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

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Galileo Ferraris - electrical engineer

Pioneer of alternating current (AC) systems


The engineer Galileo Ferraris saw himself as a scientist rather than an entrepreneur
The engineer Galileo Ferraris saw himself
as a scientist rather than an entrepreneur
The physicist and electrical engineer Galileo Ferraris, who was one of the pioneers of the alternating current (AC) system for transmitting electricity and invented the first alternators and induction motors, was born on this day in 1847 in Piedmont.

The AC system was a vital element in the development of electricity as a readily-available source of power in that it made it possible to transport electricity economically and efficiently over long distances.

Ferraris did not benefit financially from his invention, which is still the basis of induction motors in use today. Another scientist, the Serbian-born Nikola Tesla, patented the device after moving to the United States to work for the Edison Corporation.

Tesla had been working simultaneously on creating an induction motor but there is evidence that Ferraris probably developed his first and as such is regarded by many as the unsung hero in his field.

He saw himself as a scientist rather than an entrepreneur and, although there is no suggestion that his ideas were stolen, openly invited visitors to come in and see his lab.  Unlike Tesla, he never intended to start a company to manufacture the motor and even had doubts whether it would work.

One of Ferraris's early motors, currently  in a museum in Sardinia
One of Ferraris's early motors, currently
in a museum in Sardinia
Born in Livorno Vercellese, a small town in the Vercelli province of Piedmont now known as Livorno Ferraris, Galileo Ferraris was the son of a pharmacist and the nephew of a physician in Turin, to whom he was sent at the age of 10 to obtain an education in the classics and the sciences.

Ferraris was was a graduate of the University of Turin and the Scuola d’Applicazione of Turin, emerging with a master's degree in engineering. He remained in the academic world and independently researched the rotary magnetic field.

He experimented with different types of motors and his research and his studies resulted in the development of an alternator, which converted mechanical (rotating) power into electric power as alternating current.

While Tesla sought to patent his device, Ferraris published his research in a paper to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Turin and the alternator as a source of polyphase power became key in the history of electrification, along with the power transformer.

These inventions enabled power to be transmitted by wires economically over considerable distances and electricity to be generated by harnessing the natural power of water, thus enabling power to be available in remote places.

The city of Turin marked the contributions made to science by Ferraris, who also researched in the field of optical instruments, with the creation of a permanent monument at the Royal Italian Industrial Museum of Turin (now the Royal Turin Polytechnic).  From 1934 to 2006, the "Galileo Ferraris" Electrotechnical Institute could be found in Corso Massimo d'Azeglio.

The Palazzo Chiablese di Castell'Apertole, the former Savoy hunting lodge near Livorno Ferraris
The Palazzo Chiablese di Castell'Apertole, the former
Savoy hunting lodge near Livorno Ferraris
Travel tip:

Known at different times as Livorno Piemonte as well as Livorno Vercellese, Livorno Ferraris occupies a wide area of countryside in the province of Vercelli in the plain of the Po river, bisected by the Depretis, Cavour and Ivrea canals. Located about 40km (25 miles) northeast of Turin and about 25km (16 miles) west of the city of Vercelli, it  hosted the conclave for the election of the antipope Benedict XIII in 1384. Nearby is the 18th century Palazzo Chiablese di Castell'Apertole, a former hunting lodge of the Savoy royal family.

The modern Politecnico di Torino of today
The modern Politecnico di Torino of today
Travel tip:

The Royal Turin Polytechnic can be found in Corso Duca degli Abruzzi in the centre of Turin, about 2.5km (1.5 miles) from the Royal Palace. It evolved from the Royal Italian Industrial Museum, which was established in 1862 by Royal Decree as an Italian equivalent of the South Kensington Museum of London and of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers of Paris, to promote industrial education and the progress of industry and trade. Parallel with Corso Duca degli Abruzzi is the Corso Galileo Ferraris, a long, straight road that links the Giardino Andrea Guglielminetti with the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, the home of Torino football club, a distance of 4.1km (2.5 miles).

More reading:

How Alessandro Volta invented the electric battery

Antonio Meucci - the 'true' inventor of the telephone

The physicist who tried to bring corpses back to life

Also on this day:

1929: The birth of swimmer-turned-actor Bud Spencer

1984: The death of Neapolitan dramatist Eduardo De Filippo


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Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Poggio Bracciolini – scholar and humanist

Calligrapher who could read Latin changed the course of history


The linguist and scholar Poggio Bracciolini was born in a village near Arezzo in Tuscany
The linguist and scholar Poggio Bracciolini was
born in a village near Arezzo in Tuscany
Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini, who rediscovered many forgotten Latin manuscripts including the only surviving work by the Roman poet and philosopher, Lucretius, died on this day in 1459 in Florence.

For his services to literature he was commemorated after his death with a statue by Donatello and a portrait by Antonio del Pollaiuolo.

Bracciolini was born in 1380 at Terranuova near Arezzo in Tuscany. In 1862 his home village was renamed Terranuova Bracciolini in his honour.

He studied Latin as a young boy under a friend of the poet, Petrarch, and his linguistic ability and talent for copying manuscripts neatly was soon noted by scholars in Florence.

He later studied notarial law and was received into the notaries guild in Florence at the age of 21.

After becoming secretary to the Bishop of Bari, Bracciolini was invited to join the Chancery of Apostolic Briefs in the Roman Curia of Pope Boniface IX.

Part of one of Cicero's Catiline Orations copied by Bracciolini  in a style of writing that became the basis for Roman fonts
Part of one of Cicero's Catiline Orations copied by Bracciolini
 in a style of writing that became the basis for Roman fonts
He was to spend the next 50 years serving seven popes, first as a writer of official documents and then working his way up to becoming a papal secretary.

Bracciolini was well thought of because of his excellent Latin, beautiful handwriting and the diplomatic work he was able to carry out with Florence.

He was never attracted to the ecclesiastical life and its potential riches and, despite his poor salary, remained a layman to the end of his life.

He invented the style of writing that, after generations of polishing by other scribes, served the new art of printing as the prototype for Roman fonts.

In 1415 while working for the Pope at a monastery in Cluny, Bracciolini brought to light two previously unknown orations of the Roman statesman Cicero.

At another monastery in 1416 he found the first complete text of Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria, three books and part of a fourth of Valerius Flaccus’s Argonautica and the commentaries of Asconius Pedianus on Cicero’s orations.

A statue said to be of Bracciolini in the Duomo in Florence, attributed to Donatello
A statue said to be of Bracciolini in the Duomo
in Florence, attributed to Donatello
While visiting other monasteries in 1417 he discovered a number of Latin manuscripts, including De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius.

It is believed he subsequently discovered seven other orations of Cicero in a monastery in Cologne.

He made copies of the works he found in his elegant script, some of which have survived.

Bracciolini also collected classical inscriptions and sculptures, with which he adorned the garden of the villa he eventually bought near Florence.

At the age of 56 he left his long-term mistress and married a girl of 17, who produced five sons and a daughter for him.

He spent his last years having intellectual arguments with Lorenzo Valla, an expert at philological analysis of ancient texts, and writing a history of Florence.

Bracciolini died in 1459 before he had put the final touches to this work and was buried at the Church of Santa Croce in Florence.

The 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, tells the story of Bracciolini’s discovery of the ancient manuscript written by Lucretius. Greenblatt analyses the poem’s subsequent influence on the Renaissance, the Reformation and modern science.

The facade of the beautiful Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence,  where Bracciolini was buried in illustrious company
The facade of the beautiful Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence,
 where Bracciolini was buried in illustrious company
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Santa Croce, consecrated in 1442, is the main Franciscan church in Florence and the burial place among others of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Ugo Foscolo, the philosopher Giovanni Gentile and the composer Gioachino Rossini.  It houses works by some of the most illustrious names in the history of art, including Canova, Cimabue, Donatello, Giotto and Vasari.  The Basilica, with 16 chapels, many of them decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils, is the largest Franciscan church in the world and the present building dates back to the 13th century.

The village of Terranuova Bracciolini, near Arezzo, where Bracciolini was born and which was renamed in 1862
The village of Terranuova Bracciolini, near Arezzo, where
Bracciolini was born and which was renamed in 1862
Travel tip:

Terranuova Bracciolini is a town in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany, located about 35km (22 miles) southeast of Florence and about 25m (16 miles) northwest of Arezzo.  Originally called Castel Santa Maria, the town was part of Florence’s massive 14th-century project to build new areas to populate in the countryside. It was renamed after Poggio Bracciolini in 1862.  Terranuova Bracciolini still conserves its medieval walls and some perimeter towers.

More reading:

The politically astute poet who ruled an Italian state

The death of Hadrian

The artistic brilliance of Donatello

Also on this day:

1893: The birth of bodybuilder Angelo Siciliano, also known as Charles Atlas

1896: The birth of conductor Antonio Votto


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Monday, 29 October 2018

Fabiola Gianotti - particle physicist

First woman to be director-general of CERN


Fabiola Gianotti - the would-be concert pianist who instead became a brilliant physicist
Fabiola Gianotti - the would-be concert pianist
who instead became a brilliant physicist
The particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti, who in 2016 became the first woman to be made director-general in the 64-year history of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, was born on this day in 1960 in Rome.

She led one of the two teams of physicists who working for the organisation - general known as CERN after its title in French - whose experiments in 2012 resulted in the discovery of the Higgs boson, the particle that explains why some other elementary particles have mass.

The discovery was regarded as so significant in the advancement of scientific knowledge that it was nicknamed the “God particle.”

As the project leader and spokesperson of the ATLAS project at CERN, which involved a collaboration of around 3,000 physicists from 38 countries, Dr. Gianotti announced the discovery of the particle.

Their work involved the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest and most powerful particle collider and the largest machine of any kind on the planet, which lies in a tunnel 27km (17 miles) in circumference, 175 metres (574 ft) beneath the France–Switzerland border near Geneva.

Fabiola Gianotti at the Large Hadron Collider site deep underground on the France-Switzerland border
Fabiola Gianotti at the Large Hadron Collider site deep
underground on the France-Switzerland border
Her team were awarded science’s most lucrative award, a special Fundamental Physics Prize worth $3 million. Time magazine named her among its people of the year; Forbes placed her in its top 100 influential women list.

Brought up in Milan the daughter of a geologist from Piedmont who taught her to love nature, and a mother from Sicily who was passionate about music and art, Dr. Gianotti had ambitions to become a prima ballerina as a child, when she dreamt of becoming a dancer with the Bolshoi at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

She also considered becoming a classical pianist, such was her talent for music. She spent two years at the Milan Conservatory, but after earning a PhD in physics at the University of Milan, she began her career at CERN with a graduate fellowship in 1994.

Fabiola Gianotti was inspired to break the traditional male  domination of particle science by a biography of Marie Curie
Fabiola Gianotti was inspired to break the traditional male
domination of particle science by a biography of Marie Curie
Dr. Gianotti was inspired to devote herself to scientific research after reading a biography of Marie Curie, who developed the theory of radioactivity, techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and discovered the elements polonium and radium as well as being the mother of two children.

Even though particle physics has traditionally been a male-dominated domain - even now only 12 percent of the 2,500 physicists and engineers at CERN are women and only 20 per cent of the team that worked on the ATLAS project were women - Dr. Gianotti claims that she has never had a sense that she was discriminated against for being female.

However, she has argued that women in particle physics should be given more support when having children, claiming that a lack of support made it difficult for her to marry and start a family, a decision for which she has expressed regret.

Gianotti on the cover of Time magazine
Gianotti on the cover of Time magazine
The author or co-author of more than 500 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals, Dr. Gianotti is is a promoter of the “Open Science” movement, in particular the publication of scientific works in open access journals and the development of open access hardware and software in order to spread scientific knowledge to less-privileged countries.

Brought up a Catholic, Gianotti insists that religion and science are not in competition with each other, saying that while science cannot demonstrate or disprove the existence of God, religion has to respect science, and they should co-exist in a climate of tolerance.

She lives in in Switzerland in an apartment with a view of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc, plays music by her favourite composers on a Yamaha upright piano, has a passion for cooking and Italian culture.

The Milan Conservatory, Italy's largest music college, has a star-studded list of alumni
The Milan Conservatory, Italy's largest music college, has
a star-studded list of alumni
Travel tip:

The Milan Conservatory - also known as Conservatorio di musica “Giuseppe Verdi” di Milano - was established by a royal decree of 1807 in Milan, capital of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. It opened the following year with premises in the cloisters of the Baroque church of Santa Maria della Passione in Via Conservatorio. The largest institute of musical education in Italy, its alumni include Giacomo Puccini, Amilcare Ponchielli, Arrigo Boito, Pietro Mascagni, Riccardo Muti and Ludovico Einaudi.

Da Vinci's The Last Supper is one of the many reasons to visit Milan
Da Vinci's The Last Supper is one of the many
reasons to visit Milan
Travel tip:

Milan, where Gianotti grew up, is a global capital of fashion and design but also a financial hub, the home of the Italian stock exchange. Its historical monuments include the Gothic Duomo di Milano, the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, which houses Leonardo da Vinci’s mural The Last Supper,  the Sforza Castle, the Teatro alla Scala and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

More reading:

The scientist from Rome who created the world's first nuclear reactor

How Laura Bassi broke new ground for women in science - 240 years ago

Margherita Hack - astrophysicist who helped make science popular

Also on this day:

1922: Mussolini is appointed Prime Minister

2003: The death of tenor Franco Corelli


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Sunday, 28 October 2018

Stefano Landi – composer

Musician whose works influenced development of opera


Stefano Landi had an early influence on the evolution of opera
Stefano Landi had an early influence
on the evolution of opera
Stefano Landi, an influential early composer of opera, died on this day in 1639 in Rome.

He wrote his most famous opera, Sant’Alessio, in 1632, which was the earliest to be about a historical subject, describing the life of the fourth-century monastic, Saint Alexis.

It was also notable for Landi interspersing comic scenes drawn from the contemporary life of Rome in the 17th century.

Born in Rome, Landi had joined the Collegio Germanico as a boy soprano in 1595.

He took minor orders in 1599 and began studying at the Seminario Romano in 1602. He is mentioned in the Seminary’s records as being an organist and singer in 1611.

By 1618 he had moved to northern Italy and he published a book of five-voice madrigals in Venice. He wrote his first opera while in Padua, La morte d’Orfeo, which was probably for part of the festivities for a wedding.

An illustration depicting a scene from Sant'Alessio
An illustration depicting a scene from Sant'Alessio
In 1620 he returned to Rome, where his patrons included the Borghese family, Cardinal Maurizio of Savoy, and the Barberini family, who were to be his major employers throughout the late 1620s and 1630s.

It was for the Barberini family that he wrote the work for which he is most famous, Sant’Alessio. It was used to open the Teatro delle Quattro Fontane in 1632.

After a period of ill health, Landi died in Rome in 1639 and was buried at the church of Santa Maria in Vallicella.

The Palazzo Barberini was completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
The Palazzo Barberini was completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Travel tip:

The Barbarini family’s most famous Roman residence was the Palazzo Barberini, a 17th-century palace which faces the Piazza Barberini in the Trevi district.  The site was purchased in 1625 by Maffeo Barberini - later Pope Urban VIII - from Cardinal Alessandro Sforza.  Three great architects worked to create the Palazzo, starting with Carlo Maderno, who gave the building its air of princely power and created a garden front that had the nature of a suburban villa. When Maderno died in 1629, it was expected the project would be passed to his nephew, Francesco Borromini, who had been assisting his uncle. Instead, the the commission was awarded to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a young prodigy then better known as a sculptor, with Borromini at first working alongside him.

The Teatro delle Quattro Fontane is now a cinema complex
The Teatro delle Quattro Fontane is now a cinema complex
Travel tip:

The Teatro delle Quattro Fontane - Theatre of the Four Fountains - was also designed, in part, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and built in 1632 by the Barberini family. It was located in Via delle Quattro Fontane, near the Piazza Barberini and the Quattro Fontane or Four Fountains.  The theatre closedin 1642 at the height of the Barberini Wars of Castro against with the Farnese Dukes of Parma and remained so for more than 10 years then passed before it was reopened and performances recommenced. In 1632, the theatre was rebuilt and remained active until after the Second World War. It was converted into a modern cinema in the 1960s and now houses a multiplex called Multisala Barberini.

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Saturday, 27 October 2018

Simone Moro - mountaineer

Bergamo climber with unique record


Simone Moro has been climbing since he was 13 years old
Simone Moro has been climbing
since he was 13 years old
The mountaineer Simone Moro, who is the only climber whose list of achievements includes the first winter ascent of four of the so-called eight-thousanders, was born on this day in 1967 in the city of Bergamo in Lombardy.

The eight-thousanders are the 14 peaks on Earth that rise to more than 8,000m (26,247ft) above sea level. All are located in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges in Asia.

A veteran of 15 winter expeditions, he completed the winter ascent of Shisha Pangma (8,027m) in 2005, Makalu (8,485m) in 2009, Gasherbrum II (8,035m) in 2011 and Nanga Parbat (8,126m) in 2016.

He has scaled Everest (8,848m) four times, including the first solo south-north traverse in 2006. In total he has completed more than 50 expeditions, conquering peaks in Tien Shan, Pamir, Andes, Patagonia and Antarctica as well as the Himalayas and Karakorum.

Moro is also renowned for his courage and bravery. During his 2001 attempt on the Everest-Lhotse traverse, he abandoned his ascent at 8,000m and battled through the most dangerous conditions in darkness to save the life of British climber Tom Moores.

In recognition of his bravery, Moro was awarded a Civilian Gold Medal by the Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.   He was also awarded the Pierre de Coubertin International Fair Play Trophy by UNESCO and the David A. Sowles Memorial Award from the American Alpine Club.

Makalu in the Himalayas - the highest of the four eight-thousanders Moro climbed in winter
Makalu in the Himalayas - the highest of the four
eight-thousanders Moro climbed in winter
An experienced helicopter pilot - the first European qualified to fly in Nepal - in 2013, Moro and two other rescue experts carried out the world's highest long-line rescue operation on a helicopter, on Lhotse, at 7800m.

In 2015, he set a new flight altitude world record in an ES 101 Raven, turboshaft powered helicopter reaching 6,705m.

Born into a middle-class family, Moro grew up in the borough of Valtesse, a suburb of Bergamo in a valley to the northeast of the Città Alta, between the elevated medieval part of the city and the Maresana Hill.

He had the enthusiastic support of his father, who was also a climber and a high-altitude biker, in his passion for the mountains and tackled the 2,521m (8,271ft) Presolana and other massifs of the Alpi Bergamasche when he was only 13.  There is a strong climbing tradition in the Bergamo area, which produced another famous mountaineer, Walter Bonatti.

Once had had graduated from university, he took on climbs in the Grigna - a massif in the province of Lecco, northwest of Bergamo, before attempting more ambitious climbs in the Dolomites.

Moro often makes public appearances to share his expertise and experiences
Moro often makes public appearances
to share his expertise and experiences
He did his military service at the Alpine Military School of Aosta, finishing his 15-month stint as a sub-lieutenant of the Alpini, the mountain troops of the Italian Army.

He participated in his first Himalayan expedition to Mount Everest in 1992 and the following year achieved the first winter ascent of Aconcagua in Argentina, at 6,960.8m (22,837 ft) the highest mountain in both the Southern and Western Hemispheres.

Moro has also used his own money to help various charitable projects, including the financing of a school for 396 Sherpa children in the isolated Nepalese village of Syadul.  Near the Nanga Parbat base camp, he built a small masonry building for the shepherds and a small hospital in the village of Ser.

He performs free rescue missions in the Nepalese area using a helicopter he bought with his own money in 2009.

Moro raises the funds for his missions by making frequent public appearances and providing motivational speeches. He has also written a number of books, including an autobiography entitled Devo perché posso - I Must Because I Can.

He is married to Barbara Zwerger and has two children, 19-year-old Martina and eight-year-old Jonas.  He still has a home in Bergamo.

The walled Città Alta is one of the two centres of Bergamo
The walled Città Alta is one of the two centres of Bergamo
Travel tip:

Bergamo, where Moro was born and grew up, is a fascinating, historic city with two distinct centres. The Città Alta, upper town, is a beautiful, walled city with buildings that date back to medieval times. The elegant Città Bassa, lower town, still has some buildings that date back to the 15th century, but more imposing and elaborate architecture was added in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Grigna massif in the province of Lecco
The Grigna massif in the province of Lecco
Travel tip:

The Grigna is a mountain massif in the province of Lecco, with an elevation of 2,410m (7,907ft). It is part of the Bergamo Alps, and it has two peaks, Grignone or Grigna settentrionale, the higher, and the lower Grignetta or Grigna meridionale (2,177m).  To the southwest, the Grigna massif descends precipitously towards an arm of Lake Como known as Ramo di Lecco (The Branch of Lecco). To the east, the mountain rises gently through fields and forested land into Valsassina. The northern side of the mountain, which is known for its many caves and crevices, leads to Passo del Cainallo and the town of Esino Lario.

More reading:

The Bergamo climber whose career was marred by a 50-year row

The climber from the Dolomites who conquered Everest

Riccardo Cassin - mountaineer and resistance fighter

Also on this day:

1952: The birth of Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni

1962: The death of controversial industrialist Enrico Mattei


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Friday, 26 October 2018

Primo Carnera - boxer

Heavyweight’s career dogged by ‘fix’ rumours


Primo Carnera became world heavyweight champion in New York in 1933
Primo Carnera became world heavyweight
champion in New York in 1933
The boxer Primo Carnera, who was world heavyweight champion between 1933 and 1934, was born on this day in 1906 in a village in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

After launching his professional career in Paris in 1928, Carnera moved to the United States in 1930 and spent many years there, returning from time to time to Italy, where he had a house built for himself and his family, but not permanently until he was in declining health and decided he would like to spend his final years in his home country.

He won 89 of his 103 fights, 72 by a knockout, although there were suspicions that many of his fights were fixed by the New York mobsters who made up his management team, even including the victory over the American Jack Sharkey that earned him the world title.

Physically, he was a freak.  Said to have weighed 22lbs at birth he had grown to the size of an adult man by the time he was eight. By adulthood, he was a veritable giant, by Italian standards, standing 6ft 6ins tall when the average Italian man was 5ft 5ins.  His fighting weight was as high at times as 275lb (125kg).

Born into a peasant family the village of Sequals, around 45km (28 miles) west of Udine, at the northern edge of a plain bordering the Friulian preAlps, Carnera had little option but to leave the area as soon as he was strong enough to work.

Primo Carnera, who stood 6ft 6ins tall, towered above the average man of his day, as this news cutting shows
Primo Carnera, who stood 6ft 6ins tall, towered above
the average man of his day, as this news cutting shows
In the aftermath of the First World War, Sequals was a place of devastation and deprivation, with no prospect of finding employment.

Carnera left at the age of 12, finding his way to France where he did labourer's work, carrying bags of cement, laying bricks or cutting stones. At 17, he joined a travelling circus, where he was variously paraded as a freakshow giant, a strongman, and a wrestler.

He entered the fight business after a journeyman French heavyweight came across him in a park and recommended him to a boxing manager called Leon See.  Within two weeks, he was in the ring and within less than 18 months had a wins to losses record of 16-2.

Even then, given Carnera’s lack of technique, there were suspicions that See’s underworld connections were playing a big part in his success. His physical size made him a money-spinner in terms of tickets sales and it was in the interests of both his own camp and his opponents’ for his reputation to grow.

Vincent 'Mad Dog' Coll, an Irish villain who was part of Carnera's management team
Vincent 'Mad Dog' Coll, an Irish villain who
was part of Carnera's management team
See took him to the United States, where it was not long before his management team was populated by characters with such dubious names as Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll and Owney ‘The Killer’ Madden, both of whom were involved in organised crime.

In his United States debut at Madison Square Garden, Carnera’s opponent fell in unlikely fashion only a minute into the fight and over the next four years Carnera’s bouts followed a similar pattern.

The press nicknamed him ‘the Ambling Alp’ because of his slow movement around the ring and his poor technique yet he remained a major draw. It has been suggested that he even believed his own publicity, convincing himself that his fists somehow packed superpowers.

His winning of the world title came as a major surprise because Sharkey had beaten him comprehensively only a year before.  However, when it was not in the interests of his mobster connections for him to win, Carnera often took a heavy beating.

For example, when he defended his world title against Max Baer in June 1934 he was knocked to the canvas 13 times before losing on a technical knock-out.

Yet he was allowed to continue his career and retired only when a combination of kidney failure and diabetes made it impossible for him to continue.

Carnera ahead of his 1935 fight with future world champion Joe Louis, who knocked him out
Carnera ahead of his 1935 fight with future
world champion Joe Louis, who knocked him out
His post-retirement life was carefully planned, Carnera announcing in 1930 that he wanted to build a luxurious house in Sequals to which he intended to retire.  The project was completed in 1932, when architect Mariano Pittana unveiled a cutting edge design featuring Anglo-Saxon and Art Nouveau features. Carnera remained in the United States but returned to Italy for holidays.

Carnera holds the second-most victories of all heavyweight champions with 88. His 71 career knockouts is the most of any world heavyweight champion, yet his legacy will be forever tarnished by the accusation that many of his fights had pre-arranged outcomes.

In addition to boxing, Carnera enjoyed an acting career in which he appeared in more than 10 films, and wrestled professionally as well.

His story entered popular culture in several ways, with his life depicted in a number of books and films, notably Budd Schulberg’s 1947 novel, The Harder They Fall, which was about a giant boxer whose fights are fixed.

It was made into a film by the Canadian producer and director Mark Robson in 1956, starring Humphrey Bogart.  Controversially, it featured Max Baer, playing a fighter the mob could not fix, who destroys the giant in his first fair fight.

There were obvious parallels with the real-life Baer-Carnera fight two decades before. In response, Carnera sued the film company, but was unsuccessful.

Married since 1939 to Giuseppina Kovačič, a post office clerk from Gorizia, Carnera became an American citizen in 1953, when he and his wife opened a restaurant in Los Angeles. They had two children, Umberto and Giovanna Maria.

Carnera died in 1967 in Sequals from a combination of liver disease and diabetes. He was 60 years old.

The Villa Carnera in Sequals is open to visitors
The Villa Carnera in Sequals is open to visitors
Travel tip:

The Villa Carnera in the pleasant village of Sequals can be found in the Via Roma, set back from the road near the junction with Via San Giovanni.  In what was then a relatively poor community, with simple houses built from local stone, Carnera’s large art Nouveau house, equipped with running water, electric light and heating, seemed like a fantasy palace.  Since 2012, the villa, which was sold by the Carnera family to a private individual in 1972, has been open to the public on Sunday afternoons from May to the end of October, displaying an exhibition about Carnera’s life.

The Corso Vittorio Emanuele II in Pordenone
The Corso Vittorio Emanuele II in Pordenone
Travel tip:

Pordenone, in whose province Sequals falls, is an attractive small city of around 50,000 people with a rich history reflected in many beautiful palaces, churches, frescoes and monuments. The city centre has many elegant pedestrianised streets, including the historical Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, linking Piazza Cavour with the Gothic-Romanesque cathedral, which contains among other artworks a painting attributed to the Venetian artist Tintoretto.

More reading:

Vito Antuofermo, the farmer's son who became world champion

How Giuseppe Curreri became Johnny Dundee

The Sicilian boxer whose son was the legendary Frank Sinatra

Also on this day:

1797: The birth of mezzo-soprano Guiditta Pasta

1954: Trieste becomes part of Italy


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Thursday, 25 October 2018

Camillo Sivori – virtuoso violinist

Paganini’s successor was also a talented composer


Camillo Sivori was the protégé of the virtuoso Niccolò Paganini
Camillo Sivori was the protégé
of the virtuoso Niccolò Paganini
Ernesto Camillo Sivori, a virtuoso violinist and composer, was born on this day in 1815 in Genoa.

Remembered as the only pupil of the great virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini, Sivori began his career as a travelling virtuoso at the age of 12, having by then also studied with other violin teachers.

He was acclaimed as ‘Paganini reincarnated’, or even, ‘Paganini without the flaws’, by music critics during a lengthy tour of Europe that he made between 1841 and 1845.

During his travels he met some of the best-known composers of the day, such as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Berlioz and he took parts in hundreds of concerts.

After being compared to other celebrated violinists, his status as Paganini’s successor was confirmed, even though the great man had died in 1840 and was still remembered in the musical world.

Sivori had met Paganini, who was also from Genoa, when he was seven years old and had made such a favourable impression on him that Paganini gave him lessons between October 1822 and May 1823.

Sivori met Paganini when he was only seven years old
Sivori met Paganini when he was only
seven years old
Paganini also wrote pieces of music for his pupil ‘to shape his spirit’ and even provided guitar accompaniment when Sivori performed these pieces privately.

When Paganini left Genoa he continued to follow Sivori’s progress, writing in 1828 that Sivori was ‘ the only one who may call himself my pupil.’

Shortly before he died, Paganini summoned Sivori and gave him a violin, by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, Il Cannone, which was a replica of his own favourite violin by Bartolomeo Guarneri del Gesù, a member of one of the great families of luthiers from Cremona.

Sivori was entrusted by Mendelssohn with performing the English premiere of his Violin concerto, Op. 64 in 1846.

Sivori’s fame reached America and he visited many north American cities and also travelled to south America between 1846 and 1850.

A replica of Paganini's Guarneri  violin is in a Genoa museum
A replica of Paganini's Guarneri
 violin is in a Genoa museum
He made a great impression in London and Paris, a city where he lived for a few years, because of his technique and breathtaking displays of virtuosity. As late as 1876 Verdi invited him to perform his E minor quartet at its Paris premiere.

Sivori wrote 60 works of his own that inventively married virtuosity with melodic beauty, including two violin concertos.

The violinist lived for many years in Paris but died in his native Genoa in 1894 at the age of 78.

The bustling port of Genoa, where Sivori was born
The bustling port of Genoa, where Sivori was born
Travel tip:

Genoa, where Camillo Sivori was born, is the capital city of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy. It has earned the nickname of La Superba because of its proud history as a major port. Part of the old town was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2006 because of the wealth of beautiful 16th century palaces there.

The harbour at Portofino, one of the pretty seaside villages of the Italian Riviera
The harbour at Portofino, one of the pretty seaside
villages of the Italian Riviera
Travel tip:

The region of Liguria in northwest Italy is also known as the Italian Riviera. It runs along a section of the Mediterranean coastline between France and Tuscany and is dotted with pretty seaside villages, with houses painted in different pastel colours.

More reading:

Why the violins of Antonio Stradivari are still worth millions

The luthier who set the standard for Stradivari

How Francesco Maria Veracini became one of the great violinists of the 18th century

Also on this day:

1647: The death of Evangelista Torricelli, inventor of the barometer

1902: The birth of Carlo Gnocchi, brave military chaplain


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Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Sir Moses Montefiore - businessman

Italian-born philanthropist who made his fortune in London


A late 18th century photograph of the Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore
A late 18th century photograph of the
Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore
The businessman and philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore, who made his fortune in England and became a prominent supporter of Jewish rights, was born in Livorno on this day in 1784.

Born into a Sephardic Jewish family, his grandfather, Moses Vita (Haim) Montefiore, had emigrated from Livorno to London in the 1740s, but regularly returned to Italy, as did other members of the family.

Moses Montefiore was born while his parents, Joseph Elias and Rachel - whose father, Abraham Mocatta, was a powerful bullion broker in London - were in Livorno on business.

Their son was to amass considerable wealth in his working life, accumulating such a fortune on the London stock exchange he was able to retire at 40, but in his youth his family’s situation was so perilous he had to abandon his education without qualifications in order to find a job.

First apprenticed to a firm of grocers and tea merchants, he left to become one of 12 so-called ‘Jew brokers’ in the City of London.  His early days in the city were not without setbacks, notably when a major fraud in 1806 caused him to lose most of his clients’ money and cost him his broker’s licence.

A drawing from a magazine shows Moses Montefiore as a young man
A drawing from a magazine shows
Moses Montefiore as a young man 
He bought a new licence in 1815 and his big break came after Henriette, the sister of his wife Judith Cohen, married Nathan Rothschild, who engaged Montefiore's firm acted as stockbrokers.

Nathan Rothschild headed the family's banking business in Britain, and Montefiore became his business partner.

In that capacity, Montefiore helped found the Alliance Assurance Company, the Imperial Continental Gas Association (which pioneered gas lighting for homes), and the Provincial Bank of Ireland.

Montefiore retired from his business in 1824, deciding to use his time and fortune for communal and civic responsibilities. He became known as a philanthropist and a zealous fighter for the rights of oppressed Jews all over the world.

Besides visiting such countries as Italy, Russia, and Romania on behalf of the Jewish people, he also made seven journeys to Palestine.

In 1827, he helped secure the release of a number of Damascan Jews who had been falsely accused of using Christian blood for religious rites and persuaded the Turkish sultan to extend to Jews the same privileges enjoyed by aliens.

In Russia he convinced Tsar Nicholas I to rescind a decree of 1844 that had ordered all Jews to withdraw from the western frontier areas of Russia.

Montefiore's London home was at 99 Park Lane in the Mayfair district
Montefiore's London home was at 99 Park
Lane in the Mayfair district
Back in London, he became a governor of Christ's Hospital, an independent educational establishment also known as the Bluecoat School, and in 1837 was elected Sheriff of London. 

He was knighted in the same year by Queen Victoria and received a baronetcy in 1846 in recognition of his services to humanitarian causes on behalf of the Jewish people.

He was president of the British Board of Deputies from 1835-1874, with one brief interruption. Despite his position, he did not play a prominent role in the Jewish emancipation struggle at home, preferring to help oppressed Jewish communities abroad.

In 1831, while keeping his home in Park Lane in London, Montefiore bought a country estate with 24 acres of land on the East Cliff of the then-fashionable seaside town of Ramsgate, previously the home of Queen Caroline, when she was still Princess of Wales.  He purchased some adjoining land and commissioned his cousin, architect David Mocatta, to design a private synagogue, known as the Montefiore Synagogue.

Montefiore died at East Cliff in 1885, at the age of 100. He had no known children and his principal heir in both name and property was a nephew, Joseph Sebag Montefiore.  His great, great nephew is the historian, author and TV presenter Simon Sebag Montefiore.

The beautiful Terrazza Mascagni is a feature of the  waterfront in modern Livorno
The beautiful Terrazza Mascagni is a feature of the
waterfront in modern Livorno
Travel tip:

The port of Livorno is the second largest city in Tuscany after Florence, with a population of almost 160,000. Although it is a large commercial port with much related industry, it has many attractions, including an elegant sea front – the Terrazza Mascagni - an historic centre – the Venetian quarter – with canals, and a tradition of serving excellent seafood.  The Terrazza Mascagni is named after the composer Pietro Mascagni, famous for the opera Cavalleria Rusticana, who was born in Livorno.

The plaque commemorating the life of Sir Moses Montefiore is near the Jewish synagogue in Liverno
The plaque commemorating the life of Sir Moses Montefiore
is near the Jewish synagogue in Liverno 
Travel tip:

A plaque commemorating the life of Sir Moses Montefiore can be found in Piazza Elia Benamozegh in Livorno, the location of the city’s synagogue. Livorno was once home to one of the largest Sephardic communities in Western Europe, second only to Amsterdam. The 16th century Florentine leader Ferdinando I Medici, who governed Livorno, allowed the city’s Jews to govern themselves, without being confined to a ghetto. Although the Jewish settlement in the city had clear parameters, there were few limits imposed on the community, which by the 18th century numbered more than 4,000, almost 15 per cent of the the city’s population.

More reading:

The story of Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi

Salomone Rossi, the leading Jewish musician of the late Renaissance

The good samaritan of Rimini Alberto Marvelli

Also on this day:

1913: The birth of the acclaimed baritone Tito Gobbi

1925: The birth of composer Luciano Berio


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Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Alex Zanardi - racing driver and Paralympian

Crash victim who refused to be beaten

Ex-motor racing champion Alex Zanardi won his first  Paralympic gold medals at the 2012 Games in London
Ex-motor racing champion Alex Zanardi won his first
 Paralympic gold medals at the 2012 Games in London
Alessandro 'Alex’ Zanardi, a title-winning racing driver who lost both legs in an horrific crash but then reinvented himself as a champion Paralympic athlete, was born on this day in 1966 in the small town of Castel Maggiore, just outside Bologna.

Zanardi was twice winner of the CART series - the forerunner of IndyCar championship of which the marquee event is the Indianapolis 500 - and also had five seasons in Formula One.

But in September 2001, after returning to CART following the loss of his contract with the Williams F1 team, Zanardi was competing in the American Memorial race at the at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz track in Germany when he lost control of his car emerging from a pit stop and was struck side-on by the car of the Canadian driver Alex Tagliani.

The nose of Zanardi’s car was completely severed as Tagliani's car slammed into Zanardi's cockpit, just behind the front wheel, and the Italian driver suffered catastrophic injuries. Rapid medical intervention saved his life after he lost almost 75 per cent of his blood volume but both legs had to be amputated, one at the thigh and the other at the knee.

Zanardi driving for the Williams F1 team at the 1999 Canada Grand Prix in Montreal
Zanardi driving for the Williams F1 team at the 1999
Canada Grand Prix in Montreal
For most drivers, it would have been the end of their career yet Zanardi, although he would never compete in open wheel racing again, fought back from his injuries, learned how to use prosthetic legs he designed himself and, within just 19 months of his accident, was back behind the wheel.

Extraordinarily, he first returned to Lausitz in a gesture of defiance, completing the 13 laps that remained of his fateful 2001 race in a car adapted with hand-operated brake and accelerator controls.

But this was to be no belated farewell to his sport. Noting that his lap times were fast enough to have put him fifth on the grid of the 2003 German 500 event that followed his appearance on the track, Zanardi plotted a comeback.

In a touring car modified to allow the use of prosthetic feet, he made his comeback in a competitive race in October 2003 in a European Touring Car Championship race at Monza and finished seventh. The following season Zanardi returned to racing full-time, driving for Roberto Ravaglia's BMW Team Italy-Spain. 

Zanardi in action for the Italian team at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, where he won two gold medals
Zanardi in action for the Italian team at the 2016 Paralympics
in Rio de Janeiro, where he won two gold medals
The series evolved into the World Touring Car Championship in 2005 and Zanardi was to race for BMW for five seasons. Incredibly, he won four races, his first coming in August 2005 at Oschersleben in Germany, no more than 220km (137 miles) from Lausitz.

If that were not enough proof of his extraordinary and undiminished zest for competition, halfway through his five seasons with BMW, Zanardi took up handcycling, a Paralympic sport in which paraplegic athletes race one another in a kind of high-tech tricycle.

He finished fourth in the handcycle category at the New York Marathon of 2007 after just four weeks of training

In 2009 he won the Venice Marathon in the category for the disabled, riding his wheelchair in 1hr 13 mins 56 secs and the 2010 Rome City Marathon in 1:15.53. In 2011, at his fourth attempt, Zanardi won the New York Marathon in his handcycling class.

Zanardi drove in the World Touring Car Championships for BMW after his crash
Zanardi drove in the World Touring Car
Championships for BMW after his crash
Selected for the Italian team at the 2012 London Paralympics, Zanardi won gold in the men's road time trial H4 by a margin of 27.14 seconds as well as the individual H4 road race, plus a silver medal for Italy in the mixed team relay H1-4.  These events took place at Brands Hatch, a motor racing circuit where Zanardi had previously competed in a car.

Zanardi has won an impressive 10 gold medals at four World Championships and picked up two more golds - in the H5 road time trial and the H2-5 mixed team replay - at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

He has also become a major force in Ironman events and only last month set a world record for a disabled athlete en route to an amazing fifth place overall at the Ironman Italy Emilia-Romagna.  Taking on 2700 mainly able-bodied athletes, he completed the course - made up of a 3.8km (2.4 miles) sea swim, 180km (112 miles) of handcycling and a 42.2km (26.2 miles) wheelchair marathon - a time of 08:26.06, smashing his own world record, set in Barcelona, by more than half an hour.

His Barcelona time of 08:58.59 had made him the first disabled athlete to complete an Ironman triathlon in less than nine hours.

Born into a working class family in Castel Maggiore, Zanardi began racing go-karts at the age of 13, his father, Dino, having been persuaded it was safer than allowing him to ride a motorcycle on public roads.

He stepped up to Formula Three car racing in 1988 and won his first important title in 1990, moving into F1 the following year. His F1 career was the least successful of all his ventures, yielding just one point from his sole podium finish in 41 starts.

Zanardi, who suffered tragedy as a child when his sister, Cristina, died in a road accident, has been married since 1996 to Daniela. They have a son, Niccolò, who was born three years before his accident. He has co-written two books about his life -  Alex Zanardi: My Story (2004) and Alex Zanardi: My Sweetest Victory (2004).

The Villa Zarri, in Castel Maggiore, is now the home to a distillery producing some of Italy's finest brandy
The Villa Zarri, in Castel Maggiore, is now the home
to a distillery producing some of Italy's finest brandy
Travel tip:

Castel Maggiore, where Zanardi was born, is a municipality of more than 18,000 inhabitants that was formerly known as Castaniolo. Its origins are Roman and it did not become Castel Maggiore until the early 1800s, when workshops opened to make agricultural machinery and tools.  The surrounding countryside is notable for a number of beautiful private villas built for the ancient noble families of the area, including Villa Zarri, now a renowned brandy distillery.

Bologna's Piazza Maggiore with the Basilica San Petronio
Bologna's Piazza Maggiore with the Basilica San Petronio
Travel Tip:

The history of Bologna itself can be traced back to 1,000BC or possibly earlier, with a settlement that was developed into an urban area by the Etruscans, the Celts and the Romans.  The University of Bologna, the oldest in the world, was founded in 1088.  Bologna's city centre, which has undergone substantial restoration since the 1970s, is one of the largest and best preserved historical centres in Italy, characterised by 38km (24 miles) of walkways protected by porticoes.  At the heart of the city is the beautiful Piazza Maggiore, dominated by the Gothic Basilica of San Petronio, the largest brick built church in the world.

More reading:

How Riccardo Patrese became a key figure in the glory years of Williams F1

The brilliance of Mario Andretti, conqueror of F1 and IndyCar

Elio de Angelis - the last of the 'gentleman racers'

Also on this day:

The Feast Day of St John of Capistrano

1457: The Doge of Venice, Francesco Foscari, is thrown out of office


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