Let Italy’s culture signpost you to beautiful cities and sights not to be missed. Visit this website daily to read about anniversaries, events and festivals that will highlight all the wonderful places to see and the best food and wine to try.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Trieste becomes part of Italy

Fascinating city retains influences from past rulers

The harbour of Trieste in 1885, when it was still under the control of Austria
The harbour of Trieste in 1885, when it was still under
the control of Austria
The beautiful seaport of Trieste officially became part of the Italian Republic on this day in 1954.

Trieste is now the capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, one of the most prosperous areas of Italy.

The city lies towards the end of a narrow strip of land situated between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia and it is also just 30 kilometres north of Croatia.

Trieste has been disputed territory for thousands of years and throughout its history has been influenced by its location at the crossroads of the Latin, Slavic and Germanic cultures.

Remnants of Trieste's Roman past are still visible
Remnants of Trieste's Roman
past are still visible
It became part of the Roman Republic in 177 BC and was granted the status of a Roman colony by Julius Ceasar in 51 BC.

In 788 Trieste was conquered by Charlemagne on behalf of the French but by the 13th century was being occupied by the Venetian Republic.

Austria made the city part of the Hapsburg domains in the 14th century but it was then conquered again by Venice. The Hapsburgs recovered Trieste in the 16th century and made it an important port and a commercial hub.

Trieste fell into French hands during the time of Napoleon but then became part of Austrian territory again.

Italy annexed Trieste at the end of the First World War after finishing on the winning side. By the 1930s, thousands of the resident Slovenians had left Trieste to go and live in either Yugoslavia or South America.

During the Second World War the city was occupied by German troops but after briefly being occupied by communist Yugoslavia it was taken back by the Allies in 1945 and came under a joint British and US military administration.

Trieste today is a busy city of many dimensions
Trieste today is a busy city of many dimensions
In 1947 the Paris Peace Treaty established Trieste as free territory. It was divided into two zones, one governed by American troops and one by Yugoslav troops. In 1954 the city of Trieste and part of the zone governed by the Americans was given back to Italy and the territory in the other zone was given to Yugoslavia.

The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo and this is now the present day border between Italy and Slovenia.

Today, Trieste is a lively and cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building.

In 2012, Lonely Planet called Trieste ‘the world’s most underrated travel destination’.

Inside one of Trieste's typical cafés
Inside one of Trieste's typical cafés
It is a fascinating place to visit because of the Venetian, Slovenian, Austrian and Hungarian influences in the architecture, culture and cuisine.

As well as Italian, the local dialect Triestino is spoken along with Slovenian, German and Hungarian.

If you stroll along the sea front you experience the atmosphere of being in a major Italian port and there are many excellent fish restaurants to try. Away from the sea you will find restaurants serving traditional Italian, Friulian, Slovenian, Hungarian and Austrian dishes.

Look out for Tocai Friulano, sometimes just labelled Friulano, which is a good quality, local white wine.

Travel tip:

When in Trieste, visit one of the typical coffee houses that date back to the Hapsburg era, such as Caffe Tommaseo, the oldest café in the city. Or, find out why Irish writer James Joyce enjoyed living in Trieste for so many years by dropping into his favourite bar, Caffe Pirona.

Trieste's Canal Grande has echoes of Venice
Trieste's Canal Grande has echoes of Venice
Travel tip:

You could imagine yourself to be in Venice if you linger at a table outside one of the bars or restaurants at the side of Canal Grande, an inlet in the centre of Trieste with moorings for small crafts that is reminiscent of the Grand Canal.

More reading

Writer from Trieste immortalised by James Joyce in his epic novel Ulysses

The fall of the Republic of Venice


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Evangelista Torricelli – inventor of the barometer

Physicist's name lives on in scientific terminology

Evangelista Torricelli: a portrait by Lorenzo Lippi, shortly before he died
Evangelista Torricelli: a portrait by
Lorenzo Lippi, shortly before he died
The inventor of the barometer, Evangelista Torricelli, died on this day in 1647 in Florence at the age of just 39.

A disciple of Galileo, Torricelli made many mathematical and scientific advances during his short life and had an asteroid and a crater on the moon named after him.

Torricelli was born into a poor family from Faenza in the province of Ravenna.

He was given a basic education in Faenza and then sent to a Jesuit college to study Mathematics and Philosophy.

He studied science under the Benedictine monk, Benedetto Castelli, a professor of Mathematics at the Collegio della Sapienza, now known as the Sapienza University of Rome, who had been a student of Galileo Galilei.

Torricelli also became an admirer of Galileo and, after the great scientist’s Dialogues of the New Science were published, Torricelli wrote to him telling him he had read it with ‘delight’.

Galileo was condemned by the Vatican in 1633 for his beliefs and held prisoner at his villa in Arcetri. For the last three months of Galileo’s life, Torricelli worked for him there as his secretary and assistant.

Early barometers based on Torricelli's findings
Early barometers based on
Torricelli's findings
After Galileo’s death the Grand Duke Ferdinand II de Medici asked Torricelli to succeed Galileo as Chair of Mathematics at the University of Pisa.

In this role Torricelli solved some of the great mathematical problems of the day and described his observations in his book, Opera Geometrica. His work contributed to the eventual development of integral calculus.

Torricelli was also interested in optics and designed and built telescopes and microscopes.

But his most important invention was the mercury barometer, which he produced after he had discovered the principle of the barometer while trying to find a solution to the limitations of the suction pump in forcing water upwards.

He designed a kind of vacuum pump using mercury. He filled a metre-long glass tube, closed at one end, with mercury and inverted the tube so that the open end rested on the bottom of a vessel containing more mercury.  The mercury in the tube fell until it reached the point at which the weight of the mercury in the tube was balanced against the pressure exerted by air on the mercury in the vessel, leaving a vacuum at the top of the tube.

The statue of Torricelli in Faenza
The statue of Torricelli in Faenza
Torricelli noted that the height of the mercury in the column varied from day to day, which he concluded was due to changes in atmospheric pressure. In 1644, he turned these discoveries into the first instrument to measure atmospheric pressure.

Scientific terms such as the Torricellian tube and Torricellian vacuum are named after the scientist, as is the torr, a unit of pressure in vacuum measurements. Torricelli’s Law refers to the speed of a fluid flowing out of an opening and Torricelli’s Trumpet relates to mathematical discoveries he made about infinity.

Torricelli died in Florence ten days after his 39th birthday and was buried at the Basilica of San Lorenzo.

Several Italian submarines have been named after Torricelli in honour of his work.

Travel tip:

A statue of Torricelli was erected in 1868 in Faenza, the city where he was born and educated, in recognition of all he had done to advance science during his short lifetime. The white marble statue can be found in the park of San Francesco in Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi.

An example of faience majolica-ware
An example of faience majolica-ware
Travel tip:

Faenza is in the Emilia-Romagna region, about 50 kilometres south east of Bologna. The city is famous for the manufacture of a type of decorative majolica-ware known as faience. It is also home to the International Museum of Ceramics, which has examples of ceramics from ancient times, the Middle Ages and the 18th and 19th centuries as well as displaying work by important contemporary artists. The museum is in Viale Baccarini in Faenza. For more information visit www.micfaenza.org.

More reading:

(Picture of faience plate by Rosco CC BY-SA 2.5)


Monday, 24 October 2016

Tito Gobbi – baritone

Singer found fame on both stage and screen

Tito Gobbi, pictured in 1955
Tito Gobbi, pictured in 1955
Opera singer Tito Gobbi was born on this day in 1913 in Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto region.

He had a career that lasted 44 years and sang more than 100 different operatic roles on stages all over the world.

Gobbi also sang in 25 films and towards the end of his career directed opera productions throughout Europe and America.

His singing talent was discovered by a family friend while he was studying law at the University of Padua, who suggested that he studied singing instead. As a result, Gobbi moved to Rome in 1932 to study under the tenor, Giulio Crimi.

At his first audition he was accompanied at the piano by Tilde De Rensis, the daughter of musicologist Raphael De Rensis. She was later to become Gobbi’s wife.

Gobbi made his debut in 1935 in Gubbio, singing the role of Count Rodolfo in Vincenzo Bellini’s La sonnambula, and then went to work for a season at La Scala in Milan as an understudy, which gained him valuable experience.

He made his first appearance on stage there as the Herald in Ildebrando Pizzetti’s Orseolo.

Listen to Tito Gobbi singing Di provenza il mar il suol from Verdi's La Traviata

In 1942 he sang the role of Belcore in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at La Scala, conducted by Tullio Serafin.

Gobbi was guided by Serafin in preparing roles, which was to be invaluable later in his career when he was cast as Scarpia, Rigoletto and Simon Boccanegra.

The movie poster for the Italian version of the British film The Glass Mountain
The movie poster for the Italian version
of the British film The Glass Mountain
He began working in films as early as 1938 when he appeared in Cilea’s L’arlesiana with Licia Albanese.

After the Second World War, Gobbi’s international career took off and he sang at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the Lyric Opera in Chicago and the San Francisco Opera house.

He made his debut at The Metropolitan Opera in New York as Scarpia in Tosca.

His screen appearances continued and he starred with Anna Magnani in a contemporary drama released in 1946, Avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma (Before Him All Rome Trembled), a story which sees a group of opera singers appearing in a production of Tosca in Rome in 1944 simultaneously taking part in Italian resistance actions against the Germans.

Gobbi's performance in 1949 in the British film, The Glass Mountain, which was set in wartime Italy, made him known to a much wider audience. The theme music, Legend of the Glass Mountain, which became a contemporary hit, was by the Italian composer Nino Rota.

Tito Gobbi pictured in London in 1970
Tito Gobbi pictured in London in 1973
In the 1960s, Gobbi began directing, staging Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at both Covent Garden and in Chicago.

He directed Otello in California, Chicago and Thessalonika in Greece and Gianni Schicchi by Puccini in Florence, at the Edinburgh Festival, and in Chicago, Zurich and Monaco.

Gobbi estimated that he had sung the part of Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca nearly a thousand times.

He sang it in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of the opera at Covent Garden in 1964, when Maria Callas sang the title role and Act Two was broadcast live on British television.

Gobbi and Callas had previously sung Tosca together in a 1953 recording of the Opera in Milan, when Giuseppe di Stefano sang Cavaradossi. That recording, which has been reissued on CD, is considered the finest recording of a complete opera ever made.

In retirement the singer wrote two books, Tito Gobbi: My Life  and Tito Gobbi on his World of Italian Opera. After retiring in 1979, Gobbi died in Rome in 1984 at the age of 70.

Palladio's Ponte degli Alpini in Bassano del Grappa
Palladio's Ponte degli Alpini in Bassano del Grappa
Travel Tip:

Bassano del Grappa, where Tito Gobbi was born, is an historic town at the foot of Monte Grappa in the Vicenza province of the Veneto, famous for inventing grappa, a spirit made from the grape skins and stalks left over from wine production, which is popular with Italians as an after dinner drink to aid digestion. A famous sight is the Ponte degli Alpini, a bridge designed by Andrea Palladio. The painter Jacopo Bassano was born in Bassano del Grappa and took his name from the town.

Travel tip:

Gubbio, where Tito Gobbi made his opera debut, is a town in the province of Perugia in Umbria, with some fine medieval architecture in the narrow streets in the centre. Gubbio is well-known for its annual foot race, Corsa dei Ceri, held on 15 May. Three teams, devoted to Sant’Ubaldo, San Giorgio and Sant’Antonio, run through the town and up the mountain carrying a statue of their saint mounted on a tall wooden stand. A similar event is held each year in Jessup, Pensylvania, when residents race statues of the three saints through the streets.

More reading:

Luciano Pavarotti - king of the high 'Cs'

How Tullio Serafin helped Maria Callas achieve her potential

Nino Rota - film music composer who wrote The Godfather soundtrack

(Photo of  Tito Gobbi in London by Allan Warren CC-BY SA 3.0)
(Photo of Bassano del Grappa by Zyance CC BY-SA 3.0)


Sunday, 23 October 2016

Saint John of Capistrano

Patron saint of lawyers and chaplains

St John of Capistrano as  depicted by the German- Hungarian artist Karoly Lotz
St John of Capistrano as
depicted by the German-
Hungarian artist Karoly Lotz
The feast day of Saint John of Capistrano (San Giovanni da Capestrano) is being celebrated today in Abruzzo and is marked by Catholics in the rest of Italy and the world.

The patron saint of the legal profession and military chaplains, St John is particularly venerated in Austria, Hungary, Poland and Croatia as well as in different parts of America.

St John was born in Capestrano, about halfway between L’Aquila and Pescara in the Abruzzo region of Italy, in 1386.

He studied law at the University of Perugia and was then appointed Governor of Perugia by King Ladislaus of Naples.

When war broke out between Perugia and the Malatesta family in 1416, John was sent to broker peace, but ended up in prison.

While in captivity he decided not to consummate his recent marriage but to study theology instead.

He entered the Order of Friars Minor at Perugia in 1416 and a few years later began preaching all over Italy as a Franciscan friar.

He was particularly effective in Germany, Austria, Croatia and Poland and, because the churches were not big enough for his audiences, he had to preach in public squares.

St John's willingness to lead troops into battle saw him dubbed 'the Soldier Priest'
St John's willingness to lead troops into
battle saw him dubbed 'the Soldier Priest'
Unhindered by such constraints as apply today, he preached against Jews, encouraging cities to expel their Jewish population, and wrote many tracts against heresy, while helping to reform the Franciscan Order.

At the age of 70, St John was sent by Pope Calixtus III to Germany to preach against the invading Turks. He moved on to Hungary and gathered together enough troops to march into Belgrade, which was under siege to the Turkish forces.

Although by then old and frail, St John managed to lead a contingent into battle, earning the nickname ‘The Soldier Priest’.

He survived the battle but fell victim to the Bubonic Plague and died on October 23, 1456 in Ilok in Croatia.

Nearly 200 years later, John was made a Saint and his feast day was fixed for March 28. But in 1969, Pope Paul VI moved his feast day to October 23, the day of his death. There are Catholic missions in California and Texas named after him and there is a statue of St John in Hungary and a monument to him in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.

Capestrano commands a hilltop location in Abruzzo
Capestrano commands a hilltop location in Abruzzo
Travel tip:

Capestrano, where St John was born, is a small town in the province of L’Aquila in Abruzzo. It is within the area of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. The Benedictine Abbey of St Peter ad Oratorium is on the bank of the Tirino river, six kilometres from Capestrano. It was originally built in AD 752 as part of a monastery. There is also a 13th century castle on the hill above the river and the lake of Capodacqua, which contains the submerged ruins of mills.

Travel tip:

Perugia, where St John was Governor, is the capital city of Umbria and is well known for being a University town, with its own 14th century University of Umbria, the popular University for Foreigners (Universita per Stranieri), which hosts about 5,000 students a year, some smaller colleges and institutes and the Music Conservatory, which was founded in 1788.


Saturday, 22 October 2016

Soave - an Italian classic wine

How the dry white from the Veneto earned its DOC status

A bottle of Soave wine
Soave from
the famous
Bolla vineyard
Soave - at one time the world's most popular Italian wine - was officially granted a DOC classification on this day in 1968.

The DOC status - which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata - was introduced midway through the last century as part of a series of laws designed to safeguard the quality and authenticity of Italian wines.

Winegrowers had been pushing for such regulation because the increasing popularity of Italian wines around the world was impacting on quality as more and more producers sprang up to meet demand.

Soave was a case in point.  Originally limited to a small area of just 2,720 acres (1,100 hectares) in the hills to the north of the small towns of Soave and Monteforte d'Alpone, roughly 25km east of Verona in the Veneto region, production spread rapidly to an area more than six times as large.

The biggest demand was from the United States, which developed a taste for Italian wines in the boom years that followed the end of the Second World War.  Of the huge volume of imported bottles that arrived on ships from Europe, Soave was the most popular.

Its reputation then was that of a fine, high quality wine, not unlike France's Chablis in style - pale coloured, lively and refreshing and with crisp mineral flavours and a clean finish.

However, mass production led to a decline in quality.  Grapes grown on the flatlands in the expanding production zone did not yield wine of the same character as those grown on the hillsides, and more and more liberties were taken with the blend of grapes used.

Soave is produced using the Garganega grape
Soave is produced using the Garganega grape
Most wineries honoured the fundamental requirement that a minimum 70 per cent of the blend should be the Garganega grape, which gives the wine its characteristic almond nose, but some were more liberal. And sometimes the Trebbiano di Soave grape that by tradition made up the other 30 per cent in the recipe would be substituted with the very different Trebbiano Toscano, or with other varieties producing different qualities.

At the same time, the volumes being produced led to prices falling, which while a good thing in some respects tended to have a negative effect on the wine's reputation.  With its rarity value gone, Soave began to be seen as a cheap wine, not one with which the wealthy could impress their friends.

Swanky restaurants began to drop it from their wine lists and the knock-on effect was soon felt by wine merchants, too, as customers looked for exclusivity elsewhere.

A similar tipping point was also reached in the United Kingdom and Soave's popularity began to wane, with Pinot Grigio taking its place as the favourite among Italian whites.

Although the area in which Soave makers could obtain DOC status after 1968 reflected the expanded production zone, strict rules on the blend had to be followed.  Garganega grapes had to make up between 70 and 100 per cent and Trebbiano di Soave between 0 and 30 per cent.

The beautiful rolling hills near Verona where Soave is made
The beautiful rolling hills near Verona where Soave is made
Soave produced from grapes grown in the historical 1,100 hectares around Soave and Monteforte d'Alpone was marketed as Soave Classico.

Since the DOC classification came into being, two further indicators of provenance have been introduced.  Wines of the highest quality can qualify for the certification category Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), while wines that do not adhere exactly to the DOC guidelines but are nonetheless judged as of good quality can be awarded an IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) certificate.

Recent signs are that Soave is regaining some of the market share lost to Pinot Grigio.  More sophisticated and reliable production methods have led to higher quality wines, with subtle variations in taste relating to the location of the vineyard underpinning the crisp, non-acidic freshness.

Older wine connoisseurs are still tending to give it a wide berth but a new, younger generation of wine drinkers are discovering it afresh, tiring of Pinot Grigio, still enjoying the fashionable Sauvignon Blancs of Australia and New Zealand but finding Soave a pleasing alternative that is a little easier on the pocket.

The 10th century house at the centre of Soave Castle
The 10th century house at the centre of Soave Castle
Travel tip:

Soave, a small municipality of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, is notable for its castle, which enjoys a commanding location overlooking the town.  Originally built in the 10th century to protect the area against the Hungarians, it was added to in the 14th and 15th centuries and has three lines of walls.  It was bought privately in the 19th century and restored, and is now open to the public, with several rooms of exhibits, including a dining room with medieval kitchenware.  The poet Dante Alighieri is said to have stayed there as a guest of the Scaligeri family, who were part of a noble Veronese dynasty.

Travel tip:

Nearby Verona, which sits astride the Adige river, is regarded as one of Italy's most beautiful cities.  It attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors whose sole aim is to find the 14th century house in the centre of the city where the balcony overlooking a courtyard was made famous by Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, which he based on stories of Verona's warring Montague and Capulet families.  But there is much more to the city, which has a fascinating network of narrow medieval streets, some fine churches, handsome squares and impressive Roman ruins, the most famous of which is the vast Arena amphitheatre, designed to accommodate 30,000 spectators and now a major venue for music concerts and opera.

(Photo of Soave landscape by Alessandro Pighi CC BY-SA 4.0)
(Photo of Soave Castle by Casalmaggiore Provincia CC BY-SA 4.0)


Friday, 21 October 2016

Giuseppe Pinelli - anarchist

His 'accidental death' inspired classic Dario Fo play

Giuseppe Pinelli
Giuseppe Pinelli
Giuseppe 'Pino' Pinelli, the railway worker from Milan who inspired Dario Fo to write his classic play, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, was born on this day in 1928.

Pinelli fell to his death from a fourth floor window of the Milan Questura - the main police station - on December 15, 1969, three days after a bomb exploded at a bank in Piazza Fontana in Milan, killing 17 people and wounding 88.  A known anarchist during a period of growing political and social tension in Italy, Pinelli had been picked up for questioning, along with a number of other activists, over the Piazza Fontana bomb.

The story put out first by police was that Pinelli had jumped, willing to take his own life rather than face prosecution. Yet three police officers who had been interrogating Pinelli were put under investigation.

No action was taken against them and later a judge ruled that Pinelli's death had been accidental. This time the suggestion was that he had fainted, lost his balance and fallen through the open window, which seemed to many to be somewhat far-fetched.

It did not convince his supporters and when one of his interrogators, Commissioner Luigi Calabresi, was shot dead on his way to work in May 1972, two left-wing activists were convicted of his murder. Pinelli was posthumously cleared of playing any part in the bombing, which was blamed on far-right extremists.

Plaque commemorating the victims  of the Piazza Fontana bomb
Plaque commemorating the victims
 of the Piazza Fontana bomb
Born in the then working class area of Porta Ticinese, Pinelli left school early to supplement the family income, taking jobs as a waiter and a warehouseman. The opportunity to take a more secure job as a railwayman did not come along until his mid-20s. He was married soon after joining the railway and fathered two children.

Already politically active with anti-Fascist groups, Pinelli became increasingly interested in libertarianism, a philosophy that favours minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens, and in anarchism, whose proponents believe in the abolition of all government and the organisation of society by voluntary co-operation.

Pinelli was a member of a group that eventually evolved into the Ponte della Ghisolfa Anarchist Club, named after a railway viaduct visible from the Porta Garibaldi station, where Pinelli worked.  After the student unrest in France in 1968, such groups saw their memberships swell as young Italians also began to challenge authority and the state.

That period was also the beginning of the so-called Years of Lead in Italy, when social and political tension was frequently punctuated by acts of terrorism, of which the Piazza Fontana bombing, the target of which was the Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura, was the first major incident involving civilian deaths.

Over the next decade or so, organisations at both extremes of the political spectrum, from the Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) on the left to the far-right Ordine Nuovo (New Order), were responsible for bombings and assassinations, including the kidnap and murder of former prime minister Aldo Moro and the bombing of Bologna railway station.

The plaque honouring Giuseppe
Pinelli placed by friends
The situation was complicated by the existence, admitted only later, of the CIA-sponsored Operation Gladio, a secret network that aimed to manipulate events in a way designed to diminish support for Italy's Communist Party.

The Piazza Fontana incident, which was later established as the work of Ordine Nuovo, was initially blamed on left-wing extremists and sparked a crackdown on such groups, although Pinelli was unaware of this when police turned up at his door within just a few hours of the explosion.

The similar plaque placed by  Milan Council
The similar plaque placed by
Milan Council
He was used to dealing with the police, although it was usually over matters such as licensing of premises and permission to stage public gatherings.  Luigi Calabresi, at it happened, was the officer he dealt with most, and there was no evidence of serious friction between them.  Pinelli did not need to be arrested, voluntarily following the patrol car to the police station on his motorbike.

What he did not expect was to find the station packed with other activists rounded up in a general sweep and to be detained for well over the 48 hours permitted, and subjected to intense questioning.  He certainly did not foresee that he would never return home.

Dario Fo, a playwright, actor and comic entertainer with a reputation for acidic satire, wrote Accidental Death of an Anarchist within a year of Pinelli's fatal fall.

Dario Fo
Dario Fo
In the play, which he presents as a farce, Fo sends up the police as slow and dim-witted, tricked by a fast-talking fraudster known as The Maniac, who employs a series of impersonations to confuse the officers, into contradicting themselves and revealing that there has been a cover-up involving the death of an anarchist.

Still performed today, it is the best known of all Fo's 80-plus plays, certainly outside Italy.  It has been performed in more than 40 countries.  Fo, who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1997, died earlier this month, aged 90.

Milan's own 'Grand Canal' - part of the now fashionable Navigli district, where Pinelli grew up
Milan's own 'Grand Canal' - part of the now fashionable
Navigli district, where Pinelli grew up
Travel tip:

The area of Milan called Porta Ticinese draws its name from one of the gates in the medieval walls of the city, from which a road led to the Ticino river, which loops around the city to the south and west.  It was rebuilt twice, by the Spanish in the 16th century, and in the 19th century along the current neo-classical lines, comprising massive pillars and columns topped with a triangular decorative tympanum.  The area is part of the Navigli district, once a poor neighbourhood but now very popular for the restaurants and bars that line what remains of Milan's canal system.

Travel tip:

Piazza Fontana is located a short distance from Milan's Duomo, accessible along Via Carlo Maria Martini, behind the cathedral to the right.  As well as a plaque on the wall of the Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura, commemorating the 17 people killed when the bomb exploded inside their building, there are two simple memorials to Giuseppe Pinelli on an area of grass opposite the bank, one erected by the city council, which refers to Pinelli's 'tragic death', the other by friends of Pinelli, who use the word 'killed' in their inscription.

More reading:

How the death of Aldo Moro changed history

(Photos of Pinelli memorials by Piero Montesacro CC BY-SA 4.0)
(Photo of Dario Fo by Garupdebesanez CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Navagli by Geobia CC BY-SA 2.0)


Thursday, 20 October 2016

Claudio Ranieri - football manager

Title-winning Leicester City boss is 65 today

Claudio Ranieri
Claudio Ranieri
Football manager Claudio Ranieri was born on this day in 1951 in Rome.

Ranieri, who won the English Premier League last season with rank outsiders Leicester City, has managed 14 clubs in four countries in a 30-year career in coaching.  He also had a stint in charge of the Greece national team.

Among the teams he has coached are a host of big names - Internazionale, Juventus, Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina in Italy, Atletico Madrid and Valencia in Spain, Monaco in France and Chelsea in England.

He has won titles in lower divisions as well as Italy's Coppa Italia and the Copa del Rey in Spain but until Leicester defied pre-season odds of 5,000-1 to win the Premier League, a major league championship had eluded him.  He had finished second three times, with Chelsea, Roma and Monaco.

Before turning to coaching, Ranieri was a player for 14 seasons. He began in Serie A with home-town club Roma, but enjoyed more success in the lower divisions, enjoying promotion twice with the Calabrian club Catanzaro, where he spent the biggest part of his career, and once each with the Sicilian teams Catania and Palermo.

Ranieri was born in the San Saba district of Rome, not far from the ancient Baths of Caracalla and Circus Maximus in an area teeming with Roman ruins.  His father, Mario, was a butcher in neighbouring Testaccio, one of Rome's traditional working class neighbourhoods. His mother, Renata, now 96, still lives in Rome and Claudio regularly flies home to see her.

Where Testaccio, now increasingly popular with Rome's young professionals, was designed and built with blue collar workers in mind, San Saba is more middle-class historically, an area of houses rather than apartment buildings, with more urban green spaces such as the Piazza Gian Lorenzo Bernini, where Claudio and his friends would play football.

Claudio Ranieri celebrates with Leicester City's prolific striker Jamie Vardy
Claudio Ranieri celebrates with Leicester City's
prolific striker Jamie Vardy
Ranieri's early life was spent largely confined to these two neighbourhoods and nearby Aventine Hill, which affords panoramic views of the city.

A Roma fan for as long as he can remember, Ranieri dreamed of playing for the giallorossi and after being spotted by a scout he realised his ambition. He was taken on for a trial, given a contract and made his debut in November 1973 as a defender.  He was unfazed by playing in front of 80,000 fans and continuing to help out in the family business on his day off kept him grounded.

Sadly, the dream did not turn into a place in Roma folklore, as the young Ranieri might have hoped.  By the following summer, having made just six appearances, it was clear he was not going to be in the team on a regular basis and he moved to the deep south of Italy to Catanzaro, in the part of Calabria that sits in the arch of the boot on the map of Italy, to play in Serie B.

It was a world away from the frenzied pace of Roman life and Ranieri felt a little like an alien but the eight years he spent there shaped his life in many ways.

Catanzaro's team included many outsiders and they formed a bond of friendship that remains strong to this day. Indeed, until recently, the team's goalkeeper, Giorgio Pellizzaro, was Ranieri's specialist goalkeeping coach.

They became a good team on the field, too, winning promotion to Serie A twice in his time there, the second time staying for five years.

Off the field, it was while playing for Catanzaro that Ranieri met his wife, Rosanna, the daughter of a football journalist.  The couple had a daughter, Claudia and bought a villa at nearby Copanello, overlooking the Ionian Sea, where they still spend their summers. Ranieri also has a house at Formello, a town about 30km north of Rome in the Monti Sabatini area of Lazio.

Ranieri's son-in-law, the actor Alessandro Roja
Ranieri's son-in-law, the actor
Alessandro Roja
Claudia is now married to the Roman actor, Alessandro Roja, who starred in the drama series Romanzo Criminale, set in the Rome underworld in the 1970s.  Rosanna runs two antiques shops in Rome.

Ranieri's character, well-mannered, good humoured, calm under pressure, is said by some to be more typically Calabrian than Roman but, as the Italian writer Gabriele Marcotti explains in an excellent biography - Hail, Claudio! - to be published next month, there is a steel behind the charm.

An example came when he had left Catanzaro for Catania, where he was made captain.  When the manager, the former Catanzaro player Gianni di Marzio, was sacked after Catania, newly promoted, had made a poor start in Serie A, Ranieri was so furious he stormed into the office of the club president to make his feelings known, and repeated them in a television interview soon afterwards.

He was sure he would be sacked as well for speaking his mind and effectively humiliating the president, an autocratic millionaire not known for his patience. Instead, after recovering from the shock, the president decided that if Ranieri was man enough to stand up to him in that way he was too good an asset to lose.

Travel tip:

The Aventine Hill, which Ranieri knew well as a boy, has many attractions, apart from the ruins of the Roman chariot racing stadium, Circus Maximus, and the Baths of Caracalla.  The historic Basilica of Santa Sabina, which dates back to the fifth century, is just one of several notable churches, while the area's elevated position offers outstanding views of the Rome, particularly from the Giardino degli Aranci (Garden of Oranges), overlooking the Tiber. A more unusual view is to be had from the Villa del Priorato di Malta, on Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, where crowds gather to peer through the keyhole in the wooden doors at the main gate, which provides a perfectly framed view of the dome of St Peter's Basilica.

The view across Rome from the Giardino degli Aranci
The view across Rome from the Giardino degli Aranci

Travel tip:

Occupying a position 300mt (980ft) above the Gulf of Squillace, Catanzaro is known as the City of the Two Seas because, from some vantage points, it is possible to see the Tyrrhenian Sea to the north of the long peninsula occupied by Calabria as well as the Ionian Sea to the south.  The historic centre, which sits at the highest point of the city, includes a 16th century cathedral built on the site of a 12th century Norman cathedral which, despite being virtually destroyed by bombing in 1943, has been impressively restored.  The city is about 15km from Catanzaro Lido, which has a long white beach typical of the Gulf of Squillace.

More reading:


Hail, Claudio! The Man, The Manager, The Miracle, by Gabriele Marcotti (Yellow Jersey)

(Photo of Alessandro Roja by Laura Penna CC BY 2.0)
(Photo of the view from the Giardino degli Aranci by Marten253 CC BY-SA 3.0)