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 March 2019

19 March

Mario Monti – prime minister


‘Super Mario’ stepped in during debt crisis

Economist Mario Monti, who was prime minister of Italy from 2011 to 2013, was born on this day in 1943 in Varese in Lombardy. Monti was invited by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano to form a new government after the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi in November 2011 in the middle of the European debt crisis.  Monti, who was the 54th prime minister of Italy, led a government of unelected technocrats, who introduced austerity measures in Italy. He had been a European Commissioner from 1994 to 1999, where he obtained the nickname ‘Super Mario’ from his colleagues and the Press. As part of his government’s plan to tackle worsening economic conditions in Italy, Monti worked without a salary. He resigned as prime minister after the 2012 Budget was passed, as he had always pledged he would do. Read more…

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Giuseppe Mercalli - seismologist 

Scientist who invented Mercalli scale died in fire

The seismologist and volcanologist Giuseppe Mercalli, who at the time of his death was director of the Vesuvius Observatory, died in a fire at his home in Naples on this day in 1914. The initial suspicion was that Mercalli, best known for devising a scale - still used today - for determining the strength of earthquakes according to the intensity of shaking, had knocked over a paraffin lamp accidentally after falling asleep while working late. However, an examination of his remains suggested by may have been strangled after disturbing an intruder, who then soaked his clothes in petrol before setting light to them. A sum of money worth the equivalent of $1,400 (€1,250) today was missing, although no one was ever apprehended for the crime. Born in Milan, Mercalli was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. Read more...

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Benito Jacovitti - cartoonist


Multiple comic characters loved by generations 

Benito Jacovitti, who would become Italy's most famous cartoonist, was born on this day in 1923 in the Adriatic coastal town of Termoli. Jacovitti drew for a number of satirical magazines and several newspapers but also produced much work aimed at children and young adults. His characters became the constant companions of generations of schoolchildren for more than 30 years via the pages of Diario Vitt, the school diary produced by the publishers of the Catholic comic magazine Il Vittorioso, which had a huge readership among teenagers and young adults. He gave life to such characters as "the three Ps" - Pippo, Pertica and Pallo - as well as Chicchiriccì and Jack Mandolino via their cartoon adventures in Il Vittorioso, introduced Zorry Kid, a parody of Zorro, and the cowboy Cocco Bill. Read more...

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Francesco Gasparini – musician and writer


Opera composer who gave Vivaldi a job

Francesco Gasparini, one of the great Baroque composers, was born on this day in 1661 in Camaiore near Lucca in Tuscany. Gasparini also worked as a music teacher and was musical director of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice for about 15 years, where he made the inspired decision to employ a 25-year-old Antonio Vivaldi as a violin master. By the age of 17, Gasparini was a member of the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna. He moved to Rome, where he studied under the musicians Arcangelo Corelli and Bernardo Pasquini. After arriving in Venice in 1702, he became one of the leading composers in the city. Appointed in 1703, Vivaldi composed most of his major works while working at the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage where young girls were given a musical education. Read more...

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Giuseppe Mercalli - seismologist

Giuseppe Mercalli became southern Europe's biggest authority on earthquakes and volcanic activity
Giuseppe Mercalli became southern Europe's biggest
authority on earthquakes and volcanic activity

Scientist who invented Mercalli Scale died in fire


The seismologist and volcanologist Giuseppe Mercalli, who at the time of his death was director of the Vesuvius Observatory, died in a fire at his home in Naples on this day in 1914.

The initial suspicion was that Mercalli, who devised a scale for determining the strength of earthquakes according to the intensity of shaking, had knocked over a paraffin lamp accidentally after falling asleep while working late.

However, an examination of his remains suggested by may have been strangled after disturbing an intruder, who then soaked his clothes in petrol before setting light to them. A sum of money worth the equivalent of $1,400 (€1,250) today was missing, although no one was ever apprehended for the crime.

Born in Milan, Mercalli was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and became a professor of Natural Sciences at the seminary of Milan, although he left under something of a cloud because of his support for Antonio Rosmini, a controversial priest and philosopher who campaigned for social justice and was fiercely critical of various aspects of how the Roman Catholic church operated.

Mercalli collecting data on the edge of the crater of Vesuvius, with an aide on hand to keep him from falling
Mercalli collecting data on the edge of the crater of Vesuvius,
with an aide on hand to keep him from falling
After he had left, the Italian government appointed him a professor at Domodossola in Piedmont, followed by a post at Reggio di Calabria. He was professor of geology at the University of Catania in the late 1880s and was given a post at the Naples University in 1892. He became director of the Vesuvius Observatory in 1911.

He is best remembered for the Mercalli intensity scale for measuring earthquakes which, in modified form, is still used today.

While studying seismic activity in Italy in the late 19th century, Mercalli’s access to seismic instrumentation was limited. Most of Mercalli's information came from personal accounts and observations of damage. To provide consistency in his analyses, he decided he needed a way to measure the relative effects of each event.

He first developed a scale with six degrees, with the most disastrous earthquakes given an intensity of six, but felt that this did not provide enough precision.  Another intensity scale called the deRossi-Forel scale that was gaining in prominence at the same time had the advantage of 10 degrees of intensity, although Mercalli felt it lacked meaningful description.

Mercalli was ordained as a priest before beginning his scientific career
Mercalli was ordained as a priest before
beginning his scientific career
In 1902, Mercalli modified this 10-degree scale to include the detail he desired, and his new scale quickly caught on among European scientists

Mercalli also observed eruptions of the volcanoes Stromboli and Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands and his descriptions of these eruptions became the basis for two indices in the Volcanic Explosivity Index: 1 - Strombolian eruption, and 2 - Vulcanian eruption.

The scale has been tweaked by various other seismologists but remains the basis for determining an earthquake’s intensity. It is now known as the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale.

Mercalli also engaged in detailed cataloguing of Italian earthquakes, which enabled him to produce a book - I vulcani e fénomeni vulcanici in Italia - which he used to assemble a clear picture of where most of the events happened.

Mercalli's work built his reputation across southern Europe, and he was often called upon to study events throughout the continent.  He travelled to Spain in 1884 to examine the aftermath of the Andalusian earthquake, and in 1887 Mercalli was the lead investigator of the deadly event in Imperia along the French and Italian Riviera.

He became famous even beyond scientific circles, to the extent that his death and the speculation over the circumstances was reported in the New York Times.

Some fascinating buildings line Piazza Mercato in the  medieval heart of Domodossola
Some fascinating buildings line Piazza Mercato in the
medieval heart of Domodossola
Travel tip:

The name Domodossola is familiar to many Italian children as a line - ‘D’ is for Domodossola - recited in learning the alphabet at school. It is, in fact, a very pleasant town in northern Piedmont, close to the border with Switzerland and the last town at the Italian end of the Simplon Pass and the Simplon railway tunnel. Domodossola has a charming medieval centre around the Piazza Mercato, which has a number of interesting buildings. The Collegiale Church of Santi Gervasio and Protasio is the town’s most important church, while just outside the town is the Sacro Monte Calvario, a Roman Catholic sanctuary that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Palazzo Silva in Piazza Chiossi houses a civic museum. The area is surrounded by outstanding Alpine countryside, which can be admired from a light railway linking Domodossola and Locarno in Switzerland.

Hotels in Domodossola from Hotels.com

The vast crater of Mount Vesuvius, which remains classified as an active volcano despite being quiet since 1944
The vast crater of Mount Vesuvius, which remains classified
as an active volcano despite being quiet since 1944
Travel tip:

The Vesuvius Observatory today is part of the Mount Vesuvius National Park, which was created in 1955. The crater of the volcano itself is accessible to visitors, albeit by guided tour only, and there is a road to within 200 metres of it, but after that the ascent is on foot only.  The crater is about 200 metres deep and has a maximum diameter of about 600 metres. The climb is said to be well worth it because the view takes in the entire coastline from the Gulf of Gaeta, some 84km (52 miles) to the north, to the Sorrento peninsula. Visitors can take the Naples-Sorrento line of the Circumvesuviana railway and get off at Ercolano station, from where a shuttle bus runs to the park. As well as the observatory, there is a museum, a visitor centre, a restaurant and a shop where you can buy Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio, the wine made from the grapes grown on the sloped of the volcano.

Naples hotels from Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

1944 - the last Vesuvius eruption

How Italy's worst earthquake almost destroyed Messina and Reggio Calabria

The devastating quake that led to an architectural golden age

Also on this day:

1661: The birth of Venetian composer Francesco Gasparini, who gave Vivaldi a job

1923: The birth of cartoonist Benito Jacovitti

1943: The birth of politician Mario Monti, who was Italy’s prime minister from 2011 to 2013

(Picture credits: Mercalli on slopes of Vesuvius by Sailko; Domodossola by Little Joe; Vesuvius crater by S J Pinkney)

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18 March 2019

18 March

Mount Vesuvius – the 1944 eruption


The last time the volcano was seen to blow its top

Mount Vesuvius, the huge volcano looming over the bay of Naples, erupted on this day in 1944. Vesuvius is the only volcano on mainland Europe to have erupted during the last 100 years and is a constant worry because of its history of explosive eruptions and the large number of people living close by. It is most famous for its eruption in AD 79, which buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and is believed to have killed thousands of people. There were at least three larger eruptions of Vesuvius before AD 79 and there have been many since, including one in 1631 that buried villages under lava flows and killed about 300 people. The 1944 went on for several days, destroying three villages nearby and about 80 planes belonging to the US Army Air Forces, which were based at an airfield close to Pompeii. Read more...

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The Five Days of Milan


Citizens rebel to drive out ruling Austrians

The Five Days of Milan, one of the most significant episodes of the Risorgimento, began on this day in 1848 as the citizens of Milan rebelled against Austrian rule. More than 400 Milanese citizens were killed and a further 600 wounded but after five days of street battles the Austrian commander, Marshal Josef Radetzky, withdrew his 13,000 troops from the city. The 'Cinque Giornate' uprising sparked the First Italian War of Independence between the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Austrian Empire, which ruled much of northern Italy in the early part of the 19th century and they maintained a harsh regime. The Milan riots followed the imposition of tax increases and the use of soldiers to ensure that everybody paid. Soon after the Milan riots, an insurrection in Venice also succeeded in ejecting Austrian forces. By March 23, Charles Albert of Savoy had declared war on Austria. Read more...

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Bobby Solo - pop singer


Sixties star found fame after Sanremo disqualification

Bobby Solo, who was twice winner of Italy's prestigious Sanremo Festival yet had his biggest hit with a song that was disqualified, was born Roberto Satti on this day in 1945 in Rome. Solo won the contest in 1965 and 1969 but it was the controversy over his 1964 entry that thrust him into the spotlight. The format for the competition, which aims to select the best song rather than the best artist, requires each entry to be sung by two artists, one a native Italian, the other an international guest star. In 1964, Solo was paired with the American singer Frankie Laine but was stricken with a throat problem. Rather than withdraw, he sang the song with the help of a backing track, only to be told afterwards that this was against the rules. The song - Una lacrima sul viso (A Tear on Your Face) - was disqualified but attracted such attention that it became the first record in Italy to sell more than a million copies, setting Solo on the way to a highly successful career. Read more...

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17 March 2019

17 March

Gabriele Ferzetti - actor


Starred in classic Italian films as well as Bond movie

The actor Gabriele Ferzetti, best known to international audiences for his role in the 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but in Italy for the Michelangelo Antonioni classic L’Avventura (1960), was born on this day in 1925 in Rome. Rarely idle, he made more than 160 films and appeared in countless TV dramas and was still working at 85 years old.
His intense performance as Antonioni’s wealthy yet unfulfilled playboy opposite Monica Vitti in L’Avventura was the role that identified him most as an actor of considerable talent, yet he was also memorable as the unscrupulous Morton, the railroad magnate who hobbled around on crutches in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), and as Marc Ange-Draco, the sophisticated Mafia boss who joins forces with James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was George Lazenby’s only outing as 007. Read more…

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Giovanni Trapattoni - football coach


His seven Serie A titles is unequalled achievement

Giovanni Trapattoni, the former Juventus and Internazionale coach who is one of only four coaches to have won the principal league titles of four different European countries, was born on this day in 1939 in Cusano Milanino, a suburb on the northern perimeter of Milan. The most successful club coach in the history of Serie A, he won seven titles, six with Juventus and one with Inter. Trapattoni has also won the German Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, the Portuguese Primeira Liga with Benfica and the Austrian Bundesliga with Red Bull Salzburg. Trapattoni is one of only two coaches to have won all three major European club competitions - the European Cup, the UEFA Cup and the now defunct European Cup-Winners' Cup - and the only one to do it with the same club. Read more…

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Innocenzo Manzetti - inventor


Made prototype telephone 33 years ahead of Bell

The inventor Innocenzo Manzetti, credited by some scientific historians as having been the creator of a forerunner of the telephone many years ahead of his compatriot Antonio Meucci and the Scottish-American Alexander Graham Bell, was born on this day in 1826 in Aosta, in northwest Italy. Manzetti's extraordinary catalogue of inventions included a steam-powered car, a hydraulic water pump, a pendulum watch that would keep going for a whole year and a robot that could play the flute. But he was a man whose creative talents were not allied to business sense.  Like Meucci, a Florentine emigrant to New York who demonstrated a telephone-like device in 1860 - 16 years before Bell was granted the patent - Manzetti did not patent his device and therefore missed out on the fortune that came the way of Bell. Read more…

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Kingdom of Italy proclaimed


First King of Italy calls himself Victor Emmanuel II

The newly-unified Kingdom of Italy was officially proclaimed on this day in 1861 in Turin. The first Italian parliament to meet in the city confirmed Victor Emmanuel as the first King of the new country. It was the monarch's own choice to call himself Victor Emmanuel II, rather than Victor Emmanuel I. This immediately provoked criticism from some factions, who took it as implying that Italy had always been ruled by the House of Savoy.  Victor Emmanuel I, with whom Victor Emmanuel II had ancestral links, had been King of Sardinia - ruled by the Dukes of Savoy - from 1802 until his death in 1824. Victor Emmanuel II had become King of Sardinia in 1849 after his father, Charles Albert, abdicated. The Kingdom of Sardinia is considered to be the legal predecessor to the Kingdom of Italy. Indeed, the new king appointed Count Camillo Benso of Cavour, who had been prime minister of Sardinia-Piedmont, as the first prime minister of the united Italy. Read more...

Gabriele Ferzetti - actor

Starred in classic Italian films as well as Bond movie


Gabriele Ferzetti appeared in more than 160 movies and many TV dramas
Gabriele Ferzetti appeared in more than 160
movies and many TV dramas
The actor Gabriele Ferzetti, best known to international audiences for his role in the 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but in Italy for the Michelangelo Antonioni classic L’Avventura (1960), was born on this day in 1925 in Rome.

Ferzetti, who cut a naturally elegant and debonair appearance, was the go-to actor for handsome, romantic leads in the early part of his career and although he was ultimately eclipsed to some extent by Marcello Mastroianni, he seemed equally content with prominent supporting roles. Rarely idle, he made more than 160 films and appeared in countless TV dramas and was still working at 85 years old.

His intense performance as Antonioni’s wealthy yet unfulfilled playboy opposite Lea Massari and Monica Vitti in L’Avventura was the role that identified him most as an actor of considerable talent. Ferzetti had played a similar character in another Antonioni classic Le amiche (1955).

Outside Italian cinema, he was memorable as the unscrupulous Morton, the railroad magnate who hobbled around on crutches in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), and as Marc Ange-Draco, the sophisticated Mafia boss who joins forces with James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was George Lazenby’s only outing as 007.

With Lea Massari in his most famous role in the  Antonioni classic L'Avventura
With Lea Massari in his most famous role in the
Antonioni classic L'Avventura
Although Ferzetti spoke very good English, his accent was heavily Italian and he was dubbed in both roles.

In Rome, Ferzetti won a scholarship to attend the Silvio d’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Art, although his studies were abruptly cut short when he was expelled for appearing with a professional theatrical troupe.

It did not set him back too severely. After playing the young shepherd Sylvius in Luchino Visconti’s 1948 stage production of As You Like It, he won small roles in several films and quickly worked his way up to becoming a leading man.

The first movie to bring him wide recognition was Mario Soldati’s La provinciale (1953), which was packaged for English-speaking audiences as The Wayward Wife. Despite the nature of the production as a vehicle for the rising star Gina Lollobrigida in the title role, Ferzetti was superb as her bespectacled science professor husband.

Monica Vitti in another scene from L'Avventura
Monica Vitti in another scene from L'Avventura
In the same year he landed the title role in the big-budget production Puccini, directed by Carmine Gallone, in which he portrayed the philandering Italian opera composer from his student days to a man in his 80s. He was Puccini again in House of Ricordi (1954), about the music-publishing house.

Ferzetti was first cast by Antonioni in Le Amiche (The Girl Friends) (1955), which won a Silver Lion at the Venice film festival.

When Antonioni summoned him again for L’Avventura, it ended a five-year period of rather mediocre films that did Ferzetti no favours, so the chance to play his weak and disillusioned character, a failed architect whose lover disappears while they are sharing a sailing trip around Sicily with wealthy friends, could not have come at a more opportune moment. L’Avventura won the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Ferzetti was acclaimed for his portrayal of the the playboy composer Giacomo Puccini
Ferzetti was acclaimed for his portrayal of the
the playboy composer Giacomo Puccini
His career still had a long time to run but the consensus is that nothing Ferzetti did in subsequent films stood up particularly well next to his performance in L’Avventura, although his Draco, the gentlemanly mafia boss who helps Bond track down his arch-enemy Blofeld, was a memorable character.

Ferzetti was hailed later for his portrayal of a psychiatrist trying to cover up his Nazi past in Liliana Cavani’s controversial The Night Porter (1974), a study of a sadomasochistic relationship between another former Nazi (Dirk Bogarde) and the woman he raped in a concentration camp (Charlotte Rampling).

By the 1990s, Ferzetti was appearing more frequently on television but there were still a few big-screen triumphs to come, notably as the Duke of Venice in Oliver Parker’s Othello and, in 2009, by which time he was 84, as the head of a wealthy Milanese industrial family in Io sono l’amore - I Am Love - directed by Luca Guadagnino.

Married twice and with a daughter, Anna, Ferzetti died in December 2015 at the age of 90.

Parioli's tree-lined boulevards make it one of the most attractive residential areas in Rome
Parioli's tree-lined boulevards make it one of the most
attractive residential areas in Rome
Travel tip:

Rome’s Silvio D’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Art, which has been attended by many aspiring actors, can be found in Via Vincenzo Bellini where it meets Via Guido d’Arezzo in the Parioli district of Rome, between the Villa Borghese gardens and the vast Parco di Villa Ada. It was opened in 1936. D'Amico, a theatre critic and writer who was a friend of Nobel prize winner Luigi Pirandello and French theatre director Jacques Copeau, was appointed Special Commissioner for the reform of the drama school and led the academy for many years.The academy now has university status.  Parioli is regarded as Rome’s most elegant residential area.

Travel tip:

L’Avventura was filmed partly on location in the Aeolian Islands, a cluster of eight small islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. The best known is undoubtedly Stromboli, an active volcano known as the ‘lighthouse of the Mediterranean’ on account of the molten lava that streams down the side of the visible 3,000ft (914m) of the mountain with every eruption, of which there are many. The largest of the islands is Lipari, which has a population of 12,000 people and is not unlike Capri in appearance, but with a fraction of the tourists. Salina, famed for its capers and sweet Malvasia wine, was used for the movie Il Postino while Panarea, which has a resident population of only 280, has become a fashionable celebrity hang-out. Yachts owned by Giorgio Armani and Roman Abramovich have regularly been spotted in the small harbour.

More reading:

Michelangelo Antonioni - the 'last great' of postwar Italian cinema

How enigmatic beauty Monica Vitti also excelled in comedy roles

Marcello Mastroianni - the film star who immortalised the Trevi Fountain

Also on the day:

1826: The birth of inventor Innocenzo Manzetti

1861: The newly-created Kingdom of Italy is proclaimed in Turin

1939: The birth of football coach Giovanni Trapattoni


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16 March 2019

16 March

Aldo Moro - Italy's tragic former prime minister


Politician kidnapped and murdered by Red Brigades

Italy and the wider world were deeply shocked on this day in 1978 when the former Italian prime minister, Aldo Moro, was kidnapped in a violent ambush that claimed the lives of his five bodyguards. The attack took place on Via Mario Fani, a few minutes from Signor Moro's home in the Monte Mario area of Rome, during the morning rush hour.  Moro, a 61-year-old Christian Democrat politician, was being driven to the Palazzo Montecitorio for a session of the Chamber of Deputies. As Moro’s car paused in traffic, it was blocked in by four Fiat saloons containing Red Brigades terrorists. Moro was pulled from his car while his bodyguards were shot dead. The politician was held captive for 55 days before his body was found in the boot of a Renault car in Rome's historic centre on May 9. Read more...

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Bernardo Bertolucci - film director


Caused outrage with Last Tango in Paris

The controversial filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci was born on this day in 1940 in Parma. Bertolucci won an Oscar for best director as The Last Emperor picked up an impressive nine Academy Awards in 1988 but tends to be remembered more for the furore that surrounded his 1972 movie Last Tango in Paris, starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider, which caused outrage for its portrayal of sexual violence and emotional turmoil and was banned in Italy. Schneider claimed many years later that she felt violated after one particularly graphic scene. The controversy has overshadowed what has otherwise been an outstanding career, Bertolucci’s movies placing him in the company of Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti and Franco Zeffirelli among the greatest Italian directors. Read more…

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Emilio Lunghi - athlete


Italy's first Olympic medallist 

Emilio Lunghi, a middle-distance runner who was the first to win an Olympic medal in the colours of Italy, was born on this day in 1886 in Genoa. Competing in the 800 metres at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, Lunghi took the silver medal behind the American Mel Sheppard. In a fast-paced final, Lunghi's time was 1 minute 54.2 seconds, which was 1.8 seconds faster than the previous Olympic record buts still 1.4 seconds behind Sheppard. It was the same Olympics at which Lunghi's compatriot Dorando Pietri was controversially disqualified after coming home first in the marathon, when race officials took pity on him after he collapsed from exhaustion after entering the stadium and helped him across the line. Read more…

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15 March 2019

15 March

Cesare Beccaria - jurist and criminologist


Enlightened philosopher seen as father of criminal justice

The jurist and philosopher Cesare Beccaria, who is regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of the so-called Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, and whose writings had a profound influence on justice systems all over the world, was born on this day in 1738 in Milan. As the author of a treatise On Crimes and Punishments (1764), which was a ground-breaking work in the field of criminal law and the approach to punishing offenders, Beccaria is considered by many academics to be the father of criminal justice.  The treatise condemned the death penalty and torture and outlined five principles for an effective system of criminal justice that still form the bedrock of criminal law in many countries around the world. Read more…

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Salvator Rosa – artist


Exciting Baroque painter inspired others

Salvator Rosa, a fiery and flamboyant character who was a poet and actor as well as an artist, died on this day in 1673 in Rome. One of the least conventional artists of 17th century Italy, he was adopted as a hero by painters of the Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries. He mainly painted landscapes, but also depicted scenes of witchcraft, revealing his interest in the less conventional ideas of his age. These scenes were also sometimes the background for his etchings and the satires he wrote, some of which caused offence to other artists and he notably fell out with the great Roman sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Read more…

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The murder of Julius Caesar


He came, saw, conquered... and was assassinated

Statesman and soldier Gaius Julius Caesar was murdered on this day in 44 BC in Rome. His death made the Ides of March, the day on the Roman calendar devised by Caesar that corresponds to 15 March, a turning point in Roman history, one of the events that marked the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. Caesar’s invasion of Gaul took several years and was the most costly and destructive campaign ever undertaken by a Roman commander. Afterwards, Caesar crossed the Rubicon - a river that formed a northern border of Italy - with a legion of troops, entered Rome illegally, and established himself as a dictator dressed in royal robes. On the Ides of March, Caesar was stabbed to death by a group of rebellious senators led by Marcus Junius Brutus. Read more…

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Giuseppe Mezzofanti - hyperpolyglot


Roman Catholic Cardinal could speak 38 languages

The death occurred in Rome on this day in 1849 of Cardinal Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti, a prodigiously talented academic renowned for his command of multiple foreign languages. Defined as a hyperpolyglot - someone who is fluent in six languages or more - Mezzofanti is said to have full command of at least 38. The majority were European, Mediterranean or Middle Eastern languages - mainstream and regional - but he was also said to be fluent in Chinese languages, Russian, plus Hindi and Gujarati. His fame was such that he became something of an international celebrity, although he never actually left Italy, living the early part of his life in his home city of Bologna, before moving to Rome. Visiting dignitaries from all over the world would ask to be introduced to him, ready to be awestruck as he slipped effortlessly into their native tongue. Read more...

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