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.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Maurizio Margaglio - ice dancer

Multiple champion remembered for famous fall

Maurizio Margaglio began skating when he was 10
Maurizio Margaglio began
skating when he was 10
The ice dancer Maurizio Margaglio, who enjoyed a prolifically successful partnership with Barbara Fusar-Poli from the mid-1990s to the early part of the new century, was born on this day in 1974 in Milan.

Margaglio and Fusar-Poli were national champions of Italy nine times and in 2001 they became the first Italian pair to become World champions, winning in Vancouver ahead of the defending champions Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France.  They were European champions the same year, during a remarkable season in which they won every event they entered.

Yet they never won an Olympic title in three attempts, and as well as their successes they are remembered as much for the calamity that befell them at their home Olympics in Turin in 2006.

The moment that Margoglio and Fusar-Poli crashed to the ice in Turin
The moment that Margoglio and Fusar-Poli
crashed to the ice in Turin
In their first appearance in international competition for four years, Margaglio and Fusar-Poli were in the gold medal position, leading by a full half-point over the Russian favourites and two-time World champions, Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomorav, after the opening compulsory dance section of the competition.
Yet just seconds away from potentially consolidating their lead in the original dance section, disaster struck.  Performing a rotational lift, Margaglio lost his balance, dropped Fusar-Poli, and fell to the ice himself.

After a bronze medal in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, when another fall possibly cost them gold, it was history repeating itself in a cruel way.

What followed became one of the talking points of the Games and the images appeared in newspapers around the world. The couple scrambled to their feet, but instead of bowing to the judges and acknowledging the crowd, as is customary, the two stood facing each other, almost motionless, for a full 30 seconds, Fusar-Poli fixing Margaglio with stare so intense that one commentator was moved to suggest that “if she had had a pistol, she would have shot him immediately”.

Barbara Funar-Poli was so dismayed at their fall she fixed Margaglio with a long, unflickering stare
Barbara Funar-Poli was so dismayed at their fall she
fixed Margaglio with a long, unflickering stare
Afterwards, Fusar-Poli was pictured with her head in her hands, sobbing, as the scores were revealed, although when they completed the competition in the free dance the following day they appeared to have been reconciled.  They warmed up at opposite ends of the rink, but at the end of their routine, which they performed impressively and without mishap and which pushed them up to sixth in the final reckoning, they embraced and kissed one another.

Funar-Poli later said that she was not angry with her partner so much as deeply disappointed that an accident has denied them an opportunity for the second Olympics in a row, especially in their home country.

Margaglio now works as a coach, largely in Finland
Margaglio now works as a coach,
largely in Finland
The son of an accountant, Margaglio did not skate until he was 10, after he brought home a flyer from school advertising classes and was encouraged by his parents to have a go. He was naturally athletic, excelling at a number of sports, including soccer, swimming, tennis and volleyball, and took to skating easily.

He was soon winning ice dancing competitions and in 1990 he began working with Paola Mezzadri, who was also Funar-Poli’s coach. She paired the two up for the first time in 1994.

Margaglio has a home in Courmayeur, in the Aosta Valley, but since 2011 has spent a good deal of his time in Finland, where he has been head of that country’s ice dancing development programme.  He is married to German figure skater Jyrina Lorenz, with whom he had three sons, Gabriel, Sebastian and Julian.

The Mediolanum Forum is just 12km from Milan
The Mediolanum Forum is just 12km from Milan
Travel tip:

Milan’s major ice skating facility is the Mediolanum Forum located in Assago, about 12km (7.5 miles) southwest of the city. The 12,700-seat sports arena, which is primarily a venue for ice hockey, basketball, tennis and live concerts, also offers accomplished skaters the opportunity to practice on the rink, as well as lessons for beginners and others who want to improve their skills. Assago is also home to the Italian headquarters of the multinational food and drinks company Nestlé.

The alpine landscapes around Courmayeur offer extraordinarily spectacular views
The alpine landscapes around Courmayeur offer
extraordinarily spectacular views
Travel tip:

Courmayeur is one of the most beautiful of Italian alpine towns.  Situated at the foot of the southern side of Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco in Italian), at an elevation of 1,224 m (4,016 ft) above sea level, it is charming town of cobbled streets in which high-end boutiques rub shoulders with ancient churches, historic bars and contemporary ski lodges, with a backdrop of majestic, unadulterated mountain landscapes.  The area is popular with hikers during the summer and, of course, skiers during the winter, attracted to slopes with some of the best views in Italy and by the town's reputation as a magnet for the rich and famous.

More reading:

Alberto Tomba - Italy's greatest skier

Deborah Compagnoni's three Olympic titles

How a fighter pilot won Italy's first Olympic bobsleigh gold

Also on this day:

1625: The death of Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola

1892: The birth of racing driver Tazio Nuvolari

1975: The beatification of doctor and scientist Giuseppe Moscati


Thursday, 15 November 2018

The murder of Pellegrino Rossi

Political assassination opened way to creation of Roman Republic

A magazine illustration depicting the murder of  Pellegrino Rossi at the Palazzo della Cancelleria
A magazine illustration depicting the murder of
Pellegrino Rossi at the Palazzo della Cancelleria
One of the key events during the revolutionary upheaval of 1848 in Italy took place on this day in that year when the politician Count Pellegrino Rossi was murdered at the Palazzo della Cancelleria, the seat of the government of the Papal States in Rome.

The event precipitated turmoil in Rome and led eventually to the formation of the short-lived Roman Republic.

Rossi was the Minister of the Interior in the government of Pope Pius XI and as such was responsible for a programme of unpopular reforms, underpinned by his conservative liberal stance, which gave only the well-off the right to vote and did nothing to address the economic and social disruption created by industrialisation.

Street violence, stirred up by secret societies such as Giuseppe Mazzini’s Young Italy movement, had been going on for weeks in Rome and Rossi had been declared an enemy of the people in meetings as far away as Turin and Florence.

Rossi's reforms had failed to address the social and economic problems besetting Rome
Rossi's reforms had failed to address the social
and economic problems besetting Rome
There was also anger in Rome at Pius XI’s decision to withdraw the support of the Papal Army from the First Italian War of Independence, being fought between the the Kingdom of Sardinia (Piedmont) and the Austrian Empire.

On November 15, 1848, Rossi arrived at the Palazzo della Cancelleria to present his plan for a new constitutional order to the legislative assembly. He was warned ahead of the meeting that an attempt would be made on his life but he defied the threat with the words: “I defend the cause of the pope, and the cause of the pope is the cause of God. I must and will go.”

However, as he climbed the stairs leading to the assembly hall, an individual stepped forward and struck him with a cane. Rossi turned towards his attacker and as he did so was set upon by another assailant, who drove a dagger into his neck.

The murderer was said to be Luigi Brunetti, the elder son of Angelo Brunetti, a fervent democrat, acting on the instigation of Pietro Sterbini, a journalist and revolutionary who was a friend of Mazzini. Though members of the Civic Guard were in the courtyard when the attack took place, no one attempted to arrest the count’s killer and when crowds gathered later at the house of Rossi's widow, they chanted ‘Blessed is the hand that stabbed Rossi’.

Giuseppe Mazzini was one of the leaders of the Roman Republic
Giuseppe Mazzini was one of the
leaders of the Roman Republic
The murder spurred the secret societies to foment an uprising against the papal government. The following day, Pius XI was besieged inside the Palazzo del Quirinale by an unruly mob. The pope’s Swiss Guard was able to hold back the mob for a time but when it seemed the crowd was about to disperse, up to 1,000 members of the Civic Guard, the police, and other soldiers marched into the palace’s piazza and opened fire on the palace, including with cannons. Knowing resistance was useless, Pius XI agreed to negotiate with revolutionaries.

Demands were made for a democratic government, social reforms and a declaration of war against the Empire of Austria.  Pius XI had little option but to appoint a liberal ministry, but he refused to abdicate and forbade the government to pass any laws in his name.

In the event, on the evening of November 24, with the help of close allies and his personal attendant, Pius XI escaped from the Palazzo del Quirinale disguised as an ordinary priest, slipping through one of the gates of the city and boarding a carriage that was to take him to Gaeta, a city 120km (75 miles) south of Rome, where the King of the Two Sicilies had promised him a refuge.

Rossi was commemorated with a statue in his native Carrara in Tuscany
Rossi was commemorated with a statue
in his native Carrara in Tuscany
It meant that, for the first time in history, Rome was without a government. Into the void stepped Mazzini, his supporter Aurelio Saffi and the popular Roman activist Carlo Armellini, who formed a triumvirate at the head of a Roman Republic, which was declared officially on February 9, 1849.

The republic put forward some progressive ideas, including religious tolerance and an end to capital punishment, but in the event it was a short-lived revolution. Ironically, it was crushed by a former ally, Napoleon III of France, who had once participated in an uprising against the Papal States but who now, under pressure from the Catholic Church in France, felt compelled to send an army to restore Pius XI to power.

The Romans put up a fight, aided by a Republican army led by Garibaldi, but the city fell in late June and with it the Republic.

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, built between 1489 and 1513, is thought to be the oldest Renaissance palace in Rome
The Palazzo della Cancelleria, built between 1489 and
1513, is thought to be the oldest Renaissance palace in Rome
Travel tip:

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, which is situated between Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Campo de' Fiori, is a Renaissance palace, probably the earliest Renaissance palace to be built in Rome. It is the work of the architect Donato Bramante between 1489 and 1513, initially as a residence for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, who was the Camerlengo - treasurer - of the Holy Roman Church under Pope Sixtus V. It evolved as the seat of the Chancellery of the Papal States.  The Roman Republic used it as their parliament building.

The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the residence in Rome of 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents
The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the residence in Rome
of 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents
Travel tip:

The Palazzo del Quirinale was built in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII as a summer residence and served both as a papal residence and the offices responsible for the civil government of the Papal States until 1870. When, in 1871, Rome became the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy, the palace became the official residence of the kings of Italy, although some monarchs, notably King Victor Emmanuel III (1900–1946), lived in a private residence elsewhere. When the monarchy was abolished in 1946, the Palazzo del Quirinale became the official residence and workplace for the presidents of the Italian Republic. So far, it has housed 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents.

More reading:

Why Mazzini was seen as the hero of the Risorgimento

Garibaldi's Expedition of the Thousand

How Aurelio Saffi became Mazzini's trusted ally

Also on this day:

1905: The birth of band leader Mantovani

1922: The birth of neorealist film director Francesco Rosi

1940: The birth of fashion designer Roberto Cavalli


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Carlo Emilio Gadda - writer and novelist

Author who drew comparisons with Levi and Joyce

Carlo Emilio Gadda was an engineer before he became a full-time writer
Carlo Emilio Gadda was an engineer
before he became a full-time writer
The essayist and novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose work has been compared with the writings of Primo Levi, James Joyce and Marcel Proust, was born on this day in 1893 in Milan.

His novels and short stories were considered outstanding for his original and innovative style, moving away from the rather staid language of Italian literature in the early 20th century, adding elements of dialect, technical jargon and wordplay.

It has been said that Gadda opted for his experimental style because he thought that only through the use of a fragmentary, incoherent language could he adequately portray what he considered a disintegrated world.

Born into an upper middle-class family living on Via Manzoni in the centre of Milan, Gadda lost his father when he was only a child, after which his mother had to bring up the family on limited means, although she refused to compromise with her lifestyle. His father’s business ineptitude and his mother’s obsession with keeping up appearances would figure strongly in his 1963 novel, La cognizione del dolore, published in English as Acquainted with Grief.

Gadda fought in the First World War as a volunteer with the Alpini and was captured at the Battle of Caporetto, in which the Italians suffered a catastrophic defeat. His younger brother Enrico, an aviator, was killed. A fervent nationalist at the time of Italy’s entry into the conflict, he was deeply humiliated by the months he had to spend as a German prisoner of war.

Gadda's most famous work is available in English
Gadda's most famous work is
available in English
During the 1920s he worked as an electrical engineer, often abroad. He spent several years in Argentina, although at home he was credited with the construction, as engineer, of the Vatican Power Station for Pope Pius XI.

He began writing in the 1930s after moving to Florence and joining a literary group around the Florentine review Solaria. He wrote a number of essays and short stories, from the beginning demonstrating a fascination with linguistic experimentation as well as a gift for psychological and sociological analysis. His first works were collected in I sogni e la folgore (1955; The Dreams and the Lightning).

Gadda became a full-time writer in 1940, although between 1950 and 1955 he worked for RAI, the Italian radio and television network. He lived in Rome, alone, in a cheap apartment in Via Blumenstihl.

At one time an admirer of Mussolini, he later satirised the dictator in Eros e Priapo (1945), in which he analysed the collective phenomena that favoured the rise of Italian Fascism, arguing that Fascism was essentially a bourgeois movement.  Refused publication initially for its allegedly obscene content, it was not until 2013 that the work was published in fully unexpurgated form.

Gadda's birthplace in Milan is marked with a plaque
Gadda's birthplace in Milan is marked with a plaque
Gadda’s best-known and most successful novel, Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana (1957; That Awful Mess on Via Merulana), is a story of a murder and burglary in Fascist Rome and of the subsequent investigation, which features characters from many levels of Roman life, written in a pastiche of literary Italian mixed with passages of Roman dialect, dotted with puns, technical jargon, foreign words, invented words and classical allusions.

At once a sociological, comic and political novel, as well as an extraordinary feat of wordplay, at the end of which nothing has been established or proven in relation to the crime, it was described as 'the great modern Italian novel' by Italo Calvino, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Moravia. 

Gadda died in Rome in 1973, at the age of 79.

The Stadio Olimpico is the home of Rome's two soccer clubs
The Stadio Olimpico is the home of Rome's two soccer clubs
Travel tip:

Via Bernardo Blumenstihl, where Gadda lived in Rome, may have been a modest address in the 1940s but today is in a quiet, upmarket residential area in which many of the apartment complexes have swimming pools and tennis courts and communal gardens.  Situated to the northwest of the city centre, it is not far from the Stadio Olimpico, home of the AS Roma and SS Lazio football clubs.

The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome
The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome
Travel tip:

Via Merulana is a street in Rome, to the southeast of the centre, linking the magnificent Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, with its imposing 18th century Baroque facade by Alessandro Galilei, and the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, famous for its Roman mosaics and gilded ceiling. The name derives from family that owned the land in medieval times.  It forms part of the Rione Monti, near the Oppian Hill.

More reading:

How Alberto Moravia likened Fascism to a childhood illness

Novelist whose books exposed political links with the Mafia

The Auschwitz survivor who became one of Italy's greatest writers

Also on this day:

1812: The birth of Maria Cristina of Savoy

1812: The birth of poet Aleardo Aleardi

1897: The death of soprano Giuseppina Strepponi


Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Giovanna of Italy - Tsaritsa of Bulgaria

Daughter of King of Italy who married Tsar Boris III

Princess Giovanna of Savoy, who became Ioanna, Tsarista of Bulgaria
Princess Giovanna of Savoy, who
became Ioanna, Tsarista of Bulgaria
The girl who would grow up to be Ioanna, Tsarista of Bulgaria, was born Princess Giovanna Elisabetta Antonia Romana Maria of Savoy on this day in 1907 in Rome.

Giovanna’s father was King Victor Emmanuel III, who was Italy’s monarch through two world wars from 1900 until he abdicated in 1946 just as Italy was about to become a republic.  Her mother was Queen Elena of Montenegro.

At the age of 22, Princess Giovanna became Tsarista Ioanna - the last Tsarista - after marrying the Tsar of Bulgaria, Boris III, in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi.  It was the hope of the Italian royal family that the marriage would strengthen their relationship with the Balkan states.

The marriage lasted until Boris’s death in 1943 at the age of just 49. The Tsar had fallen ill during a trip to Germany to discuss Bulgaria’s role in the Second World War as a member of the Axis bloc and there were suspicions that he was poisoned on the orders of Hitler.

Bulgaria had agreed to join the Axis under the threat of invasion by the Germans, who wanted to use their territory to launch an attack on Greece, and was said to be appalled at Hitler's massacres of Jews. On two occasions he refused orders to deport Bulgarian Jews. Queen Ioanna herself intervened to obtain transit visas to enable a number of Jews to escape to Argentina.

Boris III died at the age of only 49 amid suspicions he was poisoned by Hitler
Boris III died at the age of only 49 amid
suspicions he was poisoned by Hitler
Princess Giovanna had been brought up in Rome at Villa Savoia, the former and present Villa Ada, set in a large area of parkland to the northeast of the city centre.

A bright, intelligent girl with a love of music, she was given an education in literature, history and Latin. She learned to play the piano and the cello and spoke English and French.

It was always her destiny to marry into a foreign royal family, which has been a tradition in the House of Savoy, going back to the former Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.  Indeed, Boris’ father, Tsar Ferdinand, had married a princess of the former royal houses of Parma and the Two-Sicilies.

When she reached the age at which speculation over her future husband began, Princess Giovanna was linked with a number of foreign princes, although for a while she was seen in the company of the Marquis de Pinedo, a daring Italian aviator, with whom the princess led off two court balls of the 1927 season. He was also her guest in the royal box at the Davis Cup tennis matches later that year.

She had met Tsar Boris III for the first time in 1927 when he was touring Europe with his brother Prince Kyril. Romance blossomed later, after they attended the wedding in January 1930 of Princess Maria Jose of Belgium to Princess Giovanna’s brother Prince Umberto. It was after that meeting that plans were laid for them to be married.

Umberto II, Italy's exiled king, was joined by Giovanna in Portugal
Umberto II, Italy's exiled king, was
joined by Giovanna in Portugal
As with Tsar Ferdinand’s marriage, the match could only happen with an accommodation between the Eastern Orthodox Church of Bulgaria and the Roman Catholic Church of Italy. Negotiations were so difficult that at one point talks broke off entirely with Boris III declaring that he would remain a bachelor if he could not marry Princess Giovanna and the Princess vowing to enter a convent if she could not marry the Tsar.

Eventually, Boris III promised that any future children be raised in the Catholic faith and Pope Pius XI granted approval. In the final negotiations, it had helped that Giovanna knew the Pope's Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII.

The Tsar and the Princess were married in Assisi on October 25, 1930.  After the wedding breakfast, the couple travelled by train and yacht to Sofia, where the newlyweds stepped out on to a railway platform strewn with chrysanthemums. From there they proceeded to the city's cathedral for an Orthodox ceremony.

Despite the agreements reached before the wedding in Italy, the couple's two children, Marie-Louise, born in 1933, and Simeon, born in 1937, were baptized in the Eastern Orthodox church. Yet Giovanna was spared excommunication.

After Boris’s death, Simeon became the new Tsar and a regency was established, led by his uncle Prince Kyril.

Giovanna was welcomed back by the Bulgarian people when she returned to Sofia in 1993
Giovanna was welcomed back by the Bulgarian
people when she returned to Sofia in 1993
Towards the end of the Second World War, however, Bulgaria was invaded by the Soviet Union. Prince Kyril was tried by a ‘people's court’ and subsequently executed. Giovanna and her son Simeon remained under house arrest until 1946, when the new Communist government gave them 48 hours to leave the country.

They fled first to Alexandria in the Egypt, to join her father, Victor Emmanuel III, before moving on to Madrid. After Simeon married in 1962, Giovanna moved to Estoril, on the Portuguese Riviera, where would live for the rest of her life, close to the home of her brother, the exiled Italian king, Umberto II.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, she returned to Bulgaria in 1993, visiting the site of Boris's grave, which had been destroyed by the Communists, and attending the reburial of his heart, which had been found in the gardens of the former royal palace.  Thousands of people turned out on the streets to greet her.

Giovanna died in 2000. She is buried in the Communal Cemetery of Assisi, Italy.

Simeon - who as Simeon II was the last Tsar of Bulgaria, albeit at the age of six - is now a businessman in Madrid. Giovanna’s daughter, Marie-Louise, lives in New Jersey.

The Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, where Princess Giovanna and King Boris III were married in 1930
The Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, where Princess
Giovanna and King Boris III were married in 1930
Travel tip:

The Papal Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, where Tsarista Ioanna was married and is buried, is the mother church of the Franciscan Order. It can be found in Piazza Inferiore di San Francesco in Assisi. Built into the side of a hill, it consists of two churches, a lower Basilica and an upper Basilica, and a crypt that contains the remains of St Francis. The Basilica is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy and has been designated a Unesco World Heritage site since 2000.

The Villa Ada-Savoia, former royal residence, now home of the Egyptian Embassy in Rome
The Villa Ada-Savoia, former royal residence, now home
of the Egyptian Embassy in Rome
Travel tip:

The Villa Ada - formerly the Villa Savoia -  is a 450 acres (1.8 km2) park in Rome, the second largest in the city after Villa Doria Pamphili, located in the northeastern part of the city.  The park was bought in 1872 by King Victor Emmanuel II, who expanded and improved the main house, but his successor Umberto I preferred the Palazzo Quirinale as the royal residence and the villa was sold to Count Telfener, who named it to his wife Ada. Victor Emmanuel III bought it back in 1904 and the villa became a royal residence, with a change of name to Villa Savoia, until 1946.  Nowadays, it houses the Egyptian Embassy. The various buildings in the park included the Villa Polissena, the Royal Stables, the Casino Pallavicini and the Temple of Flora. Victor Emmanuel III had a bunker built in the grounds as an air raid shelter, recently restored by the non-profit organisation, Roma Sotteranea, who organise tours.

More reading:

The abdication of King Victor Emmanuel III

Umberto II - the last King of Italy

The quiet life of a banished princess

Also on this day:

1868: The death of composer Gioachino Rossini

1894: The death of Saint Agostina Pietrantoni

1914: The birth of film director Alberto Lattuada


Monday, 12 November 2018

Giulio Lega – First World War hero

Flying ace survived war to look after health of Italy’s politicians

Giulio Lega with the Hanriot HD1 in which he scored his five aerial successes
Giulio Lega with the Hanriot HD.1 in which
he scored his five aerial successes
Credited with five aerial victories during the First World War, the pilot Giulio Lega was born on this day in 1892 in Florence.

After the war he completed his medical studies and embarked on a long career as physician to Italy’s Chamber of Deputies.

Lega had been a medical student when he was accepted by the Italian army for officer training in 1915.

Because he was unusually tall, he became an ‘extended infantryman’ in the Grenadiers. He made his mark with them at the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo, for which he was awarded the War Merit Cross for valour. The following year he won a Bronze Medal for Military Valour in close-quarters combat, which was awarded to him on the battlefield.

Lega volunteered to train as a pilot in 1916 and was sent to Malpensa near Milan. After gaining his licence he was sent on reconnaissance duty during which he earned a Silver Medal for Military Valour. After completing fighter pilot training he joined 76a Squadriglia and went on to fly 46 combat sorties with them.

Silvio Scaroni was a colleague of Lega in the 76a Squadriglia of the Italian air force
Silvio Scaroni was a colleague of Lega in the
76a Squadriglia of the Italian air force
His first two victories in the air, near Col d’Asiago and over Montello, were shared with two other Italian pilots. During the last Austro-Hungarian offensive he downed a Hansa-Brandenburg C1 over Passagno single-handedly. His last two triumphs were downing an unidentified enemy over Mareno di Piave and an Albatros D111, both with pilots Silvio Scaroni and Romolo Ticconi.

His final three victories earned him another Silver Medal for valour. He continued to serve as a pilot until the end of the war when he was presented with the War Cross.

He then finished his medical studies, graduating from the University of Bologna in 1920 but remained in the Air Force Reserves, rising to the rank of tenente colonello.

In 1931 he was appointed head of the medical service for Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, a post he held until his retirement in 1957.

During World War II he was assigned to the headquarters of the Servizi Aerei Speciali.

Lega was still serving as a medical consultant to the Italian parliament when he died in 1973.

The Ponte Vecchio is one of the most famous of many famous landmarks in Florence
The Ponte Vecchio is one of the most famous of
many famous landmarks in Florence
Travel tip:

Giulio Lega is only one of many famous people born in Florence, a city so rich in history and artistic and architectural treasures that for visitors it feels like walking around an outdoor museum. In Piazza della Signoria, an L-shaped square in the centre of the city, the 14th century Palazzo Vecchio was the seat of government. Citizens gathered in the square for public meetings and the religious leader, Girolamo Savonarola, was burned at the stake there in 1498. The piazza is filled with statues, some of them copies, commemorating major events in the city’s history. Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia has become famous as the home of Michelangelo’s statue of David and is the second most visited museum in Italy, after the Uffizi, which is the main art gallery in Florence.

Milan's Malpensa airport is the second busiest in Italy in terms of passenger numbers
Milan's Malpensa airport is the second busiest in Italy
in terms of passenger numbers
Travel tip:

Malpensa airport started up in 1909 at Cascina Malpensa, an old farm to the northwest of Milan, where the land was used to test aircraft prototypes. During World War I it was established as a flying school for training pilots such as Giulio Lega. As an airfield used by the Germans in World War II, Malpensa was heavily bombed by the Allies, but in the 1940s the runway was repaired and flights to Brussels began. Today, Malpensa is the second busiest airport in Italy in terms of passengers, after Rome Fiumicino.

More reading:

Silvio Scaroni - the World War One pilot who shot down 26 enemy aircraft

How Italy's most famous World War One flying ace was killed in action

The aerial duellist who claimed 19 victories

Also on this day:

1920: Italy signs treaty with Balkan States

1948: The death of composer Umberto Giordano

2011: Silvio Berlusconi resigns as prime minister


Sunday, 11 November 2018

Andrea Zani – violinist and composer

Musician who ushered in the new classical era

Much of Andrea Zani's music has survived and there are many recordings available
Much of Andrea Zani's music has survived and there
are many recordings available
Andrea Teodora Zani, one of the earliest Italian composers to move away from the Baroque style, was born on this day in 1696 in Casalmaggiore in the province of Cremona in Lombardy.

Casalmaggiore, nicknamed ‘the little Venice on the Po’, was a breeding ground for musical talent at this time and Zani was an exact contemporary of Giuseppe Guarneri, the most famous member of the Guarneri family of violin makers in Cremona. He was just a bit younger than the violinist composers, Francesco Maria Veracini, Giuseppe Tartini and Pietro Locatelli.

Zani’s father, an amateur violinist, gave him his first violin lessons and he later received instruction from Giacomo Civeri, a local musician, and Carlo Ricci, who was at the time court musician to the Gonzaga family at their palace in Guastalla.

After Zani played in front of Antonio Caldara, who was Capellmeister for the court of Archduke Ferdinand Charles in nearby Mantua, he was invited to go to Vienna to be a violinist in the service of the Habsburgs.

Antonio Caldara sponsored Zani's work for many years
Antonio Caldara sponsored
Zani's work for many years
A lot of Zani’s work has survived in both published and manuscript form, some of it having been recovered from European libraries. His early works show the influence of Antonio Vivaldi, but his Opus 2, published in 1729, is considered of historical importance because it shows no ambiguity of genre and has cast off Baroque elements in favour of a more classical style.

After his sponsor, Caldara, died in 1736, Zani returned to Casalmaggiore, where he remained for the rest of his life, leaving the town occasionally to make concert appearances.

Zani died at the age of 60 in 1757 after being injured when the carriage in which he was travelling to Mantua accidentally overturned.

The church of Santa Maria Assunta in Castelmaggiore, near Bologna
The church of Santa Maria
Assunta in Castelmaggiore 
Travel tip:

Casalmaggiore, where Andrea Zani was born, is a town in the province of Cremona in Lombardy. It is believed the town was founded by the Romans as a military camp. Around the year 1000 the town had a fortified castle owned by the Este family. Casalmaggiore was also the birthplace of the composer, Ignazio Donati.

Exhibits at Cremona's Museo del Violino
Exhibits at Cremona's Museo del Violino
Travel tip:

Cremona, the nearest city to Andrea Zani’s home town, is well known as a centre of violin production. The Museo Stradivariano in Via Ugolani Dati in Cremona has a collection of musical items housed in the elegant rooms of a former palace. Visitors can see how the contralto viola was constructed in accordance with the classical traditions of Cremona, view instruments commemorating Italian violin makers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and look at more than 700 relics from the workshop of Antonio Stradivari, who produced violins that are nowadays worth millions. Another museum dedicated to the city's luthiers is the Museo del Violino in Piazza Marconi.

More reading:

Why Antonio Stradivari is considered history's finest violin-maker

Nicolò Amati, the greatest of a dynasty of Cremona luthiers

Success and sadness in the life of Antonio Vivaldi

Also on this day:

1869: The birth of Victor Emmanuel III, Italy's wartime monarch

1932: The birth of controversial broadcaster Germano Mosconi

1961: The birth of Montalbano actor Luca Zigaretti


Saturday, 10 November 2018

Vanessa Ferrari - gymnast

First Italian woman to win a World Championship gold

Vanessa Ferrari is Italy's most successful female gymnast
Vanessa Ferrari is Italy's most
successful female gymnast
The gymnast Vanessa Ferrari, who in 2006 became the first Italian female competitor to win a gold medal at the World Championships of artistic gymnastics, was born on November 10, 1990, in the town of Orzinuovi in Lombardy.

Ferrari won the all-around gold - consisting of uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise - at the World Championships in Aarhus in Denmark when she was only 15 years old. It remains the only artistic gymnastics world title to be won by an Italian woman.

Earlier in 2006, Ferrari had picked up her first gold medal of the European Championships at Volos in Greece as Italy won the all-around team event.

Naturally small in stature, Ferrari was inspired to take up gymnastics by watching the sport on television as a child, when the sport was dominated by Russian and Romanian athletes.

With the help of her Bulgarian-born mother, Galya, who made many sacrifices to help her daughter fulfil her ambitions, Ferrari joined the Brixia gym in the city of Brescia, a 30km (19 miles) drive from the family home.

Brixia was co-founded by Enrico Casella, a former rugby player who was technical director of the Italian women’s gymnastics team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Casella recognised Ferrari’s potential and took it upon himself to become her personal coach.

Vanessa Ferrari became a World champion when she was only 15 years old
Vanessa Ferrari became a World champion
when she was only 15 years old
Ferrari’s first major success came at the 2004 European junior championships, when as a 13-year-old she won the silver medal. She dominated the Mediterranean Games and European Junior Olympic festival the following year. She was all-around champion at both events, as well as winning four more golds at the former.

After her success in the European and World senior events in 2006, she won two gold medals at the 2007 European championships in Amsterdam, finishing first in both the all-around event and the floor exercises.

She could finish only ninth in the all-round when the European championships were held on home ground in Milan in 2009 but collected another medal by finishing runner-up to Great Britain’s Beth Tweddle in the floor exercises.

In Brussels in 2012 she picked up her sixth medal overall with bronze in the team event before bouncing back to win her fourth gold on the floor in Sofia in 2014.

Although she is the most successful of all female Italian gymnasts, an Olympic medal has eluded Ferrari so far, although she has twice narrowly missed out.

At the London Games of 2012 she finished level on points with close rival Aliya Mustafina in the floor exercises only for the Russian to be given the bronze medal on the tie-break system, despite Ferrari finishing with a better mark for difficulty than her rival.

Vanessa Ferrari was injured at the   2017 World Championships
Vanessa Ferrari was injured at the
 2017 World Championships
And at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Ferrari again had to settle for fourth place. This time bronze medallist Amy Tinkler of Great Britain scored higher for difficulty and execution but missing out was again a disappointment for Ferrari because she was in the bronze medal position at the end of qualifying, although it later emerged that she was struggling with an Achilles tendon injury for which she had surgery later in 2016.

Rio was Ferrari’s third Olympics - the most at which any female Italian gymnast has competed - and although she once said she would retire after the 2012 Games she has ambitions to compete at a fourth in Tokyo in 2020 in the hope of clinching that elusive medal.

Since Rio, however, she has another Achilles tendon injury.  She has begun a coaching career alongside competing and hopes to be in Tokyo at least as a coach if not actually on the floor herself.

The Sforzesca Castle at Soncino, one of the neighbouring towns of Ferrari's home town of Orzonuovi
The Sforzesca Castle at Soncino, one of the neighbouring
towns of Ferrari's home town of Orzonuovi
Travel tip:

Orzinuovi is a town in Lombardy of just over 12,500 inhabitants about 30km (19 miles) southwest of Brescia and about 36km (22 miles) northeast of Cremona in an area of historical interest that includes the neighbouring town of Soncino, where there is well-preserved castle - the Rocca Sforzesca - built in 1473 for Galeazzo Maria Sforza and often used nowadays as a location for films and TV series, and the Casa degli Stampatori - Printers' House - where, in 1488, the first complete Jewish Bible in the world was printed.

Il Torrazzo in Cremona is the tallest bell tower in the whole of Italy
Il Torrazzo in Cremona is the tallest bell
tower in the whole of Italy
Travel tip:

Cremona is famous for having the tallest bell tower in Italy, il Torrazzo, which measures more than 112m (367ft) in height. The city is famous for violins, being the home of Antonio Stradivari and the Amati family, and there is a fascinating museum, the Museo Stradivariano in Via Ugolani Dati, which is dedicated to the city’s violin-making tradition of the 16th and 17th centuries. As well as violins, Cremona is also famous for producing confectionery. Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino specialises in the city’s famous torrone (nougat), a concoction of almonds, honey and egg whites created to mark the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza in 1441, when the city was given to the bride as part of her dowry.

More reading:

How Valentina Vezzali became Italy's most successful female athlete

World records and Moscow gold for high jumper Sara Simeoni

Horrific accident that drove Francesca Porcellato to Paralympic glory

Also on this day:

1816: Lord Byron arrives in Venice

1869: The birth of assassin Gaetano Bresci

1928: The birth of film music maestro Ennio Morricone


Friday, 9 November 2018

Giuseppe Panini - entrepreneur

News vendor who started football sticker craze

Giuseppe Panini anticipated what a success  football stickers would become
Giuseppe Panini anticipated what a success
football stickers would become
Giuseppe Panini, the entrepreneur and businessman who created an international craze for collecting football stickers, was born on this day in 1921 in the village of Pozza in Emilia-Romagna, not far from Modena.

Since the stickers’ first appearance in Italy in the 1960s and the first World Cup sticker album in 1970 took the concept into an international marketplace, Panini has grown into a publishing company that in 2017 generated sales in excess of €536 million ($643 million US) in more than 120 countries, employing more than 1000 people worldwide.

Panini, who died in 1996, grew immensely wealthy as a result, selling the business in 1989 for a sum said to be around £96 million, the equivalent of £232 million (€266 million; $303 million US) today, after which he spent the remaining years of his life building on an already established reputation for philanthropy.

He came from humble working-class origins and left school at the age of 11. His father, Antonio, worked at the military academy in the city of Modena, about 16km (10 miles) away from their village. Life changed for the family, however, when in 1945 they acquired the license to operate the popular newsstand near the cathedral in the centre of the city.

The Mexico 1970 World Cup album can sell for thousands of pounds at auction
The Mexico 1970 World Cup album can sell for
thousands of pounds at auction
Despite his lack of formal education, Panini had sound business sense. He and his brother Benito ran the newsstand and did well, investing some of the profits in a newspaper distribution agency.

While working at the newsstand, they noticed that the picture cards that some publishers gave away with their papers and magazines were always popular.  When they came across a large number of cards depicting flowers and plants that had been left over from a series given away with a popular magazine, they bought them all and hit upon the idea of selling them as a stand-alone product, in packets of two at 10 lire per packet.

Incredibly, they sold three million packets and in 1961 Giuseppe decided there was a demand it would be foolish not to try to meet. He rented a small workshop in Via Castelmaraldo in Modena and the Panini brothers began printing their own cars, not of plants and flowers but of footballers. They were the same size as the miniature pictures of saints that were popular at the time.

The first ones were just plain cards - self-adhesive stickers would follow later - but they were hugely popular, nonetheless. In the first year alone, the number of packets sold reached a staggering 15 million, almost doubling the following year and in 1964 Panini acquired the publishing plant in Viale Emilio Po, which is still the company’s headquarters today.

Giuseppe Panini turned the family business into a worldwide success
Giuseppe Panini turned the family
business into a worldwide success
The first Panini football album was published the same year and in the late 1960s came the development that was to turn the business into an international concern, when the brothers formed a partnership with FIFA to produce stickers and an album for the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.

It was a successful venture but because of the European trading laws, the market that turned out to be among the biggest of them all - in the United Kingdom - was not cracked until 1978, when the sticker album for the World Cup in Argentina hit the newsstands.

In typical Italian fashion, Giuseppe Panini made sure he looked after his family, employing not only Benito but his other brothers, Franco and Umberto, and his sisters Veronica, Maria and Norma. His mother, Olga, and his wife, also called Maria, were also involved.

He was also determined to put money into the local community in Modena.

In 1966, he bought the local volleyball team Modena Volley, which for a while was one of the biggest volleyball clubs in the world. In 1973 he founded the Italian Volleyball League - won 12 times by his own club - of which he was president for eight years.

Modena's Palazzo dello Sport is also known as PalaPanini
Modena's Palazzo dello Sport is also known as PalaPanini
He sponsored cultural projects and from 1985 to 1992 was president of the Modena Chamber of Commerce. He founded a school for business managers and a linguistic high school. He even opened a restaurant in Modena to showcase local products such as tortelloni and Lambrusco wine.

Shortly before his death he donated his photographic collections to the city. The local authority subsequently dedicated the city’s Palazzo dello Sport athletic facility to him as well as two museums to show off his collection - the Fotomuseo Giuseppe Panini and the Museo della Figurina.

Ironically, the sale of the company in 1989 - to the British-based publisher Robert Maxwell - almost brought about its demise. A period of poor management saw Panini miss out to rivals Merlin on the lucrative contract to publish sticker albums on behalf of the new English Premier League and after Maxwell died in 1991, leaving behind a mountain of debt, the company survived only after an investment consortium bought it out of administration.

The company was returned to profitability and the albums for recent World Cups have been among the most successful.  Past albums, meanwhile, remain highly collectible - none more so than the first one.

Indeed, such is the rarity of completed 1970 World Cup albums today that one sold at auction in 2017 for £10,450 (€12,012; $13,653 US).

The Ferrari headquarters at Maranello
The Ferrari headquarters at Maranello
Travel tip:

The village of Pozzo is a short distance from Maranello, famous as the headquarters of Ferrari, which has an extraordinary museum in which visitors can explore the history of the world’s most famous sports cars. Pozzo itself, which has a population of a little under 2,500, is home to the Villa Rangoni-Machiavelli - also known as the Villa Bice - which houses sculptures belonging to the Severi contemporary art collection.

Modena's 11th century cathedral
Modena's 11th century cathedral
Travel tip:

The historic city of Modena has a magnificent main square, Piazza Grande, where visitors can find the 11th century Duomo (cathedral) dedicated to San Geminiano, which is now a Unesco world heritage site. The city’s opera house was renamed Teatro Communale Luciano Pavarotti in 2007 after the great tenor, who was born in the city, as was the soprano Mirella Freni. Modena is also famous for its balsamic vinegar, Aceto Balsamico di Modena.

More reading:

How Giacinto Facchetti led Italy to the 1970 World Cup final

Vittorio Pozzo - Italy's double World Cup winner

Enzo Ferrari - the man behind the legend

Also on this day:

1383: The birth of professional soldier Niccolò III d'Este

1877: The birth of Enrico De Nicolo, Italy's first president

1974: The birth of footballer Alessandro del Piero


Thursday, 8 November 2018

Paolo Taviani - film director

Half of a successful partnership with brother Vittorio

Paolo Taviani has been active in Italian cinema for more than 60 years
Paolo Taviani has been active in Italian
cinema for more than 60 years 
The film director Paolo Taviani, the younger of the two Taviani brothers, whose work together won great acclaim and brought them considerable success in the 1970s and 80s in particular, was born on this day in 1931 in San Miniato, Tuscany.

With his brother Vittorio, who was two years his senior and died in April of this year, he wrote and directed more than 20 films.

Among their triumphs were Padre Padrone (1977), which won the Palme d’Or and the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) prize at the Cannes Film Festival, La notte di San Lorenzo (The Night of the Shooting Stars, 1982), which won the Grand Prix du Jury at Cannes, and Caesar Must Die (2012), which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The brothers famously would work in partnership, directing alternate scenes, one seldom criticising the other, if ever. The actor Marcello Mastroianni, who starred in their 1974 drama Allonsanfàn, is said to have addressed the brothers as “Paolovittorio.”

They were both born and raised in San Miniato by liberal, anti-Fascist parents who introduced them to art and culture. Their father Ermanno, a lawyer, would take them to watch opera as a reward for getting good grades at school.

Paolo Taviani (right) with his brother Vittorio. They  worked as a partnership until the latter's death in 2018
Paolo Taviani (right) with his brother Vittorio. They
worked as a partnership until the latter's death in 2018
After the Second World War, in which San Miniato suffered badly at the hands of the occupying Germans, they both attended university in Pisa, where Paolo studied liberal arts and Vittorio read law.

While there, they saw Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist picture Paisan, about the Allied liberation of Italy. Its portrayal of what they described as their “own tragedy” had such a profound effect on them that they vowed to be making their own films within a decade.

Indeed, their first work, a short documentary film made in 1954 entitled San Miniato, July 1944, produced with the help of one of neorealism’s most famous scriptwriters, Cesare Zavattini, was the true story of a massacre carried out by the Nazis inside the town’s cathedral in revenge for the death of a German soldier.

They worked with the Dutch director Joris Ivens on another documentary, L'Italia non è un paese povero (Italy is Not a Poor Country), before teaming up with Valentino Orsini on two feature films, Un uomo da bruciare (A Man for Burning, 1962) and I fuorilegge del matrimonio (Outlaws of Love, 1963).

Padre Padrone (1977) was one of the brothers' most successful films
Padre Padrone (1977) was one of the
brothers' most successful films
Their first film in their own right was I sovversivi (The Subversives, 1967), a story of four members of the Italian Communist Party which anticipated the unrest of 1968. They hired Gian Maria Volontè, who had starred in Un uomo da bruciare, for the lead role in Sotto il segno dello scorpione (Under the Sign of Scorpio, 1969), which had the critics comparing their work with Bertolt Brecht, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Jean-Luc Godard.

They won praise for their literary adaptations, including in San Michele aveva un gallo (St Michael Had a Rooster, 1972), adapted from Tolstoy’s Divine and Human, and also Kaos (1984) and Tu ridi (You Laugh, 1998), both based on stories by Luigi Pirandello. 

After Padre Padrone, their career reached another big moment with La notte di San Lorenzo, a wartime drama based in part on their own early lives and drawing on their own documentary, set in 1944 in a Tuscan village poised to be snatched away from the Germans by approaching US troops.

Some of their later work was less well received by they scored another major success with Caesar Must Die, an unorthodox adaptation of Julius Caesar shot inside Rebibbia prison in Rome and performed by hardened lifers, many of them former mafia and Camorra hitmen. The film won the Golden Bear at Berlin in 2012 and was selected as the Italian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards, although it did not make the final.

Their last work as a partnership, Una questione privata (Rainbow: A Private Affair, 2017), won an Italian Golden Globes as Best Actor for Luca Marinelli.

Still active in Italian cinema, Paolo Taviani presented a lifetime achievement award to his fellow director Martin Scorsese - at 75 some 11 years his junior - at the Rome Film Festival last month.

Crowds at San Miniato's white truffle  festival, guarded by the Tower of Federico
Crowds at San Miniato's white truffle
festival, guarded by the Tower of Federico 
Travel tip:

San Miniato, where Taviani was born, is a charming town perched on a hill halfway between Florence and Pisa. Both cities fought to control it for two centuries. With a picturesque medieval centre built around the Fortress of Federico II and views over the Arno valley, it attracts visitors all year round but one of its busiest times is November, when the annual white truffle festival fills the streets with parades, concerts and artisan vendors. The Diocesan Museum, next to the cathedral, contains works by Filippo Lippi, Jacopo Chimenti, Neri di Bicci, Fra Bartolomeo, Frederico Cardi (known as Cigoli) and Verrocchio.  The church of San Domenico has terracotta works by Luca della Robbia, a fresco attributed to Masolino da Panicale and a burial monument sculpted by Donatello.

The Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa
The Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa
Travel tip:

Pisa, once a major maritime power, is now a university city renowned for its art and architectural treasures and with a 10.5km (7 miles) circuit of 12th century walls. The Campo dei Miracoli, formerly known as Piazza del Duomo, located at the northwestern end of the city, contains the cathedral (Duomo), baptistery and famously the tilting campanile known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, all built in black and white marble between the 11th and 14th centuries. The Scuola Normale Superiore is one of three universities in Pisa, the others being the University of Pisa and the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna.

More reading:

Roberto Rossellini - the father of neorealism

Marcello Mastroianni - the star who immortalised the Trevi Fountain

How actress Laura Betti became Pier Paolo Pasolini's muse

Also on this day:

1830: The death of Francis I of the Two Sicilies

1936: The birth of acress Virna Lisi

1982: The birth of golfer Francesco Molinari