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.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Francesco Graziani - World Cup winner

Forward injured seven minutes into 1982 final


Francesco Graziani in action for  the Italy national team
Francesco Graziani in action for
the Italy national team
The footballer Francesco Graziani, who played in all of Italy’s matches in the 1982 World Cup in Spain but had the misfortune to be reduced to the status of a spectator when injury struck just seven minutes into the final, was born on this day in 1952 in Subiaco, in Lazio.

Graziani, a striker with Fiorentina who had made his name with Torino, scored a vital goal in Italy’s final match of the opening group phase against Cameroon, securing the draw that was enough to take the azzurri through to the second stage of the competition.

He played in Italy’s epic victories over Argentina and Brazil in the second group phase and in the thumping semi-final win over Poland but was replaced by Alessandro Altobelli after damaging a shoulder in the opening moments of the final against West Germany.

Altobelli went on to score Italy’s third goal as they overcame the Germans 3-1 to lift the trophy for a third time.

With 23 goals in 64 appearances for the national team, Graziani - nicknamed ‘Ciccio’ - achieved a strike rate in international football similar to his goals-per-game ratio in his career at domestic level, which brought him 142 goals in 413 league appearances.

His peak seasons came in the eight years he spent with Torino, during which he scored 97 times in 221 Serie A matches, winning the scudetto as Serie A champions in 1975-76.

The Torino team that won the Serie A championship in 1975-76. Graziani is fourth from the left on the back row
The Torino team that won the Serie A championship in
1975-76. Graziani is fourth from the left on the back row
A strong, physical player, Graziani began his footballing career in Bettini Quadraro, an amateur team in Rome, before moving to Arezzo and then to Torino in 1973.

Graziani scored 122 goals in 289 games in all competitions for Torino, including eight goals in 23 matches in Europe. In addition to the Serie A title, he was a member of the team that reached the final of the Coppa Italia in 1980.

He was the top-scorer in Serie A with a tally of 21 goals in the 1976-77 season, part of a powerful forward line alongside Paolo Pulici and Claudio Sala.

Graziani left Torino in 1981 when he and teammate Eraldo Pecci were transferred to Fiorentina, where they missed winning the title by a single point in the 1981–82 season.

In 1983, he was signed by Roma, with whom he won the Coppa Italia twice, in 1984 and 1986.

Graziani is brought down by Juventus defender  Gaetano Scirea during a Turin derby in 1976-77
Graziani is brought down by Juventus defender
 Gaetano Scirea during a Turin derby in 1976-77
Known for his composure in front of goal, Graziani was capable of playing as a main striker, in a creative midfield role, or even on the wing. He worked hard to hone his technique and eventually his determination, ability in the air and a natural eye for goal enabled him to become the complete centre-forward.

Nonetheless, despite his excellent scoring record, Graziani twice missed penalties in shoot-outs, first in the one that decided the 1980 Coppa Italia final, when Torino lost out to Roma at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, and then again in the 1984 European Cup final - in the same stadium - when Roma, his next club after Fiorentina, were beaten by Liverpool.

After two seasons with Udinese and a brief appearance in the Australian National Soccer League, Graziani called time on his his playing career in 1988. His Serie A record was 130 goals from 353 games.

Graziani made his debut for the Italy national team in April 1975, in a 0–0 home draw in Rome against Poland, and scored his first goal for Italy in April of the following year in a 3–1 home win against Portugal.

Francesco Graziani has been a coach and pundit since giving up playing
Francesco Graziani has been a coach
and pundit since giving up playing
As well as being a key member of the 1982 World Cup team, he also went to the 1978 finals in Argentina as understudy to Paolo Rossi and to the 1980 European Championship finals on home soil, where he made four appearances, scoring once, as Italy finished in fourth place.

His career as a coach has so far produced mixed results. As coach of Fiorentina he reached the 1990 UEFA Cup Final. Spells at Reggina and Avellino were unsuccessful but then led Catania to promotion from Serie C1 to Serie B in the 2001–02 season.

From 2004 to 2006, he coached Cervia, an amateur team of Emilia-Romagna from the Eccellenza league who were the subject of an Italian reality show, Campioni – Il Sogno. He led the team to an immediate promotion to Serie D.

More recently, Graziani has worked as a football pundit for the Mediaset TV channels.

The Rocca Abbazia castle that towers above the town of Subiaco remains largely intact
The Rocca Abbazia castle that towers above the town of
Subiaco remains largely intact
Travel tip:

Graziani’s home town, Subiaco, which is situated about 70km (43 miles) east of Rome and about 40km (25 miles) from Tivoli, is built close to a hill  topped by the Rocca Abbazia castle, and close to Monte Liviato – one of Lazio’s premier ski resorts. Originally built to provide accommodation for workmen on Nero’s grand villa, of which barely anything remains, Subiaco became well known for the fact that, in the fifth century, Saint Benedict lived as a hermit in a mountain cave nearby for three years, before leaving to found the monastery at Montecassino. Among a few things to see are the Ponte di San Francesco, a medieval segmental arch bridge over the Aniene constructed in 1358.

The Municipio - local authority building - in Cervia, the town on the Adriatic coast where Graziani coached
The Municipio - local authority building - in Cervia, the
town on the Adriatic coast where Graziani coached
Travel tip:

Cervia, whose football club Graziani coached to promotion in 2005, is a resort town in Emilia-Romagna, on Italy's Adriatic coast.  It was once an important medieval city with three fortified entrances, seven churches and a castle supposedly built by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.  Among things to see are an early 18th century cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and the Museum of Salt, which tells the story of the town’s prosperous past as major centre for the mining of salt.

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Saturday, 15 December 2018

Comunardo Niccolai - footballer

‘King of own goals’ was also a champion


Comunardo Nicolai was a member of the most successful team in Cagliari's history
Comunardo Nicolai was a member of the
most successful team in Cagliari's history
The footballer Comunardo Niccolai, a central defender with a propensity for scoring calamitous own goals, was born on this day in 1946 in Uzzano, a beautiful hill town in Tuscany.

Niccolai scored six own goals in his Serie A career, which contributed to his standing as something of a cult figure in Italian football.

He was actually an exceptionally talented player - good enough to be picked for the Italian squad for the World Cup in 1970, where the azzurri finished runners-up, as well as a key figure in the Cagliari team that won the Serie A title in 1970.

But he seemed unable to avoid moments of freakish bad luck and he acquired such unwanted notoriety as a result that people outside the game still reference his name when describing someone doing something to their own disadvantage.

For example, during the course of one of the regular political crises in Italy in the late 1990s, the right-wing politician Francesco Storace said of a policy decision taken by prime minister Massimo D’Alema, “Ha fatto un autogol alla Niccolai” - meaning that he had “scored an own goal Niccolai-style”.

Niccolai's most famous own goal - against Juventus during the 1969-70 title-winning season
Niccolai's most famous own goal - against Juventus
during the 1969-70 title-winning season
Niccolai acquired his unusual first name an account of his father’s politics.  A fervent anti-Fascist, Lorenzo Niccolai, himself a footballer who kept goal for Livorno between 1923 and 1928, named his son in honour of the Paris Commune, the revolutionary group that briefly held power in France in 1871.

Comunardo played his first football with the youth team at Montecatini before he was transferred to Torres, a club from Sassari in Sardinia.  From there he signed for Cagliari in 1964, joining a team that had just been promoted to Serie A.

Cagliari, who have never before or since been such a force in Italian football, steadily built a squad that was capable of challenging for the Serie A title, which they claimed in 1969-70 with a defence, including Niccolai, that conceded only 11 goals throughout the campaign.

Their stars were goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi, defender Pierluigi Cera, and forwards such as Roberto Boninsegna, Sergio Gori, Angelo Domenghini and the great Luigi Riva, all of whom went to Mexico with Niccolai in 1970 as part of the national team.

Cagliari's 1969-70 team - Comunardo Niccolai is on the back row, fourth from the left
Cagliari's 1969-70 team - Comunardo Niccolai is on the
back row, fourth from the left
The title was an unprecedented achievement for the rossoblu - minnows compared with the giants of Juventus and Milan - although even then Niccolai managed to make his mark in the wrong way.

In a game against title rivals Juventus in March 1970, played on a treacherously wet surface, Niccolai jumped to meet a cross that goalkeeper Albertosi was trying to claim with the score at 0-0 and headed it into his own net.  Happily Cagliari managed to come out with a draw after Riva scored a late equaliser.

He became known as the 'King of the Own Goal', although one of Niccolai’s most celebrated misfortunes did not actually result in an own goal.

It came for Cagliari against Catanzaro away from home in the 1972 season. It was the last minute, and with Cagliari leading 2-1 the home team were doing everything to try to equalise, including a number of attempts to win a penalty.

Comunardo Niccolai now works as a scout for the Italian national football federation
Comunardo Niccolai now works as a scout for the
Italian national football federation
When Catanzaro’s winger, Alberto Spelta, went down inside the penalty area and Niccolai heard a whistle he believed they had achieved their objective and angrily swung a boot at the ball, sending it towards his own goal.

In fact, the whistle he heard was not that of the referee, but a spectator in the crowd.  The ball was not dead and though Niccolai's fellow defender Mario Brugnera managed to stop it crossing the line and prevent an own goal - he did so only by using his hand.  As a result, the home side were awarded a penalty after all - from which they scored.

Niccolai went on to play for Perugia and Prato before hanging up his boots in 1978.  He has since coached Savoia and the Italy Women national team and currently works as a scout for the men’s national team.

Uzzano perches on a hillside in Tuscany, about 45km (28 miles) to the west of Florence in the province of Pistoia
Uzzano perches on a hillside in Tuscany, about 45km (28
miles) to the west of Florence in the province of Pistoia
Travel tip:

Niccolai’s home town of Uzzano, in the province of Pistoia about 45km (28 miles) west of Florence, is part of the Valdinievole,a collection of small settlements that dot the plains and hills. The composer Giacomo Puccini spent a few months there, during which he composed the second and third acts of La bohème while resident at Villa Orsi Bertolini, known today as Villa Anzilotti.  Other attractions in the town include the church of Santi Jacopo e Martin (12th-13th century), which houses a Romanesque holy water font and a Renaissance statue attributed to Giovanni della Robbia. Uzzano’s historic centre clings to a hillside, offering commanding views, while special lighting at night ensures the village is visible from the valley below.

Hotels in Uzzano from Hotels.com

The port of Cagliari rises from the sea to provide a  colourful sight for approaching travellers
The port of Cagliari rises from the sea to provide a
colourful sight for approaching travellers
Travel tip:

Cagliari is the capital of the island of Sardinia, an industrial centre and one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean. Yet it is also a city of considerable beauty and history, most poetically described by the novelist DH Lawrence when he visited in the 1920s. As he approached from the sea, he set his eyes on the confusion of domes, palaces and ornamental facades which, he noted, seemed to be piled on top of one another. He compared it to Jerusalem, describing it as 'strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like Italy.’  What he saw was Cagliari’s charming historic centre, known as Castello, inside which the city’s university, cathedral and several museums and palaces - plus many bars and restaurants - are squeezed into a network of narrow alleys.

Search Expedia.co.uk for Cagliari hotels

More reading: 

How Luigi Riva became a legendary figure for Cagliari and Italy

Gianfranco Zola, Sardinia's most famous footballing export

Gianni Rivera, star of Italy's 1970 World Cup team

Also on this day:

1966: The film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly goes on general release

1970: The birth of champion jockey Frankie Dettori

1973: Kidnappers release captive heir to Getty fortune


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Friday, 14 December 2018

Luciano Bianciardi - novelist and translator

Writer who brought contemporary American literature to Italian audiences


Luciano Bianciardi devoted much of his life to literature
Luciano Bianciardi devoted
much of his life to literature
The journalist, novelist and translator Luciano Bianciardi, who was responsible for putting the work of most of the outstanding American authors of the 20th century into Italian, was born on this day in 1922 in Grosseto in Tuscany.

Bianciardi translated novels by such writers as Saul Bellow, Henry Miller, William Faulkner and Norman Mailer, who were read in the Italian language for the first time thanks to his understanding of the nuances of their style.

He also wrote novels of his own, the most successful of which was La vita agra (1962; published in English as It’s a Hard Life), which was made into a film, directed by Carlo Lizzani and starring Ugo Tognazzi.

Bianciardi, whose father, Atide, was a bank cashier, developed an appreciation for learning from his mother, Adele, who was an elementary school teacher.

At the same time he acquired a lifelong fascination with Garibaldi and the Risorgimento, after his father gave him a book by a local author, Giuseppe Bandi, about Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand.

Bianciardi struggled to control his drinking late in his life
Bianciardi struggled to control
his drinking late in his life
Bianciardi’s university education was interrupted by the Second World War. He witnessed the bombing of Foggia, where the army unit to which he was assigned had the grim task of tending to the wounded and recovering the bodies of the dead. It was not long afterwards that Italy negotiated the 1943 armistice with the Allies, for whom he then worked as an interpreter.

He resumed his education at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, where he graduated in philosophy. His circle of friends were mainly writers with liberal socialist political leanings and he was briefly a member of Il Partito d’Azione - the Action Party - until it folded in 1947. The following year he married his first wife, Adria, with whom he would have two children.

His entry into the literary world came at the invitation of the municipality of Grosseto, who asked him to reorganise their civic library, which had been badly damaged by the bombings of 1943 and the floods of the following year. Later he became the library director and a passionate promoter of cultural initiatives such as the bibliobus, a van that took books into the hamlets and and scattered farms around the town.

The cover of the Feltrinelli edition of his most famous book, La vita agra
The cover of the Feltrinelli edition of
his most famous book, La vita agra
He began to write for newspapers and, in 1956, published his first book, The Miners of the Maremma, which followed an investigation he launched with his friend and political ally, the writer Carlo Cassola, for the newspaper L’Avanti into the harsh conditions in which the miners in this Tuscan coastal territory worked and the poverty in which their families lived, which he encountered at first hand through his bibliobus scheme.

Bianciardi over time became a prolific writer for newspapers and magazines on all manner of subjects, on political matters but also cultural topics.  He was a film and television critic, and at times wrote about sport for magazines such as Guerin Sportivo.

He forged his reputation as a translator after moving to Milan to work for the Feltrinelli publishing house, developing a relationship that continued even after the company, frustrated with his poor timekeeping and clashes over their editorial policy, decided they could no longer employ him on a permanent, formal basis.

He worked his way through most of the major American writers. Among more than 100 texts that he translated into Italian were Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent and Travels with Charley, Jack London's John Barleycorn, J.P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man and William Faulkner's A Fable and The Mansion.

At the same time, he began to write novels of his own, his stories often having a theme of rebellion against the cultural establishment, or else the lives of ordinary Italians during the so-called ‘economic miracle’ years of the 1950s and '60s.

Ugo Tognazzi in a scene from the movie based on Luciano Bianciardi's book, La vita agra
Ugo Tognazzi in a scene from the movie based on
Luciano Bianciardi's book, La vita agra
La vita agra is considered his finest work, published by Rizzoli in 1962.  Acclaimed by the critics, it sold 5,000 copies with a couple of weeks of its appearance in the book shops. It brought Bianciardi fame almost overnight.

His other works include Il lavoro culturale - Cultural Work; L’integrazione - Integration; La battaglia soda - The Soda-Water Battle; and Aprire il fuoco - Setting the Fire.

Bianciardi, who had a third child by Maria Jatosti, with whom he worked at Feltrinelli, bought a house at Rapallo, on the Italian Riviera in Liguria about 30km (19 miles) east of Genoa, while keeping his home in the Brera district of Milan.

A heavy drinker through much of his life, he died at the age of just 49 in 1971, suffering from liver disease.  His last book, a comprehensive biography of Garibaldi, was published posthumously in 1972.

Grosseto's Romanesque cathedral, viewed from the Via Daniele Manin
Grosseto's Romanesque cathedral, viewed
from the Via Daniele Manin
Travel tip:

Bianciardi’s home town of Grosseto is the largest town of the Maremma region of Tuscany, with approximately 65,000 inhabitants. Located in the alluvial plain of the Ombrone river, about 14km from the Tyrrhenian sea, the town grew in importance several centuries ago because of the trade in salt, that was obtained in salt pans in the now reclaimed lagoon that covered most of the area between Grosseto and the sea.  By 1328, the silting up of the lagoon robbed Grosseto of its salt revenues, after which is became largely depopulated, vulnerable to outbreaks of malaria caused by the mosquitos that thrived in the marshy areas surrounding the town. It began to expand again in the 19th century. Tourists today are drawn to visit by the walls begun by Francesco I de Medici in 1574, and by the Romanesque cathedral, dedicated to St. Lawrence.

Search tripadvisor for a hotel in Grosseto

Rapallo's Castello sul Mare was built in 1551 to deter pirates from attacking the Ligurian coastal town
Rapallo's Castello sul Mare was built in 1551 to deter pirates
from attacking the Ligurian coastal town
Travel tip: 

Rapallo, while somewhat overshadowed by its exclusive neighbour Portofino, is an attractive seaside town of the eastern Italian Riviera, known as the Riviera di Levante. The town developed around a harbour guarded by a small castle – Il Castello sul Mare – built in 1551 to repel pirate attacks, which sits right on the water’s edge.  Look out also for the 12th century Basilica of Saints Gervasius and Protasius, two historic towers and a ruined monastery, along with a network of narrow streets to explore. There are boat services to Portofino, as well as Santa Margherita Ligure and Camogli, while the main Genoa to Pisa railway line passes through the town.

Rapallo hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:

How Cesare Pavesi introduced foreign writers to Fascist Italy

Why novelist Leonardo Sciascia was the scourge of corrupt politicians

The comic genius of La Cage aux Folles star Ugo Tognazzi

Also on this day:

1784: The birth of Neapolitan princess Maria Antonia

1853: The birth of anarchist Errico Malatesta

1966: The birth of racing driver Fabrizio Giovanardi


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Thursday, 13 December 2018

Pope Sixtus V

Pontiff who cleaned up and rebuilt Rome and reformed church


Pope Sixtus V introduced a programme of measures to tackle Rome's problems
Pope Sixtus V introduced a programme of
measures to tackle Rome's problems
Pope Sixtus V, whose five-year reign was one of the most effective of any pontiff in history, was born Felice Peretti on this day in 1521 in Grottammare, a coastal resort in the Marche region that was then part of the Papal States.

Succeeding Pope Gregory XIII in 1585, Sixtus V inherited an administration that was riddled with corruption and a city of Rome that to a large extent fallen into the hands of thieves and criminal gangs.

He responded with a series of measures that brought about profound change with far-reaching consequences for the city and the wider country, making his mark on a scale that few pontiffs had matched before or since.

As well as tackling crime with brutal ruthlessness, he introduced significant reforms in the administration of the Catholic Church and commissioned lavish building projects that changed Rome from a medieval city to a one of Baroque grandeur.

The son of a poor farm hand in Grottammare, the future pope entered a monastery when he was nine years old and joined the Order of Friars Minor three years later. His familiarity with adversity made him resourceful and strong.

After being ordained, he impressed many with his preaching and was a popular choice as pope, attaining office at the age of 64 following Gregory XIII’s death.

Pope Gregory XIII left Rome's finances in a parlous state, while crime gripped the city
Pope Gregory XIII left Rome's finances in a
parlous state, while crime gripped the city
He was determined from the start to be remembered as a pope who left Rome and the Church in a much better state than the one he inherited.

The brigands and criminal gangs who held the city in their grip were his first targets, and he used the full strength of his papal forces to crush them, beginning a clampdown that would eventually see as many as 27,000 criminals and their mob bosses rounded up an executed.

As a deterrent to others, Sixtus V would regularly have the heads of executed brigands placed on top of stakes around the city.

The result was that within two years Rome was the safest city in Europe, the countryside was free of bandits and the economy prospered.

Sixtus tackled his reforms of the central administration of the church with similar zeal. By a papal bull - edict - issued in 1586,  he redefined the Sacred College of Cardinals by setting the number of cardinals at no more than 70, a limit that stayed in place until the pontificate of John XXIII (1958–63).

In 1588 he overhauled the Curia - the government of the Catholic Church - in its entirety, establishing 15 congregations - departments - in a structure that also remained substantially unchanged until the 1960s.

Pope Sixtus V had an estimated 27,000 criminals put to death in a ruthless purge
Pope Sixtus V had an estimated 27,000
criminals put to death in a ruthless purge
In his crackdown on waste and corruption, he introduced harsh financial policies, which included the sale of offices, the creation of new loans, regulation of prices and the imposition of new taxes.

Sixtus V was determined to refill the treasury, although he could hardly be accused of sitting on the new wealth he created.

Turning his attention to the urban plan of Rome, he ordered the creation of broad new streets that were the beginnings of how the map of the city looks today. The Porta del Popolo, where he placed an obelisk in the piazza, the Via Sistina and Via delle Quattro Fontane all owe their existence to Sixtus V.

The Cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica was completed after he ordered the architect Giacomo della Porta to finish what had been a ten-year plan of works inside 24 months.  Sixtus V also built the loggia of Sixtus in the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano and the chapel of the Praesepe in Santa Maria Maggiore, as well as commissioning repairs to the Quirinal, Lateran and Vatican palaces.

He restored Rome’s four Egyptian obelisks, including that in St Peter's Square.

Sixtus V restored the aqueduct of Septimus Severus - called the Acqua Felice after his baptismal name - in addition to the Acqua Vergine, which flows into the Trevi Fountain, with the purpose of bringing clean water into a less inhabited area and encouraging people to live there. The Palazzo Barberini and the Triton fountain were later made possible thanks to Sixtus V’s aqueduct.

Sixtus V placed a statue of St Paul atop the Column of Marcus Aurelius, built in 193AD
Sixtus V placed a statue of St Paul atop the
Column of Marcus Aurelius, built in 193AD
Not everything he did was popular. He displaced many residents by razing buildings to make way for his new streets and showed little appreciation for antiquities. He envisioned converting the Colosseum into a wool factory with homes for its workers, and turned the Column of Marcus Aurelius and Trajan’s column into pedestals for statues of St. Peter and Paul.

In his foreign policies, Sixtus V proposed the conquest of Egypt and supported King Philip II of Spain in his planned invasion of England, with ambitions to excommunicate Elizabeth I, although in the event none of those things happened.

Sixtus V died on August 27, 1590, the last pope to have used the name Sixtus.  He was disliked by many of his subjects but history has recognized him as a significant figure in the Counter Reformation, and a pope who took on great enterprises and made significant achievements. He also left five million crowns in the coffers of what had been a bankrupt treasury.

The remains of the 16th century fortress stand over the
coastal resort of Grottammare, where Pope Sixtus V was born
Travel tip:

Grottammare is one of the beach resorts that make up the Marche region’s Riviera delle Palme, a stretch of coastline around the larger town of San Benedetto del Tronto. It is notable for a fine, sandy beach but also for the well preserved remains of a fortress overlooking the town that was built following the sacking of Grottammare by the Montenegran Princes of Dulcigno in 1525.  The centre of the older part of the town is Piazza Peretti, a square enclosed by the Church of San Giovanni Battista, the Town Hall, Municipal Tower and Teatro dell'Arancio.  Grottammare takes pleasure in celebrating its geographical position on the 43º parallel, the line of latitude that also passes through the cities of Assisi (Italy), Santiago de Compostela (Spain), Lourdes (France), Medjugorje (Bosnia), Vladivostok (Russia), Sapporo (Japan), Buffalo and Milwaukee (United States).

Hotels in Grottammare from Hotels.com

The Fountain of Moses at the end of the Aqua Felice aqueduct into Rome
The Fountain of Moses at the end of the Aqua
Felice aqueduct into Rome
Travel tip:

The Aqua Felice was the first aqueduct built during the Roman Renaissance, more than 1,000 years after the ancient aqueducts in Rome had been cut by invading Goths. Sixtus V commissioned his favourite architect, Domenico Fontana, who came up with the Fountain of Moses which also serves as the terminus of the Aqua Felice. Although the fountain, sometimes known as ‘Fat Moses’, has never been particularly well-liked, it is seen as representative of the great urban renewal that took place in Rome during the Renaissance, particularly under Sixtus V.

Find a hotel in Rome with Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

Urban VIII, the pope whose extravagance led to disgrace

Pius V, the pope for excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England for heresy

The kidnapping of Pope Boniface VIII

Also on this day:

The Festa di Santa Lucia

1466: The death of Renaissance sculptor Donatello

1720: The birth of playwright Carlo Gozzi


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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Susanna Tamaro - bestselling author

Writer’s third published novel was international hit


Susanna Tamaro's novel is one of the biggest selling fiction titles in Italian literary history
Susanna Tamaro's novel is one of the biggest selling
fiction titles in Italian literary history
The writer Susanna Tamaro, whose novel Va' dove ti porta il cuore - published in English as Follow your Heart - was one of the biggest selling Italian novels of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1957 in Trieste.

Va' dove ti porta il cuore - in which the main character, an elderly woman, reflects on her life while writing a long letter to her estranged granddaughter - has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide since it was published in 1994.

Only Umberto Eco’s historical novel Il Nome della Rosa  - The Name of the Rose - has enjoyed bigger sales among books by Italian authors written in the 20th century.

Tamaro has gone on to write more than 25 novels, winning several awards, as well as contributing a column for a number of years in the weekly magazine Famiglia Cristiana and even co-writing a song that reached the final of the Sanremo Music Festival.

Born into a middle-class family in Trieste, Tamaro is a distant relative of the writer Italo Svevo on her mother’s side. Her great-grandfather was the historian Attilio Tamaro.

Margherita Buy and Virna Lisi in a scene from Cristina
Comencini's 1996 movie version of Va' dove ti porta il cuore
In 1976, after obtaining a teaching diploma, Tamaro received a scholarship to study at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, the Italian school of cinema in Rome.

She was awarded a diploma in direction after making a short animation film entitled The Origin of Day and Night, taken from an Incas myth. After returning briefly to Trieste to work as assistant director on a feature film, she settled in Rome, where she would from time to time work for the Italian state television network, Rai. 

She completed her first novel, Illmitz, in 1981 but it was rejected by every publisher she approached (it was eventually published in 2014) and it was not until 1989, when the Marsilio publishing house began a project aimed at launching a series of young unpublished writers, that she managed to make her literary debut with La testa tra le nuvole - Head in the Clouds.

The novel won two awards - the Italo Calvino Award and the Elsa Morante Award - which encouraged Tamaro to keep up her writing.

Susanna Tamaro is related through her mother to the Trieste-born novelist Italo Svevo
Susanna Tamaro is related through her mother
to the Trieste-born novelist Italo Svevo
Her second novel Per voce sola - For Solo Voice - published in 1991 won the PEN International prize and was praised by film director Federico Fellini and the novelist Alberto Moravia, although sales were not spectacular.

However, when Va' dove ti porta il cuore appeared in 1994, Tamaro became the toast of the Italian literary world, hailed as “a unique voice” whose story, while rooted in her native Italy, displayed “an understanding of human lives that is universal”.

The book was turned into a film in 1996, directed by Cristina Comencini and starring Virna Lisi and Margherita Buy. At the Turin Book Fair of 2011, it was named as one of the 150 most important books in the history of Italian literature. It has been translated into more than 35 languages.

Subsequently, Tamaro has written several bestsellers, including Anima Mundi, Rispondimi (Answer Me), Ascolta la mia voce (Listen to My Voice), Fuori (Outside) and her memoir, Verso Casa (Towards Home), many of which have been published in English.

In 1997 she collaborated with the songwriter Ron (artistic name of Rosalino Cellamare) to write a Sanremo entry for the singer Tiziana Tosca Donati.

Tamaro revealed recently that she suffered from Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism, as a child
Tamaro revealed recently that she suffered from Asperger
Syndrome, a form of autism, as a child
She directed her first film, Nel mio amore (In My Love) in 2005, based on one of the stories in Rispondimi.

Since 1988 Tamaro has lived with the crime novelist Roberta Mazzoni, who invited her to stay in her home in Orvieto after she suffered a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, exacerbated by the smog and pollution of Rome.  The two subsequently shared a cottage in Porano, a nearby village. Tamaro has insisted that their relationship has always been platonic, describing it as “a loving friendship.” Tamaro recently revealed that she suffered from Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism, as a child.

Tamaro’s novels have often conveyed her political views, including her opposition to abortion, surrogacy and euthanasia, but she declined an invitation to stand in the 2008 Italian elections on an anti-abortion ticket.

The Canal Grande is one of the attractions of Trieste, a port city with a great literary tradition
The Canal Grande is one of the attractions of Trieste, a
port city with a great literary tradition
Travel tip:

The coastal city of Trieste, where Tamaro was born, is the main town of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Officially, it became part of the Italian Republic only in 1954, having been disputed territory for thousands of years. It was granted to Italy in 1920 after the First World War, after which thousands of the resident Slovenians left. The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. The area today is one of the most prosperous in Italy and Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building. It has a strong literary tradition, having been the home of the Irish author James Joyce for more than a decade, during which he wrote A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, most of Dubliners and the outline of Ulysses.  Joyce’s close friend, Italo Svevo, was one of several prominent writers born in the city, including the poet Umberto Saba and the essayist Claudio Magris.  The 19th century French writer Stendhal and the English novelist DH Lawrence also spent time there.

Search tripadvisor.co.uk for hotels in Trieste

Orvieto's beautiful Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria  Assunta - is one of the finest cathedrals in Italy
Orvieto's beautiful Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria
Assunta - is one of the finest cathedrals in Italy
Travel tip:

The small city of Orvieto in Umbria, with a population of only 20,000, has a dramatic appearance, built on the top of a cliff of volcanic tuff stone, its elevated position further emphasised by the defensive walls built by the Etruscans. Situated about 120km (75 miles) north of Rome, it boasts one of Italy’s finest cathedrals in Italy - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta - with a stunningly beautiful Romanesque Gothic facade inlaid with gold mosaics fronting a building constructed from alternate layers of black and white marble.  The city’s medieval streets are a cultural paradise - busy with cafés and restaurants, bookshops, artisans' workshops and antique emporia.

Find a hotel in Orvieto with Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

Why Alberto Moravia is recognised as a major figure in 20th century literature

The broad intellectual talents of Umberto Eco

How screen siren Virna Lisi turned back on glamour roles

Also on this day:

1685: The birth of composer Lodovico Giustini

1901: Marconi receives first transatlantic radio signal

1969: The Piazza Fontana bombing


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Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Fabrizio Ravanelli - footballer

Juventus star who became a favourite at Middlesbrough


Fabrizio Ravanelli won five trophies in four years with Juventus
Fabrizio Ravanelli won five trophies
in four years with Juventus
The footballer Fabrizio Ravanelli, who won five trophies with Juventus between 1992 and 1996 before stunning the football world by joining unfashionable Middlesbrough in the English Premier League, was born on this day in 1968 in Perugia.

Playing alongside Gianluca Vialli and Alessandro Del Piero in the Juventus forward line, Ravanelli scored in the 1996 Champions League final as the Turin side beat Ajax in Rome before signing for Middlesbrough just six weeks later.

The ambitious club from the northeast of England paid £7 million (€8.5m) for Ravanelli, a club record fee and at the time the third largest sum paid for any player by an English club.

It was part of a huge spending spree by Middlesbrough, managed by former England captain Bryan Robson, that brought a string of high-profile signings to the club's Riverside Stadium including the Brazilian playmaker Juninho and England international Nick Barmby and another Italian, the Inter defender Gianluca Festa.

Ravanelli made an immediate impact, scoring a hat-trick on his Premier League debut against Liverpool, and ended the season with 31 goals in league and cup matches.

He also helped Middlesbrough reach both domestic cup finals, although it was a disappointing season for the club, who were runners-up on both occasions and were relegated from the Premier League.

Fabrizio Ravanelli, back row, second from right, lines up with the Juventus team before the 1996 Champions League final
Fabrizio Ravanelli, back row, second from right, lines up with
the Juventus team before the 1996 Champions League final
Ravanelli, whose position as a fans’ favourite was somewhat diminished by his outspoken comments about the club’s facilities and the town of Middlesbrough itself, had a further season in England when he joined Derby County for the 2001-02 campaign, but also suffered relegation there.

Although he finished second in the French Ligue 1 with Marseille, Ravanelli’s successes were all won it his native Italy.

A prolific scorer for his hometown club Perugia in Serie C and Serie B football at the start of his career, he had spells with Avellino, Casertana and Reggiana before joining Juventus in 1992, where he had to compete for a place in the forward line with not only Vialli and Del Piero but Roberto Baggio, Paolo Di Canio, Pierluigi Casiraghi and Andreas Möller.

After initially struggling to obtain a starting spot under coach Giovanni Trapattoni, due to this fierce competition, he worked hard to improve his skill level and eventually managed to hold down a place.

Ravanelli was a club record £7 million signing when he joined Middlesbrough in July 1996
Ravanelli was a club record £7 million signing
when he joined Middlesbrough in July 1996
During the 1994–95 season, under Marcello Lippi, he played a key role as the club claimed a domestic double of Serie A and Coppa Italia, playing in a three-man attack alongside Vialli, and either Baggio or Del Piero.

The Supercoppa Italia and the Champions League came the following season, to go with the medal he had won in 1993 as part of Trapattoni’s UEFA Cup-winning team.

Returning to Italy after his time with Middlesbrough and Marseille, Ravanelli was a double-winner again as Sven-Göran Eriksson’s Lazio team took the Serie A and Coppa Italia titles in 2000-01, adding his second Supercoppa Italia medal the following year.

A dynamic, physically strong left-footed striker known for his strong work ethic and determined temperament, as well as his eye for goal, Ravanelli earned the nickname 'The White Feather' because of his prematurely grey hair. In addition to his club success, he won 22 caps for the Italian national team, scoring eight goals.

He finished his playing career where it began, with Perugia, in 2005, before starting a coaching career that has not yet brought him success.  After two years as a youth coach at Juventus, he was appointed head coach of French Ligue 1 club AJ Ajaccio in the summer of 2013, but was sacked after just five months with only one win from 12 games.

A regular football pundit for Sky Italia, Fox Sports, and Mediaset, Ravanelli signed a contract in June this year to coach the Ukrainian Premier League club Arsenal Kyiv but resigned in September after only three months in charge.

A plaque placed in Piazza della Libertà to commemorate the 100th anniversary in 2000 of the founding of SS Lazio
A plaque placed in Piazza della Libertà to commemorate
the 100th anniversary in 2000 of the founding of SS Lazio
Travel tip:

Although they have played their home games at the Stadio Olimpico, the ground in the north of Rome that they share with city rivals AS Roma, the SS Lazio football club used to play in the Prati district, now a chic neighbourhood known for its wide, sweeping avenues, elegant architecture and affluent residents. SS Lazio was formed in 1900 by a group of young men at a meeting near the Piazza della Libertà on the banks of the Tiber.  Prati is also the home of the vast Palazzo di Giustizia in Piazza Cavour that houses the Supreme Court.

Hotels in Rome from Expedia.co.uk

Perugia's Piazza IV Novembre is one of the city's main squares, home to the city's cathedral
Perugia's Piazza IV Novembre is one of the city's main
squares, home to the city's cathedral
Travel tip:

Perugia, where Fabrizio Ravanelli was born, is a city of around 170,000 inhabitants built on a hill in Umbria, of which it is the regional capital.  Established in the Etruscan period, it remained an important city, always a target for invading armies because of its strategic value.  Nowadays, it is home to some 34,000 students at the University of Perugia and is a notable centre for culture and the arts, hosting the world-renowned Umbria Jazz Festival each July. It also hosts a chocolate festival – Perugia being the home of the Perugina chocolate company, famous for Baci.  The artist Pietro Vannucci, commonly known as Perugino, lived in nearby Città della Pieve and was the teacher of Raphael.

Perugia hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:

Marcello Lippi, Italy's third World Cup-winning coach

How Roberto Baggio became a football icon

The seven titles that put Giuseppe Trapattoni out on his own

Also on this day:

1475: The birth of Pope Leo X

1912: The birth of movie producer Carlo Ponti

1944: The birth of singing star Gianni Morandi


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Monday, 10 December 2018

Giuseppe 'Peppino' Prisco - lawyer and football administrator

Vice-president who became Inter Milan icon


Giuseppe Prisco, a legend at Inter, proudly wears the feathered hat from his Alpini uniform
Giuseppe Prisco, a legend at Inter, proudly
wears the feathered hat from his Alpini uniform
The lawyer and football administrator Giuseppe Prisco, who served as a senior figure in the running of the Internazionale football club in Milan for more than half a century, was born on this day in 1921.

Universally known as Peppino, he managed to combine a career in legal practice with a passion for Inter that he would share so publicly he became a symbol of the club whose name was chanted on the terraces.

Born in Milan into a family with its roots in Torre Annunziata, near Naples, he was said to have fallen in love with the nerazzurri at seven years old in 1929, when he witnessed his first derby against AC Milan at Inter’s old stadium, the Campo Virgilio Fossati, between Via Goldoni and Piazza Novelli to the east of the city centre.

His career as a lawyer did not begin until after he had served with the Alpini - the mountain troops of the Italian Army - on the Russian front in the Second World War. He was only 18 when he joined up but reached the rank of lieutenant in the “L’Aquila” battalion of the 9th Alpine Regiment, and as one of only three officers from 53 to return alive from the Russian front was awarded a Silver Medal for Military Valour by the Italian government.

On returning to civilian life, he graduated in law at the University of Milan and became a registered practising lawyer in 1946, opening his own office in the city, the start of a business that would bring him success and kudos for decades.

Prisco was for many years the president of the Milanese Bar Association
Prisco was for many years the president of the
Milanese Bar Association
He was president of the Milanese Bar Association for many years and participated in numerous high profile trials, including that of the controversial Milan banker Roberto Calvi on embezzlement charges in 1981.  Calvi was released on bail pending an appeal and a year later was found in dead in London.

Prisco joined his beloved Inter in 1949 as club secretary and thereafter served as a legal advisor to the board of directors before being elected vice-president in 1963, a position he held until his death in 2001, two days after his 80th birthday.

During his time as a director of the club, Inter won six Serie A titles, two European Cups, two Intercontinental Cups, three UEFA Cups, two Coppa Italia titles and one Italian Super Cup.

Fans took him to their hearts after he used his legal expertise to force UEFA to overturn a defeat against Borussia Moenchengladbach in the UEFA Cup in 1971 after the Inter forward Roberto Boninsegna had to be taken off after being struck by a can thrown from the crowd.  Inter won the rematch.

He also endeared himself to the nerazzurri faithful with the sharp one-liners he would frequently deliver during television interviews when he was given the opportunity to talk about the club’s great rivals.

Prisco was presented with a special Inter shirt to mark his 50 years with the club
Prisco was presented with a special Inter
shirt to mark his 50 years with the club
Famously, he once said: "If I shake hands with a Milanese, I wash my hands, if I shake hands with a Juventus (fan), I count my fingers.”

On another occasion, he declared: “I’m against every form of racism but I’d never allow my daughter to marry a Milan player.”

At the end of the 1990s, he became a regular guest on TV sports shows such as Controcampo, in which he would often have humourous spats with presenters Diego Abatantuono and Giampiero Mughini.

Married to Maria Irene, he had two children: Luigi Maria, who followed him into the legal profession, and Anna Maria.  After his death from a heart attack, he was buried at Arcisate, a town in the province of Varese, about 70km (43 miles) north of Milan.

One of the neoclassical arches that form the entrances to Napoleon's Arena Civica in Milan
One of the neoclassical arches that form the entrances
to Napoleon's Arena Civica in Milan
Travel tip:

Inter have shared the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in San Siro with rivals AC Milan since 1947, but before that played at a number of stadiums around the city, including the Campo di Ripa Ticinese in the Ticinese district souith of the centre, the Campo Virgilio Fossati and the Arena Civica, the grandiose neoclassical stadium commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte after he had proclaimed himself King of Italy in 1905. Inter played their home games at the Arena, a kind of mini-Colosseum in the Parco Sempione, behind the Sforza Castle, from 1930 until 1958.

Search tripadvisor for hotels in Milan

Travel tip:

A view over the rooftops at Torre Annunziata, looking towards the waters of Bay of Naples
A view over the rooftops at Torre Annunziata, looking
towards the waters of Bay of Naples
Torre Annunziata, where Prisco had family roots, is a city in the metropolitan area of Naples. Close to Mount Vesuvius, the original city was destroyed in the eruption of 79 AD and a new one built over the ruins. Its name derives from a watch tower - torre - built to warn people of imminent Saracen raids and a chapel consecrated to the Annunziata (Virgin Mary). It became a centre for pasta production in the early 19th century. The Villa Poppaea, also known as Villa Oplontis, believed to be owned by Nero, was discovered about 10 metres below ground level just outside the town and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Naples hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:

Massimo Moratti, the business tycoon who presided over Inter's golden age

How Giuseppe Meazza became Italian football's first superstar

Why mystery still surrounds the death of 'God's banker' Roberto Calvi

Also on this day:

1813: The birth of forgotten composer Errico Petrella

1907: The birth of postwar movie star Amedeo Nazzari

1936: The death of playwright Luigi Pirandello


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Sunday, 9 December 2018

Teofilo Folengo – poet

Style of writer’s verses took its name from the dumpling


A portrait of Teofilo Folengo by Girolamo Romanino, owned by the Uffizi museum in Florence
A portrait of Teofilo Folengo by Girolamo Romanino,
owned by the Uffizi museum in Florence
Teofilo Folengo, who is remembered as one of the principal Italian ‘macaronic’ poets, died on this day in 1544 in the monastery of Santa Croce in Campese, a district of Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto.

Folengo published, under the pseudonym Merlin Cocaio, a macaronic narrative poem entitled Baldo, which was a humorous send up of ancient epic and Renaissance chivalric romance.

Writing in verse that mixed vernacular language with Latin became known as macaronic verse, the word deriving from the Latin macaronicus and the Italian maccarone, which meant dumpling, fare mixed crudely from different ingredients that at the time was regarded as a coarse, peasant food. It is presumed to be the origin of the modern Italian word maccheroni.

Folengo was a runaway Benedictine monk who satirised the monastic life using an invented, comic language that blended Latin with various Italian dialects.

Born Girolamo Folengo in 1491 in Cipada, a village near Mantua, he entered the Benedictine order as a young man taking the name Teofilo. He lived in monasteries in Brescia, Mantua and Padua, where he produced Latin verse written in the Virgilian style.

The cover of a book of macaronic verse by Folengo under his pseudonym
The cover of a book of macaronic verse
by Folengo under his pseudonym 
But he left the order to travel around the country with a young woman, Girolama Dieda. They often experienced great poverty as Folengo had no money apart from what he earned through writing.

For a few years he lived as a hermit near Sorrento, but he was readmitted to the Benedictine order in 1534 and remained in it, continuing to write, until his death.

Out of all his poetry, Baldo is considered to be his masterpiece and it has been republished five times. Full of satire and humour it describes the adventures of Baldo, who is supposed to be a descendant of the cousin of the medieval epic hero Roland. Baldo suffers imprisonment, battles with authority, pirates, witches and demons, and goes on a journey to the underworld.

The poem blended Latin with various Italian dialects in hexameter verse. The first English version, translated by Ann Mullaney, was published in 2007.

The term macaronic is still used to describe literature where the mixing of languages has a humorous or satirical effect. It is believed to have originated in Padua in the late 15th century, after the comic poem, Macaronea, by Tifi Odasi was published in about 1488, satirising the broken Latin used by doctors and officials to communicate with ordinary people.

Folengo once described his own verses as ‘a gross, rude and rustic mixture of flour, cheese and butter.’

Many modern Italian authors, including Umberto Eco and Dario Fo, have continued to use macaronic text.

The Palazzo Ducale in Mantua was the seat of the Gonzagas
The Palazzo Ducale in Mantua was the seat of the Gonzagas
Travel tip:

Cipada near Mantua, where Teofilo Folengo was born, was a village on the banks of a lake, but it no longer exists, having become part of the industrial area of Mantua. A main street, Strada Cipata, is the only reference to it that remains. On the other side of the lake is the historic area of Mantua, where the Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707, can be found.

Hotels in Mantua by Hotels.com

The former monastery of Santa Croce in Campese, where Folengo died
The former monastery of Santa Croce
in Campese, where Folengo died
Travel tip:

The monastery of Santa Croce, where Teofilo Folengo died, is in Via IV Novembre in Campese, a district of Bassano del Grappa on the banks of the Brenta Canal. The monastery dates back to 1124 and for centuries was the most important religious centre in the area around the Brenta. There is a monument to Teofilo Folengo in the monastery, which is now used as a church. Close by is a square named after the poet, Piazza Teofilo Folengo.

Hotels in Bassano del Grappa from Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

Giosuè Carducci - the poet who became the first Italian to win a Nobel Prize in literature

Why Torquato Tasso is known as Italy's greatest Renaissance poet

How Dario Fo's work denounced crime, corruption and racism

Also on this day:

1920: The birth of politician Carlo Azeglio Ciampi

1920: The birth of Bruno Ruffo, Italy's first motorcycling world champion

1946: The birth - near Vicenza - of Indian politician Sonia Gandhi


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