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.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Andrew Grima - royal jeweller

Rome-born craftsman favoured by the Queen of England


Andrew Grima was the Rome-born son of a Maltese lace-maker and an Italian mother
Andrew Grima was the Rome-born son of a Maltese
lace-maker and an Italian mother
The jewellery designer Andrew Grima, whose clients included the British Royal Family, was born on this day in 1921 in Rome.

Grima, whose flamboyant use of dramatically large, rough-cut stones and brilliant innovative designs revolutionised modern British jewellery, achieved an enviable status among his contemporaries.

After the Duke of Edinburgh had given the Queen a brooch of carved rubies and diamonds designed by Grima as a gift, he was awarded a Royal Warrant and rapidly became the jeweller of choice for London’s high society, as well as celebrities and film stars from around the world.

He won 13 De Beers Diamonds International Awards, which is more than any other jeweller, and examples of his work are kept by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.

When a private collection of Grima pieces was sold at auction by Bonhams in London in September 2017, some 93 lots realised a total of more than £7.6 million (€8.6m), with one pear-shaped blue diamond alone making £2.685m (€3.034m).

Grima’s father, John Grima, was the Maltese owner of a large international lace-making business, designing his products as well as marketing them. His mother, Leopoldina Farnese, could trace her ancestry to the powerful Farnese family of the Renaissance, who left their mark on Roman art and architecture in several ways.

Three pictures showing Queen Elizabeth II wearing the ruby and diamond Grima brooch give to her by Prince Philip
Three pictures showing Queen Elizabeth II wearing the ruby
and diamond Grima brooch give to her by Prince Philip
The family moved to London when Andrew, their first-born, was five. After going to school in southeast London, Grima studied mechanical engineering at Nottingham University, from which he joined the Royal Engineers, serving in Burma and India during the Second World War.

His move into the jewellery business came purely by chance.  His plans to attend art school after he was demobbed had to be put on hold because few art schools had reopened. Instead, he took a secretarial course and began going out with a classmate, Helène Haller, whose Viennese father owned a small jewellery workshop.

The relationship blossomed and they were married in 1947, after which Helène’s father gave Grima a job supervising his accounts. He was desperate for an opportunity to unleash his artistic talents.  It came, finally, when a pair of dealers arrived at the workshop one day with a suitcase of large stones imported from Brazil, including aquamarines, citrines, tourmalines and amethysts. 

Grima persuaded his father-in-law to buy them all and though he had no training he set about creating his own radical designs, experimenting with abstract shapes, different textural effects and making casts from nature, such as leaves, lichen and volcanic lava, to reproduce in gold.  The pieces he made were a great success.

Grima's created this unusual gold and diamond brooch by making a cast from pencil shavings
Grima's created this unusual gold and diamond brooch
by making a cast from pencil shavings
In 1952, his father-in-law died and he inherited the business, which went from strength to strength.  After he was invited to exhibit at an exhibition of modern jewellery in London in 1961, he began to win awards, including the Duke of Edinburgh Award for Elegant Design, which was awarded to him in 1966 as the first jeweller to win the accolade.

The curator of the exhibition, Graham Hughes, introduced Grima to rich potential clients, although he made a smart move of his own when he invited Lord Snowdon to visit his workshop after reading a magazine interview in which Snowdon had complained about what he saw as a paucity of exciting jewellery available. In the event, Snowdon was so impressed he chose presents for his then wife Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister.

It was not long afterwards that Grima received the Duke of Edinburgh award from Prince Philip in person, the Duke taking a brooch of carved rubies and diamonds from the winning collection as a gift for the Queen, who wore it on many different occasions in the years that followed, including her televised 2007 Christmas speech, coincidentally broadcast the day before Grima passed away at his home in Switzerland.

The Queen soon commissioned Grima to make state gifts and it was not long that he had the Royal Warrant and the Queen's Award for Industry as well as the Duke of Edinburgh's prize.

Snowdon, meanwhile, would some years later open Grima’s new shop at 80 Jermyn Street in London's St. James's, designed by his architect brothers, George and Godfrey, featuring an extraordinary and starkly eye-catching shopfront made from slabs of slate bolted to a steel framework, dotted with small, rectangular showcases, designed by sculptor Bryan Kneale.

Grima went on to open galleries in Zurich, New York, Tokyo and Sydney. As well as many of the British royals, Jacqueline Onassis was a fan of his pieces, as were many movie stars.

In 1977, Grima divorced Helène and married JoJo Maughan-Brown, the daughter of the diamond magnate, Sir Thomas Cullinan. After a planned business expansion failed, he decided to relinquish his royal warrant and in 1986 moved to Switzerland to work only on private commissions, living first in Lugano and then in Gstaad.  His daughter, Francesca, continued to design after his death.

The Palazzo Farnese in Rome is currently the home of  the French embassy in Italy
The Palazzo Farnese in Rome is currently the home of
the French embassy in Italy
Travel tip:

The Farnese were among the great aristocratic families who turned Rome into a communal work of art from the 14th to the 17th centuries, along with the Barberini, the Colonna, the Chigi and the Borghese. Their most significant contributions was the Palazzo Farnese, the High Renaissance palace designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger in 1517, which is now owned by the Italian republic and currently serves as the French embassy. It can be found in Piazza Farnese, a short distance from the Tiber, which features two identical decorative fountains, on granite bases thought to have been brought from the Roman Baths of Caracalla.

The view across from the Janiculum Hill
The view across from the Janiculum Hill
Travel tip:

Another Farnese monument worth visiting is the Villa Aurelia, which sits on top of the Janiculum Hill, the highest point within Rome's ancient city walls. Built in the 17th century by a Farnese cardinal named Girolamo, because of its elevated position it was commandeered by Garibaldi as his headquarters when he came to Rome to defend the republic of 1849 from the invading French. It was severely damaged by French artillery but restored three decades later when it was bought by a Philadelphia heiress,  Clara Jessup Heyland.

Also on this day:

1594: The death of the great Renaissance artist Tintoretto

1914: The death of Angelo Moriondo, inventor of the world's first espresso machine

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Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Andrea Verga - anatomist and neurologist

Professor among founding fathers of Italian psychiatry


Andrea Verga was one of the first to see how criminal behaviour could be driven by insanity
Andrea Verga was one of the first to see how criminal
behaviour could be driven by insanity
The anatomist and neurologist Andrea Verga, who was one of the first Italian doctors to carry out serious research into mental illness, was born on this day in 1811 in Treviglio in Lombardy.

Verga’s career was notable for his pioneering study of the criminally insane, for some of the first research into acrophobia - the fear of heights - which was a condition from which he suffered, and for the earliest known experiments in the therapeutic use of cannabis.

For a number of years, he held the post of Professor of Psychiatry at the Ospedale Maggiore in Milan. He also founded, in conjunction with another physician, Serafino Biffi, the Italian Archives for Nervous Disease and Mental Illness, a periodical in which research findings could be shared and discussed.

Verga also acquired an in-depth knowledge of the anatomy of the bone system and the nervous system, and was the first to identify an anomaly of the brain that occurs in only one in six people, which became known as ‘Verga’s ventricle’.

The son of a coachman, Verga was an enthusiastic student of classics whom his parents encouraged to pursue a career in the church, yet it was medicine that became his calling.  He went to the University of Pavia, graduating in 1832 and becoming assistant to Bartolomeo Panizza, whose previous students had included Italy’s first Nobel Prize winner, Camillo Golgi.

Verga was a driving force behind Milan's Provincial
Psychiatric Hospital at Mombello 
Verga spent much of his working life with sight in only one eye, the consequence, it might be said, of his failing to remember to take literally the biblical proverb ‘physician heal thyself’. During an outbreak of cholera, in which he attended many sick patients, he developed a serious eye infection, which he neglected to treat, and went blind in the affected eye.

Nonetheless, steering himself towards the field of psychiatry and mental illness, in 1843 he moved to Milan, where he worked at the private hospital of San Celso, which cared for mental patients from the city’s wealthier classes.

While working at San Celso, he is thought to have participated with other physicians in experiments on the therapeutic use of cannabis in mental health conditions. The plant had a history of medical use in a number of ancient civilisations.

In 1848, amid the chaos of the first Italian War of Independence, he became the director of the Pia Casa della Senavra, Milan’s first public mental hospital. For several years his movements came under the scrutiny of the occupying Austrians, yet in 1852 he was offered the chance to lead psychiatric research at the city’s Ospedale Maggiore.

Andrea Verga's tomb at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan
Andrea Verga's tomb at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan
There he pushed for reforms that fundamentally improved the service of medicine and surgery in Milan. With Biffi he helped construct a more accurate definition of the symptoms of mental illness and the concept of insanity, and its recognition as grounds for a different interpretation, in some cases, of criminal behaviour.

Also, along with Biffi and Cesare Castiglioni, he argued the need for a more modern mental hospital in Milan. His arguments were rewarded when Senevra was closed and replaced, in 1878, by the Provincial Psychiatric Hospital of Milan at Mombello. 

Devoted to his work throughout his life, Verga never married. He did find time to become involved in local politics, however, as a councillor and in 1876 was appointed a Senator of the Kingdom of Italy.

He died in 1895 and was buried in the Monumental Cemetery in Milan.

The Basilica of San Martino in Treviglio
The Basilica of San Martino in Treviglio
Travel tip:

The small city of Treviglio in Lombardy, where Verga was born, is about 20km (13 miles) south of Bergamo and 41km (26 miles) northeast of Milan. It developed from a fortified town in the early Middle Ages and, having been at times controlled by the French and the Spanish, became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.  Its most visited attraction is the Basilica of San Martino, originally built in 1008 and reconstructed in 1482, with a Baroque façade from 1740, which is in Piazza Luciano Manara. Opposite the basilica is the historic Caffè Milano, founded in 1896, which retains the original turn-of-the century furniture and a counter in Art Nouveau style.

The bust of Andrea Verga in Largo Francesco Richini in Milan
The bust of Andrea Verga in Largo
Francesco Richini in Milan
Travel tip:

An enormous white marble bust, dedicated in 1903 to Andrea Verga, can be found in Largo Francesco Richini in the centre of Milan, opposite what was formerly the Ospedale Maggiore, which is now part of the campus of the University of Milan, created by the Milan sculptor Giulio Branca. The Ospedale Maggiore moved early in the 20th century to a vast new site not far away, opposite the university buildings on the other side, bordered by Via Francesco Sforza.

Also on this day:

1875: The birth of Giovanni Gentile, the so-called 'philosopher of Fascism' 

1924: The day tragic politician Giacomo Matteotti spoke out against Fascist thugs

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Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Michele Schirru - would-be assassin

Anarchist executed for plotting to kill Mussolini


The anarchist Michele Schirru returned from the United States planning to kill Mussolini
The anarchist Michele Schirru returned from
the United States planning to kill Mussolini
The Sardinian-born anarchist Michele Schirru was executed by firing squad in Rome on this day in 1931.

Schirru, a former socialist revolutionary who had emigrated to the United States, had been arrested on suspicion of plotting to assassinate the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Seized at a hotel in Rome in February 1931, having arrived in the capital about three weeks earlier, he was tried by the Special Fascist Court and after he had loudly declared his hatred of both Fascism and communism was found guilty.

A death sentence was handed down at a further hearing on May 28 and the execution was carried out at first light the following day at the Casal Forte Braschi barracks on the western outskirts of Rome, where 24 Sardinian soldiers had answered the call to volunteer for the firing squad.

Schirru died screaming ‘long live anarchy, long live freedom, down with Fascism’, which bizarrely won posthumous praise from Mussolini, who made reference to Schirru’s distinguished service in Italy’s army during the First World War and applauded his bravery for declaring his unwavering conviction to his cause even as the riflemen were about to squeeze the trigger.

Born in Padria, Sardinia in 1899, Schirru was brought up by his mother in Poggio Maggiore in mountainous southern Piedmont after his father had emigrated to the United States. He attended the Maritime School in La Spezia, while at the same time taking part in demonstrations in Turin that twice saw him jailed.

Mussolini addressing a rally in Milan at around the time Schirru was arriving in Italy
Mussolini addressing a rally in Milan at around
the time Schirru was arriving in Italy
On his release following his second incarceration, he was called up for three years of compulsory military service, 14 months of which he spent on the front line in the First World War, which he hoped might turn into a war of liberation for the oppressed and the prelude to social revolution in Italy.

Demobbed in 1919, he returned to protesting on the streets of Turin, having by then embraced anarchy. He became increasingly disenchanted with the left in Italy, never more so than when the Italian Communist Party (PSI) decided to abandon a two-year programme of factory occupations and, he felt, allowed the bosses to regain control.

This prompted him to follow his father in emigrating to the United States, where he disembarked from an ocean liner filled with Italians seeking a new life on November 2, 1920.

Schirru settled in northern Manhattan and continued to be politically active, often becoming involved in street brawls between socialists and Fascist sympathisers within the Italian community.  He married an American woman, with whom he had two children, and after working for a while as a mechanic started a fruit business in the Bronx.

At the same time he was dismayed, watching from afar, at the Fascist grip on Italy and decided that the only way to release his homeland from Mussolini’s malevolent rule was to kill him.

Schirru considered carrying out his attack in Piazza Venezia, through which Mussolini passed most days
Schirru considered carrying out his attack in Piazza Venezia,
through which Mussolini passed most days
He travelled to Paris, where his association with the anarchist weekly newspaper L'Adunata dei Refrattari opened doors to the kind of people who would support his assassination plan. He arrived in Rome on the evening of January 12, 1931, checking in at the Hotel Royal on Via XX Settembre, with two bombs in his luggage.

Over the next few days, Schirru familiarised himself with the route Mussolini took through Rome on government business on most days, through Villa Torlonia, Porta Pia, the Viminale, Via Nazionale and Piazza Venezia, looking for the best place to carry out an attack.

He was arrested on February 3 at another hotel, the Albergo Colonna, on Via dei Due Macelli, not far from the Spanish Steps, where he was found with Anna Lucovszky, a 24-year-old Hungarian-born dancer he had met not long after arriving in Rome.

Schirru attempted to commit suicide with a pistol but failed while being held at a police station, and it was while he was being treated for his wounds in hospital that bombs and incriminating correspondence were found in his hotel room.

In court he claimed he had abandoned his plan to assassinate Il Duce because of logistical concerns but admitted he had seen it as a way to provoke the collapse of “the dictatorial and bourgeois political order of society”.

The Colli Tortonesi is a wine-growing region in Piedmont.
The Colli Tortonesi is a wine-growing region in Piedmont.
Travel tip:

Poggio Maggiore, where Schirru was brought up by his mother, is a tiny village in the parish of Borghetto di Borbera in Piedmont, about about 110km (68 miles) southeast of Turin and about 35km (22 miles) southeast of Alessandria. There are a few ruined castles, including that at Torre Ratti, but the area is best known for wine production, being part of the Colli Tortonesi region. Look out for Timorasso, Cortese or Croatina wines, and for the area’s own historic cheese, called Montebore. The hills are also notable for fruits and vegetables as well as chestnuts, truffles, honey and salami.

Piazza di Spagna, with Via dei Due Macelli on the left
Piazza di Spagna, with Via dei Due Macelli on the left
Travel tip:

Via dei Due Macelli, where Schirru was arrested at what was then the Albergo Colonna, is the street that connects Via del Tritone - the long thoroughfare that runs from the prime minister’s residence at Palazzo Chigi to the Piazza Barberini - with Piazza di Spagna. Right at the heart of the city on the edge of the elegant Colonna district, it takes its name from the two butchers’ premises that were once located on the street, where livestock was brought before the slaughterhouse at Porta del Popolo was built in 1825.

Also on this day:

1926: The birth in Florence of English TV and radio presenter Katie Boyle

2013: The death of actress and political activist Franca Rame, wife of Dario Fo

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Monday, 28 May 2018

Caravaggio and a death in Campo Marzio

Hot-tempered artist killed man in Rome in row over a woman


Caravaggio was a brilliant painter but had a reputation for violence
Caravaggio was a brilliant painter but had
a reputation for drunken violence
The brilliant late Renaissance artist Caravaggio committed the murder that would cause him to spend the remainder of his life on the run on this day in 1606.

Renowned for his fiery temperament and history of violent acts as well as for the extraordinary qualities of his paintings, Caravaggio is said to have killed Ranuccio Tomassoni, described in some history books as a ‘wealthy scoundrel’, in the Campo Marzio district of central Rome, not far from the Piazza Monte D'Oro.

The incident led to Caravaggio being condemned to death by order of the incumbent pope, Paul V, and then fleeing the city, first to Naples, eventually landing in Malta.

It was thought that the two had a row over a game of tennis, which was gaining popularity in Italy at the time, and that the dispute escalated into a brawl, which was not unusual for Caravaggio. The story was that Tomassoni wounded the painter in some way, at which Caravaggio drew a sword and lashed out at his rival, inflicting a gash in the thigh from which he bled to death.

This was accepted by historians as a plausible story for almost 400 years until evidence emerged to challenge the theory in 2002, when papers unearthed in a search of Vatican and Rome state archives suggested a different explanation.

According to the English art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, who revealed the findings in a BBC television documentary, Caravaggio killed Tomassoni in a botched attempt to castrate him.

Caravaggio among the narrow crowded streets of the Campo Marzio district
Caravaggio among the narrow crowded
streets of the Campo Marzio district
The evidence had been turned up by Monsignor Sandro Corradini, an Italian art historian with a particular interest in Caravaggio, who found a surgeon’s report written on the day of Tomassoni’s death.

Maurizio Marini, another historian, told Graham-Dixon in the documentary that the surgeon’s report described a fatal wound to Tomassini’s femoral artery and surmised that Caravaggio was probably trying to castrate him.

Such barbaric acts were relatively common in Rome at the time, part of a ‘code of honour’ that dictated that if a man was insulted by another man he would cut his face, but that if a man’s woman was insulted then the man delivering the insult could expect a different part of his anatomy to be under threat.

The woman at the heart of their row was said to be Fillide Melandroni, who had allegedly succumbed to Caravaggio’s charms after he was asked to paint her for an Italian nobleman. It is thought that she was a prostitute and that Tomassino was her pimp.

It is little wonder, after he had been found guilty of murder, that Caravaggio was not keen to hang around. The sentence was beheading. Worse still, from the artist’s point of view, the sentence allowed for any member of the public, on spotting Caravaggio, to carry out the sentence themselves, on the spot.

In the event, Caravaggio escaped, yet died only four years later in mysterious circumstances. Official records said that he fell victim to a fever at Porta Ercole, on the Tuscan coast, but no records exist of a funeral or a burial and it is suspected that he himself may have been murdered, either by relatives of Tomassino or representatives of the ancient order of the Knights of Malta, avenging the maiming of one of their members in another brawl involving the painter, in Malta.

Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath. painted shortly before he died in 1610
Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath.
painted shortly before he died in 1610
Shortly before he died, while lying low in Naples with the intention of returning to Rome to seek clemency, he completed his David with the Head of Goliath, in which the severed head of the giant bears his own facial features, while David is given an expression of compassion for his victim.

Born Michelangelo Merisi in Milan in 1571, Caravaggio became known by the name of the town, in the province of Bergamo, where his family settled after leaving Milan to escape an outbreak of plague.

His work became famous for his realistic observation of the physical and emotional state of human beings and for his dramatic use of light and shade, known as chiaroscuro, which gave his paintings an almost three-dimensional quality. This was a formative influence for the baroque school of painting.

Some of his major works, such as The Calling of St Matthew, The Crucifixion of St Peter and Deposition, can be found in churches in Rome, but his work is also well represented in the Uffizi gallery in Florence.

The Sanctuary of the Madonna in Caravaggio
The Sanctuary of the Madonna in Caravaggio
Travel tip:

In addition to its connection with the artist, another attraction of the town of Caravaggio is the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Caravaggio, which was built in the 16th century on the spot where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a local peasant woman.  The Sanctuary was later rebuilt and completed in the 18th century and is now visited by pilgrims from all over the world.  The town did have a theatre named after Caravaggio that was held in high regard but it was destroyed during the Second World War.

The Piazza del Popolo is among the highlights of Campo Marzio
The Piazza del Popolo is among the highlights of Campo Marzio
Travel tip:

Campo Marzio is Rome’s 4th rione - district - situated in the centre of Rome, comprising an area that includes Piazza di Spagna and the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti - otherwise known as the Spanish Steps - and Piazza del Popolo, as well as the fashion district with the Via dei Condotti at its centre, overlooked by the Pincian Hill.  During the Middle Ages it was the most densely populated quarter of the city. It is bordered by the Tiber, the Quirinal hill in the north and the Capitoline Hill.

More reading:

The mysterious death of Caravaggio

Also on this day:

1987: The birth of Leandro Jayarajah, former member of the Italy national cricket team

1999: Da Vinci's The Last Supper goes back on display after 20-year restoration

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Sunday, 27 May 2018

Giuseppe Tornatore - writer and director

Oscar winner for Cinema Paradiso


Giuseppe Tornatore set many of his films in his native Sicily
Giuseppe Tornatore set many of his films
in his native Sicily
The screenwriter and director Giuseppe Tornatore, the creator of the Oscar-winning classic movie Cinema Paradiso, was born on this day in 1956 in Bagheria, a small town a few kilometres along the coast from the Sicilian capital Palermo.

Known as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso in Italy, Tornatore’s best-known work won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 62nd Academy Awards following its release in 1988.

The movie, written by Tornatore, tells the story of Salvatore, a successful film director based in Rome who returns to his native Sicily after hearing of the death of the man who kindled his love of the cinema, the projectionist at the picture house in his local village, who became a father figure to him after his own father was killed on wartime national service.

Much of the film consists of flashbacks to Salvatore’s life as a child in the immediate post-war years and there is a memorable performance by Salvatore Cascio as the director’s six-year-old self, when he was known as Toto, as he develops an unlikely yet enduring friendship with Alfredo, the projectionist, played by the French actor Philippe Noiret.

The movie is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack by the composer Ennio Morricone, whose haunting theme captures the beautiful poignancy of the movie.

Morricone worked with Tornatore on many of his films, including two other magically crafted works in Baarìa, set in his home town of Bagheria, and Malèna, which has the model and actress Monica Bellucci in the title role, another Sicilian story of a 12-year-old boy’s obsessive love for a beautiful young woman.

Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in one of the most famous screenshots from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in one of the most
famous screenshots from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
Tornatore initially worked as a photographer, seeing his efforts published in various photographic magazines. By the age of 16, he staged had staged two plays, by Luigi Pirandello and Eduardo De Filippo, and then began making documentary films for TV, beginning a long association with Rai in his early 20s.

In 1986 he made his debut in feature films with Il camorrista, starring the American actor Ben Gazzara, taken from a book by Giuseppe Marrazzo about a petty criminal in Naples, Raffaele Cutolo, who uses a spell in the Poggioreale prison to form the mafia organisation Nuova Camorra Organizzata, which would go on to become one of the most powerful criminal groups in Italy.  The movie earned him a Silver Ribbon as best new director from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists.

Cinema Paradiso was only his second film, confirming the arrival of a new talent to rival some of the greats of the post-War era of Italian cinema, although the movie was almost written off as a flop.  When it was released in Italy in 1988, it did little to excite Italian audiences and takings were poor.

Yet the manager of a small cinema in Sicily, who had warmed to its theme, kept it on, inviting cinema-goers to watch it for nothing and then pay at the end if they liked it.  The offer was taken up in increasing numbers and gradually the film acquired almost a cult following. It won the Grand Jury Special Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, which gave it the springboard that would eventually lead to the Oscars the following year.

Tornatore’s body of work is not huge, amounting to only a dozen feature films in more than 30 years. The love of his native Sicily is a recurring theme and inevitably his movies are beautifully crafted.

In addition to the Oscar and Golden Globe for Cinema Paradiso, Tornatore has won four Best Director awards at the David di Donatellos - the premier awards ceremony in Italy - for L’uomo delle stelle (The Star Maker, 1986), La leggenda del pianista sull'oceano (The Legend of 1900, 1998), La sconoscuita (The Unknown Woman, 2006) and his English language film The Best Offer (2013).

The Villa Cattolica is one of Bagheria's characteristic Baroque villas. It now houses a museum.
The Villa Cattolica is one of Bagheria's characteristic
Baroque villas. It now houses a museum.
Travel tip:

Just 15km from Palermo in a southeast direction along the coast, Bagheria, which occupies an elevated position a short distance from the sea, has an atmosphere of a traditional Sicilian town and as well as featuring both in Cinema Paradiso and Baarìa - which is its Sicilian dialect name - it was also used for some scenes in The Godfather Part III. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a favoured by the aristocracy of Palermo as somewhere to spend the summer, the legacy of which is some 20 or more Baroque villas that add to the town’s charm.

The Greek Theatre in Taormina is a regular venue for open-air concerts in the summer months
The Greek Theatre in Taormina is a regular venue for
open-air concerts in the summer months
Travel tip:

Very much mimicking the Oscars, the David di Donatello awards were conceived in 1955 as a way to recognise the best of Italian cinema and promote the movie industry. Like the Oscars, the award itself is a gold-plated statuette, in this case a replica of the statue of David sculpted by Donatello, probably in around 1430-40, and currently housed in the Bargello museum in Florence. Between 1957 and 1980, the awards were presented at the open air Greek Teatre in Taormina.

Also on this day:

1508: The death of Lucrezia Crivelli, the 'mystery' woman of a Da Vinci painting

1944: The birth of Bruno Vespa, the face of Italy's long-running late night politics show Porta a Porta

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Saturday, 26 May 2018

Luca Toni - World Cup winner

Striker one of stars of 2006 triumph in Germany


Luca Toni with the World Cup in 2006. The hand gesture is the one he habitually made after scoring a goal
Luca Toni with the World Cup in 2006. The hand gesture
is the one he habitually made after scoring a goal
The footballer Luca Toni, who played an important role in Italy’s achievement in winning the soccer World Cup in Germany in 2006, was born on this day in 1977 in the small town of Pavullo nel Frignano in Emilia-Romagna.

Toni scored twice in Italy’s 3-0 victory over Ukraine in the quarter-finals before starting as the Azzurri’s main striker in both the semi-final triumph over the hosts and the final against France, in which they eventually prevailed on penalties. Toni hit the bar with one header and saw another disallowed for offside in the final.

The goals were among 16 he scored in 47 appearances for the national team but it was his remarkable club career that makes him stand out in the history of Italian football.

A muscular 6ft 4ins in height and hardly the most mobile of forwards, he was never seen as a great player, more an old-fashioned centre forward of the kind rarely seen in today’s game.

Yet between his debut for his local club, Modena, in 1994 and his retirement in 2016 following his final season with Hellas Verona, Toni found the net 322 times in club football, which makes him the fourth most prolific goalscorer among all Italian players. Most times, he celebrated by shaking his hand near his right ear, which he once explained began as meaning 'listen up - I just scored a goal!'

Toni in the colours of Fiorentina, for whom he scored 31 goals in the 2005-06 season
Toni in the colours of Fiorentina, for whom
he scored 31 goals in the 2005-06 season 
He scored more career goals indeed than Roberto Baggio, Francesco Totti and Gianluca Vialli, all of whom would probably figure in most fans’ idea of an Italian ‘hall of fame’. More too than the prolific Juventus and AC Milan star Filippo Inzaghi.

Of his contemporaries, only Alessandro del Piero (346) scored more, while historically he doffs his cap only to Silvio Piola (364) and the Internazionale legend Giuseppe Meazza (338).

In a nomadic career that saw him wear the colours of 13 different Italian clubs - plus one in Germany and one in Dubai - Toni was twice the capocannoniere - top scorer - in Serie A, hitting 31 goals for Fiorentina in 2005-06, which was the biggest individual tally in Italy’s top division for 47 years, and then sharing the honour with Inter’s Mauro Icardi some nine years later, in the 2014-15 season, when he scored 22 for Hellas Verona.

Toni did not make his Serie A debut until he was 23, by which time he had already played for five clubs in six seasons in the lower divisions.  He made his first start in the top flight for Vicenza and subsequently played alongside Baggio and Pep Guardiola at Brescia.

It was with Palermo in Serie B that Toni made his first real impact as a goalscorer. He scored 30 times as the Sicilian club won promotion in 2004 to end an absence of more than 30 years from Serie A and a further 20 the following season as the Rosanero qualified for the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history.

Toni was the No 9 for the Azzurri in the 2006 World Cup final
Toni was the No 9 for the Azzurri
in the 2006 World Cup final
Those goals brought his first call-up for the Azzurri and a big-money move to Fiorentina, where his goals in 2005-06 propelled Fiorentina to fourth place and qualification for the Champions League, although the place was rescinded after Fiorentina were caught up in the calciopoli match-fixing scandal.

Toni showed great loyalty to the fallen club, offering to stay with them even after they were ordered to start the following season in Serie B, a sentence commuted on appeal to a 15-points deduction in Serie A.  When he left at the end of the 2007 season it was only because an approach from Bayern Munich in Germany allowed him to keep his pledge of not joining a rival Italian club.

His first season in the Bundesliga was a huge success, his 24 goals helping Bayern win the title. He also scored both goals as Bayern beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 to add the German Cup and complete the double. Despite an ankle injury keeping him out for a long spell, he still managed 14 goals in his second season.

After falling out with manager Louis Van Gaal midway through the 2009-10 season, Toni was on the move again, spending brief spells with Roma, Genoa, Juventus, Al Nasr in Dubai and Fiorentina again. It looked like his career was drawing to a close but then newly-promoted Verona took a gamble by offering him a one-year contract to play on beyond his 37th birthday.

It paid off handsomely as Toni enjoyed a renaissance, rediscovering his old deadliness in the penalty area to score 20 goals in the 2013-14 season and 22 in the 2014-15 campaign, by the end of which he was 38, when his 22 goals made him the oldest capocannoniere in the history of Serie A.

Toni (left) and his teammate Miroslav Klose  in the Bayern Munich team in 2007-08
Toni (left) and his teammate Miroslav Klose
in the Bayern Munich team in 2007-08
His retirement at the end of the 2015-16 season came with a fairytale ending in a 2-1 home win over already-crowned Serie A champions Juventus, in which he scored Verona’s first goal with a penalty taken in the so-called Panenka style, chipped delicately into the centre of the goal after the goalkeeper commits himself to diving left or right.

After retirement, Toni took courses with a view to remaining at Verona as director of football but left in 2017 and has more recently worked as a pundit.

Married to the model Maria Cecchetto, with whom he has two children, he was back on a football pitch earlier this month in a star-studded testimonial for the great Azzurri midfielder Andrea Pirlo, getting on the scoresheet as usual as the match ended 7-7.

The Castle of Montecuccolo at Pavullo nel Frignano
The Castle of Montecuccolo at Pavullo nel Frignano
Travel tip:

Pavullo nel Frignano, where Luca Toni was born, is a town of around 17,000 inhabitants in the Modenese Apennines. It is home to the medieval Castle of Montecuccolo, birthplace of the 17th century condottiero - mercenary - Raimondo Montecuccoli. Pavullo sadly suffered extensive damage during the Second World War because of its proximity to the German defences on Gothic Line.

The Arena di Verona hosted a football match in the early days of the local football team, Hellas Verona
The Arena di Verona hosted a football match in the early
days of the local football team, Hellas Verona
Travel tip:

Toni’s final team, Hellas Verona, acquired its name after it was founded in 1903 by a group of students from the prestigious local lyceum, where a classics professor put forward the name Hellas, which is the Greek equivalent of the Latin word patria, meaning homeland. The city was largely indifferent towards football at first but the Veronese began to take more of an interest after the club staged a game against their local rivals Bentegodi in the city's Roman amphitheatre, now famous as the Arena di Verona, attracting national media attention.

Also on this day:

1805: Napoleon Bonaparte crowned King of Italy

1955: Formula One motor racing champion Alberto Ascari tragically dies in a crash at Monza

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Friday, 25 May 2018

Padre Pio – Saint

Capuchin friar is claimed to have cured cancer


Padre Pio has become one of the most popular saints in history
Padre Pio has become one of the most
popular saints in history
Padre Pio, who has become one of the world’s most famous and popular saints, was born on this day in 1887 in Pietralcina in Campania.

He was well-known for exhibiting stigmata, marks corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, constantly making him the subject of controversy.

Padre Pio has said that at five years old he decided to dedicate his life to God and as a youth he reported experiencing heavenly visions and ecstasies. At the age of 15 he was admitted to the novitiate of the Capuchin Order, taking the name of Fra Pio, in honour of Pope Pius I.

He suffered from poor health for most of his life and fellow friars say he often appeared to be in a stupor during prayers. One claimed to have seen him in ecstasy, levitating above the ground.

In 1910 he was ordained a priest and moved to a friary in San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia.

He was called up to serve in the Italian army during the First World War and assigned to the medical corps in Naples, but because of his poor health he was declared unfit for service and discharged.

In 1918 he exhibited stigmata for the first time while hearing a confession. This was to continue until his death 50 years later.

A photograph of the young Padre Pio and his stigmata
A photograph of the young
Padre Pio and his stigmata
Critics have accused him of faking the stigmata by using carbolic acid to make the wounds.

The historian Sergio Luzzato claimed in one of his books that there is a document in the Vatican archives recording that Padre Pio once requested carbolic acid from a pharmacist. The Church later dismissed this allegation, claiming Padre Pio used the acid as a sterilising agent before administering injections to combat Spanish Flu.

To try to reduce the publicity surrounding Padre Pio, the Vatican introduced sanctions forbidding him from saying mass in public and displaying his stigmata. But after a while they cancelled these, allowing pilgrims from all over the world to visit him and many later claimed they had been healed by him.

The young Karol Wojtyla visited Padre Pio while studying in Italy. An Austrian cardinal has said Father Wojtyla confided in him that Padre Pio had told him he would one day ascend to the highest post in the church.

During the visit, the future Pope John Paul II had asked Padre Pio to pray for one of his friends in Poland who was suffering from cancer. It was later discovered the friend’s cancer was in spontaneous remission and doctors could find no explanation for this.

Padre Pio's cell at the San Giovanni Rotondo friary
Padre Pio's cell at the San Giovanni Rotondo friary
In 1968, Padre Pio died at the age of 81 in his cell at San Giovanni Rotondo. After his death the marks on his body completely disappeared.

Padre Pio was beatified in 1999 and canonised in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.

There are now more than three thousand Padre Pio prayer groups with an estimated three million members, and parishes all over the world have been dedicated to him.

Among his devotees is the newly-installed Prime Minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, who was born near Foggia and attended a classical lyceum in San Giovanni Rotondo.

The village of Pietralcina in Campania, Padre Pio's birthplace
The village of Pietralcina in Campania, Padre Pio's birthplace
Travel tip:

Padre Pio is now known as Saint Pio of Pietralcina in recognition of his birthplace, a small farming comune in the province of Benevento in the Campania region of Italy.  His feast day is celebrated on September 23, the date of his death. He is the patron saint of Pietralcina, and also of Italy, Malta, civil defence volunteers, adolescents, stress relief and the January blues.

The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in San Giovanni Rotondo
The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in San Giovanni Rotondo
Travel tip:

Padre Pio’s major shrine is the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietralcina in San Giovanni Rotondo in the province of Foggia. His body was initially buried in a crypt in the Church of our Lady of Grace (Santa Maria delle Grazie) in the town. In 2004 the Sanctuary of Saint Pio was dedicated by Pope John Paul II and in 2008 the saint’s body was exhumed from the crypt and prepared for display. It was confirmed at the time that the stigmata were not visible. In 2010 the Saint’s remains were moved to a golden crypt within the Sanctuary of Saint Pio.

Also on this day:

1922: The birth of former Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer

1971: The birth of Olympic marathon champion Stefano Baldini

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Thursday, 24 May 2018

Simone Rugiati - celebrity chef

Popular presenter found fame early in career


Simone Rugiati has been a regular participant in TV programmes since he was just 21 years old
Simone Rugiati has been a regular participant in TV
programmes since he was just 21 years old
The chef and TV presenter Simone Rugiati was born on this day in 1981 in Santa Croce sull’ Arno, midway between Pisa and Florence in Tuscany.

He became a famous face on TV in Italy with a seven-year run on the hit cookery show La Prova del Cuoco - the Test of the Cook - a hugely popular daytime programme on Rai Uno based on the BBC show Ready Steady Cook, fronted by Antonella Clerici.

Rugiati has also presented numerous programmes on the satellite TV food channel Gambero Rosso and since 2010 he has been the face of Cuochi e Fiamme  - Cooks and Flames - a cookery contest on the La7 network in which two non-professional chefs cook the same dish and see their efforts marked by a panel of judges.

He has also taken part in reality TV shows, including the 2010 edition of L’Isola dei Famosi, an Italian version of the American show Survivor.

Rugiati reached the semi-final of another reality show, Pechino Express, in which the competitors, paired in couples, complete an epic 7,900km (4,900 miles) journey from Haridwar in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand to Beijing in China, undertaking various challenges along the way.

Rugiati has been a contestant in reality TV shows as well as fronting a series of cookery programmes
Rugiati has been a contestant in reality TV shows as well
as fronting a series of cookery programmes
The show was presented by Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia, a nephew of Umberto II, who was the last king of Italy before the constitution of the republic abolished the royal family.

The son of a physical education teacher, Rugiati left school to enrol at a specialist institute for hoteliers and chefs at Montecatini Terme, about 30km (18 miles) from Santa Croce, where he emerged with a diploma.

Soon afterwards, he began working in restaurants in Tuscany as a commis chef, working under a head chef and acquiring all the disciplines required to run a professional kitchen.

His media career began in 2002, when a few months before making his television debut he was appointed resident chef for the magazine La mia cucina at the age of just 21.  He went on to cook for two more magazines, Buon appetito and Mangiar sano.

The cover of Rugiati's latest book,
about home cooking
After becoming a well-known name via La prova del Cuoco, in which he was a regular participant between 2002 and 2009, Rugiati became the face of the new Rai satellite channel Gambero Rosso, fronting shows such as Oggi cucino in ... , SOS Simone and Io, me e Simone.

A regular speaker at fairs and conventions dedicated to food, he is the author of many books full of recipes, including Casa Rugiati, Stories of Brunch and Chef in the City.

Rugiati is a lively personality who has a reputation for being outspoken. Recently, he made the news when he posted a video of himself leaving a sushi restaurant where he claimed the food would have put him in hospital had he consumed it, prompting the owner to threaten to sue him.

A wintry scene in Piazza Garibaldi, the central square in Santa Croce sull'Arno
A wintry scene in Piazza Garibaldi, the central square
in Santa Croce sull'Arno
Travel tip:

Rugiati’s home town of Santa Croce sull’Arno is situated, as the name suggests, on the banks of the Arno river, about 50km (31 miles) downstream from Florence. It is thought to take its name from an oratory in which a wooden cross was found. The present day oratory of the church of San Lorenzo features a wooden Christ on the cross that dates back to the 13th century. The area is surrounded by hills, which are popular with walkers, although the town itself is built on a plain. Santa Croce sull’Arno is best known for its leather industry, with at one time more than 400 workshops and factories squeezed into its 17sq km (11 sq ml) area.

The entrance to the Liberty-style Municipio building in Montecatini
The entrance to the Liberty-style
Municipio building in Montecatini
Travel tip:

Montecatini Terme, where Rugiati began his studies to become a chef, is famous for its thermal waters, which still attract thousands of visitors each year to its spas, many of them wonderful examples of decorative Liberty-style architecture. The town enjoyed great popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when hotels, restaurants, theatres and nightclubs multiplied. It had a great attraction for celebrities from the world of the arts, such as the composers Giuseppe Verdi, Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo, the poet Trilussa, the opera singer Beniamino Gigli and the novelist and dramatist Luigi Pirandello, who were all regular visitors.

Also on this day:

1671: The birth of Grand Duke Gian Gastone, the last Medici to rule Florence

1751: The birth of Charles Emmanuel IV - King of Sardinia

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Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Ferdinando II de’ Medici – Grand Duke of Tuscany

Technology fan who supported scientist Galileo


Ferdinando II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, portrayed by Flemish painter Justus Sustermans
Ferdinando II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany,
portrayed by Flemish painter Justus Sustermans
Inventor and patron of science Ferdinando II de’ Medici died on this day in 1670 in Florence.

Like his grandmother, the dowager Grand Duchess Christina, Ferdinando II was a loyal friend to Galileo and he welcomed the scientist back to Florence after the prison sentence imposed on him for ‘vehement suspicion of heresy’ was commuted to house arrest.

Ferdinando II was reputed to be obsessed with new technology and had hygrometers, barometers, thermometers and telescopes installed at his home in the Pitti Palace.

He has also been credited with the invention of the sealed glass thermometer in 1654.

Ferdinando II was born in 1610, the eldest son of Cosimo II de’ Medici and Maria Maddalena of Austria.

He became Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1621 when he was just 10 years old after the death of his father.

His mother, Maddalena, and paternal grandmother, Christina, acted as joint regents for him. Christina is said to have been the power behind the throne until her death in 1636.

Ferdinando II and his wife, Vittoria della Rovere
Ferdinando II and his wife, Vittoria della Rovere
Ferdinando II was patron and friend to Galileo, who dedicated his work, Dialogue Concerning the two Chief World Systems to him. This work led to Galileo’s second set of hearings before the Inquisition. Ferdinando II kept Galileo safely in Florence until the Inquisitors threatened to bring him to Rome in chains if he would not come voluntarily.

When plague swept through Florence in 1630 it killed 10 per cent of the population. Unlike other members of the Tuscan nobility, Ferdinando II and his brothers stayed in Florence to try to help the suffering people.

To combat the economic depression, Ferdinando II instigated a public works programme. This included the building of an aqueduct and new public fountains as well as improvement to Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens.

Architects and artists were also employed to develop the Cappella dei Principi at the Basilica di San Lorenzo.

The Grand Duke married Vittoria della Rovere, the granddaughter of the Duke of Urbino, in 1633 and they had four sons, although only two lived to become adults.

Ferdinando II was a loyal friend and supporter  of the scientist and philosopher Galileo
Ferdinando II was a loyal friend and supporter
 of the scientist and philosopher Galileo
Influenced by Galileo, Ferdinando II invented the sealed-glass thermometer by sealing the glass lip of a tube containing coloured alcohol. Glass bubbles filled with air changed position as the temperature rose or fell. Marked off with 360 degrees it became known as a spirit thermometer or Florentine thermometer.

Ferdinando II also used a type of artificial incubator to hatch chicks in his greenhouses in the Boboli Gardens, which was regulated according to the temperature shown on a thermometer placed under the hen.

Tuscany was victorious in a military conflict against the forces of Pope Urban VIII in 1643 but the Treasury was nearly empty after the mercenaries had been paid and interest rates had to be lowered.

Ferdinando II died in the Pitti Palace on May 23, 1670 of apoplexy and dropsy and was interred in the Basilica di San Lorenzo.

Visitors to the Pitti Palace in Florence can also explore  the beautiful Boboli Gardens
Visitors to the Pitti Palace in Florence can also explore
 the beautiful Boboli Gardens
Travel tip:

The Pitti Palace - Palazzo Pitti - in Florence, where Ferdinando II was born and died, was originally built for the banker Luca Pitti in 1457 to try to outshine the Medici family. They bought it from his bankrupt heirs and made it their main residence in 1550. Today visitors can look round the richly decorated rooms and see treasures from the Medici collections. The beautiful Boboli Gardens behind the palace are 16th century formal Italian gardens filled with statues and fountains.

The Basilica di San Lorenzo, where Ferdinando II is buried, is one of Florence's largest churches
The Basilica di San Lorenzo, where Ferdinando II is
buried, is one of Florence's largest churches
Travel tip:

The Basilica di San Lorenzo is one of the largest churches in Florence, situated in the middle of the market district in Piazza di San Lorenzo. It is the burial place of the principal members of the Medici family. Brunelleschi was commissioned to design a new building in 1419 to replace the original 11th century Romanesque church on the site but the new church was not completed until after his death. It is considered one of the greatest examples of Renaissance architecture. Ferdinando II is interred in the Cappella dei Principi, which is surmounted by a tall dome, along with five other Grand Dukes of Tuscany. 

Also on this day:

1498: The execution of 'Bonfire of the Vanities' preacher Girolamo Savonarola

1933: The birth of Sergio Gonella, the first Italian to referee a World Cup final


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Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Giulia Grisi - operatic soprano

Officer’s daughter became a star on three continents


Giulia Grisi appears as Norma in Vincenzo Bellini's opera of the same name
Giulia Grisi appears as Norma in Vincenzo
Bellini's opera of the same name
The opera singer Giulia Grisi, one of the leading sopranos of the 19th century, was born on this day in 1811 in Milan.

Renowned for the smooth sweetness of her voice, Grisi sang to full houses in Europe, the United States and South America during a career spanning 30 years in which composers such as Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti created roles especially for her.

These included Elvira in Bellini’s final opera, I puritani, in which Grisi appeared alongside the great tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, the bass Luigi Lablache and the baritone Antonio Tamburini when the work premiered in Paris in 1835.

The opera was such a success that whenever the four singers performed together subsequently they were known as the “Puritani quartet”.

Grisi was also the first soprano cast in the role of Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma in Milan in 1831, playing opposite Guiditta Pasta in the title role.

Donizetti wrote the parts of Norina and Ernesto in his 1843 work Don Pasquale for Grisi and her future husband, the tenor Giovanni Matteo De Candia, usually known by his stage name of Giovanni Mario. Lablache and Tamburini again starred with her in the Paris premiere.

Giulia Grisi (right), with her sister Giuditta
Giulia Grisi (right), with her sister Giuditta, who was
also an accomplished singer
Grisi was the daughter of Gaetano Grisi, an Italian officer in the service of Napoleon. She had music in her blood. Her maternal aunt, Giuseppina Grassini, had been a popular opera singer, in Europe and in London, while her sister Giuditta also sang and her cousin Carlotta was a ballet dancer.

After being trained with a musical career in mind, Grisi made her stage debut as Emma in Gioachino Rossini's Zelmira at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna in 1828.

Rossini took her to Paris in the title role of Semiramide in 1832 and after her success there she made her debut in London in 1834 as Ninetta in the same composer’s La gazza ladra.

Grisi, who had no shortage of male admirers, had a complicated personal life. Her first marriage to Count Gérard de Melcy, whom she wed in 1836, was an unhappy one but he refused her request for a divorce.

Two years after they were married her husband was furious to discover a letter written to her by Lord Castlereagh, the future 4th Marquess of Londonderry. The two fought a duel in which Lord Castlereagh was wounded in the wrist.

Grisi's second husband, the tenor Giovanni Mario
Grisi's second husband, the tenor
Giovanni Mario
The duel prompted Grisi to leave her husband and begin an affair with Lord Castlereagh, with whom she had a son, George Frederick Ormsby. But the relationship petered out.  George was brought up by his father, although Grisi was allowed to see him when she visited England.

The real love of her life was Mario, her professional as well as romantic partner.  Together, they helped establish Italian opera as an important component of the London music scene.  When they toured the United States in 1854, after they were married, where they were lauded as celebrities.

They lived together in Paris and London before Grisi at last was granted her wish for a divorce they were able to marry. They returned to Italy and lived at the Villa Salviati in Florence, a property Mario had purchased in 1849, where they brought up six daughters and regularly entertained guests from the world of opera and the aristocracy.

Tragically, Grisi died in 1869 after the train on which she was travelling to St Petersburg suffered an accident passing through Germany. Grisi was taken to hospital in Berlin but did not recover from her injuries.  Her husband took her body to Paris, where she was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. Her tomb is marked with the inscription "Juliette de Candia".

The Teatro Comunale in Piazza Giuseppe Verdi in Bologna
The Teatro Comunale in Piazza Giuseppe Verdi in Bologna
Travel tip:

Grisi made her stage debut at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, which remains one of the most important opera venues in Italy. Typically, it presents eight operas with six performances during its November to April season.  Various opera venues in the city had either fallen into disuse or burnt down and it was after the Teatro Malvesi succumbed to fire in 1745 that the Nuovo Teatro Pubblico, as the Teatro Comunale was first called, was opened in May 1763.

The Villa Salviati, the former castle where Grisi and Giovanni  Mario made their home on returning from the United States
The Villa Salviati, the former castle where Grisi and Giovanni
 Mario made their home on returning from the United States
Travel tip:

Grisi and Mario’s grand home in Florence, the Villa Salviati, was built on the site of the Castle of Montegonzi about 7km (4.5 miles) north of the centre of the city, by Cardinal Alamanno Salviati, who in turn gave it to Jacopo Salviati, the son-in-law of Lorenzo de’ Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent). It changed hands a number of times before being purchased by Giovanni Mario from an Englishman, Arturo Vansittard.  In 2000 it was purchased by the Italian government and now houses the historical archives of the European Union.

Also on this day:

1762: The Trevi Fountain is opened in Rome

1963: AC Milan's historic first European Cup triumph

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