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

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Gianrico Carofiglio - novelist

Ex anti-Mafia judge now bestselling author


Gianrico Carofiglio was a prominent figure in the fight against the Mafia in Bari
Gianrico Carofiglio was a prominent figure
in the fight against the Mafia in Bari
The novelist Gianrico Carofiglio, whose books have sold more than five million copies, was born on this day in 1961 in Bari.

Carofiglio is best known for a series of thrillers featuring the the character of lawyer Guido Guerrieri but he has also written a number of novels featuring other characters, still mainly in the crime thriller genre.

One of them, his 2004 novel Il passato è una terra straniera (The Past is a Foreign Country), was made into an acclaimed film, directed by Daniele Vicari and starring Elio Germano, who appeared in the multi award-winning TV series Romanzo Criminale, and Michele Riondino, who played Andrea Camilleri’s most famous detective in the TV series The Young Montalbano.

Carofiglio drew inspiration and much technical knowledge from his career as a magistrate, which culminated in him becoming deputy prosecutor in the Anti-Mafia Directorate of his home town, Bari.

He was an advisor to the anti-Mafia committee in the Italian parliament in 2007 and served as senator between 2008 and 2013. For many years, he was provided with a police bodyguard.

Carofiglio’s interest in writing was passed on by his mother, Enza Buono, a novelist from Sicily, but he chose a career in law, becoming a magistrate in Prato, in Tuscany, at the age of 25. From there he moved to Foggia, a little to the north of Bari, where he was public prosecutor.

Carofiglio's Guido Guerrieri novels have been  bestsellers in Italy and abroad
Carofiglio's Guido Guerrieri novels have been
bestsellers in Italy and abroad
He made his debut as a published writer in 2002 with Testimone inconsapevole (Involuntary Witness), the novel that introduces the character of lawyer Guido Guerrieri, who also featured in Ad occhi chiusi (A Walk in the Dark, 2003), Ragionevoli dubbi (Reasonable Doubts, 2006), Le perfezioni provvisorie (Temporary Perfections, 2010) and La regola dell’equilibro (A Fine Line, 2014), all of which have been published in English.

The Guerrieri novels also formed the basis for a TV series in Italy.

Carofiglio enjoyed success immediately, winning several awards for best debut novel. The Past is a Foreign Country won the prestigious Premio Bancarella in 2005.

However, he did not devote himself to writing full time until he had completed his term in the Senate, after which he also resigned from the judiciary.

Other novels by Carofiglio translated into English include Il silenzio dell’onda (The Silence of the Wave, 2011) and L’estate fredda (The Cold Summer, 2016), the latter featuring a new character, the Carabinieri marshall Pietro Fenoglio.

For several years president of the Petruzzelli Theatre in Bari, he is also honorary president of The Edinburgh Gadda Prize which celebrates the work of writer and poet Carlo Emilio Gadda.

Carofiglio still lives in Bari with his wife and two children.

The Teatro Petruzzelli was once one of Italy's leading theatres and opera houses
The Teatro Petruzzelli was once one of Italy's leading
theatres and opera houses 
Travel tip:

The Teatro Petruzzelli is the largest theatre in Bari and the fourth biggest in Italy by size. Built between 1898 and 1903, it became a major venue for opera and ballet and for concerts. A long list of stars who performed there included Italian operatic greats from Tito Schipa to Luciano Pavarotti, Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev and international singing stars such as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Liza Minnelli. The theatre was completely destroyed by fire in 1991 as a result of a suspected arson attack and rebuilt, but did not reopen until 2009 following protracted legal battles over ownership.

The cathedral of Santa Maria de Fovea in Foggia
The cathedral of Santa Maria de Fovea in Foggia
Travel tip:

The city of Foggia was once known as the ‘granary of Italy’, thanks to its proximity to a large plain, known as the Tavoliere delle Puglie, which enabled the growing of wheat and other grain plants on a large scale. There are many pasta factories, although productivity in the area is not limited to grains, being a significant producer of olives, grapes and cheeses too.  The old centre of the city is a network of narrow streets, at the heart of which is the part-Romanic, part-Baroque cathedral of Santa Maria de Fovea.

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Friday, 29 June 2018

Giorgio Napolitano – 11th President of Italy

Neapolitan was concerned about the development of southern Italy


Giorgio Napolitano became president of the Italian republic in 2006
Giorgio Napolitano became president
of the Italian republic in 2006
Giorgio Napolitano, who served as the 11th President of the Republic of Italy, celebrates his 93rd birthday today.

Napolitano, who was born on this day in 1925 in Naples, was the longest serving president in the history of the republic and the only Italian president to have been re-elected.

He graduated in law from Naples University in 1947, having joined a group of young anti-fascists while he was an undergraduate.

At the age of 20, Napolitano joined the Italian Communist Party. He was a militant and then became one of the leaders, staying with the party until 1991 when it was dissolved. He then joined the Democratic Party of the Left.

Napolitano was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 1953 and continued to be re-elected by the Naples constituency until 1996.

His parliamentary activity focused on the issue of southern Italy’s development and on national economic policy.

Napolitano in 1953
Napolitano in 1953
As a member of the European parliament between 1989 and 1992, he regularly travelled abroad giving lectures.

In 2005 he was appointed life Senator by the President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

The following year he was elected as President of the Republic and he served until 2015.

As head of state of Italy, his role was to represent national unity and to guarantee that Italian politics complied with the Constitution.

He was present at the 2006 FIFA World Cup final, when the Italian team defeated France and won their fourth World Cup and he joined in with the players’ celebrations afterwards.

Giorgio Napolitano with Italy's captain Fabio Cannavaro and the World Cup trophy after the final in 2006
Giorgio Napolitano with Italy's captain Fabio Cannavaro
and the World Cup trophy after the final in 2006
Among the many awards he received was the 2010 Dan David prize in Tel Aviv, for his contribution to strengthening the values and democratic institutions in Italy and Europe.

Napolitano frequently wrote about southern Italian issues for journals and published many books on the subject.

He is married to Clio Bittoni and has two sons, Giovanni and Giulio.

Napolitano retired as Italian president at the age of 89 in January 2015.

The main building at the University of Naples Federico II
The main building at the University of Naples Federico II
Travel tip:

The University of Naples Federico II, where Napolitano was a student, was founded in 1224 by the Emperor Frederick II. One of its most famous students was the theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas who went on to lecture there in the 13th century. A former college built in the 16th century in Via Paladino, in the area of Spaccanapoli, has been the main university building since 1777.

The Villa Rosebery overlooks the Bay of Naples at Posillipo
Travel tip:

As president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano lived in Palazzo Quirinale in Rome, which looks out over the Piazza del Quirinale. This was the summer palace of the popes until 1870 when it became the palace of the Kings of the newly unified Italy. Following the abdication of the last King, it became the official residence of the President of the Republic in 1947. Napolitano also had a residence in Naples at his disposal, the Villa Rosebery, which takes its name from the time it was owned by a British Prime Minister, the fifth Earl of Rosebery. Lord Rosebery gave the villa to the British Government for the use of their ambassador to Italy. The British Government then gave it to Italy and it was the residence of King Victor Emmanuel III from 1944 to 1946. It was then used by the Academia Aeronautica until it became an official residence of the President of the Italian Republic in 1957.

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Thursday, 28 June 2018

Lorenzo Amoruso - footballer

Defender was most successful Italian in British football


Amoruso was the first Catholic to be named as captain of the Glasgow club, Rangers
Amoruso was the first Catholic to be named
as captain of the Glasgow club, Rangers
Lorenzo Amoruso, a defender who played for teams in Italy, San Marino, England and Scotland during a career spanning almost two decades, was born on this day in 1971 in Bari.

Formerly the captain of Fiorentina, Amoruso signed for Glasgow Rangers for £4 million in 1997 and remained at the Scottish club for six seasons, during which time he won nine major trophies, which makes him the most successful Italian player in British football.

The first Catholic player to captain Rangers - traditionally the club supported by Glasgow’s Protestant community - Amoruso won the Scottish Premier League title three times, the Scottish Cup three times and the Scottish League Cup three times.

His total of winners’ medals dwarfs those of much higher profile Italian stars in England.

The illustrious Chelsea trio of Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto di Matteo each won two FA Cup and League Cup winners’ medals, but did not feature in a Premier League title-winning team.

Mario Balotelli was part of the Manchester City team that won the FA Cup in 2011 and the Premier League the following year, famously providing the pass, while lying on his back, that set up the Argentinian Sergio Aguero to score the title-winning goal four minutes into stoppage time in City’s final match of the season.  But he stayed with the club for only half a seasons more.

Signing
Amoruso began his career with his local team in Bari before moving to Florence in 1995, captaining the team that won the Coppa Italia in 1996 and reached the semi-finals of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup the following season.

Amid rumours that he was to join Manchester United in the English Premier League, Amoruso signed instead for Rangers.

It was a major coup for the Scottish club, as Serie A at that time was still one of the most glamorous leagues in the world and, at 26, Amoruso was much younger than most of Italy’s previous footballing exports, who tended to leave only when their careers were drawing to a close.

But he was attracted by the prospect of playing in the Champions League and excited by the atmosphere generated when the famous Ibrox Stadium was full.  The club was also ambitious to make a good show in Europe and establish superiority over city rivals Celtic and players such as Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup were among a raft of new signings.

His time at Ibrox had its ups and downs. For example, he missed most of his first season with an Achilles tendon injury and fell out several times with the club’s Dutch manager, Dick Advocaat. He also had to apologise after TV microphones picked up some racist comments aimed at another player during a Champions League match.

Amoruso now works as a pundit on TV station TV8 in Italy
Amoruso now works as a pundit on TV station TV8 in Italy
Nonetheless, he twice won Scotland’s domestic ‘treble’ - the Premier League, Scottish Cup and League Cup - in 1999 and 2003, and made more than 150 appearances for the club.

He left in the summer of 2003 only because Rangers were facing mounting debts and needed to sell players. Amoruso moved to the English Premier League to join Blackburn Rovers in a £1.4 million deal, having ended his Rangers career on a high note by scoring the winning goal in the 2003 Scottish Cup Final.

Although he scored a goal on his debut for Blackburn, his career in England was less successful and injuries restricted him to just 18 matches in three seasons.  His contract was not renewed in the summer of 2006, after which he effectively retired, although he did play for Cosmos of San Marino on a part-time basis.

Amoruso was never picked for the Italian national team, which he blamed on the tendency of coaches such as Giovanni Trapattoni and Cesare Maldini to have a distrust of Italian players who were based outside Italy.

Since retiring, Amoruso has forged a media career and currently works as a British football analyst for the TV8 television channel, based in Milan.

A characteristic street in Bari
A characteristic street in Bari
Travel tip:

The city of Bari is situated on the Adriatic coast, roughly at the top of the heel of the Italian peninsula, a little more than 260km (162 miles) almost due east of Naples.  It is a busy port with a large commercial and industrial sector but has an interesting old town - Bari Vecchia - which comprises a maze of medieval streets occupying a headland overlooking the harbour. Within the old town are the Cattedrale di San Sebino, the Castello Svevo and the Basilico di San Nicola, which houses the remains of Saint Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus.

The Tower of Marathon at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, home of Fiorentina
The Tower of Marathon at the Stadio
Artemio Franchi, home of Fiorentina
Travel tip:

Florence’s football stadium, the home of Fiorentina, is the Renaissance city’s best example of 20th century architecture.  Named the Stadio Artemio Franchi, after a former president of the Italian Football Federation, it was designed by the great modern architect, Pier Luigi Nervi, who was responsible during a long career for a diverse range of buildings around the world, including the Pirelli Tower in Milan, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris and the George Washington Bridge Bus Station in New York City. The focal point of the stadium, which Nervi built entirely of reinforced concrete, is the 70m (230ft) Tower of Marathon that carries the stadium’s flagstaff.  The stadium was originally named after a Florentine fascist, Giovanni Berta, before being changed to Stadio Communale.

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Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Giorgio Almirante – politician

Leader who tried to make fascism more mainstream


Giorgio Almirante founded his party shortly after the Second World War
Giorgio Almirante founded his party
shortly after the Second World War
Giorgio Almirante, the founder and leader of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, was born on this day in 1914 at Salsomaggiore Terme in Emilia Romagna.

He led his political party for long periods from 1946 until he handed over to his protégé, Gianfranco Fini, in 1987.

Almirante graduated in Literature and trained as a schoolteacher but went to work for the Fascist journal Il Tevere in Rome.

In 1944, he was appointed Chief of Cabinet of the Minister of Culture to the Italian Social Republic, the short-lived German puppet state of which Benito Mussolini was the head after he was thrown out of office as Italy’s prime minister.

After the Fascists were defeated, Almirante was indicted on charges that he had ordered the shooting of partisans, but these were lifted as part of a general amnesty.

He set up his own fascist group in 1946, which was soon absorbed into the Italian Social Movement (MSI).

He was chosen as the party leader to begin with but was forced to give way to August de Marsanich as leader in 1950.

Giorgio Almirante in 1971, reading about his party's success in regional elections in Sicily
Giorgio Almirante in 1971, reading about his party's
success in regional elections in Sicily
Almirante regained the leadership in 1969 and sought to make his party more moderate by dropping the black shirt and the Roman salute.

He placed anti-communism at the centre of his policies in order to rival the Christian Democrats and merged with the Italian Democratic Party of Monarchist Unity.

He helped the MSI become more politically acceptable and was allowed to enter Communist Party HQ in 1984 to pay his respects to their dead leader, Enrico Berlinguer, something that would have once been unimaginable.

Almirante stepped down as leader because of poor health and died in 1988 in Rome.

After Almirante's death, Fini took the MSI further towards a traditional conservative position in the political spectrum, ultimately joining with members of the disbanded Christian Democrats to form a new party, Alleanza Nazionale.

The Liberty-style baths at Salsomaggiore Terme
The Liberty-style baths at Salsomaggiore Terme
Travel tip:

Salsomaggiore Terme, where Almirante was born, is a popular spa town in the province of Parma in Emilia-Romagna. Its water is strongly saline and there are terme (baths) in the town that have been regarded as therapeutic since the reign of Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma early in the 19th century.

Parma is famous for parmesan  (parmigiano) cheese
Parma is famous for parmesan
(parmigiano) cheese
Travel tip:

A university city in the Emilia-Romagna region, with a population of almost 200,000, Parma is famous for Grana Parmigiana (Parmesan) cheese and Prosciutto di Parma ham, as well as a wealth of Romanesque architecture, including a cathedral containing acclaimed frescoes by Antonio da Correggio, and a pink marble Baptistery next door. More works by Correggio - and by Canaletto - are displayed at the Galleria Nazionale inside Palazzo della Pilotta.

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Tuesday, 26 June 2018

San Marino is bombed by Britain

British believed the Germans were using rail facilities


The British thought the Germans were using the San Marino trail network to transport weapons
The British thought the Germans were using the San Marino
trail network to transport weapons
The British Royal Air Force bombed the tiny Republic of San Marino on this day in 1944 as a result of receiving incorrect information.

It was recorded at the time that 63 people were killed as a result of the bombing, which was aimed at rail facilities. The British mistakenly believed that the Germans were using the San Marino rail network to transport weapons.

San Marino had been ruled by Fascists since the 1920s but had managed to remain neutral during the war.

After the bombing, San Marino’s government declared that no military installations or equipment were located on its territory and no belligerent forces had been allowed to enter.

A British soldier observing German  positions at the Battle of San Marino
A British soldier observing German
positions at the Battle of San Marino
However, by September of the same year San Marino was briefly occupied by German forces, but they were defeated by the Allied forces in the Battle of San Marino.

After the war, San Marino was ruled by the world’s first democratically-elected Communist government, which held office between 1945 and 1957.

The Republic of San Marino is not a member of the European Union but uses the euro as its currency.

The Fortress of Guaita in San Marino towers over the Italian landscape
The Fortress of Guaita in San Marino
towers over the Italian landscape
Travel tip:

San Marino, which is on the border between Emilia-Romagna and Marche, still exists as an independent state within Italy, situated on the northeast side of the Apennine mountains and surrounded by romantic battlements and towers, which can be seen from miles away against the skyline. San Marino claims to be the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world. It covers an area of just 61 square kilometres, or 24 square miles.

The Palazzo Pubblico in San Marino
The Palazzo Pubblico in San Marino
Travel tip:

San Marino’s official government building, the Palazzo Pubblico, is similar in design to the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence but is on a much smaller scale. It is in the heart of the Città di San Marino in Contrada del Pianello. Designed by the architect Francesco Azzurri it was built between 1884 and 1894.

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Monday, 25 June 2018

Marta Abba - actress

Aspiring star who became Pirandello’s muse


Marta Abba was just 24 when she met the  playwright Luigi Pirandello
Marta Abba was just 24 when she met the
playwright Luigi Pirandello
Marta Abba, who as a young actress became the stimulus for the creativity of the great playwright Luigi Pirandello, was born on this day in 1900 in Milan.

The two met in 1925 when Pirandello, whose most famous works included the plays Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) and Henry IV (1922), asked her to see him, having read an enthusiastic appreciation of her acting talents by Marco Praga, a prominent theatre critic of the day.

Abba had made her stage debut in Milan in 1922 in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and was noted for the exuberance and passion of her performances. Pirandello was impressed with her and immediately hired her as first actress for his Teatro d’Arte company in Rome.

Over the next nine years until Pirandello’s death in 1936, Abba would become not only his inspiration but his confidante. When Abba was not working with him but was on stage in some other city or country, they would correspond in writing, exchanging hundreds of letters.

Pirandello was said to be infatuated with Abba from their first meeting in 1925 in Rome
Pirandello was said to be infatuated with Abba from
their first meeting in 1925 in Rome

There was a considerable age gap between them - Abba was 24 and Pirandello 58 when they met - and their relationship was complex and not always harmonious.  It has been speculated that there was a romance between them but any love affair was probably one-sided.

The Sicilian playwright, who was married but whose wife was in an asylum for the mentally ill, was infatuated with the young actress but it is thought it was a passion that was unconsummated, which meant that the relationship was a source of torment for Pirandello as well as one that inspired his creativity.

The eldest daughter of a Milan merchant, Abba went to a theatre school in Milan and was always set on a career in theatre.  Her collaboration with Pirandello, starring in many of his plays, would make her a significant figure in theatre in Italy.

Abba did not marry until after Pirandello's death
Abba did not marry until after
Pirandello's death

In 1930 she founded her own theatrical company and specialized in staging the works of Pirandello and other European playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw, Gabriele d'Annunzio and Carlo Goldoni, under the direction of prestigious directors such as Max Reinhardt and Guido Salvini.

After Pirandello’s death, she moved to the United States, making her Broadway debut was in the play Tovarich, by the French writer Jacques Deval, at the Plymouth Theatre.

She remained single until after Pirandello’s death. In January 1938 she married a wealthy Cleveland polo player, Severance Allen Millikin.  They lived in Cleveland until they divorced in 1952, at which point Abba returned to Italy.

Her health remained robust until the last few years of her life, when she was confined to a wheelchair.  She spent the last few weeks before her death in 1988 receiving treatment at the spa town of San Pellegrino Terme, north of Bergamo.

She wrote an autobiography, La mia vita di attrice (My Life as an Actress). After her death, a collection she had kept of more than 500 letters between her and Pirandello was donated to the University of Princeton, in New Jersey.

The Art Nouveau Grand Hotel in San Pellegrino Terme
The Art Nouveau Grand Hotel in San Pellegrino Terme
Travel tip:

San Pellegrino Terme is a small town in a little over 20km (12 miles) north of the city of Bergamo, in Lombardy, in the Val Brembana. Its name has become known all over the world because of the fame of its spring water, bottled by a company that marketed it as San Pellegrino mineral water. The company’s main production centre used to be in the town, which is also notable for several striking Art Nouveau buildings from the early 20th century, including the Casinò, the Grand Hotel and the Terme (Baths).

The Palazzo Chigi-Odescalchi in Rome
The Palazzo Chigi-Odescalchi in Rome
Travel tip:

Luigi Pirandello’s Teatro d’Arte company used to stage its productions at the Odescalchi Theatre inside the Palazzo Chigi-Odescalchi, in Piazza Santi Apostoli, a short distance from Piazza Venezia in the heart of Rome. The palace, which belonged originally to the Colonna family, was remodelled by Carlo Maderno before undergoing a later transformation under the great Roman sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, with later input from Nicola Salvi and Luigi Vanvitelli, with the façade on Via del Corso rebuilt by Raffaelo Ojetti.

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Sunday, 24 June 2018

Battle of Custoza

Austrians thwart Italy’s hopes of unifying the peninsula


The Polish painter Juliusz Kossak's depiction of the Austrian 13th regiment attacking Italian bersaglieri during the battle
The Polish painter Juliusz Kossak's depiction of the Austrian
13th regiment attacking Italian bersaglieri during the battle.
An army of the recently unified Kingdom of Italy was driven out of Custoza in the Veneto region by Austrian troops on this day in 1866.

Although the Italians had twice the number of soldiers, the Austrians were victorious strategically and drove the Italians back across the Mincio river and out of the area then known as Venetia.

King Victor Emmanuel II’s younger son, Amadeo, was severely wounded in the battle but he survived his injuries and went on to reign briefly as King of Spain from 1870 to 1873.

The German Kingdom of Prussia had declared war on the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy seized the opportunity to join forces with Prussia, with the intention of annexing Venetia and uniting the Italian peninsula. The Austrian Imperial army joined up with the Venetian army.

The Italians divided their troops into two armies, one led by General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora, accompanied by the King, and the other led by Enrico Cialdini.

The Italian General Alfonso Ferrero La Mormora
The Italian General Alfonso Ferrero La Mormora
La Marmora’s troops crossed the Mincio river and invaded Venetia. The Austrians led by Archduke Albrecht of Habsburg marched west from Verona to the north of the Italian position, so as to cut them off from the rear.

But on June 24, La Marmora changed the direction of his front and ended up colliding head on with the Austrians.

When the Austrians reacted by attacking them, the Italians panicked and took up a defensive position. By the middle of the day La Marmora had ordered a retreat, little realising that by then another Italian division had captured Belvedere Hill, overlooking Custoza. The troops on the hill found themselves isolated and after a bombardment by Austrian guns were driven out of Custoza.

However, for a number of reasons the Austrian did not pursue the Italians, squandering the chance to destroy their army. Only a month later the Austrians were forced to surrender to the Prussians and give up Venetia.

Scenes from the Italian side of the Battle of Custoza were recreated in the 1954 Luchino Visconti film, Senso.

The Ossario di Custoza
The Ossario di Custoza
Travel tip:

Custoza is a village in the province of Verona in the Veneto. In memory of the two famous battles fought there during the wars for Italian independence, a memorial building, the Ossuary of Custoza - Ossario di Custoza - was built on the Belvedere Hill in 1879. Today, June 24, a ceremony will be held there to remember the soldiers who died on this day in the Battle of Custoza. For more information about the memorial, visit www.ossariodicustoza.com.

The village of Custoza in the Veneto
The village of Custoza in the Veneto
Travel tip:

Custoza is also famous for producing the prestigious white wine, Bianco di Custoza, which is sometimes referred to as the white equivalent of the red wine, Bardolino, produced nearby in the town of Bardolino on the shores of Lake Garda. Bianco di Custoza is dry and smooth with flowery and fruity notes, with hints of apples, lemon peel and peaches that linger on the tongue. The wine is best drunk within a year of the grape harvest.

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Saturday, 23 June 2018

Giuseppina Tuissa - partisan

Key figure in capture and execution of Mussolini


Giuseppina Tuissa came from a strong anti-fascist background near Milan
Giuseppina Tuissa came from a strong
anti-fascist background near Milan
Giuseppina Tuissa, who was among a group of partisans who captured the deposed Fascist leader Benito Mussolini as he tried to escape to Switzerland in 1945, was born on this day in 1923 in Abbiategrasso, near Milan.

Tuissa and her comrades seized Mussolini at Dongo, a small town on the shores of Lake Como, on April 27, 1945, along with his mistress Clara Petacci.  Having heard that Hitler was preparing to surrender to the Allies, Mussolini was trying to reach Switzerland before flying on to Spain in the hope of finding refuge under Franco’s nationalist dictatorship.

He and Petacci and their entourage were executed at the village of Giulino di Mezzegra the following day before the partisan group took their bodies to be put on public display in Milan.

Tuissa, however, would herself be killed less than a couple of months later, probably at the hands of fellow partisans who suspected her of betraying comrades during a period earlier in the year in which she had been held captive and tortured by Fascist militia and handed over to the Nazis but was then released.

Although she was born Abbiategrasso, about 30km (19 miles) southwest of Milan, Tuissa lived and worked in Baggio, a suburb of Milan. Her father Umberto, a blacksmith, her brother Cesare and boyfriend Gianni were active anti-fascist militants and members of the resistance movement.

In 1943, Tuissa became active in the movement, operating as a courier under the pseudonym Gianna.  Despite being small in stature and slight in build, she became known for her courage.

Luigi Canali, otherwise known as Captain Neri, with whom Tuissa had a close bond
Luigi Canali, otherwise known as Captain Neri,
with whom Tuissa had a close bond
Her attitude towards the Fascists, who remained in control of the puppet Republic of Salò (also known as the Italian Social Republic) even after the Allied invasion, hardened after her boyfriend was captured and murdered by Fascist thugs.

She teamed up with the partisan Garibaldi Brigades, becoming a close associate of Luigi Canali, who operated under the pseudonym Captain Neri, and began plotting attacks on Fascist and German forces.

But they came under the surveillance of Mussolini’s secret police and were seized in the village of Lezzano by Fascist militia in January 1945, taken to a prison in Como and subjected to torture. Soon after being transferred to the German SS headquarters in Monza, where she was further tortured, she was released.

There has been speculation about why she was allowed to leave, ranging from a gestapo officer deciding to spare her after being struck by her bravery, to being allowed to leave so that she could be followed by SS officers and would lead them to Canali, who had managed to escape from prison.

It is said that she was offered the chance to flee to Switzerland but declined, preferring to remain in Italy to continue the work of the resistance.

However, the suspicion that she and Canali had betrayed their fellow resistance fighters while in captivity remained, even resulting in a death sentence being handed down by a “People’s Tribunal” , although their closest comrades in the 52nd Garibaldi Brigade ignored it, welcoming them back. Their leader appointed Canali to the rank of captain.

A small cross on a wall in Giulino di Mezzegra marks the spot  at which Mussolini was killed by Tuissa and her comrades
A small cross on a wall in Giulino di Mezzegra marks the spot
 at which Mussolini was killed by Tuissa and her comrades 
The day after the Mussolini execution, however, Tuissa was arrested in Baggio and held until May 9, during which time she was interrogated by Pietro Vergani, regional commander of the Garibaldi Brigades and a member of the Italian Communist Party. She was told that Canali had been executed.

Disillusioned and saddened by the death of her close colleague, she and Canali’s sister went to Milan to confront Vergani, demanding to know the circumstances of his death. Despite threats, Tuissa continued to ask questions and arranged to meet the editor of a daily newspaper in Milan.

She disappeared on April 23, 1945, her 22nd birthday. What happened to her has never been established but the suspicion is that her body was thrown into Lake Como at Cernobbio. This was backed up by the evidence of witnesses who saw two men and a girl arrive on a motorcycle at the lakeside in the town at around 9pm, heard shots and the sound of something hitting the water, then saw the motorcycle leave with the two men but no girl.

Four men were arrested, including Vergani and Dante Gorreri, the Communist Party secretary for Como, but all were released because of procedural irregularities.

The Visconti castle at Abbiategrosso in Lombardy
The Visconti castle at Abbiategrosso in Lombardy
Travel tip:

Tuissa’s town of birth, Abbiategrosso, has a fine 14th century castle built by Gian Galeazzo Visconti and a basilica dedicated to Santa Maria Nuova that was built to celebrate the birth of Gian Galeazzo’s son, but its more recent claim to fame is as a prominent member of the Cittaslow movement, an offshoot of the Slow Food movement, which promotes a calm way of life and a spirit of neighbourliness. It has attracted many Milanese to buy property there to escapes the pressures associated with city life.

The sumptuous Villa d'Este on Lake Como at Cernobbio
The sumptuous Villa d'Este on Lake Como at Cernobbio
Travel tip:

Cernobbio is known because of the presence of the Villa d’Este, the vast complex built as a 16th century summer residence for the Cardinal of Como, but it is only one of many fine villas fronting the water. The town once attracted large crowds hoping to catch a sight of movie star George Clooney, who had a house at nearby Laglio and would occasionally be spotted at a cafe in Cernobbio. Scenes from the movie Ocean’s 12, in which Clooney starred, were filmed locally. The place still has a neighborhood feel to it, especially on summer evenings and weekends when the main piazza is full of families and couples.

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Friday, 22 June 2018

Lucrezia Tornabuoni - political adviser

Medici wife one of most powerful women of the Renaissance


Domenico Ghirlandaio's portrait of Lucrezia Tornabuoni, painted in around 1475
Domenico Ghirlandaio's portrait of Lucrezia
Tornabuoni, painted in around 1475
Lucrezia Tornabuoni, who became one of the most influential and therefore powerful women in 15th century Italy through family connections and her own political and business acumen, was born on this day in 1427 in Florence.

Connected by birth to the powerful Tornabuoni family on her father’s side and the Guicciardinis through her mother, Lucrezia entered a third powerful family when she married Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici.

Yet she was an important figure in her own right, revealing politic skill and a talent for diplomacy during her husband’s time as de facto leader of Florence and when their son, Lorenzo, succeeded him.

She was also a successful property owner, buying houses, shops and farms in and around Pisa and Florence, which she would then lease out. She bought and renovated a hot spring, Bagno a Morba, turning it into a resort and spa for paying guests.

And she enhanced her popularity in Florence by supporting religious convents and working with them to help widows and orphans. She would draw on her own income to provide dowries for women from poor families so that they could marry and use her influence to help family members obtain good positions in the church or government.

Tornabuoni’s father was Francesco di Simone Tornabuoni, a wealthy banker and elected magistrate. Well read and educated to a high standard in Latin and Greek, she was introduced to Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici through her father’s friendship with Cosimo de’ Medici. Her dowry of 1200 florins helped to seal the alliance between the families.

Piero di Cosimo de' Medici, depicted in a  16th century painting by Bronzino
Piero di Cosimo de' Medici, depicted in a
16th century painting by Bronzino
She became adept in diplomacy and politics because her connections enabled her to build bridges between the Medici, who were essentially nouveau riche bankers, and the noble families of long-standing history.

When Piero took over the government in 1464, his health was poor and Lucrezia assumed an even greater role as his representative, helping him decide on important issues. She was also called on to mediate disputes, once ending a feud between two families that had gone on for 20 years.

Her prominence was not without pitfalls, however. In October 1467, she and her youngest son, Giuliano, were the targets of an assassination attempt linked to the rivalry between Piero and Luca Pitti. 

Lucrezia's influence increased still further in 1469 when Piero died and her son, Lorenzo, who would be known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, succeeded him as ruler of Florence, relying heavily on his mother’s advice and contacts.

In addition to her political and business interests, Lucrezia, who died in 1482, wrote religious stories, plays, and poetry and was a significant patron of the arts.

Around 1475, her brother Giovanni Tornabuoni, who was a papal ambassador and a banker, commissioned a portrait of her by Domenico Ghirlandaio, which is now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. She is also thought to appear in various scenes in Ghirlandaio's frescoes in the Tornabuoni Chapel.

The Palazzo Corsi-Tornabuoni today
The Palazzo Corsi-Tornabuoni today
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Tornabuoni, the family home in Florence, was originally created for Giovanni Tornabuoni by merging a number of palaces in what is now the Via de’ Tornabuoni, connecting the Piazza Antinori with the Ponte Santa Trinità. Since the 16th century, when it was bought by the Corsi family, the palace has been known as the Palazzo Corsi-Tornabuoni.

The Gucci store in Via de' Tornabuoni
The Gucci store in Via de' Tornabuoni
Travel tip:

The Via de’ Tornabuoni of today is well known as Florence’s high-fashion shopping street, characterised by the presence of exclusive stores belonging to houses such as Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Enrico Coveri, Roberto Cavalli, Emilio Pucci and others, and also jewellery boutiques such as Damiani, Bulgari and Buccellati.

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Thursday, 21 June 2018

Pope Paul VI

Former pontiff is to be made a saint by Pope Francis


Cardinal Montini was elected Pope Paul VI on June 21, 1963
Cardinal Montini was elected Pope Paul VI
on June 21, 1963
Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini was elected as Pope Paul VI on this day in 1963 in Rome.

He succeeded Pope John XXIII and immediately re-convened the Second Vatican Council which had automatically closed after Pope John’s death.

Pope Paul then implemented its various reforms and as a result had to deal with the conflicting expectations of different Catholic groups.

Following his famous predecessor Saint Ambrose of Milan, Pope Paul named Mary as the Mother of the Church.

He described himself as ‘a humble servant for a suffering humanity’ and demanded changes from the rich in North America and Europe in favour of the poor in the third world.

Pope Paul had been born in Concesio near Brescia in 1897 and was ordained a priest in Brescia in 1920. He took a doctorate in Canon Law in Milan and afterwards studied at various universities, therefore never working as a parish priest.

He had one foreign posting, to the office of the papal nuncio in Poland.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, he created an information office for prisoners of war and refugees, producing more than 11 million replies to enquiries about missing persons.

He was attacked by Mussolini’s government several times for allegedly meddling in politics.

Pope Paul VI pleaded with the Red Brigades to release the kidnapped former PM Aldo Moro
Pope Paul VI pleaded with the Red Brigades to
release the kidnapped former PM Aldo Moro
Pope Pius XII made him archbishop of Milan in 1954 and Pope John XXIII made him Cardinal Priest of SS Silvestro e Martino ai Monti in 1958.

After Pope John XXIII died of stomach cancer in 1963, Cardinal Montini was elected as his successor on the sixth ballot.

He later wrote in his journal: ‘The position is unique. It brings great solitude. I was solitary before, but now my solitude becomes complete and awesome.’

Pope Paul VI became the first pope to visit six continents, earning the nickname ‘the Pilgrim Pope.’

A man tried to attack him with a knife after he had arrived at Manila in the Philippines in 1970 but one of his aides managed to push the aggressor away.

Pope Paul wrote a personal letter to the terrorist group the Red Brigades in 1978 pleading with them to free the politician Aldo Moro, who had been his friend when they were both students.

After the bullet-ridden body of Moro was found in Rome, Pope Paul personally conducted his funeral mass.

Later in 1978 Pope Paul VI died at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo after suffering a massive heart attack. According to the terms of his will he was buried beneath the floor in St Peter’s Basilica and not in an ornate sarcophagus.

Pope Paul VI has already been declared Venerable and has been Beatified, and it has recently been confirmed by the Vatican that he will be made a Saint in October this year.

The house in Concesio where Pope Paul VI was born
The house in Concesio where Pope Paul VI was born
Travel tip:

Concesio, where Pope Paul VI was born, is a town in Lombardy about 8km (5 miles) to the north of Brescia. The town is in the lower Val Trompia at the foot of Monte Spina. The footballer Mario Balotelli was placed in foster care at the age of three with Silvia and Francesco Balotelli who lived in Concesio. Eventually he was permanently fostered by the couple and took their surname.

The pontifical palace in Castel Gandolfo, with the two domes of the Vatican observatory
The pontifical palace in Castel Gandolfo, with the two
domes of the Vatican observatory
Travel tip:

Castel Gandolfo, where Pope Paul VI died, overlooks Lake Albano from its wonderful position in the hills south of Rome. The Pope spends every summer in the Apostolic Palace there. Although his villa lies within the town’s boundaries, it is one of the properties of the Holy See. The palace is not under Italian jurisdiction and is policed by the Swiss Guard. The whole area is part of the regional park of Castelli Romani, which has many places of historic and artistic interest to visit.

Also on this day:

1891: The death of architect and structural engineer Pier Luigi Nervi

1919: The birth of the architect Paolo Soleri

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Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Luigi de Magistris - politician

Popular and progressive Mayor of Naples


Luigi de Magistris has been Mayor  of Naples since 2011
Luigi de Magistris has been Mayor
of Naples since 2011
Luigi de Magistris, who has been Mayor of Naples since a shock win in the 2011 local elections, was born on this day in 1967.

A former public prosecutor with a reputation for standing up against corruption and organised crime, De Magistris was the Member of the European Parliament for Southern Italy between 2009 and 2011, when he ran for Italy of Values, the centre-left party founded by another former magistrate, Antonio di Pietro.

He stood in the 2011 mayoral elections in Naples with the support of minor parties on the left and the right and won in the second round of voting with 65 per cent of the vote, defeating Gianni Lettieri, the candidate for a centre right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party.

In office, De Magistris has faced difficult times because of the city’s precarious financial situation, which at times has seen local transport suspended because fuel bills were not paid and rubbish piling up in the streets because of continuing problems with the disposal of domestic refuse that had reached a peak in 2008.

A strong advocate of public ownership of essential services and the managing of natural and cultural resources for collective benefit rather than profit, De Magistris claims year-on-year improvements in refuse collection as one of his success stories.

Others include the taking into public ownership of the previously privately-owned Naples Water Company, the purchase of new vehicles for the city transport network, including 10 new Metro trains, the pedestrianisation of the waterfront and the reopening of suspended restoration projects on a number of monuments and historic buildings.

De Magistris is an advocate of bringing essential services and resources into public ownership
De Magistris is an advocate of bringing essential
services and resources into public ownership
By cracking down on tax evasion, De Magistris was able to introduce a minimum monthly income of approximately €600 for residents of Naples of working age with an income below the poverty threshold, provided that they agree to work or take part in socially useful activities.

He has also campaigned for powers to be granted to city mayors to direct the police force, following the model adopted by many cities in the United States, believing it to be the best way to reduce crime. Naples, of course, is the home of the Mafia-style Camorra organisation.

One commentator wrote about De Magistris, who won a second mayoral election in 2016, as a figure seen by many citizens as a last chance “to save whatever is left of the glorious capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies”, adding that “Neapolitan disenchantment with politics and total distrust of politicians started with the unification of Italy and has basically persisted to this day.”

Born in Naples, De Magistris attended the Adolfo Pansini High School in the Vomero district of Naples before going on to study law at the University of Naples. In 1993 he began a career as a magistrate, following in the footsteps of his father, his grandfather and great-grandfather.

From 1998 to 2002 he worked at the Public Prosecutor's Office of Naples and then moved to be Deputy Public Prosecutor to the Court of Catanzaro.

He presided over a number of high-profile corruption investigations involving business and politics, although he was controversially removed from a couple of cases over “procedural irregularities” after the names of top politicians began to emerge.

De Magistris has clashed with the Rome government over immigration and refugees
De Magistris has clashed with the Rome
government over immigration and refugees
De Magistris has also had a period of suspension imposed on him during his office as mayor, although he resisted calls for him to resign and the suspension was subsequently annulled and he was acquitted. He has since written about “obstacles placed in my way and attacks on me and my profession” by his political opponents.

A fiercely outspoken advocate of Italy giving refuge to immigrants from Africa and the Middle East fleeing war and persecution, he clashed recently with Matteo Salvini, the anti-immigration politician who is Italy’s current Minister of the Interior, over his refusal to allow the Aquarius, carrying 600 refugees, to dock at an Italian port.

In 2017, De Magistris was given the Valarioti-Impastato Award for "having fought crime and corruption for more than 20 years as magistrate and politician, for breaking the relationship between the mafia and politics in the political-administrative management of the city of Naples and for having contributed to the moral redemption of Naples and removed the Camorra breaking the system of waste and eco-mafia".

A fervent fan of SSC Napoli, the city's Serie A football club, De Magistris is also the author of several books, the most recent of which is La città ribelle: il caso di Napoli (Naples: Rebel City).

Vomero's lofty position offers spectacular views over Naples
Vomero's lofty position offers spectacular views over Naples
Travel tip:

Close to centre of Naples, Vomero is a hilly residential area popular with the wealthy middle class. It has grown rapidly since the beginning of the 20th century with numerous houses and apartment built around Villa Floridiana, Castel Sant'Elmo and San Martino, including villas in the late Art Nouveau style and large apartment houses. The oldest and most popular neighbourhood in Vomero is Antignano, in which can be found some historic buildings as well as plush apartments and gated villas, such as the Villa del Pontano and an old building of the Bourbon customs office.

The City Hall of Naples overlooks Piazza Municipio
The City Hall of Naples overlooks Piazza Municipio
Travel tip:

Naples City Hall, where Luigi de Magistris has his office, is located on Piazza Municipio, not far from the medieval Castel Nuovo, a 13th-century castle known to locals as the Maschio Angioino (Angevin Keep). The castle is home to fragments of frescoes by Giotto and Roman ruins under the glass-floored Sala dell'Armeria (Armoury Hall). The castle's upper floors house a collection of mostly 17th- to early-20th-century Neapolitan paintings.

More reading:

Antonio di Pietro - former policeman who led mani pulite corruption probe

How the fiery Lega Nord leader Umberto Bossi laid foundations to move right-wing politics into Italy's mainstream

Why Veneto politician Luca Zaia is tipped as a future prime minister

Also on this day:

1891: The birth of Neapolitan opera soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi

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Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Marisa Pavan - actress

Twin sister of tragic star Pier Angeli


Marisa Pavan (left) with Anna  Magnani in The Rose Tattoo
Marisa Pavan (left) with Anna
Magnani in The Rose Tattoo
The actress Marisa Pavan, whose twin sister Pier Angeli was a Hollywood star in the 1950s and 1960s, was born on this day in 1932 as Maria Luisa Pierangeli in Cagliari, Sardinia.

Pavan’s career ran parallel with that of her sister, who was born 20 minutes before her, but she rejected the re-invention as an ultra-glamorous starlet that Pier Angeli underwent within the Hollywood studio system.

She turned roles down when she felt they did not have enough substance and did not hesitate to sack agents if she felt they were putting her forward for unsuitable parts.  She refused to sign up to any one studio.

Her biggest success was The Rose Tattoo, the 1955 film adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play in which she played the daughter of the central character, played by Anna Magnani, one of postwar Italian cinema’s most respected actresses.

Magnani won an Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of a Sicilian widow, with Pavan receiving a nomination for best supporting actress at the Academy Awards and although that award went to someone else she did have the substantial compensation of winning a Golden Globe for the role.

The Pierangeli family had left Sardinia for Rome when the twins were three years old as their father, Luigi, pursued his career as an architect. Life began to change for the family in 1948 when her sister, then still known by her real name, Anna Maria Pierangeli, was approached by the famous actor and director, Vittorio De Sica, while walking along fashionable Via Veneto, and asked if she might be interested in a part.

Pavan with her husband, the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, in 1965
Pavan with her husband, the French actor
Jean-Pierre Aumont, in 1965
She won an award at the Venice Film Festival for the role De Sica gave her and it was not long before the twins, their younger sister Patrizia and their mother were leaving for the United States to support Anna Maria’s new career in Hollywood. The only sadness was that they travelled without the girls’ father, Luigi, who had died a short time before they were due to leave.

Marisa, who had always been more studious than her sister, had no intention of becoming an actress herself, devoting herself to studying languages and journalism.  She nonetheless did follow Anna into the movie business, but only after claiming she was ‘tricked’ into an audition by the producer Albert Romolo ‘Cubby’ Broccoli.

Broccoli invited her to look round the Twentieth Century Fox studios and while visiting one set he gave her a costume to try on and asked her if she would like to show off her language skills by singing a song in French. Thinking it was just for fun she obliged.

The penny dropped only when she spotted an actress she recognised, Anne Bancroft, wearing the same costume. It turned out that among a small number of people on the set was the director John Ford, who hired her for a part in his 1952 comedy drama, What Price Glory, starring James Cagney and Corinne Calvet.

Although she agreed to have a shorter, catchier name for professional purposes - she chose Pavan after a Jewish soldier her family hid from the authorities during the Second World War - that was one of the few ways in her career resembled that of Pier Angeli.


Marisa Pavan has campaigned for  Alzheimer's research in recent years
Marisa Pavan has campaigned for
Alzheimer's research in recent years
Always keen to take parts that demanded something of her acting ability, she played a blind American woman in Down Three Dark Streets (1954), a Native American girl in Drum Beat (1954), the Italian noblewoman Catherine de’ Medici in Diane (1956), a French lady at the Court of Louis XVI in John Paul Jones (1959) and a Jewish woman in ancient Israel in Solomon and Sheba (1959).

Married in Santa Barbara in 1956 to the French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont, she raised two sons, Jean-Claude and Patrick, while continuing to act, diversifying into television in the 1960s and 1970s.

After the tragedy of Pier Angeli’s death from a barbiturates overdose in 1971, which continued to work, but increasingly in France, after she and her husband moved to Gassin, in the South of France.

Once her career was effectively over, she devoted much time to URMA (Unis pour la Recherche sur la Maladie d'Alzheimer), an organisation she created to support and finance research laboratories working to find treatments for Alzheimer’s.

She remained close to her sister Patrizia, also an actress, who worked in Paris dubbing movies. Her husband died in 2001.

The old town of Castello stands above modern Cagliari
The old town of Castello stands above modern Cagliari
Travel tip:

Cagliari is Sardinia’s main port and an industrial centre it is now also a popular tourist destination, with tree-lined boulevards and a charming historic centre, known as Castello, with limestone buildings that prompted DH Lawrence, whose first view of the city was from the sea as ‘a confusion of domes, palaces and ornamental facades seemingly piled on top of one another’, to call it 'the white Jerusalem'.

The tree-line Via Vittorio Veneto in Rome
The tree-line Via Vittorio Veneto in Rome
Travel tip:

Rome’s Via Vittorio Veneto, more often known simply as the Via Veneto, is traditionally one of the most famous, elegant, and exclusive streets in the city, the home of many expensive hotels and of chic cafes where the famous and those who wanted to be famous would hang out, particularly in the 1950s and 60s. Much of the action in Federico Fellini's classic 1960 film La Dolce Vita took place in the Via Veneto area.  The street was actually named to commemorate a the victory of Italian forces at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto towards the end of the First World War.

More reading:

The brilliance of Oscar winner Anna Magnani

How Fellini became Italy's most famous film director

Marcello Mastroianni - star who immortalised Rome's Trevi Fountain

Also on this day:

1918: The death in action of World War One fighter pilot Francesco Baracca

1932: The birth of Hollywood film star Pier Angeli

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