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.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Pino Rauti – politician and journalist

Writer chronicled the story of Fascism in Italy


Pino Rauti was a prominent figure in far-right Italian politics for 64 years
Pino Rauti was a prominent figure in
far-right Italian politics for 64 years
Pino Rauti, leader of the neo-fascist Social Idea Movement, was born Giuseppe Umberto Rauti on this day in 1926 in Cardinale in Calabria.

Rauti was to become a leading figure on the far right of Italian politics from 1948 until his death in 2012.

As a young man he had volunteered for the Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana of Benito Mussolini’s Italian Social Republic and he then went on to join the Spanish Foreign Legion.

After his return to Italy, Rauti joined the post-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI). He became associated with Julius Evola, a leading fascist philosopher, and became editor of his journal, Imperium.

Rauti joined the staff of the Rome-based daily Il Tempo in 1953 and later became the Italian correspondent for the Aginter Press, a fake press agency set up in Portugal in 1966 to combat communism.

In 1954 he established his own group within MSI, the Ordine Nuovo, but he became disillusioned with MSI and his group separated from the party two years later.

Rauti worked as a journalist on the
Rome newspaper Il Tempo
Rauti’s name was linked with a number of terror attacks, including the Piazza Fontana bombing. He was brought to trial in 1972 over this atrocity at a Milan bank, which caused 17 deaths, but he was acquitted through lack of evidence.

There were other claims linking him with terrorist activities but he was never convicted of any offences.

Rauti returned to MSI and was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1972. In the 1980s, he became a leading figure in the European Parliament.

He went up against Gianfranco Fini for leadership of MSI in 1987 but Fini’s more moderate policies won him the biggest share of the vote.  In 1990, he did replace Fini as leader, but the party’s performance in the next regional elections was the worst in its history and he was removed from the leadership in 1991, with Fini taking charge again.

When Fini founded the Alleanza Nazionale in place of MSI, Rauti led a group of militants to form the Fiamma Tricolore, which he saw as continuing the path of Fascism.

Pino Rauti with Gianfranco Fini (left), whom he replaced as  leader of the MSI party in 1990
Pino Rauti with Gianfranco Fini (left), whom he replaced as
leader of the MSI party in 1990
Rauti stood down as leader in 2002 in favour of Luca Romagnoli, who then sought to work with Silvio Berlusconi’s House of Freedoms coalition. Rauti became a strong critic of Romagnoli and was eventually expelled from the party he had founded.  It was then that he established his own party, the Social Idea Movement.

Between 1966 and 1990, Rauti wrote a number of books about the history of Fascism and the policies of Mussolini.

Rauti died in Rome in November 2012, aged 85.

His daughter, Isabella, who also became a journalist, is now a member of Fratelli Italia, a conservative nationalist party formed by former members of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party. She was elected as Senator for Mantua earlier this year. She is the ex-wife of a former Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno.

A view over the rooftops of Cardinale in Calabria
A view over the rooftops of Cardinale in Calabria
Travel tip:

Cardinale in Calabria, where Pino Rauti was born, is a comune in the province of Catanzaro, the capital city of the region. Cardinale was proved to be a Neolithic site in the 19th century, when work was being carried out to reinforce an old iron bridge and axes made from stone were found, establishing the presence of man there as far back as the stone age. These axes can now be seen in the Archaeological Museum in Crotone.

The Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome, seat of the Chamber of Deputies
The Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome, seat
of the Chamber of Deputies
Travel tip:

The Camera dei Deputati - the Chamber of Deputies -  is one of Italy’s houses of parliament, the other being the Senate of the Republic. The Camera dei Deputati meets at Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome, a palace originally designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and completed by Carlo Fontana in 1697, which is to the north of the Pantheon.

More reading:

How Giorgio Almirante tried to make MSI acceptable in mainstream Italian politics

Fini's move away from Fascism

The Piazza Fontana bombing

Also on this day:

1877: The birth of Giuseppe Volpi, founder of the Venice Film Festival

1893: The birth of Giuseppe Curreri, better known as the boxer Johnny Dundee

1907: The birth of Luigi Beccali, winner of Italy's first track gold at the Olympics


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Sunday, 18 November 2018

Gio Ponti - architect and designer

Visionary who shaped more than 100 buildings


The 1956 Pirelli Tower in Milan is one of Ponti's most famous buildings
The 1956 Pirelli Tower in Milan is one of
Ponti's most famous buildings
Giovanni ‘Gio’ Ponti, one of the most influential architects and designers of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1891 in Milan.

During a career that spanned six decades, Ponti completed more than 100 architectural projects in Italy and abroad and also designed hundreds of pieces of furniture, decorative objects and household items.

As an architect, he made a significant impact on the appearance of his home city. The Pirelli Tower, which for 35 years was Italy’s tallest skyscraper, is the building for which Ponti is most famous, but it is only one of 46 in Milan.

He also designed the Montecatini buildings, the Torre Littoria (now known as the Torre Branca) in Parco Sempione, the San Luca Evangelista church in Via Andrea Maria Ampère, and Monument to the Fallen in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio.

Ponti’s work was by no means confined to Milan, however.  Elsewhere in Italy, he designed the Mathematics Institute at the University of Rome, the Carmelo Monastery in Sanremo, the Villa Donegani in Bordighera, the Gran Madre di Dio Concattedrale in Taranto and the Hotel Parco dei Principi in Sorrento.

Ponti designed 46 buildings in his home city alone and many more around the world
Ponti designed 46 buildings in his home city alone
and many more around the world
Outside Italy, he worked on projects in 12 countries. Notable Ponti buildings around the world include the Denver Art Museum in the United States, the Ministries Building in Islamabad, Pakistan, and the the Villa Planchart in Caracas, Venezuela.

Ponti also worked for 120 different companies as a designer, creating designs for furniture and household objects that included the Superleggera chair for the furniture maker Cassina, which combined strength with ‘super light weight’.  Made from ash wood, it weighed only 1.7kg (3.75lb).

After a classical schooling in Milan, Ponti enrolled in at the Faculty of Architecture at the Politecnico di Milano but his studies were interrupted by the First World War, in which he served with some distinction. Reaching the rank of captain, he received the Bronze Medal and the Italian Military Cross. He also painted watercolours of his companions in arms, and while based in the Veneto was able to observe the architecture of Palladio.

Once he finally did graduate, he married his girlfriend, Giulia Vimercati, with whom he had four children - Lisa, Giovanna, Giulio and Letizia.

Ponti's North Building at the Denver Art Museum in Colorado had a castle-like appearance
Ponti's North Building at the Denver Art Museum
in Colorado had a castle-like appearance
Ponti began his architectural career in partnership with Mino Fiocchi and Emilio Lancia, at which time he was influenced by the Milanese neoclassical Novecento Italiano movement.  The first building he designed in his own right was the house in Via Giovanni Randaccio in the Sempione district of central Milan, where he also lived.

He co-founded in 1928 the magazine Domus, of which as editor he would oversee some 560 issues, in all of which he wrote at least one article.  As an academic, he delivered lectures in 24 countries.

The 1930s were years of intense activity for Ponti.  During this time, he shifted towards Modernism with the Borletti funeral chapel and houses in Via de Togni, via Letizia and via del Caravaggio that were designed for the Milanese bourgeoisie, the Torre Littoria and the Rasini Building. He designed the San Michele hotel on Capri and a building for the Faculty of Arts at the University of Pavia.

In the 1950s he was involved in projects as diverse as urban planning in Milan, as the city began a period of intense redevelopment of areas bombed during the Second World War, and designing the interiors of ocean liners.

The Concattedrale Gran Madre di Dio in Taranto in the south of Italy, built in 1970
The Concattedrale Gran Madre di Dio in Taranto in the
south of Italy, built in 1970
After a period working in Brazil and Venezuela, he began his acknowledged masterpiece, the Pirelli Tower in Milan, in 1956, working with another great Italian architect, Pier Luigi Nervi.  Rising to a height of 127m (417ft), it was among the first skyscrapers to abandon the customary block form, Ponti designing a futuristic slender shape with tapered sides drawing to a point at each end, which viewed from above would resemble the outline of a ship. It was hailed as a symbol of corporate success and an optimistic catalyst for economic prosperity.

In the 1960s he built the Milan churches of San Francesco and of San Carlo Borromeo, before turning his attention away from Latin America to the East he built his ministerial buildings in lslamabad and a villa for the businessman Daniel Koo in Hong Kong.

Even as he approached the age of 80, Ponti was still making his mark. He designed his Cathedral in Taranto when he was 79 and had turned 80 when he produced his iconic design for the seven-storey castle-like North Building of the the Denver Art Museum in Colorado.

Ponti died in 1979 at the age of 87 in his eighth-floor apartment in the Via Giuseppe Dezza, where he and his family had lived since 1957 and which reflected all of the ideas with regard to layout, walls, furniture and objects that he had developed during the 1950s.

The Castello Aragonese in Taranto stands guard over the entrance to the port's harbour
The Castello Aragonese in Taranto stands guard
over the entrance to the port's harbour
Travel tip:

The city of Taranto, where Ponti’s modern cathedral is considered one of his major works, sits on the inside of the heel of southern Italy. A major naval base, it has a spectacular setting between a sweeping bay and the Mare Piccolo, an inland sea. One of the biggest cities in pre-Roman Europe, contemporary Taranto is a city of two distinct parts – a somewhat crumbling centro storico on a small island protecting the lagoon, and new city of wide avenues laid out in a formal grid. In the 1930s Mussolini had a quarter of the ancient centre demolished to build apartment blocks, and it was badly bombed in the Second World War. The old city - the Città Vecchia - contains a castle built by Ferdinand of Aragon in 1492, behind which are the ruins of an ancient sixth century BC Doric temple. The city’s original cathedral, which dates from 1070, has been remodelled with a Baroque façade.

The beautiful green space of the Parco Sempione in  Milan, looking towards the Arch of Peace
The beautiful green space of the Parco Sempione in
Milan, looking towards the Arch of Peace
Travel tip:

Parco Sempione is a large park in Milan, with an overall area of 38.6 hectares (95 acres), located in the historic centre of the city. The adjacent to the gardens of the Sforza Castle and to the Arch of Peace, two of the main landmarks of Milan. A third prominent monument of Parco Sempione is the Palazzo dell'Arte, built in 1933 and designed by Giovanni Muzio. Also in the park are the Arena Civica, the public aquarium, and the Torre Branca tower, which used to be known as the Torre Littoria, a 108.6m (356ft) metal structure with a viewing platform at the top.

More reading:

From football stadiums to churches: The work of Pier Luigi Nervi

How Marco Zanuso put Italy at the forefront of contemporary style

The brilliance of Renzo Piano, designer of the Pompidou Centre and the Shard

Also on this day:

1626: The consecration of St Peter's Basilica in Rome

1630: The birth of Holy Roman Empress Eleonora Gonzaga

1804: The birth of soldier and former Italian PM Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora


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Saturday, 17 November 2018

Calisto Tanzi - disgraced businessman

Man at the centre of the Parmalat scandal 



Calisto Tanzi took over his father's grocery store when he was 22 years old
Calisto Tanzi took over his father's grocery
store when he was 22 years old
Calisto Tanzi, the business tycoon jailed for 18 years following the biggest corporate disaster in Italian history, was born on this day in 1938 in Collecchio, a town in Emilia-Romagna, about 13km (8 miles) from the city of Parma.

Tanzi was founder and chief executive of Parmalat, the enormous global food conglomerate that collapsed in 2003 with a staggering €14 billion worth of debt.

Subsequent criminal investigations found that Tanzi, who built the Parmalat empire from the grocery store his father had run in Collechio, had been misappropriating funds and engaging in fraudulent practices for as much as a decade in order to maintain an appearance of success and prosperity when in fact the business was failing catastrophically.

Of all those hurt by the collapse, the biggest victims were more than 135,000 small investors who had bought bonds in the company, some of them trusting Parmalat with their entire life savings.

Between 2008 and 2010, Tanzi was found guilty by four different courts of fraud, of the fraudulent bankruptcy of Parmalat, the fraudulent bankruptcy of Parmatour, a travel industry subsidiary, and of false accounting at Parma, the football club he owned.

The Parmalat logo became familiar in almost every food store and supermarket across Italy and elsewhere
The Parmalat logo became familiar in almost every
food store and supermarket across Italy and elsewhere
There were several appeals, during which Tanzi, who had been arrested and held in custody immediately following the collapse, was able to continue living on his estate. However, he finally began his sentences in 2011.

The Parmalat story was portrayed as fairy tale of modern Italy. Calisto Tanzi was a 22-year-old university student when his father, Melchiorre, died suddenly in 1961. As the oldest son and out of a sense of duty to the family, Calisto gave up his studies in order to take over his father’s shop.

Family-run grocers were and still are a fixture in Italian high streets. Calisto could have had a comfortable life running such an essential business - but he had bigger ideas.

Parmalat was a major sponsor of sport, including football and Formula One motor racing
Parmalat was a major sponsor of sport, including football
and Formula One motor racing
Anticipating that there was a market in Italy for selling milk that could be kept fresh for an extended period, he acquired premises on the outskirts of Parma in which to set up a pasteurisation plant. He bought packaging from the burgeoning Swedish company, Tetra Pak, sterilized the milk by heating it to extremely high temperatures and sealed it in Tetra Pak's cartons. He came up with the name Parmalat to display on the cartons, turning a basic agricultural product into a unique brand.

The venture was a hue success and soon he diversified into pasta sauce, biscuits, yoghurts, fruit juice and ice cream. White lorries carrying the company’s simple petal logo became a familiar sight on Italy's roads.

Parmalat grew to become the entrepreneurial symbol of Parma, and Tanzi the city's most generous benefactor.  The Tanzi family began to be seen as the Agnellis of Parma and Tanzi was determined to extend his largesse.

The court room at Tanzi's trial, in which he was found guilty of various frauds and jailed for 18 years
The court room at Tanzi's trial, in which he was found
guilty of various frauds and jailed for 18 years
He bought the city’s struggling football team and turned them not only into a force in Serie A but in Europe too.  Parmalat also invested heavily in Formula One, including backing the Austrian driver Niki Lauda.

Tanzi promoted the city's Verdi festival, in honour of the region's most famous composer, and paid for the uncovering and restoration of frescoes in the city's cathedral.

At its peak, Parmalat had more than 5,000 employees in Italy, and more than 30,000 in the rest of the world.  Inside the company, however, things were not as they seemed.

Profits were hit hard by the collapse of Latin American economies during the 1990s, and the problems caused by that were compounded by the threatened bankruptcy of the family travel company, Parmatour. 

But Tanzi tried to pretend all was well. Secretly, he began to remove cash - €500 million by his own admission - from Parmalat to prop up Parmatour. But that was only the start.

Tanzi desperately wanted to maintain the appearance that his business was in good shape when it was actually failing
Tanzi desperately wanted to maintain the appearance that his
business was in good shape when it was actually failing
In the years that followed, in his determination to preserve the illusion of prosperity and not lose face, Tanzi became increasingly reckless, apparently oblivious to the consequences that lies, falsification, forgery and fraud would inevitably bring. Investigators found that he had ordered his accountants to create a complex web of subsidiary companies based in offshore tax havens, which would appear to be holding billions of euros in credits from other Parmalat markets.

It all came crashing down eventually over a sum of just €150 million needed to redeem bonds. One of the company's banks advised them to draw on the €3.95 billion that one subsidiary supposedly had sitting in a Bank of America account in the Cayman Islands. It soon became clear the account did not exist.

In late December 2003, Parmalat filed for bankruptcy protection. The US Securities and Exchange Commission then sued Parmalat, alleging it had wrongfully induced American investors to buy more than $1.5 billion worth of securities. Eventually, Tanzi and others were arrested.

As well as his prison sentence, Tanzi suffered the loss of many of his considerable collection of works of art as paintings by by Picasso, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and others, worth more than €100 million, were seized by police, despite the efforts of friends to hide them, in order to pay back some of the company's losses. He was also stripped of the honours previously bestowed on him by the Italian government.

The headquarters of Parmalat is still in Collecchio
The headquarters of Parmalat is still in Collecchio
Travel tip:

There is evidence of a settlement in the area of Collecchio since the Paleolithic Age, although it was not until 1796 that it was given the status of a comune.  Its history in the food industry began at the end of the 19th century as a centre for canning and meat products. It became an important centre in the Italian charcuterie industry as well as for dairy products including Parmesan cheese. It is still the headquarters of Parmalat, which was restructured in 2005 and is now a subsidiary of the French group Lactalis. In April 1945, the town was famously liberated from Nazi forces by the Brazilian Expeditionary Force in the Battle of Collecchio.

The church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Parma with its beautiful facade
The church of San Giovanni Evangelista
in Parma with its beautiful facade
Travel tip:

Parma is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the true ‘parmesan’. In 1545 the city was given as a duchy to the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, whose descendants ruled Parma until 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regia. Among the main sights is the 11th century Romanesque cathedral and adjoining baptistery, the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, which has a beautiful late Mannerist facade and bell tower, and the Palazzo della Pilotta, which houses the Academy of Fine Arts, the Palatine Library, the National Gallery and an archaeological museum.

More reading:

Nevio Scala - the football manager who brought success to Parma

The mysterious death of Enrico Mattei

Camillo Olivetti - founder of Italy's first typewriter factory

Also on this day:

1494: The death of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

1503: The birth of the Florentine master painter Bronzino

1878: The attempted murder of Umberto I


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Friday, 16 November 2018

Maurizio Margaglio - ice dancer

Multiple champion remembered for famous fall


Maurizio Margaglio began skating when he was 10
Maurizio Margaglio began
skating when he was 10
The ice dancer Maurizio Margaglio, who enjoyed a prolifically successful partnership with Barbara Fusar-Poli from the mid-1990s to the early part of the new century, was born on this day in 1974 in Milan.

Margaglio and Fusar-Poli were national champions of Italy nine times and in 2001 they became the first Italian pair to become World champions, winning in Vancouver ahead of the defending champions Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France.  They were European champions the same year, during a remarkable season in which they won every event they entered.

Yet they never won an Olympic title in three attempts, and as well as their successes they are remembered as much for the calamity that befell them at their home Olympics in Turin in 2006.

The moment that Margoglio and Fusar-Poli crashed to the ice in Turin
The moment that Margoglio and Fusar-Poli
crashed to the ice in Turin
In their first appearance in international competition for four years, Margaglio and Fusar-Poli were in the gold medal position, leading by a full half-point over the Russian favourites and two-time World champions, Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomorav, after the opening compulsory dance section of the competition.
Yet just seconds away from potentially consolidating their lead in the original dance section, disaster struck.  Performing a rotational lift, Margaglio lost his balance, dropped Fusar-Poli, and fell to the ice himself.

After a bronze medal in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, when another fall possibly cost them gold, it was history repeating itself in a cruel way.

What followed became one of the talking points of the Games and the images appeared in newspapers around the world. The couple scrambled to their feet, but instead of bowing to the judges and acknowledging the crowd, as is customary, the two stood facing each other, almost motionless, for a full 30 seconds, Fusar-Poli fixing Margaglio with stare so intense that one commentator was moved to suggest that “if she had had a pistol, she would have shot him immediately”.

Barbara Funar-Poli was so dismayed at their fall she fixed Margaglio with a long, unflickering stare
Barbara Funar-Poli was so dismayed at their fall she
fixed Margaglio with a long, unflickering stare
Afterwards, Fusar-Poli was pictured with her head in her hands, sobbing, as the scores were revealed, although when they completed the competition in the free dance the following day they appeared to have been reconciled.  They warmed up at opposite ends of the rink, but at the end of their routine, which they performed impressively and without mishap and which pushed them up to sixth in the final reckoning, they embraced and kissed one another.

Funar-Poli later said that she was not angry with her partner so much as deeply disappointed that an accident has denied them an opportunity for the second Olympics in a row, especially in their home country.

Margaglio now works as a coach, largely in Finland
Margaglio now works as a coach,
largely in Finland
The son of an accountant, Margaglio did not skate until he was 10, after he brought home a flyer from school advertising classes and was encouraged by his parents to have a go. He was naturally athletic, excelling at a number of sports, including soccer, swimming, tennis and volleyball, and took to skating easily.

He was soon winning ice dancing competitions and in 1990 he began working with Paola Mezzadri, who was also Funar-Poli’s coach. She paired the two up for the first time in 1994.

Margaglio has a home in Courmayeur, in the Aosta Valley, but since 2011 has spent a good deal of his time in Finland, where he has been head of that country’s ice dancing development programme.  He is married to German figure skater Jyrina Lorenz, with whom he had three sons, Gabriel, Sebastian and Julian.

The Mediolanum Forum is just 12km from Milan
The Mediolanum Forum is just 12km from Milan
Travel tip:

Milan’s major ice skating facility is the Mediolanum Forum located in Assago, about 12km (7.5 miles) southwest of the city. The 12,700-seat sports arena, which is primarily a venue for ice hockey, basketball, tennis and live concerts, also offers accomplished skaters the opportunity to practice on the rink, as well as lessons for beginners and others who want to improve their skills. Assago is also home to the Italian headquarters of the multinational food and drinks company Nestlé.

The alpine landscapes around Courmayeur offer extraordinarily spectacular views
The alpine landscapes around Courmayeur offer
extraordinarily spectacular views
Travel tip:

Courmayeur is one of the most beautiful of Italian alpine towns.  Situated at the foot of the southern side of Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco in Italian), at an elevation of 1,224 m (4,016 ft) above sea level, it is charming town of cobbled streets in which high-end boutiques rub shoulders with ancient churches, historic bars and contemporary ski lodges, with a backdrop of majestic, unadulterated mountain landscapes.  The area is popular with hikers during the summer and, of course, skiers during the winter, attracted to slopes with some of the best views in Italy and by the town's reputation as a magnet for the rich and famous.

More reading:

Alberto Tomba - Italy's greatest skier

Deborah Compagnoni's three Olympic titles

How a fighter pilot won Italy's first Olympic bobsleigh gold

Also on this day:

1625: The death of Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola

1892: The birth of racing driver Tazio Nuvolari

1975: The beatification of doctor and scientist Giuseppe Moscati


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Thursday, 15 November 2018

The murder of Pellegrino Rossi

Political assassination opened way to creation of Roman Republic


A magazine illustration depicting the murder of  Pellegrino Rossi at the Palazzo della Cancelleria
A magazine illustration depicting the murder of
Pellegrino Rossi at the Palazzo della Cancelleria
One of the key events during the revolutionary upheaval of 1848 in Italy took place on this day in that year when the politician Count Pellegrino Rossi was murdered at the Palazzo della Cancelleria, the seat of the government of the Papal States in Rome.

The event precipitated turmoil in Rome and led eventually to the formation of the short-lived Roman Republic.

Rossi was the Minister of the Interior in the government of Pope Pius XI and as such was responsible for a programme of unpopular reforms, underpinned by his conservative liberal stance, which gave only the well-off the right to vote and did nothing to address the economic and social disruption created by industrialisation.

Street violence, stirred up by secret societies such as Giuseppe Mazzini’s Young Italy movement, had been going on for weeks in Rome and Rossi had been declared an enemy of the people in meetings as far away as Turin and Florence.

Rossi's reforms had failed to address the social and economic problems besetting Rome
Rossi's reforms had failed to address the social
and economic problems besetting Rome
There was also anger in Rome at Pius XI’s decision to withdraw the support of the Papal Army from the First Italian War of Independence, being fought between the the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont) and the Austrian Empire.

On November 15, 1848, Rossi arrived at the Palazzo della Cancelleria to present his plan for a new constitutional order to the legislative assembly. He was warned ahead of the meeting that an attempt would be made on his life but he defied the threat with the words: “I defend the cause of the pope, and the cause of the pope is the cause of God. I must and will go.”

However, as he climbed the stairs leading to the assembly hall, an individual stepped forward and struck him with a cane. Rossi turned towards his attacker and as he did so was set upon by another assailant, who drove a dagger into his neck.

The murderer was said to be Luigi Brunetti, the elder son of Angelo Brunetti, a fervent democrat, acting on the instigation of Pietro Sterbini, a journalist and revolutionary who was a friend of Mazzini. Though members of the Civic Guard were in the courtyard when the attack took place, no one attempted to arrest the count’s killer and when crowds gathered later at the house of Rossi's widow, they chanted ‘Blessed is the hand that stabbed Rossi’.

Giuseppe Mazzini was one of the leaders of the Roman Republic
Giuseppe Mazzini was one of the
leaders of the Roman Republic
The murder spurred the secret societies to foment an uprising against the papal government. The following day, Pius XI was besieged inside the Palazzo del Quirinale by an unruly mob. The pope’s Swiss Guard was able to hold back the mob for a time but when it seemed the crowd was about to disperse, up to 1,000 members of the Civic Guard, the police, and other soldiers marched into the palace’s piazza and opened fire on the palace, including with cannons. Knowing resistance was useless, Pius XI agreed to negotiate with revolutionaries.

Demands were made for a democratic government, social reforms and a declaration of war against the Empire of Austria.  Pius XI had little option but to appoint a liberal ministry, but he refused to abdicate and forbade the government to pass any laws in his name.

In the event, on the evening of November 24, with the help of close allies and his personal attendant, Pius XI escaped from the Palazzo del Quirinale disguised as an ordinary priest, slipping through one of the gates of the city and boarding a carriage that was to take him to Gaeta, a city 120km (75 miles) south of Rome, where the King of the Two Sicilies had promised him a refuge.

Rossi was commemorated with a statue in his native Carrara in Tuscany
Rossi was commemorated with a statue
in his native Carrara in Tuscany
It meant that, for the first time in history, Rome was without a government. Into the void stepped Mazzini, his supporter Aurelio Saffi and the popular Roman activist Carlo Armellini, who formed a triumvirate at the head of a Roman Republic, which was declared officially on February 9, 1849.

The republic put forward some progressive ideas, including religious tolerance and an end to capital punishment, but in the event it was a short-lived revolution. Ironically, it was crushed by a former ally, Napoleon III of France, who had once participated in an uprising against the Papal States but who now, under pressure from the Catholic Church in France, felt compelled to send an army to restore Pius XI to power.

The Romans put up a fight, aided by a Republican army led by Garibaldi, but the city fell in late June and with it the Republic.

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, built between 1489 and 1513, is thought to be the oldest Renaissance palace in Rome
The Palazzo della Cancelleria, built between 1489 and
1513, is thought to be the oldest Renaissance palace in Rome
Travel tip:

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, which is situated between Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Campo de' Fiori, is a Renaissance palace, probably the earliest Renaissance palace to be built in Rome. It is the work of the architect Donato Bramante between 1489 and 1513, initially as a residence for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, who was the Camerlengo - treasurer - of the Holy Roman Church under Pope Sixtus V. It evolved as the seat of the Chancellery of the Papal States.  The Roman Republic used it as their parliament building.

The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the residence in Rome of 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents
The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the residence in Rome
of 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents
Travel tip:

The Palazzo del Quirinale was built in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII as a summer residence and served both as a papal residence and the offices responsible for the civil government of the Papal States until 1870. When, in 1871, Rome became the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy, the palace became the official residence of the kings of Italy, although some monarchs, notably King Victor Emmanuel III (1900–1946), lived in a private residence elsewhere. When the monarchy was abolished in 1946, the Palazzo del Quirinale became the official residence and workplace for the presidents of the Italian Republic. So far, it has housed 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents.

More reading:

Why Mazzini was seen as the hero of the Risorgimento

Garibaldi's Expedition of the Thousand

How Aurelio Saffi became Mazzini's trusted ally

Also on this day:

1905: The birth of band leader Mantovani

1922: The birth of neorealist film director Francesco Rosi

1940: The birth of fashion designer Roberto Cavalli



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Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Carlo Emilio Gadda - writer and novelist

Author who drew comparisons with Levi and Joyce


Carlo Emilio Gadda was an engineer before he became a full-time writer
Carlo Emilio Gadda was an engineer
before he became a full-time writer
The essayist and novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose work has been compared with the writings of Primo Levi, James Joyce and Marcel Proust, was born on this day in 1893 in Milan.

His novels and short stories were considered outstanding for his original and innovative style, moving away from the rather staid language of Italian literature in the early 20th century, adding elements of dialect, technical jargon and wordplay.

It has been said that Gadda opted for his experimental style because he thought that only through the use of a fragmentary, incoherent language could he adequately portray what he considered a disintegrated world.

Born into an upper middle-class family living on Via Manzoni in the centre of Milan, Gadda lost his father when he was only a child, after which his mother had to bring up the family on limited means, although she refused to compromise with her lifestyle. His father’s business ineptitude and his mother’s obsession with keeping up appearances would figure strongly in his 1963 novel, La cognizione del dolore, published in English as Acquainted with Grief.

Gadda fought in the First World War as a volunteer with the Alpini and was captured at the Battle of Caporetto, in which the Italians suffered a catastrophic defeat. His younger brother Enrico, an aviator, was killed. A fervent nationalist at the time of Italy’s entry into the conflict, he was deeply humiliated by the months he had to spend as a German prisoner of war.

Gadda's most famous work is available in English
Gadda's most famous work is
available in English
During the 1920s he worked as an electrical engineer, often abroad. He spent several years in Argentina, although at home he was credited with the construction, as engineer, of the Vatican Power Station for Pope Pius XI.

He began writing in the 1930s after moving to Florence and joining a literary group around the Florentine review Solaria. He wrote a number of essays and short stories, from the beginning demonstrating a fascination with linguistic experimentation as well as a gift for psychological and sociological analysis. His first works were collected in I sogni e la folgore (1955; The Dreams and the Lightning).

Gadda became a full-time writer in 1940, although between 1950 and 1955 he worked for RAI, the Italian radio and television network. He lived in Rome, alone, in a cheap apartment in Via Blumenstihl.

At one time an admirer of Mussolini, he later satirised the dictator in Eros e Priapo (1945), in which he analysed the collective phenomena that favoured the rise of Italian Fascism, arguing that Fascism was essentially a bourgeois movement.  Refused publication initially for its allegedly obscene content, it was not until 2013 that the work was published in fully unexpurgated form.

Gadda's birthplace in Milan is marked with a plaque
Gadda's birthplace in Milan is marked with a plaque
Gadda’s best-known and most successful novel, Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana (1957; That Awful Mess on Via Merulana), is a story of a murder and burglary in Fascist Rome and of the subsequent investigation, which features characters from many levels of Roman life, written in a pastiche of literary Italian mixed with passages of Roman dialect, dotted with puns, technical jargon, foreign words, invented words and classical allusions.

At once a sociological, comic and political novel, as well as an extraordinary feat of wordplay, at the end of which nothing has been established or proven in relation to the crime, it was described as 'the great modern Italian novel' by Italo Calvino, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Moravia. 

Gadda died in Rome in 1973, at the age of 79.

The Stadio Olimpico is the home of Rome's two soccer clubs
The Stadio Olimpico is the home of Rome's two soccer clubs
Travel tip:

Via Bernardo Blumenstihl, where Gadda lived in Rome, may have been a modest address in the 1940s but today is in a quiet, upmarket residential area in which many of the apartment complexes have swimming pools and tennis courts and communal gardens.  Situated to the northwest of the city centre, it is not far from the Stadio Olimpico, home of the AS Roma and SS Lazio football clubs.

The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome
The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome
Travel tip:

Via Merulana is a street in Rome, to the southeast of the centre, linking the magnificent Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, with its imposing 18th century Baroque facade by Alessandro Galilei, and the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, famous for its Roman mosaics and gilded ceiling. The name derives from family that owned the land in medieval times.  It forms part of the Rione Monti, near the Oppian Hill.

More reading:

How Alberto Moravia likened Fascism to a childhood illness

Novelist whose books exposed political links with the Mafia

The Auschwitz survivor who became one of Italy's greatest writers

Also on this day:

1812: The birth of Maria Cristina of Savoy

1812: The birth of poet Aleardo Aleardi

1897: The death of soprano Giuseppina Strepponi


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Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Giovanna of Italy - Tsaritsa of Bulgaria

Daughter of King of Italy who married Tsar Boris III


Princess Giovanna of Savoy, who became Ioanna, Tsarista of Bulgaria
Princess Giovanna of Savoy, who
became Ioanna, Tsarista of Bulgaria
The girl who would grow up to be Ioanna, Tsarista of Bulgaria, was born Princess Giovanna Elisabetta Antonia Romana Maria of Savoy on this day in 1907 in Rome.

Giovanna’s father was King Victor Emmanuel III, who was Italy’s monarch through two world wars from 1900 until he abdicated in 1946 just as Italy was about to become a republic.  Her mother was Queen Elena of Montenegro.

At the age of 22, Princess Giovanna became Tsarista Ioanna - the last Tsarista - after marrying the Tsar of Bulgaria, Boris III, in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi.  It was the hope of the Italian royal family that the marriage would strengthen their relationship with the Balkan states.

The marriage lasted until Boris’s death in 1943 at the age of just 49. The Tsar had fallen ill during a trip to Germany to discuss Bulgaria’s role in the Second World War as a member of the Axis bloc and there were suspicions that he was poisoned on the orders of Hitler.

Bulgaria had agreed to join the Axis under the threat of invasion by the Germans, who wanted to use their territory to launch an attack on Greece, and was said to be appalled at Hitler's massacres of Jews. On two occasions he refused orders to deport Bulgarian Jews. Queen Ioanna herself intervened to obtain transit visas to enable a number of Jews to escape to Argentina.

Boris III died at the age of only 49 amid suspicions he was poisoned by Hitler
Boris III died at the age of only 49 amid
suspicions he was poisoned by Hitler
Princess Giovanna had been brought up in Rome at Villa Savoia, the former and present Villa Ada, set in a large area of parkland to the northeast of the city centre.

A bright, intelligent girl with a love of music, she was given an education in literature, history and Latin. She learned to play the piano and the cello and spoke English and French.

It was always her destiny to marry into a foreign royal family, which has been a tradition in the House of Savoy, going back to the former Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.  Indeed, Boris’ father, Tsar Ferdinand, had married a princess of the former royal houses of Parma and the Two-Sicilies.

When she reached the age at which speculation over her future husband began, Princess Giovanna was linked with a number of foreign princes, although for a while she was seen in the company of the Marquis de Pinedo, a daring Italian aviator, with whom the princess led off two court balls of the 1927 season. He was also her guest in the royal box at the Davis Cup tennis matches later that year.

She had met Tsar Boris III for the first time in 1927 when he was touring Europe with his brother Prince Kyril. Romance blossomed later, after they attended the wedding in January 1930 of Princess Maria Jose of Belgium to Princess Giovanna’s brother Prince Umberto. It was after that meeting that plans were laid for them to be married.

Umberto II, Italy's exiled king, was joined by Giovanna in Portugal
Umberto II, Italy's exiled king, was
joined by Giovanna in Portugal
As with Tsar Ferdinand’s marriage, the match could only happen with an accommodation between the Eastern Orthodox Church of Bulgaria and the Roman Catholic Church of Italy. Negotiations were so difficult that at one point talks broke off entirely with Boris III declaring that he would remain a bachelor if he could not marry Princess Giovanna and the Princess vowing to enter a convent if she could not marry the Tsar.

Eventually, Boris III promised that any future children be raised in the Catholic faith and Pope Pius XI granted approval. In the final negotiations, it had helped that Giovanna knew the Pope's Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII.

The Tsar and the Princess were married in Assisi on October 25, 1930.  After the wedding breakfast, the couple travelled by train and yacht to Sofia, where the newlyweds stepped out on to a railway platform strewn with chrysanthemums. From there they proceeded to the city's cathedral for an Orthodox ceremony.

Despite the agreements reached before the wedding in Italy, the couple's two children, Marie-Louise, born in 1933, and Simeon, born in 1937, were baptized in the Eastern Orthodox church. Yet Giovanna was spared excommunication.

After Boris’s death, Simeon became the new Tsar and a regency was established, led by his uncle Prince Kyril.

Giovanna was welcomed back by the Bulgarian people when she returned to Sofia in 1993
Giovanna was welcomed back by the Bulgarian
people when she returned to Sofia in 1993
Towards the end of the Second World War, however, Bulgaria was invaded by the Soviet Union. Prince Kyril was tried by a ‘people's court’ and subsequently executed. Giovanna and her son Simeon remained under house arrest until 1946, when the new Communist government gave them 48 hours to leave the country.

They fled first to Alexandria in the Egypt, to join her father, Victor Emmanuel III, before moving on to Madrid. After Simeon married in 1962, Giovanna moved to Estoril, on the Portuguese Riviera, where would live for the rest of her life, close to the home of her brother, the exiled Italian king, Umberto II.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, she returned to Bulgaria in 1993, visiting the site of Boris's grave, which had been destroyed by the Communists, and attending the reburial of his heart, which had been found in the gardens of the former royal palace.  Thousands of people turned out on the streets to greet her.

Giovanna died in 2000. She is buried in the Communal Cemetery of Assisi, Italy.

Simeon - who as Simeon II was the last Tsar of Bulgaria, albeit at the age of six - is now a businessman in Madrid. Giovanna’s daughter, Marie-Louise, lives in New Jersey.

The Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, where Princess Giovanna and King Boris III were married in 1930
The Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, where Princess
Giovanna and King Boris III were married in 1930
Travel tip:

The Papal Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, where Tsarista Ioanna was married and is buried, is the mother church of the Franciscan Order. It can be found in Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco in Assisi. Built into the side of a hill, it consists of two churches, a lower Basilica and an upper Basilica, and a crypt that contains the remains of St Francis. The Basilica is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy and has been designated a Unesco World Heritage site since 2000.

The Villa Ada-Savoia, former royal residence, now home of the Egyptian Embassy in Rome
The Villa Ada-Savoia, former royal residence, now home
of the Egyptian Embassy in Rome
Travel tip:

The Villa Ada - formerly the Villa Savoia -  is a 450 acres (1.8 km2) park in Rome, the second largest in the city after Villa Doria Pamphili, located in the northeastern part of the city.  The park was bought in 1872 by King Victor Emmanuel II, who expanded and improved the main house, but his successor Umberto I preferred the Palazzo Quirinale as the royal residence and the villa was sold to Count Telfener, who named it to his wife Ada. Victor Emmanuel III bought it back in 1904 and the villa became a royal residence, with a change of name to Villa Savoia, until 1946.  Nowadays, it houses the Egyptian Embassy. The various buildings in the park included the Villa Polissena, the Royal Stables, the Casino Pallavicini and the Temple of Flora. Victor Emmanuel III had a bunker built in the grounds as an air raid shelter, recently restored by the non-profit organisation, Roma Sotteranea, who organise tours.

More reading:

The abdication of King Victor Emmanuel III

Umberto II - the last King of Italy

The quiet life of a banished princess

Also on this day:

1868: The death of composer Gioachino Rossini

1894: The death of Saint Agostina Pietrantoni

1914: The birth of film director Alberto Lattuada


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