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.

30 November 2018

Andrea Doria – Admiral

Military commander with outstanding tactical talent


Andrea Doria's portrait was painted by Sebastiano del Piombo in around 1526
Andrea Doria's portrait was painted by
Sebastiano del Piombo in around 1526
Andrea Doria, the most important naval leader of his time, was born on this day in 1466 in Oneglia in Liguria.

Because of his successes on both land and sea he was able to free Genoa from domination by foreign powers and reorganise its government to be more stable and effective.

Doria was part of an ancient aristocratic family but he was orphaned while still young and grew up to become a condottiere, or soldier of fortune.

He served Pope Innocent VIII, King Ferdinand I and his son Alfonso II of Naples, and other Italian princes.

Between 1503 and 1506 he helped his uncle, Domenico, crush the Corsican revolt against the rule of Genoa.

Attracted to the sea, Doria fitted out eight galleys and patrolled the Mediterranean, fighting the Ottoman Turks and Barbary pirates, adding to his wealth and reputation along the way.

He then entered the service of Francis I of France who was fighting the Emperor Charles V in Italy and helped him capture Genoa.

A medal bearing the image of Andrea Doria, who continued to sail in his '80s
A medal bearing the image of Andrea
Doria, who continued to sail in his '80s
But after becoming disillusioned with French policies in Genoa, Doria transferred his support to Charles V and helped him drive the French out of Genoa.

Charles made him grand admiral of the imperial fleet and gave him the title of Prince of Melfi.

As the new ruler of Genoa, Doria imposed a government made up of the city’s main aristocratic families. His reformed constitution for the city was to last until 1797.

He also continued to command naval expeditions against the Turks and helped Charles V extend his domination of the Italian peninsula.

In 1547 a rival family started to plot against Doria and they eventually murdered his nephew, Giannetino, but the conspirators were quickly defeated and severely punished by Doria.

The house where Andrea Doria was born, overlooking the port in Oneglia on the Ligurian coast
The house where Andrea Doria was born, overlooking
the port in Oneglia on the Ligurian coast
At the age of 84, Doria was still regularly sailing against the Barbary pirates and he went to fight against the French when they seized Corsica, which was under the control of Genoa at the time Doria finally retired in 1555 and passed his command to his great nephew, Giovanni Andrea Doria.

Doria died in 1560 in Genoa at the age of 93 and left his estate to Giovanni Andrea.  The family of Doria-Pamphili-Landi is descended from the famous Admiral and bears his title, Prince of Melfi.

Several Italian and US ships have been named after Andrea Doria.  An Italian passenger ship, the SS Andrea Doria, sank off the coast of Massachusetts after colliding with another ship in 1956, causing the deaths of 46 people.

A football club named after him - the Società Ginnastica Andrea Doria, founded in 1895 - was a forerunner of one of Genoa's two major teams, Sampdoria, which was formed in 1946 after a merger of SG Andrea Doria with another club, Sampierdarenese.

The port city of Genoa, once ruled over by Andrea Doria, has a proud history as a maritime power
The port city of Genoa, once ruled over by Andrea Doria,
has a proud history as a maritime power
Travel tip:

Genoa, which was once ruled over by Doria, 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.

Hotels in Genoa from Hotels.com

Oneglia is part of the larger port of Imperia in Liguria
Oneglia is part of the larger port of Imperia in Liguria
Travel tip:

Oneglia, where Doria was born, was a town on the Ligurian coast that had been purchased by the Doria family in the 13th century. It was joined to Porto Maurizio in 1923 by Mussolini  to form the comune of Imperia. The area has become well known for cultivating flowers and olives and there is a Museum of the Olive in the part of the city that used to be Oneglia.

Find a hotel in Imperia with tripadvisor

More reading:

When Genoa's ships routed the fleet of Pisa

How architect Renzo Piano gave new life to the port of his home town of Genoa

The founding of Genoa Cricket and Football Club

Also on this day:

1485: The birth of writer and stateswoman Veronica Gambara

1954: The birth of Godfather actress Simonetta Stefanelli

1954: The death of tenor Beniamino Gigli


Home



29 November 2018

Agostino Chigi - banker and arts patron

Nobleman from Siena became one of Europe’s richest men


A Roman coin bearing the image of Agostino Chigi, who was one of the 16th century's richest bankers
A Roman coin bearing the image of Agostino Chigi,
who was one of the 16th century's richest bankers
The banker Agostino Chigi, who was a major sponsor of artists during the Renaissance, was born on this day in 1466 in Siena.

At its height, Chigi’s banking house in Rome was the biggest financial institution in Europe, employing up to 20,000 people, with branches throughout Italy and abroad, as far apart as London and Cairo.

Chigi invested a good deal of his wealth in supporting the arts, notably providing financial backing to almost all the main figures of the early 16th century, including Perugino, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni da Udine, Giulio Romano, Il Sodoma (Giovanni Bazzi) and Raphael.

Perugino painted The Chigi Altarpiece, dated at around 1506-1507, which hangs in the Chigi family chapel in the church of Sant'Agostino in Siena. 

Chigi’s significant legacy to Rome was to have built a chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Pace, another - his mortuary chapel, the Chigi Chapel - in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, and the superb suburban villa in Trastevere, on the banks of the Tiber, which since 1579 has been known as the Villa Farnesina. 

The altarpiece painted by Perugino for Agostino Chigi in Siena
The altarpiece painted by Perugino
for Agostino Chigi in Siena
Agostino Chigi was the son of the prominent Sienese banker Mariano Chigi, from an ancient and illustrious Tuscan family. He moved to Rome around 1487, taking with him a rich fund of capital.

He grew the wealth of his own bank by lending considerable sums to Pope Alexander VI and others, and by diversifying from regular banking practice by buying monopoly control of salt mining in the Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples, as well as that of alum, a mineral used in the textile industry.

After the death of the Borgia pope Alexander VI and his short-lived Sienese successor Pius III Piccolomini, Chigi helped Pope Julius II, in return for which he became treasurer and notary of the Apostolic Camera.  Agostino even accompanied Julius in the field in his military campaigns and went to Venice on his behalf to buy Venetian support for the papal forces in the War of the League of Cambrai.

Work began on his magnificent palace in Trastevere in 1506. Chigi took the unusual step of commissioning an untried pupil of Bramante, Baldassare Peruzzi, to design and oversee the construction of the villa, although he may have been helped Giuliano da Sangallo, the favored architect of Lorenzo de' Medici.

Raphael's fresco The Triumph of Galatea. in the loggia at the Villa Farnesina
Raphael's fresco The Triumph of Galatea.
in the loggia at the Villa Farnesina
His design differed from that of the typical urban palazzo, which tended to be rectangular, with an enclosed courtyard. This villa, intended as an airy summer pavilion, had a U-shaped plan with a five-bay loggia between the arms, facing north, which was the main entrance.

The best known element of the sumptuous decorations are Raphael's frescoes on the ground floor, both in the loggia depicting the classical and secular myths of Cupid and Psyche, and in the east-facing loggia, depicting The Triumph of Galatea. 

This was a mythological scene from an intended series inspired by the Stanze per la giostra of the Florentine poet Angelo Poliziano. It shows the near-naked sea nymph Galatea on a shell-shaped chariot drawn by two dolphins, surrounded by other sea creatures.

It has been noted that Raphael’s Galatea bore similarities to the courtesan, Imperia Cognati, who was Agostino Chigi's lover and is said to have posed for Raphael on more than one occasion. The art historian and Raphael's near-contemporary, Giorgio Vasari, noted, however, that Raphael had said that Galatea was the product of his imagination, an idealised beauty.

It was at this villa that Chigi held sumptuous banquets. He was recognised as the richest man in Rome but was said to have affected a contempt of money by throwing silver dishes into the Tiber at the end of the parties, although it is thought his servants were on hand to collect them in nets draped under the windows.

The villa was called the Viridario in Chigi's time. It became the property of the Farnese family in 1577, more than a half-century after his death.

The Palazzo Chigi, the current official residence of Italian prime ministers, was bought by Fabio Chigi, related to Agostino as a descendent of his father’s brother, shortly after he became Pope Alexander VII in 1655.

The northern aspect of the Villa Farnesina, which was  Agostino Chigi's summer palace in Rome
The northern aspect of the Villa Farnesina, which was
Agostino Chigi's summer palace in Rome
Travel tip:

The Villa Farnesina can be found on Via della Lungara in the Trastevere district of Rome.  After the Farnese family, the villa belonged to the Bourbons of Naples and in 1861 to the Spanish Ambassador in Rome, Bermudez de Castro, Duke of Ripalta. Today, it is owned by the Italian State and accommodates the Accademia dei Lincei, a long-standing academy of sciences. The main rooms of the villa, including the Loggia, are open to visitors from 9am to 2pm on Monday to Saturday, and on every second Sunday of the month from 9am to 5pm. For more details, visit http://www.villafarnesina.it

Hotels in Rome from Expedia.co.uk

The Palazzo Chigi in Rome was built originally for the  Aldobrandini family before passing to the Chigi family in 1659
The Palazzo Chigi in Rome was built originally for the
Aldobrandini family before passing to the Chigi family in 1659
Travel tip:

The 16th-century Palazzo Chigi, which overlooks the Piazza Colonna and the Via del Corso in Rome, was begun in 1562 by Giacomo della Porta and completed by Carlo Maderno in 1580 for the Aldobrandini family. It was in the ownership of the Chigi family, who had it remodelled by Felice della Greca and Giovan Battista Contini, from 1659 until the 19th century. It became the residence of the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to Italy in 1878 before being bought by the Italian state in 1916, when it became the home of the Minister for Colonial Affairs. Later it was the official residence of the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and in 1961 became the official meeting place of Council of Ministers, whose president is the head of the Italian government - the prime minister - and can now use the palace as his official residence.

Rome hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:

Raphael: The precocious genius from Urbino

How the courtesan Imperia Cognati became a 16th century celebrity

Pope Alexander VI - the scheming Borgia pope

Also on this day:

1463: The birth of antiquities collector Andrea della Valle

1797: The birth of composer Donizetti

1850: The birth of Agostino Richelmy, the cardinal who fought with Garibaldi

Home

28 November 2018

Caterina Scarpellini – astronomer and meteorologist

Female ‘assistant’ remembered for her important discoveries


Caterina Scarpellini moved to work at  Campidoglio Observatory aged 18
Caterina Scarpellini moved to work at
Campidoglio Observatory aged 18
The astronomer Caterina Scarpellini, who discovered a comet in 1854 and was later awarded a medal by the Italian government for her contribution to the understanding of astronomy and other areas of science, died on this day in 1873 in Rome.

Caterina had moved from her native Foligno in Umbria to Rome at the age of 18 to work as an assistant to her uncle, Abbe Feliciano Scarpellini, who was the director of the Roman Campidoglio Observatory. He had been appointed in 1816 by Pope Pius VI to a new chair of sacred physics in the Roman College of the Campidoglio, marking a turning point in the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to science.

From 1847 onwards, Caterina edited Corrispondenza Scientifica in Rome, a bulletin publishing scientific discoveries. She carried out her observations six times a day and reported on her findings.

The observatory was part of the Palazzo Senatorio on Piazza del Campidoglio in the centre of Rome
The observatory was part of the Palazzo Senatorio on
Piazza del Campidoglio in the centre of Rome
She married Erasmo Fabri, who was also an assistant at the observatory, and together they established a meteorological station in Rome in 1856.

Caterina published reports of her astronomical observations and meteorological measurements in Italian, French and Belgian journals and also wrote about electrical, magnetic and geological phenomena.

Along with another scientist, she reported on a chemical analysis of sand that had fallen in Rome over three nights in February 1864, which she discovered had blown there from the Sahara desert during a storm.

She compiled the first Italian meteor catalogue and was the only observer in Rome of the 1866 Leonid meteor shower.

Caterina Scarpellini, here depicted in a magazine  illustration, made many important scientific findings
Caterina Scarpellini, here depicted in a magazine
illustration, made many important scientific findings
Caterina also wrote about Saturn’s rings, her ideas about the formation of the planets and her hypotheses concerning celestial mechanics.

She became a member of the Accademia dei Georgofili in Florence, an historic institution promoting scientific and agricultural research.

Her writings on the influence of the moon on earthquakes brought her honours from the Moscow Imperial Society of Naturalists and the Viennese Royal Geological Institute.

After Caterina’s death at the age of 65 following a stroke, a statue of her was erected in the Campo Verano cemetery in Rome. A crater on the planet Venus has been named after her.

The Palazzo Orfini in Foligno, where a printing shop  opened in 1470, printing Dante's Divine Comedy
The Palazzo Orfini in Foligno, where a printing shop
opened in 1470, printing Dante's Divine Comedy
Travel tip:

Foligno, where Caterina Scarpellini was born in 1808, is an ancient town in the province of Perugia in Umbria, situated 40km (25 miles) south east of Perugia. It has suffered several major earthquakes, including one as recently as 1997, but still standing are the 13th century Palazzo Communale and the Renaissance-style Palazzo Orfini, where a printing shop opened in 1470 and Dante’s Divine Comedy was printed there in 1472, becoming the first book to be printed in the Italian language.

Foligno hotels from Expedia.co.uk

The present-day Rome Observatory is in Villa di Parco Mellini, at the top of Monte Mario
The present-day Rome Observatory is in Villa di
Parco Mellini, at the top of Monte Mario
Travel tip:

The Campidoglio Observatory in Rome, where Caterina worked as assistant to her uncle, was located in the eastern tower of the Palazzo Senatorio in Piazza del Campidoglio on the top of Capitoline Hill. The observatory was later acquired by the Italian state and its equipment was transferred to the Villa di Parco Mellini at the top of Monte Mario outside Rome, which is still the location of the Astronomical Observatory of Rome and an Astronomical Museum housing an important collection of historic astronomical instruments.

Hotels in Rome from Hotels.com

More reading:

How 18th century scientist Laura Bassi broke new ground for women

Margherita Hack and the popularising of science

Why Giovanni Schiaparelli believed there were canals on Mars

Also on this day:

1907: The birth of writer Alberto Moravia

1913: The birth of film music composer Mario Nascimbene

1977: The birth of World Cup hero Fabio Grosso


Home

27 November 2018

Senesino - operatic castrato

Sienese singer who worked with composer Handel


The castrato singer Senesino was one of the  highest paid performers in 18th century London
The castrato singer Senesino was one of the
highest paid performers in 18th century London
The acclaimed contralto castrato singer Senesino, who enjoyed a long professional relationship with the composer George Frederick Handel, died on this day in 1758 in Siena.

During the 18th century, when opera’s popularity was at its height, the castrati singers - male singers castrated as boys to preserve their prepubescent vocal range - were the highest paid members of the cast and the likes of Carlo Broschi, who sang under the stage name Farinelli, Giovanni Carestini (“Cusanino”), Gaetano Majorano ("Caffarelli") and Gaspare Pacchierotti were the genre’s first superstars.

Senesino could be added to that list.  When he made his first appearance for Handel in his three-act opera Radamisto in 1720 his salary was reported as between 2000 and 3000 guineas, which today would be worth around £250,000 to £365,000 (€280,000-€400,000).

Born Francesco Bernardi in 1686, Senesino took his name from his home town, Siena. His father was a barber in the Tuscan city.

He joined the choir of Siena’s Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta - in 1695 and was castrated at the comparatively late age of 13. He made his stage debut in Venice in 1707, and over the next decade his reputation and salary grew exponentially.

A magazine illustration of Senesino on stage with the sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni
A magazine illustration of Senesino on stage with the
sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni
Although his acting skills were sometimes mocked by the critics, acclaim for his voice was universal.  One composer with whom he worked described it as “a powerful, clear, equal and sweet contralto voice, with a perfect intonation and an excellent shake. His manner of singing was masterly and his elocution unrivalled.”

Senesino was engaged by Handel as primo uomo (lead male singer) in his company, the Royal Academy of Music, in London in 1720.

He would stay in England for much of the next 16 years, along the way becoming a prominent figure in London society, numbering the Duke of Chandos, Lord Burlington and the landscape designer William Kent among his friends. He embraced English culture, amassing a collection of paintings, rare books, scientific instruments and other treasures.

At his peak, Senesino was so popular he would sometimes upstage the great rival Italian sopranos of the era, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, who were also employed by Handel’s company.

Handel created 17 leading roles for Senesino, among them Giulio Cesare, Andronico in Tamerlano, Bertarido in Rodelinda, Floridante and Ottone.

Senesino had a reputation for being touchy and full of professional vanity
Senesino had a reputation for being touchy
and full of professional vanity
Yet their relationship was often stormy.  Senesino was touchy, vain and insolent, full of professional vanity and with a love of intrigue.  He would frequently test Handel’s patience.

They split for the first time in 1728 following the break-up of the Royal Academy, although after singing for a while in Paris and Venice, Senesino rejoined Handel in 1730, singing in four more new operas and several oratorios.

Yet their relationship was little better and when the Neapolitan Nicola Porpora arrived in London in 1733 to be chief composer at the rival company, Opera of the Nobility, Senesino was lured away for good.

In his new position, he sang alongside the aforementioned Farinelli, who is regarded as the finest soprano castrato of all time.

Senesino ended his career in England in 1736. He continued to perform in Italy before deciding to retire in 1740, by which time the opera-going public had new favourites and saw his style as somewhat dated. He made his final appearance in Porpora's Il trionfo di Camilla at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.

He returned to Siena, where he used his wealth to build a handsome town house. It was stocked with furniture imported from England. In fact, he lived as much as he could like an English gentleman. Tea was his preferred drink, he employed a black servant, as was popular in England during his time there, and amused himself with pets that were fashionable in London, including a monkey and a parrot.

The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo in Siena is regarded as one of Europe's most beautiful medieval squares
The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo in Siena is regarded as
one of Europe's most beautiful medieval squares
Travel tip:

At the centre of Siena is the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, established in the 13th century as an open marketplace on a sloping site between the three communities that eventually merged to form Siena. It is regarded as one of Europe's finest medieval squares, looked over by the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia.  The red brick paving, fanning out from the centre in nine sections, was put down in 1349. It has become famous as the scene of the historic horse race, the Palio di Siena.

Find a hotel in Siena with tripadvisor

Siena's magnificent Duomo, where Senesino sang as a boy. is a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque architecture
Siena's magnificent Duomo, where Senesino sang as a boy.
is a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque architecture
Travel tip:

Siena’s Duomo - the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption - was designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has a beautiful façade built in Tuscan Romanesque style using polychrome marble. There had been plans to build an enormous basilica, which would have been the largest in the world, but the idea was abandoned because of lack of funds due to war and the plague. Nonetheless, the cathedral built in its place, with a pulpit designed by Nicola Pisani, is considered a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture.

Siena hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:

Why Farinelli was music's first superstar

When Cuzzoni and Bordino came to blows on stage

How Nicola Porpora died impoverished

Also on this day:

8BC: The death of the Roman poet Horace

1570: The death of the architect Jacopo Sansovino

1964: The birth of former soccer player and Italy coach Roberto Mancini


Home


26 November 2018

Enrico Bombieri – Mathematician

Brilliant professor who won top award in his field at just 34



Enrico Bombieri is one of the world's leading mathematicians
Enrico Bombieri is one of the
world's leading mathematicians
The mathematician Enrico Bombieri, one of the world’s leading authorities on number theory and analysis, which has practical application in the world of encryption and data transmission, was born on this day in 1940 in Milan.

Bombieri, who is also an accomplished painter, won the Fields Medal, an international award for outstanding discoveries in mathematics regarded in the field of mathematical sciences as equivalent to a Nobel Prize, when he was a 34-year-old professor at the University of Pisa in 1974.

As well as analytic number theory, he has become renowned for his expertise in other areas of highly advanced mathematics including algebraic geometry, univalent functions, theory of several complex variables, partial differential equations of minimal surfaces, and the theory of finite groups.

Mathematics textbooks now refer to several discoveries named after him in his own right or with fellow researchers, including the Bombieri-Lang conjecture, the Bombieri norm and the Bombieri–Vinogradov theorem.

Enrico Bombieri read his first book of algebra when he was eight and wrote his first scholarly article when he was 17
Enrico Bombieri read his first book of algebra when he was
eight and wrote his first scholarly article when he was 17
He has been described as a "problem-oriented" scholar - one who tries to solve deep problems rather than to build theories.

According to colleagues, his analytical ability, combined with great powers of innovation, enable him to recognize elements of a solution that may already be present and to apply techniques and results from other fields to reach a final conclusion.

The fourth child and only son of a banker in Milan, Bombieri is said to have read his first algebra book at the age of eight.

He became more seriously interested in maths began at high school when, as a 15-year-old student, he picked up a book on number theory that introduced him to the great 19th century German mathematician Bernhard Riemann. He developed a fascination with numbers that never left him.

He published his first scholarly article in 1957, while still only 16 years old. In 1963, aged 22, he graduated in mathematics at the University of Milan and then studied at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Enrico Bombieri emigrated to the United States in 1977
Enrico Bombieri emigrated to the
United States in 1977
Between 1963 and 1966, Bombieri was an assistant professor and then a full professor at the University of Cagliari, holding the same position at the University of Pisa until 1974 and then at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa from 1974 to 1977.

From Pisa he emigrated in 1977 to the United States, where he became a professor at the School of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. In 2011 he became professor emeritus.

Bombieri has always been keen to disprove the notion that mathematicians are by nature single-focused nerds with no interests beyond their own field.

As a young man, he was a student of Alpine botany, in particular wild orchids, and has become an accomplished painter.

He experimented with pencil drawings and water colours at a young age and throughout his academic life has always carried paints and brushes with him on his travels.

He began to take his art more seriously after moving to the United States, enrolling to study study painting and printmaking at Mercer County Community College at West Windsor, New Jersey.

Bombieri paints people, animals and landscapes. His paintings are described as often surreal or intentionally ambiguous, although he also accepts commissions for portraits.

One work he is said to have been particularly proud of depicts a giant chessboard by a lake, with pieces placed to represent a critical point in the historic match between world champion Garry Kasparov and the chess-playing computer, Deep Blue.

Bombieri himself was a member of the Cambridge University chess team during his time at Trinity College.

The cloister at the main building of the University of Milan, founded in 1924 after the merger of other institutions
The cloister at the main building of the University of Milan,
founded in 1924 after the merger of other institutions 
Travel tip:

The University of Milan was founded in 1924 from the merger of the Accademia Scientifico-Letteraria (Scientific-Literary Academy)and the Istituti Clinici di Perfezionamento (Clinical Specialisation Institutes), established in 1906. By 1928, the University already had the fourth-highest number of enrolled students in Italy, after Naples, Rome and Padua. Its premises are located primarily in Città Studi, the university district which was developed from 1915 onwards to the northeast of the city centre, although there are other buildings around the city that are now part of the University.  The streets of the Città Studi area are notable for bars, pizza restaurants and ice cream shops.

Milan hotels from Expedia.co.uk

There is much more to historic Pisa than the Campo dei Miracoli and the Leaning Tower
There is much more to historic Pisa than the
Campo dei Miracoli and the Leaning Tower
Travel tip:

Many visitors to Pisa confine themselves to the Campo dei Miracoli, where the attractions are the famous Leaning Tower, the handsome Romanesque cathedral and its impressive baptistry. But there is much more to Pisa. The University of Pisa, founded in 1343, now has elite status, rivalling Rome’s Sapienza University as the best in Italy, and a student population of around 50,000 makes for a vibrant cafe and bar scene. There is also much to see in the way of Romanesque buildings, Gothic churches and Renaissance piazzas.

Find a hotel in Pisa with tripadvisor

More reading:

Einstein's favourite mathematician

Salvador Luria - Nobel Prize-winning microbiologist

Grazia Deledda - the first Italian woman to win a Nobel Prize

Also on this day:

1908: The birth of businessman and hotelier Charles Forte

1949: The birth of politician and businesswoman Letizia Moratti

1963: The death of opera singer Amelita Galli-Curci


Home














25 November 2018

Amalfi destroyed by tsunami

Quake beneath Tyrrhenian Sea sparked killer wave


Today Amalfi is a tranquil town with a peaceful harbour - a  far cry from the devastation of 1343
Today Amalfi is a tranquil town with a peaceful harbour - a
far cry from the devastation of 1343
The former maritime republic of Amalfi, which once had a population of 70,000 people, was effectively wiped out when a massive earthquake that occurred under the Tyrrhenian Sea on this day in 1343 sparked a devastating tsunami along the coast of southern Italy.

The tremor itself caused deaths but not on the scale of the tsunami that followed, as a stretch of coastline from north of Naples to south of the Cilento National Park bore the brunt of a huge killer wave.

The towns of Bussanto and Blanda, near the present-day resorts of Sapri and Maratea, were among communities that disappeared completely, while Amalfi and Minori on what we know now as the Amalfi Coast were decimated.

Amalfi’s harbour and all the boats in it were destroyed, while the lower town fell into the sea. Where there had once been a thriving city, only a village remained, the population of which has never grown much beyond about 6,000 people. Its days as a significant maritime power were over.

The poet Petrarch was staying in
Naples at the time of the deadly quake
Salerno and Naples suffered considerable damage, although the death toll was never recorded, it can be assumed it ran into tens of thousands.

What is known today is in part down to the poet Francesco Petrarca - Petrarch - who was staying in Naples at the time of the catastrophe, at the convent of San Lorenzo, and recorded what he had witnessed.

His account, which was contained in a volume of letters entitled Epistolae familiares, described how Naples was in a state of fear on the day of the earthquake, having been warned by Bishop Guglielmo of Ischia that the city would be destroyed. It is thought likely that there had been a series of smaller tremors in the days leading up to the major quake.

Petrarch spoke of a “furious storm” with the only illumination provided by the frequent flashes of lightning, and recorded that “everything began to tremble” soon after he went to bed. He said that people “ran outdoors and tried to avoid things that fell to the ground.”

At first light, when Queen Giovanna was among those surveying the considerable damage to the port, the waters of the bay were seen to recede. Petrarch described the “hideous whiteness of the foam” as the sea suddenly started to retreat.

An artists' mock-up of how a tsunami off Campania might impact on coastal cities
An artists' mock-up of how a tsunami off Campania might
impact on coastal cities
This was followed, in Petrarch’s words, by "a thousand mountains of waves not black nor blue, as they are usual to be in other storms but very white, they were seen coming from the island of Capri to Naples”.

Among the first victims when the waves hit the Naples shoreline were a thousand soldiers deployed to help survivors of the original quake.  Only one ship in the harbour was not destroyed, Petrarch noting that it had on board 400 convicts

The 1343 tsunami was not the first to be recorded on the Italian coast. After the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, Pliny the Younger described what experts have interpreted as a small tsunami.

Present day seismologists warn that the submerged volcano Marsili beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea about 175m (109 miles) south of Naples could pose a threat to millions of people living on the coast. Although it has not erupted in recorded history, volcanologists believe that Marsili is a relatively fragile-walled structure, made of low-density and unstable rocks, fed by an underlying shallow magma chamber.

Marsili belongs to the Aeolian Islands volcanic arc and is the largest active volcano of the chain, larger than Mount Etna. It was discovered during the 1920s and named after Italian geologist Luigi Ferdinando Marsili.

Amalfi's ninth-century cathedral was one building that survived the 1343 disaster
Amalfi's ninth-century cathedral was one
building that survived the 1343 disaster
Travel tip:

Although Amalfi is much smaller than it once was, it is still a significant town on the Campania coastline between Sorrento and Salerno, attracting huge numbers of tourists each year.  Its ninth-century Duomo dominates the town's central piazza, sitting at the top of a wide flight of steps. The cloister (Chiostro del Paradiso) and museum close by house sculptures, mosaics and other relics.  Radiating away from the cathedral, narrow streets offer many souvenir shops and cafes for visitors.  Amalfi is accessible by bus from Sorrento and Salerno and there are boat services that run along the coast.


A panorama of the coastal city of Salerno
A panorama of the coastal city of Salerno

Travel tip:

Salerno, which has a population of about 133,000, is a city often overlooked by visitors to Campania, who tend to flock to Naples, Sorrento, the Amalfi coast and the Cilento, but it has its own attractions and is a good base for excursions both to the Amalfi coast and the Cilento, which can be found at the southern end of the Gulf of Salerno. Hotels are cheaper than at the more fashionable resorts, yet Salerno itself has an attractive waterfront and a quaint old town, at the heart of which is the Duomo, originally built in the 11th century, which houses in its crypt the tomb of one of the twelve apostles of Christ, Saint Matthew the Evangelist.  The city can be reached directly by train from Naples, which is about 55km (34 miles) north.

More reading:

The Naples earthquake of 1626

How Italy's worst earthquake killed up to 200,000

The 79AD Vesuvius eruption

Also on this day:

1881: The birth of Pope John XXIII

1950: The birth of comedian and novelist Giorgio Faletti

1955: The birth of choreographer and dance show judge Bruno Tonioli


Home


24 November 2018

Vittorio Miele - artist

Painter scarred by Battle of Monte Cassino


Miele's work often had strong elements of the  scuola metafisica as well as impressionism
Miele's work often had strong elements of the
scuola metafisica as well as impressionism
The 20th century artist Vittorio Miele, who found a way to express himself in art after losing his family in the Battle of Monte Cassino, was born in Cassino on this day in 1926.

Miele was a teenager when his home town and the mountain top Benedictine monastery witnessed one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War as Allied armies attempted to break the Gustav Line of the Axis forces.

Over a three-month period, the Allies made four assaults, each backed up by heavy bombing, and though the objective was eventually achieved it was at a very high price. There were at least 80,000 soldiers killed or  wounded, as well as countless civilians caught in the crossfire.

Miele lost his father, mother and sister. He survived but left the area as soon as he was able, settling 400km (249 miles) north in Urbino in the Marche.

It was there, from the age of 19, that he took courses in painting and became part of the city’s artistic life, developing a talent that in his mature years saw him once described as “the poet of silence”.

Miele's work has been exhibited in many parts of the world, in particular Canada and the United States as well as Italy
Miele's work has been exhibited in many parts of the world,
in particular Canada and the United States as well as Italy
In the following decades his work began to reach further afield.  In 1958 he took part in the Mantua National Art Exhibition and, in 1966, had his first solo show in Frosinone, just 60km (37 miles) from Cassino, at the La Saletta gallery. The following year, with his painting Meriggio was awarded a prize to the Avis art exhibition in Jesi.

Two years later, in 1969, Il Dolore received second prize at the Piervert International Painting Exhibition in France. In the same year, his painting Case di Ciociaria won first prize at the National Festival of Figurative Arts in Rome.

In the 1970s, an exhibition in San Marino attracted large visitor numbers and more recognition of his importance in 20th century Italian art came with an exhibition in Tokyo alongside works by Giorgio de Chirico, Franco Gentilini, Massimo Campigli and Domenico Cantatore. His works were also exhibited widely in the United States and Canada.

Miele returned to Cassino after a period living in the north of Italy
Miele returned to Cassino after a period
living in the north of Italy
The profound and lasting effect of what he witnessed as a young man in Cassino came to the fore in 1979, some 35 years after the destruction of the abbey, when he commemorated the anniversary with an exhibition called Testimony, for which he reproduced some of the images that had remained in his mind.

Miele moved back to Cassino in later life and died there in November 1999.

In 2009, the Umberto Mastroianni Foundation and the Municipality of Frosinone marked the 10th anniversary of his death with an exhibition dedicated to his life. A similar retrospective was hosted by the Galleria Gagliardi in San Gimignano, where he had exhibited more than once during his life.

In Frosinone, a city where he lived for many years, a school in Via Lago di Como is named after him.

The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
The rebuilt Abbey of Monte Cassino
Travel tip:

After the Second World War, the Abbey of Monte Cassino was painstakingly rebuilt based on the original plans, paid for in part by the Vatican and in part by what could be raised in an international appeal.  Today, it is again a working monastery and continues to be a pilgrimage site, housing as it does the surviving relics of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. It also serves as a shrine to the 183,000 killed in the Battle of Monte Cassino and other fighting in the Allied assault on Rome.

Ciociaria has many towns built on rugged hillsides
Ciociaria has many towns built on rugged hillsides
Travel tip:

The ancient city of Frosinone, which was Gens Fursina in Etruscan times and Frusino under the Romans, is located on a hill overlooking the valley of the Sacco about 75km (47 miles) southeast of Rome, with the wider city spreading out across the surrounding plains. The Roman writer Cicero had a villa in Frusino. The city is part of a wider area known as Ciociaria, a name derived from the word ciocie, the footwear worn by the inhabitants in years gone by. Ciociaria hosts food fairs, events and music festivals as well as celebrating traditional feasts, when the local people wear the regional costume and the typical footwear, ciocie.

More reading:

Giorgio de Chirico - founder of the Scuola Metafisica

The existential realism of Alberto Sughi

How Allied bombing destroyed the Abbey of Monte Cassino

Also on this day:

1472: The birth of artist Pietro Torrigiano

1826: The birth of Pinocchio creator Carlo Collodi

1897: The birth of Mafioso Charles 'Lucky' Luciano


Home


23 November 2018

Fred Buscaglione - singer and actor

Fifties sensation who died tragically young


Fred Buscaglione sports the 'gangster' look for which he was famous in the film I ladri (1959)
Fred Buscaglione sports the 'gangster' look for
 which he was famous in the film I ladri (1959)
The singer and actor Fred Buscaglione, a nightclub singer who became huge star of the pop world in 1950s Italy, was born on this day in 1921 in Turin.

Buscaglione’s style - he portrayed himself tongue-in-cheek as a sharp-suited gangster with a taste for whiskey and women - caught the imagination of an Italian public desperate to be entertained after the austerity of Fascism, when all ‘foreign’ music was banned.

He formed a partnership with the writer Leo Chiosso after their first collaboration, on a song called Che bambola (What a Babe!), resulted in more than one million record sales, catapulting Buscaglione to fame.

They had several more hits, including Love in Portofino, which was covered by Andrea Bocelli in 2013 as the title track from an album.

Born Ferdinando Buscaglione, he was from a creative family. His father was a painter and his mother a piano teacher. They enrolled their son at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Turin at the age of 11 but by his teens Buscaglione had adopted jazz as his passion.

The songwriter Leo Chiosso collaborated with Fred Buscaglione in his musical and movie career
The songwriter Leo Chiosso collaborated with
Fred Buscaglione in his musical and movie career
His career as a singer and musician was going well and Chiosso was one of the friends he had made through his appearances in night clubs around Turin.  Their relationship was interrupted by the Second World War, which saw both taken prisoner. Chiosso was sent to Poland and Buscaglione to an American camp in Sardinia.

Although he was an enemy prisoner, his captors recognised his musical talent and he was allowed to play in the orchestra of an American radio station broadcasting from Cagliari. The experience gave him the chance to learn much about American music, particularly swing and the big band sound.

After the war, he made his way back to Turin, living in an apartment in Via Eusebio Bava in the Vanchiglia district a short distance from the centre of the city. He formed his own group, the Asternovas, and married a girl he met while on tour in Switzerland.

He and Chiosso became reacquainted, the latter having returned to Turin with memories of hearing Buscaglione performing on forces radio. It was Chiosso, an avid reader of American crime fiction, who encouraged him to develop his ‘gangster’ persona, for which he began sporting a Clark Gable mustache.

Buscaglione's wrecked Ford Thunderbird after the  collision in Rome that cost him his life
Buscaglione's wrecked Ford Thunderbird after the
collision in Rome that cost him his life
After Buscaglione became a popular nightclub performer, Chiosso arranged a date for them at a recording studio, after which Che bambola was released on a 78rpm shellac disc in 1956. With little publicity beyond word of mouth it sold more than one million copies.

Buscaglione made the most of his fame.  He had more hits from the pen of Leo Chiosso with such songs as Teresa non sparare (Theresa, Don't Shoot!), Love in Portofino and Whisky facile (Easy Whiskey), signed commercial advertising contracts and appeared in TV show and movies, including the 1960 comedy Noi duri (Tough Guys), which Chiosso scripted and which starred the Italian comic maestro Totò, as well as a beautiful young Italian actress, Scilla Gabel, with whom Buscaglione was romantically linked.

He appeared to have the world at his feet but tragedy struck in the early hours of February 3, 1960 when his lilac Ford Thunderbird convertible was in collection with a truck on a street in Rome, near the US Embassy.  He was taken to hospital but his injuries were so severe he could not be saved.

Only a few hours earlier, he had been out for dinner with friends and had met the upcoming star Mina Mazzini to discuss possible collaboration. Mina would go on to become Italy’s all-time biggest selling female artist.

Buscaglione’s funeral took place in Turin with tens of thousands of fans lining the streets. His body was buried at the Monumental Cemetery in the city.

The futuristic Luigi Einaudi Campus of the University of Turin dominates the Vanchiglia neighbourhood
The futuristic Luigi Einaudi Campus of the University of
Turin dominates the Vanchiglia neighbourhood
Travel tip:

The Vanchiglia neighbourhood of Turin, where Buscaglione lived immediately after his return from captivity in Sardinia, is an historic district a few streets away from the Palazzo Reale and the Mole Antonelliana. It is best known for the presence of the Luigi Einaudi Campus of the University of Turin and therefore has a high student population. With this has come an explosion in the number of bars and cafés and a growing music scene.

The Via Vittorio Veneto was one of Rome's most fashionable streets in its heyday
The Via Vittorio Veneto was one of Rome's most
fashionable streets in its heyday
Travel tip:

Rome's US Embassy is on Via Vittorio Veneto, commonly known as the Via Veneto, is one of the capital's most famous, elegant and expensive streets. The street is named after the 1918 Battle of Vittorio Veneto, a decisive Italian victory of World War I, and immortalised by Federico Fellini's 1960 film La Dolce Vita, which celebrated its heyday in the '50s and '60s when its bars and restaurants attracted Hollywood stars and jet set personalities.  Some of Rome's most renowned cafés and five star hotels, such as Café de Paris, Harry's Bar, the Regina Hotel Baglioni and the Westin Excelsior are located in Via Veneto.

More reading:

Leo Chiosso - the other half of the hit-creating 1950s partnership

The comedic genius of Totò

Italy's all-time biggest-selling female star

Also on this day:

1553: The birth of botanist Prospero Alpini

1941: The birth of actor Franco Nero

1955: The birth of composer Ludovico Einaudi

Home









22 November 2018

Alfonso II d’Este – Duke of Ferrara

Tasso’s patron raised Ferrara to the height of its glory


Alfonso II d'Este, a portrait by Girolamo da Carpi
Alfonso II d'Este, a portrait by
Girolamo da Carpi
Alfonso II d’Este, who was to be the last Duke of Ferrara, was born on this day in 1533 in Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna.

Famous as the protector of the poet Torquato Tasso, Alfonso II also took a keen interest in music.  He was also the sponsor of the philosopher Cesare Cremonini, who was a friend of both Tasso and the scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Although he was married three times, he failed to provide an heir for the Duchy.

Alfonso was the eldest son of Ercole II d’Este and Renée de France, the daughter of Louis XII of France.

As a young man, Alfonso fought in the service of Henry II of France against the Habsburgs but soon after he became Duke in 1559 he was forced by Pope Pius IV to send his mother back to France because she was a Calvinist.

In 1583 he joined forces with the Emperor Rudolf II in his war against the Turks in Hungary.

Alfonso II was proficient in Latin and French as well as Italian and like his ancestors before him encouraged writers and artists. He welcomed the poet Tasso to his court in Ferrara and he wrote some of his most important poetry while living there, including his epic poem, Gerusalemme Liberata.

As a young man, Alfonso fought in the service of Henry II of France
As a young man, Alfonso fought in the
service of Henry II of France
He was also the patron of poet and dramatist Giovanni Battista Guarini and professor of natural philosophy, Cesare Cremonini.

The composer Luzzasco Luzzaschi served as his court organist and Alfonso II sponsored the concerto delle donne, a group of professional female singers who became renowned for their technical and artistic virtuosity. Their success revolutionised the role of women in professional music, inspiring other, similar groups to be set up in the powerful courts in Italy.

Alfonso II raised the glory of Ferrara to its highest point during his reign and had the Castello Estense restored after it suffered earthquake damage in 1570.

After his death in 1597, Alfonso II’s cousin, Cesare d’Este, was recognised as his heir by Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor. However, Pope Clement VIII refused to recognise Cesare d’Este on the grounds of ‘doubtful legitimacy’ and incorporated Ferrara into the Papal States in 1598. Cesare d’Este and his family were obliged to leave the city and the government of Ferrara was turned over to the Cardinal Legate.

Alfonso II is believed to be the Duke of Ferrara that the poem, My Last Duchess, was based on, written by the English poet, Robert Browning, and published in 1842.

Work on the Castello Estense  began in 1385
Work on the Castello Estense
began in 1385
Travel tip:

Ferrara is a city in Emilia-Romagna, about 50 kilometres to the north east of Bologna. It was ruled by the Este family between 1240 and 1598. Building work on the magnificent Este Castle in the centre of the city began in 1385 and it was added to and improved by successive rulers of Ferrara until the Este line ended with the death of Alfonso II d’Este.



The Monastero del Corpus Domini
The Monastero del
Corpus Domini
Travel tip:

Alfonso II was buried in the Monastero del Corpus Domini in Via Pergolato in the centre of Ferrara, which was founded first as a house for penitent women and then became a Franciscan convent for Poor Clares in 1431. It is the burial place of many other members of the Este family, including Lucrezia Borgia, who was the wife of Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.

More reading:

Why Cesare Cremonini refused to look through Galileo's telescope

How Torquato Tasso came to be seen as Italy's greatest Remaissance poet

Galileo Galilei: The founder of modern science

Also on this day:

1710: The death of composer Bernardo Pasquini

1947: The birth of football coach Nevio Scala

1954: The birth of former Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni

Home