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.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Giuseppe Saragat – fifth President of Italy

Socialist politician opposed Fascism and Communism

Giuseppe Saragat
Giuseppe Saragat, who was President of the Italian Republic from 1964 to 1971, was born on this day in 1898 in Turin.

As a Socialist politician, he was exiled from Italy by the Fascists in 1926.

When he returned to Italy in 1943 to join the partisans, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazi forces occupying Rome, but he managed to escape and resume clandestine activity within the Italian Socialist Party.

Saragat was born to Sardinian parents living in Turin and he graduated from the University of Turin in economics and commerce. He joined the Socialist party in 1922.

During his years in exile he did various jobs in Austria and France.  After returning to Italy, he was minister without portfolio in the first post-liberation cabinet of Ivanoe Bonomi in 1944.

He was sent as ambassador to Paris between 1945 and 1946 and was then elected president of the Constitutional Assembly that drafted postwar Italy’s new constitution.

At the Socialist Party Congress in 1947, Saragat opposed the idea of unity with the Communist Party and led those who walked out to form the Socialist Party of Italian Workers (PSLI).

In 1951, Saragat founded the Italian Democratic Socialist Party
In 1951, Saragat founded the Italian
Democratic Socialist Party
Saragat was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in April 1948. He became vice premier and minister of the merchant marine, but he resigned from his posts in 1949 to devote himself to his party.

It became the Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI) in 1951 in an effort to reaffirm its independence from the Communists and the other left-wing groups.

Between 1954 and 1957 Saragat again served as vice-premier but resigned in opposition to the government’s position on NATO. He suggested the idea of ‘an opening to the left’ - a coalition government including left-wing socialists.

Saragat was minister of foreign affairs in the cabinet of Antonio Segni between 1959 and 1960 but then resigned causing the downfall of the government. In 1963 he campaigned against nuclear power stations in Italy saying they were an unnecessary extravagance.

He then became minister of foreign affairs under Aldo Moro and saw the opening to the left materialise as Moro formed Italy's first centre-left government He served until late 1964 when he succeeded Segni as President of Italy.

He stepped down from the presidency in 1971, becoming a Senator for Life.  In 1975 he became secretary of his old party, the PSDI.

Saragat died in June 1988 aged 89, leaving a son and a daughter.

An internal courtyard at the University of Turin
An internal courtyard at the University of Turin
Travel tip:

The University of Turin, where Saragat studied for his degree, is one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1406 by Prince Ludovico di Savoia. It consistently ranks among the top five universities in Italy and is an important centre for research. The university departments are spread around 13 facilities, with the main university buildings in Via Giuseppe Verdi, close to Turin’s famous Mole Antonelliano.

The Palazzo Quirinale in Rome is the official residence  of the presidents of Italy
The Palazzo Quirinale in Rome is the official residence
of the presidents of Italy
Travel tip:

When Giuseppe Saragat was the President of Italy, he lived in Palazzo Quirinale in Rome at one end of Piazza del Quirinale. This was the summer palace of the popes until 1870 when it became the palace of the kings of the newly unified Italy. Following the abdication of the last king, it became the official residence of the President of the Republic in 1947.

More reading:

Why Antonio Segni was famous for tactical cunning

Ivanoe Bonomi - a major figure in the transition to peace

When the Red Brigades kidnapped Aldo Moro

Also on this day:

The Festival of San Gennaro

1941: The birth of controversial Lega Nord politician Umberto Bossi


Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Alberto Franchetti - opera composer

Caruso sang his arias on first commercial record in 1902

Alberto Franchetti enjoyed his peak years in terms of popular success around the turn of the century
Alberto Franchetti enjoyed his peak years in terms
of popular success around the turn of the century
The opera composer Alberto Franchetti, some of whose works were performed by the great tenor Enrico Caruso for his first commercial recording, was born on this day in 1860 in Turin.

Caruso had been taken with Franchetti’s opera, Germania, when he sang the male lead role in the opera’s premiere at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in March 1902.

A month later, Caruso famously made his first recording on a phonograph in a Milan hotel room and chose a number of arias from Germania and critics noted that he sang the aria Ah vieni qui… No, non chiuder gli occhi with a particular sweetness of voice.

A friend and rival of Giacomo Puccini, Franchetti had a style said to have been influenced by the German composers Wagner and Meyerbeer. He was sometimes described as the "Meyerbeer of modern Italy."

Despite the exposure the success of Germania and the association with Caruso brought him, Franchetti’s operas slipped quite quickly into obscurity.

Blame for that can be levelled at least in part at the Fascist Racial Laws of 1938, which made life and work very difficult for Italy's Jewish population.

Franchetti (left), pictured with his friends and fellow composers Pietro Mascagni and Giacomo Puccini
Franchetti (left), pictured with his friends and fellow
composers Pietro Mascagni and Giacomo Puccini
Franchetti's works were banned from performance during Fascist rule. His fellow composer Pietro Mascagni made a personal plea for tolerance on his behalf directly to Benito Mussolini, but it fell on deaf ears.

Franchetti was the son of Baron Raimondo Franchetti, a Jewish nobleman. He studied in Venice, then at the Munich Conservatory under Josef Rheinberger, and finally in Dresden under Felix Draeseke.

His first major success occurred in 1888 with his opera Asrael, followed in 1892 by Cristoforo Colombo, which many consider to be Franchetti's best work. It did not, however, match the popularity of Germania, the libretto for which was written by Luigi Illica, which went on to be performed worldwide.

Illica is said to have offered his libretto of Tosca to Franchetti. It is not clear why it was taken up instead by Puccini. Some opera historians believe Franchetti was working on the opera but that Puccini asked the publishing house Ricordi to let him have it and that Franchetti was persuaded that the violence in the story made it unsuitable for an opera.

Another version - thought to have the Franchetti family’s seal of authenticity - is that Franchetti waived his rights to the opera because he felt that Puccini would make a better job of it.

Franchetti’s family home in Florence was the substantial Villa Franchetti, in Via Dante Da Castiglione, a short distance from the Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Gardens), where he would host lavish banquets for his friends from the artistic world. Puccini, Mascagni and the actress Eleonora Duse were regular guests.

During his life, substantial changes were made to the property, with the addition of an annex that served as a concert and dance hall, as well as stables in the grounds.  He decorated and furnished the house with the advice of his brother, Giorgio, a wealthy art collector who at the time owned the Ca d’Oro, the sumptuous palace on the Grand Canal in Venice.

Franchetti, who was director of the Florence College of Music from 1926 to 1928, died in Viareggio in 1942 at the age of 81. His music has been revived recently with new recordings of Cristoforo Colombo and Germania by the Berlin Opera.

He was married twice and had five children, one of whom, his son Arnold Franchetti, was a member of the Italian Resistance in the Second World War before emigrating to the United States and becoming a composer as well as a professor at the University of Hartford, Connecticut.

The Villa Franchetti-Nardi as it looks today
The Villa Franchetti-Nardi as it looks today
Travel tip:

After Franchetti’s death, the Villa Franchetti had a chequered history. It was seized by the Germans, who established it as a command post, during the Second World War, by which time the family’s financial fortunes had suffered badly. After the war it was rented for a few years before being largely abandoned in 1960 and falling into a state of disrepair.  The villa, which has had the status of "Historical Residence of Italy" since 1991, was rescued from its near-dereliction by its current owner Gustavo Nardi. Now known as the Villa Franchetti-Nardi, it opened its doors as a hotel in 2009.

The beautiful facade of the Ca d'Oro on Venice's Grand Canal
The beautiful facade of the Ca d'Oro on Venice's Grand Canal
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Santa Sofia, one of the older palace on the Grand Canal in Venice, is known as Ca' d'Oro - golden house - due to the gilt and polychrome external decorations which once adorned its walls. Built between 1428 and 1430 for the Contarini family, since 1927 it has been used as a museum, the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti, named after Alberto’s brother, who acquired the palace in 1894 and personally oversaw its extensive restoration, including the reconstruction of the Gothic stairway in the inner courtyard that had been controversially removed by a previous owner. In 1916, Franchetti bequeathed the Ca' d'Oro to the Italian State.

More reading:

Enrico Caruso - 'the greatest tenor of all time'

How one great opera made Pietro Mascagni immortal

The brilliant talent of Eleonora Duse

Also on this day:

1587: The birth of singer and composer Francesca Caccini

1916: The birth of actor Rossano Brazzi


Monday, 17 September 2018

Ranuccio II Farnese – Duke of Parma

Feuding with the Popes led to the destruction of a city

A portrait of Ranuccio II Farnese by the Flemish Baroque painter Jacob Denys
A portrait of Ranuccio II Farnese by the Flemish
Baroque painter Jacob Denys
Ranuccio II Farnese, who angered Innocent X so much that the Pope had part of his territory razed to the ground, was born on this day in 1630 in Parma.

Ranuccio II was the eldest son of Odoardo Farnese, the fifth sovereign duke of Parma, and his wife, Margherita de’ Medici.

Odoardo died while Ranuccio was still a minor and, although he succeeded him as Duke of Parma, he had to rule for the first two years of his reign under the regency of both his uncle, Francesco Maria Farnese, and his mother.

The House of Farnese had been founded by Ranuccio’s paternal ancestor, Alessandro Farnese, who became Pope Paul III. The Farnese family had been ruling Parma and Piacenza ever since Paul III gave it to his illegitimate son, Pier Luigi Farnese. He also made Pier Luigi the Duke of Castro.

While Odoardo had been Duke of Parma he had become involved in a power struggle with Pope Urban VIII, who was a member of the Barberini family. The Barberini family were keen to acquire Castro, which was north of Rome in the Papal States.

When Odoardo found himself unable to pay his debts, Urban VIII responded to the creditors’ pleas for help, by sending troops to occupy Castro.

How Castro may have looked before it was destroyed by the army of Innocent X
How Castro may have looked before it was destroyed by
the army of Innocent X
One of the Pope’s Cardinals negotiated a truce, but then the Pope’s military leaders discovered that Odoardo was building up his own troops in case the discussions had come to nothing. What became known as the First War of Castro ensued and the Papal forces were defeated.

However, Ranuccio II refused to pay the debts incurred by his father, despite the fact Oduardo had signed a peace treaty agreeing to do so. He also refused to recognise the new Bishop of Castro, appointed by Urban VIII’s successor, Innocent X.

In 1649, the new bishop, Cardinal Cristoforo Giarda, was murdered on his way to Castro. Innocent X accused Ranuccio of ordering the murder and in retaliation sent troops to besiege Castro and then raze it to the ground.

Later the same year, Ranuccio’s troops were crushed in another battle, leaving him with no means of winning back his lost territory, but in 1672 he bought Bardi and Compiano, small towns near Parma, to increase the size of the Duchy.

Ranuccio II was married three times and had 14 children, of whom only six lived to become adults.

He died in Parma in 1694 at the age of 64 and was succeeded as Duke of Parma by his eldest surviving son, Francesco.

Ranuccio II is buried in the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Steccata in Parma.

The Ducal Palace in modern Ischia di Castro
The Ducal Palace in modern Ischia di Castro
Travel tip:

Castro in Lazio was a fortified city on a cliff, near the border between Tuscany and Lazio. The city and surrounding area was created a Duchy in 1537 by Pope Paul III, who made his illegitimate son, Pier Luigi Farnese, its duke, to be followed by his first born male heirs. The Duchy stretched from the Tyrrhenian Sea to Lago di Bolsena. Ranuccio II Farnese, the last Duke of Castro, was forced to cede the land back to Pope Innocent X. The present day comune, Ischia di Castro, in the province of Viterbo, takes its name from the ancient city of Castro destroyed by papal forces. Ischia di Castro still has a Ducal Palace, where members of the Farnese family used to live.

The Renaissance church of Santa Maria della Steccata in the centre of Parma, where Ranuccio II was buried
The Renaissance church of Santa Maria della Steccata
in the centre of Parma, where Ranuccio II was buried
Travel tip:

The Shrine of Santa Maria della Steccata, where Ranuccio II was buried, is a Renaissance church in the centre of Parma. The name derives from the fence, or steccata, used to contain the many pilgrims who came to visit the image of a Nursing Madonna enshrined within the church. The crypt of the church contains the tombs of 26 members of the Farnese family, including that of Ranuccio II.

More reading:

How a war against Parma backfired on Pope Urban VIII

The legacy of the great Parma painter known as Parmigianino

Innocent X - a pope dominated by his sister-in-law

Also on this day:

1688: The birth of Maria Luisa of Savoy, who ruled Spain as a teenager

1944: The birth of climber Reinhold Messner


Sunday, 16 September 2018

Alessandro Fortis - politician

Revolutionary who became Prime Minister

Alessandro Fortis was Italy's prime minister from 1905 to 1906
Alessandro Fortis was Italy's prime
minister from 1905 to 1906
Alessandro Fortis, a controversial politician who was also Italy’s first Jewish prime minister, was born on this day in 1841 in Forlì in Emilia-Romagna.

Fortis led the government from March 1905 to February 1906. A republican follower of Giuseppe Mazzini and a volunteer in the army of Giuseppe Garibaldi, he was politically of the Historical Left but in time managed to alienate both sides of the divide with his policies.

He attracted the harshest criticism for his decision to nationalise the railways, one of his personal political goals, which was naturally opposed by the conservatives on the Right but simultaneously upset his erstwhile supporters on the Left, because the move had the effect of heading off a strike by rail workers. By placing the network in state control, Fortis turned all railway employees into civil servants, who were not allowed to strike under the law.

Some politicians also felt the compensation given to the private companies who previously ran the railways was far too generous and suspected Fortis of corruption.

His foreign policies, meanwhile, upset politicians and voters on both sides. His decision to join a Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary was particularly unpopular.

His downfall came with a commercial treaty negotiated with Spain, which included a reduction in duties on the importation of Spanish wines. This was seen to be a threat to the livelihood of Piedmontese and Apulian viticulturists and led to a defeat in the Chamber of Deputies, prompting Fortis to resign.

A scene from the Battle of Mentana, part of the 1867 assault on Rome in which Fortis fought under Garibaldi
A scene from the Battle of Mentana, part of the 1867 assault
on Rome in which Fortis fought under Garibaldi
Born into a wealthy Jewish family in Forlì, Fortis was influenced in his early political ambitions by hearing of a massacre in Perugia in 1859, when an unknown number of citizens were brutally slain by troops sent by Pope Pius IX to quell an uprising against the rule of the Papal States.  Aged 18, he was arrested for taking part in demonstrations as the Risorgimento movement gathered pace.

He attended the University of Pisa, where he studied law. There his friendship with Sidney Sonnino, who would succeed him as prime minister, strengthened his nationalist convictions.

He became a follower of Mazzini, the politician and journalist who became the driving force for Italian unification, and joined Garibaldi's volunteer army to fight in several battles, at Trentino and Monte Suello during the Third Italian War of Independence in 1866, and in the campaign for the liberation of Rome the following year, during which his cousin, Achille Cantoni, was killed.

As a Garibaldino - the name given to Garibaldi’s volunteers - he also went to France in 1870 to fight in support of the Third French Republic.

Fortis became friends with future prime minister Sidney Sonnino at university
Fortis became friends with future prime
minister Sidney Sonnino at university
On returning to Italy, he joined Mazzini’s Partito d'Azione - Italy’s first organised political party - and was arrested again, along with his fellow Mazzini follower from Forlì, Aurelio Saffi, during a raid on a radical rally at Villa Ruffi, in Romagna, on charges of organising an anti-monarchist insurrection, although after a period of imprisonment at Spoleto he was released for lack of evidence.

Afterwards, Fortis became more moderate politically, encouraged by the fall of the Historical Right as the controlling block in Italy’s parliament in 1876, and the advent of the Left under Agostino Depretis. Saffi and Fortis were among those who, having previously stood back, now decided to take part in the elections, sensing a change of the Italian ruling class.

After being elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1880, Fortis served as a minister in the first government of Luigi Pelloux between 1898 and 1899 before resigning, disillusioned with the repressive measures introduced under Pelloux to restrict political activity and free speech. He switched his allegiance to the Liberal opposition leader Giovanni Giolitti. 

In March 1905 on the recommendation of Giolitti, he formed his first government. The nationalization of the railways was one of his first major policy decisions.

He gained some credit after introducing a special law to help the victims of the 1905 Calabria earthquake but he was already unpopular and his government was defeated in December 1905 over the trade treaty with Spain.  He definitively resigned two months later after his attempt to form a new government failed. He died in Rome in December 1909.

Piazza Aurelio Saffi is the main square in Forlì
Piazza Aurelio Saffi is the main square in Forlì
Travel tip:

With a population of almost 120,000, Forlì is a prosperous agricultural and industrial city. A settlement since the Romans were there in around 188BC, the city has several buildings of architectural, artistic and historical significance. Forlì has a beautiful central square, Piazza Aurelio Saffi, which is named after Aurelio Saffi, who is seen as a hero for his role in the Risorgimento. Other attractions include the 12th century Abbey of San Mercuriale and the Rocca di Ravaldino, the strategic fortress built by Girolamo Riario and sometimes known as the Rocca di Caterina Sforza.

The town of Bagolino sits in the Caffaro valley in  the northern part of Lombardy
The town of Bagolino sits in the Caffaro valley in
the northern part of Lombardy
Travel tip:

The Battle of Monte Suello took place close to Bagolino, a small town in northern Lombardy, close to the border with Trentino, about 35km (22 miles) north of Brescia. Bagolino, whose location in the valley of the Caffaro river has been strategically important in several conflicts in history, has a well-preserved medieval centre with narrow streets, porticoes and steep staircases. The area produces a cheese called Bagòss, which is similar to Grana Padano and Parmigiano in its salty taste and hard texture, but is different in that it is subtly flavoured with saffron.

More reading:

Garibaldi's Expedition of the Thousand

Giuseppe Mazzini - hero of the Risorgimento

How Aurelio Saffi defied a 20-year jail sentence to become part of the first government of the unified Italy

Also on this day:

1797: The birth of Sir Anthony Panizzi - revolutionary who became Principal Librarian at the British Museum

2005: Camorra boss Paolo di Lauro captured in Naples swoop


Saturday, 15 September 2018

Ettore Bugatti - car designer

Name that became a trademark for luxury and high performance

Ettore Bugatti launched the company in 1909 after attending the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan
Ettore Bugatti launched the company in 1909 after
attending the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan
The car designer and manufacturer Ettore Bugatti was born in Milan on this day in 1881.

The company Bugatti launched in 1909 became associated with luxury and exclusivity while also enjoying considerable success in motor racing.  When the glamorous Principality of Monaco launched its famous Grand Prix in 1929, the inaugural race was won by a Bugatti.

Although Bugatti cars were manufactured for the most part in a factory in Alsace, on the border of France and Germany, their stylish designs reflected the company’s Italian heritage and Bugatti cars are seen as part of Italy’s traditional success in producing desirable high-performance cars.

The story of Bugatti as a purely family business ended in 1956, and the company closed altogether in 1963.  The name did not die, however, and Bugatti cars are currently produced by Volkswagen.

Ettore came from an artistic family in Milan. His father, Carlo Bugatti, was a successful designer of Italian Art Nouveau furniture and jewelry, while his paternal grandfather, Giovanni Luigi Bugatti, had been an architect and sculptor.  His younger brother, Rembrandt Bugatti, became well known for his animal sculpture.

Ettore - full name Ettore Arco Isidoro Bugatti - displayed both artistic talent and an interest in motor vehicles at a young age. He attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in his home city before becoming apprenticed to the bicycle manufacturer Prinetti and Stucchi, where at the age of 17 he successfully attached an engine to a tricycle.

A Type 35 Bugatti, the car that brought the company many race successes, including its first Grand Prix
A Type 35 Bugatti, the car that brought the company
many race successes, including its first Grand Prix
With financial support from his father, he began to produce prototype cars, the second of which won a prize at the Milan Trade Fair in 1901. Bugatti's design also caught the eye of the wealthy Baron de Dietrich, who offered him an opportunity to design cars at his factory in Niederbronn, a town then in Germany but now in the Alsace region of northeastern France.

Bugatti produced his first racing car in 1903, but fell out with De Dietrich over his attention to racing cars over production models and moved to work for the French manufacturer Emil Mathis in Strasbourg, although again it was a short-lived relationship. By 1907 he was working for the Deutz engine company in Cologne.

He went alone for the first time in 1909, buying a disused dyeworks in Molsheim, abou 25km (16 miles) west of Strasbourg, where with the financial backing of the Spanish racing driver Pierre De Vizcaya and a bank loan, he began work to produce 10 cars and five aeroplane engines.

Bugatti produced his first so-called ‘pur sang’ (thoroughbred) Bugattis - a term he invented himself - with the Type 10/13 in 1910, a car in which his factory driver, Ernest Friederich, came second in the French Grand Prix at the first attempt in 1911.

Ettore Bugatti (right) and his son Jean discuss race tactics
Ettore Bugatti (right) and his son Jean discuss race tactics
The company’s reputation for producing some of the fastest, most luxurious, and technologically advanced road cars of their day soon spread. Among the clients who purchased a Bugatti car was the celebrated French fighter pilot Roland Garros.

Bugatti branched more into aircraft engines during the First World War but returned to cars once peace resumed and between the wars Bugatti cars enjoyed notable success on the track.

The 1924 Type 35 brought the marque its first Grand Prix victory in Lyon, while Bugattis swept to victory in the Targa Florio, the road race in Sicily, for five years in a row from 1925 to 1929.

Between 1921 and 1939 Bugattis won more than 30 major races, including the French Grand Prix six times and the Monaco Grand Prix four times, culminating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice, in 1937 and 1939, with the Type 57, driven by Jean-Pierre Wimille and Pierre Veyron, whose name has since been immortalised in the most famous of modern Bugattis.

The Bugatti Veyron is regarded by experts as one of the best cars ever produced for looks and performance
The Bugatti Veyron is regarded by experts as one of
the best cars ever produced for looks and performance
On the production side, the company enjoyed huge success through the 1920s but suffered in the financial crash of the 1930s, which was a disaster for the first of the Bugatti Royales, the luxury 12.7 litre open-top limousine, of which only three were sold after the market disappeared.

Tragedy struck when Ettore Bugatti's son, Jean Bugatti, was killed in 1939 at the age of 30 while testing a Type 57 near the Molsheim factory. After that, the company's fortunes began to decline.  A strike in 1936 hit the company hard and the Second World War saw the factory in Molsheim transferred to a German owner by compulsory purchase.

The Molsheim plant was given back to Bugatti after the war but lack of funds meant the company could never return to its pre-war prosperity. Ettore, by then living in Paris, suffered pneumonia followed by a stroke and died in 1947 at the age of 65.

Married twice, he fathered two daughters and two sons, the youngest of whom, Roland Bugatti, took over the running of the company in 1951 but was unable to save it, production coming to an end in 1956, the closure of the company following in 1963.

The company name was revived 24 years later, however, when the Italian entrepreneur Romano Artioli bought the rights to the Bugatti trademark and began manufacturing cars at Campogalliano, near Modena.

It was subsequently acquired by Volkswagen in 1998, with the help of whose expertise the Bugatti name has again come to symbolise luxury and high performance. The Bugatti Veyron, of which production began in 2005 at a refurbished Molsheim plant, has propelled it back to the top of the tree in the limited production exclusive sports car market, earning the title ‘greatest car of the past 20 years’ in a poll conducted by the UK magazine Top Gear that attracted more than 100,000 entries.

The Palazzo Brera is home to the Accademia di Belle Arti
The Palazzo Brera is home to the Accademia di Belle Arti
Travel tip:

The Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, sometimes shortened to Accademia di Brera, is a state-run tertiary public academy of fine arts in Via Brera in Milan, in a building it shares with the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan's main public museum for art. The academy was founded in 1776 by Maria Theresa of Austria and shared its premises with other cultural and scientific institutions, including an astronomical observatory, botanical garden, school of philosophy and law, laboratories for physics and chemistry, and a library. The main building, the Palazzo Brera, was built in about 1615 to designs by Francesco Maria Richini.

The first Targa Florio in 1906 was won by Alessandro Cagno, driving an Turin-based Itala car
The first Targa Florio in 1906 was won by Alessandro
Cagno, driving an Turin-based Itala car
Travel tip:

The Targa Florio was an open road endurance car race held in the mountains of Sicily near the island's capital of Palermo between 1906 and 1977, when it was discontinued due to safety concerns. Conceived by the wealthy pioneer race driver Vincenzo Florio, it was for a time the oldest surviving sports car racing event in the world. While early races were eventually extended to a whole tour of the island, covering a distance of 975km (606 miles), it was in time shortened to a circuit of just 72km (45 miles). The race started and finished at the village of Cerda, 45km (28 miles) southeast of Palermo.

More reading:

Enzo Ferrari and the automobile world's most famous name

The insult that fired the Lamborghini-Ferrari rivalry

How Battista 'Pinin' Farina changed the way cars looked

Also on this day:

1616: Europe's first free public school opens in Frascati, near Rome

1904: The birth of Umberto di Savoia, the last king of Italy


Friday, 14 September 2018

Tiziano Terzani - journalist

Asia correspondent who covered wars in Vietnam and Cambodia

Tiziano Terzani spent 30 years working as a journalist in East Asia
Tiziano Terzani spent 30 years working
as a journalist in East Asia
The journalist and author Tiziano Terzani, who spent much of his working life in China, Japan and Southeast Asia and whose writing received critical acclaim both in his native Italy and elsewhere, was born on this day in 1938 in Florence.

He worked for more than 30 years for the German news magazine Der Spiegel, who took him on as Asia Correspondent in 1971, based in Singapore.

Although he wrote for other publications, including the Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, it was Der Spiegel who allowed him the freedom he craved. To a large extent he created his own news agenda but in doing so offered a unique slant on the major stories.

He was one of only a handful of western journalists who remained in Vietnam after the liberation of Saigon by the Viet Cong in 1975 and two years later, despite threats to his life, he reported from Phnom Penh in Cambodia after its capture by the Khmer Rouge.

He lived at different times in Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and New Delhi. His stay in China came to an end when he was arrested and expelled in 1984 for "counter-revolutionary activities".

By chance, in the summer of 1991, Terzani was on holiday in Siberia, exploring the region's boundary with China, when news of the coup against President Gorbachev reached him.

Terzani at first saw life in Asia as an  antidote to western capitalism
Terzani at first saw life in Asia as an
 antidote to western capitalism
Realising that the Russian empire was on the brink of collapse, he decided to stay in the country, embarking on a journey westwards that took him through Central Asia to the Caucasus, speaking to people about how they felt about what was happening and what they hoped for from the future. He wrote a book based on his experiences, Buonanotte, signor Lenin (Goodnight Mr Lenin), which was a bestseller.

Another book, another hit with Italian readers in particular, described how an encounter with a fortune teller in Hongkong persuaded Terzani to spend the whole of 1993 avoiding air travel - a huge challenge in a continent the size of Asia. Despite their scepticism, Der Spiegel again indulged him and for 12 months he travelled only by rail, road, on foot or by water.  It was a decision in which he felt vindicated when a helicopter he would have travelled on did indeed crash, as foreseen by his mystic soothsayer.

Terzani was born into a working-class family in Florence, a city he loved but at the same time despaired of for having allowed itself, in his eyes, to become an open-air museum, overrun with tourists.

Exceptionally intelligent - in time, he could speak five languages fluently - his teachers encouraged him to study law at the University of Pisa, where his room-mate was Giuliano Amato, a future Italian prime minister.

Tiziano Terzani, pictured on a visit to his homeland, Italy, in 2002
Tiziano Terzani, pictured on a visit
to his homeland, Italy, in 2002
After graduating, he worked for Olivetti, the office equipment manufacturer, in Japan and South Africa, enjoying the experience of being abroad but quickly becoming bored with the job. Interested in trying his hand at journalism, he sent a story to an Italian newspaper while working for Olivetti in Cape Town, about the assassination of Henrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid.

Terzani then decided to go to America, taking advantage of a Harkness scholarship to study Chinese at Stamford and Columbia universities, before returning to Italy and finding work with the daily newspaper, Il Giorno.  He found Italy’s news values to be too parochial, however, and after knocking on many doors in different countries across Europe at last found someone who would take him on and allow him to base himself in the part of the world he most wanted to explore.

Terzani’s fascination with Asia stemmed in part from his disillusionment with the capitalist west. Left-leaning in his politics, for a time he saw Asian communism as a kind of antidote.

He immersed himself in Asian culture, learning their languages, adopting their dress, melting into the crowd so that he could prowl about without attracting attention and grow to understand fully the countries and people about whom he was writing. In time, though, after his experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia and China, he came to realise that communism was no more an ideal than capitalism.

Terzani's book on the end of the Soviet  Union, Goodnight Mister Lenin
Terzani's book on the end of the Soviet
 Union, Goodnight Mister Lenin
Eventually, he decided the country and the people with whose values he would feel spiritually most at home was India, although the realisation coincided, unfortunately, with the discovery in 1997 that he was suffering from stomach cancer.

He was warned, initially, that he might have only a short time to live, but after treatment in the United States he survived, in the event, for seven years, finding the energy to carry on working and to campaign against western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he visited after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Terzani remained in India, where he drew comfort from meditation and spending periods in isolation in the Himalayas, returning to Italy only towards the end of his life and spending his final days in Orsigna, a village in the Apennines, near Pistoia.  His book, Un altro giro di giostra (One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round), which was in part about coming to terms with his illness, was another bestseller.

He died in 2004 and was survived by his wife Angela, whom he had met in Florence before moving to Singapore, and by his two children, Fulco and Saskia.

Piazza della Signoria - the Loggia dei Lanzi
Piazza della Signoria - the Loggia dei Lanzi
Travel tip:

Terzani’s description of Florence as a museum was thought to be a reference mostly to Piazza della Signoria, situated right in the heart of the city, close to the Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery, which is home to a series of important sculptures, including Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women and his Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I, Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, the Medici Lions by Fancelli and Vacca, The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolemeo Ammannati, copies of Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes and Il Marzocco (the Lion), and the copy of Michelangelo’s David, at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio.  Most days, summer and winter, will see the square thronged with tourists.

The mountain village of Orsigna, in the Apennines above Pistoia in Tuscany
The mountain village of Orsigna, in the Apennines
above Pistoia in Tuscany
Travel tip:

The village of Orsigna, close to the border of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna about 30km (19 miles) north of Pistoia, was once an important centre for timber cutting and sheep farming. It has been in decline in recent years, although a mill has recently been renovated, for the drying and milling of chestnuts for chestnut flour.  The village was used  for location shooting of a film about Tiziano Terzani , entitled La fine è il mio inizio (The End Is My Beginning), taken from his book of the same name. The church of Sant'Atanasio has some 19th century frescoes by the Pistoia painter Bartolomeo Valiani.

More reading:

How foreign correspondent Oriana Fallaci became one of Italy's most controversial journalists

How Enzo Biagi became the doyen of Italian political journalists

The story of pioneer war photographer Felice Beato

Also on this day:

1321: The death of the poet Dante Alighieri

1937: The birth of award-winning architect Renzo Piano


Thursday, 13 September 2018

Girolamo Frescobaldi – composer

Organist was a ‘father of Italian music’

Girolamo Frescobaldi was a strong influence on a number of composers, including Bach
Girolamo Frescobaldi was a strong influence on
a number of composers, including Bach
Girolamo Alessandro Frescobaldi, one of the first great masters of organ composition, was born on this day in 1583 in Ferrara.

Frescobaldi is famous for his instrumental works, many of which are compositions for the keyboard, but his canzone are of historical importance for the part they played in the development of pieces for small instrumental ensembles and he was to have a strong influence on the German Baroque school.

Frescobaldi began his career as organist at the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome in 1607. He travelled to the Netherlands the same year and published his first work, a book of madrigals, in Antwerp.

In 1608 he became the organist at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and, except for a few years when he was court organist in Florence, he worked at St Peter’s until his death.

He married Orsola Travaglini in 1613 and they had five children.

Frescobaldi published 12 fantasie that are notable for their contrapuntal mastery.

The title page of Frescobaldi's important and influential work, Fiori Musicali
The title page of Frescobaldi's important and
influential work, Fiori Musicali
In a collection of music published in 1626 he provides valuable information about performing his work. He writes in the preface: ‘Should the player find it tedious to play a piece right through he may choose such sections as he pleases provided only that he ends in the main key.’

A lot of his keyboard music was intended for the harpsichord as well as the organ. In another collection of his music published in 1627 he gives valuable information about the interpretation of Baroque instrumental music. He advises: ‘Play the opening of a toccata slowly and arpeggiando…if one hand has a trill while the other plays a passage, do not play note against note, but play the trill rapidly and the other expressively.’ Such directions indicate the extent to which keyboard style had developed between the Renaissance and the early Baroque period.

One of Frescobaldi’s most influential collections of compositions, Fiori Musicali, was published in 1635.

His work is known to have influenced Johann Sebastian Bach, Henry Purcell, Johann Pachelbel and many other composers. Bach is known to have owned a manuscript copy of Frescobaldi’s Fiori Musicali.

Frescobaldi died in Rome in 1643, aged 59. He was buried in the Church of Santi Apostoli but his tomb disappeared during work carried out on the church in the late 18th century. However, a grave bearing his name and honouring him as one of the fathers of Italian music exists in the church today.

A plaque marks Frescobaldi's
birthplace in Ferrara 
Travel tip:

There is a commemorative plaque on the front of the birthplace of Girolamo Frescobaldi in Ferrara, a city in Emilia-Romagna, about 50km (31 miles) northeast of Bologna. Ferrara was ruled by the Este family between 1240 and 1598. Building work on the magnificent Este Castle in the centre of the city began in 1385 and it was added to and improved by successive rulers of Ferrara until the end of the Este line.

The Church of Santi Apostoli in Rome, where Girolamo Frescobaldi was buried following his death in 1643
The Church of Santi Apostoli in Rome, where Girolamo
Frescobaldi was buried following his death in 1643

Travel tip:

Girolamo Frescobaldi was buried in the Church of Santi Apostoli - the Church of the 12 Holy Apostles - a minor basilica in Piazza Santi Apostoli near Palazzo Quirinale in Rome. The Church was dedicated to St James and St Philip, whose remains are kept there and later to all the Apostles. Among the many Cardinal Priests who have served there are Pope Clement XIV, whose tomb by Canova is in the church, and Henry Benedict Stuart, the final Jacobite heir to claim the thrones of England, Scotland, France and Ireland publicly.