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.

25 August 2019

25 August

Vesuvius erupts

Terrible toll of Europe's worst volcanic catastrophe 

Mount Vesuvius erupted on this day in AD 79, burying the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis and Stabiae and causing the deaths of thousands of people.  An eyewitness account of the eruption, in which tons of stones, ash and fumes were ejected from the volcano, has been left behind for posterity by a Roman administrator and poet, Pliny the Younger, who described the event in his letters to the historian Tacitus.  Although there were at least three large eruptions of Vesuvius before AD 79 and there have been many since, the disaster in August AD 79 is considered the most catastrophic volcanic eruption in European history.  Mount Vesuvius had thrown out ash the day before and many people had left the area. But in the early hours of the morning of August 25, pyroclastic flows of hot gas and rock began to sweep down the mountain.  The flows were fast moving and knocked down all the structures in their path, incinerating or suffocating the people who had remained. Pliny noted there were also earth tremors and a tsunami in the Bay of Naples.  The remains of about 1500 people have been found at Pompeii and Herculaneum (Ercolano) but it is not known what percentage this represents of the overall death toll.  Read more…


Saint Patricia of Naples

Patron saint performs a miracle every week

The feast day of Saint Patricia is celebrated every year in Naples on this day.  The saint, who is also sometimes referred to as Patricia of Constantinople, is one of a long list of patron saints of Naples.  She is less well known than San Gennaro, also a patron saint of the city, who attracts crowds to Naples Cathedral three times a year to witness the miracle of a small sample of his blood turning to liquid.  But Saint Patricia’s blood, which is kept in the Church of San Gregorio Armeno, is said to undergo the same miraculous transformation every Tuesday morning as well as on August 25 each year - her feast day - which was believed to be the day she died in 665 AD.  Saint Patricia was a noble woman, who may have been descended from St Constantine the Great.  She was a devout virgin and travelled to Rome to become a nun in order to escape an arranged marriage.  She received the veil – symbolising her acceptance into the monastic community – from Pope Liberius.  When her wealthy father died, she returned to Constantinople and, renouncing any claim to the imperial crown, distributed her wealth among the poor.  Read more…


Galileo demonstrates potential of telescope

Scientist unveiled new instrument to Doge of Venice

The scientist and inventor Galileo Galilei demonstrated the wonders of the telescope to an audience of Venetian lawmakers on this day in 1609.  The 90th Doge, Leonardo Donato, and other members of the Venetian senate accompanied Galileo to the top of the campanile of St Mark’s Basilica, where each took it in turn to look through the instrument.  The meeting had been arranged by Galileo’s friend, Paolo Sarpi, who was a scientist, lawyer and statesman employed by the Venetian government. The two were both professors at the University of Padua.  Galileo, whose knowledge of the universe led him to be called the ‘father of observational astronomy’, was for many years wrongly credited with the invention of the telescope when in fact the first to apply for a patent for the device was a Dutch eyeglass maker named Hans Lippershey.  However, Galileo’s work using uncertain details of Lippershey’s design certainly took the idea to a different level.  Whereas Lippershey’s device magnified objects by about three times, Galileo eventually produced a telescope with a magnification factor of 30.  The one he demonstrated on August 25, 1609, is thought to have had a factor of about eight or nine.  Read more…


24 August 2019

24 August

Parmigianino - Mannerist painter

Artist from Parma left outstanding legacy

The artist Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola – better known as Parmigianino – died on this day in 1540 in Casalmaggiore, a town on the Po river south-east of Cremona in Lombardy.   Sometimes known as Francesco Mazzola, he was was only 37 years old when he passed away but had nonetheless made sufficient impact with his work to be regarded as an important influence on the period that followed the High Renaissance era of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.   Known for the refined sensuality of his paintings, Parmigianino – literally ‘the little one from Parma’ – was one of the first generation of Mannerist painters, whose figures exuded elegance and sophistication by the subtle exaggeration of qualities associated with ideal beauty.  Parmigiano is also thought to have been one of the first to develop printmaking using the technique known as etching and through this medium his work was copied, and circulated to many artistic schools in Italy and other countries in northern Europe, where it could be studied and admired.  Parmigianino’s figures would often have noticeably long and slender limbs and strike elegant poses. Read more…


Carlo Gambino - Mafia Don

Sicilian thought to be model for Mario Puzo's Godfather

Carlo Gambino, who would become one of the most powerful Mafia Dons in the history of organised crime, was born on this day in 1902 in Palermo, Sicily.  For almost two decades up to his death in 1976, he was head of the Gambino Crime Family, one of the so-called Five Families that have sought to control organised crime in New York under one banner or another for more than a century.  He is thought to have been the real-life Don that author Mario Puzo identified as the model for Vito Corleone, the fictional Don created for the best-selling novel, The Godfather.  During Gambino's peak years, the family's criminal activities realised revenues of an estimated $500 million per year.  Yet Gambino, who kept a modest house in Brooklyn and a holiday home on Long Island, claimed to make a living as a partner in a company that advised on labour relations.  Despite coming under intensive surveillance by the FBI, he managed to avoid prison during a life spent almost exclusively in crime.  Everything he did was planned meticulously to avoid detection, even down to communicating with associates through coded messages.  Read more…


Peppino De Filippo - comedian, actor and playwright

Talented Neapolitan who lived in shadow of his brother

The playwright and comic actor Peppino De Filippo was born Giuseppe De Filippo on this day in 1903 in Naples.  A highly accomplished performer on stage in serious as well as comedy roles, De Filippo also had a list of film credits numbering almost 100, of which he is best remembered for his screen partnership with the brilliant comic actor Totò.  To an extent, however, he spent his career in the shadow of his older brother, Eduardo De Filippo, who after Luigi Pirandello was regarded as the second great Italian playwright of the 20th century.  The two fell out in the 1940s for reasons that were never made clear, although it later emerged that they had many artistic differences.  They were never reconciled, and though Peppino went on to enjoy a successful career and was widely acclaimed it annoyed him that he was always seen as a minor playwright compared with his brother.  When Peppino published an autobiography in 1977, three years before he died, he called it Una famiglia difficile - A Difficult Family. In the book he described his relationship with his sister, Titina, as one of warmth and affection, but portrays Eduardo as something of a tyrant.  Read more…


23 August 2019

23 August

Pino Presti – bass player and composer

Talented musician could sing, play guitar, compose and conduct

Pino Presti, one of the most important personalities in the Italian music business, was born Giuseppe Prestipino Giarritta on this day in 1943 in Milan.  He is a bass guitar player, arranger, composer, conductor and record producer and his work ranges between the different music genres of pop, jazz, funk, latin and dance.  His father, Arturo Prestipino Giarritta, was a well-known violinist and Presti began studying piano and music theory at the age of six.  He taught himself to play the bass guitar and began playing professionally at the age of 17, having developed his own special technique using either the pick or thumb.  Presti was a pioneer of electric bass and was probably the first to play a Fender Jazz Bass in Italy.  His talent for playing the instrument led him to collaborate with the major Italian pop artists of the 1960s, including the famous singer, Mina, who is Italy's all-time top-selling female recording artist. Presti arranged and conducted 86 tracks and composed four songs for her, also sometimes backing her as a singer.  Among the many other artists he worked with were Bobby Solo, Gigliola Cinquetti and Adriano Celentano.  Read more…


Rita Pavone - teenage singing star

Precocious talent who conquered America

Rita Pavone, who was one of Europe's biggest teenage singing stars in the 1960s and was still performing live concerts as recently as 2014, was born on this day in 1945 in Turin. The singer had her first hit single when she was just 17 years old and enjoyed success at home and in America during a career that spanned more than five decades, going on to become an accomplished actress on television and in the theatre.  She announced she was quitting show business in 2006 but came out of retirement in 2013 to record two studio albums as a tribute to the stars who had influenced her throughout her career, then embarking on a series of live concerts in Italy in 2014 and performing in Toronto, Canada exactly 50 years after her first appearance there.  In 2016, she appeared in Ballando Con le Stelle - the Italian equivalent of the US show Dancing With the Stars and Britain's Strictly Come Dancing - and finished third with partner Simone de Pasquale, reaching the final despite being the oldest competitor.  Pavone spent her early years living in a two-room apartment in Turin.  She was the third of four children yet it was not until 1959 that the family was able to move somewhere bigger, in the Mirafiori district, when a scheme run by the FIAT factory where her father worked enabled employees to obtain a family home at low rent.  Read more…


Roberto Assagioli – psychiatrist

Harsh imprisonment sparked new psychiatric theories

Roberto Assagioli, the pioneering psychiatrist who founded the science of psychosynthesis, died on this day in 1974 in Capolona in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany.  His innovative psychological movement, which emphasised the possibility of progressive integration, or synthesis, of the personality, and aimed at finding inner peace and harmony, is still admired and is being developed by therapists and psychologists today.  Assagioli explained his ideas in four books - two published posthumously - and the many different pamphlets he wrote during his lifetime.  In 1940 the psychiatrist had to spend 27 days in solitary confinement in prison, having been arrested by Mussolini’s Fascist government for praying for peace and encouraging others to join him. He later claimed this experience helped him make his psychological discovery.  Assagioli was born under the name of Roberto Marco Grego in 1888 into a middle-class, Jewish background in Venice.  His father died when he was two years old and his mother remarried quickly to Alessandro Emanuele Assagioli.  Read more…


22 August 2019

22 August

Luca Marenzio – composer

Madrigal writer influenced Monteverdi

Luca Marenzio, a prolific composer of madrigals during the late Renaissance period, died on this day in 1599 in the garden of the Villa Medici on Monte Pincio in Rome.  Marenzio wrote at least 500 madrigals, some of which are considered to be the most famous examples of the form, and he was an important influence on the composer Claudio Monteverdi.  Born at Coccaglio, a small town near Brescia in 1553, Marenzio was one of seven children belonging to a poor family, but he received some early musical training at Brescia Cathedral where he was a choirboy.  It is believed he went to Mantua with the maestro di cappella from Brescia to serve the Gonzaga family as a singer.  Marenzio was then employed as a singer in Rome by Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo and, after the Cardinal’s death, he served at the court of Cardinal Luigi d’Este.  He travelled to Ferrara with Luigi d’Este and took part in the wedding festivities for Vincenzo Gonzaga and Margherita Farnese.  While he was there he wrote two books of madrigals and dedicated them to Alfonso II and Lucrezia d’Este.  Read more…


History’s first air raid

Balloon bombs dropped on Venice

Venice suffered the first successful air raid in the history of warfare on this day in 1849.  It came six months after Austria had defeated the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in the First Italian War of Independence as the Austrians sought to regain control of Venice, where the revolutionary leader Daniele Manin had established the Republic of San Marco.  The city, over which Manin’s supporters had seized control in March 1848, was under siege by the Austrians, whose victory over the Piedmontese army in March 1849 had enabled them to concentrate more resources on defeating the Venetians.  They had regained much of the mainland territory of Manin’s republic towards the end of 1848 and were now closing in on the city itself, having decided that cutting off resources while periodically bombarding the city from the sea would bring Venice’s capitulation.  However, because of the shallow lagoons and the strength of Venice’s coastal defences, there were still parts of the city that were out of the range of the Austrian artillery.  It was at this point that one of Austrian commander Josef von Radetzky’s artillery officers, Lieutenant Franz von Uchatius, came up with the unlikely idea of attaching bombs to unmanned balloons and letting the wind carry them into Venice.  Read more...


Bruno Pontecorvo - nuclear physicist

Defection to Soviet Union sparked unsolved mystery

Bruno Pontecorvo, a nuclear physicist who defected to the Soviet Union in 1950 and was suspected of espionage after working on research programmes in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, was born on this day in 1913 in Marina di Pisa.  One of eight children born to Massimo Pontecorvo - a Jewish textile manufacturer who owned three factories - Bruno was from a family rich in intellectual talent. One of his brothers was the film director Gillo Pontecorvo, another the geneticist Guido Pontecorvo.  After high school, he enrolled at the University of Pisa to study engineering, but after two years switched to physics in 1931. He received a doctorate to study at the University of Rome La Sapienza, where Enrico Fermi had gathered together a group of promising young scientists, whom he dubbed “the Via Panisperna boys” after the name of the street where the Institute of Physics  was then situated.  Fermi described the 18-year-old Pontecorvo as one of the brightest young men he had met and invited Pontecorvo to work with him on his experiments bombarding atomic nuclei with slow neutrons. Read more…


Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi – bishop

Progressive priest who shaped the destiny of a future Pope

Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi, Bishop of Bergamo, who was a mentor for the future Pope John XXIII, died on this day in 1914 in Bergamo.  He was Bishop of the Diocese of Bergamo from 1905 until his death and is remembered with respect because of his strong involvement in social issues at the beginning of the 20th century when he sought to understand the problems of working class Italians.  Radini-Tedeschi was born in 1857 into a wealthy, noble family living in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna.  He was ordained as a priest in 1879 and then became professor of Church Law in the seminary of Piacenza.  In 1890 he joined the Secretariat of State of the Holy See and was sent on a number of diplomatic missions.  In 1905 he was named Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bergamo by Pope Pius X and was consecrated by him in the Sistine Chapel.  Radini-Tedeschi was a strong supporter of Catholic trade unions and backed the workers at a textile plant in Ranica, a district of Bergamo Province, during a labour dispute.  Working for him as his secretary at the time was a young priest named Angelo Roncalli, who went on to become Pope John XXIII in 1958 but never forgot the values Radini-Tedeschi had taught him.  Read more…


Bruno Pontecorvo - nuclear physicist

Defection to Soviet Union sparked unsolved mystery 

Bruno Pontecorvo hailed from a family of talented individuals
Bruno Pontecorvo hailed from a family
of talented individuals
Bruno Pontecorvo, a nuclear physicist who defection to the Soviet Union in 1950 led to  suspicions of espionage after he had worked on research programmes in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, was born on this day in 1913 in Marina di Pisa.

One of eight children born to Massimo Pontecorvo - a Jewish textile manufacturer who owned three factories - Bruno was from a family rich in intellectual talent. One of his brothers was the film director Gillo Pontecorvo, another the geneticist Guido Pontecorvo.

After high school, he enrolled at the University of Pisa to study engineering, but after two years switched to physics in 1931. He received a doctorate to study at the University of Rome La Sapienza, where Enrico Fermi had gathered together a group of promising young scientists, whom he dubbed “the Via Panisperna boys” after the name of the street where the Institute of Physics  was then situated.

Fermi described the 18-year-old Pontecorvo as one of the brightest young men he had met and invited Pontecorvo to work with him on his experiments bombarding atomic nuclei with slow neutrons.

Everything changed, however, after Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government passed a series of race laws, one of which excluded Jews from participating in higher education.

Enrico Fermi (above) rated Pontecorvo as one of his brightest young scientists
Enrico Fermi (above) rated Pontecorvo
as one of his brightest young scientists
Pontecorvo fled to Paris to work at the laboratory of Frédéric Joliot-Curie. During this period, influenced by his cousin, Emilio Sereni, he became a supporter of the ideals of communism and married Marianne Nordblom, a Swedish woman working in Paris as a nanny.

When Paris was invaded by the Germans in 1940, he became unsettled again.  He could not return to Italy and instead travelled to the United States, where Fermi had also gone. His new wife accompanied him.

In 1943 Pontecorvo joined the Anglo-Canadian nuclear research team at Chalk River, Ontario. There he worked on the design of the world’s first nuclear reactor using heavy water as a neutron moderator.

Despite earlier being seen as “undesirable”, in 1948 he was granted British citizenship. He joined the Atomic Energy Authority research station at Harwell, Berkshire, where classified research was being conducted.

Once Mussolini had been toppled, Pontecorvo had felt comfortable to begin taking holidays in Italy but during on such trip, in 1950, instead of returning to London, he and Marianne and their three children flew to Stockholm in Sweden and then on to Helsinki in Finland, at which point they disappeared.

Pontecorvo worked in France, the United States and the United Kingdom before his defection in 1950
Pontecorvo worked in France, the United States and
the United Kingdom before his defection in 1950
Ten months earlier, one of Pontecorvo’s colleagues at Harwell, Klaus Fuchs, confessed to spying for the Soviet Union - be was blamed by the US for Russia's development of nuclear weapons - and there was speculation that Pontecorvo had followed suit.

Pontecorvo’s relatives, including his sister, Anna, who lived in London, were at a loss to explain his disappearance, insisting he had given no indication that he was planning to fly from Rome to Stockholm.

Nothing was heard of him until 1955, when Pontecorvo appeared at a press conference in Moscow to promote the peaceful use of nuclear power. He denied ever having worked on nuclear weapons research.

Nonetheless, amid speculation that he and Fuchs and others had seriously endangered the West, he was stripped of his British passport. It has never been established why he left so abruptly and there is no concrete evidence that he was ever a spy. An alternative theory is that, because of his links with Fuchs - although they were not close friends - he was under surveillance by agents from America's FBI and feared for his safety if he remained in the West.

He would remain in the Soviet Union for the rest of his life, mainly at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, outside Moscow.

Pontecorvo received numerous awards for his work in Russia, including the Lenin Prize (1963) and the Order of Lenin (1983). After his death,  the JINR founded the annual Bruno Pontecorvo Prize to honour work done in particle physics. 

In accordance with his wishes, half of Pontecorvo's ashes were buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, and another half in Dubna.

The yacht harbour at Marina di Pisa, the town where the Pontecorvo family grew up
The yacht harbour at Marina di Pisa, the town where
the Pontecorvo family grew up
Travel tip:

Pisa used to be one of Italy’s major maritime powers, rivalling Genoa and Venice, until silt deposits from the Arno river gradually changed the landscape and ultimately cut the city off from the sea in the 15th century. Nowadays, almost 15km (9 miles) inland, it is a university city renowned for its art and architectural treasures, notably the Campo dei Miracoli, formerly known as Piazza del Duomo, located at the northwestern end of the city, which contains the cathedral (Duomo), baptistery and famously the tilting campanile known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Marina di Pisa is situated where the Arno now meets the sea.  A popular seaside resort with a mix of sand and pebble beaches, it is home to the modern Port of Pisa yacht harbour.

The Via Panisperna (right) looking towards the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore from the junction with Via Cesare Balbo
The Via Panisperna (right) looking towards the Basilica di Santa
Maria Maggiore from the junction with Via Cesare Balbo
Travel tip:

The Via Panisperna is a Roman street that runs from Largo Angelicum, close to Trajan’s Forum and the Villa Aldobrandini in the direction of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. It forms part of the Rione Monti Roma district. It follows a straight, undulating path and crosses three of Rome’s seven hills - the Quirinale, the Viminale and the Esquilino.  The street is thought to take it name from the practice of the nearby convent of the Order of the Poor Clares for distributing “pane e perna” - bread and ham - among the local poor. The Church of San Lorenzo in Panisperna can reputedly trace its history to the reign of Emperor Constantine I in the early fourth century, only 100 years after the martyrdom of St Lawrence.

More reading:

Enrico Fermi - the Roman scientist who produced the world's first nuclear reactor

The first woman to head up Europe's major nuclear research body

Why Gillo Pontecorvo's most famous film was banned in France

Also on this day:

1599: The death of influential composer Luca Marenzio

1849: Austria launches world's first 'air raid' against Venice

1914: The death of Bishop Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi


21 August 2019

21 August

Emilio Salgari – adventure novelist

Author’s heroes and stories are still part of popular culture

Emilio Salgari, who is considered the father of Italian adventure fiction, was born on this day in 1862 in Verona.  Despite producing a long list of novels that were widely read in Italy, many of which were turned into films, Salgari never earned much money from his work. His life was blighted by depression and he committed suicide in 1911.  But he is still among the 40 most translated Italian authors and his most popular novels have been adapted as comics, animated series and films. Salgari was born into a family of modest means and from a young age wanted to go to sea. He studied seamanship at a naval academy in Venice but was considered not good enough academically and never graduated.  He started writing as a reporter on the Verona daily newspaper La Nuova Arena, which published some of his fiction as serials. He developed a reputation for having lived a life of adventure and claimed to have explored the Sudan, met Buffalo Bill in Nebraska and sailed the Seven Seas. He actually met Buffalo Bill during his Wild West Show tour of Italy and never ventured further than the Adriatic.  Read more…


Lino Capolicchio - actor

Acclaimed for role in Vittorio de Sica classic

The actor and director Lino Capolicchio, who starred in Vittorio de Sica’s Oscar-winning film The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, was born on this day in 1943 in Merano, an alpine town in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northern Italy.  Capolicchio appeared in more than 70 films and TV dramas, and dubbed the voice of Bo Hazzard in the Italian adaptation of the American action-comedy The Dukes of Hazzard.  As a director, he won awards for Pugili, a drama-documentary film set in the world of boxing based on his own storylines, but it is for The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, for which he won a David di Donatello award for best actor, that he is best remembered.  The movie is about a wealthy Jewish family in Ferrara in the 1930s, whose adult children, Micol and Alberto, enjoy blissful summers entertaining friends with tennis and parties in the garden the family’s sumptuous villa.  Capolicchio’s character, Giorgio, from another middle-class Jewish family, falls in love with Micol but she only toys with his attentions. In any event, everything changes with the outbreak of war as northern Italy’s Jewish population become targets for the Nazis and their Fascist allies.  Read more…


Giuseppe Meazza - Italy's first superstar

Inter striker who gave his name to the San Siro stadium

Italian football's first superstar, the prolific goalscorer Giuseppe Meazza, died on this day in 1969, two days before what would have been his 69th birthday.  Most biographical accounts of his life say Meazza was staying at his holiday villa in Rapallo, on the coast of Liguria, when he passed away but John Foot, the Italian football historian, says he died in Monza, much closer to his home city of Milan.  Meazza, who was equally effective playing as a conventional centre forward or as a number 10, spent much of his career with Internazionale, the Milan club for whom he scored a staggering 243 league goals in 365 appearances.  In the later stages of his career he left Inter after suffering a serious injury, initially joining arch rivals AC Milan.  A year after his death, the civic authorities in Milan announced that the stadium shared by the two clubs in the San Siro district of the city would be renamed Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in his honour.  Born in the Porta Vittoria area of Milan, not far from the centre, Meazza had a tough upbringing.  His father was killed in the First World War when Giuseppe was only seven.  Read more…


20 August 2019

20 August

Jacopo Peri – composer and singer

Court musician produced the first work to be called an opera

The singer and composer Jacopo Peri, also known as Il Zazzerino, was born on this day in 1561 in Rome.  He is often referred to as the ‘inventor of opera’ as he wrote the first work to be called an opera, Dafne, in around 1597.  He followed this with Euridice in 1600, which has survived to the present day although it is rarely performed. It is sometimes staged as an historical curiosity because it is the first opera for which the complete music still exists.  Peri was born in Rome to a noble family but went to Florence to study.  He started to work for the Medici court as a tenor singer and keyboard player and then later as a composer, producing incidental music for plays.  Peri’s work is regarded as bridging the gap between the Renaissance period and the Baroque period and he is remembered for his contribution to the development of dramatic vocal style in early Baroque opera.  Peri began working with Jacopo Corsi, a leading patron of music in Florence, and they decided to try to recreate Greek tragedy in musical form. They brought in a poet, Ottavio Rinuccini, to write a text and produced Dafne as a result. This is now believed to be the first opera.  Read more…


Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel – poet and revolutionary

Noblewoman who sacrificed her life for the principle of liberty

A writer and leader of the movement that established the Parthenopean Republic in Naples, Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel was hanged on this day in 1799 in a public square near the port.  A noblewoman, she would have expected her execution to be carried out by beheading, but had given up her title of marchioness when she became involved with the Jacobins, founded by supporters of the French Revolution, who were working to overthrow the monarchy.  Pimentel had asked to be beheaded anyway, but the restored Bourbon monarchy showed her no mercy, reputedly because she had written pamphlets denouncing Queen Maria Carolina as a lesbian.  On the day of her execution, Pimentel was reputed to have stepped calmly up to the gallows, quoting Virgil by saying: ‘Perhaps one day this will be worth remembering.’ She was 47 years of age.  Pimentel was born in Rome in 1752 into a noble Portuguese family. As a child she wrote poetry, read Latin and Greek and learnt to speak several languages.  Her family had to move to Naples because of political difficulties between Portugal and the Papal States, of which Rome was the capital.   Read more…


Stelvio Cipriani – composer

Musician wrote some of Italy’s most famous film soundtracks

Stelvio Cipriani, an award-winning composer of film scores, was born on this day in 1937 in Rome.  One of his most famous soundtracks was for the 1973 film, La polizia sta a guardare (also released as The Great Kidnapping). The main theme was used again by Cipriani in 1977 for the film, Tentacoli, and also featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof in 2007.  Although Cipriani did not come from a musical background, he was fascinated with the organ at his church when he was a child.  His priest gave him music lessons and then Cipriani went to study piano and harmony at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome at the age of 14.  His first job was playing in a band on a cruise ship and then he became the accompanist for the popular Italian singer, Rita Pavone.  Stelvio wrote his first movie soundtrack for the 1966 spaghetti western, The Bounty Killer. This was followed by a score for The Stranger Returns in 1967, starring Tony Anthony.   Stelvio was awarded a Nastro d’Argento for Best Score for the 1970 film The Anonymous Venetian.  This is still considered one of the best and most famous Italian film soundtracks.  Read more…