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.

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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Francesco Maria II della Rovere - the last Duke of Urbino

Last male in famous family line


Francesco II della Rovere, as depicted by the Italian painter Federico Barocci in 1572 (Uffizi Gallery)
Francesco Maria II della Rovere, as depicted by Italian
painter Federico Barocci in 1572 (Uffizi Gallery)
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.

Federico’s daughter, Vittoria della Rovere, had been convinced she would be made Duchess of Urbino but had to be content with the Duchies of Rovere and Montefeltro, as well as an art collection that became the property of Florence after she had married Ferdinando II de’ Medici.

Pope Sixtus IV, best known for building the Sistine Chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official papal residence in Vatican City, had come from a poor family in Savona in Liguria, but once elected pope became wealthy and powerful and set about ensuring that his personal prosperity was used to the betterment of his family.

He soon made made his nephews Giuliano della Rovere (the future Pope Julius II) and Pietro Riario both cardinals and bishops, while appointing four other nephews as cardinals.

Vittoria della Rovere, granddaughter of Francesco Maria II, was the last to carry the family name
Vittoria della Rovere, granddaughter of Francesco
Maria II, was the last to carry the family name 
He made Giovanni Della Rovere - Giuliano’s brother - prefect of Rome, and arranged for him to marry into the da Montefeltro family, dukes of Urbino.

Guidobaldo da Montefeltro adopted Francesco Maria I della Rovere, his sister's child and nephew of Pope Julius II, and named him as heir of the Duchy of Urbino in 1504.

Francesco Maria I inherited the duchy in 1508 thereby starting the line of Rovere Dukes of Urbino. Francesco Maria II della Rovere was his grandson after the third Rovere to hold the title.

As a young man, Francesco Maria II was raised at the court of Philip II of Spain. He would have married a Spanish girl but his father, Guidobaldo II della Rovere, forbade it and demanded he return to Urbino.

Instead, he married Lucrezia d'Este, a daughter of Ercole II d'Este and became Duke of Urbino in 1574, when his father died.

Francesco Maria II inherited considerable debts, however, and was forced to sell the Duchy of Sora and the family’s historic seat in Arce in Lazio.

The Ducal Palace at Pesaro, where Francesco Maria II was born
The Ducal Palace at Pesaro, where
Francesco Maria II was born
His marriage to Lucrezia  remained childless, which was bad news because without an heir his family's would lapse on his death and his entire estate would be acquired, by default, by the Papal States.

It was fortunate, then, that the death of Lucrezia in 1599 allowed him to marry his teenage cousin, Livia della Rovere, who had a male child, Federico Ubaldo, in 1605. He became Duke of Urbino on being married in 1621 but died only two years later, from epilepsy, leaving only a daughter, the aforementioned Vittoria Della Rovere.

The aging Francesco Maria II took up the title of Duke again, but as there was no more hopes of there being a male heir he arranged for his Duchy to be annexed to the Papal States after his death in 1631.

Vittoria inherited the Duke's art collection but after marrying into the Medici family and had it transferred to Florence to the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Pitti, where it remains today.

The Fortezza del Priamar was built by the Genoese to protect the city of Savona in the 16th century
The Fortezza del Priamar was built by the Genoese to
protect the city of Savona in the 16th century
Travel tip:

The third largest city in Liguria after Genoa and La Spezia, Savona, where the Della Rovere family originated, used to be one of the biggest centres of the Italian iron industry, the iron-works and foundries providing materials for shipbuilding and railways among other things. It also has a busy port but as well as industrial areas the city has a charming medieval centre containing architectural gems such as the baroque Cattedrale di Nostra Signora Assunta - behind which is Italy’s other Sistine Chapel, like the Rome version erected by Pope Sixtus IV - and the Fortezza del Priamar, built by the Genoese in 1542 after their conquest of the city and later used a prison. It was there in 1830 that the revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini was imprisoned. There is a Palazzo Della Rovere built by Cardinal Giulio della Rovere and designed by Giuliano da Sangallo.

The resort city of Pesaro has a long stretch of sandy  beach that is free for public use
The resort city of Pesaro has a long stretch of sandy
 beach that is free for public use
Travel tip:

Pesaro, where Francesco Maria II was born, is a coastal city and resort in Le Marche about 35km (22 miles) from Urbino. It has a 15th century Ducal Palace, commissioned by Alessandro Sforza. The city has become well known for being the home of the opera composer Gioachino Rossini, who was born there in 1792. There is a Rossini Opera Festival every summer and Pesaro is home to the Conservatorio Statale di Musica Gioachino Rossini, which was founded from a legacy left by the composer. Look out also for the Rocca Costanza, a massive castle built by Costanzo I Sforza. Of the 17th century Mura Roveresche - the Della Rovere Walls - demolished in the early 20th century, only the Porta del Ponte and Porta Rimini gates remain.

More reading:

The death of Julius II, the 'Warrior Pope'

Vittoria della Rovere, Grand Duchess of Tuscany

Isabella d'Este - 'First Lady of the world'

Also on this day:

1778: The death of Laura Bassi, physics professor who broke new ground for female academics

1816: Rossini's opera The Barber of Seville premieres in Rome

1993: The death of car marker Ferruccio Lamborghini

(Picture credits: Ducal Palace by Italtrucker; Savona fortress by Diani Stefano; Pesaro beach by Whiskerdisco; all via Wikimedia Commons)


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19 February 2019

19 February

Massimo Troisi – actor, writer and director


Tragic star died hours after completing finest work

Massimo Troisi, the comic actor, writer and director who suffered a fatal heart attack in 1994 only 12 hours after shooting finished on his greatest movie, was born on this day in 1953 in a suburb of Naples. Troisi co-directed and starred in Il Postino, which won an Oscar for best soundtrack after being nominated in five categories, the most nominations in Academy Awards history for an Italian film.  Plagued by heart problems for much of his life, he was due to fly to London for a transplant the following day but died in his sleep at his sister’s house in Ostia, outside Rome. Read more…

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Luigi Boccherini – musician


Composer gave the cello prominence in his charming quintets

Cellist and composer Luigi Rodolfo Boccherini was born on this day in 1743 in Lucca in Tuscany. Boccherini is particularly known for a minuet from his String Quintet in E, which became popular after its use by characters posing as musicians in the 1955 film, The Ladykillers, which starred Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. Though his works became neglected after his death in 1805 they enjoyed a revival after the Boccherini Quintet was formed in Rome, who started performing them in the 1950s. Read more…

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Vittorio Grigolo - opera singer


Tenor courted public popularity as way to land 'serious' roles

The operatic tenor Vittorio Grigolo was born on this day in 1977 in Arezzo in Tuscany.  Grigolo has performed at many of the world's leading opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He attended the prestigious Sistine Chapel Choir School in Rome as a boy and was tipped for greatness yet he achieved fame as a serious performer after first releasing an album of popular songs and using reality TV shows to put himself in the public eye. Read more…

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18 February 2019

18 February

Roberta Vinci - tennis champion


Won five Grand Slam doubles titles with partner Sara Errani

The tennis player Roberta Vinci, one half of the most successful Italian women’s doubles partnerships of all time, was born on this day in 1983 in Taranto in Puglia.  Vinci and partner Sara Errani were the champions at the French Open and United States Open in 2012 and the Australian Open in 2013 and 2014 and Wimbledon in 2014. Vinci’s finest achievement in singles came at the US Open in 2015, when she defeated world No 1 Serena Williams in the semi-finals before losing to fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta in the final. Read more…

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Michelangelo – Renaissance painter and sculptor


‘Greatest artist of all time’ left amazing legacy of work

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni - universally known simply as Michelangelo - died on this day in 1564 in Rome. His death came three weeks before his 89th birthday while he was still working on his last sculpture, the Rondanini Pietà, a version of the Virgin Mary with the body of the dead Christ. As a sculptor, painter, architect and poet, Michelangelo exerted an enormous influence on the development of art and he is considered to be one of the greatest - if not the greatest - artists of all time. Read more…

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Roberto Baggio - football icon


Azzurri star regarded as Italy's greatest player

The footballer Roberto Baggio, regarded by fans in Italy and around the world as one of the game's greatest players, was born on this day in 1967 in a small town north of Vicenza. Baggio, who won the Serie A title twice and played in three World Cups, scored 318 goals in his career, the first Italian for 50 years to top 300, despite having six knee operations during his career.  But for his injuries, Baggio might have been placed in the same bracket as Pele, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi as the best players in history.  Read more…

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Blessed Fra Angelico – painter


Talented Friar became patron of Catholic artists

The early Renaissance painter Fra Angelico died on this day in 1455 in Rome.  Fra Angelico is regarded as one of the greatest painters of the 15th century, whose works reflected his serene religious attitude. In 1982, more than 500 years after his death, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in recognition of the holiness of his life. In 1984, Pope John Paul II declared him ‘patron of Catholic artists’.  Among his most famous works were the altarpieces and frescoes he painted for the Church and Priory of San Marco in Florence. Read more...

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Roberta Vinci - tennis champion

Won five Grand Slam doubles titles with partner Sara Errani


Roberta Vinci won 10 singles and 25 doubles titles in her career, reaching a Grand Slam singles final at the age of 32
Roberta Vinci won 10 singles and 25 doubles titles in her
career, reaching a Grand Slam singles final at the age of 32
The tennis player Roberta Vinci, one half of the most successful Italian women’s doubles partnerships of all time and one of only four Italian women to rank in the world’s top 10 at singles, was born on this day in 1983 in the major port city of Taranto in Puglia.

Vinci and partner Sara Errani reached the women’s doubles final at eight Grand Slam tournaments between 2012 and 2014, winning five of them.

They were the champions at the French Open and United States Open in 2012 and the Australian Open in 2013 and again in 2014. When they won the Wimbledon title in 2014 they became one of only five women’s doubles partnerships to complete a career Grand Slam of all the four majors.

The pair, who reached No 1 in the world rankings in 2012, unexpectedly ended their five-year partnership in 2015, after which Vinci focussed on singles.

Vinci and her doubles partner Sara Errani, with whom she won five Grand Slams
Vinci and her doubles partner Sara Errani,
with whom she won five Grand Slams
Vinci’s finest achievement in singles came at the US Open in 2015, when she defeated world No 1 Serena Williams in the semi-finals before facing her compatriot and childhood friend Flavia Pennetta in the final, the first in a Grand Slam in the open era to pit one Italian against another.

Pennetta won 7-6, 6-2 but Vinci was spurred on by her achievement in reaching a Grand Slam final for the first time at 32 years old and in 2016 broke into the world’s top 10 for the first time in her career at 33 years and four days. It is the oldest at which any player has attained a top-10 ranking for the first time.

She did so on the back of winning a WTA tournament in St Petersburg, Russia, her first for three years. Errani, Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone are the other Italian women who have achieved a ranking in the top 10.

The daughter of an accountant, Vinci took up tennis at the age of just six and represented Taranto Tennis Club in numerous junior events. She and Pennetta, from Brindisi, won the women’s doubles at the Avvenire Trophy at just 14 years old.

They won the girls’ doubles at the French Open in 1999, the same year that Vinci made her professional debut.

Vinci and Flavia Pennetta show off their trophies after the US Open women's final of 2015 in New York
Vinci and Flavia Pennetta show off their trophies after the
US Open women's final of 2015 in New York
The first of her 35 titles came in 2001 at the Qatar Open, when she and the French player Sandrine Testud won the women’s doubles. In all she went on to win 25 doubles titles, all but three in partnership with Errani.

Vinci won the first of her 10 singles titles at the Copa Colsanitas in Bogota, Colombia, in 2007. She was also a member of the Italian team that won the Fed Cup women’s team event on four occasions.

Unusually for a modern player, Vinci used a one-handed backhand grip and the backhand slice was one of her favourite shots. Combined with a powerful forehand and excellent court coverage, her game was often likened to that of the great German champion Steffi Graf.

After a 21-year career, Vinci retired from professional tennis at the Italian Open in 2018, bowing out before an appreciative home crowd at the Foro Italico in Rome, signing off a tearful farewell speech with the words: “From tomorrow, I am on holiday!”

Taranto's Castello Aragonese, which stands guard over the canal linking the Mar Grande with the Mar Piccolo
Taranto's Castello Aragonese, which stands guard over
the canal linking the Mar Grande with the Mar Piccolo
Travel tip:

Taranto, a port city on the Ionian Sea which is home to Italy’s largest naval base, was once one of the largest cities in the world, founded by the Greeks in 706BC and growing so prosperous that it once had a population in excess of 300,000. It retained its status under the Roman Republic but declined under the Roman Empire after the Emperor Trajan redirected the Via Appia, which used to connect it with Rome, to Bari. Nowadays, it is still a substantial city, home to almost 200,000 people. It is built around two large bays - the Mar Grande, where the commercial port is located, and the Mar Piccolo, flanked by the historic town centre and also home to the city’s fishing fleets.  The city is notable for multiple architectural styles, including Byzantine, Saracen and Norman. The Cattedrale di San Cataldo, right in the heart of old Taranto, dates back to the 11th century and houses the relics of the city’s patron saint, Cataldo. Taranto’s other must-see monument is the Castello Aragonese, built by King Ferdinand of Aragon in the 15th century.

Find a hotel in Taranto with TripAdvisor

The uniquely ornate setting of Italy's national tennis centre at the Foro Italico, home of the Italian Open
The uniquely ornate setting of Italy's national tennis centre
at the Foro Italico, home of the Italian Open
Travel tip:

Foro Italico, the sports complex in Rome that is the home of the Italian Open tennis championships, was built between 1928 and 1938 as the Foro Mussolini. Inspired by the Roman forums of the imperial age, its original purpose was to host the Olympic Games of 1940 as a showcase for Fascist values. In the event, the Second World War meant the 1940 Games were cancelled, although it was the main host venue for the Rome Olympics of 1960. The complex of today includes the Stadio Olimpico, home of Rome’s two major football clubs - Roma and Lazio - and the largest sports stadium in Italy, the ornate Stadio dei Marmi athletics stadium - headquarters of the Italian National Olympic Committee - and the national tennis centre, which - like the Stadio dei Marmi is surrounded by classical statues of athletes.

Rome hotels from Expedia.co.uk

More reading:

Why Sara Errani can be called Italy's most successful tennis player of all time

Francesca Schiavone - the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam

How Camila Giorgi became Italy's No 1

Also on this day:

1455: The death of Renaissance painter Fra Angelico

1564: The death of Michelangelo

1967: The birth of soccer star Roberto Baggio

(Picture credits: Main picture of Roberta Vinci by Regasterios; Vinci and Errani by Marianne Bevis; Castello Aragonese by Livioandronico2013; all via Wikimedia Commons)


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17 February 2019

17 February

Giovanni Pacini – opera composer


Works of overshadowed musician have enjoyed recent revival

Composer Giovanni Pacini, who wrote operas in the early part of the 19th century to suit the voices of the great singers of the period, was born on this day in 1796 in Catania in Sicily.  By the mid 1830s, Pacini had withdrawn from operatic activity after he found his operas eclipsed by those of Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini. After he returned with his opera, Saffo, in 1840, which generally hailed as his masterpiece, he found himself overshadowed by Giuseppe Verdi. Read more...


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Raffaele ‘Raf’ Vallone – actor


Movie star who had four careers

Raffaele Vallone, the stage and screen actor who was born on this day in 1916, was remarkable for having embarked on three different career paths before he made his acting debut. A former apprentice professional footballer, he quit to join his father’s legal practice before changing course again and becoming a journalist. Then, after interviewing the film director Giuseppe De Santis, he was offered a part in a neo-realist movie that became a box-office hit and found his true vocation. Read more...

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Giordano Bruno - 'martyr of science'


Dominican friar condemned as a heretic

Giordano Bruno, a Dominican friar and philosopher who challenged orthodox Christian beliefs in the 16th century, died on this day in 1600 when he was burned at the stake as a heretic. Among the beliefs that contradicted Catholic wisdom was his contention that God did not exist in some personal form with human traits, that everything in the universe was made of tiny particles (atoms), that Earth revolved around the sun, rather than the other way round and that our sun was only one of an infinite number of suns in an endless universe, each surrounded by planets. Read more…

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Arcangelo Corelli – musician


Baroque composer had a major influence on the development of music

Violinist and composer Arcangelo Corelli was born on this day in 1653 at Fusignano, a small town near Ravenna.  He is remembered for his influence on the development of violin style and for his use of the genres of sonata and concerto. Both Bach and Handel are said to have studied his work and been influenced by him. Correlli’s 12 Concerti Grossi established the concerto grosso as a popular medium of composition. Corelli was also a brilliant teacher and among his many students was the young Antonio Vivaldi. Read more…

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Giovanni Pacini – opera composer

Works of overshadowed musician have enjoyed recent revival


Giovanni Pacini found himself overshadowed first by Bellini and Donizetti, then Verdi
Giovanni Pacini found himself overshadowed
first by Bellini and Donizetti, then Verdi
Composer Giovanni Pacini, who wrote operas in the early part of the 19th century to suit the voices of the great singers of the period, was born on this day in 1796 in Catania in Sicily.

Pacini began his formal music studies at the age of 12, when he was sent by his father, the opera singer Luigi Pacini, to study voice in Bologna with castrato singer and composer, Luigi Marchesi.

He soon switched his focus to composing and wrote an opera, La sposa fedele - The Faithful Bride. It was premiered in Venice in 1818 and, for its revival the following year, Pacini provided a new aria, to be sung specifically by the soprano Giuditta Pasta.

By the mid 1820s he had become a leading opera composer, having produced many successful serious and comic works.

Pacini’s 1824 work Alessandro nelle Indie - Alexander in the Indies - was a successful serious opera based on Andrea Leone Tottola’s updating of a text by librettist Pietro Metastasio.

But by the mid 1830s, Pacini had withdrawn from operatic activity after he found his operas eclipsed by those of Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini.

The title page of Pacini's opera, Saffo, regarded as his best
The title page of Pacini's opera,
Saffo, regarded as his best
He settled in Tuscany, where his father had been born, and he founded and directed a music school and theatre in Viareggio.

He also took on the post of maestro di cappella at the Palazzo Ducale in Lucca, where he began to compose liturgical music and he started to write articles on music and music criticism.

Pacini returned to composing with his opera, Saffo, in 1840, which differed stylistically from his earlier work and is generally hailed as his masterpiece. It was performed extensively in Italy, Europe and other parts of the world.

But he then found himself overshadowed by another opera composer, this time Giuseppe Verdi, who often addressed contemporary political issues in his work. Pacini instead began writing instrumental music.

He was the only significant composer of his time to write an autobiography, Le mie memorie artistiche - My Artistic Memoirs. Published in 1865, it has been read avidly by scholars as it gives a fascinating insight into Pacini’s career and life, during which he produced more than 70 operas.

Pacini died in 1867 in Pescia in Tuscany.

Since the 1980s there have been revivals and recordings of his works. His 1825 opera, L’ultimo giorno di Pompei - The Last Day of Pompei - was performed at the Festival delle Valle d’Itria in Martina Franca in 1996 and was then transferred to the Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania. A live recording of the Martina Franca performance was released in 1997 and re-released in 2012.

The Grand Hotel Royal in Viareggio is an example of the town's Liberty-style architecture
The Grand Hotel Royal in Viareggio is an example of
the town's Liberty-style architecture
Travel tip:

Viareggio, where Pacini opened a music school and theatre, is a popular seaside resort in Tuscany with excellent sandy beaches and some beautiful examples of Liberty-style architecture, such as the Grand Hotel Royal. There is a monument to the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in Piazza Paolina because his body was washed up on the beach at Viareggio after he drowned during a storm in the Gulf of La Spezia.

Hotels in Viareggio from Expedia.co.uk

One of the streets in the centre of Pescia, the small town in Tuscany where Giovanni Pacini died in 1867
One of the streets in the centre of Pescia, the small
town in Tuscany where Giovanni Pacini died in 1867
Travel tip:

Pescia, where Giovanni Pacini died, is in the northern part of Tuscany, close to the beautiful towns of Lucca, Pistoia and Montecatini Terme. It is known as the ‘city of flowers’ because of its large wholesale flower market. In the church of San Francesco there are 13th century frescoes depicting the life of St Francis of Assisi, which are believed to be an accurate representation of the Saint because the artist, Bonaventura Berlinghieri, actually knew him.

Pescia hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:

Giuditta Pasta - the first soprano to sing Bellini's Norma

The short but successful career of Vincenzo Bellini

La Traviata - the world's favourite opera

Also on this day:

1600: Philosopher Giordano Bruno burned at the stake

1653: The birth of Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli

1916: The birth of movie actor Raf Vallone

(Saffo first page from the Central National Library of Florence; Grand Hotel Royal by Sailko; Pescia street by Davide Papalini; via Wikimedia Commons)


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16 February 2019

16 February

Achille Castiglioni 


Leading figure in post-war Italian style

The designer Achille Castiglioni, whose innovative ideas for lighting, furniture and items for the home put him at the forefront of Italy’s post-war design boom, was born on this day in 1918 in Milan. Many of his designs, including the Arco floor lamp for which he is most famous, are still in production today, even 17 years after his death. The Arco lamp, which he designed in 1962 in conjunction with his brother, Pier Giacomo, combined a heavy base in Carrara marble, a curved telescopic stainless steel arm and a polished aluminium reflector. Read more...


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Edda Dell’Orso – vocalist


Soprano was wordless voice of Morricone soundtracks

The singer Edda Dell’Orso, best known for the extraordinary range of wordless vocals that have featured in many of composer Ennio Morricone’s brilliant film soundtracks from the 1960s onwards, was born on this day in 1935 in Genoa. Her collaboration with Morricone began when he was contracted in 1964 to provide the musical score for the ‘spaghetti western’ A Fistful of Dollars but was offered only a small budget, which meant his access to a full orchestra was limited. Forced to improvise, he used the human voice as an instrument to create sounds. Read more…

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Giambattista Bodoni - type designer


Celebrity printer whose name lives on in type

Typographer, printer and publisher Giambattista Bodoni was born on this day in 1740 in Saluzzo in the region of Piedmont. At the height of his career he became internationally famous and was complimented by the Pope and paid a pension by Napoleon. Bodoni, whose father and grandfather were both printers, designed a modern typeface that was named after him and is still in use today. Read more…


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Valentino Rossi - motorcycle world champion


Rider from Urbino among his sport's all-time greats

Valentino Rossi, the motorcycle racer whose seven 500cc or MotoGP world titles have established him as one of the sport's all-time greats, was born on this day in 1979 in Urbino. Only his fellow Italian, Giacomo Agostini, the eight-times world champion, has more 500cc or MotoGP titles than Rossi, whose total of 89 race victories in the premier classification is the most by any rider.  Across all engine sizes, he has been a world champion nine times, behind only Agostini (15) and Spain's Ángel Nieto, who specialised in 50cc and 125cc classes.  Read more...

Achille Castiglioni - designer

Leading figure in post-war Italian style


Achille Castiglioni regarded furniture-making as art
Achille Castiglioni regarded
furniture-making as art
The designer Achille Castiglioni, whose innovative ideas for lighting, furniture and items for the home put him at the forefront of Italy’s post-war design boom, was born on this day in 1918 in Milan.

Many of his designs, including the Arco floor lamp for which he is most famous, are still in production today, even 17 years after his death.

The Arco lamp, which he designed in 1962 in conjunction with his brother, Pier Giacomo, combined a heavy base in Carrara marble, a curved telescopic stainless steel arm and a polished aluminium reflector.

Designed so that the reflector could be suspended above a table or a chair, the Arco was conceived as an overhead lighting solution for apartments that removed the need for holes in the ceiling and wiring, yet as an object of simple chic beauty it came to be seen as a symbol of sophistication and good taste.

The Arco lamp, anchored in a block of marble, is perhaps Castiglioni's most famous creation
The Arco lamp, anchored in a block of marble, is
perhaps Castiglioni's most famous creation
The Arco was commissioned by the Italian lighting company Flos, which still produces numerous other lamps designed by Castiglioni.

Achille’s father was the sculptor Giannino Castiglioni. His brothers Livio and Pier Giacomo, both older, were architects.

He initially studied classics at the Liceo classico Giuseppe Parini in Milan, but switched to study the arts at the Liceo artistico di Brera. In 1937 he enrolled in the faculty of architecture of the Politecnico di Milano.

As was common for young Italians of his generation, the Second World War interrupted Achille’s progress. He joined up, became an officer in the artillery, and was stationed on the Greek front and later in Sicily, returning to Milan just before the Allied invasion of 1943. In March 1944 he was able to graduate.

The Mezzadro chair incorporated a tractor seat mounted on a metal and wood base
The Mezzadro chair incorporated a tractor seat
mounted on a metal and wood base
He joined the studio his brothers ran with Luigi Caccia Dominioni, another young Italian architect and designer. They designed interiors and created products, among them the Fimi-Phonola 547 radio, an extraordinary piece in metal and moulded bakelite that fulfilled the need to be inexpensive but was uniquely stylish.

After the war, Italy entered a kind of mini-Renaissance, inspired with the sense of a new beginning. Designers gave free rein to their imagination, often placing art above functionality in the design process. Castiglioni managed to marry the two.

When Livio left in 1952, Achille and Pier Giacomo continued to work together on innovative, sleekly modern designs for everyday objects and appliances. One creation, a vacuum cleaner in red plastic with a leather strap that the user could carry on his or her back, made for the REM company, can now be found in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, along with more than a dozen other Castiglioni designs.

Lighting was always Achille Castiglioni's speciality, enabling him to indulge his fascination with symbolism and theatricality. From the 1960s to the ‘80s, seen as Milan’s heyday as the city of design - he applied the same creative strategy to a wide range of projects, as diverse as hi-fi equipment and hospital beds.

Castiglioni's unique bakelite radio, the  Fimi-Phonola 547
Castiglioni's unique bakelite radio, the
Fimi-Phonola 547
He embraced the concept of using ‘found objects’ to create unusual but functional furniture, such as his Sella - saddle - stool, which featured a bicycle seat atop a pole with a rounded base designed as a telephone stool. Another seating solution, the Mezzadro, incorporated a tractor seat.

In his later years, after Pier Giacomo's death, Achille remained active in the studio in Piazza Castello but also went back to college, this time to lecture in design, first at the Polytechnic of Turin and later as a professor at the Polytechnic of Milan.

Castiglioni, who was one of the founding members of Association for Industrial Design (Associazione per il Disegno Industriale), established in 1956, died in 2002 at the age of 84. He was survived by his wife, Irma, and three children.

Castiglioni's studio, now a museum, is close to Milan's magnificent Castello Sforzesco
Castiglioni's studio, now a museum, is close to Milan's
magnificent Castello Sforzesco
Travel tip:

Castiglioni’s studio in the Piazza Castello in Milan has been turned into a museum, looked after by his youngest daughter, Giovanna. It is also the headquarters of the Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, established in 2011 to celebrate his work but also to promote innovative and stylish design. Piazza Castello is the semi-circular space surrounding the Castello Sforzesco, Milan’s impressive 15th century castle, which can be found about a 20-minute walk from the Duomo in a northwesterly direction. The Fondazione, at Piazza Castello 27, is open to the public via guided visits only, which take about an hour and cost €10. For more information, visit http://fondazioneachillecastiglioni.it/en/visits/

Milan hotels from Hotels.com

The main building of the Politecnico di Milano in Piazza Leonardo da Vince in the Città Studi
The main building of the Politecnico di Milano in
Piazza Leonardo da Vince in the Città Studi
Travel tip:

The Politecnico di Milano was founded in November 1863 by Francesco Brioschi, secretary of the Ministry of Education and rector of the University of Pavia. It is the oldest university in Milan. Originally, only civil and industrial engineering were taught. Architecture was introduced in 1865 in cooperation with the Brera Academy. There were only 30 students admitted in the first year; today, there are 42,000. Its central offices and headquarters are on Piazza Leonardo da Vinci, located in the historical campus of Città Studi in Milan, about 3.5km (2 miles) northeast of the city centre.

Search for the best Milan hotels on TripAdvisor

More reading:

How Marco Zanuso's ideas put Italy at the forefront of contemporary design

The Rome designer who became England's Royal jeweller

Flaminio Bertoni: car design as sculpture

Also on this day:

1740: The birth of Giambattista Bodoni - printer and type designer

1935: The birth of Morricone's wordless vocalist Edda dell'Orso

1979: The birth of multiple world motorcycling champion Valentino Rossi

(Picture credits: Mezzadro chair by Sailko; Watch by austincalhoon; Castello Sforzesco by Gpaolo; Politecnico by Luigi Brambilla; all via Wikimedia Commons)


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15 February 2019

15 February

Charlie Cairoli - circus clown


Milan-born performer who became a Blackpool legend

The circus clown Charlie Cairoli, who set a world record by appearing at the Blackpool Tower Circus in England for 40 consecutive seasons, was born in Affori, now a suburb of Milan but then a town in its own right, on this day in 1910.  Cairoli performed at the Tower every year from 1939 until 1979, quitting only when his health failed him. The run was not broken even by the outbreak of the Second World War or his own arrest as a suspected ‘enemy alien’.  Read more...


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Destruction of Monte Cassino Abbey


Historic monastery flattened in Allied bombing raid

The Abbey of Monte Cassino, established in 529 and the oldest Benedictine monastery in the world, was destroyed by Allied bombers on this day in 1944. The Abbey was attacked despite an agreement signed by both sides with the Vatican that the historic building would be respected as occupying neutral territory, after Allied commanders became convinced that the Germans were using the Abbey as a point from which to direct operations. Read more…

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Totò – comic actor


50 years on, remembered still as Italy’s funniest performer

The comic actor Antonio De Curtis, universally known as Totò and still winning polls as the most popular Italian comedian of all time a half-century after his death, was born on this day in 1898 in Naples.  Totò had a distinguished career in theatre, wrote poetry and sang, but is best remembered for the 97 films in which he appeared between 1937 and his death in 1967, playing characters were typically eccentric, his acting style sometimes almost extravagantly expressive both physically and vocally.  Read more…

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Galileo Galilei – astronomer and physicist


Scholar has been judged to be the founder of modern science 

Renaissance scientist Galileo Galilei was born on this day in 1564 in Pisa. His astronomical observations confirmed the phases of Venus, discovered the four largest satellites of Jupiter and analysed sunspots. He also invented a military compass, among other things. However, after supporting the theory that the sun was at the centre of the solar system he was tried by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. Read more…

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Charlie Cairoli - circus clown

Milan-born performer who became a Blackpool legend


Charlie Cairoli became one of the world's  most famous clowns
Charlie Cairoli became one of the world's
most famous clowns
The circus clown Charlie Cairoli, who would at his peak set a world record by appearing at the Blackpool Tower Circus in England for 40 consecutive seasons, was born in Affori, now a suburb of Milan but then a town in its own right, on this day in 1910.

Cairoli performed at the Tower for the first time in 1939 and returned every year until 1979, quitting only when his health began to fail him.

The run was not broken even by the outbreak of the Second World War, which Britain entered soon after he arrived, or his own arrest as a suspected ‘enemy alien’. He was the Tower’s most popular attraction for almost all of those years.

Cairoli, though born in Italy, was actually from a French family, albeit one of Italian descent, who christened him Hubert Jean Charles Cairoli.

His father, Jean-Marie, was also a clown; his mother, Eugenie, came from another French circus family with Italian heritage, the Rocono. Charles - known as Carletto - and his brother Louis-Philippe became part of the show as young children. Carletto made his debut at the age of seven.

At that age, he was doing little more than fetching and carrying for his parents, who were the stars. By the age of 17, he was entrusted with the role that would make him famous, that of the slapstick character known in the circus as an auguste, the figure of fun who would inevitably end up with a custard pie in the face, their trousers ripped off or a bucket of water over their head. Cairoli adopted a red nose, a bowler hat and oversized shoes as his trade marks.

Charlie Cairoli and his wife, Violetta. during the TV show This Is Your Life
Charlie Cairoli and his wife, Violetta.
during the TV show This Is Your Life
When he was 24 and working in Paris with his father in their Cairoli Brothers act at the the Cirque Medrano at Montmartre, he met his future wife, Violetta Fratellini, then only 19 and also from a famous circus family, who was there as part of a knockabout acrobatic act. Carletto showed off his musical talent by serenading her on the clarinet. By Christmas 1934 they were married.

In the winter of 1938, the Cairolis went to work in a Christmas pantomime in Birmingham, England. Clem Butson, the manager of the Blackpool Tower Circus, saw them in action and offered them a contract for the 1939 summer season.

When war broke out in September, Cairoli found himself in a difficult position. His father had French nationality and his brother had gone back to fulfil his military service. But Cairoli was born in Italy and was therefore Italian.

Before the war began he had applied for French citizenship but the papers had not come through. He even made the dramatic gesture of taking a watch he had given by the German leader Adolf Hitler after a performance in Munich and throwing it into the sea off the end of Blackpool’s North Pier, in the hope it would make his allegiance clear.

Cairoli regularly ended his Blackpool Tower Circus shows soaked to the skin
Cairoli regularly ended his Blackpool Tower Circus
shows soaked to the skin
Nonetheless, along with many other Italians living in Britain, mainly in the catering industry, Cairoli was deported to the Isle of Man.

Happily, proof of his French citizenship had arrived by October and he was able to return to the mainland, where he and his father spent the winter working in a munitions factory and appearing in variety shows before returning to Blackpool Tower for the summer season.

Cairoli was fortunate that Blackpool Tower Circus continued to operate throughout the war years, its location on the Lancashire coast just far enough away from the major cities to be relatively safe from bombing. And with foreign acts unable to travel to England, the Cairolis thrived.

He and Violetta established a good life in Blackpool, where they would remain for the rest of their lives. Cairoli’s popularity as a performer grew and the arrival of television saw his profile rise substantially in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with frequent television appearances both in Britain and America.

At the same time, he became a regular on stage in variety shows and pantomime, especially during the winters, including the Grand Theatre in Leeds and Alhambra in Bradford. On one occasion, he brought Christmas shopping in Leeds to a standstill as he led hundreds of youngsters through the streets to the City Varieties, where he gave a special show.

Cairoli had musical talent as well as a gift for comedy
Cairoli had musical talent as well as a gift for comedy
A measure of his status as one of Britain’s best-loved entertainers was an invitation in 1970 to appear on the hugely popular TV show This Is Your Life.

Cairoli continued with a hectic schedule of performances until 1979, when exhaustion forced him to miss a number of shows at the Tower. In November of that year he announced his retirement, which lasted only a few months, sadly.

He died in February 1980 at the age of just 70, at his home on Blackpool’s North Shore. His widow, Violetta, survived him by 22 years. One of their three children, also called Charlie, revived his father’s character for cabaret and pantomime performances, but never appeared at the Tower Circus.

The Villa Litta is a 17th century house within Milan's oldest city park at Affori, where Cairoli was born
The Villa Litta is a 17th century house within Milan's
oldest city park at Affori, where Cairoli was born
Travel tip:

Since 1923, Affori has been part of greater Milan and now has little to distinguish it from many other suburbs in the city, which now has a population of 1.25 million.  There is evidence of a settlement in the area since 915 and there are some remnants of a medieval town, notably a 14th century watch tower that forms part of a more modern building in Via Osculati. Affori’s main historical building today is the Villa Litta, a 17th-century house located within Milan’s oldest city park. The villa, originally built by Count Pirro I Visconti Borromeo in the style of the Medici villas of Tuscany, it was subsequently owned by several families of the Milanese aristocracy, namely the Corbella, the D'Adda and the Litta.

The Piazza Santa Maria Novella in Florence, where Giuseppe Garibaldi gathered support for his Expedition of the Thousand
The Piazza Santa Maria Novella in Florence, where Giuseppe
Garibaldi gathered support for his Expedition of the Thousand
Travel tip:

Violetta, Cairoli’s wife, was the granddaughter of Gustavo Fratellini, a circus trapeze artist and acrobat from Florence who was also a follower of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the patriotic general who led the drive to Italian unification in the 19th century, most notably with his Expedition of the Thousand, which claimed Sicily, Naples and the southern part of the mainland on behalf of the new Kingdom of Italy. Fratellini may have been inspired by a major speech Garibaldi gave to a crowd gathered in Piazza Santa Maria Novella as he toured the Italian cities, gathering recruits for his army of red shirts.

More reading:

Moira Orfei - 'Queen of the Big Top'

The Venetian nobleman who fought to save Commedia dell'Arte

The comic genius of Ugo Tognazzi

Also on this day:

1564: The birth of astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei

1898: The birth of comic actor Totò

1944: Allied bombing destroys Monte Cassino Abbey



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