Moretti made a profound mark on the sport through his ergonomic rethink of the racecar steering wheel. Steering wheels were traditionally large and made of steel or polished wood but Moretti saw that reducing the diameter of the wheel would cut the effort needed by the driver to steer the car, while by covering the wheel with leather it would improve the driver's grip.  His big break came when Ferrari invited him to design a leather wheel for their Formula One car, on the back of which Moretti acquired a small factory premises near Verona and set up the company, Momo. Read more…

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19 March 2019

19 March

Mario Monti – prime minister


‘Super Mario’ stepped in during debt crisis

Economist Mario Monti, who was prime minister of Italy from 2011 to 2013, was born on this day in 1943 in Varese in Lombardy. Monti was invited by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano to form a new government after the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi in November 2011 in the middle of the European debt crisis.  Monti, who was the 54th prime minister of Italy, led a government of unelected technocrats, who introduced austerity measures in Italy. He had been a European Commissioner from 1994 to 1999, where he obtained the nickname ‘Super Mario’ from his colleagues and the Press. As part of his government’s plan to tackle worsening economic conditions in Italy, Monti worked without a salary. He resigned as prime minister after the 2012 Budget was passed, as he had always pledged he would do. Read more…

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Giuseppe Mercalli - seismologist 

Scientist who invented Mercalli scale died in fire

The seismologist and volcanologist Giuseppe Mercalli, who at the time of his death was director of the Vesuvius Observatory, died in a fire at his home in Naples on this day in 1914. The initial suspicion was that Mercalli, best known for devising a scale - still used today - for determining the strength of earthquakes according to the intensity of shaking, had knocked over a paraffin lamp accidentally after falling asleep while working late. However, an examination of his remains suggested by may have been strangled after disturbing an intruder, who then soaked his clothes in petrol before setting light to them. A sum of money worth the equivalent of $1,400 (€1,250) today was missing, although no one was ever apprehended for the crime. Born in Milan, Mercalli was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. Read more...

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Benito Jacovitti - cartoonist


Multiple comic characters loved by generations 

Benito Jacovitti, who would become Italy's most famous cartoonist, was born on this day in 1923 in the Adriatic coastal town of Termoli. Jacovitti drew for a number of satirical magazines and several newspapers but also produced much work aimed at children and young adults. His characters became the constant companions of generations of schoolchildren for more than 30 years via the pages of Diario Vitt, the school diary produced by the publishers of the Catholic comic magazine Il Vittorioso, which had a huge readership among teenagers and young adults. He gave life to such characters as "the three Ps" - Pippo, Pertica and Pallo - as well as Chicchiriccì and Jack Mandolino via their cartoon adventures in Il Vittorioso, introduced Zorry Kid, a parody of Zorro, and the cowboy Cocco Bill. Read more...

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Francesco Gasparini – musician and writer


Opera composer who gave Vivaldi a job

Francesco Gasparini, one of the great Baroque composers, was born on this day in 1661 in Camaiore near Lucca in Tuscany. Gasparini also worked as a music teacher and was musical director of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice for about 15 years, where he made the inspired decision to employ a 25-year-old Antonio Vivaldi as a violin master. By the age of 17, Gasparini was a member of the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna. He moved to Rome, where he studied under the musicians Arcangelo Corelli and Bernardo Pasquini. After arriving in Venice in 1702, he became one of the leading composers in the city. Appointed in 1703, Vivaldi composed most of his major works while working at the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage where young girls were given a musical education. Read more...

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Giuseppe Mercalli - seismologist

Giuseppe Mercalli became southern Europe's biggest authority on earthquakes and volcanic activity
Giuseppe Mercalli became southern Europe's biggest
authority on earthquakes and volcanic activity

Scientist who invented Mercalli Scale died in fire


The seismologist and volcanologist Giuseppe Mercalli, who at the time of his death was director of the Vesuvius Observatory, died in a fire at his home in Naples on this day in 1914.

The initial suspicion was that Mercalli, who devised a scale for determining the strength of earthquakes according to the intensity of shaking, had knocked over a paraffin lamp accidentally after falling asleep while working late.

However, an examination of his remains suggested by may have been strangled after disturbing an intruder, who then soaked his clothes in petrol before setting light to them. A sum of money worth the equivalent of $1,400 (€1,250) today was missing, although no one was ever apprehended for the crime.

Born in Milan, Mercalli was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and became a professor of Natural Sciences at the seminary of Milan, although he left under something of a cloud because of his support for Antonio Rosmini, a controversial priest and philosopher who campaigned for social justice and was fiercely critical of various aspects of how the Roman Catholic church operated.

Mercalli collecting data on the edge of the crater of Vesuvius, with an aide on hand to keep him from falling
Mercalli collecting data on the edge of the crater of Vesuvius,
with an aide on hand to keep him from falling
After he had left, the Italian government appointed him a professor at Domodossola in Piedmont, followed by a post at Reggio di Calabria. He was professor of geology at the University of Catania in the late 1880s and was given a post at the Naples University in 1892. He became director of the Vesuvius Observatory in 1911.

He is best remembered for the Mercalli intensity scale for measuring earthquakes which, in modified form, is still used today.

While studying seismic activity in Italy in the late 19th century, Mercalli’s access to seismic instrumentation was limited. Most of Mercalli's information came from personal accounts and observations of damage. To provide consistency in his analyses, he decided he needed a way to measure the relative effects of each event.

He first developed a scale with six degrees, with the most disastrous earthquakes given an intensity of six, but felt that this did not provide enough precision.  Another intensity scale called the deRossi-Forel scale that was gaining in prominence at the same time had the advantage of 10 degrees of intensity, although Mercalli felt it lacked meaningful description.

Mercalli was ordained as a priest before beginning his scientific career
Mercalli was ordained as a priest before
beginning his scientific career
In 1902, Mercalli modified this 10-degree scale to include the detail he desired, and his new scale quickly caught on among European scientists

Mercalli also observed eruptions of the volcanoes Stromboli and Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands and his descriptions of these eruptions became the basis for two indices in the Volcanic Explosivity Index: 1 - Strombolian eruption, and 2 - Vulcanian eruption.

The scale has been tweaked by various other seismologists but remains the basis for determining an earthquake’s intensity. It is now known as the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale.

Mercalli also engaged in detailed cataloguing of Italian earthquakes, which enabled him to produce a book - I vulcani e fénomeni vulcanici in Italia - which he used to assemble a clear picture of where most of the events happened.

Mercalli's work built his reputation across southern Europe, and he was often called upon to study events throughout the continent.  He travelled to Spain in 1884 to examine the aftermath of the Andalusian earthquake, and in 1887 Mercalli was the lead investigator of the deadly event in Imperia along the French and Italian Riviera.

He became famous even beyond scientific circles, to the extent that his death and the speculation over the circumstances was reported in the New York Times.

Some fascinating buildings line Piazza Mercato in the  medieval heart of Domodossola
Some fascinating buildings line Piazza Mercato in the
medieval heart of Domodossola
Travel tip:

The name Domodossola is familiar to many Italian children as a line - ‘D’ is for Domodossola - recited in learning the alphabet at school. It is, in fact, a very pleasant town in northern Piedmont, close to the border with Switzerland and the last town at the Italian end of the Simplon Pass and the Simplon railway tunnel. Domodossola has a charming medieval centre around the Piazza Mercato, which has a number of interesting buildings. The Collegiale Church of Santi Gervasio and Protasio is the town’s most important church, while just outside the town is the Sacro Monte Calvario, a Roman Catholic sanctuary that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Palazzo Silva in Piazza Chiossi houses a civic museum. The area is surrounded by outstanding Alpine countryside, which can be admired from a light railway linking Domodossola and Locarno in Switzerland.

Hotels in Domodossola from Hotels.com

The vast crater of Mount Vesuvius, which remains classified as an active volcano despite being quiet since 1944
The vast crater of Mount Vesuvius, which remains classified
as an active volcano despite being quiet since 1944
Travel tip:

The Vesuvius Observatory today is part of the Mount Vesuvius National Park, which was created in 1955. The crater of the volcano itself is accessible to visitors, albeit by guided tour only, and there is a road to within 200 metres of it, but after that the ascent is on foot only.  The crater is about 200 metres deep and has a maximum diameter of about 600 metres. The climb is said to be well worth it because the view takes in the entire coastline from the Gulf of Gaeta, some 84km (52 miles) to the north, to the Sorrento peninsula. Visitors can take the Naples-Sorrento line of the Circumvesuviana railway and get off at Ercolano station, from where a shuttle bus runs to the park. As well as the observatory, there is a museum, a visitor centre, a restaurant and a shop where you can buy Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio, the wine made from the grapes grown on the sloped of the volcano.

Naples hotels from Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

1944 - the last Vesuvius eruption

How Italy's worst earthquake almost destroyed Messina and Reggio Calabria

The devastating quake that led to an architectural golden age

Also on this day:

1661: The birth of Venetian composer Francesco Gasparini, who gave Vivaldi a job

1923: The birth of cartoonist Benito Jacovitti

1943: The birth of politician Mario Monti, who was Italy’s prime minister from 2011 to 2013

(Picture credits: Mercalli on slopes of Vesuvius by Sailko; Domodossola by Little Joe; Vesuvius crater by S J Pinkney)

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18 March 2019

18 March

Mount Vesuvius – the 1944 eruption


The last time the volcano was seen to blow its top

Mount Vesuvius, the huge volcano looming over the bay of Naples, erupted on this day in 1944. Vesuvius is the only volcano on mainland Europe to have erupted during the last 100 years and is a constant worry because of its history of explosive eruptions and the large number of people living close by. It is most famous for its eruption in AD 79, which buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and is believed to have killed thousands of people. There were at least three larger eruptions of Vesuvius before AD 79 and there have been many since, including one in 1631 that buried villages under lava flows and killed about 300 people. The 1944 went on for several days, destroying three villages nearby and about 80 planes belonging to the US Army Air Forces, which were based at an airfield close to Pompeii. Read more...

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The Five Days of Milan


Citizens rebel to drive out ruling Austrians

The Five Days of Milan, one of the most significant episodes of the Risorgimento, began on this day in 1848 as the citizens of Milan rebelled against Austrian rule. More than 400 Milanese citizens were killed and a further 600 wounded but after five days of street battles the Austrian commander, Marshal Josef Radetzky, withdrew his 13,000 troops from the city. The 'Cinque Giornate' uprising sparked the First Italian War of Independence between the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Austrian Empire, which ruled much of northern Italy in the early part of the 19th century and they maintained a harsh regime. The Milan riots followed the imposition of tax increases and the use of soldiers to ensure that everybody paid. Soon after the Milan riots, an insurrection in Venice also succeeded in ejecting Austrian forces. By March 23, Charles Albert of Savoy had declared war on Austria. Read more...

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Bobby Solo - pop singer


Sixties star found fame after Sanremo disqualification

Bobby Solo, who was twice winner of Italy's prestigious Sanremo Festival yet had his biggest hit with a song that was disqualified, was born Roberto Satti on this day in 1945 in Rome. Solo won the contest in 1965 and 1969 but it was the controversy over his 1964 entry that thrust him into the spotlight. The format for the competition, which aims to select the best song rather than the best artist, requires each entry to be sung by two artists, one a native Italian, the other an international guest star. In 1964, Solo was paired with the American singer Frankie Laine but was stricken with a throat problem. Rather than withdraw, he sang the song with the help of a backing track, only to be told afterwards that this was against the rules. The song - Una lacrima sul viso (A Tear on Your Face) - was disqualified but attracted such attention that it became the first record in Italy to sell more than a million copies, setting Solo on the way to a highly successful career. Read more...

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17 March 2019

17 March

Gabriele Ferzetti - actor


Starred in classic Italian films as well as Bond movie

The actor Gabriele Ferzetti, best known to international audiences for his role in the 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but in Italy for the Michelangelo Antonioni classic L’Avventura (1960), was born on this day in 1925 in Rome. Rarely idle, he made more than 160 films and appeared in countless TV dramas and was still working at 85 years old.
His intense performance as Antonioni’s wealthy yet unfulfilled playboy opposite Monica Vitti in L’Avventura was the role that identified him most as an actor of considerable talent, yet he was also memorable as the unscrupulous Morton, the railroad magnate who hobbled around on crutches in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), and as Marc Ange-Draco, the sophisticated Mafia boss who joins forces with James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was George Lazenby’s only outing as 007. Read more…

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Giovanni Trapattoni - football coach


His seven Serie A titles is unequalled achievement

Giovanni Trapattoni, the former Juventus and Internazionale coach who is one of only four coaches to have won the principal league titles of four different European countries, was born on this day in 1939 in Cusano Milanino, a suburb on the northern perimeter of Milan. The most successful club coach in the history of Serie A, he won seven titles, six with Juventus and one with Inter. Trapattoni has also won the German Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, the Portuguese Primeira Liga with Benfica and the Austrian Bundesliga with Red Bull Salzburg. Trapattoni is one of only two coaches to have won all three major European club competitions - the European Cup, the UEFA Cup and the now defunct European Cup-Winners' Cup - and the only one to do it with the same club. Read more…

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Innocenzo Manzetti - inventor


Made prototype telephone 33 years ahead of Bell

The inventor Innocenzo Manzetti, credited by some scientific historians as having been the creator of a forerunner of the telephone many years ahead of his compatriot Antonio Meucci and the Scottish-American Alexander Graham Bell, was born on this day in 1826 in Aosta, in northwest Italy. Manzetti's extraordinary catalogue of inventions included a steam-powered car, a hydraulic water pump, a pendulum watch that would keep going for a whole year and a robot that could play the flute. But he was a man whose creative talents were not allied to business sense.  Like Meucci, a Florentine emigrant to New York who demonstrated a telephone-like device in 1860 - 16 years before Bell was granted the patent - Manzetti did not patent his device and therefore missed out on the fortune that came the way of Bell. Read more…

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Kingdom of Italy proclaimed


First King of Italy calls himself Victor Emmanuel II

The newly-unified Kingdom of Italy was officially proclaimed on this day in 1861 in Turin. The first Italian parliament to meet in the city confirmed Victor Emmanuel as the first King of the new country. It was the monarch's own choice to call himself Victor Emmanuel II, rather than Victor Emmanuel I. This immediately provoked criticism from some factions, who took it as implying that Italy had always been ruled by the House of Savoy.  Victor Emmanuel I, with whom Victor Emmanuel II had ancestral links, had been King of Sardinia - ruled by the Dukes of Savoy - from 1802 until his death in 1824. Victor Emmanuel II had become King of Sardinia in 1849 after his father, Charles Albert, abdicated. The Kingdom of Sardinia is considered to be the legal predecessor to the Kingdom of Italy. Indeed, the new king appointed Count Camillo Benso of Cavour, who had been prime minister of Sardinia-Piedmont, as the first prime minister of the united Italy. Read more...