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.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Roberto Saviano - writer and journalist

Author of ‘Gomorrah’ who lives under police protection

Roberto Saviano has lived under police guard since writing his groundbreaking Mafia exposé, Gomorrah
Roberto Saviano has lived under police guard since
writing his groundbreaking Mafia exposé, Gomorrah
The author and journalist Roberto Saviano, whose 2006 book Gomorrah exposed the inner workings of the Camorra organised crime syndicate in his home city of Naples, was born on this day in 1979.

Gomorrah was an international bestseller that was turned into a film and inspired a TV series, bringing Saviano fame and wealth.

However, within six months of the book’s publication, Saviano had received so many threats to his life from within the Camorra that the decision was taken on the advice of former prime minister Giuliano Amato to place him under police protection.

Some 12 years later, he remains under 24-hour police guard.  He travels only in one of two bullet-proof cars, lives either in police barracks or obscure hotels and is encouraged never to remain in the same place for more than a few days. His protection team includes seven bodyguards.

Saviano has written three more books including a collection of his essays and Zero, Zero, Zero - an exposé of the cocaine trade. His latest, published this week, is called The Piranhas. Whereas Gomorrah and Zero, Zero, Zero were non-fiction, The Piranhas is a novel, though one set in Naples with the Camorra at the centre of the story.

Yet Saviano has complained that, although he has so far avoided being killed, he has no real life. In an interview with an English newspaper, he said that since he was placed under guard he has not boarded a train, ridden a Vespa, taken a stroll or gone out for a beer.  He has admitted that if he had known the consequences, he probably would not have written Gomorrah.

Born the son of a Naples doctor and a mother originally from Liguria, Saviano attended the University of Naples Federico II, where he obtained a degree in psychology.  He began his career in journalism in 2002, writing for numerous magazines and daily papers, including the Camorra monitoring unit of the Corriere del Mezzogiorno.

His inspiration for writing Gomorrah came from his own experiences in the province of Caserta, where he grew up, which witnessed a gang war as rival Camorra groups battled for control of territory.  Violence on the streets became an almost daily occurrence in full view of ordinary citizens, some of whom became victims themselves when, occasionally, an innocent person was mistaken for a target.

Saviano’s journalism meant that he became acquainted with workers in businesses run by the Camorra, and in time with messengers and look-outs who worked for the clan. He pored over court records, news reports and trial transcripts, eventually pulling together all his knowledge to write Gomorrah.

Roberto Saviano signing a copy of  one of his books
Roberto Saviano signing a copy of
one of his books
Its focus is city of Naples and the towns of Casal di Principe, San Cipriano d'Aversa, and the territory around Aversa known as the agro aversano.  It describes how criminal bosses lived in sumptuous villas while burying toxic waste in the surrounding countryside with no regard for the health of the local population, many of whom were protective of Camorra activities not only out of fear but of distrust of legitimate authorities.

Saviano revealed details of the System - as the Camorra refer to themselves - never before brought to the public domain. It is written in the style of dramatic fiction but describes events that, Saviano says, actually happened.

This is supported by the reaction of the Camorra, who felt the book revealed details that compromised their activities. The last straw was probably an anti-Mafia demonstration in Casal di Principe in September 2006, when Saviano publicly denounced the bosses of the Casalese clan, Francesco Bidognetti and Francesco Schiavone, both of whom were in prison, as well as the the two ruling bosses at the time, Antonio Iovine and Michele Zagaria, insulting them and calling on them to leave Italy.

After threats to Saviano and members of his family were investigated by the Naples police, Amato, then Minister for Interior Affairs, assigned Saviano a personal bodyguard and moved him from Naples to a secret location.

Saviano makes speaking engagements around the world,  campaigning against organised crime
Saviano makes speaking engagements around the world,
campaigning against organised crime
Two years later, after the informant Carmine Schiavone, cousin of Francesco Schiavone, revealed to the authorities that the clan had planned to eliminate Saviano and his police escort with a bomb under the motorway between Rome and Naples, Saviano announced his intention to leave Italy.

For obvious reasons, no one outside his immediate circle knows where he now lives. However, he makes public appearances at speaking engagements and is still writing regularly for many newspapers and magazines at home and abroad, including l'Espresso, la Repubblica in Italy, The Washington Post and The New York Times in the United States, Die Zeit and Der Spiegel in Germany, and The Times and The Guardian in the United Kingdom.

In 2008, six Nobel Prize winners  - Dario Fo, Mikhail Gorbachev, Günter Grass, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Orhan Pamuk and Desmond Tutu - launched a joint appeal to the Italian government to do more to defeat the Camorra and to support citizens such as Saviano in speaking out against them.

The incredible sloping watercourse is one of the features of the Royal Palace in Caserta
The incredible sloping watercourse is one of the features
of the Royal Palace in Caserta
Travel tip:

The biggest attraction for visitors to Caserta is the former Royal Palace - Reggia di Caserta - which is one of the largest palaces in Europe, built to rival the palace of Versailles outside Paris, which was the principal residence of the French royal family until the French Revolution of 1789. Constructed for the Bourbon kings of Naples, it was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century and has been described as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque”.

A typical street scene in the Quartieri Spagnoli in the heart of Naples
A typical street scene in the Quartieri
Spagnoli in the heart of Naples
Travel tip:

The area that used to be seen as a notorious Camorra stronghold, the Quartieri Spagnoli - Spanish Quarters - to the north of Via Toledo, is now much less threatening. The area consists of a grid of around narrow 18 streets running south to north by 12 going east to west towards the harbour. It represents a flavour of old Naples, with lines of washing strung across the narrow streets and lively neighbourhood shops catering for the residents, who number about 14,000. Although it is a poor area blighted by high unemployment, the Camorra are less visible here now than in some of the city’s run-down suburbs. The area takes its name from its original purpose in the 16th century, which was to house Spanish garrisons, whose role was to quell revolts from the Neapolitan population.

More reading:

How the capture of Camorra boss Paolo di Lauro struck at the heart of crime in Naples

The Camorra bride who became a mob chieftain after avenging the death of her husband

Dario Fo - the playright who sought out corruption in high places

Also on this day:

1929: The birth of motorcycle world champion Carlo Ubbiati

1958: The birth of singer Andrea Bocelli


Friday, 21 September 2018

Giacomo Quarenghi - architect

Neoclassicist famous for his work in St Petersburg

Giacomo Quarenghi spent most of his working  life in St Petersburg in Russia
Giacomo Quarenghi spent most of his working
life in St Petersburg in Russia
The architect Giacomo Quarenghi, best known for his work in Russia, and in St Petersburg in particular, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was born on this day in 1744 in Rota d’Imagna, a village in Lombardy about 25km (16 miles) northwest of Bergamo.

His extensive work in St Petersburg between 1782 and 1816, which followed an invitation from the Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great), included the Hermitage Theatre, one of the first buildings in Russia in the Palladian style, the Bourse and the State Bank, St. George’s Hall in the Winter Palace, several bridges on the Neva river, and a number of academic buildings including the Academy of Sciences, on the University Embankment.

He was also responsible for the reconstruction of some buildings around Red Square in Moscow in neo-Palladian style.

Quarenghi’s simple yet imposing neoclassical buildings, which often featured an elegant central portico with pillars and pediment, are responsible for much of St Petersburg’s stately elegance.

As a young man, Quarenghi was allowed to study painting in Bergamo despite his parents’ hopes that he would follow for a career in law or the church. He travelled widely through Italy, staying in Vicenza, Verona, Mantua and Venice in the north and venturing south to make drawings of the Greek temples at Paestum before arriving in Rome in 1763. His first focus was on painting, but he was later introduced to architecture by Paolo Posi.

Quarenghi's building for the Academy of Sciences on the banks of the Neva river in St Petersburg
Quarenghi's building for the Academy of Sciences on the
banks of the Neva river in St Petersburg
His biggest inspiration came from reading Andrea Palladio's Quattro libri d'archittetura, after which he moved away from painting to concentrate on the design of buildings. He returned to Venice to study Palladio and came to meet a British peer who was passing through Venice on the Grand Tour. It was through him that Quarenghi was commissioned to work in England, where his projects included an altar for the private Roman Catholic chapel of Henry Arundell at New Wardour Castle.

His first major commission in Italy was for the internal reconstruction of the monastery of Santa Scholastica at Subiaco, just outside Rome, in 1771, where he was also asked to design a decor for a Music Room in the Campidoglio, and drew up designs for the tomb of Pope Clement XIII, which were later executed by Antonio Canova.

In 1779 he was selected by the Prussian-born Count Rieffenstein, who had been commissioned by Catherine II to send her two Italian architects.  Quarenghi, then 35, was finding it hard to generate enough work amid fierce competition in Italy, so he accepted the offer without hesitation, leaving immediately for St Petersburg, taking his pregnant wife with him.

Quarenghi's English Palace at Peterhof, which was sadly demolished after suffering damage during the war
Quarenghi's English Palace at Peterhof, which was sadly
demolished after suffering damage during the war
Quarenghi's first important commission in Russia was the magnificent English Palace in Peterhof, just outside St Petersburg, which was sadly blown up by the Germans during the Second World War II and later demolished by the Soviet government.

In 1783 Quarenghi settled with his family in Tsarskoe Selo, the town which was the former seat of the Russian royal family, where he would supervise the construction of the Alexander Palace.

Soon afterwards, he was appointed Catherine II's court architect and went on to produce a large number of designs for the Empress, her successors and members of her court, as well as interior decorations and elaborate ornate gardens.

His work outside St Petersburg included a cathedral in Ukraine and among his buildings in Moscow were a theatre hall in the Ostankino Palace.

Quarenghi was less popular with Catherine II’s son and successor, the Emperor Paul, but enjoyed a resurgence under Alexander I. He returned to Italy from time to time and always to an enthusiastic welcome.

He retired in 1808 and remained in Russia, even though most of his 13 children by two wives chose to return to Italy.

Quarenghi was granted Russian nobility and the Order of St. Vladimir of the First Degree in 1814. He died in Saint Petersburg at the age of 72.

A view over the village of Rota d'Imagna in Lombardy
A view over the village of Rota d'Imagna in Lombardy
Travel tip:

Rota d’Imagna in the province of Bergamo is situated in the Imagna Valley, a popular tourist spot because of its largely unspoilt landscape and spectacular mountain views, with many visitors attracted to trekking, mountain walks and horse riding. In the village itself, the Church of Rota Fuori, dedicated to San Siro, which was built in 1496 and restructured in 1765, has art works of significance including by Gaetano Peverada, Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli and Carlo Ceresa.  Quarenghi’s home was Ca’ Piatone, a palace built in the 17th century.

The Hermitage Theatre has echoes of Palladio's Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza
The Hermitage Theatre has echoes of
Palladio's Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza
Travel tip:

Quarenghi’s design for the Hermitage Theatre in St Petersburg, with its seating set out in the style of a Roman amphitheatre and the walls decorated with marble columns and recessed statues, was heavily influenced by his visit to the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza as he toured Italy as a young man. The theatre, constructed between 1580 and 1585, was the final design by Andrea Palladio and was not completed until after his death. The trompe-l'œil onstage scenery, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, gives the appearance of long streets receding to a distant horizon. The theatre is one of only three Renaissance theatres still in existence.

More reading:

How Palladio became the world's favourite architect

Vincenzo Scamozzi - the man behind the unique stage set at the Teatro Olimpico

Luigi Vanvitelli and a royal palace based on the Palace of Versailles 

Also on this day:

1559: The birth of the painter and architect known as Cigoli

1960: The birth of conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Election of Pope Clement VII

Appointment that sparked split in Catholic Church

Pope Clement VII, a portrait by the 19th century French painter Henri Serrur
Pope Clement VII, a portrait by the 19th
century French painter Henri Serrur
The election of Robert of Geneva as Pope Clement VII by a group of disaffected French cardinals, prompting the split in the Roman Catholic Church that became known as the Western Schism or the Great Schism, took place on this day in 1378.

The extraordinary division in the hierarchy of the church, which saw two and ultimately three rival popes each claiming to the rightful leader, each with his own court and following, was not resolved until 1417.

It was prompted by the election in Rome of Urban VI as the successor to Gregory XI, who had returned the papal court to Rome from Avignon, where it had been based for almost 70 years after an earlier dispute.

The election of Cardinal Bartolomeo Prignano as Urban VI followed rioting by angry Roman citizens demanding a Roman be made pope. Prignano, the former Archbishop of Bari was not a Roman - he was born in Itri, near Formia in southern Lazio - but was seen as the closest to it among those seen as suitable candidates.

His appointment was not well received, however, by some of the powerful French cardinals who had moved from Avignon to Rome, who claimed the election should be declared invalid because it was made under fear of civil unrest. They decided to leave Rome and set up a rival court at Anagni, the city 70km (43 miles) southeast of Rome famous for producing four popes during the 13th century and a popular summer residence for popes through several centuries.

Pope Urban VI was elected after Roman  citizens rioted in the streets
Pope Urban VI was elected after Roman
 citizens rioted in the streets 
They chose Robert of Geneva, who had been living in England as rector of Bishopwearmouth in County Durham, having previously been Archdeacon of Dorset.

He had acquired the unfortunate nickname of ‘butcher of Cesena’ following his decision to command troops lent to the papacy by the condottiere John Hawkwood to put down a rebellion there. Between 3,000 and 8,000 civilians were killed.

Yet he had the support of Queen Joanna of Naples and Charles V of France and set up his court in Avignon.

The double election was a disaster for the church. The followers of the two popes tended to be divided along national lines, and thus reinforced the political antagonisms of the time.  France, Aragon, Castile and León, for example, recognised Clement VII, but the German-dominated Holy Roman Empire sided with Urban VI.  England pledged its allegiance to Urban VI, but Scotland and Wales saw Clement VII as the legitimate pope.

The spectacle of rival popes denouncing each other in public was enormously damaging for the papacy but resolving the split took almost 40 years.

The election of Pope Martin V in 1417 ended the schism
The election of Pope Martin V
in 1417 ended the schism
Pope Boniface IX succeeded Urban VI in 1389 and Benedict XIII followed Clement VII in reigning from Avignon from 1394. A request from Rome on the death of Pope Boniface in 1404 that Benedict resign was rejected and the Roman faction elected Pope Innocent VII.

In 1409, after 15 sessions, a church council convened at Pisa attempted to solve the schism by deposing both Pope and antipope but added to the problem by electing a second antipope, Alexander V, who was succeeded by antipope John XXIII.

Finally, a council was convened by John XXIII in 1414 at Constance ,which secured the resignations of John XXIII and Pope Gregory XII. Benedict XIII refused to step down but was excommunicated. The Council elected Pope Martin V in 1417, essentially ending the schism.

The line of Roman popes is now recognized as the legitimate line. Gregory XII's resignation was the last time a pope resigned until Benedict XVI, who stepped down in 2013, aged 86, on the grounds of advancing years.

The remains of Itri's castle are worth a visit
The remains of Itri's castle are worth a visit
Travel tip:

Itri is a small city in the province of Latina, Lazio, about 100km (62 miles) north of Naples and 150km (96 miles) south of Rome. It lies in a valley between the Monti Aurunci and the sea, not far from the Gulf of Gaeta.  Although the city suffered damage during the Second World War, the remains of its castle, which commands the valley, are worth visiting. On March 19 of each year, the people of Itri celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph, at which traditionally large bonfires are ignited, around which people dance and sing and eat the traditional “zeppole di San Giuseppe”, cakes formed from a dough made with sugar and eggs which is fried and coated with honey.

The Palazzo dei Papi in Agnani was the summer  residence of many popes
The Palazzo dei Papi in Agnani was the summer
residence of many popes
Travel tip:

Anagni is an ancient town in the province of Frosinone in Lazio. It is southeast of Rome in an area known as Ciociaria, named after the primitive footwear - ciocie - favoured for many years by people living in the area. Boniface VIII was the fourth Pope produced by Anagni but after his death the power of the town declined as the papal court was transferred to Avignon. The medieval Palace of Boniface VIII is near the Cathedral.

More reading:

Pope Gregory XI returns the papacy to Rome

The kidnapping in Anagni of Pope Boniface VIII

Baldus de Ubaldis - legal adviser to the popes

Also on this day:

1870: Soldiers storm the walls of Rome to complete Italian unification

1934: The birth of actress Sophia Loren


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