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.

28 February 2019

28 February

Mario Andretti – racing driver


American champion was born and grew up in Italy

Mario Andretti, who won the 1978 Formula One World Championship driving as an American, was born on this day in 1940 in Montona, about 35km (22 miles) south of Trieste in what was then Istria in the Kingdom of Italy.  Andretti is the only driver in motor racing history to have won an Indianapolis 500, a Daytona 500 and an F1 world title, and one of only two to have won races in F1, Indy Car, NASCAR and the World Sportscar Championship. The last American to win an F1 Grand Prix, he clinched the 1978 F1 title at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. Read more…

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Karl Zuegg - jam and juice maker


Businessman turned family farm into international company

Karl Zuegg, the businessman who turned his family's fruit-farming expertise into one of Italy's major producers of jams and juices, was born on this day in 1915 in Lana, a town in what is now the autonomous province of Bolzano in Trento-Alto Adige. His grandparents, Maria and Ernst August Zuech - they changed their name to Zuegg in 1903 - had been cultivating fruit on their farm since 1860, when Lana was part of South Tyrol in what was then Austria-Hungary.  Zuegg and the company's other major brand names, Skipper and Fruttaviva, are among the most recognisable in the fruit products market in Italy. Read more…

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Dino Zoff – footballer


Long career of a record-breaking goalkeeper

Dino Zoff, the oldest footballer to be part of a World Cup winning team, was born on this day in 1942 in Mariano del Friuli in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.  Zoff was captain of the Italian national team in the final of the World Cup in Spain in 1982 at the age of 40 years, four months and 13 days. He also won the award for best goalkeeper of the tournament, in which he kept two clean sheets and made a number of important saves. In club football, Zoff spent 11 years with Juventus, whom he joined in 1972, winning the Serie A championship six times, the Coppa Italia twice and the UEFA Cup once. Read more...

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27 February 2019

27 February

Franco Moschino - fashion designer 


Made clothes with sense of humour

The fashion designer Franco Moschino, founder of the Moschino fashion label, was born on this day in 1950 in Abbiategrasso, a town about 24km (15 miles) southwest of Milan.  Moschino became famous for his innovative and irreverent designs, which injected humour into high fashion. For example, he created a miniskirt in quilted denim with plastic fried eggs decorating the hemline, a jacket studded with bottle tops and a suit covered with cutlery. He designed a dress that resembled a shopping bag and a ball gown made from black plastic bin bags. Read more...

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Simone Di Pasquale – dancer


Ballroom talent has been springboard for business success

Ballroom dancer and television celebrity Simone Di Pasquale was born on this day in 1978. In 2005, he became a household name after he started to appear regularly on Italian television in Ballando con le Stelle - the equivalent of the US show Dancing with the Stars and Britain’s Strictly Come Dancing. The show, presented by Milly Carlucci, is broadcast on Saturday evenings on the tv channel Rai Uno. Pasquale has also appeared in numerous other television programmes, on stage in musical theatre and as an actor in a television drama. Read more…

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Italy's appeal for help with Leaning Tower


Fears of collapse prompted summit of engineers

The Italian government finally admitted that it needed help to save the Leaning Tower of Pisa from collapsing on this day in 1964.  There had been numerous attempts to arrest the movement of the tower, which had begun to tilt five years after construction began in 1173. One side of the tower started to sink after engineers added a second floor in 1178, when the mistake of setting a foundation just three metres deep in weak, unstable soil became clear. Despite several interventions, by 1964, the top of the 180ft (55m) tower was a staggering 17 feet out of alignment with the base. Read more…

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Mirella Freni – opera singer


Good advice from Gigli helped soprano have long career

Singer Mirella Freni was born Mirella Fregni on this day in 1935 in Modena in Emilia-Romagna.  Freni’s grandmother, Valentina Bartolomasi, had been a leading soprano in Italy from 1910 until 1927. By coincidence, her mother worked alongside the mother of tenor Luciano Pavarotti in a tobacco factory in Modena. After singing in a radio competition when she was just 10 years old, the tenor Beniamino Gigli advised her to give up singing until she was older to protect her voice. Freni took his advice and resumed singing when she was 17, making her operatic debut at the Teatro Municipale in Modena at the age of 20 in Bizet’s Carmen, and did not retire until more than 50 years later. Read more...


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Franco Moschino - fashion designer

Made clothes with sense of humour


Moschino was famous for his outlandish designs, poking fun  at aspects of the fashion world he considered too serious
Moschino was famous for his outlandish designs, poking fun
at aspects of the fashion world he considered too serious
The fashion designer Franco Moschino, founder of the Moschino fashion label, was born on this day in 1950 in Abbiategrasso, a town about 24km (15 miles) southwest of Milan.

Moschino became famous for his innovative and irreverent designs, which injected humour into high fashion.

For example, he created a miniskirt in quilted denim with plastic fried eggs decorating the hemline, a jacket studded with bottle tops and a suit covered with cutlery. He designed a dress that resembled a shopping bag and a ball gown made from black plastic bin bags.

Other designs carried messages mocking his own industry, such as a jacket with the motif ‘Waist of Money’ printed round the waistband, another in cashmere with ‘Expensive Jacket’ emblazoned across the back and a shirt with the words ‘I’m Full of Shirt’.

A Moschino blouse styled to look like a dart board
A Moschino blouse styled to look
like a dart board
Moschino’s first collections focussed on casual clothes and jeans, but he eventually branched out into lingerie, eveningwear, shoes, menswear and perfumes.

As a young man, Moschino was encouraged to believe that his destiny lay in taking over his father’s iron foundry but his only interest in the plant lay in the layers of dust that clung to the walls, in which he would make drawings.

He wanted to be a painter and at the age of 18 ran away to Milan and enrolled himself at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera and the Istituto Marangoni school of design.

To finance his studies, he worked as a freelance fashion illustrator for fashion houses and magazines. This led to him becoming an illustrator for Gianni Versace, for whom he worked for six years.

Moschino began designing in his own right for the Italian label Cadette in 1977. He founded his own company, Moonshadow, in 1983, and soon built annual revenues in excess of £150 million.  He launched the Moschino Couture! label the same year.

His designs, which were inspired by the Surrealist movement of the 1920s, found acceptance among pop stars such as Madonna, Tina Turner, and Yoko Ono and two high-profile royal fashion icons in Princess Caroline of Monaco and Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Moschino logo adorns more than 150 boutiques across the world, with its headquarters in Milan
The Moschino logo adorns more than 150 boutiques
across the world, with its headquarters in Milan
Moschino died young, after suffering a heart attack in September 1994 at his villa at Annone di Brianza, overlooking Lake Annone, south of Lake Como. He had undergone surgery a short time previously to remove an abdominal tumour.

It came to light after his death that Moschino, who had raised money to build hospices for children with Aids, had himself contracted the disease. Moschino is buried in his family's plot at Cimitero Monumentale di Milano in Milan.

After his death, the Moschino brand was continued first under the guidance of his former assistant Rossella Jardini, and then by the American designer Jeremy Scott.

In more recent years, Moschino has designed the outfits for the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, for Kylie Minogue's 2005 Showgirl - The Greatest Hits Tour, for Madonna's 2008 Sticky & Sweet Tour and six outfits for Lady Gaga for her Born This Way Ball in 2011-2012.

The fashion house has more than 150 boutiques worldwide. Its flagship store is in Via Sant’Andrea in Milan, which bisects the famous ‘fashion street’, the Via Monte Napoleone.

Lago di Annone, where Moschino had a villa, is notable for being in two sections, divided by a peninsula
Lago di Annone, where Moschino had a villa, is notable
for being in two sections, divided by a peninsula
Travel tip:

Lago di Annone falls into the area known as Brianza, bordered by the lakeside towns of Como and Lecco and the city of Monza.  It is an area rich in hills and beautiful landscapes, parks and nature reserves that has down the centuries attracted many painters and writers. The main characteristic of Lago di Annone is that it has two sections, divided by a peninsula - the Isella peninsula - with the sections linked by a narrow canal which was once spanned by a Roman bridge carrying a road between Lecco and Como. The lake lies at the foot of Monte Cornizzolo and Monte Barro, two peaks offering marvellous views to those prepared to climb. Less challenging is a footpath around the perimeter of the lake.

Hotels in Lago di Annone from Hotels.com

The Visconti Castle, built in the 14th century, is one of the  architectural highlights of Abbiategrasso
The Visconti Castle, built in the 14th century, is one of the
architectural highlights of Abbiategrasso
Travel tip:

Moschino’s home town of Abbiategrasso prides itself on being part of the Cittaslow project - an offshoot of the Slow Food Movement - which comprises more than 140 towns around the world of 50,000 or fewer inhabitants, promoting a relaxed pace of life and and ‘an identity and community spirit in the face of the modern world’. Part of its slow living involves closing off the town centre to cars during the weekend, with citizens encouraged to use bicycles. The town is also home to the Visconti Castle, built in 1382 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti and enlarged and decorated by Filippo Maria Visconti after 1438. The nearby Basilica church of Santa Maria Nuova was built in 1388 to celebrate the birth of Gian Galeazzo Visconti's son. Abbiategrasso is also the home town of Giuseppina Tuissa, one of the partisans who captured Mussolini as he tried to flee to Switzerland in 1945.

Abbiategrasso hotels by Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

The meteoric rise of Gianni Versace

Roberto Capucci, the 'sculptor in cloth'

Giuseppina Tuissa's role in the capture of Mussolini

Also on this day:

1935: The birth of opera singer Mirella Freni

1964: Italy appeals for help to save the Leaning Tower of Pisa

1978: The birth of dancer Simone Di Pasquale

Selected books:

The Glamour of Italian Fashion Since 1945, edited by Sonnet Stanfill

(Picture credits: Lago di Annone by Cantakukuruz; Visconti Castle by Davide Papalini; via Wikimedia Commons)


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26 February 2019

26 February

Dante Ferretti – set designer


Three-times Oscar winner worked with Fellini and Scorsese

Dante Ferretti, who in more than half a century in movie production design has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won three, was born on this day in 1943 in the city of Macerata. Ferretti, who works in partnership with his wife, the set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo with whom he shared his awards, won two of his Oscars for films directed by Martin Scorsese - The Aviator (2005) and Hugo Cabret (2012) - and another Tim Burton’s 2008 film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Read more…

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Angelo Mangiarotti - architect


Iconic glass church among legacy to city of Milan 

Angelo Mangiarotti, one of the greats of modern Italian architecture and design, was born on this day in 1921 in Milan.  Many notable examples of his work in urban design can be found in his home city, including the Repubblica and Venezia underground stations, the iconic glass church of Nostra Signora della Misericordia in the Baranzate suburb and several unique residential properties, including the distinctive Casa a tre cilindri - composed of a trio of cylindrical blocks - in Via Gavirate in the San Siro district of the city. He also worked extensively in furniture design. Read more…

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Napoleon escapes from Elba


Emperor leaves idyllic island to face his Waterloo

French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from the Italian island of Elba, where he had been living in exile, on this day in 1815.  He had been sent to live in exile there the previous year following his unconditional abdication from the throne of France. Napoleon was given sovereignty over the island but he began about being moved still further from France and also missed his wife, Marie-Louise. On the evening of February 26, 1815 Napoleon and a few hundred loyal soldiers boarded small boats and sailed to a tiny fishing village near Cannes, from where they marched north to Paris. Read more...


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25 February 2019

25 February

Carlo Goldoni – playwright


Greatest Venetian dramatist still entertains audiences today

Carlo Goldoni, the author of The Servant of Two Masters, one of Italy’s most famous and best loved plays, was born on this day in 1707 in Venice. Goldoni became a prolific dramatist who reinvigorated the commedia dell’arte dramatic form by replacing its masked, stock figures with more realistic characters. A former law student, in 1748 he began writing for the Teatro Sant’Angelo company in Venice before switching to the Teatro San Luca, now called Teatro Goldoni. Goldoni eventually left Venice for Paris and after retiring from the theatre went to teach Italian to the French royal princesses at Versailles. Read more…

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Enrico Caruso – opera singer


Tenor's voice still regarded as greatest of all time 

Operatic tenor Enrico Caruso was born on this day in 1873 in Naples. Believed by many opera experts to be the greatest tenor of all time, Caruso had a brilliant 25-year singing career, appearing at many of the major opera houses in Europe and America, including 863 appearances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. After making his stage debut in Naples in 1985, he was given a contract by the prestigious Teatro alla La Scala in Milan in 1900. He made more than 200 recordings of his beautiful voice, some as early as 1902. Read more…

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Alberto Sordi - actor


Comic genius who appeared in 190 films

Alberto Sordi, remembered by lovers of Italian cinema as one of its most outstanding comedy actors, died on this day in 2003 in Rome, the city of his birth, at the age of 82. When his funeral took place at the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano it was estimated that the crowds outside the church and in nearby streets numbered one million people. He made the first of his 190 films in 1937 and became known for sending up the foibles of quirks of the Italian character. Along with Vittorio Gassman, Ugo Tognazzi and Nino Manfredi, he made up a quartet that has been described as Italy's equivalent of the Ealing comedy school. Read more…

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Giovanni Battista Morgagni - anatomist


The father of modern pathological anatomy

Anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni, who is credited with turning pathology into a science, was born on this day in 1682 in Forlì in Emilia-Romagna. Morgagni was professor of Anatomy at the University of Padua for 56 years. In 1761, when he was nearly 80, he brought out the work that was to make pathological anatomy into a science – De Sedibus et causis morborum per anotomem indagatis (Of the seats and cause of diseases investigated through anatomy). He was the first anatomist to demonstrate the need to base diagnosis, prognosis and treatment on an exact and comprehensive knowledge of anatomical conditions. Read more…

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Carlo Goldoni – playwright

Greatest Venetian dramatist whose work still entertains audiences today


Alessandro Longhi's portrait of Carlo Goldini is on display at the Casa Goldoni
Alessandro Longhi's portrait of Carlo Goldini
is on display at the Casa Goldoni
Carlo Goldoni, the author of The Servant of Two Masters, one of Italy’s most famous and best-loved plays, was born on this day in 1707 in Venice.

Goldoni became a prolific dramatist who reinvigorated the commedia dell’arte dramatic form by replacing its masked, stock figures with more realistic characters.

He produced tightly constructed plots with a new spirit of spontaneity and is considered the founder of Italian realistic comedy.

The son of a physician, Goldoni read comedies from his father’s library when he was young and ran away from his school at Rimini with a company of strolling players when he was just 14.

Later, while studying at the papal college in Pavia, Goldoni read comedies by Plautus, Terence and Aristophanes and learnt French so he could read plays by Molière.

He was eventually expelled for writing a satire about the ladies of Pavia and was sent to study law.

Although he practiced law in Venice and Pisa and held diplomatic appointments, his real passion was writing plays for the theatres in Venice.

Antonio Dal Zòtto's statue of Goldoni in Piazza San Bartolomeo in Venice
Antonio Dal Zòtto's statue of Goldoni
in Piazza San Bartolomeo in Venice
In 1748 he began writing for the Teatro Sant’Angelo company and dispensed with masked characters altogether for his play, La Pamela, a serious drama based on Samuel Richardson’s novel.

In the 1750 season he produced some of his best comedies, such as I pettegolezzi delle donne - Women’s Gossip - a play in Venetian dialect, Il bugiardo - The Liar - written in commedia dell’arte style and Il vero amico -  The True Friend - a comedy of manners.

From 1753 to 1762, Goldoni wrote for Teatro San Luca, now called Teatro Goldoni. Among the important plays he wrote during this period is La locandiera - Mine Hostess - which was first performed in 1753.

There was intense rivalry between competing playwrights at the time. Goldoni satirised Pietro Chiari, a rival playwright, in I malcontenti - The Malcontents - which was performed in 1755, before Carlo Gozzi, an adherent of the commedia dell’arte, denounced him in a satirical poem in 1757, then ridiculed both Goldoni and Chiari in a commedia dell’arte classic, L’amore delle tre melarance - The Love of Three Oranges - which was performed in 1761.

In 1762, Goldoni left Venice for Paris to direct the Comedie-Italienne. He later rewrote all his French plays from this period for Venetian audiences. L’Eventail, performed in France in 1763, became Il ventaglio - The Fan - and is considered one of his finest works.

Goldoni retired from the theatre in 1764 and went to teach Italian to the French royal princesses at Versailles.

In 1783 he began writing his Memoirs in French but after the French Revolution his pension was cancelled and he died in poverty in Paris in 1793. The pension was eventually restored to his widow, Nicoletta Conio, after the intervention on her behalf of the poet Andrea Chénier.

Goldoni’s most famous work, Il servitore di due padroni - The Servant of Two Masters - written in 1745, has been translated into different languages and performed many times. In 2011 it was adapted for the National Theatre in the UK under the title One Man, Two Guvnors and it was so popular it transferred to the West End and then Broadway.

Travel tip:

Goldoni was born in Ca’ Centani, or Centanni, a beautiful 15th century Gothic palace overlooking a narrow canal in the San Toma district of Venice. Better known as Casa Goldoni, the palace was bequeathed to Venice in 1931 and now houses the Goldoni Museum and a centre for theatrical studies. Through a series of displays of relics, furniture, paintings, illustrations of Goldonian comedies and explanatory panels, the museum represents the life and work of Carlo Goldoni in the context of 18th century theatre and Venetian society.

Venice hotels from Hotels.com

The interior of the Teatro Goldoni, which dates back to the 1720s
The interior of the Teatro Goldoni, which
dates back to the 1720s
Travel tip:

Teatro Goldoni near the Rialto Bridge in Venice was formerly known as Teatro San Luca, when Goldoni was writing plays for it. The present building dates back to the 1720s although it has been renovated many times after fires or structural problems. Situated in Calle Goldoni in the San Marco district, it was renamed Teatro Goldoni in 1875 and is now home to the Teatro Stabile del Veneto ‘Carlo Goldoni’.

Venice hotels from Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

How Carlo Gozzi fought to preserve commedia dell'arte

Zanetta Farussi, the 18th century Venetian actress who was the mother of Casanova

Niccolò Piccinni, the opera composer for whom Goldoni wrote a libretto

Also on this day:

1682: The birth of anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni

1873: The birth of the great tenor Enrico Caruso

2003: The death of comic actor Alberto Sordi

Selected books:

The Comedies of Carlo Goldoni, edited and introduced by Helen Zimmern

The Servant to Two Masters, by Carlo Goldoni

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24 February 2019

24 February

Bettino Craxi - prime minister


The Socialist who broke the grip of the Christian Democrats

Bettino Craxi, the politician who in 1983 became the first member of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) to be appointed prime minister, was born on this day in 1934 in Milan.  Craxi broke the hold of the Christian Democrats, who had been in power continuously since the first postwar elections in 1946. A moderniser, Craxi moved his party away from traditional forms of socialism in a way that was replicated elsewhere in Europe, such as in Britain under the New Labour prime minister Tony Blair. His reputation was ultimately wrecked by a corruption scandal, but during his tenure, Italy became the fifth largest industrial nation and gained entry into the G7 Group. Read more…

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Sandro Pertini - popular president


'Man of the people' who fought Fascism

Sandro Pertini, the respected and well-liked socialist politician who served as Italy's President between 1978 and 1985, died on this day in 1990, aged 93.  Pertini, a staunch opponent of Fascism who was twice imprisoned by Mussolini and again by the Nazis, passed away at the apartment near the Trevi Fountain in Rome that he shared with his wife, Carla.  He had endeared himself to the nation with his passionate support for Italy's football team at the 1982 World Cup final in Spain . After his death was announced, a large crowd gathered in the street near his apartment, with some of his supporters in tears.  Read more…

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Cesare “Caesar” Cardini – restaurateur


Italian emigrant who invented Caesar salad

The restaurateur who history credits with inventing the Caesar salad was born on this day in 1896 in Baveno, a small town on the shore of Lake Maggiore.  Cesare Cardini was one of a large family, with four brothers and two sisters.  In common with many Italians in the early part of the 20th century, his brothers Nereo, Alessandro and Gaudenzio emigrated to the United States, hoping there would be more opportunities to make a living. Cesare left Italy for America in 1913. Records indicate he disembarked at Ellis Island, New York on May 1, having endured the transatlantic voyage as a steerage passenger, sleeping in a cargo hold. Read more…

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L’Orfeo – an early opera


The lasting appeal of Monteverdi’s first attempt at opera

L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, the earliest opera still being regularly staged, had its first performance on this day in 1607 in Mantua.  Two letters, both dated 23 February, 1607, refer to the opera due to be performed the next day in the Ducal Palace as part of the annual carnival in Mantua in Lombardy.  Francesco Gonzaga, the brother of the Duke, wrote in a letter dated 1 March, 1607, that the performance had been to the ‘great satisfaction of all who heard it.’ Read more...

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Bettino Craxi - prime minister

The Socialist who broke the grip of the Christian Democrats


Bettino Craxi was the first socialist prime  minister of Italy in the modern era
Bettino Craxi was the first socialist prime
 minister of Italy in the modern era
Bettino Craxi, the politician who in 1983 became the first member of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) to be appointed prime minister, was born on this day in 1934 in Milan. 

He was not the first socialist to hold the office - Ivanoe Bonomi had been prime minister from for six months in 1920 on an Italian Reformist Socialist Party ticket and succeeded Marshal Pietro Badoglio as leader of the war-torn nation’s post-Mussolini government in 1944. However, Craxi broke the hold of the Christian Democrats, who had been in power continuously since the first postwar elections in 1946.

Craxi was a moderniser who moved his party away from traditional forms of socialism in a way that was replicated elsewhere in Europe, such as in Britain under the New Labour prime minister Tony Blair. Craxi replaced the party’s hammer-and-sickle symbol with a red carnation.

His reputation was ultimately wrecked by a corruption scandal, but during his tenure as prime minister, Italy became the fifth largest industrial nation and gained entry into the G7 Group.

His fiscal policies saw him clash with the powerful trade unions over the abolition of the wage-price escalator under which workers’ wages rose automatically in line with inflation, scoring a major victory when a referendum on the issue called by the Italian Communist Party went in his favour.  However, as a result of Craxi’s overall spending policies, Italy’s national debt overtook its gross domestic product.

Craxi with the US president Ronald Reagan, with whom he clashed over the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship
Craxi with the US president Ronald Reagan, with whom he
clashed over the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship
Craxi demonstrated his strength again in a dispute with the United States following the hijacking off the Egyptian coast of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by members of the Palestine Liberation Army in 1983, during which an American citizen, Leon Klinghoffer, was killed. President Ronald Reagan wanted the four perpetrators to be extradited to the US but Italy wished to preserve its good diplomatic relations with the Arab world and avoid becoming a terrorist target, so Craxi refused, insisting that the hijackers should come under Italian jurisdiction. His firmness earned him a standing ovation in the Italian Senate, even from his Communist opponents.

Craxi, who formed a new coalition in 1986 after his 1983 government collapsed, resigned in early 1987. In 1993, following the mani puliti investigations, multiple charges of political corruption against him forced Craxi to quit as party leader.

He did not deny that he had solicited funding for the Socialist Party illegally but claimed that all the political parties did the same and that the PSI were being targeted for political reasons. Craxi fled to exile in Tunisia later that year, just before being convicted, and never returned. He died there in 2000.

Craxi opposed the mooted 'historic compromise'  with Enrico Berlinguer's Communists
Craxi opposed the 'historic compromise' with
 the Communists of Enrico Berlinguer (above)
Craxi - who was christened Benedetto - owed his political beliefs to his father, Vittorio, an anti-Fascist lawyer from Sicily, who became vice-prefect for Milan and then prefect for Como and stood in the 1948 national elections for the Popular Democratic Front, a political alliance between Socialists and Communists. Bettino campaigned for his father and later joined the Italian Socialist Party at the age of 17.

After being elected a town councillor in Sant'Angelo Lodigiano - his mother’s birthplace - in 1956, he became a member of the PSI’s central committee in 1957, won a seat on the city council of Milan in 1960 and was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1968.

In 1970 he was appointed the party’s deputy secretary. He was a strong supporter of the centre-left coalition between the Christian Democrats of Aldo Moro and Amintore Fanfani, the PSI, then led by Pietro Nenni, the Social Democrats the Republicans.

He was elevated to general secretary in 1976 following a poor election performance by PSI candidates and set about uniting the party’s squabbling factions, committed it to moderate social and economic policies, and tried to dissociate it from the much larger Italian Communist Party.

Craxi always opposed the mooted 'historic compromise' favoured by Moro and the Communist leader, Enrico Berlinguer, on the basis that a political alliance between the Christian Democrats and the Communists would marginalise the Socialists, yet when Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades in 1978, amid demands for the release of so-called political prisoners, Craxi was the only political leader to declare himself open to a "humanitarian solution" that would allow Moro to be freed.

Under Craxi’s leadership the Socialists were members in five of Italy’s six coalition governments from 1980 to 1983 before the 1983 elections gave him the opportunity to form a coalition government with the Christian Democrats and several small, moderate parties.

His tenure as prime minister lasted three years and seven months, the third longest in the republican era. Silvio Berlusconi, with whom he enjoyed a close friendship despite their political differences, is the only prime minister to enjoy longer unbroken spells in office.

The Castello di Sant'Angelo Lodigiano is now a museum set up in honour of the Bolognini family
The Castello di Sant'Angelo Lodigiano is now a museum
set up in honour of the Bolognini family
Travel tip:

The town of Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, where Bettino Craxi served as a councillor in the 1950s, is situated about 40km (25 miles) southeast of Milan, close to the city of Lodi in Lombardy. It is best known for the castle that was built there in the 13th century, standing guard over the river Lambro in a strategically favourable position for the control of river traffic to Milan. The castle was turned into a summer residence by Regina della Scala, wife of Bernabò Visconti. In 1452, with the passage of the power of the Duchy of Milan from the Visconti to the Sforza, the fiefdom and the castle were donated, by Francesco Sforza, to Michele Matteo Bolognini, who received the title of Count. It remained the property of the Bolognini family and became known as the Castello Bolognini until 1933, when the widow of the last descendant - Count Gian Giacomo Morando Bolognini -  created the Fondazione Morando Bolognini for agricultural research and turned the castle into a museum.

Hotels in Sant'Angelo Lodigiano by Hotels.com

Lodi's beautiful main square, the Piazza della Vittoria. looking towards the 12th century cathedral
Lodi's beautiful main square, the Piazza della Vittoria.
looking towards the 12th century cathedral
Travel tip:

The city of Lodi sits on the right bank of the River Adda. The main square, Piazza della Vittoria, has been listed by the Touring Club of Italy as among the most beautiful squares in Italy with its porticoes on all four sides. Its cathedral, the Basilica Cattedrale della Vergine Assunta, was founded on August 3, 1158, the day on which Lodi was refounded after its destruction by Milanese troops in 1111. The façade, built in Romanesque style with the exception of the large Gothic entrance portico supported by small columns with lion sculptures at the base, was completed in 1284.

Lodi hotels by Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

How Enrico Berlinguer turned the Italian Communists into a political force

Amintore Fanfani - the politician who proposed a 'third way'

Ivanoe Bonomi, the liberal socialist who was key to Italy's transition to peace

Also on this day:

1607: Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo is performed for the first time

1896: The birth of restaurateur Cesare Cardini

1990: The death of Sandro Pertini, Italian president

Selected books:

The Archipelago: Italy Since 1945, by John Foot

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23 February 2019

23 February

John Keats – poet


Writer spent his final days in the Eternal City


English Romantic poet John Keats died on this day in Rome in 1821. He had been a published writer for five years and had written some of his greatest work before leaving England. He was just starting to be appreciated by the literary critics when tuberculosis took hold of him and he was advised by doctors to move to a warmer climate.  He arrived in Rome with his friend, Joseph Severn, in November 1820 to live in a house next to the Spanish Steps but sadly his health problems overtook him. Read more…

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Gentile Bellini - Renaissance painter


Bellini family were Venice's leading 15th century artists

Gentile Bellini, a member of Venice's leading family of painters in the 15th century, died in Venice on this day in 1507.  He was believed to be in his late 70s, although the exact date of his birth was not recorded. The son of Jacopo Bellini, who had been a pioneer in the use of oil paint in art, he was the brother of Giovanni Bellini and the brother-in-law of Andrea Mantegna.  Together, they were the founding family of the Venetian school of Renaissance art. Read more…

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Giovanni Battista de Rossi - Archaeologist


Excavations unearthed massive Catacomb of St Callixtus

Giovanni Battista de Rossi, the archaeologist who revealed the whereabouts of lost Christian catacombs beneath Rome, was born on this day in 1822 in the Italian capital. De Rossi’s most famous discovery – or rediscovery, to be accurate – of the Catacomb of St Callixtus, established him as the greatest archaeologist of the 19th century.  The vast underground cemetery, located beneath the Appian Way about 7km (4.3 miles) south of the centre of Rome, may have contained up to half a million corpses, including those of 16 popes. Read more…

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22 February 2019

22 February


Renato Dulbecco - Nobel Prize-winning physiologist


Research led to major breakthrough in knowledge of cancer

Renato Dulbecco, a physiologist who shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his role in drawing a link between genetic mutations and cancer, was born on this day in 1914 in Catanzaro in Calabria.  Dulbecco and two colleagues showed that certain viruses could insert their own genes into infected cells and trigger uncontrolled cell growth, a hallmark of cancer. Their findings transformed the course of cancer research, providing the first evidence that the disease involved genetic mutations. Read more...


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Mario Pavesi – entrepreneur


Biscuit maker who gave Italian motorists the Autogrill

Italy lost one of its most important postwar entrepreneurs when Mario Pavesi died on this day in 1990.  Pavesi, originally from the town of Cilavegna in the province of Pavia in Lombardy, not only founded the Pavesi brand, famous for Pavesini and Ringo biscuits among other lines, but also set up Italy’s first motorway service areas under the name of Autogrill. The forward-thinking businessman foresaw the way Italians would embrace road travel once the country developed its own motorway network. Read more…

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Giulietta Masina - actress


Married to Fellini and excelled in his films

The actress Giulietta Masina, who was married for 50 years to the film director Federico Fellini, was born on this day in 1921 in San Giorgio di Piano in Emilia-Romagna. Fellini gave her the lead female role opposition Anthony Quinn in La Strada (1954) and enabled her to win international acclaim when he cast her as a prostitute in the 1957 film Nights of Cabiria, both of which won Oscars for best foreign film. Masina's performance in the latter earned her best actress awards at the film festivals of Cannes and San Sebastián and from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists (SNGCI). Read more…

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Enrico Piaggio -- industrialist


Former aircraft manufacturer famed for Italy's iconic Vespa motor scooter

Enrico Piaggio, who was born on this day in 1905 in the Pegli area of Genoa, was destined to be an industrialist, although he cannot have envisaged the way in which his company would become a world leader. Charged with rebuilding the business after Allied bombers destroyed the company's major factories during World War II, Enrico Piaggio decided to switch from manufacturing aircraft to building motorcycles, an initiative from which emerged one of Italy's most famous symbols, the Vespa scooter. Read more...


Renato Dulbecco - Nobel Prize-winning physiologist

Research led to major breakthrough in knowledge of cancer


Renato Dulbecco emigrated to the United States 1946 after studying at the University of Turin
Renato Dulbecco emigrated to the United States
1946 after studying at the University of Turin
Renato Dulbecco, a physiologist who shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his role in drawing a link between genetic mutations and cancer, was born on this day in 1914 in Catanzaro in Calabria.

Through a series of experiments that began in the late 1950s after he had emigrated to the United States, Dulbecco and two colleagues showed that certain viruses could insert their own genes into infected cells and trigger uncontrolled cell growth, a hallmark of cancer.

Their findings transformed the course of cancer research, laying the groundwork for the linking of several viruses to human cancers, including the human papilloma virus, which is responsible for most cervical cancers.

The discovery also provided the first tangible evidence that cancer was caused by genetic mutations, a breakthrough that changed the way scientists thought about cancer and the effects of carcinogens such as tobacco smoke.

Dulbecco, who shared the Nobel Prize with California Institute of Technology (Caltech) colleagues Howard Temin and David Baltimore, then examined how viruses use DNA to store their genetic information and, in his studies of breast cancer, pioneered a technique for identifying cancer cells by the proteins present on their surface.

Dulbecco found that viruses such as the human papilloma virus could cause cell mutations
Dulbecco found that viruses such as the human
papilloma virus could cause cell mutations
His proposal in 1986 to catalogue all human genes can be seen as the beginnings of the Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003.

The son of a civil engineer, Dulbecco grew up in Liguria after his family moved from Catanzaro to the coastal city of Imperia. He graduated from high school at 16 and went on to the University of Turin, receiving his medical degree in 1936. He became friends there with two other future Nobel prizewinners, Rita Levi-Montalcini and Salvador Luria, who were fellow students.

Immediately upon graduating, he was required to do two years’ military service. He was discharged in 1938 but soon afterwards called up again as Italy entered the Second World War, joining the Italian Army as a medical officer.

His role eventually took him to the Russian front, where he suffered an injury to his shoulder that meant he was sent back to Italy to recuperate. Disillusioned with Mussolini and horrified at learning of the fate of Jews under Hitler, he decided not to return to the Army, joining the resistance instead. He stationed himself in a remote village outside Turin, tending to injured partisans.

After the war, he was briefly involved with politics, firstly on the Committee for National Liberation in Turin and then on the city council, but soon returned to Turin University to study physics and conduct biological research.

Dulbecco's fellow Turin University graduate Salvador Duria also moved to America
Dulbecco's fellow Turin University graduate
Salvador Duria also moved to America
With the encouragement of Levi-Montalcini, who would win a Nobel Prize in 1986 for her work in neurobiology, in 1946, he moved to United States, rejoining Luria, who shared a Nobel in 1969 for discoveries about the genetics of bacteria, at Indiana University, where they studied viruses. In the summer of 1949 he moved to Caltech, where he began his work on animal oncoviruses.

Dulbecco worked with Dr. Marguerite Vogt on a method of determining the amount of polio virus present in cell culture, a step that was vital in the development of polio vaccine, before becoming intrigued by a thesis written by Howard Temin on the connection between viruses and cancer.

He left Caltech in 1962 to move to the Salk Institute, a polio research facility in San Diego, and then in 1972 to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now Cancer Research UK) in London.

There was a mixed reaction in Italy when it was learned that ‘their’ Nobel Prize winner had become an American citizen. In fact, his Italian citizenship was revoked, although when he moved back to Italy in 1993 to spend four years as president of the Institute of Biomedical Technologies at National Council of Research in Milan he was made an honorary citizen.

Married twice, with three children, Dulbecco died in La Jolla, California, in 2012, three days before what would have been his 98th birthday.

From its elevated position, Catanzaro has views towards the Ionian Sea and the resort of Catanzaro Lido
From its elevated position, Catanzaro has views towards
the Ionian Sea and the resort of Catanzaro Lido
Travel tip:

Occupying a position 300m (980ft) above the Gulf of Squillace, Catanzaro is known as the City of the Two Seas because, from some vantage points, it is possible to see the Tyrrhenian Sea to the north of the long peninsula occupied by Calabria as well as the Ionian Sea to the south.  The historic centre, which sits at the highest point of the city, includes a 16th century cathedral built on the site of a 12th century Norman cathedral which, despite being virtually destroyed by bombing in 1943, has been impressively restored.  The city is about 15km (9 miles) from Catanzaro Lido, which has a long white beach typical of the Gulf of Squillace.

Catanzaro hotels from Hotels.com

The waterfront of the Ligurian port city of Imperia, with the Basilica of San Maurizio on top of the hill
The waterfront of the Ligurian port city of Imperia, with
the Basilica of San Maurizio on top of the hill
Travel tip:

The beautiful city of Imperia, on Liguria's Riviera Poniente about 120km (75 miles) west of Genoa and 60km (37 miles) from the border with France, came into being in 1923 when the neighbouring ports of Porto Maurizio and Oneglia, either side of the Impero river, were merged along with several surrounding villages to form one conurbation.  Oneglia, once the property of the Doria family in the 13th century, has become well known for cultivating flowers and olives. Porto Maurizio, originally a Roman settlement called Portus Maurici, has a classical cathedral dedicated to San Maurizio, which was built by Gaetano Cantoni and completed in the early 19th century.

Find an Imperia hotel with Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

How Salvador Luria reached the United States after fleeing Paris on a bicycle

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

The first physiologist to explain human movement

Also on this day:

1905: The birth of industrialist Enrico Piaggio

1921: The birth of actress Giulietta Masina

1990: The death of Autogrill pioneer Mario Pavesi

(Picture credits: Catanzaro view by Salvatore Migliari; Imperia waterfront by BMK)


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21 February 2019

21 February

Domenico Ghirardelli – chocolatier


Built famous US business with skills learned in Genoa

The chocolatier Domenico Ghirardelli, founder of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company in San Francisco, was born on this day in 1817 in a village just outside Rapallo in Liguria. Ghirardelli arrived in San Francisco from Peru in 1849 during the rapid expansion years of the Gold Rush. After making money ferrying supplies to prospectors in the gold fields, he set up his first chocolate factory in 1852, drawing on the skills he acquired as an apprentice in Genoa. By the end of the century, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company was one of the city’s most successful businesses. Read more…

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Death of Pope Julius II


Pope who commissioned Michelangelo for Sistine Chapel

Pope Julius II, who was nicknamed ‘the Warrior Pope’, died on this day in 1513 in Rome. As well as conducting military campaigns during his papacy he was responsible for the destruction and rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica and commissioning Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He is also remembered by students of British history as being the Pope who gave Henry VIII dispensation to marry Catherine of Aragon, his brother’s widow. Read more…

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Giuseppe Abbati - painter and revolutionary


Early death robbed Italian art of bright new talent

Italy lost a great artistic talent tragically young when the painter and patriot Giuseppe Abbati died on this day in 1868 aged only 32, having contracted rabies as a result of being bitten by a dog.  Abbati was a leading figure in the Macchiaioli movement, a school of painting advanced by a small group of artists who began to meet at the Caffè Michelangiolo in Florence in the late 1850s. The group were also for the most part revolutionaries, many of whom had taken part in the uprisings that occurred at different places in the still-to-be-united Italian peninsula in 1848. Read more...

20 February 2019

20 February

Francesco Maria II della Rovere - the last Duke of Urbino


Last male in famous family line

Francesco Maria II della Rovere, the last holder of the title Duke of Urbino and the last surviving male from a famous noble family, was born on this day in 1549 in Pesaro in Le Marche.  Descended from the 15th century Pope Sixtus IV, Francesco Maria II’s only male heir, Federico Ubaldo della Rovere, died without fathering a son, which meant the Duchy reverted to Francesco Maria II, who in turn was convinced he should give it to Pope Urban VIII, of the Barberini family. Read more...

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Ferruccio Lamborghini - car maker


Tractor manufacturer inspired by Enzo Ferrari's 'insult'

The performance car designer Ferruccio Lamborghini died on this day in 1993 at the age of 76. Lamborghini, who made his fortune from building tractors, set up as a car maker in 1963 in direct competition with Enzo Ferrari, who had been selling sports cars with increasing success since 1947. Their rivalry began after Lamborghini, who was a collector of fast cars, complained about problems with a two-seater 250GT he owned only for Ferrari to dismissively reply that he would not be lectured to about high performance cars by a tractor manufacturer.  Lamborghini decided he would hit back by making his own cars. Read more…

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Laura Bassi – scientist


Ground-breaking academic paved the way for women

Brilliant physicist Laura Bassi died on this day in 1778 in Bologna. She had enjoyed a remarkable career, becoming the first woman to earn a Chair in Science at a university anywhere in the world. Just 13 when her family’s physician recognised her potential and took charge of her education, she was the Academy of Sciences at the University of Bologna as an honorary member at the age of 20, the first female to ever be allowed to join. When she received her degree from the university there was a public celebration in Bologna. Read more…

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The Barber of Seville premieres in Rome


Rival fans wreck debut of Rossini’s most famous opera

The Barber of Seville, the work that would come to be seen as Gioachino Rossini’s masterpiece of comic opera, was performed for first time on this day in 1816 at the Teatro Argentina in Rome. It was originally entitled Almaviva or The Useless Precaution, out of deference to Giovanni Paisiello, the most popular composer in Italy in the 18th century, whose own version of the French comedy play Il barbiere di Siviglia had been very successful.  Nonetheless, Paisiello’s loyal fans saw Rossini’s opera as an attempt to steal their favourite’s thunder, whatever name he gave it, and sabotaged its opening night by jeering, shouting and catcalling throughout the whole performance. Read more…

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