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.

24 March 2019

24 March

Guido Menasci - poet, librettist and biographer


Respected writer and historian who found fame from an opera

The writer Guido Menasci, who is best known as a co-author of the libretto for composer Pietro Mascagni’s successful opera Cavalleria rusticana but was also a respected historian, was born on this day in 1867 in the Tuscan port of Livorno. Menasci, a law graduate from the University of Pisa and briefly a prosecutor at the Court of Appeal in Lucca, wrote for a number of literary magazines in Italy and beyond and produced a biography of the German poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang Goethe that is considered a definitive work. Alongside fellow librettist Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti, he collaborated with Mascagni on a number of operas, the most famous of which by some way was Cavalleria rusticana, which was performed for the first time in 1890, at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. Read more...

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Dario Fo – writer and actor


Prolific playwright put the spotlight on corruption

Playwright and entertainer Dario Fo was born in Leggiuno Sangiano in Lombardy on this day in 1926. His plays have been widely performed and translated into many different languages. He is perhaps most well known for Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997. Fo’s early work is peppered with criticisms of the corruption, crime, and racism that affected life in Italy at the time. He later moved on to ridicule Forza Italia and Silvio Berlusconi. The writer’s most celebrated solo piece, Mistero Buffo, which he presented as though he were a travelling player in medieval times, was denounced as blasphemous by the Vatican because of material relating to the life and times of Christ. He wrote Accidental Death of an Anarchist, a play first performed in 1970, after the so-called 'accidental' fall from the window of a Milan police station of a man being questioned about a bomb attack on a bank. Read more...

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Luigi Einaudi - politician and winemaker


Composer's grandfather was President of the Republic

The politician and winemaker Luigi Einaudi was born on this day in 1874 in Carrù, in what is now Piedmont. Einaudi, who is the grandfather of the musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi and the father of publisher Giulio Einaudi, was President of the new Italian Republic between 1948 and 1955, the second person to occupy the post. Initially a socialist, in 1919 he became co-founder of the Italian Liberal Party (PLI), which helped Mussolini win the 1924 general election. But after the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti was murdered in 1924, Einaudi distanced himself from the Fascists and was among the signatories of the 1925 Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals. Einaudi became part of Italy's governing National Council prior to the formation of the Republic in 1946, in which he served in several ministerial positions before his election as President.  He entered the wine business in 1897 at the age of 23 when he acquired an 18th century farmhouse called San Giacomo outside Dogliani, his mother's home town. Read more…

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Mimmo Jodice - photographer


Camera work with shades of metaphysical art

Domenico ‘Mimmo’ Jodice, who has been a major influence on artistic photography in Italy for half a century, was born on this day in 1934 in Naples. Jodice, who was professor of photography at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli from 1969 to 1996, is best known for his atmospheric photographs of urban scenes, especially in his home city. Often these pictures reflected his fascination with how Italian cities habitually mix the present and the future with echoes of the past in their urban landscapes, with the incongruous juxtapositions of ancient and modern that were characteristic of metaphysical art occurring naturally as part of urban evolution. His books Vedute di Napoli (Views of Naples) and Lost in Seeing: Dreams and Visions of Italy have been international bestsellers and he has exhibited his work all over the world. Read more…

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Guido Menasci - poet, librettist and biographer

Respected writer and historian who found fame from an opera


Guido Menasci (right) with fellow librettist Giovanni  Targioni-Tozzetti, flanking composer Pietro Mascagni
Guido Menasci (right) with fellow librettist Giovanni
Targioni-Tozzetti, flanking composer Pietro Mascagni
The writer Guido Menasci, who is best known as a co-author of the libretto for composer Pietro Mascagni’s successful opera Cavalleria rusticana but was also a respected historian, was born on this day in 1867 in the Tuscan port of Livorno.

Menasci, a law graduate from the University of Pisa and briefly a prosecutor at the Court of Appeal in Lucca, wrote for a number of literary magazines in Italy and beyond and produced a biography of the German poet and playwright Johann Wolfgang Goethe that is considered a definitive work.

Fluent in French as well as Italian, he published books and gave lectures in Paris, often on the subject of art history, which was another of his fascinations.

Yet he was most famous for his work with Mascagni and his fellow librettist, Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti, whom he met through his involvement with literary and cultural societies in Livorno, where all three grew up.

They collaborated on a number of operas, the most famous of which by some way was Cavalleria rusticana, which was performed for the first time in 1890, at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome.

The tenor Roberto Stagno and soprano Gemma Bellincioni in the premiere of Cavalleria rusticana in Rome
The tenor Roberto Stagno and soprano
Gemma Bellincioni in the premiere
of Cavalleria rusticana in Rome
Based on a novella of the same name by Giovanni Verga, Cavalleria Rusticana is a simple story of betrayal and revenge involving two men and two women in a Sicilian village. Its success turned Mascagni, a modest music teacher, into a composer of international fame, not least for the beautiful intermezzo that has become a popular piece standing alone from the opera.

Menasci inherited his gift for writing from his father, who was a shopkeeper but also a published author of a number of books of verse and was a councillor in Livorno involved with education.

He began to write poetry at the same time as he was studying law, amusing his fellow students by composing summaries of lectures in verse.

Soon, his poetry was appearing regularly in the pages of publications such as Lettere e arti, a well-known Bolognese magazine founded by Enrico Panzacchi, others in Italy and in foreign periodicals such as the French daily Le Siècle , the Austrians Neue Freie Presse and Neue Wiener Tagblatt, and the English monthly The English Illustrated Magazine.

His collaboration with Targioni-Tozzetti, whose father, Ottaviano, had taught him literary studies at high school, began in 1899 and included the libretti for several other operas in addition to Cavalleria rusticana, including I Rantzau and Zanetto, also by Mascagni, and Umberto Giordano’s Regina Diaz. He and Targioni-Tozzetti also edited an Italian version of Werther by Jules Massenet.

At the same time, Menasci was working independently for other composers, such as the Germans August Scharrer and Ignaz Brüll. During a lengthy stay in Germany he compiled his biographical study of Goethe (1899), which was considered remarkable even among the many works dedicated to the German poet.

Menasci devoted much time to the study of other German writers and to figures in French literary and civil history. He wrote elegantly in French and was able to address conferences and deliver lectures in Paris with full confidence in his command of the language.

His versatility extended to writing stories for children and numerous studies devoted to the history of art.

In his later years, he returned to Livorno and became a professor at the prestigious Naval Academy. He died in Livorno in 1925 after a period of declining health.

Livorno's elegant promenade Terrazza Mascagni was named after the composer Pietro Mascagni
Livorno's elegant promenade Terrazza Mascagni was
named after the composer Pietro Mascagni
Travel tip:

The port of Livorno is the second largest city in Tuscany after Florence, with a population of almost 160,000. Although it is a large commercial port with much related industry, it has many attractions, including an elegant sea front – the Terrazza Mascagni - an historic centre – the Venetian quarter – with canals, and a tradition of serving excellent seafood.  The Terrazza Mascagni is named after the composer Pietro Mascagni, who was born in Livorno. Menasci is commemorated rather less grandly in the name of a fairly nondescript street in a residential area close to the city’s main railway station.

The Teatro Costanzi, in Via del Viminale, a short distance from Piazza della Repubblica, is now known as Teatro dell'Opera
The Teatro Costanzi, in Via del Viminale, a short distance from
Piazza della Repubblica, is now known as Teatro dell'Opera
Travel tip:

Known today as the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma - Rome’s main opera house - the Teatro Costanzi was built in 1879-80. Financed by Domenico Costanzi, a contractor, it was designed by the Milanese architect Achille Sfondrini, a specialist in the building and renovation of theatres. Built on the site of the house of the Roman emperor Elagabalus, the theatre was inaugurated in November 1880 with a performance of Semiramide by Gioachino Rossini.  Sfondrini paid particular attention to the acoustics of the theatre, the dome of which was adorned with frescoes by Annibale Brugnoli. As well as the world premiere of Cavalleria rusticana, the theatre staged the first production of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini in January 1900 and introduced Roman audiences to Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, Turandot and Il trittico, Richard Wagner’s Parsifal and Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov among other compositions that would become famous.

More reading:

How one opera was the making of Mascagni

Why Leoncavallo's Pagliacci is one of the world's favourite operas

Hooligans wreck the Rome premiere of The Barber of Seville

Also on this day:

1874: The birth of politician and winemaker Luigi Einaudi

1926: The birth of controversial playwright Dario Fo

1934: The birth of photographer Mimmo Jodice

(Picture credit: Teatro Costanzi by Lalupa)

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23 March 2019

23 March

Benito Mussolini and the birth of the Italian Fascists


Milan rally in 1919 launched the National Fascist Party

Italy's notorious dictator Benito Mussolini officially formed what would become known as the National Fascist Party on this day in 1919 at a rally in Milan's Piazza San Sepolcro. A war veteran and former socialist activist who had moved towards a more nationalist political stance, Mussolini initially drew his followers together as the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Group). This group evolved into the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF) two years later, sweeping to power in 1922 when King Victor Emmanuel III, fearing civil war after 30,000 of Mussolini's supporters, the Blackshirts, marched on Rome, asked Mussolini to form a government.
The son of a blacksmith, Mussolini had been a leading figure in the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) and edited the left-wing newspaper Avanti. But he was expelled by the PSI because of his opposition to the party's neutral stance on the First World War and became disillusioned with orthodox socialism. Read more…

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Ugo Tognazzi - comic actor


Achieved international fame through La Cage aux Folles

Ugo Tognazzi, the actor who achieved international fame in the film La Cage aux Folles, was born on this day in 1922 in Cremona. Renowned for his wide repertoire in portraying comic characters, Tognazzi made more than 62 films and worked with many of Italy's top directors. Along with Vittorio Gassman, Alberto Sordi and Nino Manfredi, Tognazzi was regarded as one of the four top stars of commedia all'Italiana - comedy the Italian way - in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1981 he won the award for best actor at the Cannes International Film Festival for his role in Bernardo Bertolucci's Tragedia di un Uomo Ridicolo (The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man). His work was widely acclaimed in Italy, but it was not until he was cast in the role of homosexual cabaret owner Renato Baldi in the French director Édouard Molinaro's 1979 movie La Cage Aux Folles that he became known outside Italy. Read more...

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Lorenzino de’ Medici - assassin


Mystery over motive for killing cousin

Lorenzino de’ Medici, who became famous for the assassination of his cousin, the Florentine ruler Alessandro de’ Medici, was born on this day in 1514 in Florence. The killing took place on the evening of January 6, 1537, after Lorenzino had lured Alessandro to his apartments in Florence on the promise of a night of passion with a woman who had agreed to meet him there. Lorenzino, sometimes known as Lorenzaccio, left Alessandro alone, promising to return with the woman in question only to come back instead with his servant, Piero. They attacked Alessandro with swords and daggers and killed him. In a written defence of his crime, Lorenzino claimed he committed the crime out of a love of liberty, ridding Florence of a leader generally acknowledged as a tyrant, but some historians believe he had other, less noble motives. Read more...

22 March 2019

22 March

'La Castiglione' – model and secret agent


Beautiful woman helped the cause of Italian unification

Virginia Oldoini, who became known as La Castiglione, was born on this day in 1837 in Florence. At the age of 17 she married the Count of Castiglione, who was 12 years older than her. Her cousin was Camillo, Count of Cavour, who was the prime minister to Victor Emmanuel II, the King of Sardinia, later to become the first King of a united Italy. When the Countess travelled with her husband to Paris in 1855, Cavour asked her to plead the cause of Italian unity with Napoleon III. In time, she became Napoleon III’s mistress and as his confidante was able to influence Franco-Italian political relations. After their relationship ended, she settled in France, where she modelled for photographers and formed liaisons with aristocrats, financiers and politicians while cultivating the image of a mysterious femme fatale, even persuading the German leader Otto Von Bismarck not to occupy Paris. Read more…

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Michele Sindona - fraudster and killer


Failed banker ordered murder of investigating lawyer

The shadowy banker Michele Sindona, who had links to underworld figures in Italy and America as well as prominent politicians, died in hospital in the Lombardy town of Voghera on this day in 1986. His death in his prison cell, attributed to cyanide poisoning, came four days after he had been sentenced to life imprisonment for ordering the killing of a lawyer investigating the collapse of his $450 million financial empire. His own lawyer claimed he had been murdered but the circumstances of his death pointed towards suicide. During his chequered career, which also saw him sentenced to 25 years' jail in America for fraud following the failure of the Franklin National Bank on Long Island, Sindona had links with Mafia bosses in Sicily and New York, with the illegal Propaganda Due masonic lodge, the controversial head of the Vatican Bank, Paul Marcinkus, and Roberto Calvi, whose body was found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1980 following the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano, of which he was president. Read more...

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Nino Manfredi - actor and director


Totò fan became maestro of commedia all’Italiana

The actor and director Saturnino ‘Nino’ Manfredi, who would become known as the last great actor of the commedia all’Italiana genre, was born on this day in 1921 in Castro dei Volsci in Lazio. Manfredi made more than 100 movies, often playing marginalised working-class figures in the bittersweet comedies that characterised the genre, which frequently tackled important social issues and poked irreverent fun at some of the more absurd aspects of Italian life, in particular the suffocating influence of the church. As a favourite of directors such as Dino Risi, Luigi Comencini, Ettore Scola and Franco Brusati, he realised his dream of following in the footsteps of his boyhood idol Totò, the Neapolitan comic actor whose eccentric characters took enormous liberties in mocking Italian institutions. Along with Ugo Tognazzi, Vittorio Gassman and Alberto Sordi he was seen as a true maestro of commedia all’Italiana. Read more...

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21 March 2019

21 March

Alberto Marvelli - Rimini's Good Samaritan


Heroic deeds helped victims of bombing raids

Alberto Marvelli, who came to be seen as a modern day Good Samaritan after risking his life repeatedly to help the victims of devastating air raids in the Second World War, was born on this day in 1918 in Ferrara. He died in 1946 at the age of only 28 when he was hit by a truck while riding his bicycle but in his short life identified himself to many as a true hero. Marvelli's acts of heroism occurred mainly in Rimini, his adopted home town, which suffered heavy bombing from the Allies due to its proximity to the German defensive fortifications known as the Gothic or Green Line. As well as giving aid and comfort to the wounded and dying and to those whose homes and possessions had been destroyed, Marvelli also rescued many Rimini citizens from trains destined for concentration camps. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004. Read more…

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Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinello – Educator


Nun who promoted the rights of girls to a quality education

The Feast Day of Saint Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinello, who founded the Benedictine Sisters of Providence, is celebrated on this day, the anniversary of her death in 1858. Benedetta carried out pioneering work by rescuing poor and abandoned girls and promoting their rights to a good education. She was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002. Benedetta was born in 1791 in Genoa but her family later moved to Pavia. She dedicated herself to the education of young girls who had been abandoned or who were at risk in the area, eventually opening a school. She later founded the Congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of Providence, which concentrated on the education of young girls. Read more...

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Angela Merici – Saint


Nun dedicated her life to educating girls

Angela Merici, who founded the monastic Ursuline Order, was born on this day in 1474 in Desenzano del Garda. The Ursulines are the oldest order of women in the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to teaching and were the first to work outside a convent in the community. Merici became deeply religious after she was orphaned at 15. It is claimed she became suddenly blind on the island of Crete on her way to the Holy Land but was cured of her blindness on her return, while praying at exactly the same place.  where she had been afflicted. Merici and 28 of her followers formed the Company of St Ursula, named after a fourth century martyr, in 1535. Their idea was to provide for the Christian education of girls in order to restore the family and, through the family, the whole of Christian society. Merici was beatified in 1768 and canonised in 1807. Read more…

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Pope Pius VII crowned

Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Pope Pius VII, which is kept at the Louvre in Paris
Jacques-Louis David's portrait of Pope Pius VII,
which is kept at the Louvre in Paris

Last papal conclave to take place outside Rome


Barnaba Niccolo Maria Luigi Chiaramonti was crowned Pope Pius VII on this day in 1800 in Venice.

A papier-mâché version of the papal tiara had to be used as the French Revolutionary army had taken the original with them when they took the previous pope, Pius VI, to France as a prisoner.

French troops under Napoleon Bonaparte had invaded Rome in 1796 and seized Pius VI, who was taken to Valence, where he died in 1799.

The conclave to elect his successor met on 30 November that year in the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio in Venice. This was because Pius VI had issued an ordinance in 1798 saying that the city where the largest number of cardinals were to be found at the time of his death was to be the scene of the subsequent election. When he died there were 34 cardinals in Venice and others soon joined them.

After the conclave had lasted three months and the cardinals had been unable to agree on a successor, Chiaramonti was suggested as a compromise candidate and was elected. It was the last conclave to be held outside Rome.

The arrest of Pius VII in Rome in 1809, after which he remained in exile until 1814
The arrest of Pius VII in Rome in 1809, after which
he remained in exile until 1814
He was crowned in Venice on March 21 and then left the city by sea to return to Rome.

Chiaramonti was born in 1742 in Cesena, then part of the Papal States. He became a Benedictine and later was made Cardinal and Bishop of Imola by Pius VI, who was one of his relatives.

After his election, Pius VII wanted to make peace with Napoleon and negotiated the Concordat of 1801, which established reorganisation of the dioceses and declared Roman Catholicism as France’s chief religion.

But it was not long before his relationship with Napoleon deteriorated. Rome was occupied by French troops in 1808 and Napoleon declared the Papal States annexed to France.

Pius VII excommunicated the invaders in 1809 but was then taken prisoner by them and remained in exile until 1814.

After his release, Pius VII was greatly acclaimed on his journey back to Rome. The Congress of Vienna held between 1814 and 1815 restored nearly all the Papal States, including Rome, to him.

Pius VII died in 1823 after fracturing his hip in a fall in the papal apartments. After being briefly interred in the Vatican grottoes, Pope Pius VII was buried inside a tomb in St Peter’s Basilica.

In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI granted Pius VII the title, Servant of God.

The Basilica and former monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore is one of the most famous features of the Venetian lagoon
The Basilica and former monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore
is one of the most famous features of the Venetian lagoon
Travel tip:

The San Giorgio monastery, where the election of Pius VII took place, was a Benedictine monastery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. It stands next to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. The monastery building currently serves as the headquarters of the Cini Foundation, a cultural foundation set up in 1951 in memory of Count Giorgio Cini. The church itself was designed by Andrea Palladio, and built between 1566 and 1610 in the classical Renaissance style. Its brilliant white marble gleams above the blue water of the lagoon.

Venice hotels from Hotels.com

The reading room at the Biblioteca Maltestiana in Cesena, which was the first public library in Europe
The reading room at the Biblioteca Maltestiana in Cesena,
which was the first public library in Europe
Travel tip:

Cesena, the birthplace of Pope Pius VII, is a city in Emilia-Romagna, south of Ravenna and west of Rimini. One of the main sights in the town is the 15th century Biblioteca Maltestiana, which houses many valuable manuscripts and was the first public library in Europe. It is now a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. The city's castle, the Rocca Malatestiana, was used by Cesare Borgia as a jail for Caterina Sforza. It is octagonal, with two main towers.

Find a hotel in Cesena with TripAdvisor

More reading:

The papal appointment that sparked the Western Schism

The pope who excommunicated Henry VIII

How ruthless Sixtus V cleaned up Rome's criminal underworld

Also on this day:

The Feast Day of Saint Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinello

1474: The birth of Saint Angela Merici

1918: The birth of Alberto Marvelli, Rimini's wartime 'Good Samaritan'

(Picture credits: San Giorgio by Nau Kofi; Cesena library by Boschetti marco 65; via Wikimedia Commons)

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20 March 2019

20 March

Azeglio Vicini - 1990 World Cup coach


Semi-final heartbreak ended dream of victory on home soil

Azeglio Vicini, the coach who led Italy to the semi-finals when the nation hosted the 1990 World Cup finals, was born in Cesena in Emilia-Romagna, on this day in 1934. Vicini succeeded World Cup winner Enzo Bearzot as coach in 1986 with the onerous brief of winning the tournament on home soil, which Italy’s football hierarchy almost expected to happen. On the bedrock of a formidable defence comprising Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Giuseppe Bergomi and Riccardo Ferri, Vicini built an exciting team around such talented individuals such as Roberto Mancini, Giuseppe Giannini, Roberto Donadoni, Gianluca Vialli and the brilliant Roberto Baggio, and made an inspired choice by picking the largely unproven Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci, to lead his attack. Yet Italy ultimately failed, going out at the semi-final stage to Argentina after a penalty shoot-out at the Sao Paolo Stadium in Naples. Read more…

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Fulco di Verdura - jeweller


Exclusive brand favoured by stars and royalty

The man behind the exclusive jewellery brand Verdura was born Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, Duke of Verdura, on this day in 1898 in Palermo. Usually known as Fulco di Verdura, he founded the Verdura company in 1939, when he opened a shop on Fifth Avenue in New York and became one of the premier jewellery designers of the 20th century.  Among his clients were the Duchess of Windsor - the former socialite Wallis Simpson - and stars such as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Paulette Goddard, Millicent Rogers and Marlene Dietrich.  The most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction, the so-called Oppenheimer Blue diamond, which changed hands at Christie's in Geneva for $50.6 million (£34.7 million) in 2016, was set in a ring designed by Verdura. Read more…

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Giampiero Moretti - entrepreneur racing driver


Gentleman racer behind ubiquitous Momo accessories brand

Giampiero Moretti, a motor racing enthusiast who made his fortune almost literally by reinventing the wheel, was born on this day in 1940 in Milan. Known as 'the last of the gentleman racers' because of his unfailing courtesy, refined manners and an unquenchable determination to succeed on the track, Moretti made a profound mark on the sport through his ergonomic rethink of the racecar steering wheel. Steering wheels were traditionally large and made of steel or polished wood but Moretti saw that reducing the diameter of the wheel would cut the effort needed by the driver to steer the car, while by covering the wheel with leather it would improve the driver's grip.  His big break came when Ferrari invited him to design a leather wheel for their Formula One car, on the back of which Moretti acquired a small factory premises near Verona and set up the company, Momo. Read more…

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19 March 2019

19 March

Mario Monti – prime minister


‘Super Mario’ stepped in during debt crisis

Economist Mario Monti, who was prime minister of Italy from 2011 to 2013, was born on this day in 1943 in Varese in Lombardy. Monti was invited by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano to form a new government after the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi in November 2011 in the middle of the European debt crisis.  Monti, who was the 54th prime minister of Italy, led a government of unelected technocrats, who introduced austerity measures in Italy. He had been a European Commissioner from 1994 to 1999, where he obtained the nickname ‘Super Mario’ from his colleagues and the Press. As part of his government’s plan to tackle worsening economic conditions in Italy, Monti worked without a salary. He resigned as prime minister after the 2012 Budget was passed, as he had always pledged he would do. Read more…

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Giuseppe Mercalli - seismologist 

Scientist who invented Mercalli scale died in fire

The seismologist and volcanologist Giuseppe Mercalli, who at the time of his death was director of the Vesuvius Observatory, died in a fire at his home in Naples on this day in 1914. The initial suspicion was that Mercalli, best known for devising a scale - still used today - for determining the strength of earthquakes according to the intensity of shaking, had knocked over a paraffin lamp accidentally after falling asleep while working late. However, an examination of his remains suggested by may have been strangled after disturbing an intruder, who then soaked his clothes in petrol before setting light to them. A sum of money worth the equivalent of $1,400 (€1,250) today was missing, although no one was ever apprehended for the crime. Born in Milan, Mercalli was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. Read more...

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Benito Jacovitti - cartoonist


Multiple comic characters loved by generations 

Benito Jacovitti, who would become Italy's most famous cartoonist, was born on this day in 1923 in the Adriatic coastal town of Termoli. Jacovitti drew for a number of satirical magazines and several newspapers but also produced much work aimed at children and young adults. His characters became the constant companions of generations of schoolchildren for more than 30 years via the pages of Diario Vitt, the school diary produced by the publishers of the Catholic comic magazine Il Vittorioso, which had a huge readership among teenagers and young adults. He gave life to such characters as "the three Ps" - Pippo, Pertica and Pallo - as well as Chicchiriccì and Jack Mandolino via their cartoon adventures in Il Vittorioso, introduced Zorry Kid, a parody of Zorro, and the cowboy Cocco Bill. Read more...

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Francesco Gasparini – musician and writer


Opera composer who gave Vivaldi a job

Francesco Gasparini, one of the great Baroque composers, was born on this day in 1661 in Camaiore near Lucca in Tuscany. Gasparini also worked as a music teacher and was musical director of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice for about 15 years, where he made the inspired decision to employ a 25-year-old Antonio Vivaldi as a violin master. By the age of 17, Gasparini was a member of the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna. He moved to Rome, where he studied under the musicians Arcangelo Corelli and Bernardo Pasquini. After arriving in Venice in 1702, he became one of the leading composers in the city. Appointed in 1703, Vivaldi composed most of his major works while working at the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage where young girls were given a musical education. Read more...

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Giuseppe Mercalli - seismologist

Giuseppe Mercalli became southern Europe's biggest authority on earthquakes and volcanic activity
Giuseppe Mercalli became southern Europe's biggest
authority on earthquakes and volcanic activity

Scientist who invented Mercalli Scale died in fire


The seismologist and volcanologist Giuseppe Mercalli, who at the time of his death was director of the Vesuvius Observatory, died in a fire at his home in Naples on this day in 1914.

The initial suspicion was that Mercalli, who devised a scale for determining the strength of earthquakes according to the intensity of shaking, had knocked over a paraffin lamp accidentally after falling asleep while working late.

However, an examination of his remains suggested by may have been strangled after disturbing an intruder, who then soaked his clothes in petrol before setting light to them. A sum of money worth the equivalent of $1,400 (€1,250) today was missing, although no one was ever apprehended for the crime.

Born in Milan, Mercalli was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and became a professor of Natural Sciences at the seminary of Milan, although he left under something of a cloud because of his support for Antonio Rosmini, a controversial priest and philosopher who campaigned for social justice and was fiercely critical of various aspects of how the Roman Catholic church operated.

Mercalli collecting data on the edge of the crater of Vesuvius, with an aide on hand to keep him from falling
Mercalli collecting data on the edge of the crater of Vesuvius,
with an aide on hand to keep him from falling
After he had left, the Italian government appointed him a professor at Domodossola in Piedmont, followed by a post at Reggio di Calabria. He was professor of geology at the University of Catania in the late 1880s and was given a post at the Naples University in 1892. He became director of the Vesuvius Observatory in 1911.

He is best remembered for the Mercalli intensity scale for measuring earthquakes which, in modified form, is still used today.

While studying seismic activity in Italy in the late 19th century, Mercalli’s access to seismic instrumentation was limited. Most of Mercalli's information came from personal accounts and observations of damage. To provide consistency in his analyses, he decided he needed a way to measure the relative effects of each event.

He first developed a scale with six degrees, with the most disastrous earthquakes given an intensity of six, but felt that this did not provide enough precision.  Another intensity scale called the deRossi-Forel scale that was gaining in prominence at the same time had the advantage of 10 degrees of intensity, although Mercalli felt it lacked meaningful description.

Mercalli was ordained as a priest before beginning his scientific career
Mercalli was ordained as a priest before
beginning his scientific career
In 1902, Mercalli modified this 10-degree scale to include the detail he desired, and his new scale quickly caught on among European scientists

Mercalli also observed eruptions of the volcanoes Stromboli and Vulcano in the Aeolian Islands and his descriptions of these eruptions became the basis for two indices in the Volcanic Explosivity Index: 1 - Strombolian eruption, and 2 - Vulcanian eruption.

The scale has been tweaked by various other seismologists but remains the basis for determining an earthquake’s intensity. It is now known as the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale.

Mercalli also engaged in detailed cataloguing of Italian earthquakes, which enabled him to produce a book - I vulcani e fénomeni vulcanici in Italia - which he used to assemble a clear picture of where most of the events happened.

Mercalli's work built his reputation across southern Europe, and he was often called upon to study events throughout the continent.  He travelled to Spain in 1884 to examine the aftermath of the Andalusian earthquake, and in 1887 Mercalli was the lead investigator of the deadly event in Imperia along the French and Italian Riviera.

He became famous even beyond scientific circles, to the extent that his death and the speculation over the circumstances was reported in the New York Times.

Some fascinating buildings line Piazza Mercato in the  medieval heart of Domodossola
Some fascinating buildings line Piazza Mercato in the
medieval heart of Domodossola
Travel tip:

The name Domodossola is familiar to many Italian children as a line - ‘D’ is for Domodossola - recited in learning the alphabet at school. It is, in fact, a very pleasant town in northern Piedmont, close to the border with Switzerland and the last town at the Italian end of the Simplon Pass and the Simplon railway tunnel. Domodossola has a charming medieval centre around the Piazza Mercato, which has a number of interesting buildings. The Collegiale Church of Santi Gervasio and Protasio is the town’s most important church, while just outside the town is the Sacro Monte Calvario, a Roman Catholic sanctuary that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Palazzo Silva in Piazza Chiossi houses a civic museum. The area is surrounded by outstanding Alpine countryside, which can be admired from a light railway linking Domodossola and Locarno in Switzerland.

Hotels in Domodossola from Hotels.com

The vast crater of Mount Vesuvius, which remains classified as an active volcano despite being quiet since 1944
The vast crater of Mount Vesuvius, which remains classified
as an active volcano despite being quiet since 1944
Travel tip:

The Vesuvius Observatory today is part of the Mount Vesuvius National Park, which was created in 1955. The crater of the volcano itself is accessible to visitors, albeit by guided tour only, and there is a road to within 200 metres of it, but after that the ascent is on foot only.  The crater is about 200 metres deep and has a maximum diameter of about 600 metres. The climb is said to be well worth it because the view takes in the entire coastline from the Gulf of Gaeta, some 84km (52 miles) to the north, to the Sorrento peninsula. Visitors can take the Naples-Sorrento line of the Circumvesuviana railway and get off at Ercolano station, from where a shuttle bus runs to the park. As well as the observatory, there is a museum, a visitor centre, a restaurant and a shop where you can buy Lacrima Christi del Vesuvio, the wine made from the grapes grown on the sloped of the volcano.

Naples hotels from Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

1944 - the last Vesuvius eruption

How Italy's worst earthquake almost destroyed Messina and Reggio Calabria

The devastating quake that led to an architectural golden age

Also on this day:

1661: The birth of Venetian composer Francesco Gasparini, who gave Vivaldi a job

1923: The birth of cartoonist Benito Jacovitti

1943: The birth of politician Mario Monti, who was Italy’s prime minister from 2011 to 2013

(Picture credits: Mercalli on slopes of Vesuvius by Sailko; Domodossola by Little Joe; Vesuvius crater by S J Pinkney)

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18 March 2019

18 March

Mount Vesuvius – the 1944 eruption


The last time the volcano was seen to blow its top

Mount Vesuvius, the huge volcano looming over the bay of Naples, erupted on this day in 1944. Vesuvius is the only volcano on mainland Europe to have erupted during the last 100 years and is a constant worry because of its history of explosive eruptions and the large number of people living close by. It is most famous for its eruption in AD 79, which buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and is believed to have killed thousands of people. There were at least three larger eruptions of Vesuvius before AD 79 and there have been many since, including one in 1631 that buried villages under lava flows and killed about 300 people. The 1944 went on for several days, destroying three villages nearby and about 80 planes belonging to the US Army Air Forces, which were based at an airfield close to Pompeii. Read more...

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The Five Days of Milan


Citizens rebel to drive out ruling Austrians

The Five Days of Milan, one of the most significant episodes of the Risorgimento, began on this day in 1848 as the citizens of Milan rebelled against Austrian rule. More than 400 Milanese citizens were killed and a further 600 wounded but after five days of street battles the Austrian commander, Marshal Josef Radetzky, withdrew his 13,000 troops from the city. The 'Cinque Giornate' uprising sparked the First Italian War of Independence between the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Austrian Empire, which ruled much of northern Italy in the early part of the 19th century and they maintained a harsh regime. The Milan riots followed the imposition of tax increases and the use of soldiers to ensure that everybody paid. Soon after the Milan riots, an insurrection in Venice also succeeded in ejecting Austrian forces. By March 23, Charles Albert of Savoy had declared war on Austria. Read more...

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Bobby Solo - pop singer


Sixties star found fame after Sanremo disqualification

Bobby Solo, who was twice winner of Italy's prestigious Sanremo Festival yet had his biggest hit with a song that was disqualified, was born Roberto Satti on this day in 1945 in Rome. Solo won the contest in 1965 and 1969 but it was the controversy over his 1964 entry that thrust him into the spotlight. The format for the competition, which aims to select the best song rather than the best artist, requires each entry to be sung by two artists, one a native Italian, the other an international guest star. In 1964, Solo was paired with the American singer Frankie Laine but was stricken with a throat problem. Rather than withdraw, he sang the song with the help of a backing track, only to be told afterwards that this was against the rules. The song - Una lacrima sul viso (A Tear on Your Face) - was disqualified but attracted such attention that it became the first record in Italy to sell more than a million copies, setting Solo on the way to a highly successful career. Read more...

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17 March 2019

17 March

Gabriele Ferzetti - actor


Starred in classic Italian films as well as Bond movie

The actor Gabriele Ferzetti, best known to international audiences for his role in the 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but in Italy for the Michelangelo Antonioni classic L’Avventura (1960), was born on this day in 1925 in Rome. Rarely idle, he made more than 160 films and appeared in countless TV dramas and was still working at 85 years old.
His intense performance as Antonioni’s wealthy yet unfulfilled playboy opposite Monica Vitti in L’Avventura was the role that identified him most as an actor of considerable talent, yet he was also memorable as the unscrupulous Morton, the railroad magnate who hobbled around on crutches in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), and as Marc Ange-Draco, the sophisticated Mafia boss who joins forces with James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was George Lazenby’s only outing as 007. Read more…

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Giovanni Trapattoni - football coach


His seven Serie A titles is unequalled achievement

Giovanni Trapattoni, the former Juventus and Internazionale coach who is one of only four coaches to have won the principal league titles of four different European countries, was born on this day in 1939 in Cusano Milanino, a suburb on the northern perimeter of Milan. The most successful club coach in the history of Serie A, he won seven titles, six with Juventus and one with Inter. Trapattoni has also won the German Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, the Portuguese Primeira Liga with Benfica and the Austrian Bundesliga with Red Bull Salzburg. Trapattoni is one of only two coaches to have won all three major European club competitions - the European Cup, the UEFA Cup and the now defunct European Cup-Winners' Cup - and the only one to do it with the same club. Read more…

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Innocenzo Manzetti - inventor


Made prototype telephone 33 years ahead of Bell

The inventor Innocenzo Manzetti, credited by some scientific historians as having been the creator of a forerunner of the telephone many years ahead of his compatriot Antonio Meucci and the Scottish-American Alexander Graham Bell, was born on this day in 1826 in Aosta, in northwest Italy. Manzetti's extraordinary catalogue of inventions included a steam-powered car, a hydraulic water pump, a pendulum watch that would keep going for a whole year and a robot that could play the flute. But he was a man whose creative talents were not allied to business sense.  Like Meucci, a Florentine emigrant to New York who demonstrated a telephone-like device in 1860 - 16 years before Bell was granted the patent - Manzetti did not patent his device and therefore missed out on the fortune that came the way of Bell. Read more…

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Kingdom of Italy proclaimed


First King of Italy calls himself Victor Emmanuel II

The newly-unified Kingdom of Italy was officially proclaimed on this day in 1861 in Turin. The first Italian parliament to meet in the city confirmed Victor Emmanuel as the first King of the new country. It was the monarch's own choice to call himself Victor Emmanuel II, rather than Victor Emmanuel I. This immediately provoked criticism from some factions, who took it as implying that Italy had always been ruled by the House of Savoy.  Victor Emmanuel I, with whom Victor Emmanuel II had ancestral links, had been King of Sardinia - ruled by the Dukes of Savoy - from 1802 until his death in 1824. Victor Emmanuel II had become King of Sardinia in 1849 after his father, Charles Albert, abdicated. The Kingdom of Sardinia is considered to be the legal predecessor to the Kingdom of Italy. Indeed, the new king appointed Count Camillo Benso of Cavour, who had been prime minister of Sardinia-Piedmont, as the first prime minister of the united Italy. Read more...

Gabriele Ferzetti - actor

Starred in classic Italian films as well as Bond movie


Gabriele Ferzetti appeared in more than 160 movies and many TV dramas
Gabriele Ferzetti appeared in more than 160
movies and many TV dramas
The actor Gabriele Ferzetti, best known to international audiences for his role in the 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but in Italy for the Michelangelo Antonioni classic L’Avventura (1960), was born on this day in 1925 in Rome.

Ferzetti, who cut a naturally elegant and debonair appearance, was the go-to actor for handsome, romantic leads in the early part of his career and although he was ultimately eclipsed to some extent by Marcello Mastroianni, he seemed equally content with prominent supporting roles. Rarely idle, he made more than 160 films and appeared in countless TV dramas and was still working at 85 years old.

His intense performance as Antonioni’s wealthy yet unfulfilled playboy opposite Lea Massari and Monica Vitti in L’Avventura was the role that identified him most as an actor of considerable talent. Ferzetti had played a similar character in another Antonioni classic Le amiche (1955).

Outside Italian cinema, he was memorable as the unscrupulous Morton, the railroad magnate who hobbled around on crutches in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), and as Marc Ange-Draco, the sophisticated Mafia boss who joins forces with James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was George Lazenby’s only outing as 007.

With Lea Massari in his most famous role in the  Antonioni classic L'Avventura
With Lea Massari in his most famous role in the
Antonioni classic L'Avventura
Although Ferzetti spoke very good English, his accent was heavily Italian and he was dubbed in both roles.

In Rome, Ferzetti won a scholarship to attend the Silvio d’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Art, although his studies were abruptly cut short when he was expelled for appearing with a professional theatrical troupe.

It did not set him back too severely. After playing the young shepherd Sylvius in Luchino Visconti’s 1948 stage production of As You Like It, he won small roles in several films and quickly worked his way up to becoming a leading man.

The first movie to bring him wide recognition was Mario Soldati’s La provinciale (1953), which was packaged for English-speaking audiences as The Wayward Wife. Despite the nature of the production as a vehicle for the rising star Gina Lollobrigida in the title role, Ferzetti was superb as her bespectacled science professor husband.

Monica Vitti in another scene from L'Avventura
Monica Vitti in another scene from L'Avventura
In the same year he landed the title role in the big-budget production Puccini, directed by Carmine Gallone, in which he portrayed the philandering Italian opera composer from his student days to a man in his 80s. He was Puccini again in House of Ricordi (1954), about the music-publishing house.

Ferzetti was first cast by Antonioni in Le Amiche (The Girl Friends) (1955), which won a Silver Lion at the Venice film festival.

When Antonioni summoned him again for L’Avventura, it ended a five-year period of rather mediocre films that did Ferzetti no favours, so the chance to play his weak and disillusioned character, a failed architect whose lover disappears while they are sharing a sailing trip around Sicily with wealthy friends, could not have come at a more opportune moment. L’Avventura won the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Ferzetti was acclaimed for his portrayal of the the playboy composer Giacomo Puccini
Ferzetti was acclaimed for his portrayal of the
the playboy composer Giacomo Puccini
His career still had a long time to run but the consensus is that nothing Ferzetti did in subsequent films stood up particularly well next to his performance in L’Avventura, although his Draco, the gentlemanly mafia boss who helps Bond track down his arch-enemy Blofeld, was a memorable character.

Ferzetti was hailed later for his portrayal of a psychiatrist trying to cover up his Nazi past in Liliana Cavani’s controversial The Night Porter (1974), a study of a sadomasochistic relationship between another former Nazi (Dirk Bogarde) and the woman he raped in a concentration camp (Charlotte Rampling).

By the 1990s, Ferzetti was appearing more frequently on television but there were still a few big-screen triumphs to come, notably as the Duke of Venice in Oliver Parker’s Othello and, in 2009, by which time he was 84, as the head of a wealthy Milanese industrial family in Io sono l’amore - I Am Love - directed by Luca Guadagnino.

Married twice and with a daughter, Anna, Ferzetti died in December 2015 at the age of 90.

Parioli's tree-lined boulevards make it one of the most attractive residential areas in Rome
Parioli's tree-lined boulevards make it one of the most
attractive residential areas in Rome
Travel tip:

Rome’s Silvio D’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Art, which has been attended by many aspiring actors, can be found in Via Vincenzo Bellini where it meets Via Guido d’Arezzo in the Parioli district of Rome, between the Villa Borghese gardens and the vast Parco di Villa Ada. It was opened in 1936. D'Amico, a theatre critic and writer who was a friend of Nobel prize winner Luigi Pirandello and French theatre director Jacques Copeau, was appointed Special Commissioner for the reform of the drama school and led the academy for many years.The academy now has university status.  Parioli is regarded as Rome’s most elegant residential area.

Travel tip:

L’Avventura was filmed partly on location in the Aeolian Islands, a cluster of eight small islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily. The best known is undoubtedly Stromboli, an active volcano known as the ‘lighthouse of the Mediterranean’ on account of the molten lava that streams down the side of the visible 3,000ft (914m) of the mountain with every eruption, of which there are many. The largest of the islands is Lipari, which has a population of 12,000 people and is not unlike Capri in appearance, but with a fraction of the tourists. Salina, famed for its capers and sweet Malvasia wine, was used for the movie Il Postino while Panarea, which has a resident population of only 280, has become a fashionable celebrity hang-out. Yachts owned by Giorgio Armani and Roman Abramovich have regularly been spotted in the small harbour.

More reading:

Michelangelo Antonioni - the 'last great' of postwar Italian cinema

How enigmatic beauty Monica Vitti also excelled in comedy roles

Marcello Mastroianni - the film star who immortalised the Trevi Fountain

Also on the day:

1826: The birth of inventor Innocenzo Manzetti

1861: The newly-created Kingdom of Italy is proclaimed in Turin

1939: The birth of football coach Giovanni Trapattoni


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