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, 28 February 2018

Mario Andretti – racing driver

American champion was born and grew up in Italy


Mario Andretti was born in Italian Istria in 1940,  moving to the United States at 15 years old
Mario Andretti was born in Italian Istria in 1940,
 moving to the United States at 15 years old 
Mario Andretti, who won the 1978 Formula One World Championship driving as an American, was born on this day in 1940 in Montona, about 35km (22 miles) south of Trieste in what was then Istria in the Kingdom of Italy.

Andretti’s career was notable for his versatility. He is the only driver in motor racing history to have won an Indianapolis 500, a Daytona 500 and an F1 world title, one of only two to have won races in F1, Indy Car, NASCAR and the World Sportscar Championship. He is the last American to have won an F1 Grand Prix.

He clinched the 1978 F1 title at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September, the 14th of the 16 rounds, having led the standings by 12 points going into the race.  He crossed the line first and even though he was demoted to sixth place – the result of a one-minute penalty for going too soon at a restart – it was enough to mean he could not be caught.

His celebrations were muted, however, after his close friend, the Swedish driver Ronnie Petersen, died from complications to injuries he suffered in a crash on the first lap.

Andretti’s early years in Italy were fraught with difficulties. He and his twin brother, Aldo, were brought up by their father Gigi,  a farm manager, and their mother Rina in a loving family but at the end of the Second World War their lives were turned upside down when the allies ceded Istria to Yugoslavia and they found themselves living in a Communist country.

Mario Andretti with Lotus boss Colin Chapman (left) during the 1978 Formula One championship-winning season
Mario Andretti with Lotus boss Colin Chapman (left) during
the 1978 Formula One championship-winning season
They stayed there until 1948, hoping somehow the old order would be restored, but eventually joined the Italian exodus from the region, moving first to a dispersement camp in Udine, and then to Lucca in Tuscany, where they would live in a crowded refugee camp, sharing a single room with several other families, for the next seven years.

In 1955, the family decided to emigrate to the United States, leaving all of their possessions behind and settling in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

The twins were already enthusiastic about cars.  As five-year-olds in their home village, they had raced each other down the steep streets in hand-made wooden cars.  Later, while they were living in Lucca, they watched a section of the Mille Miglia endurance race and Mario became captivated by Alberto Ascari, the two-times F1 World Champion, who won the race.

In Nazareth they went to work in an uncle’s garage and quickly learned about cars.  Their first experience of competition in America was on a dirt track near their home, where they took part in stockcar races unbeknown to their parents, in a car they had borrowed from their uncle’s workshop.

Although Aldo was unlucky that an injury hampered his progress, Mario quickly showed his talent, winning 20 races in his first two seasons.

The Lotus 79 car in which Andretti won the 1978 title
The Lotus 79 car in which Andretti won the 1978 title
He knew racing was the career he wanted to follow and quickly worked his way through the ranks before making his Indy Car debut in 1964, the year he became an American citizen.  He won his first Indy Car race in 1965 and, amazingly, became United States Auto Club champion at the first attempt, finishing in the top four in 12 races. At 25, he was the youngest champion in the history of the event.

He defended the title successfully in 1966, winning eight races, and claimed further Indy Car championships in 1969 and 1984.

Andretti’s Formula One debut came in 1968, three years after he had met Colin Chapman, the British owner of the Lotus team, and outlined his ambitions.  Chapman had told him to get in touch once he thought he was ready and, true to his word, gave the Italian-American an opportunity.

It took him three years to achieve a first F1 win, in the South African GP in 1971, driving for Ferrari, and another five years to clinch his second, in the Japanese GP in 1976, having returned to Chapman’s garage for John Player Team Lotus.

Mario Andretti today
Mario Andretti today
Everything clicked in 1977, when he was third in the standings after four race wins, and in 1978, driving the so-called “ground effects” Lotus he had helped develop, when he took the drivers’ title.

Andretti continued to race competitively until he was 54.  By the time he decided enough was enough, his list of honours, in addition to his four Indy Car titles, his wins at the 1969 Indianapolis 500 and 1967 Daytona 500 events and his F1 title, included three 12 Hours of Sebring victories, a USAC dirt track title and an International Race of Champions victory.

In all, he competed in 879 races, of which he won 111. He is the only driver to have won Indy Car races in four decades.

In retirement, Andretti has pursued a number of business interests, including a winery, worked as an ambassador for a number of companies and made frequent television appearances.  Both his sons, Michael and Jeff, became drivers, Michael repeating his father’s success by becoming Indy Car champion in 1991. His grandson, Marco – Michael’s son – is also a racing driver.

Motovun, formerly Montona, sits on top of a hill in Istria, the area of Croatia that was in Italy when Andretti was born
Motovun, formerly Montona, sits on top of a hill in Istria,
the area of Croatia that was in Italy when Andretti was born
Travel tip:

Montona – now known as Motovun and part of Croatia – was an idyllic hilltop village as Mario and his brother, Aldo, were growing up, surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside.  The summit could be reached by climbing a 1,052-step staircase, said to be the longest staircase in the world, and anyone with the stamina to complete the climb would be rewarded with stunning views over the vineyards of the Quieto river valley. The main square is named after Andrea Antico, a Renaissance music printer who invented the first wooden types for printing music scores.

Piazza dell'Anfiteatro in Lucca
Piazza dell'Anfiteatro in Lucca
Travel tip:

Lucca, where the Andrettis lived until they were granted visas to emigrate to the United States, is situated in western Tuscany, just 20km (12 miles) from Pisa, and 80km (50 miles) from Florence. Its majestic Renaissance walls are still intact, providing a complete 4.2km (2.6 miles) circuit of the city popular with walkers and cyclists.  The city has many charming cobbled streets and a number of beautiful squares, plus a wealth of churches, museums and galleries and a notable musical tradition, being the home of composers Alfredo Catalani, Luigi Boccherini and the opera giant, Giacomo Puccini.

Also on this day:

1915: The birth of jam and juice maker Karl Zuegg

1942: The birth of goalkeeper Dino Zoff, the oldest player to win a World Cup










Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Simone Di Pasquale – dancer

Ballroom talent has been springboard for business success


Simone Di Pasquale is a regular on the  Italian TV show Ballando con le stelle
Simone Di Pasquale is a regular on the
Italian TV show Ballando con le Stelle
Ballroom dancer and television celebrity Simone Di Pasquale was born on this day in 1978.

In 2005, he became a household name after he started to appear regularly on Italian television in Ballando con le Stelle - the equivalent of the US show Dancing with the Stars and Britain’s Strictly Come Dancing. The show, presented by Milly Carlucci, was broadcast every Saturday evening on the tv channel Rai Uno.

Pasquale has also appeared in numerous other television programmes, on stage in musical theatre and as an actor in a television drama.

Born in Rome, Di Pasquale learnt ballroom dancing at a young age and took part in competitions.

In 2000 he paired up with the dancer Natalia Titova, who also later became a celebrity because of Ballando con le Stelle. The couple were engaged from 1998 to 2005.

They took first place in the competition Rising Stars UK in 2004.

In the first season of Ballando con le Stelle, Di Pasquale partnered the Italian actress Hoara Borselli and the couple won the competition. He has taken part in each successive series since. The 2018 season of the show is due to begin on March 10 and will be broadcast live on Rai Uno every Saturday night.

Di Pasquale has appeared as a guest on numerous programmes on Italian television and had a role in an episode of the long running crime series, Don Matteo.

Di Pasquale and actress Hoara Borselli won the first series of the Ballando con le stelle competition
Di Pasquale and actress Hoara Borselli won the first
series of the Ballando con le stelle competition
He has also appeared on many famous stages in the musicals, Saturday Night Fever and Hairspray: Fat is beautiful!

Di Pasquale has dance schools in Rome, Florence, Milan, and Bologna and runs the company, Twister Entertainment, which organises events and dance and entertainment initiatives.

He presented the final of the European Championship of Tango in 2013, which was broadcast from Rome on Rai Uno and he also was part of the Canadian tour of Ballando con le Stelle in 2014, which was renamed Dances with Milly.

In January 2018, he was production director for the prestigious La Notte delle Stelle, a pro-am dance competition held at the Parco dei Principi in Rome.

Mussolini had hoped his new stadium in Rome would host the Olympic Games in 1944
Mussolini had hoped his new stadium in Rome would
host the Olympic Games in 1944
Travel tip:

Ballando con le Stelle is broadcast from Rai's studio in Piazza Lauro de Bosis close to Foro Italico in Rome. Formerly named Foro Mussolini, the Olympic Stadium was built between 1928 and 1938 to a design by Enrico del Debbio and Luigi Moretti inspired by the Roman forums of the Imperial age. The purpose of the prestigious project was to secure the Olympic Games of 1944 for Fascist-run Italy, although in the event there were no Games that year because of the Second World War.

The Villa Borghese gardens date back to 1605
The Villa Borghese gardens date back to 1605
Travel tip:

The pro-am dance competition produced and directed by Di Pasquale in January was held at the Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi, which is in one of the most prestigious locations in Rome, on the edge of the Villa Borghese gardens and close to the Via Veneto. The beautiful Villa Borghese gardens date back to 1605 when Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, commissioned the work to turn a former vineyard into the most extensive gardens built in Rome since the days of the republic.

Also on this day:

1935: The birth of opera star Mirella Freni

1964: Italy appeals for help in Leaning Tower scare


Monday, 26 February 2018

Dante Ferretti – set designer

Three-times Oscar winner worked with Fellini and Scorsese


Dante Ferretti has worked in the film industry for more than 50 years
Dante Ferretti has worked in the film
industry for more than 50 years
Dante Ferretti, who in more than half a century in movie production design has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won three, was born on this day in 1943 in the city of Macerata, in the Marche region of central Italy.

Ferretti, who works in partnership with his wife, the set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo, won two of his Oscars for films directed by Martin Scorsese, with whom he has enjoyed a collaboration that began 25 years ago this year.

Nominated for his first film with Scorsese, The Age of Innocence (1993) and subsequently for Kundun (1998) and Gangs of New York (2003), he was successful with The Aviator (2005) and Hugo Cabret (2012).

Both Oscars, for Best Scenography, were shared with Lo Schiavo, with whom he also shared an Oscar for Tim Burton’s 2008 film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Ferretti also enjoyed long collaborations with Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and worked with a string of other major directors, including Elio Petri, Ettore Scola, Franco Zeffirelli, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Terry Gilliam, Anthony Minghella, Brian de Palma, Julie Taymor and Kenneth Branagh.

Born a few months before Macerata would become something of a battleground in the Second World War, occupied by Nazi troops in the wake of Mussolini’s downfall and then subjected to allied bombing, Ferretti had design in his blood, coming from a family of furniture makers.

Gangs of New York was shot almost entirely on sets built by Dante Ferretti at Cinecittà
Gangs of New York was shot almost entirely on sets built
by Dante Ferretti at Cinecittà
After completing school, he went to Rome, graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts and, fascinated with the film industry, began working at the Cinecittà studios, where he would eventually have his own permanent office.

After cutting his teeth as an assistant on a number of Pasolini titles, he landed his first appointment as set director for Pasolini’s 1969 film Medea

His work on that movie caught with attention of Fellini, his partnership with whom he described as a “dream come true”.  Notable successes over the next two decades included The City of Women and Ginger and Fred.

In the mid-1980s, he worked outside Italy for the first time, on such titles as The Name of the Rose (1986), French director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film version of the novel by Umberto Eco, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), directed by the former Monty Python star Terry Gilliam, for which he received his first Oscar nomination.

Martin Scorsese worked with Ferretti on nine movies, two of which won him Oscars
Martin Scorsese worked with Ferretti on
nine movies, two of which won him Oscars
His association with Scorsese did not begin until 1993, although they had met some years earlier at Cinecittà. To date, they have made nine films together, the most ambitious and challenging of which, he said in a recent interview, was Gangs of New York, the epic period drama set in the notorious Five Points district of New York, for which Ferretti constructed full-scale models of New York street scenes within Cinecittà. There was even a set designed to represent the Hudson River, complete with a full-size ship.

More recently, he and Lo Schiavo worked on Scorsese’s Silence, his film about Jesuits in Japan persecuted for their Christian faith in the 17th century, which involved reconstructions of the Japanese city of Nagasaki and the Chinese port of Macau.

A passionate fan of opera, Ferretti has also designed sets for some of the world’s most famous opera houses, including Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Teatro Regio in Turin, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Opéra in Paris, the Royal Opera House in London and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

The Ben Hur set at Cinecittà World, outside Rome
Travel tip:

As well as admiring his work on the screen, fans of Ferretti’s sets can see examples of his creativity at first hand at the Rome theme park, Cinecittà World, which was opened in 2014 in the grounds of the former studio complex Dinocittà, which was set up in the 1960s by the producer Dino De Laurentiis. Containing 26 sets to represent different themes and genres in cinema history, all of which were designed by Ferretti, the park is at Castel Romano, about 25km (16 miles) south of Rome in the Decima Malafede nature reserve.

The open-air Arena Sferisterio at Macerata
The open-air Arena Sferisterio at Macerata
Travel tip:

The city of Macerata, home to about 43,000 people, is situated in an inland area of Marche, about 48km (30 miles) south of Ancona and 30km (19 miles) from the coastal town of Civitanova Marche. Not a well-known tourist destination, it nonetheless has a charming hilltown feel, with a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and one of Italy’s oldest universities, dating back to 1290. It is the setting each summer for a month-long opera festival at the atmospheric Arena Sferisterio, which has attracted some of the world’s biggest stars.














Sunday, 25 February 2018

Giovanni Battista Morgagni - anatomist

The father of modern pathological anatomy


Giovanni Battista Morgagni taught at the  University of Padua for 56 years
Giovanni Battista Morgagni taught at the
University of Padua for 56 years
Anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni, who is credited with turning pathology into a science, was born on this day in 1682 in Forlì in Emilia-Romagna.

Morgagni was professor of Anatomy at the University of Padua for 56 years and taught thousands of medical students during his time there.

He was sent by his parents to study philosophy and medicine at the University of Bologna when he was 18 and he graduated as a doctor from both faculties.

In 1706 he published his work, Adversaria Anatomica, which was to be the first volume of a series and helped him become known throughout Europe as an accurate anatomist.

He succeeded to the chair of theoretical medicine at the University of Padua in 1712 and was to teach medicine there until his death in 1771.

Morgagni was promoted to the chair of anatomy after his first three years in Padua, following in the footsteps of many illustrious scholars. He brought out five more volumes of his Adversaria Anatomica during his early years in Padua.

Morgagni's Adversaria Anatomica helped establish his reputation
Morgagni's Adversaria Anatomica helped
establish his reputation
In 1761, when he was nearly 80, he brought out the work that was to make pathological anatomy into a science – De Sedibus et causis morborum per anotomem indagatis (Of the seats and cause of diseases investigated through anatomy). This work, which contained the records of 646 dissections, was later reprinted several times in its original Latin and translated into French, English and German.

Morgagni was the first anatomist to understand and to demonstrate the absolute necessity of basing diagnosis, prognosis and treatment on an exact and comprehensive knowledge of anatomical conditions. His precision, thoroughness and freedom from bias are modern scientific qualities and he was also a widely respected clinician who maintained an active practice. His treatise was to lead to steady progress in pathology and practical medicine.

Morgagni had married a noble lady from Forlì during his early years in Padua who bore him three sons and 12 daughters. He died at the age of 89 in Padua.

He is today regarded as the father of modern pathological anatomy as his works helped to make it into an exact science.

Forlì's Palazzo Poste e Telegrafi in Piazza Saffi
Forlì's Palazzo Poste e Telegrafi in Piazza Saffi
Travel tip:

Forlì, where Morgagni was born, is today a prosperous city with a beautiful main square, Piazza Saffi, named after Aurelio Saffi, a radical republican who was a prominent figure in the Risorgimento. The square is dominated by the monumental Palazzo Poste e Telegrafi, designed by Cesare Bazzani in 1932 to celebrate the Fascist regime. Benito Mussolini was born in nearby Predappio and blatantly favoured the area of his birth with imposing new buildings.

Palazzo del Bò in the centre of the city is the main building of the University of Padua
Palazzo del Bò in the centre of the city is the
main building of the University of Padua
Travel tip:

The University of Padua, where Morgagni taught for most of his life, was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna. The main university building, Palazzo del Bò in Via VIII Febbraio in the centre of Padua, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610.

Also on this day:







Saturday, 24 February 2018

Cesare “Caesar” Cardini – restaurateur

Italian emigrant who invented Caesar salad


Cesare 'Caesar' Cardini with the ingredients for his famous salad
Cesare 'Caesar' Cardini with the
ingredients for his famous salad
The restaurateur who history credits with inventing the Caesar salad was born on this day in 1896 in Baveno, a small town on the shore of Lake Maggiore.

Cesare Cardini was one of a large family, with four brothers and two sisters.  In common with many Italians in the early part of the 20th century, his brothers Nereo, Alessandro and Gaudenzio emigrated to the United States, hoping there would be more opportunities to make a living.

Nereo is said to have opened a small hotel in Santa Cruz, California, south of San Francisco, while Alessandro and Guadenzio went to Mexico City.

Cesare left Italy for America in 1913. Records indicate he disembarked at Ellis Island, New York on May 1, having endured the transatlantic voyage as a steerage passenger, sleeping in a cargo hold equipped with dozens of bunk beds, which was the cheapest way to travel but came with few comforts.

He is thought then to have returned to Italy for a few years, working in restaurants in Milan, but ventured back to the United States in 1919.  This time he settled, first in Sacramento, then in San Diego, on the Pacific Ocean and close to the border with Mexico.

During the Prohibition Era, from 1920 to 1933, when alcoholic drinks were illegal in the US, many restaurateurs in San Diego crossed the border in Tijuana, where there were no restrictions, and attracted streams of American diners.

Cardini had many thriving restaurants in California and, for a while, in Tijuana, just over the Mexican border
Cardini had many thriving restaurants in California and, for
a while, in Tijuana, just over the Mexican border
The story is that Cesare – by now known as Caesar – opened a business in Tijuana, probably with his brother, Alessandro, who was calling himself Alex.  They were always busy on the major public holidays and Cesare’s daughter, Rosa, claimed that Caesar salad came into being on Independence Day, 1924. With a packed restaurant, her father suddenly found himself running short of ingredients.

Whenever a diner found his choice of dish was no longer available, Cesare is said to have offered to make them a special salad, made with such a mouthwatering combination of ingredients they would be delighted they opted to try it.

In fact, the only salad ingredient he had left was some romaine lettuces. Yet with great theatre, he is said to have arrived at the table with a bowl of lettuce leaves, into which he tossed raw eggs, olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese and Worcestershire sauce, mixed them all together and invited diners to savour the flavour by eating the coated leaves by holding the stem with their fingers.

Needless to say, the combination of sweet lettuce and the creamy, tangy dressing proved a big hit. The restaurant became even more popular and over the next few years the recipe rapidly spread across America.

The Cardini brand is still on sale today
The Cardini brand is still on sale today
Wallis Simpson, the Socialite for whom the English king, Edward VIII, so controversially gave up the throne in 1936, is said to have introduced the salad to Europe by insisting that her French chef learned how to make it.

Meanwhile, back in Mexico, a change in the gambling laws caused tourism to Tijuana to go into decline, and Cesare Cardini, with wife, Camille, and daughter Rosa, moved back to the United States, first to San Diego in 1935, and then to Los Angeles in 1938.

Demand for the salad dressing continued, and friends began asking for bottles and jars to be filled with it so they might enjoy it at home.  In time, Rosa began to sell bottles of the dressing on a market stall and was so successful her father decided it was worth producing on a commercial scale.

In 1948, he patented the recipe and established Caesar Cardini Foods, which gradually expanded its range of dressings and became an established name on tables across America and beyond.

Cardini died in 1956 after suffering a stroke at his Los Angeles home but Rosa took over the running of the company and developed the business to the extent that, at its peak, one in every four bottles of dressing on US tables had Cardini’s name on it.

She retired in 1988, although the name lives on. The licence to use the brand name is currently held by T Marzetti and Company, a business also founded by Italian emigrants, Teresa and Giuseppe Marzetti.

Rosa Cardini’s version of the origins of Caesar salad is not universally accepted.  Paul Maggiora, a partner of the Cardinis, claimed to have tossed the first Caesar salad in 1927 for American airmen from San Diego and called it Aviator's Salad.

Alessandro Cardini also claimed ownership of the recipe, which he also called Aviator's Salad, while Livio Santini, who worked in the kitchen at Cesare’s Tijuana restaurant, said that he made the salad from a recipe of his mother, and that Cesare borrowed the recipe from him.

The waterfront at Baveno, Cardini's home town on the western shore of Lake Maggiore
The waterfront at Baveno, Cardini's home town on the
western shore of Lake Maggiore
Travel tip:

The lakeside town of Baveno, where Cesare Cardini was born, lies on the western shore of Lake Maggiore, just a few kilometres from its better known neighbour, Stresa. Both look out over the Borromean Islands, famous for their beautiful cultivated gardens.  The attractions of Baveno include its mineral water springs, the pink granite that is quarried nearby and a series of opulent villas dotted along the nearby coastline, including the Villa Henfrey-Branca, noticeable for its castle-like turrets, where Queen Victoria was a regular visitor from Britain as a guest of the engineer Charles Henfrey.

The island of Isola Bella is a major tourist attraction
The island of Isola Bella is a major tourist attraction
Travel tip:

Although smaller in area than Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore is the longest of the Italian lakes, stretching for 65km (40 miles) from Arona in Lombardy to its northern extreme in Locarno in Switzerland.  It is also extremely deep, plunging 179m (587ft) at its deepest.  Because of its length, it has a different character at the Swiss end, where the scenery has an alpine feel, compared with the southern tip, which is at the edge of the Lombardy plain. The Borromean islands are the lake's biggest draw for tourists, with three of them - Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori are accessible to the public.

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Friday, 23 February 2018

Giovanni Battista de Rossi - Archaeologist

Excavations unearthed massive Catacomb of St Callixtus


Grave niches were carved out of the rock in the  passageways of the Roman catacombs
Grave niches were carved out of the rock in the
passageways of the Roman catacombs
Giovanni Battista de Rossi, the archaeologist who revealed the whereabouts of lost Christian catacombs beneath Rome, was born on this day in 1822 in the Italian capital.

De Rossi’s most famous discovery – or rediscovery, to be accurate – of the Catacomb of St Callixtus, thought to have been created in the 2nd century by the future Pope Callixtus I, at that time a deacon of Rome, under the direction of Pope Zephyrinus, established him as the greatest archaeologist of the 19th century.

The vast underground cemetery, located beneath the Appian Way about 7km (4.3 miles) south of the centre of Rome, is estimated to have covered an area of 15 hectares on five levels, with around 20km (12.5 miles) of passageways.

It may have contained up to half a million corpses, including those of 16 popes and 50 Christian martyrs, from Pope Anicetus, who died in 166, to Damasus I, who was pontiff until 384. Nine of the popes were buried in a papal crypt.

The archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi
The archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi
The complex steadily fell into disuse thereafter and the most important relics were removed over the centuries and relocated to churches around Rome.  The last wave of removals took place in the 9th century, after which the entrances became overgrown, and new buildings were constructed or land cultivated on the site. 

De Rossi, however, whose fascination with Rome’s underground history had begun when he was a boy, felt their whereabouts needed to be known.

He devoted his life to expanding his knowledge, assembling a network of friends and contacts among archaeologists and museum curators across Europe to collate everything that was known from ancient discoveries and ultimately identified the probable location of several catacombs.

In 1849, he was given permission to tramp round a vineyard off the Appian Way, where he found a broken marble slab bearing an incomplete inscription “NELIUS. MARTYR”. Aware from his research that Pope St. Cornelius had been buried in the area he asked the incumbent pope, Pius IX, to buy the vineyard so that he could begin an excavation.

It was not long before he found the other half of Pope St Cornelius’s marble tombstone and through a painstaking process over the next few years De Rossi gradually revealed the wealth of history he had known for so long was waiting to be found.

The entrance to the Catacomb of St Callixtus as it is today
The entrance to the Catacomb of St Callixtus as it is today
De Rossi had been born in the Campo Marzio area of the 4th Rione and was baptized at the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Academically gifted, he attended the Collegio Romano, the Jesuit college in Rome, where he studied philosophy, before graduating in law from the Sapienza University of Rome.

His interest in Roman history, and in particular of what lay beneath the ground, had been piqued at an early age, his father giving him a copy of Antonio Bosio’s vast history, La Roma Sotterranea - Underground Rome -  for his 11th birthday. As a teenager, he befriended Giuseppe Marchi, the city’s Superintendent of Sacred Relics and Cemeteries.

Marchi, who showed him inside one of the catacombs – of which there are thought to have been at least 40 around the city – taught De Rossi the value of studying archaeological finds in situ rather than removing them, so as not to lose sight of their context.

In his career, De Rossi also explored the catacombs of Praetextus, Thrason and Priscilla.

A plate from De Rossi's book shows a reconstruction of the Crypt of the Popes
A plate from De Rossi's book shows a
reconstruction of the Crypt of the Popes
De Rossi’s travels around Europe were made easier by managing to secure for himself an important although not particularly time-consuming position as Scriptor of the Vatican Library upon completing his degree studies, an appointment that required him to catalogue manuscripts in the library but allowed him plenty of opportunities to continue his private study.

Among his other discoveries was the Codex Amiatinus, the earliest surviving manuscript of the complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate version. He also made a substantial contribution to the literature of archaeological study.

He produced a four-volume work, of which the final manuscript was completed just before he died, entitled La Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, which was an updated Christian version of Bosio’s masterpiece that he had found so inspiring as a boy, and left details of much of his work to posterity in the regularly updated Bulletino di archeologia cristiana.

De Rossi died in 1894 at Castel Gandolfo, one of the Castelli Romani in the Alban Hills south of Rome, and where a summer residence allowed the popes to escape the city during the oppressively hot months of July and August.

Richard Meier's Museum of the Ara Pacis
Richard Meier's Museum of the Ara Pacis
Travel tip:

The Campo Marzio area of Rome, where De Rossi grew up, is a small section of the 4th Rione of the city, extending roughly from the Palazzo del Quirinale to the Piazza del Popolo, and bordering the Tiber river.  Among other buildings, it is the home of something rare in the historic centre of the city – a modern edifice. The Museum of the Ara Pacis was built in glass, travertine and steel to house the 1st century Ara Pacis of Augustus, a Roman altar dedicated to Pax, the goddess of peace, that was discovered under 13 metres of silt before being result in its present location in 1938.  The museum, which replaced a structure built to protect the arch in the Fascist era, was designed by the American architect Richard Meier.

Castel Gandolfo sits atop a hill overlooking Lago Albano
Castel Gandolfo sits atop a hill overlooking Lago Albano
Travel tip:

Castel Gandolfo, which overlooks Lago Albano from its wonderful position in the hills south of Rome, is one of the towns within the regional park of the Castelli Romani. It owes its fame to being the home of an Apostolic Palace, built in the 17th century by Carlo Maderno on behalf of Urban VIII, that was traditionally the incumbent pope’s summer residence, with commanding views over the lake. The palace ceased to be a papal residence in 2016 at the behest of Pope Francis, and visitors can now go inside and enjoy a guided tour of the papal apartments and grand reception rooms.


Thursday, 22 February 2018

Mario Pavesi – entrepreneur

Biscuit maker who gave Italian motorists the Autogrill


Mario Pavesi began making  biscuits in 1934
Mario Pavesi began making
biscuits in 1934
Italy lost one of its most important post-War entrepreneurs when Mario Pavesi died on this day in 1990.

Pavesi, originally from the town of Cilavegna in the province of Pavia in Lombardy, not only founded the Pavesi brand, famous for Pavesini and Ringo biscuits among other lines, but also set up Italy’s first motorway service areas under the name of Autogrill.

Always a forward-thinking businessman, Pavesi foresaw the growing influence American ideas would have on Italy during the rebuilding process in the wake of the Second World War and the way that Italians would embrace road travel once the country developed its own motorway network.

He was one of the first Italian entrepreneurs to take full advantage of advertising opportunities in the press, radio, cinema and later television. 

Born in 1909 into a family of bakers, Pavesi moved to Novara in 1934, opening a pastry shop in Corso Cavour, where he sold a range of cakes and confectionery and served coffee. During the next few years, until Italy became embroiled in the war, he expanded the business in several ways.

By the time hostilities interrupted normal life, he had gone into production with Biscottini di Novara, a traditional biscuit made from eggs, flour and sugar that had been around since the 16th century but had never before been produced as a commercial product.

The company's famous ad, proclaiming that "It's always Pavesini time".
The company's famous ad, proclaiming that
"It's always Pavesini time".
Pavesi took an interest in American tastes at the end of the conflict and in the immediate aftermath, when the occupying US military used to share supplies. It was after comparing traditional Italian biscuits with the ones the soldiers were handing round that he decided to travel to the United States on a fact-finding mission.

On his return, he devised a product that was based on the same traditional ingredients but was lighter and easier to digest, which he called Pavesini.  The product became a huge success, based on an advertising campaign that used the slogan: “It’s always Pavesini time".

As well as Pavesini, the company made crackers. In time, Pavesi introduced more winning lines such as his Ringo biscuits – one plain biscuit, one cocoa-flavoured, with a sweet filling – and the chocolate-covered Togo.

Pavesi’s ideas for roadside refreshment outlets grew from what he had encountered in America too, although he was not so much thinking of the needs of motorists so much as selling his biscuits that he decided, in 1947, to open a bar and café next to the A4 Turin-Milan highway, which passed close to the outskirts of Novara, not far from his factory.

Pavesi's Autogrill, straddling the motorway near Novara
Pavesi's Autogrill, straddling the motorway near Novara
Car ownership in Italy was small at the time – only one vehicle for every 100 people – so turnover was modest initially, but as the post-War economic recovery began to take hold, so more cars began passing his kiosk, and more of them stopped. Pavesi added more tables, a bigger covered area, and designated part of it as a restaurant, serving hot meals. Italy’s first Autogrill was born.

Far-sighted as ever, Pavesi knew he was on to a winner and began to look for other locations along the country’s highway network, which began to grow at a rapid rate in the 50s and 60s as the car manufacturers concentrated on the mass production of affordable, economy cars for ordinary Italians to drive.

Pavesi enlisted the help of architects, in particular the urban designer Angelo Bianchetti, who conceived the idea of restaurants that straddled both lanes of the motorway, great glass and steel structures supported by enormous girders, which had the advantage of being accessible to drivers on both sides of the highway.

The first of these, opened at Fiorenzuola d'Arda, between Parma and Piacenza, in 1959, was the first of its kind in Europe.  On many occasions, particularly lunchtime on Sundays, it would see every table taken, not just by passing travellers but by local people intrigued by the idea of cars racing beneath them as they ate.

Mario Pavesi (left), with the architect Angelo Bianchetti, who designed many of the Autogrills
Mario Pavesi (left), with the architect Angelo
Bianchetti, who designed many of the Autogrills
The original restaurant outside Novara, at Veveri, was transformed along similar lines in 1962.

In the 1970s, Pavesi found competition from Motta and Alemagna in a rapidly expanding market, and by then there were more than 200 rest areas across the 3,900km (2,450 miles) network of motorways.

The boom was threatened by the oil crisis of the 1970s, which plunged all three companies into crisis, but state intervention saved the day, with the catering sections of all three companies becoming part of a new state-run entity, Autogrill SpA.

The Pavesi brand is now owned by the Barilla group.

Pavesi passed away after a heart attack in Rocca di Papa, one of the Castelli Romani towns in the Alban Hills, some 25km (16 miles) southeast of Rome.

The enormous cupola of the Basilica of San
Gaudenzio dwarfs the ball tower
Travel tip:

The city of Novara, where Pavesi opened his first bakery and store, a little more than 20km (12 miles) from his home town of Cilavegna, is the second largest city in Piedmont after Turin, with a population of just over 100,000. It is notable for its attractive historic centre, at the heart of which is the Piazza della Repubblica, where visitors can find the Broletto, an arcaded courtyard around which are clustered a number of palaces housing a civic museum and art gallery and the town hall, as well as the 19th century neo-classical cathedral designed by Alessandro Antonelli, who was responsible also for the city’s major landmark, the Basilica of San Guadenzio, with its tall multi-tiered cupola, which stands 121m (397ft) high.

Rocca di Papa from Piazza della Repubblica
Rocca di Papa from Piazza della Repubblica
Travel tip:

Rocca di Papa, where Pavesi died, is a town of around 16,000 people and one of a group of communities in the Alban Hills southeast of Rome known as the Castelli Romani – the Roman Castles.  Built on a rocky outcrop, it is the site of a papal fortress once the home of Pope Eugene III, on top of which is built the Royal Geodynamic Observatory.  The town suffered considerable damage during bombing in the Second World War, after it was used as a strategic stronghold by the occupying German army, but has undergone substantial reconstruction since.

More reading:

The former peasant farmer who founded the Lavazza coffee company

How Karl Zuegg made his name synonymous with jam and juice

Francesco Cirio - Italy's canning pioneer

Also on this day:

1905: The birth of Enrico Piaggio: the man behind the Vespa scooter

1921: The birth of Giulietta Masina - the actress who married Fellini















Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Domenico Ghirardelli – chocolatier

Built famous US business with skills learned in Genoa


The chocolatier Domenico Ghirardelli, founder of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in San Francisco, was born on this day in 1817 in a village just outside Rapallo in Liguria.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop in Ghirardelli Square on San Francisco's northern waterfront
The Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop in Ghirardelli Square
on San Francisco's northern waterfront
Also known as Domingo, Ghirardelli arrived in San Francisco in 1849 during the rapid expansion years of the Gold Rush, having spent the previous 10 years or so in Peru, where he had run a successful confectionary business.

After making money as a merchant, initially ferrying supplies to prospectors in the gold fields, he set up his first chocolate factory in 1852, drawing on the skills he acquired as an apprentice in Genoa.

By the end of the century, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was one of the city’s most successful businesses, with a prestige headquarters on North Point Street, a short distance from Fisherman’s Wharf, in a group of buildings that became known as Ghirardelli Square.

The son of a spice importer, Ghirardelli was born in the village of Santa Anna, just outside Rapallo, about 25km (16 miles) along the Ligurian coast from Genoa, in the direction of La Spezia to the southeast.

His father wanted him to have a trade and once he had reached his teens sent him to be an apprentice at Romanengo’s, an important confectioner in Genoa, with a view to setting himself up in business.

Domenico Ghirardelli arrived in San Francisco from Peru in 1849
Domenico Ghirardelli arrived in San
Francisco from Peru in 1849
However, having been forced to give up its status as an independent republic and become part of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia as part of the settlement following the Napoleonic Wars, Genoa was a volatile city prone to riots and to brutal repression by the military and in 1837 Ghirardelli decided, in common with many Italians, to leave in search of a better life in the New World.

At the age of only 20 and newly married, he arrived first in Montevideo in Uruguay, moving on a year later to Lima in Peru, a prosperous city where there was already an established Italian community.

He set up a confectionery shop on Calle de los Mercaderes, the city’s main shopping street, which he modelled on Romanengo’s store in Genoa.  After the death of his wife, he married for a second time, to a Peruvian widow, and would have stayed in Lima had his former neighbour, an American from Pennsylvania who had moved to San Francisco, not written to him urging him to follow.

The neighbour, James Lick, who would go on to become the richest man in California, had set himself up on the proceeds of 600lb (272kg) of chocolate Ghirardelli had given him to sell. With San Francisco on the brink of an economic boom after the discovery of gold in 1848, it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Trading first in general merchandise, Ghirardelli rapidly expanded from running a delivery service to owning grocery stores in San Francisco and Stockton, plus a soda fountain, a coffee house and a part-interest in a hotel.  Within two years, he had amassed wealth of $25,000, which then had the buying power of around $750,000 (€610,000) today.

The Ghirardelli factory was established just back from the San Francisco waterfront
The Ghirardelli factory was established just back from
the San Francisco waterfront
He opened his first chocolate factory in 1852 in the Verandah Building on Portsmouth Square, living above the premises, before moving to Jackson Street, building a separate family home in Oakland.  The business grew even more after the accidental discovery of cocoa powder, the result of some bags of chocolate paste being left unattended in a warm room.

The butterfat in the paste melted, dripping out on to the floor, leaving behind in the bags a greaseless residue that could be ground into a powder, which Ghirardelli patented and sold under the name of Broma, to be used as a cake ingredient or for making a hot cocoa drink.

The recession of the 1870s brought a massive scaling back, with many of the company’s assets, including the house in Oakland and several stores, being auctioned off to keep the factory going.

Yet, despite competition from others keen to exploit chocolate’s continuing popularity, the business recovered, with Ghirardelli’s sons increasingly involved.  Broma, rebranded as Ghirardelli’s Chocolate Powder, continued to be a big seller.  By the late 1880s, the company was producing and selling one million pounds (453,000kg) of the powder each year.

Ghirardelli retired in 1889, handing control to his sons.  In 1892, needing to expand, the company acquired a large woollen mill near the city’s northern waterfront at what his now Ghirardelli Square.

He died in 1894, contracting influenza during an extended visit to Rapallo, where he had gone in order to rediscover his roots. His body was returned to San Francisco, to be buried in the family mausoleum in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery.

Production continued at Ghirardelli Square until the 1960s, when the business was sold and the manufacturing operation moved to San Leandro.  Today, while still trading under the family name as the third oldest chocolate manufacturer in the United States, the business is a subsidiary of the Swiss company, Lindt and Sprüngli. There is still a Ghirardelli shop in the Ghirardelli Square shopping and restaurant complex

A quaint 16th century castle guards Rapallo's harbour
A quaint 16th century castle guards Rapallo's harbour
Travel tip:

Rapallo, larger and a little cheaper than its exclusive neighbour Portofino, is an attractive seaside town of the eastern Italian Riviera, known as the Riviera di Levante. The town developed around a harbour guarded by a small castle – Il Castello sul Mare – built in 1551, which sits right on the water’s edge.  Behind the harbour is a network of narrow streets. There are boat service to Portofino, as well as Santa Margherita Ligure and Camogli, while the main Genoa to Pisa railway line passes through the town.

The ornate interior of the Romanengo store in Genoa
The ornate interior of the Romanengo store in Genoa
Travel tip:

Romanengo’s confectionery store in Via Soziglia in Genoa has become a tourist attraction in itself, a wonderfully ornate emporium barely changed since it was refurbished lavishly in the mid-19th century, having opened for business for the first time in 1814.  Modelled on Parisian confectioners’ shops, it has a marble floor, a frescoed ceiling, elegant chandeliers and beautiful inlaid rosewood shelving and counters, with endless dishes of brightly coloured confectionery in glass cases. The company logo of a dove carrying an olive branch symbolised peace at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

More reading:

Michele Ferrero - the man who invented Nutella

Humble beginnings of chocolate giant Ferrero


Also on this day:

1513: Death of Pope Julius II

1868: Death of painter and revolutionary Giuseppe Abbati