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.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Luigi Russolo – painter and composer

Futurist artist who invented 'noise music'


Luigi Russolo, pictured at the time he published his manifesto, in 1916
Luigi Russolo, pictured at the time he
published his manifesto, in 1916
Luigi Russolo, who is regarded as the first ‘noise music’ composer, was born on this day in 1885 in Portogruaro in the Veneto.

Russolo originally chose to become a painter and went to live in Milan where he met and was influenced by other artists in the Futurist movement.

Along with other leading figures in the movement, such as Carlo Carrà, he signed both the Manifesto of Futurist Painters and the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting as the artists set out how they saw Futurism being represented on canvas, and afterwards participated in Futurist art exhibitions.

Russolo issued his own manifesto, L’arte dei rumori, - The Art of Noises - in 1913, which he expanded into book form in 1916.

He stated that the industrial revolution had given modern man a greater capacity to appreciate more complex sounds. He found traditional, melodic music confining and envisioned noise music replacing it in the future.

Russolo invented intonarumori - noise-emitting machines - and conducted concerts using these machines. The audiences reacted with either enthusiasm or hostility to the style of music he produced.

Luigi Russolo (left), his fellow Futurist Ugo Piatti, and a  collection of the intonarumori machines he used for his music
Luigi Russolo (left), his fellow Futurist Ugo Piatti, and a
collection of the intonarumori machines he used for his music
None of these machines survived although they have since been reconstructed for use in performances.

The Art of Noises classified noise-sound into six groups, which included roars and thunderings, whistling and hissing, whispers and murmurs, beating different surfaces to make noises, voices of animals and people, and screeching, creaking, rustling, buzzing, crackling and scraping.

When Italy entered the First World War, Russolo volunteered to fight but was seriously wounded in 1917 and had to spend 18 months in hospital.

After he recovered, Russolo held three Futurist concerts in Paris during 1921 that were acclaimed by Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Ravel.

Russolo invented a series of musical instruments, rumorarmoni, which appeared in Futurist films for which he composed the music. These films have since been lost.

Russolo (left) with other Futursts in Paris in 1912
Russolo (left) with other Futursts in Paris in 1912
He held his last concert in 1929 at the opening of a Futurist show in Paris and then went to live in Spain for a while and studied occult philosophy.

When Russolo returned to Italy in 1933, he settled in Cerro on Lake Maggiore and took up painting again in a realist style that he called classic-modern. He died at Cerro in 1947.

Antonio Russolo, Luigi’s brother and another Futurist composer, produced a recording of two works featuring the original intonarumori. The phonograph recording made in 1921 included works entitled Corale and Serenata, which combined conventional orchestral music set against the sound produced by the noise machines. It is the only surviving contemporaneous recording of Luigi Russolo’s noise music.

The church of the Abbey of Summaga at Portogruaro
The church of the Abbey of Summaga at Portogruaro
Travel tip:

Portogruaro, where Russolo was born, was officially founded in 1140 when the local Archbishop gave a group of fishermen the right to settle there and build a river port. It was the medieval successor to the Roman town of Concordia Saggitaria and many Roman remains found there are now displayed in the Museo Concordiese. In 1420 Portogruaro’s citizens requested membership of the Republic of Venice. Portogruaro was then under Austrian control from 1815 until 1866 when it became part of the newly-unified Kingdom of Italy. It is now in the Veneto region on the main road linking Venice with Trieste. Among the many historic sights is the 11th century Abbey of Summaga, which has 11th and 12th century frescoes.

The harbour of Leveno-Mombello, of which Cerro is a hamlet
The harbour of Leveno-Mombello, of which Cerro is a hamlet
Travel tip:

Cerro, where Luigi Russolo died, is a hamlet of Laveno-Mombello on Lake Maggiore in the province of Varese. Laveno-Mombello is a port town that connects Verbania and the Borromean Islands with Varese and has beautiful views of the lake and islands.

More reading:


How Futurist painter Carlo Carrà captured violence at the funeral of an anarchist

Canaletto's images of Venice were sought after by wealthy travellers 

The strange sounds of avant-garde composer Luigi Nono


Also on this day:








Saturday, 29 April 2017

Liberation of Fornovo di Taro

How Brazilian soldiers hastened Nazi capitulation


The moment at which General Otto Fretter-Pico (second left) formally surrendered to Brazilian forces in Fornovo di Taro
The moment at which General Otto Fretter-Pico (second left)
formally surrendered to Brazilian forces in Fornovo di Taro
The town of Fornovo di Taro in Emilia-Romagna acquired a significant place in Italian military history for a second time on this day in 1945 when it was liberated from Nazi occupation by soldiers from the Brazilian Expeditionary Force fighting with the Allies.

Under the command of General João Baptista Mascarenhas de Morais, the Brazilians marched into Fornovo, which is situated about 13km (8 miles) south-west of Parma on the east bank of the Taro river, at the conclusion of the four-day Battle of Collecchio.

It was in Fornovo that the 148th Infantry Division of the German army under the leadership of General Otto Fretter-Pico offered their surrender, along with soldiers from the 90th Panzergrenadier Division and the 1st Bersaglieri and 4th Mountain Divisions of the Fascist National Republican Army.

In total, 14,779 German and Italian troops laid down their arms after Fretter-Pico concluded that, with the Brazilians surrounding the town, aided by two American tank divisions and one company of Italian partisans, there was no hope of escape.

Although the total capitulation of the German and Fascist armies in Italy was not officially announced until May 2 in Turin, the surrender in Fornovo effectively brought the war in the peninsula to an end.

Italian citizens hailed the Brazilians as heroes
Italian citizens hailed the Brazilians as heroes
It represented a successful conclusion to an eight-month campaign in Italy by the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, which numbered 25,700 army and air force personnel, representing the only independent South American country to send ground troops to fight overseas during the whole of the Second World War.

Brazil, traditionally isolationist, had initially remained neutral in the global conflict, although it allowed the United States to set up bases on Brazilian soil.  But, in 1942, Brazil’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with the Axis countries of Germany, Japan and Italy prompted Germany to send submarines to the south Atlantic to attack Brazilian merchant ships.

During the month of July 1942, 13 Brazilian ships were sunk, at a cost of more than 100 lives, mainly crew members.  The country’s leaders still refused to be drawn into the conflict but the attacks continued and in the space of just two days in August, a single German U-boat sank five ships, causing more than 600 deaths, many of them civilians travelling on passenger vessels.

Faced with rioting on the streets as German businesses in the capital Rio de Janeiro were attacked, Brazil’s president, Getúlio Vargas, had no option but declare war on Germany and its allies.

It took two years to convert Brazil’s obsolete army into a force that was anywhere near equipped to fight effectively in Europe but in July 1944 the first 5,000 Brazilian troops disembarked in Naples.  Others arrived later.

The tunic badge
Such had been the scepticism in Brazil about any of their countrymen ever seeing action, they acquired the nickname ‘the smoking snakes’ – so called because Brazilians would joke with one another, using an expression with a similar meaning to 'pigs might fly' in the English language, that it was more likely that ‘a snake would smoke a pipe’ than the BEF would go to the front and fight.  They wore a badge on their tunics depicting a smoking snake.

Yet between September 1944 and the German surrender they achieved success in 17 battles across the north of Italy. Deployed to replace the French and US troops that had been diverted to help in the Allied invasion of German-occupied France, they attracted praise in particular for the part they played in the battles for Monte Castello and Castelnuovo in the Northern Apennines, as well as in the Battle of Collecchio.

Although the Italian Front was not as important as the Eastern Front in bringing the Nazis to their knees, the hastening of the German defeat in the peninsula, coming at the same time as the Red Army captured Berlin and news spread of the death of Adolf Hitler, helped bring the Second World War to a quicker end than might otherwise have been the case. The Fascist leader Benito Mussolini had been executed by Italian partisans only 24 hours before Fornovo witnessed its historic moment.

Overall, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force suffered 443 losses over the eight months but against that took 20,573 Axis prisoners.

For Fornovo, the battle fought in the surrounding countryside prompted historians to recall that the town had witnessed a major military confrontation once before in its history as the site of the Battle of Fornovo, fought between the Italian Holy League and the French forces of Charles VIII at the start of the Italian Wars in July 1495.

Parma's baptistry
Parma's baptistry
Travel tip:

Fornovo and Collecchio are within a short distance of Parma, one of the most attractive cities of the Emilia-Romagna region. The home of prosciutto di parma, parmigiano reggiano and Sangiovese wine, it is a food-lover’s paradise but also a city with a rich cultural heritage, the home of composers Giuseppe Verdi and Niccolò Paganini, the conductor Arturo Toscanini, the film director Bernardo Bertolucci, the writer Giovanni Guareschi and a host of painters, headed by Francesco Mazzola, better known as Il Parmigiano.  The city has much fine architecture, too, including a striking Romanesque cathedral and neighbouring baptistry, several other churches and palaces and notable modern buildings such as the Niccolò Paganini Auditorium, designed by Renzo Piano.

Piazza San Prospero in Reggio Emilia
Piazza San Prospero in Reggio Emilia
Travel tip:

Reggio Emilia, the next city on from Parma along the route of the Via Emilia – the Roman road that linked Piacenza, south-east of Milan, with the Adriatic resort of Rimini – lacks the cultural wealth of Parma and tends to be given little attention as a result. Yet it is an attractive city, neat and well organised, retaining its historical centre, which has a hexagonal layout based on its old walls, but with a modern and forward-thinking attitude.  There are many fine restaurants, elegant squares and interesting palaces and churches, and its roll call of famous citizens ranges from the poet Ludovico Ariosto to the former prime minister Romano Prodi and the football coach Carlo Ancelotti.


More reading:



How Mussolini was captured and killed by Italian partisans

Annual celebration of Festa della Liberazione

The moment Italy entered the Second World War


Also on this day:


1987: The birth of tennis champion Sara Errani



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Friday, 28 April 2017

Nicola Romeo - car maker

Engineer used profits from military trucks to launch famous marque


Nicola Romeo bought the car manufacturer Alfa of Milan in 1915
Nicola Romeo bought the car manufacturer
Alfa of Milan in 1915
Nicola Romeo, the entrepreneur and engineer who founded Alfa Romeo cars, was born on this day in 1876 in Sant’Antimo, a town in Campania just outside Naples.

The company, which became one of the most famous names in the Italian car industry, was launched after Romeo purchased the Milan automobile manufacturer ALFA - Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili.

After making substantial profits from building military trucks in the company’s Portello plant during the First World War, in peacetime Romeo switched his attention to making cars. The first Alfa Romeo came off the production line in 1921.

The cars made a major impact in motor racing, mainly thanks to the astuteness of Romeo in hiring the the up-and-coming Enzo Ferrari to run his racing team, and the Fiat engineer Vittorio Jano to build his cars.  Away from the track, the Alfa Romeo name sat on the front rank of the luxury car market.

Romeo’s parents, originally from an area known as Lucania that is now part of the Basilicata region, were not wealthy but Nicola was able to attend what was then Naples Polytechnic – now the Federico II University – to study engineering.

Enzo Ferrari at the wheel of an Alfa during his driving days in 1920
Enzo Ferrari at the wheel of an Alfa
during his driving days in 1920
He left Italy to work abroad at first, obtaining a second degree – in electrical engineering – in Liège, Belgium. In 1911 he returned to Italy and set up his first company, manufacturing machines and equipment for the mining industry.

With success in that market, Romeo was keen to expand. He acquired a majority stake in Alfa in 1915, taking full ownership three years later.

As Italy entered the First World War, Italy had a desperate need for military hardware and Romeo converted and enlarged his new factory specifically to meet this demand. Munitions, aircraft engines and other components, compressors, and generators based on the company's existing car engines were produced.

It made a great deal of money for Romeo, who in the post-war years invested his profits in buying locomotive and railway carriage plants in Saronno – north-west of Milan – Rome and Naples.

He did not consider car production at first but the Portello factory had come with 105 cars awaiting completion and in 1919 he decided that, subject to certain modifications, he was happy to finish the building of these vehicles. In 1920, he rebranded the company Alfa Romeo.  The first car to carry the new badge was the 1921 Torpedo 20-30 HP.

Romeo wanted his company to rival Fiat and was particularly astute in recognising talented individuals who would take the brand forward and establish Alfa Romeo's long-term credibility.

Antonio Ascari won the first Grand Prix world title driving the Vittorio Jano-designed Alfa Romeo P2
Antonio Ascari won the first Grand Prix world title
driving the Vittorio Jano-designed Alfa Romeo P2
He retained Alfa’s chief engineer, the talented Giuseppe Merosi, and encouraged a youthful Enzo Ferrari to join the company, soon putting him in charge of his new works racing team and its star drivers Antonio Ascari, Giuseppe Campari and Ugo Sivocci.

When Merosi left to take up a position in France, Romeo pulled off a major coup, sending Ferrari to cajole the Fiat engineer Vittorio Jano to jump ship. The Jano-designed engines propelled Alfa Romeo to the pinnacle of success in motor racing, his P2 car winning the four-race series for the first Grand Prix world championship in 1925.

Jano's first production car, the 6C 1500, was launched in 1927, but Romeo’s personal role in Alfa Romeo ended in 1928.

Some bad investments following the collapse of its major investor, the Banca Italiana di Sconto, had left the company close to going bust.  Under boardroom pressure to quit, Romeo at first accepted a figurehead role as president but then decided to sever his links altogether.

Married to Angelina Valadin, a Portuguese opera singer and pianist, he was the father of seven children. He died in 1938 at his home in Magreglio, a village overlooking Lake Como, at the age of 62.

An Alfa Romeo 20-30 at the Alfa Romeo museum at Arese, about 15km north-west of Milan
An Alfa Romeo 20-30 at the Alfa Romeo museum at
Arese, about 15km north-west of Milan
Luckily for the company, it was kept in business initially by the Italian government after Mussolini decided to promote Alfa Romeo as an Italian national emblem and used it to build bespoke cars for the wealthy, the sleek 2900B being a prime example.

After the Second World War, Alfa Romeo continued its success on the racing circuit, too, with Giuseppe Farina and the Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio winning the first two Formula One world titles, in 1950 and 1951, driving the famous Alfetta 158/159.

The marque’s iconic status was further strengthened in the 1960s when both the Italian state police and the quasi-military Carabinieri stocked their fleets with Alfa Romeo cars.

The Church of Madonna del Ghisallo at Mareglio
The Church of Madonna del Ghisallo at Mareglio
Travel tip:

Magreglio, where Romeo was living at the time of his death, is a village perched on a hill overlooking the south-eastern fork of Lake Como, is famous for its association with cycling, thanks to the nearby Ghisallo hill, which has been long established on the route of the Giro di Lombardia cycle race and has often featured in the Giro d’Italia. The Madonna del Ghisallo was adopted in 1949 as the patron saint of cycling and the church of the same name now contains a small museum dedicated to competitive cycling and an eternal flame burns for cyclists who have died in competition.

Travel tip:

Almost 70 years after his death and on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of his birth, Naples dedicated a street to the memory of Nicola Romeo, called Via Nicola Romeo, which can be found in the Lauro district of the city, above Mergellina and not far from the Stadio San Paolo, home of Napoli football club.

More reading:






Thursday, 27 April 2017

Popes John XXIII and John Paul II made saints

Crowd of 800,000 in St Peter's Square for joint canonisation


The Basilica of St Peter, in readiness for the joint-canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in 2014
The Basilica of St Peter, in readiness for the joint-canonisation
of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in 2014
Pope Francis declared Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as saints at a ceremony during Mass in Rome’s St Peter’s Square on this day in 2014.

Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world converged on the Vatican to attend the ceremony, which celebrated two popes recognised as giants of the Catholic Church in the 20th century.

There was scarcely room to move in St Peter's Square, the Via della Conciliazione and the adjoining streets.  The crowd, probably the biggest since John Paul II’s beatification three years earlier, was estimated at around 800,000, of which by far the largest contingent had made the pilgrimage from John Paul’s native Poland to see their most famous compatriot become a saint.  Thousands of red and white Polish flags filled the square.

In his homily, Pope Francis said Saints John XXIII and JohnPaul II were “priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them God was more powerful, faith was more powerful”.

He added that the two popes had “co-operated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating” the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis delivers his homily to the crowd in the square
Pope Francis delivers his homily to the crowd in the square
Among those attending this morning’s Mass was Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, who in 2013 had become the first pope to resign in 600 years.

Among the foreign dignitaries present, which included 19 heads of state and 25 heads of government, was the former Polish president, Lech Walesa, who had been a key figure in the fall of communism as leader of the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union, Solidarity.

Italy was represented by the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, the president, Giorgio Napolitano, and his wife, first lady Clio Maria Bittoni.

Other world leaders present included Spain’s King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia, the French prime minister Manuel Valls, and the controversial Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe.

St Peter’s Basilica was opened to allow pilgrims visit the tombs of both new saints, which rest in crypts inside the building.

Both John XXIII, who was in office from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years, played leading roles on the world stage.

Every space in St Peter's Square was taken
Every space in St Peter's Square was taken
John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in Sotto il Monte, near Bergamo, in 1881, was known as the “Good Pope” because of his friendly, open personality. He died before the Second Vatican Council ended its work in 1965 but his initiative had set off a significant upheaval in church teaching, ending the use of Latin at Mass, introducing modern music and opening the way for challenges to Vatican authority.

John Paul, born Karol Józef Wojtyła in Wadowice in 1920, was widely credited with helping to bring down communist rule in eastern Europe and hastening the end of the Cold War.

As pope he continued with reform but tightened central control, condemned theological renegades and preached a strict line on social issues such as sexual freedom. Although a charismatic character, he was criticised by some for being too conservative.

Pope John Paul II was idolised by many Catholics
Pope John Paul II was idolised by many Catholics
However, he was able to inspire adoration from many Catholics, as was witnessed when the crowd at his funeral in 2005 joined in a spontaneous chant of “santo subito”, urging that he be made a saint immediately. Although that did not happen, he was honoured with the fastest declaration of sainthood in modern history.

Among those less enamoured with his canonisation were a group who claimed to have been the victims of sexual abuse by priests, who felt John Paul II did not do enough to tackle the problem, particularly with regard to the controversial Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, whom John Paul’s successor, Benedict XVI, removed from active ministry soon after beginning his papacy.  The group staged a rooftop vigil nearby.

Both canonisations had involved adaptation of the strict rules governing declaration of a saint, which normally involve the attestation of at least two miracles.

In the case of John Paul II, Benedict XVI had waived the customary five-year waiting period before the preliminaries to sainthood can begin, while Francis ruled that only one miracle was needed to declare John a saint.

The Via della Conciliazione at night
The Via della Conciliazione at night
Travel tip:

The Via della Conciliazione, in the rione (district) of Borgo, is the street that connects St Peter's Square to Castel Sant'Angelo on the western bank of the Tiber river. Bordered by shops, historical and religious buildings including the churches of Santa Maria in Traspontina and Santo Spirito in Sassia, it was built between 1936 and 1950 to fulfil Mussolini’s vision of a grand thoroughfare into the square but attracted much controversy because of the destruction of an area known as the ‘spina’ – spine – of Borgo and the forced displacement of hundreds of residents to locations on the outskirts of the city.

Find a Rome hotel with Hotels.com

The village of Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXXIII
The village of Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXXIII
Travel tip:

Now renamed Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, Pope John’s birthplace was originally a small farming community to the west of Bergamo. It has seen much change as a result of Angelo Roncalli’s elevation to the papacy and subsequent sainthood, attracting many tourists. The house where he was born is in the hamlet of Brusicco and the summer residence at Camaitino that he used when he was a cardinal is now a history museum dedicated to him.  Also worth visiting nearby, on the slopes of Monte Canto, is the Romanesque Fontanella Abbey, dating back to the 11th century.

Sotto il Monte hotels from Expedia

More reading:


How Karol Wojytla became the first non-Italian pope for 455 years

The farmer's son who went on to become the 'good pope'

The consecration of St Peter's Basilica

Also on this day:





Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Samantha Cristoforetti - astronaut

Record-breaker spent almost 200 days in space


Samantha Cristoforetti in full spacesuit for her official ESA portrait
Samantha Cristoforetti in full spacesuit for
her official ESA portrait
Italy’s first female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, was born on this day in 1977 in Milan.

A captain in the Italian Air Force, in which she is a pilot and engineer, Cristoforetti holds the world record for the longest space flight by a woman, which she set as a crew member on the European Space Agency’s Futura mission to the International Space Station in 2014.

Cristoforetti and her two fellow astronauts, the Russian Anton Shkaplerov and the American Terry Virts, left Kazakhstan in a Soyuz spacecraft on November 23, 2014 and returned on June 11, 2015, having spent 199 days and 16 hours in space – four days longer than the previous record for a female astronaut, held by the American NASA astronaut Sunita Williams.

The mission was supposed to have ended a month earlier but had to be extended after a Russian supply freighter failed to reach the ISS. The extra time also allowed Cristoforetti to set a record for the longest time in space by a European astronaut of either gender.

While Williams was hailed as the first person to complete a marathon in space when she ran 26 miles and 385 yards on the ISS’s on-board treadmill at the same time as the 2007 Boston Marathon was taking place on earth, Cristoforetti can proudly claim to be the first person to have brewed an espresso coffee in space using a machine sent to the crew as a gift.

Cristoforetti celebrated her 28th birthday in space with crewmates Anton Shkaplerov (left) and Terry Virts
Cristoforetti celebrated her 38th birthday in space with
crewmates Anton Shkaplerov (left) and Terry Virts
Although born in Milan, Cristoforetti spent her childhood in Malè, a small town in an Alpine valley - Val di Sole – in Trentino.

Her interest in space began in childhood and was cemented at the age of 18, when she participated in a United States foreign exchange programme and attended Space Camp.

After going to college in Bolzano and Trento, she graduated from the Technical University of Munich with a degree in mechanical engineering.  She attended a French space institute – the École nationale supérieure de l'aéronautique et de l'espace in Toulouse – and the Mendeleev Russian University of Chemistry and Technology in Moscow.

Returning to Italy and pursuing her career with the Italian Air Force, she graduated in aeronautics sciences at the Accademia Aeronautica in Pozzuoli, near Naples, and became one of the first Italian women to be a lieutenant and fighter pilot, since when she has also completed NATO flight training.

Cristoferotti's photographs included this amazing view of the Italian peninsula at night
Cristoforetti's photographs included this amazing
view of the Italian peninsula at night
Cristoforetti, who described her time in space as “a magical experience”, was selected from among 7,000 applicants to the European Space Agency astronaut programme in 2009 and had been training for three years when it was announced she had been chosen for the 2014 mission.

The mission involved maintenance work on the Space Station as well as almost continuous programme of scientific experiments.  Cristoforetti did not take part in any space walks but was responsible for the safety of her two colleagues while they were outside the ship.  Communications were never a problem as she speaks five languages – Italian, German, English, Russian and French.

Cristoforetti, in the 'cupola' of the Space Station,  savours the first espresso brewed in space
Cristoforetti, in the 'cupola' of the Space Station,
savours the first espresso brewed in space
In addition to the work, Cristoforetti tweeted many photographs to her 900,000 Twitter followers, both of her and her crewmates inside the Space Station and of views of the earth.  She took part in a series of videos to illustrate life in space in zero gravity, including hair-cutting, ‘showering’ and cooking - and brewing espresso, which was made possible by the specially designed ISSpresso machine, created by the coffee maker Lavazza and the engineering firm Argotec and sent to the crew as a gift on the April 2015 supply freighter.

A month after returning to earth, Cristoforetti was awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by Sergio Mattarella, the Italian president. The Order of Merit is the senior order of knighthood, the highest ranking honour of the republic.

A beautiful wintry scene of the Noce river near Malè
A beautiful wintry scene of the Noce river near Malè 
Travel tip:

The town of Malè can be found on a plateau in the Val di Sole valley, sitting alongside the valley’s main river, the Noce.  The administrative and cultural centre of the valley, Malè has a civic museum, and a parish church dating back to the 16th century and an ancient sawmill and smithy, Marinelli del Pondasio, a rare preserved example of a hydraulic smithy. Nearby is the Stelvio National Park the Adamello Brenta Nature Park. Malè is a centre for alpine sports, including hiking, climbing and rafting during the summer, and is a short distance from the ski areas of Marilleva-Folgarida and Madonna di Campiglio.

Find the best hotels in Malè with TripAdvisor

Nisida, former home of the Accademia Aeronautica
Nisida, former home of the Accademia Aeronautica
Travel tip:

The Accademia Aeronautica, the academy of the Italian Air Force, can be found at a purpose-built facility on a hill overlooking the port town of Pozzuoli, on the northern shore of the Bay of Naples, having previously been housed in the grand surroundings of the Royal Palace in Caserta, just to the north of Naples, and then on the island of Nisida, near the Marechiaro district of Naples, which is linked to the mainland by a causeway.

Pozzuoli hotels from Expedia

More reading:


Aviation pioneer Enea Bossi and the first human-powered flight

How Camillo Castiglioni recognised the potential of aeroplanes

The ground-breaking academic who paved way for women in science


Also on this day:



1925: The birth of the man who invented Nutella spread


(Picture credit: Wintry scene by Giogio Galeotti via Wikimedia Commons)

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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Ferruccio Ranza - World War One flying ace

Fighter pilot survived 57 aerial dogfights


Ferruccio Ranza in the cockpit of a Nieuport fighter plane
Ferruccio Ranza in the cockpit of a Nieuport fighter plane
Ferruccio Ranza, a World War One pilot who survived 465 combat sorties and scored 17 verified victories, died on this day in 1973 in Bologna, at the age of 80.

Ranza, who also saw service in the Second World War, when he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, was jointly the seventh most successful of Italy’s aviators in the 1914-18 conflict, and would be placed third if his eight unconfirmed victories had been proven.  In all, he engaged with enemy aeroplanes in 57 dogfights.

The most successful Italian flying ace from the First World War was Francesco Barraca, who chalked up 34 verified victories before he was killed in action in 1918.  Ranza served alongside Barraca in the 91st Fighter Squadron of the Italian air force, the so-called ‘squadron of aces’.

Ranza was born in Fiorenzuolo d’Arda, a medium-sized town in the province of Piacenza in what is now Emilia-Romagna, in 1892. Both his parents, Paolo and Maria, were teachers. 

  Ferruccio Ranza, second left, with other member of the 91st Squadron, including Francesco Barraca (far right)
Ferruccio Ranza, second left, with other member of the 91st
Squadron, including Francesco Barraca (far right)
After attending the Istituto Tecnico ‘Romagnosi’ in Piacenza, he joined the Italian army in December 1913. He was a second lieutenant in the 1st Regiment of Engineers when the First World War began in 1914.

Italy had been part of the Triple Alliance at that time, along with Germany and Austria-Hungary, but delayed entering the conflict and by the time it did, in April 1915, it was on the side of the Triple Entente, with Russia, France and Britain, having been promised territorial gains in the Adriatic Sea region.

Ranza attended the flying school at Venaria Reale, just outside Turin. His first assignment, in October 1915, was to fly reconnaissance missions with the 43rd Squadron. He won a Bronze award of the Medal for Military Valor for carrying out an artillery spotting mission under heavy fire.

His success in aerial warfare began when he mastered the French-built Nieuport fighters and joined 77th Squadron in June 1916, scoring his first success after only five days when he downed a Hansa-Brandenburg CI, an aircraft designed by Ernst Heinkel, who would provide much of the Luftwaffe’s air power during the Second World War.

A scale model of the Nieuport 11 in which Ranza scored many of his victories after joining the 91st Squadron
A scale model of the Nieuport 11 in which Ranza scored
many of his victories after joining the 91st Squadron
In November 2016, Fulco Ruffo di Calabria was removed from command of 77th Squadron because of combat fatigue and Ranza was appointed to succeed him in command.

He was transferred to the crack 91st Squadron under the command of Francesco Barraca in May 2017, achieving his first kill the following month when he downed a two-seater armed reconnaissance plane in the skies above Barco, a small town near Vicenza in what is now the Veneto.

Ranza remained with the 91st until the end of the war, by which time he had won three Silver awards of the Medal for Military Valor, the Serbian Order of the Star of Karađorđe, four war crosses (two Italian, one French, one Belgian), and the Military Order of Savoy.

Even after the war had finished, with Italy counting a heavy cost in lives lost and economic consequences, Ranza continued his military career, seeing service in Africa and Albania as Mussolini pursued an aggressive foreign policy. 

Ferruccio Ranzo in 1944
Ferruccio Ranzo in 1944
When Italy entered World War Two, Ranza was in charge of Italy’s air force in Albania, providing support for Italy’s campaign in Greece.  He had an escape in 1941 when, flying a transport plane, he was attacked by an Italian fighter who mistook him for an enemy. Ranza’s plane was hit and badly damaged but he managed to crash land and avoided serious injury.

By 1943, as the Allied invasion of Italy began, he was the commander of Italy’s airforce in the south of the peninsula, based in Bari, and after Mussolini’s overthrow was able to persuade the Allied command to allow Italian planes to contribute to the nation’s liberation by flying missions against the Germans.

Ranza retired in 1945 and was living in Bologna at the time of his death.  His body was returned to Fiorenzuolo d’Arda for burial in the family chapel at the town’s cemetery.

Travel tip:

Fiorenzuola d’Arda is a town of about 15,000 inhabitants situated about halfway between Piacenza and Parma in the plain of the Po Valley, in the Emilia-Romagna province. The Arda river flows through the town before joining the Po. It is a pleasant town built, at the centre of which, on Piazza Molinari, is the Collegiate Church of San Fiorenzo, the construction of which began in the 13th century.

Fiorenzuola hotels from Expedia

The Royal Palace, Reggia di Venaria Reale
The Royal Palace, Reggia di Venaria Reale
Travel tip:

Venaria Reale is a town, on the north-west edge of the Turin metropolitan area, of historical significance for the presence of the Reggia di Venaria Reale, a palace of the Royal House of Savoy, which was designed and built from 1675 by Amedeo di Castellamonte, having been commissioned by duke Charles Emmanuel II as a base for his hunting expeditions in the countryside north of Turin. The town’s historic centre was also designed by Di Castellamonte to provide an appropriate backdrop to the palace.

Find the right Venaria Reale hotel with TripAdvisor


More reading:


How Armando Diaz led decision World War One victory at Vittorio Veneto

Enea Bossi and the pedal-powered aeroplane

The Calabrian veteran who survived two world wars

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Monday, 24 April 2017

Luigi Lavazza - coffee maker

From a grocery store in Turin to Italy's market leader


Luigi Lavazza - former peasant farmer and humble shop worker who built a dynasty
Luigi Lavazza - former peasant farmer and
humble shop worker who built a dynasty
Luigi Lavazza, the Turin grocer who founded the Lavazza Coffee Company, was born on this day in 1859 in the small town of Murisengo in Piedmont. 

He had lived as a peasant farmer in Murisengo but times were hard and after a couple of poor harvests he decided to abandon the countryside and head for the city, moving to Turin and finding work as a shop assistant.

The Lavazza brand began when Luigi had saved enough money to by his own shop in Via San Tommaso, in the centre of Turin, in 1895.  He sold groceries and provisions and where other stores simply sold coffee beans, he had a workshop in the rear of the store where he experimented by grinding the beans and mixing them into different blends according to the tastes of his customers.

He travelled to Brazil to improve his knowledge of coffee and his blends became an important part of the business, after which he moved into wholesale as well as retail as a coffee merchant.  When the first automatic roasting machines went into production in the 1920s, he was one of the first in Italy to buy one.

The economic climate in Italy improved after the First World War, Turin in particular enjoying prosperity after Fiat opened its factory in Lingotto.

Luigi Lavazza's original Turin grocery shop
Luigi Lavazza's original Turin grocery shop
Luigi Lavazza S.p.A. was formed in 1927, with its headquarters in Corso Giulio Cesare, to the north of the city. Luigi, his wife Emilia, and children Mario, Pericle and Giuseppe set up the company, with share capital of 1,500,000 lire. They bought a fleet of vans and trucks and began to sell all groceries all over Turin province.

The coffee side of the company’s business stalled in the 1930s after the League of Nations imposed economic sanctions against Italy, a consequence of the Mussolini regime’s aggression towards Abyssinia.  Coffee beans was one of the commodities that could not be exported to Italy.

Production did not resume in earnest until after the Second World War, when the company was effectively relaunched as a coffee specialist.  Luigi has retired in 1936 but in the hands of his sons the business boomed. They commissioned the design of branded Lavazza packaging, introducing the distinctive logo with the large middle ‘A’. As well as paper packaging, the company introduced vacuum packed tins to preserve their product's freshness.

Lavazza's familiar silver and  red packaging
Lavazza's familiar silver and
red packaging
In 1950, the first Lavazza television commercial was aired with the slogan “Lavazza – paradiso in tazza” – “Lavazza – heaven in a cup”.

Luigi Lavazza died in 1949 at the age of 90 and did not witness the huge expansion that took place in the 1950s and 1960s. The company’s new headquarters in Corso Novara - on the north-western outskirts of the city began to produce 40,000kg of coffee per day, outstripping other Italian coffee producers, and in 1965 Lavazza opened Europe’s largest roasting plant in Settimo Torinese, from which the company’s Qualità Rossa blend was introduced in 1971.

Today, run by the fourth generation of the Lavazza family, the company is the seventh largest coffee roaster in the world and the retail market leader in Italy with more than 47 per cent of sales, employing 2700 staff in six production sites, four in Italy and two abroad, and sells coffee in more than 90 countries.

Travel tip:

Luigi Lavazza’s original store in Via San Tommaso is now a coffee shop and restaurant, aptly called San Tommaso 10 Lavazza. The café’s coffee corner is the place in which to taste the company’s major blends, while the restaurant at the rear, offering modern Italian dishes, almost doubles as a museum, with displays of photographs tracing the history of the company. Via San Tommaso is in the heart of Turin’s commercial centre, a short walk from the elegant grandeur of Piazza Castello.

Find a hotel in Turin with Hotels.com


Murisengo is in the hills to the east of Turin
Murisengo is in the hills to the east of Turin
Travel tip:

Murisengo, where Luigi Lavazza was born and grew up in the farming community, has a population of under 1,500 today but used to be much larger and was a thriving spa town in the 1700s, when visitors came to take the sulphurous waters from the Fontana Pirenta, which supposedly could cure gastric disorders and treat skin conditions.  The village, in the hills to the east of Turin at 338m (1,100ft) above sea level, also has the remains of a castle that originated in the early 13th century.

Look for Murisengo accommodation with TripAdvisor

More reading:


Michele Ferrero - the man who invented Nutella

How fruit farmer Karl Zuegg made a fortune from jam

Francesco Cirio - market trader who pioneered food canning

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1966: The birth of AC Milan footballer Alessandro Costacurta