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.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Umberto Baldini – art restorer

Saved hundreds of artworks damaged by Arno floods

Umberto Baldini
Umberto Baldini
Umberto Baldini, the art historian who helped save hundreds of paintings, sculptures and manuscripts feared to have been damaged beyond repair in the catastrophic flooding in Florence in 1966, died on this day in 2006.

Baldini was working as director of the Gabinetto di Restauro, an office of the municipal authority in Florence charged with supervising restoration projects, when the River Arno broke its banks in the early hours of November 4, 1966.

With the ground already saturated, the combination of two days of torrential rain and storm force winds was too much and dams built to create reservoirs in the upper reaches of the Arno valley were threatened with collapse.

Consequently thousands of cubic metres of water had to be released, gathered pace as it raced downstream and eventually swept into the city at speeds of up to 40mph.

More than 100 people were killed and up to 20,000 in the valley left homeless. At its peak the depth of water in the Santa Croce area of Florence rose to 6.7 metres (22 feet). 

The Basilica di Santa Croce partially submerged under flood water
The Basilica of Santa Croce partially
submerged under flood water
Baldini was director of the conservation studios at the Uffizi, the principle art museum in Florence and one of the largest and most well known in the world, where some of the most precious and valuable treasures of the Renaissance were kept, supposedly secure and protected.

The main galleries on the second floor of the Uffizi complex, situated just off Piazza della Signoria in the heart of the city and right by the river, escaped but the water – not only muddy but full of oil after tanks in its path were ruptured – poured into storerooms, where more than 1,000 medieval and Renaissance paintings and sculptures were kept.

Once the flood subsided, it was Baldini’s task to save what he could from the mess that remained, with everything in the storerooms covered in oily mud.  Similar scenes confronted the wardens and curators of churches, libraries and museums all over Florence.

It was estimated that between three and four million books and manuscripts were damaged, as well as 14,000 works of art.

Baldini not only oversaw a painstaking restoration project at the Uffizi, he was called on to advise in similar efforts taking place across the city, with almost every church possessing priceless works by one Old Master or another.

The bespectacled academic called in experts from around the world and rapidly organised the hiring and training of hundreds of volunteers – the so-called Mud Angels – to dry, clean and restore such damaged material as could be salvaged.

Baldini examines some of the restoration work
Baldini examines some of the restoration work
Books were washed, disinfected and dried, pages often removed to be later rebound. Paintings were dried with the application of rice paper, with techniques employed in some cases to remove entire paint layers and reapply them to a new surface.

The work went on for decades after the streets had been cleaned up and Florentine life restored to normal but by the mid-1980s it was thought up to two-thirds of all the damaged items had been repaired, including high-profile casualties such as Cimabue’s wooden crucifix in the Basilica of Santa Croce.

Others took much longer. For instance, work on Giorgio Vasari’s huge panel painting of The Last Supper, also housed in the Santa Croce basilica and submerged for 12 hours, was not completed until 2016, half a century after the flood.

Much of the successful restoration was down to the work by Baldini in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, when he reorganized the Uffizi’s conservation facilities under a single institute and put in place formal training programmes for students of conservation to provide a steady supply of highly-skilled staff.

In 1983, Baldini was appointed director of the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro in Rome, Italy’s most prestigious conservation body, in which capacity he led the project to clean and restore the 15th- century Masaccio frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel of the Carmine Church in Florence.

Completed by Fillipino Lippi, the frescoes depict scenes from the life of St. Peter and the Book of Genesis. Baldini’s team discovered a virtually unspoiled portion of the fresco hidden behind an altar.

Born in 1921 at Pitigliano, near Grosseto in Tuscany, Baldini wrote books on the Brancacci Chapel, Masaccio and the restorations of Botticelli’s Primavera and Cimabue’s crucifix.

He died at his home in Marina di Massa, a Tuscan coastal town north of Viareggio, some 125km (78 miles) west of Florence, aged 84. His funeral took place at the church of San Giuseppe Vecchio in Marina di Massa and his body was interred at the Cemetery of the Holy Gate at the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte in Florence.

The church of San Miniato al Monte and adjoining cemetery
The church of San Miniato al Monte and adjoining cemetery
Travel tip:

San Miniato al Monte stands at one of the highest points in Florence and has been described as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Italy. Work on building the church began in 1013 at the sight of a chapel marking a cave supposedly occupied by Minas – later St. Miniato – an Armenian prince serving in the Roman army under Emperor Decius, who was denounced as a Christian after becoming a hermit. The Emperor ordered Minas to be thrown to the beasts in an amphitheatre outside Florence only for the animals to refuse to devour him, and instead had him beheaded, upon which he is alleged to have picked up his head, crossed the Arno and walked up the hill of Mons Fiorentinus to his hermitage.

Cimabue's partially restored crucifix in the  Basilica of Santa Croce
Cimabue's partially restored crucifix in the
Basilica of Santa Croce
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Santa Croce, consecrated in 1442, is the main Franciscan church in Florence and the burial place among others of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Ugo Foscolo, the philosopher Giovanni Gentile and the composer Gioachino Rossini.  It houses works by some of the most illustrious names in the history of art, including Canova, Cimabue, Donatello, Giotto and Vasari.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Francesco Zuccarelli - landscape painter

Tuscan-born artist appealed to English tastes

Richard Wilson's 1751 portrait of  Francesco Zuccarelli is at Tate Britain
Richard Wilson's 1751 portrait of
Francesco Zuccarelli is at Tate Britain
Francesco Zuccarelli, who was considered to be the most important landscape painter to emerge from Venice in the 18th century, was born on this day in 1702.
Zuccarelli’s picturesque Arcadian landscapes were especially appealing to English buyers, and he was more famous in England even than his contemporary, Canaletto.

His fame in England prompted Zuccarelli to spend two periods of his life there. He settled in London for the first time at the end of 1752 and remained for 10 years, enjoying great success.

After returning to Italy after being elected to the Venetian Academy, he went back to England from 1765 to 1771, during which time he was a founding member of the Royal Academy and became one of George III’s favourite painters.

Born in Pitigliano, a medieval town perched in top of a tufa ridge in southern Tuscany, Zuccarelli received his early training in Florence, where he engraved the frescoes by Andrea del Sarto in SS Annunziata.

The Finding of Moses (1768), commissioned by George III, is part of the Windsor Castle collection
The Finding of Moses (1768), commissioned by George III,
is part of the Windsor Castle collection
Zuccarelli’s father Bartolomeo owned several local vineyards. With considerable income at his disposal, he sent Francesco to Rome at the age of 11 or 12 to begin an apprenticeship with the portrait painters Giovanni Maria Morandi (1622–1717) and his pupil Pietro Nelli (1672–1740).

From around 1730 he was active in Venice, where he was influenced by Marco Ricci and extensively patronised by British travellers and became friendly with Richard Wilson, who painted his portrait.  The art collector Joseph Consul Smith, the patron of Canaletto, became his patron too.

He moved to London in October 1752, rapidly achieving great success with his Italianate landscapes, which were probably less real places than idealistic paintings of Italy, imagined as a country with well-behaved peasants, delightful weather and pretty rural scenery.  No other Italian painter in London in the 18th century could match Zuccarelli’s success.

Zuccarelli's Bull-Hunting is housed at the Galleria dell' Accedemia in the Dorsoduoro quarter of Venice
Zuccarelli's Bull-Hunting is housed at the Galleria dell'
Accedemia in the Dorsoduoro quarter of Venice
Zuccarelli designed a series of tapestries for Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont  at Petworth House in West Sussex, now a National Trust property. He decided to return to Venice late in 1761, holding a sale 70 of his works in February 1762 with the intention of making his way back to Italy once all the works were sold.

He had achieved his goal by November 1762 and arrived in Venice before Christmas.  The following year he became a member of the Venetian Academy but the demand for his work in England remained high and he went back for a second stay in February 1965.

He received at least one commission from George III - Finding of Moses (1768, Royal Collection). 

Zuccarelli became a founder-member of the Royal Academy in 1768, exhibiting there from 1769-71 and 1773. He also exhibited at the Free Society of Artists in 1765-6, and 1782, and at the Society of Artists in 1767-8.

He returned to Venice in late 1771, putting himself in a position to be elected President of the Venice Academy the following year. Shortly afterwards, he retired to Florence, where he died in 1788.

Despite the fame he experienced in his lifetime, Zuccarelli's reputation declined in the early 19th century with naturalism becoming increasingly favoured in landscapes.

Many of Zuccarelli's landscapes are in Windsor Castle, the summer residence of Queen Elizabeth II, Consul Smith having willed his collection to the English monarchy on his death.

Pitigliano in Tuscany, where Zuccarelli was born, appears to be carved out of the rock on which it sits
Pitigliano in Tuscany, where Zuccarelli was born, appears
to be carved out of the rock on which it sits
Travel tip:

Pitigliano, which can be found about 200km (125 miles) south of Florence close to the border between Tuscany and Lazio, rises dramatically from a tufa ridge, the stone of its houses blending with the tufa as if carved from the rock. The town is known as Piccola Gerusalemme - Little Jerusalem - after the large Jewish population that settled there in the middle of the 16th century, fleeing from the south to avoid the Vatican's persecution. The town still has a synagogue, although very few of the current population of just under 4,000 are Jewish. The Orsini Fortress and the former cathedral of Santi Pietro e Paolo are among the attractions for visitors and some restaurants still serve dishes with Jewish influences. The Orsini Palace Museum contains some of Zuccarelli's work.

The Ospedale degli Incurabili, current home of  the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia
The Ospedale degli Incurabili, current home of
the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia
Travel tip:

The Venice Academy of Fine Arts – the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia – was first housed in 1750 in the Fonteghetto della Farina, a flour warehouse and market on the Grand Canal near Piazza San Marco. In 1807, it was moved to premises in the Palladian complex of the Scuola della Carità in the Dorsoduro quarter, which today houses the Gallerie dell’Accademia, where a number of Zuccarelli’s works can be found . The academy itself is now based at the Ospedale degli Incurabili, also in Dorsoduro, looking out over the Giudecca Canal.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Enzo Ferrari – car maker

Entrepreneur turned Ferrari into world’s most famous marque

Enzo Ferrari at the 1967 Italian GP in Monza
Enzo Ferrari, the founder of the Scuderia Ferrari motor racing team and later the Ferrari sports car factory, died on this day in 1988 at the age of 90.

Known widely as Il Commendatore, he passed away in Maranello, a town in Emilia-Romagna a few kilometres from Modena, where he had a house, the Villa Rosa, literally opposite Ferrari’s headquarters, where he continued to supervise operations almost to his death. He had reportedly been suffering from kidney disease.

Since the first Ferrari racing car was built in 1947 and the Scuderia Ferrari team’s famous prancing stallion symbol has been carried to victory in 228 Formula One Grand Prix races and brought home 15 drivers’ championships and 16 manufacturers’ championship.

Always an exclusive marque, the number of Ferraris produced for road use since the company began to build cars for sale rather than simply to race is in excess of 150,000.

Born Enzo Anselmo Ferrari in 1898 in Modena, he attended his first motor race in Bologna at the age of 10 and developed a passion for fast cars rivalled only by his love of opera.

He endured tragedy in 1916 when both his brother and his father died in a flu epidemic and was fortunate to survive another epidemic two years later, when he became seriously ill while serving with the army.

A young Enzo Ferrari pictured at the  wheel of a racing car
A young Enzo Ferrari pictured at the
wheel of a racing car
In 1919, he moved to Milan to work as a test driver, joining Alfa Romeo the following year. It was after winning a race in 1923 that he met the parents of First World War flying ace Francesco Baracca, who suggested the young driver use the emblem that decorated their son's plane for good luck – a prancing horse.

In 1929, he formed the Scuderia Ferrari motor racing team, which was essentially the racing division of Alfa Romeo, although that arrangement came to an end in 1937 – six years after he retired as a driver – when Alfa claimed back control of its racing operation.

Soon after leaving Alfa Romeo, Enzo Ferrari opened a workshop in Modena but the outbreak of the Second World War stalled its progress, and the first Ferrari racing car – the 125S - was not completed until 1947.

The marque scored its first win in the same year, at the Rome Grand Prix, and went on to notch victories at the Mille Miglia in 1948, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1949 and the British Grand Prix in 1951.

In 1952 and 1953, Ferrari driver Alberto Ascari won the newly launched Formula One world championship. Around this time, the company also began producing cars for road use, with rich and famous clients soon queuing up for the chance to own one as its reputation grew as the ultimate automotive status symbol.

The Ferrari museum at Maranello has a reconstruction of Enzo's  office with a waxwork of 'il Commendatore' at his desk
The Ferrari museum at Maranello has a reconstruction of Enzo's
 office with a waxwork of 'il Commendatore' at his desk
Enzo suffered more personal tragedy in 1956 with the death of his son Dino from muscular dystrophy, during a period in which six of his drivers were killed and one of his cars went out of control in the 1957 Mille Miglia, killing nine spectators. Afterwards he became increasingly reclusive.

Financial issues prompted him to sell 50 per cent of Ferrari to Fiat in 1969 and he formally resigned as president of the company in 1977, although he remained involved with day-to-day running.

The Ferrari name lives on as a public company with its legal headquarters in Amsterdam. Enzo’s second son, Piero, owns 10 per cent of the company.

Ferrari's famous 'prancing horse' at the Maranello factory
Ferrari's famous 'prancing horse'
at the Maranello factory
Travel tip:

Maranello, a town of around 17,000 inhabitants 18 km (11 miles) from Modena, has been the location for the Ferrari factory since the early 1940s, when Enzo Ferrari transferred operations from Modena, due to bombing during the Second World War. The public museum Museo Ferrari, which displays sports and racing cars and trophies, is also in Maranello. In another sport, Maranello is also the starting point of the annual Italian Marathon, which finishes in nearby Carpi.

Travel tip:

Modena should be high up the list of any visitor’s must-see places in northern Italy. One of the country’s major centres for food – the home of balsamic vinegar and tortellini among other things – it has a large number of top-quality restaurants among its narrow streets. The ideal base for visiting Ferrari’s headquarters at Maranello, it also has a beautiful Romanesque cathedral and is the birthplace of the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti, whose former home in Stradello Nava, about 8km (5 miles) from the centre of the city is now a museum.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Aurelio Saffi – republican activist

Politician prominent in Risorgimento movement

Giacinto Pin's portrait of Aurelio Saffi
Giacinto Pin's portrait of Aurelio Saffi
The politician Aurelio Saffi, who was a close ally of the republican revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini during Italy’s move towards unification in the 19th century, was born on this day in 1819 in Forlì.

He was a member of the short-lived Roman Republic of 1849, which was crushed by French troops supporting the temporarily deposed Pope Pius IX, and was involved in the planning of an uprising in Milan in 1853.

Saffi was sentenced to 20 years in jail for his part in the Milan plot but by then had fled to England.

He returned to Italy in 1860 and when the Risorgimento realised its aim with unification Saffi was appointed a deputy in the first parliament of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

At the time of Saffi’s birth, Forlì, now part of Emilia-Romagna, was part of the Papal States. He was educated in law in Ferrara, but became politically active in his native city, protesting against the administration of the Papal legates.

He soon became a fervent supporter of Mazzini, whose wish was to see Italy established as an independent republic and saw popular uprisings as part of the route to achieving his goal.

Giuseppe Mazzini captured in an early photograph
Giuseppe Mazzini captured in an
early photograph 
One such uprising took place in Rome on November 15, 1848, when the assassination of Pellegrino Rossi, a minister in the Papal government, was followed by mass demonstrations on the streets of the city, demanding a democratic government, social reforms and a declaration of war against the Austrian Empire.

The Pope slipped out of Rome dressed as an ordinary priest and fled to Gaeta in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The new Roman Republic was declared in February 1849,  led by Mazzini, Saffi and Carlo Armellini.

The Roman Republic, however, lasted only until July 3, when a French army sent by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the new president of the French Republic - later the emperor Napoleon III - whose restoration of the papacy repaid his Roman Catholic supporters, defeated the republic’s army, led by Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Saffi retired to exile in Liguria and later joined Mazzini in Switzerland before moving with him to London.  He returned to Italy in 1852 to plan a series of uprisings in Milan similar to the so-called Five Days of 1848, when the Austrians were temporarily driven out by Italian nationalists.

Again the project ended in failure.  Saffi went back to England, being sentenced in his absence to 20 years in jail. Obliged to put down roots in England, he was appointed the first teacher of Italian at the Taylor Institute in Oxford and married Giorgina Craufurl, an Italian-born English supporter of Mazzini, with whom he had four sons.

In 1860, Saffi moved to Naples, then under the control of Garibaldi, and was elected a deputy in the parliament of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy the following year.

He spent his last days in his villa in the countryside near Forlì after taking up a professorship at the University of Bologna.  He died in 1890 at the age of 70.

Aurelio Saffi's statue stands at the heart of Piazza Saffi
Aurelio Saffi's statue stands at the heart of Piazza Saffi
Travel tip:

Formerly Piazza Maggiore, the main square in the elegant city of Forlì was renamed Piazza Saffi in 1921 in honour of Aurelio Saffi, who by then was recognised along with Giuseppe Mazzini as an Italian hero thanks to their part in the unification.  A large square, it has a statue of Saffi at its centre and is bordered along its southern side by the Abbey of San Mercuriale, which was completed in the 12th century. On the opposite side is the Palazzo Comunale, which dates back to the 11th century. The most recent addition is the Palazzo delle Poste – the city’s Post Office – that was built in the 1930s.

Saffi's study at the Villa Saffi museum
Saffi's study at the Villa Saffi museum
Travel tip:

The Villa Saffi, about 4km (2.5 miles) south-west of the centre of Forlì, at which Saffi spent much of his time when he was living in Italy, is a former Jesuit convent bought by Aurelio’s grandfather, Tommaso Saffi, as a summer residence.  Much of Saffi’s collection of historical documents connected to Giuseppe Mazzini and the Risorgimento remains in the house, which is now municipally owned and open to the public as a museum with free admission.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Mario Balotelli - footballer

Volatile star of Milan clubs and Manchester City

Mario Balotelli in action for Italy's national team
Mario Balotelli in action for Italy's national team
Controversial footballer Mario Balotelli, who has played for both major Milan clubs in Serie A and for Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League in England, was born on this day in 1990 in Palermo.

He currently plays in Ligue 1 in France for Nice, who finished third behind Monaco and Paris St Germain in the 2016-17 season, helped by 15 goals from the Italian international Balotelli.

Balotelli scored 20 goals in 54 Premier League matches for Manchester City and made the pass from which Sergio Aguero scored City’s dramatic late winning goal against Queen’s Park Rangers on the last day of the 2011-12 season, which gave City the title for the first time since 1968.

He had a difficult relationship with City manager Roberto Mancini, with whom he first worked at Internazionale in Milan, and with Mancini’s successor in charge of the nerazzurri, Jose Mourinho.  His volatile temperament has also brought him more red and yellow cards than he and his managers would have liked.

Yet he still won three Serie A winner’s medals with Inter in addition to his English title and won the Coppa Italia with Inter and the FA Cup with Manchester City.

Balotelli is also a Champions League winner, having been part of the Inter squad in 2009-10, when Diego Milito’s two goals beat Bayern Munich in the final in Madrid.

Balotelli was a sensation in his  early days at Internazionale
Balotelli was a sensation in his
early days at Internazionale
The son of Ghanaian immigrants, Balotelli was born Mario Barwuah.  His parents had little money and after the family moved to Bagnolo Mella, a municipality near Brescia, in northern Italy, when he was two, they placed Mario in foster care.  He was a sickly child with intestinal problems and they felt he would do better in a family that could give him a modern home and good food.

He was taken in by Francesco and Silvia Balotelli, a white couple from the town of Concesio, in pretty countryside in the Val Trompia to the north of Brescia. 

Although bureaucratic obstacles prevented the Balotellis from ever adopting Mario formally, they raised him as their own son, alongside their own children Giovanni, Corrado and Cristina, who made him feel part of the family.

Subsequently he came to regard Francesco and Silvia as his true parents and distanced himself from his blood family.  He insisted that without the Balotellis' love and support his football career would not have happened and when he scored twice for the Italian national team as they beat Germany 2-1 in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 in Warsaw his first instinct at the end of the match was to look for his adoptive family in the crowd.

A picture of him embracing Silvia appeared in newspapers round the world.

Much as he felt safe and loved by the Balotellis, he still regularly encountered racism as he grew up.  Although Italy accepts many immigrants, including refugees, from northern Africa, they form a tiny percentage of the population and tend to be more widely scattered than in some European countries.

Mario Balotelli lines up with the Italian national team at the finals of Euro 2012
Mario Balotelli lines up with the Italian national
team at the finals of Euro 2012
Thus, Balotelli’s skin colour made him stand out and many believe his sometimes erratic behaviour is a consequence of feeling he was not accepted as an ordinary Italian as he grew up. It did not help that he was not allowed to apply for Italian citizenship until he was 18.

His talent for football did help, but only up to a point. He encountered jealousy at school and when he made his debut at 15 years of age for Lumezzane, the Serie C club 20 minutes from his home where he took his first steps towards a professional career, he was subjected to racial abuse by a section of the crowd.

This continued after he joined Inter at the age of 16, with racist chants and monkey noises a particular problem in matches against the Turin club Juventus.

Nonetheless, his talent shone through.  He made his Inter debut aged 17 in a friendly in England in November 2007, scoring twice in a match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, to mark the 150th anniversary of Sheffield FC, the world’s oldest association football club. He also scored twice in his first competitive start, in a Coppa Italia match against Reggina on December 19.

Balotelli in his time at Liverpool
Balotelli in his time
at Liverpool
His first Serie A goal came in April the following year against Alalanta in Bergamo as Inter closed in on the 2007-08 Serie A title.

In all, Balotelli scored 20 goals in 59 Serie A appearances for Inter, 20 in 54 Premier League games for Manchester City and 26 in 43 top-flight matches for AC Milan, to whom City sold him in 2013 for €20 million, a move Mancini believed would be better for his career, allowing him to live closer to his family home.

The only fallow periods in his career came at Liverpool, for whom he scored only once in 16 Premier League matches, and in a second spell with AC Milan, on loan, which again yielded just one goal in 20 Serie A appearances.  But his goalscoring form has been restored since moving to France, where his 15 goals for Nice in his first season, following a free transfer from Liverpool, came in 23 Ligue 1 games, including two on his debut against Marseille.

At 18 years and 85 days, Balotelli was the youngest goalscorer in Champions League history when he found the net for Inter against against Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta in November 2008. His career tally of Champions League goals stands at eight, with 13 from 33 appearances for Italy, for whom he last played in the 2014 World Cup finals.

Balotelli has been an object of fascination for the media, from the glossy magazines for whom he has done fashion shoots to the tabloid newspapers in England, who reported many off-field incidents of unusual behaviour, some of the them true, others not.

Val Trompia is notable for spectacular scenery
Val Trompia is notable for spectacular scenery
Travel tip:

Concesio, where Balotelli grew up, is in the Val Trompia, historically a mining area due to its rich mineral deposits. The route between the valley and the city of Brescia has been called La Via del Ferro e delle Miniere - The Road of Iron and Mining - which takes visitors through a largely undiscovered area of forests, adventure parks and ski slopes with many restaurants featuring local cheeses, meats, game and river trout.

The dome of Brescia's Duomo Nuovo
The dome of Brescia's Duomo Nuovo
Travel tip:

Likewise, the city of Brescia tends not to attract many tourists, partly because Bergamo, Verona and the lakes are nearby.  Yet its history goes back to Roman times and there are many notable attractions, including two cathedrals – the Duomo Vecchio and its younger neighbour, the Duomo Nuovo – and the pretty Piazza della Loggia, with a Renaissance palace, the Palazzo della Loggia, which is the town’s municipal centre. 


Friday, 11 August 2017

Massimiliano Allegri - football coach

Former AC Milan boss has topped Conte's record

Massimiliano Allegri led Juventus to three consecutive league and cup doubles
Massimiliano Allegri led Juventus to three
consecutive league and cup doubles
Massimiliano Allegri, the man who looked to have taken on one of the toughest acts to follow in football when he succeeded Antonio Conte as head coach of Juventus, was born on this day in 1967 in Livorno.

Conte won the Serie A title three times and the domestic double of Serie A and Coppa Italia twice in his three years as boss of the Turin club.

Allegri took over only in 2014 but has already exceeded Conte’s record, leading the so-called Old Lady of Italian football to the double in each of his three seasons in charge.

The 2016-17 title was the club’s sixth in a row, setting a Serie A record for the most consecutive Scudetto triumphs.

Allegri was well regarded as a creative midfielder but although there were high spots, such as scoring 12 Serie A goals from midfield in a relegated Pescara side in 1992-923, he enjoyed a fairly modest playing career which was marred by his suspension for a year as one of six players alleged to have conspired in fixing the result of a Coppa Italia tie while with the Serie B club Pistoiese.

In coaching, he followed the customary Italian route of learning his craft in the lower divisions, tasting success for the first time in 2007-08 with the Emilia-Romagna club Sassuolo, guiding the club to promotion to Serie B for the first time in their history as Serie C/A champions.

Andrea Pirlo praised Allegri's calm approach
Andrea Pirlo praised Allegri's calm approach
This earned him a move to Serie A with Cagliari, where he steered the Sardinian team to ninth place, their best top-flight finish in 15 years and enough to win him the league’s Panchino d’Oro award for coach of the year for 2008-09, ahead of title-winning Internazionale boss Josè Mourinho.

Despite the award, Cagliari’s unpredictable owner Massimo Cellini relieved him of his managerial duties in April of the following year, with the team again sitting in a respectable mid-table position.

But Cagliari’s loss was AC Milan’s gain.  Appointed in June 2010, he led the rossoneri to the Serie A title in his first season, winning a place in the affections of supporters by defeating city rivals Inter in both matches.

He was not able to maintain Milan’s high level, in part due to the club’s failings in the transfer market.  They won the Supercoppa Italia at the start of the following season with another victory over Inter but lost out to Conte’s Juventus in their title defence.

In the 2012-13 season Milan recovered from a poor start and climbed from 16th place to finish third but in January 2014 he was dismissed.

Ironically, his early success with Juventus was built around the experience and vision of the veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo, whom Allegri had controversially deemed surplus to requirements in Milan on the grounds of age.  However, Pirlo bore no grudges and praised Allegri for the “sense of calm” he brought to the team compared with the frenetic style of Conte.

Allegri succeeded Antonio Conte at Juventus
Allegri succeeded Antonio
Conte at Juventus
What has set Allegri apart from some coaches is his flexible tactical approach, with his players adept at switching systems for different opponents, sometimes changing formation several times during a match.  The constant has been a formidable defence built around Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini, often referred to as BBC.

For all his domestic success, Champions League glory so far eludes Allegri, as it has Conte.

He reached the final with Juventus in 2015, losing 3-1 to Barcelona in Berlin, and again in 2017, when a 4-1 reverse against Real Madrid was a particular disappointment after the team had conceded only three goals all told in reaching the final.  Allegri has admitted he considered resigning after the match.

Away from football, Allegri has a daughter, Valentina, by his marriage to Gloria, from whom he is divorced, and a son, George, by long-term girlfriend Claudia, with whom he is now separated after an eight-year relationship.

The Piazza della Repubblica in Livorno
The Piazza della Repubblica in Livorno
Travel tip:

Livorno is Tuscany's third-largest city after Florence and Pisa and tends to be somewhat overlooked as a tourist destination. Yet it has an historic 17th century port, which once served merchants from all over the world, reputedly some of the best seafood restaurants on the Tyrrhenian coast and an historic centre given a unique character by a network of Venetian-style canals and some elegant belle époque buildings.

Sassuolo's Ducal Palace
Sassuolo's Ducal Palace
Travel tip: 

Overshadowed by nearby Modena, which is just 17km (11 miles) to the north-east, Sassuolo is a town of 40,000 inhabitants on the banks of the Secchia river that was once in the possession of the Este family and until the 19th century was part of the Duchy of Modena. The title Lord of Sassuolo currently belongs to Prince Lorenz of Belgium, Archduke of Austria-Este. Hence the town has Ducal Palace, designed by Bartolomeo Avanzini.  The town has since the 1950s been the centre of a thriving ceramic tile industry, supplying 80 per cent of the Italian market.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Ippolito dè Medici – Lord of Florence

Brief life of a Cardinal, soldier and patron of the arts

Ippolito dè Medci, as portrayed by Titian  between 1532 and 1534, in Hungarian dress
Ippolito dè Medci, as portrayed by Titian
between 1532 and 1534, in Hungarian dress
Ippolito dè Medici, who ruled Florence on behalf of his cousin, Giulio, after he became Pope Clement VII, died on this day in 1535 in Itri in Lazio.

At the age of 24, Ippolito was said to have contracted a fever that turned into malaria, but at the time there were also rumours that he had been poisoned.

There were two possible suspects. The fatal dose could have been administered on behalf of Alessandro dè Medici, whose abuses he was just about to denounce, or on behalf of the new pope, Paul III, who was believed to want Ippolito’s lucrative benefices for his nephews.

Ippolito was born in 1509 in Urbino, the illegitimate son of Giuliano dè Medici. His father died when Ippolito was seven and he came under the protection of his uncle, Pope Leo X. When he died five years later, Ippolito’s cousin, Giulio, who had become Pope Clement VII, sent him to Florence to become a member of the government, destined to rule the city when he was old enough.

Ippolito ruled Florence on his behalf between 1524 and 1527 but then Clement VII chose his illegitimate nephew, Alessandro, to take charge of Florence instead.

He created Ippolito a Cardinal in 1529 and named him archbishop of Avignon, which gave him a considerable income. Although there is no evidence that he was ever ordained as a priest or consecrated as a bishop, Ippolito was named Cardinal Priest of Santa Prassede and then Papal Legate in Perugia.

The ancient castle at Itri in Lazio, where Ippolito died
The ancient castle at Itri in Lazio, where Ippolito died
But Ippolito wanted to be the ruler of Florence rather than a cleric and was to spend the rest of his short life trying to depose his cousin, Alessandro.

In August 1529 Ippolito was one of the three Cardinals who met Emperor Charles V in Genoa to conduct him in state to Bologna for his coronation as Emperor.

In 1530 Clement VII granted Ippolito a half share of the annual papal income from the town and territory of Clusium for his lifetime.

Ippolito was sent to Hungary as Papal Legate in 1532 where he led 8,000 soldiers against the Ottoman Turks.

That same year he was named vice chancellor of the Holy Roman Church, the most lucrative office in the church, and he was transferred to the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso.

Jacopo Pontormo's portrait of Alessandro
Jacopo Pontormo's portrait of Alessandro
After Ippolito’s cousin, Clement VII, died, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese was elected Pope and took the name of Paul III.

Ippolito acted as Florentine ambassador to Emperor Charles V, passing on to him complaints about the administration of Alessandro dè Medici.

When he became ill with a fever and subsequently died on 10 August 1535 he was on his way to north Africa to present his case against Alessandro to the Emperor, who was on a military campaign there. It was rumoured he had either been poisoned by Alessandro dè Medici to prevent him from denouncing him, or by the new pope, Paul III, who wanted his posts in the church for his own nephews.

Ippolito had been a generous patron of the arts, which was acknowledged by Giorgio Vasari in his writing, and he was painted by Titian wearing Hungarian costume in 1533.

He was unsuitable for the church because of his friendship with a Venetian courtesan and his love for Guilia Gonzaga, who was painted by artist Sebastiano del Piombo, who also enjoyed Ippolito’s patronage.

But Ippolito enjoyed the lavish lifestyle his position in the church gave him. Clement VII had reputedly once tried to sack members of his household, which Ippolito had resisted on the grounds that although he probably did not need them, they needed him.

The Church of San Michele Arcangelo in Itri
The Church of San Michele
Arcangelo in Itri
Travel tip:

Itri in Lazio, where Ippolito died en route to Africa, is a small town in the province of Latina. It lies in a valley between the mountains and the sea near the Gulf of Gaeta. It has an ancient castle in the upper part of the town and the local people speak Itrano, a variation of the Naples dialect. The film Two Women, starring Sofia Loren, was filmed in Itri.

Travel tip:

Urbino, where Ippolito was born, is a beautiful city on a steep hill inland from Pesaro in the Marche region. The Ducal Palace, made famous by Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, is one of the most important monuments in Italy and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Romano Prodi – politician

Il Professore became prime minister and European Commission president

Romani Prodi was twice Italy's prime minister
Romani Prodi was twice Italy's prime minister
Romano Prodi, who has twice served as prime minister of Italy, was born on this day in 1939 in Scandiano in Emilia-Romagna.

A former academic, who was nicknamed Il Professore by the Italians, Prodi was also president of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004.

Prodi graduated from the Catholic University in Milan in 1961 and studied as a postgraduate at the London School of Economics.

After moving up to become professor of economics at Bologna University, Prodi served the Italian government as minister for industry in 1978.

In 1996 after two productive stints as chairman of the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction, Prodi set his sights on becoming Italy’s prime minister and built a centre-left base of support known as the Olive Tree coalition.

While Silvio Berlusconi used television to campaign, Prodi went on a five-month bus tour round Italy, calling for more accountability in government. His approach appealed to the voters and his coalition won by a narrow margin.

Prodi was appointed prime minister of Italy for the first time on May 17, 1996.

Silvio Berlusconi twice lost out to Prodi in Italian elections
Silvio Berlusconi twice lost out to
Prodi in Italian elections
He remained prime minister for two years and four months, during which time he privatised telecommunications and reformed the government’s employment and pension policies. He significantly reduced the budget deficit to facilitate the country’s acceptance into the European Monetary Union, a task that had seemed impossible before he took office.

When he lost support from left-wing members of his coalition following disputes over the country’s proposed budget, he had to resign in October 1998.

The following year Prodi was appointed president of the European Commission after the entire 20-member commission was forced to resign following charges of widespread fraud and corruption.

During his five-year term, the EU expanded beyond its western European roots to include Malta, Cyprus and eight other countries.

After his term as president of the European Commission ended in 2004, Prodi returned to Italian politics and campaigned to become prime minister again in 2006, pledging to improve the country’s ailing economy and withdraw troops from Iraq.

Prodi with his wife, Flavia Franzoni
Prodi with his wife, Flavia Franzoni
Prodi’s centre-left coalition won a narrow victory over Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right group. Berlusconi initially contested the results but resigned in May 2006.

Prodi’s second term in office lasted one year and eight months until he resigned in January 2008 after losing a confidence vote.

Later that year, Prodi was selected to become president of the African Union-UN peace keeping panel. He is currently serving as the UN Special Envoy for the Sahel.

Prodi has received 20 honorary degrees from institutions in Italy and throughout the rest of the world.

Prodi shares his home town of Scandiano with the biologist  Lazzaro Spallanzani, whose statue in the main square
Prodi shares his home town of Scandiano with the biologist
Lazzaro Spallanzani, whose statue in the main square
Travel tip:

Scandiano, where Romano Prodi was born, is in the province of Reggio Emilia in Emilia-Romagna. The town was founded in 1262 when a defensive castle was built and houses later developed round it. Scandiano was ruled by the princes of Este between 1645 and 1796. The current holder of the title of Marquis of Scandiano is Prince Lorenz of Belgium, Archduke of Austria-Este, who is also the Duke of Modena. Since the 1960s the town has been an important centre for the production of tiles.

Travel tip:

Romano Prodi and his wife, Flavia, had two sons, Giorgio and Antonio. The family still lives in Bologna, where Prodi used to teach at the University. Bologna has the oldest university in the world, which was established in 1088 and attracted popes and kings as well as students of the calibre of Dante, Copernicus and Boccaccio. The oldest university building, the Archiginnasio, is open to the public from Monday to Saturday between 9 am and 1 pm, and is admission free.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Danilo Gallinari – basketball player

Giant from Lodi province who plays in America’s NBA

Danilo Gallinari joined New York Knicks in 2008 after entering the draft
Danilo Gallinari joined New York Knicks
in 2008 after entering the draft
Danilo Gallinari, one of two Italian-born players currently active in America’s National Basketball Association, was born on this day in 1988 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiani in Lombardy.

Only seven Italian-born players have participated in the NBA – America’s premier basketball league – since its formation in 1946.

The other Italian player presently with an NBA team is Marco Belinelli, from San Giovanni in Persiceto, near Bologna, who is attached to the Atlanta Hawks.

Gallinari, who stands 6ft 10ins tall, has played for three NBA teams, the latest of which – Los Angeles Clippers – he joined only last month.

Previously he had played for New York Knicks, whose coach, Mike D’Antoni, is an American-born former player who is now an Italian citizen, and for the Denver Nuggets.

Gallinari, whose father, Vittorio, played professional basketball for teams in Milan, Pavia, Bologna and Verona, began his career in 2004 with Casalpusterlengo, a third-level Italian team from a town about 25km (15 miles) from his home in Sant’Angelo Lodigiani.

He moved up a tier in 2005 by joining Armani Jeans Milano and then Edimes Pavia, where in 2006 he was named best Italian player in the Italian League Second Division, despite missing half the season through injury.

Danilo Gallinari, representing the  Italian national team in 2010
Danilo Gallinari, representing the
Italian national team in 2010
This earned him a move to his father’s old club, Olimpia Milano, in which he was named as the First Division’s best player under the age of 22 in his first season and topped the league’s overall efficiency ratings in 2007-08.

Gallinari also represented Olimpia Milano in the elite EuroLeague – basketball’s equivalent of the Champions League in football – scoring 27 points in his final game of the 2007-08 campaign against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

His move to the NBA came in 2008, when he took advantage of an escape clause in his Olimpia Milano contract that permitted him to take up any opportunity to play professionally in the United States and entered himself for the NBA draft.

New York Knicks acquired him as the sixth draft pick and gave him a two-year contract.

Gallinari’s time in the NBA has been bedevilled by injuries yet his performances have improved year on year.

He missed a large part of his debut 2008-09 season with back problems and, after sustaining an anterior ligament injury that ended his 2012-13 season at Denver early, he had to sit out the entire 2013-14 season as he underwent rehabilitation.

Gallinari, who plays as a small forward/power forward, was also sidelined for the final 22 games of the 2015-16 season with Denver because of an ankle injury.

He is currently unable to play after fracturing a thumb representing Italy in a friendly against the Netherlands, the result of throwing a punch against an opponent.

He was the biggest acquisition of the summer for Los Angeles Clippers when he moved last month.

Gallinari’s statistics, however, demonstrate how he has become an increasingly valuable player when fit.  In 2009, he set a career-high points haul of 30 for New York against Philadelphia 76ers; his current career-high stands at 47, which he recorded in a double-overtime loss to Dallas Mavericks for Denver Nuggets in 2015.

A sunlit Piazza della Vittoria
A sunlit Piazza della Vittoria
Travel tip:

Both Sant’Angelo Lodigiano and Casalpusterlengo are municipalities in the province of Lodi, an historic small city on the banks of the River Adda that was the property of the Visconti family and the Sforzas in the 15th and 16th centuries, when it had great value as the central town of a richly fertile agricultural area, which it is to this day.  Its prosperity was the consequence of a system of artificial rivers and channels, work on which began in the 13th century, that was created to irrigate what had previously been arid and unusable land. The heart of the city is the beautiful Piazza della Vittoria.

  The Mediolanum Forum, home of Olimpio Milano
The Mediolanum Forum, home of Olimpio Milano
Travel tip:

The Olimpio Milano team, sometimes known as Emporio Armani Milano, play their home matches at the Mediolanum Forum, an indoor sports and concert arena with seats for 12,700 spectators, situated in the Assago suburb of Milan and now accessible by a direct Metro service from the centre of the city.  Assago is also home to the Italian headquarters of Nestlé.