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.

19 February 2019

19 February

Massimo Troisi – actor, writer and director


Tragic star died hours after completing finest work

Massimo Troisi, the comic actor, writer and director who suffered a fatal heart attack in 1994 only 12 hours after shooting finished on his greatest movie, was born on this day in 1953 in a suburb of Naples. Troisi co-directed and starred in Il Postino, which won an Oscar for best soundtrack after being nominated in five categories, the most nominations in Academy Awards history for an Italian film.  Plagued by heart problems for much of his life, he was due to fly to London for a transplant the following day but died in his sleep at his sister’s house in Ostia, outside Rome. Read more…

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Luigi Boccherini – musician


Composer gave the cello prominence in his charming quintets

Cellist and composer Luigi Rodolfo Boccherini was born on this day in 1743 in Lucca in Tuscany. Boccherini is particularly known for a minuet from his String Quintet in E, which became popular after its use by characters posing as musicians in the 1955 film, The Ladykillers, which starred Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. Though his works became neglected after his death in 1805 they enjoyed a revival after the Boccherini Quintet was formed in Rome, who started performing them in the 1950s. Read more…

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Vittorio Grigolo - opera singer


Tenor courted public popularity as way to land 'serious' roles

The operatic tenor Vittorio Grigolo was born on this day in 1977 in Arezzo in Tuscany.  Grigolo has performed at many of the world's leading opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He attended the prestigious Sistine Chapel Choir School in Rome as a boy and was tipped for greatness yet he achieved fame as a serious performer after first releasing an album of popular songs and using reality TV shows to put himself in the public eye. Read more…

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18 February 2019

18 February

Roberta Vinci - tennis champion


Won five Grand Slam doubles titles with partner Sara Errani

The tennis player Roberta Vinci, one half of the most successful Italian women’s doubles partnerships of all time, was born on this day in 1983 in Taranto in Puglia.  Vinci and partner Sara Errani were the champions at the French Open and United States Open in 2012 and the Australian Open in 2013 and 2014 and Wimbledon in 2014. Vinci’s finest achievement in singles came at the US Open in 2015, when she defeated world No 1 Serena Williams in the semi-finals before losing to fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta in the final. Read more…

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Michelangelo – Renaissance painter and sculptor


‘Greatest artist of all time’ left amazing legacy of work

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni - universally known simply as Michelangelo - died on this day in 1564 in Rome. His death came three weeks before his 89th birthday while he was still working on his last sculpture, the Rondanini Pietà, a version of the Virgin Mary with the body of the dead Christ. As a sculptor, painter, architect and poet, Michelangelo exerted an enormous influence on the development of art and he is considered to be one of the greatest - if not the greatest - artists of all time. Read more…

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Roberto Baggio - football icon


Azzurri star regarded as Italy's greatest player

The footballer Roberto Baggio, regarded by fans in Italy and around the world as one of the game's greatest players, was born on this day in 1967 in a small town north of Vicenza. Baggio, who won the Serie A title twice and played in three World Cups, scored 318 goals in his career, the first Italian for 50 years to top 300, despite having six knee operations during his career.  But for his injuries, Baggio might have been placed in the same bracket as Pele, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi as the best players in history.  Read more…

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Blessed Fra Angelico – painter


Talented Friar became patron of Catholic artists

The early Renaissance painter Fra Angelico died on this day in 1455 in Rome.  Fra Angelico is regarded as one of the greatest painters of the 15th century, whose works reflected his serene religious attitude. In 1982, more than 500 years after his death, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in recognition of the holiness of his life. In 1984, Pope John Paul II declared him ‘patron of Catholic artists’.  Among his most famous works were the altarpieces and frescoes he painted for the Church and Priory of San Marco in Florence. Read more...

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Roberta Vinci - tennis champion

Won five Grand Slam doubles titles with partner Sara Errani


Roberta Vinci won 10 singles and 25 doubles titles in her career, reaching a Grand Slam singles final at the age of 32
Roberta Vinci won 10 singles and 25 doubles titles in her
career, reaching a Grand Slam singles final at the age of 32
The tennis player Roberta Vinci, one half of the most successful Italian women’s doubles partnerships of all time and one of only four Italian women to rank in the world’s top 10 at singles, was born on this day in 1983 in the major port city of Taranto in Puglia.

Vinci and partner Sara Errani reached the women’s doubles final at eight Grand Slam tournaments between 2012 and 2014, winning five of them.

They were the champions at the French Open and United States Open in 2012 and the Australian Open in 2013 and again in 2014. When they won the Wimbledon title in 2014 they became one of only five women’s doubles partnerships to complete a career Grand Slam of all the four majors.

The pair, who reached No 1 in the world rankings in 2012, unexpectedly ended their five-year partnership in 2015, after which Vinci focussed on singles.

Vinci and her doubles partner Sara Errani, with whom she won five Grand Slams
Vinci and her doubles partner Sara Errani,
with whom she won five Grand Slams
Vinci’s finest achievement in singles came at the US Open in 2015, when she defeated world No 1 Serena Williams in the semi-finals before facing her compatriot and childhood friend Flavia Pennetta in the final, the first in a Grand Slam in the open era to pit one Italian against another.

Pennetta won 7-6, 6-2 but Vinci was spurred on by her achievement in reaching a Grand Slam final for the first time at 32 years old and in 2016 broke into the world’s top 10 for the first time in her career at 33 years and four days. It is the oldest at which any player has attained a top-10 ranking for the first time.

She did so on the back of winning a WTA tournament in St Petersburg, Russia, her first for three years. Errani, Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone are the other Italian women who have achieved a ranking in the top 10.

The daughter of an accountant, Vinci took up tennis at the age of just six and represented Taranto Tennis Club in numerous junior events. She and Pennetta, from Brindisi, won the women’s doubles at the Avvenire Trophy at just 14 years old.

They won the girls’ doubles at the French Open in 1999, the same year that Vinci made her professional debut.

Vinci and Flavia Pennetta show off their trophies after the US Open women's final of 2015 in New York
Vinci and Flavia Pennetta show off their trophies after the
US Open women's final of 2015 in New York
The first of her 35 titles came in 2001 at the Qatar Open, when she and the French player Sandrine Testud won the women’s doubles. In all she went on to win 25 doubles titles, all but three in partnership with Errani.

Vinci won the first of her 10 singles titles at the Copa Colsanitas in Bogota, Colombia, in 2007. She was also a member of the Italian team that won the Fed Cup women’s team event on four occasions.

Unusually for a modern player, Vinci used a one-handed backhand grip and the backhand slice was one of her favourite shots. Combined with a powerful forehand and excellent court coverage, her game was often likened to that of the great German champion Steffi Graf.

After a 21-year career, Vinci retired from professional tennis at the Italian Open in 2018, bowing out before an appreciative home crowd at the Foro Italico in Rome, signing off a tearful farewell speech with the words: “From tomorrow, I am on holiday!”

Taranto's Castello Aragonese, which stands guard over the canal linking the Mar Grande with the Mar Piccolo
Taranto's Castello Aragonese, which stands guard over
the canal linking the Mar Grande with the Mar Piccolo
Travel tip:

Taranto, a port city on the Ionian Sea which is home to Italy’s largest naval base, was once one of the largest cities in the world, founded by the Greeks in 706BC and growing so prosperous that it once had a population in excess of 300,000. It retained its status under the Roman Republic but declined under the Roman Empire after the Emperor Trajan redirected the Via Appia, which used to connect it with Rome, to Bari. Nowadays, it is still a substantial city, home to almost 200,000 people. It is built around two large bays - the Mar Grande, where the commercial port is located, and the Mar Piccolo, flanked by the historic town centre and also home to the city’s fishing fleets.  The city is notable for multiple architectural styles, including Byzantine, Saracen and Norman. The Cattedrale di San Cataldo, right in the heart of old Taranto, dates back to the 11th century and houses the relics of the city’s patron saint, Cataldo. Taranto’s other must-see monument is the Castello Aragonese, built by King Ferdinand of Aragon in the 15th century.

Find a hotel in Taranto with TripAdvisor

The uniquely ornate setting of Italy's national tennis centre at the Foro Italico, home of the Italian Open
The uniquely ornate setting of Italy's national tennis centre
at the Foro Italico, home of the Italian Open
Travel tip:

Foro Italico, the sports complex in Rome that is the home of the Italian Open tennis championships, was built between 1928 and 1938 as the Foro Mussolini. Inspired by the Roman forums of the imperial age, its original purpose was to host the Olympic Games of 1940 as a showcase for Fascist values. In the event, the Second World War meant the 1940 Games were cancelled, although it was the main host venue for the Rome Olympics of 1960. The complex of today includes the Stadio Olimpico, home of Rome’s two major football clubs - Roma and Lazio - and the largest sports stadium in Italy, the ornate Stadio dei Marmi athletics stadium - headquarters of the Italian National Olympic Committee - and the national tennis centre, which - like the Stadio dei Marmi is surrounded by classical statues of athletes.

Rome hotels from Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

Why Sara Errani can be called Italy's most successful tennis player of all time

Francesca Schiavone - the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam

How Camila Giorgi became Italy's No 1

Also on this day:

1455: The death of Renaissance painter Fra Angelico

1564: The death of Michelangelo

1967: The birth of soccer star Roberto Baggio

(Picture credits: Main picture of Roberta Vinci by Regasterios; Vinci and Errani by Marianne Bevis; Castello Aragonese by Livioandronico2013; all via Wikimedia Commons)


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17 February 2019

17 February

Giovanni Pacini – opera composer


Works of overshadowed musician have enjoyed recent revival

Composer Giovanni Pacini, who wrote operas in the early part of the 19th century to suit the voices of the great singers of the period, was born on this day in 1796 in Catania in Sicily.  By the mid 1830s, Pacini had withdrawn from operatic activity after he found his operas eclipsed by those of Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini. After he returned with his opera, Saffo, in 1840, which generally hailed as his masterpiece, he found himself overshadowed by Giuseppe Verdi. Read more...


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Raffaele ‘Raf’ Vallone – actor


Movie star who had four careers

Raffaele Vallone, the stage and screen actor who was born on this day in 1916, was remarkable for having embarked on three different career paths before he made his acting debut. A former apprentice professional footballer, he quit to join his father’s legal practice before changing course again and becoming a journalist. Then, after interviewing the film director Giuseppe De Santis, he was offered a part in a neo-realist movie that became a box-office hit and found his true vocation. Read more...

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Giordano Bruno - 'martyr of science'


Dominican friar condemned as a heretic

Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar and philosopher who challenged orthodox Christian beliefs in the 16th century, died on this day in 1600 when he was burned at the stake as a heretic. Among the beliefs that contradicted Catholic wisdom was his contention that God did not exist in some personal form with human traits, that everything in the universe was made of tiny particles (atoms), that Earth revolved around the sun, rather than the other way round and that our sun was only one of an infinite number of suns in an endless universe, each surrounded by planets. Read more…

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Arcangelo Corelli – musician


Baroque composer had a major influence on the development of music

Violinist and composer Arcangelo Corelli was born on this day in 1653 at Fusignano, a small town near Ravenna.  He is remembered for his influence on the development of violin style and for his use of the genres of sonata and concerto. Both Bach and Handel are said to have studied his work and been influenced by him. Correlli’s 12 Concerti Grossi established the concerto grosso as a popular medium of composition. Corelli was also a brilliant teacher and among his many students was the young Antonio Vivaldi. Read more…

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Giovanni Pacini – opera composer

Works of overshadowed musician have enjoyed recent revival


Giovanni Pacini found himself overshadowed first by Bellini and Donizetti, then Verdi
Giovanni Pacini found himself overshadowed
first by Bellini and Donizetti, then Verdi
Composer Giovanni Pacini, who wrote operas in the early part of the 19th century to suit the voices of the great singers of the period, was born on this day in 1796 in Catania in Sicily.

Pacini began his formal music studies at the age of 12, when he was sent by his father, the opera singer Luigi Pacini, to study voice in Bologna with castrato singer and composer, Luigi Marchesi.

He soon switched his focus to composing and wrote an opera, La sposa fedele - The Faithful Bride. It was premiered in Venice in 1818 and, for its revival the following year, Pacini provided a new aria, to be sung specifically by the soprano Giuditta Pasta.

By the mid 1820s he had become a leading opera composer, having produced many successful serious and comic works.

Pacini’s 1824 work Alessandro nelle Indie - Alexander in the Indies - was a successful serious opera based on Andrea Leone Tottola’s updating of a text by librettist Pietro Metastasio.

But by the mid 1830s, Pacini had withdrawn from operatic activity after he found his operas eclipsed by those of Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini.

The title page of Pacini's opera, Saffo, regarded as his best
The title page of Pacini's opera,
Saffo, regarded as his best
He settled in Tuscany, where his father had been born, and he founded and directed a music school and theatre in Viareggio.

He also took on the post of maestro di cappella at the Palazzo Ducale in Lucca, where he began to compose liturgical music and he started to write articles on music and music criticism.

Pacini returned to composing with his opera, Saffo, in 1840, which differed stylistically from his earlier work and is generally hailed as his masterpiece. It was performed extensively in Italy, Europe and other parts of the world.

But he then found himself overshadowed by another opera composer, this time Giuseppe Verdi, who often addressed contemporary political issues in his work. Pacini instead began writing instrumental music.

He was the only significant composer of his time to write an autobiography, Le mie memorie artistiche - My Artistic Memoirs. Published in 1865, it has been read avidly by scholars as it gives a fascinating insight into Pacini’s career and life, during which he produced more than 70 operas.

Pacini died in 1867 in Pescia in Tuscany.

Since the 1980s there have been revivals and recordings of his works. His 1825 opera, L’ultimo giorno di Pompei - The Last Day of Pompei - was performed at the Festival delle Valle d’Itria in Martina Franca in 1996 and was then transferred to the Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania. A live recording of the Martina Franca performance was released in 1997 and re-released in 2012.

The Grand Hotel Royal in Viareggio is an example of the town's Liberty-style architecture
The Grand Hotel Royal in Viareggio is an example of
the town's Liberty-style architecture
Travel tip:

Viareggio, where Pacini opened a music school and theatre, is a popular seaside resort in Tuscany with excellent sandy beaches and some beautiful examples of Liberty-style architecture, such as the Grand Hotel Royal. There is a monument to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in Piazza Paolina because his body was washed up on the beach at Viareggio after he drowned during a storm in the Gulf of La Spezia.

Hotels in Viareggio from Expedia.co.uk

One of the streets in the centre of Pescia, the small town in Tuscany where Giovanni Pacini died in 1867
One of the streets in the centre of Pescia, the small
town in Tuscany where Giovanni Pacini died in 1867
Travel tip:

Pescia, where Giovanni Pacini died, is in the northern part of Tuscany, close to the beautiful towns of Lucca, Pistoia and Montecatini Terme. It is known as the ‘city of flowers’ because of its large wholesale flower market. In the church of San Francesco there are 13th century frescoes depicting the life of St Francis of Assisi, which are believed to be an accurate representation of the Saint because the artist, Bonaventura Berlinghieri, actually knew him.

Pescia hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:

Giuditta Pasta - the first soprano to sing Bellini's Norma

The short but successful career of Vincenzo Bellini

La Traviata - the world's favourite opera

Also on this day:

1600: Philosopher Giordano Bruno burned at the stake

1653: The birth of Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli

1916: The birth of movie actor Raf Vallone

(Saffo first page from the Central National Library of Florence; Grand Hotel Royal by Sailko; Pescia street by Davide Papalini; via Wikimedia Commons)


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16 February 2019

16 February

Achille Castiglioni 


Leading figure in post-war Italian style

The designer Achille Castiglioni, whose innovative ideas for lighting, furniture and items for the home put him at the forefront of Italy’s post-war design boom, was born on this day in 1918 in Milan. Many of his designs, including the Arco floor lamp for which he is most famous, are still in production today, even 17 years after his death. The Arco lamp, which he designed in 1962 in conjunction with his brother, Pier Giacomo, combined a heavy base in Carrara marble, a curved telescopic stainless steel arm and a polished aluminium reflector. Read more...


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Edda Dell’Orso – vocalist


Soprano was wordless voice of Morricone soundtracks

The singer Edda Dell’Orso, best known for the extraordinary range of wordless vocals that have featured in many of composer Ennio Morricone’s brilliant film soundtracks from the 1960s onwards, was born on this day in 1935 in Genoa. Her collaboration with Morricone began when he was contracted in 1964 to provide the musical score for the ‘spaghetti western’ A Fistful of Dollars but was offered only a small budget, which meant his access to a full orchestra was limited. Forced to improvise, he used the human voice as an instrument to create sounds. Read more…

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Giambattista Bodoni - type designer


Celebrity printer whose name lives on in type

Typographer, printer and publisher Giambattista Bodoni was born on this day in 1740 in Saluzzo in the region of Piedmont. At the height of his career he became internationally famous and was complimented by the Pope and paid a pension by Napoleon. Bodoni, whose father and grandfather were both printers, designed a modern typeface that was named after him and is still in use today. Read more…


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Valentino Rossi - motorcycle world champion


Rider from Urbino among his sport's all-time greats

Valentino Rossi, the motorcycle racer whose seven 500cc or MotoGP world titles have established him as one of the sport's all-time greats, was born on this day in 1979 in Urbino. Only his fellow Italian, Giacomo Agostini, the eight-times world champion, has more 500cc or MotoGP titles than Rossi, whose total of 89 race victories in the premier classification is the most by any rider.  Across all engine sizes, he has been a world champion nine times, behind only Agostini (15) and Spain's Ángel Nieto, who specialised in 50cc and 125cc classes.  Read more...

Achille Castiglioni - designer

Leading figure in post-war Italian style


Achille Castiglioni regarded furniture-making as art
Achille Castiglioni regarded
furniture-making as art
The designer Achille Castiglioni, whose innovative ideas for lighting, furniture and items for the home put him at the forefront of Italy’s post-war design boom, was born on this day in 1918 in Milan.

Many of his designs, including the Arco floor lamp for which he is most famous, are still in production today, even 17 years after his death.

The Arco lamp, which he designed in 1962 in conjunction with his brother, Pier Giacomo, combined a heavy base in Carrara marble, a curved telescopic stainless steel arm and a polished aluminium reflector.

Designed so that the reflector could be suspended above a table or a chair, the Arco was conceived as an overhead lighting solution for apartments that removed the need for holes in the ceiling and wiring, yet as an object of simple chic beauty it came to be seen as a symbol of sophistication and good taste.

The Arco lamp, anchored in a block of marble, is perhaps Castiglioni's most famous creation
The Arco lamp, anchored in a block of marble, is
perhaps Castiglioni's most famous creation
The Arco was commissioned by the Italian lighting company Flos, which still produces numerous other lamps designed by Castiglioni.

Achille’s father was the sculptor Giannino Castiglioni. His brothers Livio and Pier Giacomo, both older, were architects.

He initially studied classics at the Liceo classico Giuseppe Parini in Milan, but switched to study the arts at the Liceo artistico di Brera. In 1937 he enrolled in the faculty of architecture of the Politecnico di Milano.

As was common for young Italians of his generation, the Second World War interrupted Achille’s progress. He joined up, became an officer in the artillery, and was stationed on the Greek front and later in Sicily, returning to Milan just before the Allied invasion of 1943. In March 1944 he was able to graduate.

The Mezzadro chair incorporated a tractor seat mounted on a metal and wood base
The Mezzadro chair incorporated a tractor seat
mounted on a metal and wood base
He joined the studio his brothers ran with Luigi Caccia Dominioni, another young Italian architect and designer. They designed interiors and created products, among them the Fimi-Phonola 547 radio, an extraordinary piece in metal and moulded bakelite that fulfilled the need to be inexpensive but was uniquely stylish.

After the war, Italy entered a kind of mini-Renaissance, inspired with the sense of a new beginning. Designers gave free rein to their imagination, often placing art above functionality in the design process. Castiglioni managed to marry the two.

When Livio left in 1952, Achille and Pier Giacomo continued to work together on innovative, sleekly modern designs for everyday objects and appliances. One creation, a vacuum cleaner in red plastic with a leather strap that the user could carry on his or her back, made for the REM company, can now be found in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, along with more than a dozen other Castiglioni designs.

Lighting was always Achille Castiglioni's speciality, enabling him to indulge his fascination with symbolism and theatricality. From the 1960s to the ‘80s, seen as Milan’s heyday as the city of design - he applied the same creative strategy to a wide range of projects, as diverse as hi-fi equipment and hospital beds.

Castiglioni's unique bakelite radio, the  Fimi-Phonola 547
Castiglioni's unique bakelite radio, the
Fimi-Phonola 547
He embraced the concept of using ‘found objects’ to create unusual but functional furniture, such as his Sella - saddle - stool, which featured a bicycle seat atop a pole with a rounded base designed as a telephone stool. Another seating solution, the Mezzadro, incorporated a tractor seat.

In his later years, after Pier Giacomo's death, Achille remained active in the studio in Piazza Castello but also went back to college, this time to lecture in design, first at the Polytechnic of Turin and later as a professor at the Polytechnic of Milan.

Castiglioni, who was one of the founding members of Association for Industrial Design (Associazione per il Disegno Industriale), established in 1956, died in 2002 at the age of 84. He was survived by his wife, Irma, and three children.

Castiglioni's studio, now a museum, is close to Milan's magnificent Castello Sforzesco
Castiglioni's studio, now a museum, is close to Milan's
magnificent Castello Sforzesco
Travel tip:

Castiglioni’s studio in the Piazza Castello in Milan has been turned into a museum, looked after by his youngest daughter, Giovanna. It is also the headquarters of the Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, established in 2011 to celebrate his work but also to promote innovative and stylish design. Piazza Castello is the semi-circular space surrounding the Castello Sforzesco, Milan’s impressive 15th century castle, which can be found about a 20-minute walk from the Duomo in a northwesterly direction. The Fondazione, at Piazza Castello 27, is open to the public via guided visits only, which take about an hour and cost €10. For more information, visit http://fondazioneachillecastiglioni.it/en/visits/

Milan hotels from Hotels.com

The main building of the Politecnico di Milano in Piazza Leonardo da Vince in the Città Studi
The main building of the Politecnico di Milano in
Piazza Leonardo da Vince in the Città Studi
Travel tip:

The Politecnico di Milano was founded in November 1863 by Francesco Brioschi, secretary of the Ministry of Education and rector of the University of Pavia. It is the oldest university in Milan. Originally, only civil and industrial engineering were taught. Architecture was introduced in 1865 in cooperation with the Brera Academy. There were only 30 students admitted in the first year; today, there are 42,000. Its central offices and headquarters are on Piazza Leonardo da Vinci, located in the historical campus of Città Studi in Milan, about 3.5km (2 miles) northeast of the city centre.

Search for the best Milan hotels on TripAdvisor

More reading:

How Marco Zanuso's ideas put Italy at the forefront of contemporary design

The Rome designer who became England's Royal jeweller

Flaminio Bertoni: car design as sculpture

Also on this day:

1740: The birth of Giambattista Bodoni - printer and type designer

1935: The birth of Morricone's wordless vocalist Edda dell'Orso

1979: The birth of multiple world motorcycling champion Valentino Rossi

(Picture credits: Mezzadro chair by Sailko; Watch by austincalhoon; Castello Sforzesco by Gpaolo; Politecnico by Luigi Brambilla; all via Wikimedia Commons)


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