At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Piero Barone – singer

Young tenor found fame on TV talent show

Piero Barone, one of the stars of the group Il Volo
Piero Barone, one of the stars
of the group Il Volo
Piero Barone, one of the three singers who make up the Italian opera and pop group, Il Volo, was born on this day in 1993 in Naro, a town in the province of Agrigento in Sicily.

Il Volo hit the headlines after winning the Sanremo Music Festival in 2015. They came third when they represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest with their hit Grande Amore later that year in Austria and have since acquired growing popularity world wide.

In 2016, the group, together with tenor Placido Domingo, released Notte Magica – A Tribute to the Three Tenors, a live album featuring many of the songs performed by the Three Tenors (Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras) for their iconic concert held at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome on the eve of the Italia ’90 World Cup.

Piero’s father, Gaetano Barone, is a mechanic and his mother, Eleonora Ognibene, a housewife.

His musical talent was discovered by his grandfather, Pietro Ognibene, when he was just five years of age. Pietro was a blind musician who had written a song in Sicilian and when Piero sang it for him he was amazed by his voice.

The family helped Piero develop his talent and his grandfather paid for him to have piano lessons. Piero sang at school and in the church choir and even earned money as a wedding singer.

Il Volo performing at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015
Il Volo performing at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015
Considered a spinto tenor, a singer who easily reaches high notes but has elements of a baritone, Piero’s voice is powerful and he can sustain notes for a long while.

He had professional singing tuition while he was growing up and won a number of singing festivals in Italy. When he took part in the TV talent show, Ti Lascio Una Canzone, in 2009 he met fellow contestants Ignazio Boschetto and Gianluca Ginoble, with whom he would later form the group, Il Volo.

On the show, Piero sang with them for the first time in a rendition of the famous Neapolitan song, O’ Sole Mio.

Il Volo describe their music as ‘popera’ and sing at venues all over Italy and abroad. They have so far released five CDs, which have been hits all over the world.

Grande Amore was part of an album issued as L'amore si muove - Love moves - in Italy, which reached number one in the Italian album charts.

The view over Naro from the medieval castle
The view over Naro from the medieval castle
Travel tip:

Naro in Sicily, where Piero Barone was born, dates back to Roman times and the remains of catacombs and villas have been found there. The town has a medieval castle, the ruins of a Norman Church and several Baroque buildings. It is famous for the festival held on 18 June every year to remember the patron saint, San Calogero, when a statue of the saint is carried through the streets in a procession. The composer, Achille Campisiano, was born in the town in 1837.

Piazza Santa Croce is one of the most famous squares in Florence
Piazza Santa Croce is one of the most famous
squares in Florence
Travel tip:

Il Volo’s album, Notte Magico – A Tribute to the Three Tenors, was recorded at a live concert held on July 1, 2016 in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence accompanied by the orchestra of the Teatro Massimo di Palermo. The tenor, Placido Domingo, conducted the orchestra for eight pieces and joined with Il Volo to sing Non ti scordar di me. Set in one of the most famous squares in Florence, the concert took place against the backdrop of the 13th century church of Santa Croce, which contains the tombs of many illustrious Florentines, including Michelangelo and Galileo.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Claudio Capone – actor and dubber

The Italian voice of a host of stars

The dubbing professional Claudio Capone  was the Italian voice of many stars
The dubbing professional Claudio Capone
 was the Italian voice of many stars 
Italy lost one of its most famous voices on this day in 2008 with the premature death of Claudio Capone.

The Rome-born actor was working in Scotland when he suffered a stroke. He was admitted to hospital in Perth but despite the best efforts of doctors he died two days later, at the age of only 55.

Although he began his career with the ambitions of any actor to reach the top of his profession, he was offered an opportunity only a few years out of drama school to do some voice-over work and found the flow of work in dubbing to be so consistent he ultimately made it his career.

Unlike some countries, Italian cinema and TV audiences have always preferred to watch imported films and TV shows with dubbed Italian voices rather than subtitles, which meant that a talented dubbing actor was seldom unemployed.

Capone was among the best and it was down to him that many foreign stars became famous in Italy, even though many did not speak a word of Italian.

The biggest example of this was the American actor Ronn Moss, who played the part of fashion magnate Ridge Forrester in the CBS soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful.

Moss, who had enjoyed a successful pop career as a member of a band he formed with friends in Los Angeles, called Player, was by no means an outstanding actor but when in 1990 the Italian station Rai bought the rights to The Bold and the Beautiful, which they repackaged as simply Beautiful, his fame took off – in Italy, at any rate.

The American actor Ronn Moss owed his fame in Italy at least in part to Claudio Capone
The American actor Ronn Moss owed his fame
in Italy at least in part to Claudio Capone
He became a favourite with Italian TV audiences, although his appeal owed as much to Capone as his own good looks or acting ability.

Capone gave him a deep, husky voice that female viewers found irresistible. The show quickly built a following, and when it was bought by Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest in 1994 and broadcast on Canale 5, Capone continued in the role.

Moss became a star in Italy, yet when he was a celebrity dancer in the 2010 series of Ballando con le Stelle – the Italian equivalent of America’s Dancing with the Stars and the UK show Strictly Come Dancing – audiences were shocked that his own Italian was so limited he needed the show’s host, Milly Carlucci, to interpret for him.

There was much more to Capone’s career than simply being the voice of Ronn Moss, although he also dubbed his part in an Italian-made Romantic comedy, Christmas in Love, in which Moss appeared as himself.

Indeed, his movie credits read like a cinema who’s who, such was his versatility and ability to tailor his voice for an extraordinary range of diverse parts.

He was the voice of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, of Brad Davis as Billy Hayes in Midnight Express, of Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde in Wilde, of Steve Guttenberg as Carey Mahoney in the Police Academy series and of Martin Sheen as Carruthers Kit in Badlands.

Claudio Capone at work behind a microphone
Claudio Capone at work behind a microphone
Others for whom he was the Italian voice – and this list is by no means comprehensive – included John Travolta, Alan Alda, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Walken, Chuck Norris, Michael Douglas, Jeff Bridges, Kyle MacLachlan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe and Michael York.

On the small screen, he dubbed for Don Johnson in Miami Vice and Michael Newman in Baywatch, and – again showing his versatility – for John Nettles as an English detective in Midsomer Murders (shown in Italy as Inspector Barnaby), a sitcom doctor played by Alexander Armstrong in TLC and the English vet in Africa (Stephen Tompkinson) in Wild at Heart, shown as Cuore D’Africa.

In addition to his film and TV drama roles, Capone’s other outstanding success was as the Italian voice of documentaries on the Discovery Channel, and as the narrator of the hit Italian science programme Quark.

He was in Scotland to narrate a documentary programme when he was taken ill.  The older of his two sons, David, also became a voiceover specialist.

Rome's Piazza del Popolo
Rome's Piazza del Popolo
Travel tip:

Claudio Capone’s funeral in Rome attracted many of his fans to pay their respects, with hundreds gathering as his coffin was carried through Piazza del Popolo.  The name of the large square at one end of the Via del Corso, the long, straight thoroughfare stretching north from Piazza Venezia, is often taken to mean the square “of the people”. In fact, many people believe Popolo derives from the Latin populus – poplar – after the trees from which the church of Santa Maria del Popolo is named.

The church of Santa Maria del Popolo
The church of Santa Maria del Popolo
Travel tip:

The Basilica Parrocchiale Santa Maria del Popolo, which can be found on the north side of Piazza del Popolo, is a minor, parish basilica yet contains works by several famous artists, including Raphael, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Caravaggio and Donato Bramante.  There is a tradition of appointing Catholic ministers from around the world as Cardinal Priest of the church. In fact, there has not been an Italian appointment since 1886. The last six Cardinal Priests have included two Spaniards, an American, a Canadian, a Senegalese and the present incumbent, a Pole.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Galileo Galilei convicted of heresy

'Father of Science' forced to deny that earth revolved around sun

This 1857 painting by Cristiano Benti depicts  Galileo's appearance before the Inquisition
This 1857 painting by Cristiano Benti depicts
Galileo's appearance before the Inquisition
One of the more bizarre episodes in the history of human intellectual advancement took place in Rome on this day in 1633 when Galileo Galilei, the brilliant astronomer, mathematician, philosopher and engineer – often described as ‘the father of science’ - was convicted of heresy.

His crime was to support the view – indeed, to confirm it with scientific proof – that the sun rather than the earth was the centre of the solar system, as had been theorised by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus in the previous century.

This flew completely in the face of a major plank of orthodox Roman Catholic beliefs, within which the contention that the sun moved around the earth was regarded a fact of scripture that could not be disputed.

Galileo, something of a celebrity in his day who won the patronage of such powerful Italian families as the Medicis and the Barberinis following the discoveries he made with his astronomical telescope, had been essentially under surveillance by the Church since 1609 after publishing details of observations he had made that supported Copernicus’s theory of heliocentrism.

In 1616 the Copernican view was formally declared heretical and the biblical interpretation of creation was reaffirmed, part of which said that “God fixed the Earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever.”

Pope Urban VIII - Matteo Barberini -  was sympathetic to Galileo
Pope Urban VIII - Matteo Barberini -
was sympathetic to Galileo
Galileo feared arrest but was given permission by Pope Urban VIII, a member of the Barberini faily, to continue his studies into Copernican theory provided his findings drew no definitive conclusions and acknowledged divine omnipotence.

However, when in 1632 Galileo published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems – namely that proposed by Copernicus and the traditional view put forward by the second century astronomer Ptolemy – he came down heavily in favour of Copernicus.  He was considered by the Church to have gone a step too far and Urban VIII, fearing for his future in a fiercely political climate, felt compelled to act.

Galileo was summoned to Rome for trial by Inquisition in 1633 and despite the strength of his evidence he was found guilty of heresy and forced to recant his own findings as “abjured, cursed and detested”. He did so with great reluctance but little choice, given that the alternative was to be burned at the stake.

As it was he was sentenced to be imprisoned indefinitely, his Dialogue was banned and the future publication of any of his research was forbidden.  He is said to have muttered the words “E pur, si muove” – “And yet, it moves” – after declaring the earth to be a fixed object, which had it been overheard might have enraged the court still further.

Yet he was again shown some clemency, the sentence of imprisonment being commuted to house arrest the following day, after which he was allowed to live out the remainder of his days at his villa at Arcetri, near Florence.  

He went blind in 1638 and died in 1642 but was able, nonetheless, to reconstruct and summarise the discoveries he had made earlier in his life in Two New Sciences, which was smuggled out of Italy and published in Holland.

The 1630 portrait of Galileo by Peter Paul Rubens resides in a private collection
The 1630 portrait of Galileo by Peter Paul
Rubens resides in a private collection
Of course, Copernicus and Galileo were subsequently proved beyond any doubt to be have been right.  Amazingly, it took the Catholic Church more than 350 years to formally acknowledge their error.

In 1757, Galileo’s Dialogue was removed from the Vatican’s list of banned publications and in 1984 a panel of scientists, theologians and historians, assembled in 1979 to look into the 1633 accusations, published a preliminary report which accepted that Galileo had been wrongfully condemned.

However, it was not until 1992 that the investigation was closed and Galileo was officially vindicated in a statement issued by Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the investigation, which said: “We today know that Galileo was right in adopting the Copernican astronomical theory.”

Galileo's house in Arcetri, the Villa Gioella
Galileo's house in Arcetri, the
Villa Gioella
Travel tip:

The house to which Galileo returned after his sentence was commuted to house arrest is called Villa Gioella, which he rented. It is situated just three or four kilometres – a couple of miles – from the centre of Florence in the Arcetri hills.  In Galileo’s time it was a farmhouse, surrounded by many acres of land. He lived there with his daughter Celeste, who was a nun in an adjoining monastery.

Travel tip:

The Palace of the Holy Office, the building in Rome to which Galileo would have been summoned for trial in 1633, is what is known as an extraterritorial property of Vatican City, in that it lies outside the confines of the Vatican itself. The palace, originally built in 1514 for Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci and called Palazzo Pucci, is situated south of St. Peter's Basilica near the Petriano Entrance to Vatican City. In 1566–67, the palace was purchased by Pope Pius V and it was converted into the seat of the Holy Office.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Paolo Soleri - architect

Italian greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright

Paolo Soleri envisaged buildings in  harmony with their environment
Paolo Soleri envisaged buildings in
harmony with their environment
The groundbreaking architect and ecologist Paolo Soleri was born on this day in 1919 in Turin.

Soleri is largely remembered for the Arcosanti project, an experiment in urban design in the Arizona desert that was like no other town on the planet, a unique fusion of architecture and ecology.

Originally conceived as providing a completely self-sufficient urban living space for 5,000 people when it began in 1970, only about five per cent of the proposed development was ever completed.

At its peak, Arcosanti’s population barely exceeded 200 yet the buildings Soleri erected in accordance with his vision are still there, rising from the desert as an assortment of concrete blocks, domes and soaring vaults, resembling a cross between the remains of some ancient civilisation and a set from Star Wars.

It has never been abandoned, however, and although Soleri died in 2013 the project is still home to between 50 and 100 of his most ardent disciples, still seeking to live as Soleri envisaged.

Although Soleri grew up in Italy and acquired his formal training in architecture and design at the Politecnico di Torino, where he obtained his master’s degree, it was a visit to the United States in 1946 that had the most profound influence on his life.

It was there that he met Frank Lloyd Wright, whose views on what he called organic architecture, in which buildings were designed in harmony with their environment, would form the basis of Soleri’s philosophy.

Soleri's ceramics factory in Vietri sul Mare
Soleri's ceramics factory in Vietri sul Mare
He returned to Italy, where in 1954 he built an extraordinary factory for a producer of ceramics in Vietri sul Mare, of which the exterior interspersed conical shapes covered with multi-coloured ceramic tiles and inverted triangles of glass.  Among many wonders of Campania’s spectacular Amalfi coast, the Ceramica Artistica Solimene is a tourist attraction in its own right.

It was not long, however, before he returned to the United States and to Scottsdale, Arizona, close to Wright’s concept home, Taliesen West, which on a smaller scale in that it was home also to a commune of Wright’s disciples could be seen as a forerunner of Arcosanti.

Soleri’s admiration for Wright waned over the latter’s Broadacre City project, an essentially low-rise development that went against the Italian’s belief that the urban sprawls that proliferated across America were a wasteful and inefficient use of land.  Soleri believed that in future man needed to build upwards rather than outwards.

In 1956, he settled in Scottsdale with his American-born wife Colly and established the Cosanti Foundation.  He built trial dwellings using a process he called "earthcasting", in which mounds of earth were built, concrete was poured over the top to create a shell, and the earth then dug away from beneath.

Soleri in Arizona in the early days of the Arcosanti project
Soleri in Arizona in the early days of the Arcosanti project
In Arcosanti, which he began in 1970, one of his favoured methods was to dig out troughs in the ground in order to create buildings that appeared to be semi-submerged in the earth as if they were a natural phenomenon in the landscape.  Every building in the town was carefully oriented to maximise the use of solar energy, which Soleri harnassed for heat and power.

In Vietri he had learned the techniques of ceramics and bronze casting, which he put to use in Arconsanti by setting up a small factory producing wind bells, which were sold to provide the town with an income.  

Soleri blamed himself for Arconsanti’s failure to grow much beyond its conceptual beginnings, admitting that he did not do enough to promote his work and persuade others to believe in the wisdom of his vision for urban living.

Nonetheless, through the Cosanti Foundation he and Colly devoted themselves to research and experimentation in urban planning and the support of innovative architectural ideas. Arconsanti may not have achieved its goals of becoming a cost-effective infrastructure, conserving water, minimizing the use of energy, raw materials and land, reducing waste and pollution, yet it remains an active project in which more than 6,000 people have had an input since it began.

Soleri died in Paradise Valley, Arizona, at the age of 93.

The distinctive dome of the Chiesa di San Giovanni  Battista in Vietri sul Mare
The distinctive dome of the Chiesa di San Giovanni
Battista in Vietri sul Mare
Travel tip:

The town of Vietri sul Mare is considered to be the southern gateway to the Amalfi coast. The town is best known for the production of ceramics, which goes back to the 15th century. The church of St John the Baptist is notable for its dome, which is decorated with blue and white ceramic tiles. Vietri borders the historic town of Cava dei Tirreni and is separated from the port of Salerno by nothing more than a sea wall.

Travel tip:

The historical base of the Politechnic University of Turin, as it is now, is the Castle of Valentino, a 17th-century House of Savoy on the River Po that houses the main teaching campus. The main campus of engineering is in Corso Duca degli Abruzzi in central Turin. Other facilities can be found close to the Mirafiori Motor Village and the Lingotto Building, which were both once car production centres for FIAT.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Giorgio Morandi - master of still life

Subtleties of tone created atmospheric effect in work

Giorgio Morandi pictured in his studio in Bologna in 1953
Giorgio Morandi pictured in
his studio in Bologna in 1953
Giorgio Morandi, a painter and printmaker who was known for his still life studies of simple objects such as bottles, jars and boxes, was born on this day in 1890 in Bologna.

What set his work apart was subtlety of tone and it could not really be identified closely with any particular school of painting, although he was said to have been influenced most strongly by the French Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne.

Although he had a close association for a while with the Futurist movement and then the Scuola Metafisica founded by Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà, Morandi was generally not seen as part of the Fascist art movement, even though he openly supported Mussolini in the 1920s.

Morandi grew up in streets on the north-western edge of the centre of Bologna and from 1907 to 1913 studied at Bologna’s Accademia di Belle Arti – the Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1910 he visited Florence, studying the works of Renaissance artists Giotto, Masaccio, Piero Della Francesca, and Paolo Uccello with great enthusiasm before forming friendships with the Futurist group there in 1914.  In the same year, he took an academic position as instructor of drawing for elementary schools in Bologna, a post he retained until 1929.

Morandi's 1956 painting Natura Morta
Morandi's 1956 painting Natura Morta
He enlisted to fight in the First World War but was discharged after suffering a mental breakdown.

The Metaphysical phase in Morandi's work lasted from 1918 to 1922, after which his style became consistent. He became increasingly concerned with variations in hue and tone and critics spoke of the objects in his paintings being arranged in “a unifying atmospheric haze.”

Regarded as an important forerunner of Minimalism, Morandi used colours that were generally subdued and rather drab, yet his work, which included landscapes as well as still lifes, was said by commentators to “convey a mood of contemplative repose reminiscent of Piero Della Francesca.”

In the late 1920s, Morandi was associated with the Strapaese – a literary and artistic movement that emphasised local traditions and was Fascist-influenced. Ironically, despite his unapologetic stance on Mussolini’s party, he was later arrested because of friendships with known anti-Fascist figures.

A 1952 still life from Morandi
A 1952 still life from Morandi
Morandi was never flashy; indeed he was generally seen as quiet and polite, enigmatic but likeable. For much of his life he lived in the Via Fondazza, on the south-east side of Bologna, where the family had moved in 1909 after the death of his father and where he lived in his later years with his three sisters, Anna, Dina and Maria Teresa. He died in 1964, two days before what would have been his 74th birthday, having been diagnosed with lung cancer.

His fans includes the filmmakers Federico Fellini, who paid tribute to him by featuring his paintings in his 1960 film La Dolce Vita, which featured Morandi's paintings, as did Michelangelo Antonioni, who similarly made them visible in La notte.

In literature, novelist Sarah Hall based her main character in How to Paint a Dead Man on Morandi, who was a favourite of the Scottish poet Ivor Cutler, who included a poem about the painter in his first anthology.

Two oil paintings by Morandi were chosen by former US president Barack Obama in 2009 to be part of the White House collection.

Travel tip:

Morandi’s works can be viewed in his own city at the Modern Art Museum of Bologna and at the Museo Morandi, both in Via Don Giovanni Minzoni, about 10 minutes' walk from Bologna's main railway station. The museum was founded in 1933 by the president of the Centro Studi Giorgio Morandi, Marilena Pasquali. Morandi’s former house in Via Fondazza is also open to the public, although only by appointment.

Porta delle Lame, with statues of partisans in the foregound
Porta delle Lame, with statues of partisans
in the foregound
Travel tip:

Via delle Lame, where Morandi lived as a child, is one of the oldest streets in Bologna, leading towards the centre from the Porta delle Lame, a gate in the former medieval walls of the city, built in 1334, rebuilt in 1677 and restored in 2009.  In November 1944, Porta delle Lame was the scene of a fierce battle between partisans and German troops, which resulted in a famous victory for the partisans, commemorated today in a series of bronze statues surrounding the gate.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Francesco Baracca – flying ace

Italy’s most successful First World War fighter pilot

Francesco Baracca alongside his Spad XIII with the  family's prancing stallion logo displayed on the side
Francesco Baracca alongside his Spad XIII with the
family's prancing stallion logo displayed on the side
Italy’s top fighter pilot of the First World War, Francesco Baracca, died in action on this day in 1918.

He had been flying a strafing mission against Austro-Hungarian ground troops in support of an Italian attack on the Montello Hill, about 17km (11 miles) north of Treviso in the Veneto, on which he was accompanied by a rookie pilot, Tenente Franco Osnago.

They split from one another after being hit by ground fire but a few minutes later, Osnago saw a burning plane falling from the sky.  Witnesses on the ground saw it too. Osnago flew back to his base but Baracca never returned.

Only when the Austro-Hungarian troops were driven back was the wreckage of Baracca’s Spad VII aircraft found in a valley.  His body was discovered a few metres away.

A monument in his memory was later built on the site. Osnago, fellow pilot Ferruccio Ranza and a journalist recovered his body. It was taken back to his home town of Lugo in the province of Ravenna, where a large funeral was held.

Francesco Baracca in his airman's uniform in 1916
Francesco Baracca in his airman's
uniform in 1916
It is thought that Barocca was seeking to provide Osnago with cover from above as he swooped on enemy trenches when he was attacked by an Austrian plane and downed.  The official version of events, written in the interests of propaganda, was that he had been hit by groundfire but records later showed a kill claimed by the crew of an Austrian two-seater, who noted the exact time and location of the engagement and took a photograph of the shot-down aircraft.

Mystery surrounded the condition of Baracca’s body, which reportedly bore the marks of a bullet to the head, while his pistol was out of its holster. This led to speculation that he had taken his life as the plane fell, rather than be killed in the crash or taken prisoner.

Baracca had claimed a total of 34 aerial victories, which made him the most successful of all Italy’s First World War flying aces.

His first came in 1916, flying a French-built Nieuport II, equipped with Lewis guns.  His victim was an Austrian Hansa-Brandenburg CI, which he hit in the fuel tank.  It was also Italy's first aerial victory in the war, brought about by what would become his favourite manoeuvre, which was to zoom in unseen behind and below an enemy.

The monument to Baracca erected on the spot where his plane fell
The monument to Baracca erected
on the spot where his plane fell
From the 1a Squadriglia Caccia, Baracca transferred to the 70a Squadriglia, where he was promoted to captain, before moving again, with nine victories, to the newly formed 91st Squadriglia, known as the "Squadron of the Aces", flying the Spad VII and Spad XIII planes. Soon, his ever-increasing list of victories made him nationally famous.

He had entered the Military Academy of Modena in October 1907 and became a cavalryman with the prestigious Piemonte Reale Cavalleria Regiment on his commissioning in 1910. He became interested in aviation and learned to fly at Reims, France, receiving his pilot's licence in July 1912.

From a wealthy landowning background, Baracca had the title of Count. The family’s coat of arms bore the black prancing stallion symbol he attached to all his aircraft.
Baracca's mother is said to have presented the emblem, the Cavallino Rampante, to Enzo Ferrari, who incorporated it as part of the badge displayed by cars belonging to his Scuderia Ferrari racing team and in time all Ferrari automobiles.

Lugo's main square contains a huge memorial to Baracca
Lugo's main square contains a huge memorial to Baracca
Travel tip:

The town of Lugo, Baracca’s place of birth, is situated in the Emilia-Romagna countryside between the cities of Bologna and Ravenna.  From above, coincidentally, some say the shape of the town resembles an aircraft. The town’s landmark is the Rocca Estense, an Este-family fortress that now contains the town hall. Next to the fortress is a monument to Baracca erected in 1936 and town also has a museum dedicated to him, in his former house, which displays mementos, uniforms, medals from Baracca's life, as well as rudders and guns taken from shot-down aircraft.

Artillery shells stockpiled in Crocetta, which was on the front line in World War One
Artillery shells stockpiled in Crocetta, which
was on the front line in World War One
Travel tip:

The village of Crocetta del Montello, once known as Crocetta Trevigiana, the nearest community to where Baracca was shot down, suffered badly because of the First World War. It had become prosperous after the construction, in 1882, of a vast hemp rope mill, providing employment and helping the area acquire resources including electricity, thanks to water-driven generators set up on the Brentella river. But the mill was destroyed during the 1918 battle that Baracca was supporting – the Battle of the Solstice. It was rebuilt only to be hit by global financial crises, forcing it to close in 1938, leaving an unemployment problem and triggering the bankruptcy of many local businesses that depended on it

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Raffaella Carrà - entertainer and TV presenter

Much-loved star with long and varied career

Raffaella Carrà has been one of the most  popular entertainers on Italian TV for 35 years
Raffaella Carrà has been one of the most
popular entertainers on Italian TV for 35 years
Raffaella Carrà, the singer, dancer, television presenter, and actress often simply known as la Carrà or Raffaella, was born in Bologna on this day in 1943.

Carrà has become a familiar face on Italian TV screens as the host of many variety shows and, more recently, as a judge on the talent show The Voice of Italy.

She has also enjoyed a recording career spanning 45 years and was a film actress for the best part of 25 years, having made her debut at the age of nine.  Her best-known screen role outside Italy was alongside Frank Sinatra in the hit American wartime drama, Von Ryan’s Express.

Carrà was born Raffaella Maria Roberta Pelloni. Shew grew up in the Adriatic resort of Bellaria-Igea Marina, just north of Rimini, where her father ran a bar and her maternal grandfather an ice cream parlour.  At the age of eight, she won a place at the National Dance Academy in Rome and from there moved to the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografie, Italy’s oldest film school.

Her film career was never more than modestly successful. Although she has a long list of credits, she was cast mainly in small parts. Her most successful years were the 1960s, when she had more prominent roles in Mario Monicelli’s I compagnoni – the companions – which was a hit in Italy, and in Von Ryan’s Express, in which she played the part of the mistress of a German officer, which raised her profile with international audiences.

Carrà opposite Gian Maria Volontè in the 1963 film  Il terrorista, directed by Gianfranco De Bosio
Carrà opposite Gian Maria Volontè in the 1963 film
Il terrorista, directed by Gianfranco De Bosio
It was at the suggestion of one of her directors, Dante Guardamagna, that she changed her name.  Carrà, in fact, was his choice, after the Futurist artist Carlo Carrà, who was a particular favourite of his.

She frequently appeared in the gossip columns, which excitedly reported an affair with Sinatra at around the time Von Ryan’s Express was being shot, and a longer relationship with the Juventus footballer Gino Stacchini, her partner for eight years.

Carrà also enjoyed some success in Italian TV dramas but it was her move into variety shows in the 1970s that would catapult her to bigger fame.  An uninhibited and daring dancer, she pushed the limits of what was acceptable on Italian TV screens at the time, achieving notoriety for a while as the first showgirl to reveal her belly button on camera, in the show Canzonissima, which attracting serious criticism from the Catholic Church, who felt it bordered in indecency.

Carrà became famous as a singer and dancer
Carrà became famous as a singer and dancer
Nonetheless, her career took off, both as a dancer and a singer, in Italy and in Spain, where she was almost as popular as in her home country.  The sensual Tuca tuca, written as a song and dance presentation by her long-term collaborator and boyfriend Gianni Boncompagni, gave her a first hit and others followed, including Chissa Se Va, A far l’amore comincia tu, and Tanti auguri, which was probably her most successful. 

She even had a hit in the United Kingdom, a difficult market for singers from Europe, with Do It, Do It Again. Years later, a video of the single featured in an episode of the sci-fi series Doctor Who.

Her move from performer to TV host came in the 1980s, when as the presenter of daytime TV show Pronto, Raffaella? for RAI, a game show in which viewers could speak to her directly by telephone, she displayed an ability to relate both to the celebrities who appeared as studio guests and ordinary members of the public.

More shows for RAI followed, her success bringing a move to the Fininvest channels owned by Silvio Berlusconi and a return to RAI, where in the mid-90s she became the host of the huge hit, Carràmba! Que Sorpresa, which reunited long-separated friends and relatives.

Carrà sometimes presented the television coverage of the Sanremo music competition and was Italy’s jury spokesman on their return to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2011, which ended the country’s 13-year absence.

She became the face of the Italian national lottery for many years, because her shows, starting with Canzonissima and continuing with Fantastico, Carràmba! Che Sorpresa and Carràmba! Che Fortuna would incorporate the lottery draw.

More recently, she presented Forte forte forte – a talent show on which she worked with long-time romantic partner Sergio Jacopo – as well The Voice of Italy.

Her Italian career ran in parallel with similar success in variety shows in Spain, who chose her to front a gala night in 2016 celebrating 60 years of Spanish public television.

The harbour area at Bellaria-Igea Marina
The harbour area at Bellaria-Igea Marina
Travel tip:

Bellaria-Igea Marina is a popular resort about 14km (9 miles) from Rimini and 35km (22 miles) from Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna.  As well as extensive sandy beaches it has a charming harbour area on the site of the fishing village it once was. It began to develop as resort in the early 20th century, with many tree-lined avenues running parallel with the shore. Interesting features include the Red House, the summer residence of the writer Alfredo Panzini, in the Via Panzini, and the ‘shell house’ in Via Nicolò Zeno, the entire walls of which are covered in shells attached by the owner.

Travel tip:

The Centro sperimentale di cinematografia, established in Rome in 1935, is the oldest film school in Western Europe. It is located close to the Cinecittà studios. Classes are limited to only six students, who train using classic 35mm equipment. Many of Italy’s finest actors and directors are former students.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Giovanni Paolo Panini – artist

Painter who preserved scenes of Rome

Giovanni Paolo Panini, in a portrait by  Louis Gabriel Blanchet
Giovanni Paolo Panini, in a portrait by
Louis Gabriel Blanchet 
Giovanni Paolo Panini, an artist mainly known for his views of Rome, was born on this day in 1691 in Piacenza.

He is particularly remembered for his view of the interior of the Pantheon, commissioned by the Venetian collector, Francesco Algarotti, in around 1734.

The Pantheon was as much a tourist attraction in Panini’s day as it is today and Panini manipulated the proportions and perspective to include more of the interior that is actually visible from any one vantage point.

Indeed, many of his works, especially those of ruins, have slightly unreal embellishment. He sought to meet the needs of visitors for painted postcards depicting scenes of Italy and his clients were often happy with minor distortions of reality if it meant they could show off a unique picture. 

As a young man, Panini trained in his native town of Piacenza. He moved to Rome where he studied drawing. His work was to influence other painters, such as Canaletto, who resolved to do for Venice what Panini had done for Rome and, of course, enjoyed enormous fame and success.

Panini's view of the inside of the Pantheon  typified his use of manipulated perspective
Panini's view of the inside of the Pantheon
typified his use of manipulated perspective 
Much in demand, Panini also became famous as the decorator of Roman palaces. He was hailed for his frescoes at the Villa Patrizi, painted between 1719–1725. He was also noted for his work at the Palazzo de Carolis (1720), and the Seminario Romano (1721–1722).

He also painted some portraits, including one of Pope Benedict XIV.

Panini taught in Rome at the Accademia di San Luca and the Académie de France. From 1754, he served as the principal of the Accademia di San Luca.

His use of perspective was later the inspiration for the Panini projection, which was instrumental in displaying panoramic views.  He was professor of perspective at the Académie de France.

He died in Rome on 21 October 1765 at the age of 74.

Travel tip:

The Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda in Rome is considered to be Rome’s best preserved ancient building. It was built in AD 118 on the site of a previous building dating back to 27 BC. It was consecrated as a church in the seventh century and many important people are buried there, including Victor Emmanuel II, his son, Umberto I, and his wife, Queen Margherita.

Canaletto's Grande Veduta of the Grand Canal is on display at Ca' Rezzonico
Canaletto's Grande Veduta of the Grand Canal is
on display at Ca' Rezzonico
Travel tip:

Many of Canaletto’s paintings of Venice are in museums and private collections around the world, particularly in England and the United States, A small number are on display in Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice, a palace on the Grand Canal, open to tourists.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Mario Rigoni Stern – author

Brave soldier became a bestselling novelist

Mario Rigoni Stern pictured in 1958
Mario Rigoni Stern pictured in 1958
The novelist Mario Rigoni Stern, who was a veteran of World War II, died on this day in 2008 in Asiago in the Veneto region.

His first novel, Il sergente della neve - The Sergeant in the snow - was published in 1953. It drew upon his experiences as a sergeant major in the Alpine corps during the disastrous retreat from Russia in the Second World War. It became a best seller and was translated into English and Spanish.

Rigoni Stern had been a sergeant commanding a platoon in Mussolini’s army in the Soviet Union during the retreat of the Italians in the winter of 1942.

His book was inspired by how he succeeded in leading 70 survivors on foot from the Ukraine into what was then White Russia - now part of Belarus - and back to Italy.

It won the Viareggio Prize for best debut novel and went on to sell more than a million copies.

At the time the author said it was not written to claim a role for him as a hero, but as a tribute to his fellow soldiers and the ordinary Russians who gave them shelter.

Rigoni Stern was born in Asiago in the Veneto and became a cadet at the military academy at Aosta in 1938. He became a sergeant in the Alpine corps - the Alpini - and was posted to the eastern front.

After the Italian armistice with the allies in 1943 he refused to continue serving in the army of Mussolini’s puppet republic of Salò and was interned in a German prison camp.

At the end of the war he returned to Asiago and got a job working for his local council.

Rigoni Stern at a celebration of the Alpini Corps in 2006
Rigoni Stern at a celebration of the Alpini
Corps in 2006
In 1953 he sent the manuscript of his book to the Einaudi publishing house. They agreed to publish it but said they didn’t think he had a future as a writer.

They were proved wrong as he went on to publish more than a dozen novels and collections of short stories and was awarded three literary prizes.

His novel, The Story of Tonie, published in 1978, was about a peasant smuggler in the mountains who lived between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the First World War.

Tonie was a simple shepherd who couldn’t avoid getting caught up in the outside events of the new century leading up to the war. Rigoni Stern described vividly this world where no one had a distinctive nationality and citizens had to struggle to preserve their identity.

Rigoni Stern was in his 80s before he saw The Sergeant in the snow recreated on stage and screen by Marco Paolini, an actor and author.

The production had been staged at Milan’s Piccolo Theatre and was then filmed in 2007 in front of an audience in a disused quarry near Vicenza, from which the architect Palladio had once extracted the material to build his villas.

It was shown on Italian television to an audience of in excess of five million people.

Mario Rigoni Stern died the following year, at the age of 86, having been diagnosed with a brain tumour in November 2007.

Piazza Il Risorgimento in Asiago
Piazza Il Risorgimento in Asiago
Travel tip:

Asiago, where Mario Rigoni Stern was born and died, is in the province of Vicenza in the Veneto, halfway between Vicenza to the south and Trento, the capital of Trentino-Alto-Adige, to the west. It is now a major ski resort and famous for producing Asiago cheese.

Travel tip:

The town of Vicenza, where The Sergeant in the snow was filmed, is about 60km (37 miles) to the west of Venice. Known as ‘the city of Palladio’, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. You can see Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in the centre of town and visit the elegant villas he designed in the surrounding area. His most famous villa, known as La Rotonda, is just outside the town. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Hugo Pratt – comic book creator

Talented writer and artist travelled widely

Hugo Pratt pictured in 1989
Hugo Pratt pictured in 1989
The creator of the comic book character, Corto Maltese, was born Hugo Eugenio Pratt on this day in 1927 in Rimini.

Pratt became a famous comic book writer and artist and was renowned for combining strong story telling with extensive historical research.

His most famous character, Corto Maltese, came into being when he started a magazine with Florenzo Ivaldi.

Pratt spent most of his childhood in Venice with his parents, Rolando Pratt and Evelina Genero. His paternal grandfather, Joseph Pratt, was English and Hugo Pratt was related to the actor, Boris Karloff, who was born William Henry Pratt.

Hugo Pratt moved to Ethiopia with his mother in the late 1930s to join his father, who was working there following the conquest of the country by Benito Mussolini.

Pratt’s father was later captured by British troops and died from disease while he was a prisoner of war.

Pratt and his mother were interned in a prison camp where he would regularly buy comics from the guards.

After the war, Pratt returned to Venice where he organised entertainment for the Allied troops. He later joined what became known as ‘the Venice group’ with other Italian cartoonists, including Alberto Ongaro and Mario Faustinelli.

In the late 1940s he moved to Buenos Aires to work for an Argentine publisher where he published some of his important early cartoon series. He then produced his first comic book as a complete author, both writing and illustrating Ann of the Jungle -  Anna della jungla.

He moved to London and drew a series of war comics for Fleetway Publications working with British scriptwriters.

Pratt's most famous character on the cover of his most famous story
Pratt's most famous character on the cover
of his most famous story
When Pratt moved back to Italy he collaborated with a children’s comic book magazine, for which he adapted classics such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped.

After starting a comic magazine with Florenzo Ivaldi, he published his most famous story in the first issue, A Ballad of the Salty Sea - Una balata del mare salato, which first introduced Corto Maltese.

Corto’s adventures continued in a French magazine with many of the stories taking place in historical eras that were well researched by Pratt.

Corto was a psychologically complex character as a result of the travel experiences and inventiveness of his creator.

He brought Pratt much success and his series was published in an album format and translated into 15 languages.

Pratt died of bowel cancer in 1995 in Switzerland . In 2005 he was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame at the Will Eisner Comic Industry awards in San Diego.

Rimini's duomo - the Tempio Malatestiano
Rimini's duomo - the Tempio Malatestiano
Travel tip:

Rimini, where Hugo Pratt was born, has wide sandy beaches and plenty of hotels and restaurants. It is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Europe, but it is also a historic town with many interesting things to see. The Tempio Malatestiano is a 13th century Gothic church originally built for the Franciscans. It was transformed on the outside in the 15th century and decorated inside with frescos by Piero della Francesca and works by Giotto and many other artists.

Golden mosaics cover the vaulted ceilings inside the Basilica of St Mark in Venice
Golden mosaics cover the ceilings inside
the Basilica of St Mark in Venice
Travel tip:

St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where Hugo Pratt spent most of his life, is the Cathedral Church and one of the best examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture in existence. Because of its opulent design and gold ground mosaics it became a symbol of Venetian wealth and power and has been nicknamed Chiesa d’Oro (Church of Gold). The spacious interior with its multiple choir lofts inspired the development of the Venetian polychoral style used by the Gabrielis, uncle and nephew, and Claudio Monteverdi.


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Giacomo Leopardi – poet and philosopher

The tragic life of a brilliant Italian writer

Giacomo Leopardi, depicted in a portrait in 1820
Giacomo Leopardi, depicted in a portrait in 1820
One of Italy’s greatest 19th century writers, Giacomo Leopardi, died on this day in 1837 in Naples.

A brilliant scholar and philosopher, Leopardi led an unhappy life in Recanati in the Papal States, blighted by poor health, but he left as a legacy his superb lyric poetry.

By the age of 16, Leopardi had independently mastered Greek, Latin and several modern languages and had translated many classical works. He had also written some poems, tragedies and scholarly commentaries.

He had been born deformed and excessive study made his health worse. He became blind in one eye and developed a cerebrospinal condition that was to cause him problems for the rest of his life.

He was forced to suspend his studies and, saddened by an apparent lack of concern from his parents, he poured out his feelings in poems such as the visionary work, Appressamento della morte - Approach of Death - written in 1816 in terza rima, in imitation of Petrach and Dante.

His frustrated love for his married cousin, and the death from consumption of the young daughter of his father’s coachman, only deepened his despair. The death of the young girl inspired perhaps his greatest lyric poem, A Silvia.

The scholar and patriot Pietro Giordani visited Leopardi in 1818 and urged him to leave home. Leopardi then spent a few unhappy months in Rome, but returned to live in Recanati.

After accepting an offer to edit Cicero’s works in Milan in 1825, he left home again.

Giacomo Leopoldi on his death bed in 1837
He spent the next few years travelling between Bologna, Pisa and Florence while he wrote a collection of poems and a philosophical work.

His frustrated love for a Florentine beauty, Fanny Targioni-Tozzetti, inspired some of his saddest poetry.

Leopardi finally settled in Naples in 1833, where he wrote the long poem, Ginestra.

The death he had long regarded as the only escape from his unhappiness came to him suddenly in 1837 during a cholera epidemic.

His genius and frustrated hopes during his life had found their way into his poetry which has long been admired for its intensity and musicality.

Casa Leopardi: The poet's home in Recanati is now a museum
Casa Leopardi: The poet's home in Recanati is now a museum
Travel tip:

Leopardi was born and lived for most of his life in Recanati, a town in the province of Macerati in the Marche region of Italy.The great tenor Beniamino Gigli was born in Recanati in 1890 and sang in the choir at Recanati cathedral as a boy. The Italian paternal ancestors of the Argentine footballer Lionel Messi are also believed to have originated from Recanati. Leopardi's house is now a museum.

The monument at Leopaldi's tomb in Parco Vergiliano, Naples
Travel tip:

Leopardi was buried at first in the atrium of the church of San Vitale at Fuorigrotta but in 1898 his tomb was moved to the Parco Virgiliano in Naples and declared a national monument.