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.

23 May 2019

Giuseppe Parini – writer

Satirist avenged bad treatment though his poetry


The poet and satirist Giuseppe Parini was  identified with the Age of Enlightenment
The poet and satirist Giuseppe Parini was
 identified with the Age of Enlightenment
Poet and satirist Giuseppe Parini was born on this day in 1729 in Bosisio in Lombardy.

A writer associated the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, he is remembered for his series of Horatian odes and for Il giorno - The Day - a satirical poem in four books about the selfishness and superficiality of the aristocracy in Milan.

The son of a silk trader, Parini was sent to Milan to study under the religious order, the Barnabites. In 1752 his first volume of verse introduced him to literary circles and the following year he joined the Milanese Accademia dei Trasformati - Academy of the Transformed - which was located at the Palazzo Imbonati in the Porta Nuova district.

He was ordained a priest in 1754 - a condition of a legacy made to him by a great aunt - and entered the household of Duke Gabrio Serbelloni at Tremezzo on Lake Como to be tutor to his eldest son.

Parini was unhappy there and felt he was badly treated, but he twice got his revenge on his employer through his writing. In 1757 he wrote his Dialogo sopra la nobilità, a discussion between the corpse of a nobleman and the corpse of a poet about the true nature of nobility. Later, in his masterpiece, the satirical poem, Il Giorno, he sent another powerful message.

The poem, which contained ironic instructions to a young nobleman about the best ways to spend his days, also marked an advance in Italian blank verse and established his literary reputation.

Mozart composed an operatic score for one of Parini's plays, Asconio in Alba
Mozart composed an operatic score for one of
Parini's plays, Asconio in Alba
As a result, Parini became editor of the Gazzetta di Milano and later, a humanities professor in the Palatine and Brera schools in Milan.

He met the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Milan, who composed an operatic score for Parini’s play, Ascanio in Alba. The opera was performed in 1771.

Parini held a Government post as a magistrate after the French took Milan in 1796 but then retired to continue writing.

Younger poets admired Parini for his morality and free thinking, in particular, Ugo Foscolo, who portrayed Parini as serious and dignified and criticised the rich town that he felt had forgotten him, in two of his poems.

Parini died in 1799 in Milan. His body was interred at the Mojazza Cemetery, not far from the Porta Garibaldi railway station.

Bosisio Parini sits on the shore of Lake Pusiano in the Brianza, north of Milan
Bosisio Parini sits on the shore of Lake Pusiano in the
Brianza, north of Milan
Travel tip:

Bosisio in the province of Lecco in Lombardy, where Parini was born, is now called Bosisio Parini in honour of the poet. A village of about 3,500 inhabitants, it is situated about 11 km (7 miles) southwest of Lecco on the shores of the Lake of Pusiano. The lakefront is named after the sports journalist Gianni Brera, who died in 1992.  Bosisio Parini is part of the area between Monza and Lake Como known as the Brianza, an area of outstanding natural beauty popular with Milan residents as a holiday or weekend destination.

The monument the poet Giuseppe Parini in Piazza Cordusio in the heart of Milan's city centre
The monument the poet Giuseppe Parini in Piazza Cordusio
in the heart of Milan's city centre
Travel tip:

In Piazza Cordusio in Milan there is a monument to Parini by the architect Luca Beltrami.  The piazza takes its name from the Cors Ducis (Ducal court) which was found in the square during Longobard times. Sometimes known as Piazzale Cordusio, it is well known for its turn-of-the-19th-century Neoclassical and Art Nouveau buildings, banks and post offices, such as the Palazzo delle Assicurazioni Generali, the Palazzo del Credito Italiano and the Palazzo delle Poste, as well as the former Borsa di Milano (former Milan Stock Exchange). The square hosts the Cordusio metro station and is the starting point of the elegant pedestrian Via Dante which leads to the imposing medieval Castello Sforzesco.

More reading:

Why Gaspara Stampa was the greatest female poet of the Renaissance

Carlo Goldoni, the Venetian playwright whose work still entrances audiences today

Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, the writer who satirised life in 19th century Rome

Also on this day:

1498: The execution of hellfire preacher Girolamo Savonarola 

1670: The death of Ferdinando II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany

1933: The birth of Sergio Gonella, the first Italian to referee a World Cup final


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22 May 2019

22 May


José João Altafini - footballer who made history


Forward tamed Eusebio to give Italy first European Cup

Supporters of AC Milan took to the streets to celebrate on this day in 1963 after José João Altafini's goals secured an historic victory in the European Cup.  Milan beat Benfica at Wembley Stadium in London to become the first Italian team to win the trophy.  Until then the European Cup had been dominated by Real Madrid, who were champions for five years in a row after the competition was launched in 1955-56, with the great Eusebio's Benfica winning in 1961 and 1962.  At half-time at Wembley in 1963, Milan looked set to provide another near-miss story for Italy, trailing to a Eusebio goal as Benfica closed on a third successive title.  But 24-year-old Altafini, who became one of Serie A’s most prolific all-time goalscorers, refused to be cowed.  He netted in the 58th and 66th minutes, sparking joyous scenes in Milan and starting a period of European dominance for the city, with AC’s rivals Internazionale winning the next two tournaments.  Read more…

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Trevi Fountain inaugurated


Famous landmark now helps raise money for the poor

Rome’s iconic Trevi Fountain - the Fontana di Trevi - was officially opened by Pope Clement XIII on this day in 1762.  Standing at more than 26 metres high and 49 metres wide it is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and probably the most famous fountain in the world.  It has featured in films such as La Dolce Vita and Three Coins in the Fountain.  For more than 400 years a fountain served Rome at the junction of three roads - le tre vie - using water from one of Ancient Rome’s aqueducts.  In 1629 Pope Urban VIII asked Gian Lorenzo Bernini to draw up possible renovations but the project was abandoned when the pope died.  In 1730 Pope Clement XII organised a contest to design a new fountain. The Florentine Alessandro Galilei originally won but there was such an outcry in Rome that the commission was eventually awarded to a Roman, Nicola Salvi.  Visitors traditionally throw coins into the fountain and 3000 euros are collected each day to subsidise a supermarket for Rome’s poor.  Read more…

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Giulia Grisi - operatic soprano


Officer’s daughter became a star on three continents

The opera singer Giulia Grisi, one of the leading sopranos of the 19th century, was born on this day in 1811 in Milan.  Renowned for the smooth sweetness of her voice, Grisi sang to full houses in Europe, the United States and South America during a career spanning 30 years in which composers such as Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti created roles especially for her.  These included Elvira in Bellini’s final opera, I puritani, in which Grisi appeared alongside the great tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, the bass Luigi Lablache and the baritone Antonio Tamburini when the work premiered in Paris in 1835.  Grisi, the daughter of an army officer, was also the first soprano cast in the role of Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma in Milan in 1831, playing opposite Guiditta Pasta in the title role.  Donizetti wrote the parts of Norina and Ernesto in his 1843 work Don Pasquale for Grisi and her future husband, the tenor Giovanni Matteo De Candia.  Read more…

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21 May 2019

21 May

Pandolfo Petrucci – ruler of Siena


Ruthless tyrant who encouraged art

Pandolfo Petrucci, who during his time ruling Siena was one of the most powerful men in Italy, died on this day in 1512 in San Quirico d’Orcia in Tuscany.  Although he had been a tyrannical ruler, Petrucci had also done a great deal to increase the artistic splendour of his native city.  Petrucci was born into an aristocratic family in Siena in 1452. He had to go into exile in 1483 for being a member of the Noveschi political faction, which had fallen out of favour with the rulers of Siena.  After he returned to Siena in 1487, he began to take advantage of the struggles between the different political factions.  He married Aurelia Borghese, who was the daughter of Niccolò Borghese, an important figure in Siena at the time. His rapid rise to power alienated his father-in-law, who conspired with other influential citizens in Siena to assassinate him. However, Petrucci uncovered the plot and in 1500 had Borghese murdered. This act terrified his other enemies, which left Petrucci in complete control.Read more…

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Propaganda Due suspects named


Italy horrified as list reveals alleged members of ‘secret state’ 

Ordinary Italians were stunned and the country’s elite rocked to the core on this day in 1981 when a list was made public of alleged members of Propaganda Due, a secret Masonic lodge which sought to run the country as a ‘state within the state’.  A staggering 962 names were on the list, including 44 members of parliament, three of whom were cabinet ministers, 49 bankers, numerous industrialists, a number of newspaper editors and other high-profile journalists, the heads of all three of Italy’s secret services and more than 200 military and police officers, including 12 generals of the Carabinieri, five of the Guardia di Finanza, 22 of the army and four from the air force.  The list of alleged members included Roberto Calvi (pictured above), the former head of the Banco Ambrosiano who would be found dead in London the following year, Admiral Giovanni Torrisi, the Chief of the Defence Staff of Italy, and the future prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who had yet to enter politics but was already on his way to becoming Italy’s most powerful media tycoon.  Read more…

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Angelo Bruno - Mafia boss


Sicilian head of Philadelphia mob known as 'the Gentle Don'

Angelo Bruno, a mobster who ran the Philadelphia Mafia for two decades, was born Angelo Annaloro in Villalba, in the province of Caltanissetta, in Sicily, on this day in 1910.  Bruno was known as “the Gentle Don” because he preferred to solve problems and consolidate his power through non-violent means, such as bribery, and commissioned murders only as a last resort.  The son of a grocer, he emigrated to the United States in his teens and settled in Philadelphia. He became a close associate of New York crime family boss Carlo Gambino.  Bruno’s dislike of violence was not driven by any compassion for his fellow man.  During his early days, he did not shirk the tasks he had to perform in order to be rise through the Mafia ranks, which included carrying out killings himself.  However, in other cities, the tendency of Mafia families to embark on campaigns of violence to strengthen their powerbase inevitably resulted in the authorities cracking down on mob activity and Bruno preferred not to attract unnecessary attention.  Read more…

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Michelangelo’s Pietà damaged


Work of art deliberately vandalised

Michelangelo’s beautiful Pietà, a marble sculpture of the Virgin Mary with the dead body of Jesus lying across her knees, was damaged by a man wielding a hammer on this day in 1972 in Rome.  A mentally disturbed man walked into St Peter’s Basilica and attacked the sculpture in an act of deliberate vandalism.  He struck it 15 times, removing Mary’s arm at the elbow, knocking off a chunk of her nose and chipping one of her eyelids.  Some of the pieces of marble that flew off were taken by some of the people who were in the church at the time and Mary’s nose had to be reconstructed from a block cut out of her back.  The man who carried out the attack was said to be suffering from a delusion that he was Jesus Christ risen from the dead. He was not charged with any crime but spent two years in a psychiatric hospital.  Read more…

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Pandolfo Petrucci – ruler of Siena

Ruthless tyrant who encouraged art


Pandolfo Petrucci was one of the most powerful rulers in Italy
Pandolfo Petrucci was one of the most
powerful rulers in Italy
Pandolfo Petrucci, who during his time ruling Siena was one of the most powerful men in Italy, died on this day in 1512 in San Quirico d’Orcia in Tuscany.

Although he had been a tyrannical ruler, Petrucci had also done a great deal to increase the artistic splendour of his native city.

Petrucci was born into an aristocratic family in Siena in 1452. He had to go into exile in 1483 for being a member of the Noveschi political faction, which had fallen out of favour with the rulers of Siena.

After he returned to Siena in 1487, he began to take advantage of the struggles between the different political factions.

He married Aurelia Borghese, who was the daughter of Niccolò Borghese, an important figure in Siena at the time. After entering public office himself, Petrucci acquired so much authority and wealth that he became the ruling despot of Siena with the title of signore - lord.

His rapid rise to power alienated his father-in-law, who conspired with other influential citizens in Siena to assassinate him. However, Petrucci uncovered the plot and in 1500 had Borghese murdered. This act terrified his other enemies, which left Petrucci in complete control.

Rival Cesare Borgia planned to have  Petrucci executed
Rival Cesare Borgia planned to have
Petrucci executed 
He consolidated his power by surrounding himself with supporters whose loyalty to him was guaranteed by the income they were able to draw from public land and property.

However Petrucci’s rule did have some benefits for Siena because he eventually stopped the sale of public offices, secured economic advantages for the city, reformed the monetary system and encouraged the advancement of art.

Petrucci became involved in political intrigues, trying to win the trust of the condottiero Cesare Borgia before plotting against him. Borgia summoned him to a meeting where he was planning to execute Petrucci along with some of his other enemies but Petrucci did not attend the meeting and instead fled to Lucca.

Helped by his ally, King Louis XII of France, Petrucci was returned to power in Siena within a few months.

After Borgia’s death in 1507, Petrucci became one of the most powerful men in Italy.

In 1512 he handed control of Siena over to his son and died soon afterwards in San Quirico d’Orcia. His family continued to rule Siena until 1524.

The cathedral at Siena is considered to be one of Italy's  finest examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture
The cathedral at Siena is considered to be one of Italy's
 finest examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture
Travel tip:

Siena in Tuscany is well known as the venue for the historic horse race, the Palio di Siena. The race takes place in Siena’s Piazza del Campo, a shell-shaped open area which is regarded as one of Europe’s finest medieval squares. It was established in the 13th century as an open marketplace on a sloping site between the three communities that eventually merged to form the city of Siena.  The city's cathedral, with a pulpit designed by Nicola Pisani, is considered a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture.

The town of San Quirico d'Orcia in Tuscany, where
Petrucci spent his final days
Travel tip:

San Quirico d’Orcia, where Petrucci died, is a small town in the province of Siena located about 35 kilometres (22 miles) southeast of the city of Siena. It is named after Saint Quiricus, an early Christian martyr. The Church of San Quirico dates back to the eighth century but was rebuilt in the 12th century.  A side portal added in the 13th century is believed to be the work of the sculptor Giovanni Pisano who was known to have been working in Siena at the time.

More reading:

Cesare Borgia, the son of a pope who quit the church to become a military leader

Scipione Borghese, the 20th century adventurer from a famous family line

How the power struggles of Petrucci's times inspired Machiavelli's The Prince

Also on this day:

1910: The birth of Mob boss Angelo Bruno

1972: Michelangelo's masterpiece, the Pietà, is damaged by vandalism

1981: A list of alleged members of the illegal masonic lodge Propaganda Due is published


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20 May 2019

20 May

Hieronymus Fabricius - anatomist and surgeon


Research pioneer known as “Father of Embryology”

The pioneering anatomist and physiologist known in academic history as Hieronymus Fabricius, whose Italian name was Girolamo Fabrizio, was born on this day in 1537 in Acquapendente, in Lazio.  Fabrizio, who designed the first permanent theatre for public anatomical dissections, advanced the knowledge of the make-up of the human body in many areas, including the digestive system, the eyes and ears, and the veins.  But his most significant discoveries were in embryology.  He investigated the foetal development of many animals and humans and produced the first detailed description of the placenta. For this he became known as the "Father of Embryology".  Fabrizio spent most of his life at the University of Padua, where he was a student under the guidance of Gabriele Falloppio, who discovered the tube connecting the ovaries with the uterus that became known as the Fallopian tube.  He succeeded Falloppio as chair of surgery and anatomy. Read more…

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Albano Carrisi - singer


Performer best known as Al Bano has sold 165 million records

The singer Albano Carrisi, better known as Al Bano, was born on this day in 1943 in Cellino San Marco, a town in Puglia about 30km (19 miles) from Lecce.  He enjoyed considerable success as a solo artist in the late 1960s but became more famous still in Italy and across mainland Europe for his collaboration with the American singer Romina Power – daughter of the actor Tyrone Power.  They met during the shooting of a film - one of several, mainly romantic comedies and a vehicle for his songs, in which he starred during the 1970s.  They not only formed a professional partnership but were married for almost 30 years.  They twice performed as Italy’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, finishing seventh on both occasions, and appeared several times at Italy’s prestigious Sanremo Music Festival, winning the top prize in 1984.  They divorced in 1999 but reunited on a professional basis in 2013 and performed at the Arena di Verona in 2015 before a sell-out crowd of 11,000. His record sales are put at more than 165 million. Read more…


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Pietro Bembo – poet and scholar


Lucrezia’s lover helped with the development of modern Italian

Pietro Bembo, a writer who was influential in the development of the Italian language, was born on this day in 1470 in Venice.  He is probably most remembered for having an affair with Lucrezia Borgia while she was married to the Duke of Ferrara and he was living at the Este Court with them. His love letters to her were described by the English poet, Lord Byron, centuries later, as ‘the prettiest love letters in the world.’  As a boy, Bembo visited Florence with his father where he acquired a love for the Tuscan form of Italian which he was later to use as his literary medium. He later learnt Greek and went to study at the University of Padua.  He spent two years at the Este Court in Ferrara where he wrote poetry that was reminiscent of Boccaccio and Petrarch.  It was when he returned to the court at Ferrara a few years later he had an affair with Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI.  Read more…

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19 May 2019

19 May

Andrea Pirlo - footballer


Midfielder who won multiple honours with AC Milan and Juventus

The footballer Andrea Pirlo, who some commentators bracket with Roberto Baggio as one of the two best Italian footballers of the last 25 years, was born on this day in 1979.  The midfielder, who ended his career playing for the Major League Soccer team New York City, played in six Italian championship-winning teams with AC Milan and Juventus and was a double winner of the Champions League.  In international football he was a member of the 2006 Italian national team that lifted the World Cup in Germany.  The fulcrum of the Azzurri midfield, he scored one goal and was credited with the assist for three other goals during the tournament.  One of those assists resulted in the crucial opening goal for Italy scored by Fabio Grosso in the classic semi-final against the host nation.  He was named man of the match three times in the tournament, more than any other player.  In all he won 119 caps for his country, the fourth highest total of all Italian internationals. Read more…


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Vittorio Orlando - politician


Prime minister humiliated at First World War peace talks

Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, the Italian prime minister best known for being humiliated by his supposed allies at the Paris peace talks following the First World War, was born on this day in 1860 in Palermo.  Elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 1897, Orlando had held a number of positions in government and became prime minister in 1917 following Italy’s disastrous defeat to the Austro-Hungarian army at Caporetto, which saw 40,000 Italian soldiers killed or wounded and 265,000 captured. Orlando, who had been a supporter of Italy’s entry into the war on the side of the Allies, rebuilt shattered Italian morale and the military victory at Vittorio Veneto, which ended the war on the Italian front and contributed to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire, saw him hailed as Italy’s ‘premier of victory’.  However, his reputation was left in tatters when he and Sidney Sonnino, his half-Welsh foreign secretary, when to Paris to participate in peace talks but left humiliated after the territorial gains they were promised in return for entering the war on the side of Britain, France and the United States were not delivered.  Read more…

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Michele Placido – actor and director


Role of anti-Mafia police inspector turned actor into a TV star

Actor and director Michele Placido was born on this day in 1946 in Ascoli Satriano in Apulia.  Placido is best known for his portrayal of the character, Corrado Cattani, in the Italian television series, La piovra.  Cattani, a police inspector investigating the Mafia, was the lead character in the first four series of La piovra (meaning The Octopus, a name that referred to the Mafia). It was popular on television in the 1980s and the first three series were shown in the UK on Channel Four.  Placido’s family were originally from Rionero in Vulture in Basilicata and he is a descendant of the folk hero, Carmine Crocco, sometimes also known as Donatello. Crocco had fought in the service of Garibaldi but, after Italian unification, he became disappointed with the new Government and formed his own army to fight on behalf of the deposed King of the Two Sicilies, Francis II.  Placido also played the part of Giovanni Falcone, the anti-Mafia crusader, in the 1993 film of the same name directed by Giuseppe Ferrara.  Read more...

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18 May 2019

18 May

Giuseppe Ayala – politician and magistrate


Judge joined in struggle against the Mafia

Anti-Mafia prosecutor Giuseppe Ayala was born on this day in 1945 in Caltanissetta in Sicily.  Ayala became well known as an anti-Mafia magistrate and anti-Mafia judge. He was a prosecutor at the so-called Maxi Trial in Palermo in 1987, which resulted in the conviction of 342 Mafiosi.  He has continually raised doubts about whether it was the Mafia working alone who were responsible for the killing of his fellow anti-Mafia investigator Giovanni Falcone in 1992.  The deaths of Falcone and another prominent anti-Mafia magistrate, Paolo Borsellino, also murdered by the Mafia, came a few months after the killing of Christian Democrat politician, Salvatore Lima, who was thought to be the Mafia’s man on the inside in Rome and had close links with Italy’s three-times prime minister, Giulio Andreotti.  A member of both the Democratic Alliance and the Italian Republican party in the 1990s, Ayala was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1992 and served as under secretary for justice in the governments of Romano Prodi and Massimo D’Alema.  Read more…

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Ezio Pinza - opera and Broadway star


Poor boy from Rome who made his home at the Met

The opera star Ezio Pinza, who had 22 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1926 to 1948 and sang to great acclaim at many other of the world’s most famous opera houses, was born on this day in 1892 in Rome.  Pinza, a bass who was blessed with a smooth and rich voice and matinee idol looks, also had a successful career in musical theatre on Broadway and appeared in a number of Hollywood films.  Born Fortunio Pinza in relative poverty in Rome, he was brought up in Ravenna, close to the Adriatic coast about 85km (53 miles) from Bologna.  He dropped out of Ravenna University but studied singing at Bologna’s Conservatorio Martini and made his opera debut at Cremona in 1914 in Bellini’s Norma.  After serving his country in the First World War, he was invited to perform at Italy’s most prestigious opera house, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where he came under the baton of the brilliant conductor Arturo Toscanini, under whose guidance, Pinza began to prosper. Read more…

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Domenico di Pace Beccafumi – artist


Painter from Siena experimented with rich colour 

Considered one of the last true representatives of the Sienese school of painting, Domenico di Pace Beccafumi died on this day in 1551 in Siena.  He is remembered for his direction of the paving of the Duomo - cathedral - of Siena between 1517 and 1544, when he made ingenious improvements to the technical processes employed for this task, which in the end took more than 150 years to complete.  Domenico was born in Montaperti near Siena in about 1486. His father, Giacomo di Pace, worked on the estate of Lorenzo Beccafumi, whose surname he eventually took.  Seeing his talent for drawing, Lorenzo had taken an interest in him and recommended that he learn painting from the Sienese artist, Mechero.  Di Pace Beccafumi is renowned for his use of rich, almost luminous colours. One of his paintings, his Madonna with Child, St Jerome and the Infant St John, shows Mary wearing a blue robe lined with an almost iridescent pale green. Read more…

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Giovanni Falcone - anti-Mafia crusader


Sicilian lawyer made life's work of taking on Cosa Nostra 

Giovanni Falcone, who would become known as an anti-Mafia crusader during his career as a judge and prosecuting magistrate, was born on this day in 1939 in Palermo.  The son of a state clerk, he was raised in a poor district of the Sicilian city. Some of the boys with whom he played football in the street would go on to become Mafiosi but Falcone was determined from an early age that he would not be drawn into their world.  Educated at the local high school, he studied law at Palermo University. In 1966, at the age of 27, he was appointed a judge in Trapani, a crime-ridden port on the west coast of Sicily and began his lifelong quest to defeat the criminal organisation.  In time, Falcone became the Mafia's most feared enemy and by 1987 he was the chief prosecutor at the so-called 'maxi-trial' in Palermo which convicted 342 members of the so-called Cosa Nostra.  His success almost certainly led to his murder in 1992 when a half-ton of explosives was detonated under his car as it travelled along a motorway. Read more...

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Giuseppe Ayala – politician and magistrate

Judge who was part of struggle against the Mafia


Giuseppe Ayala was a prosecutor at the Maxi Trial of 1987
Giuseppe Ayala was a prosecutor at the
Maxi Trial of 1987
Anti-Mafia prosecutor Giuseppe Ayala was born on this day in 1945 in Caltanissetta in Sicily.

Ayala became well known as an anti-Mafia magistrate and anti-Mafia judge. He was a prosecutor at the so-called Maxi Trial in Palermo in 1987, which resulted in the conviction of 342 Mafiosi.

He has continually raised doubts about whether it was the Mafia working alone who were responsible for the killing of his fellow anti-Mafia investigator Giovanni Falcone in 1992.

The deaths of Falcone and another prominent anti-Mafia magistrate, Paolo Borsellino, also murdered by the Mafia, came a few months after the killing of Christian Democrat politician, Salvatore Lima, who was thought to be the Mafia’s man on the inside in Rome and had close links with Italy’s three-times prime minister, Giulio Andreotti.

There was speculation that it suited senior figures in the Italian government that the two magistrates were killed because they knew too much about corruption at the highest level.

Ayala studied at the University of Palermo and obtained a degree in jurisprudence. Afterwards he worked as a public prosecutor.

Ayala participated actively in the Tangentopoli trials and became a member of both the Democratic Alliance and the Italian Republican party in the 1990s. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1992 and served as under-secretary for justice in the governments of Romano Prodi and Massimo D’Alema.

Ayala (right) with his friend and colleague Giovanni  Falcone, who was murdered by the Mafia in 1992
Ayala (right) with his friend and colleague Giovanni
Falcone, who was murdered by the Mafia in 1992
In 1993 he published a book, La guerra dei giusti: I giudici, la mafia, la politica (The war of the righteous: The judges, the mafia, politics).

Ayala joined the Democratici di Sinistra - Democrats of the Left - a social-democratic political party, after it was formed in place of the Democratic Party of the Left and the Italian Communist Party.

During his time serving in the pool of anti-Mafia judges in Sicily, along with Falcone and Borsellino, Ayala constantly had to have armed bodyguards with him.

Now living in Palermo, Ayala had to be rushed to hospital there in April 2018 after he was involved in a car accident in the city. He had been out driving on his own, when his car was in collision with a Fiat Punto being driven by an elderly person. Ayala suffered a fractured femur as a result.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nova is one of the main buildings in the town of Caltanisetta
The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nova is one of the main
buildings in the town of Caltanisetta
Travel tip:

Caltanissetta, where Giuseppe Ayala was born, is a town in the centre of Sicily and is also the capital of the province of Caltanissette. It is the sixth highest municipality in Italy by elevation, at 568m (1,864ft) above sea level, and the second highest in Sicily after the city of Etna. The inhabitants of the are known as Nisseni. One of the main sights in Caltanissette is the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Nova, which was built in Piazza Garibaldi, the main square, between the years 1560 and 1620 in late Renaissance style. The interior is decorated with a series of frescoes by the Flemish painter, Guglielmo Borremans.

The church of San Cataldo in Piazza Bellini in Palermo is an example of the city's fusion of architectural styles
The church of San Cataldo in Piazza Bellini in Palermo is
an example of the city's fusion of architectural styles
Travel tip:

The vibrant city of Palermo, where Giuseppe Ayala lives now, is the capital of Sicily, and has a wealth of beautiful architecture, plenty of shops and markets to browse in, and an opera house, the Teatro Massimo, which is the largest theatre in Italy.  The city’s architecture reflects a history of northern European and Arabian influences.  The church of San Cataldo on Piazza Bellini is a good example of the fusion of Norman and Arabic architectural styles, having a bell tower typical of those common in northern France but with three spherical red domes on the roof.

More reading:

How Giovanni Falcone became an anti-Mafia crusader

Did murdered magistrate Paolo Borsellino know too much?

Was Salvatore Lima the Mafia's insider in government?

Also on this day:

1551: The death of Sienese painter Domenico di Pace Beccafumi

1892: The birth of opera singer and Broadway star Ezio Pinza

1939: The birth of anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone

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17 May 2019

17 May

Sandro Botticelli – painter


Renaissance master was forgotten until the 19th century

Early Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli died on this day in 1510 in Florence.  Years before his death he had asked to be buried in the Church of Ognissanti in Florence at the feet of a woman for whom it is believed he suffered unrequited love.  She was Simonetta Vespucci, a married noblewoman, who had died in 1476. She is thought to have been the model for Botticelli’s major work, The Birth of Venus, which was painted years later in 1485, and that she also appeared in many of his other paintings.  After his death, Botticelli was quickly forgotten and his paintings remained in the churches and villas for which they had been created until the late 19th century, when people started to appreciate his work again.  Botticelli was born Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi in 1445. He was active during the golden age of painting in Florence under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici and Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici. Read more…

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Luca Cadalora - motorcycle world champion


Modena rider won titles in 125cc and 250cc categories

Luca Cadalora, the motorcycle racer who was three times a world champion, was born on this day in 1963 in Modena, Emilia-Romagna.  Currently working as coach to Italy’s seven-times world champion Valentino Rossi, Cadalora began his professional motorcycle racing career in 1984, riding an MBA in the 125cc world championship.  After switching to the Garelli team, he won a season-long battle with team-mate Fausto Gresini to claim the 125cc world title, before being promoted to the 250cc class. He rode first for Giacomo Agostini's Marlboro Yamaha factory racing team, then switched in 1991 to the Rothmans Honda factory racing team, for whom he won the world championship twice, in consecutive seasons. He prevailed over the German Helmut Bradl in 1991, before beating the Italian Loris Reggiani, riding for Aprilia, the following year.  Read more…

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Federico II Gonzaga – Duke of Mantua


Ruler spent childhood as a political hostage

Federico Gonzaga, who became the ruler of Mantua and Montferrat, was born on this day in 1500 in Mantua.  He spent his childhood living as a political hostage, first at the court of Pope Julius II in Rome and then at the court of Francis I of France.  It wasn’t perhaps an ideal start in life, but historians believe the political, social and cultural education he received in the company of popes, cardinals, and kings helped shape him as a future ruler.  Federico was the son of Francesco II Gonzaga and Isabella d’Este. His godfather was Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli’s model for the ideal Renaissance Prince.  His father, Francesco, was captured by the Venetians during battle and held hostage for several months. While he was absent, his wife, Isabella, ruled Mantua.  Francesco managed to secure his own release only by agreeing to send his son, Federico, to be a hostage at the papal court.  Read more…

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16 May 2019

16 May

Laura Pausini - singer-songwriter


Grammy Award-winner has sold more than 70 million records

Laura Pausini, one of Italy's best-selling recording artists of all time and the the first Italian female performer to win a Grammy Award, born on this day in 1974 in Solarolo, in the province of Ravenna.  Pausini's records have sold more than 70 million copies worldwide, more than both Zucchero and Eros Ramazzotti, two giants of Italian popular music.  The figure is all the more remarkable for the fact that Pausini has only scratched the surface of the English-language market, which is by far the most lucrative.  She records mainly in Italian but has also enjoyed considerable success with recordings in Spanish and, more recently, in Catalan. She is the first non-Spanish artist to sell more than a million copies of a single album in Spain.  Pausini's background and upbringing always made it likely she would pursue a career in the music industry.  Her father, Fabrizio, is a pianist who played as a session musician for Abba's Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Read more…

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Massimo Moratti - business tycoon


Billionaire chairman oversaw golden era at Internazionale

The billionaire tycoon and former chairman of the Internazionale football club, Massimo Moratti, was born on this day in 1945 in Bosco Chiesanuova, a small town in the Veneto about 20km (12 miles) north of Verona.  His primary business, the energy provider Saras, of which he is chief executive, owns about 15 per cent of Italy’s oil refining capacity, mainly through the Sarroch refinery on Sardinia, which has a capacity of about 300,000 barrels per day.  Moratti is estimated to have net wealth of about €1.28 billion ($1.4 billion) yet is said to have spent close to €1.5 billion of his personal fortune on buying players during his chairmanship of Inter, which lasted from 1995 until 2013 and encompassed a period of unprecedented success.  Between 2005 and 2011 Inter won the Serie A title five times, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana four times each, the Champions League once and the FIFA World Club cup once.  Read more…

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Mario Monicelli - film director


Life’s work put him among greats of Commedia all’Italiana

Mario Monicelli, the director who became known as ‘the father of Commedia all’Italiana’ and was nominated for an Oscar six times, was born on this day in 1915 in Viareggio.  He made more than 70 films, working into his 90s.  He helped advance the careers of actors such as Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale, and forged successful associations with the great comic actors Totò and Alberto Sordi.  Commedia all’Italiana was notable for combining the traditional elements of comedy with social commentary, often addressing some of the most controversial issues of the times and making fun of any organisation, the Catholic Church in particular, perceived to have an earnest sense of self-importance.  The genre’s stories were often heavily laced with sadness and Monicelli’s work won praise for his particular sensitivity to the miseries and joys of Italian life and the foibles of ordinary Italians. Read more…

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15 May 2019

15 May

Claudio Monteverdi – composer


Baroque musician who gave us the first real opera

The composer and musician Claudio Monteverdi was baptised on this day in 1567 in Cremona in Lombardy.  Children were baptised soon after their birth in the 16th century so it is possible Monteverdi was born on 15 May or just before.  He was to become the most important developer of a new genre, the opera, and bring a more modern touch to church music.  Monteverdi studied under the maestro di cappella at the cathedral in Cremona and published several books of religious and secular music while still in his teens.  He managed to secure a position as a viola player at Vincenzo Gonzaga’s court in Mantua where he came into contact with some of the top musicians of the time. He went on to become master of music there in 1601.  It was his first opera, L’Orfeo, written for the Gonzaga court, that really established him as a composer.  Read more…

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Anna Maria Alberghetti - singer and actress


Child prodigy who rejected Hollywood to become Broadway star

The actress and operatic singer Anna Maria Alberghetti was born on this day in 1936 in the Adriatic resort of Pesaro.  She moved with her family to the United States in her teens and became a Broadway star, winning a Tony Award in 1962 as best actress in a musical for her performance in Bob Merrill’s Carnival, directed by Gower Champion.  Alberghetti was a child prodigy with music in her blood. Her father was an accomplished musician, an opera singer and concert master of the Rome Opera Company, who also played the cello. Her mother was a pianist.  They influenced the direction in which her talent developed and by the age of six she was singing with symphony orchestras with her father as her vocal instructor.  After success touring Europe, Anna Maria was invited to perform in the United States and made her debut at Carnegie Hall in New York at the age of 14. Given the state of Italy after the Second World War, the idea of settling permanently in America became too attractive for the family to resist.  Read more…

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Pippo Barzizza - band leader


Musician was an Italian pioneer of jazz and swing 

The musician and bandleader Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Barzizza, who helped popularise jazz and swing music in Italy during a long and successful career, was born on this day in 1902 in Genoa.  Barzizza was active in music for eight decades but was probably at the peak of his popularity in the 1930s and 40s, when he led the Blue Star and Cetra orchestras.  He continued to be a major figure in popular music until the 1960s and thereafter regularly came out of retirement to show that his talents had not waned.  He died at his home in Sanremo in 1994, just a few weeks before his 93rd birthday.  As well as arranging the music of others, Barzizza wrote more than 200 songs of his own in his lifetime, and helped advance the careers of such singers as Alberto Rabagliati, Otello Boccaccini, Norma Bruni, Maria Jottini and Silvana Fioresi among others.  Read more…

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14 May 2019

14 May

Aurelio Milani - footballer


Centre forward helped Inter win first European Cup

Aurelio Milani, who helped Internazionale become the second Italian football club to win the European Cup, was born on this day in 1934 in Desio, about 25km (15 miles) north of Lombardy’s regional capital Milan.  Inter beat Real Madrid 3-1 in the final Vienna in 1964 to emulate the achievement of city rivals AC Milan, who had become the first European champions from Italy the previous year.  Milani, a centre forward, scored the all-important second goal in the 61st minute after his fellow attacker Sandro Mazzola had given Inter the lead in the first half, receiving a pass from Mazzola before beating Real goalkeeper Vicente Train with a shot from outside the penalty area.  Madrid, whose forward line was still led by the mighty Alfredo di Stefano with Ferenc Puskas playing at inside-left, pulled a goal back but Mazzola added a third for Inter.  But this was the so-called Grande Inter side managed by the Argentinian master-tactician Helenio Herrera. Read more…

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Battle of Agnadello


The day Venice lost most of its territory

Venetian forces were defeated by troops fighting on behalf of France, Spain and the Pope on this day in 1509 at the Battle of Agnadello in Lombardy.  As a result, the Republic of Venice was forced to withdraw from much of its territory on the mainland of Italy. The writer Niccolò Machiavelli later wrote in his book, The Prince, that in one day the Venetians had ‘lost what it had taken them 800 years of exertion to conquer.’  Louis XII of France, the Emperor Maximilian, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Pope Julius II had formed the League of Cambrai with the aim of dismantling the mainland empire of Venice.  The decisive battle took place near the village of Agnadello, where the Venetian commander Bartolomeo d'Alviano was wounded and captured and more than 4,000 of his men were killed.  When news of the battle reached the rest of the Venetian army, many soldiers deserted and Louis soon occupied the rest of Lombardy, claiming the Venetian cities of Bergamo, Brescia, Crema and Cremona for France, with other territories divided between his partners in the League of Cambrai.  Read more…

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Marco Zanuso - architect and designer


Innovative ideas put Italy at the forefront of contemporary style

Marco Zanuso, the architect and industrial designer whose innovative ideas helped revolutionize furniture and appliance design in Italy after the Second World War, was born in Milan on this day in 1916. Influenced by the Rationalist movement that emerged in the 1920s, he was one of the pioneers of the Modern movement, which brought contemporary styling to mass-produced consumer products.  His use of sculptured shapes, bright colours, and modern synthetic materials helped make Italy a leader in furniture fashion.  With the postwar recovery of the Italian economy there was a substantial growth in industrial production and mass-produced furniture. By the 1960s and 1970s, Italian interior design reached its pinnacle of stylishness.  Zanuso was at the forefront, producing designs that used tubular steel, acrylics, latex foam, fibreglass, foam rubber, and injection-moulded plastics.  Read more...

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13 May 2019

13 May

Francesco Pistocchi – singer and composer


Child prodigy who wrote many operas and also taught

Francesco Pistocchi, a singer who became known to audiences as Pistocchino, died on this day in 1726 in Bologna.  Pistocchi left the world many operas, oratorios and cantatas he had composed, which are now highly regarded for their melodic elegance and colourful harmony.  Born Francesco Antonio Mamiliano Pistocchi in Palermo in 1659, Pistocchi became a child prodigy because of his beautiful soprano voice. He began performing as a singer in public at the age of three and the first music he composed, Capricci puerili, was published when he was just eight years old.  Believed to have become a castrato, Pistocchi made regular appearances as a singer in Bologna’s cappella musicale at the Basilica di San Petronio, where his father was a violinist, from 1670 onwards.  He later had a brilliant opera career as a contralto, touring in Italy and Germany and serving at the court in Parma in the 1680s.  Read more…

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Daniele Manin - Venetian leader


Lawyer who led fight to drive out Austrians

The Venetian patriot Daniele Manin, a revolutionary who fought to free Venice from Austrian rule and thereby made a significant contribution to the unification of Italy, was born on this day in 1804 in the San Polo sestiere.  Manin had Jewish roots. His grandfather, Samuele Medina, from Verona, had converted to Christianity in 1759 and took the name Manin because Lodovico Manin, the last Doge of Venice, had sponsored his conversion.  He studied law at the University of Padua and then took up practice in Venice. As his practice developed, he gained a reputation as a brilliant and profound jurist.  He harboured a deep hatred and resentment towards the Austrians, to whom control of the city passed after the defeat of Napoleon in 1814. The city became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia.  Manin's first physical act to advance cause of liberation was the presentation in 1847 of a petition listing the grievances of the Venetian people in 1847 to a body called the Venetian Congregation. He was arrested by the Austrians in January 1848 on charges of treason, but was released when riots broke out.  Read more…

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The first Giro d'Italia


Tour of Italy cycle race ran from Milan to Naples and back

A field of 127 riders left Milan on this day in 1909 as Italy's famous cycle race, the Giro d'Italia, was staged for the first time.  Those who lasted the course returned to Milan 13 days later having covered a distance of 2,447.9 kilometres (1,521 miles) along a route around Italy that took them through Bologna, Chieti, Naples, Rome, Florence, Genoa and Turin.  The winner was Luigi Ganna, an Italian cyclist from Lombardy who had finished fifth in the Tour de France in 1908 and won the Milan-San Remo race earlier in 1909.  Only 49 riders finished.  Second and third places were also filled by Italian riders, with Carlo Galetti finishing ahead of Giovanni Rossignoli.  The race was run in eight stages, which were almost twice as long as those that make up the Giro today, with an average distance of more than 300 km (190 miles). The modern Giro covers a greater distance in total at 3,481.8 km (2,163.5 miles).  Read more…

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Giuliano Amato – politician


‘Doctor Subtle’ is still working at the age of 80

Giuliano Amato, who has twice served as prime minister of Italy, was born on this day in 1938 in Turin.  During his first period as prime minister, for 10 months between 1992 and 1993, a series of corruption scandals rocked Italy, sweeping away the careers of many leading politicians. Amato was never implicated, despite being close to Bettino Craxi, the leader of the Italian Socialist party, who was investigated by Milan judges in the probe into corruption that became known as Mani pulite, which literally means ‘clean hands’. Craxi was eventually convicted of corruption and the illicit financing of his party.  Amato has earned the nickname ‘dottor sottile’ the sobriquet of the medieval Scottish philosopher Jon Duns Scotus, which is a reference to his perceived political subtlety.  Born into a Sicilian family living in Turin at the time, Amato spent his early years growing up in Tuscany.  Amato was elected to parliament in 1983. He later served as under secretary of state, deputy prime minister and minister of the treasury before becoming prime minister for the first time in 1992. Read more...


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Francesco Pistocchi – singer and composer

Child prodigy who wrote many operas and also taught


A 19th century bust of Pistocchi on display at the Biblioteca della Musica in Bologna.
A 19th century bust of Pistocchi on display at
the Biblioteca della Musica in Bologna.
Francesco Pistocchi, a singer who became known to audiences as Pistocchino, died on this day in 1726 in Bologna.

Pistocchi left the world many operas, oratorios and cantatas he had composed, which are now highly regarded for their melodic elegance and colourful harmony.

Born Francesco Antonio Mamiliano Pistocchi in Palermo in 1659, Pistocchi became a child prodigy because of his beautiful soprano voice. He began performing as a singer in public at the age of three and the first music he composed, Capricci puerili, was published when he was just eight years old.

Believed to have become a castrato, Pistocchi made regular appearances as a singer in Bologna’s cappella musicale at the Basilica of San Petronio, where his father was a violinist, from 1670 onwards.

He later had a brilliant opera career as a contralto, touring in Italy and Germany and serving at the court in Parma in the 1680s.

His opera, Il leandro, was premiered at Teatro alle Zattere in Venice in 1679.

The famous castrato Farinelli's teacher was a former pupil of Pistocchi
The famous castrato Farinelli's teacher was
a former pupil of Pistocchi 
In 1696 Pistocchi became Court Kapellmeister for the Duke of Ansbach in Germany. His operas, Il Narciso and Le pazzie d’amore e dell’interesse, were presented in Ansbach in the late 1690s and another of his works, I rivali generosi, was premiered in Reggio Emilia in 1710.

After Pistocchi returned to live in Italy in 1702 he was named virtuoso di camera e di cappella to Prince Ferdinand of Tuscany.

Towards the end of his life, Pistocchi taught singing in Bologna. Among his notable pupils were Antonio Bernacchi, a castrato, and Annibale Pio Fabri, a tenor. Bernacchi later taught the famous castrato, Farinelli. Through his students, and their further pupils, much of Pistocchi’s skill and knowledge was passed on to the famous singers of the 18th century.

He was elected president of the Accademia Filarmonica twice, in 1708 and 1710, but after his voice began to deteriorate, Pistocchi closed his singing school. He was ordained a priest in 1715 in the Oratorian Order founded by San Filippo Neri in Bologna.

Pistocchi died in Bologna in 1726.

A recording of Pistocchi’s Oratorio, Il Martirio di San Adriano, was released by Pan Classics in 2013.

The Basilica di San Petronio, with its unfinished facade, is the largest brick-built Gothic church in the world
The Basilica di San Petronio, with its unfinished facade, is
the largest brick-built Gothic church in the world
Travel tip:

The Basilica di San Petronio, where Pistocchi sang in the cappella musicale in the 1670s, is the main church of Bologna, located in Piazza Maggiore in the centre of the city. It is the largest brick-built Gothic church in the world. Building work began on the church in 1390 and it was dedicated to San Petronio, who had been the Bishop of Bologna in the fifth century. The facade was designed by Domenico da Varignana and started in 1538 by Giacomo Ranuzzi but was never finished. The main doorway was decorated by Jacopo della Quercia of Siena with scenes from the Old Testament on the pillars, eighteen prophets on the archivolt, scenes from the New Testament on the architrave, and a Madonna and Child, Saint Ambrose and Saint Petronius on the tympanum.

Hotels in Bologna from Expedia.co.uk

The Oratory of San Filippo Neri was reconstructed after the war
The Oratory of San Filippo Neri
was reconstructed after the war
Travel tip:

The Oratory of San Filippo Neri in Bologna, where Pistocchi took religious orders, is a late baroque building in Via Manzoni. It was constructed from the sacristry of the adjacent church, which is now known as the Chiesa dei Filippini Madonna di Galliera e Filippo Neri. The Oratory was suppressed in 1866 and the building was for a time used as a barracks. It was badly damaged by Allied bombing during the Second World War but was faithfully reconstructed using old photographs in 1997.

Bologna hotels from Hotels.com

More reading:

How Farinelli became music's first superstar

Senesino, the castrato who worked with Handel

Why a teacher of the finest 18th century singers died in poverty

Also on this day:

1804: The birth of Venetian revolutionary Daniele Manin

1909: The first Giro d'Italia leaves Milan

1938: The birth of former prime minister Giuliano Amato





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