30 June 2019

30 June

Gianrico Carofiglio - novelist


Ex anti-Mafia judge now bestselling author

The novelist Gianrico Carofiglio, whose books have sold more than five million copies, was born on this day in 1961 in Bari.  Carofiglio is best known for a series of thrillers featuring the character of lawyer Guido Guerrieri but he has also written a number of novels featuring other characters, still mainly in the crime thriller genre.  One of them, his 2004 novel Il passato è una terra straniera (The Past is a Foreign Country), was made into an acclaimed film, directed by Daniele Vicari and starring Elio Germano, who appeared in the multi award-winning TV series Romanzo Criminale, and Michele Riondino, who played Andrea Camilleri’s most famous detective in the TV series The Young Montalbano.  Carofiglio drew inspiration and much technical knowledge from his career as a magistrate, which culminated in him becoming deputy prosecutor in the Anti-Mafia Directorate of his home town, Bari.  Read more…


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Allegra Versace – heiress


‘Favourite niece’ who inherited Gianni fortune

The heiress Allegra Versace, owner of half the Versace fashion empire, was born on this day in 1986 in Milan.  The daughter of Donatella Versace, the company’s chief designer and vice-president, she was the favourite niece of Gianni Versace, who founded the fashion house in 1978.  When Gianni was shot dead outside his mansion in Miami in July 1997, Allegra was just 11 years old but could look forward to becoming immensely rich after it was announced that her uncle had willed his share of the business, amounting to 50 per cent, when she reached her 18th birthday.  By the most recent valuation of the Versace group, this means Allegra – now 30 – has a personal fortune worth $800 million. The remainder of the empire is owned by her mother, who has 20 per cent, and Gianni’s older brother, Santo Versace, who has 30 per cent.  Yet the promise of wealth and privilege did not bring her happiness as a young woman.  The daughter of Paul Beck, a former Versace model to whom Donatella was briefly married, Allegra enjoyed a contented childhood in which she read books and played the piano given to her as a gift by Sir Elton John, a family friend, but her world was shattered when her uncle was killed.  Read more…

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First Martyrs Day


Nero blamed Christians for his own crimes

Christians martyred in Rome during the reign of Nero in AD 64 are remembered every year on this day in Italy.  The Catholic Church celebrates the lives of the many men and women put to death by Nero, who are now known as i Primi Martiri, first martyrs of the Church of Rome, with a feast day every year on 30 June.  In the summer of AD 64, Rome was devastated by fire. The unpopular emperor Nero, who wanted to enlarge his palace, was suspected of setting fire to the city himself but he accused the early Christians then living in Rome and had them executed.  Some were fed to wild animals, some crucified, while others were burnt to death to illuminate the sky and provide evening entertainment.  The feast of the First Martyrs came into the Church calendar in 1969 as a general celebration day for the early Roman martyrs. It falls the day after the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, the patron Saints of Rome.  Read more…

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29 June 2019

29 June

Oriana Fallaci - journalist


Writer known for exhaustively probing interviews

Oriana Fallaci, who was at different times in her career one of Italy’s most respected journalists and also one of the most controversial, was born in Florence on this day in 1929.  As a foreign correspondent, often reporting from the world’s most hazardous regions in times of war and revolution, Fallaci interviewed most of the key figures on both sides of conflicts.  Many of these were assembled in her book Interview with History, in which she published accounts of lengthy conversations, often lasting six or seven hours, with such personalities as Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Yasser Arafat, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Willy Brandt. Others she interviewed included Deng Xiaoping, Lech Wałęsa, Muammar Gaddafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini.  She seldom held back from asking the most penetrating and awkward questions. Henry Kissinger, the diplomat and former US Secretary of State, later described his meeting with Fallaci for a piece published in Playboy magazine as "the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press".  Read more…


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Elizabeth Barrett Browning dies in Florence


Romantic poet produced some of her best work after fleeing to Italy

English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning died on this day in 1861 in Florence.  She had spent 15 years living in Italy with her husband, the poet Robert Browning, after being disinherited by her father who disapproved of their marriage.  The Brownings’ home in Florence, Casa Guidi, is now a memorial to the two poets.  Their only child, Robert Weidemann Barrett Browning, who became known as Pen, was born there in 1849.  Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent English poets of the Victorian era and was popular in both Britain and the United States during her lifetime.  From about the age of 15 she had suffered health problems and therefore lived a quiet life in her father’s house, concentrating on her writing.  A volume of her poems, published in 1844, inspired another writer, Robert Browning, to send her a letter praising her work.  He was eventually introduced to her by a mutual acquaintance and their legendary courtship began in secret.  They were married in 1846 and, after she had continued to live in her father’s home for a week, they fled to Italy. Read more…

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Giorgio Napolitano – 11th President of Italy


Neapolitan was concerned about the development of southern Italy

Giorgio Napolitano, who served as the 11th President of the Republic of Italy, was born on this day in 1925 in Naples. He was the longest serving president in the history of the republic and the only Italian president to have been re-elected.  He graduated in law from Naples University in 1947, having joined a group of young anti-fascists while he was an undergraduate.  At the age of 20, Napolitano joined the Italian Communist Party. He was a militant and then became one of the leaders, staying with the party until 1991 when it was dissolved. He then joined the Democratic Party of the Left.  Napolitano was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 1953 and continued to be re-elected by the Naples constituency until 1996.  His parliamentary activity focused on the issue of southern Italy’s development and on national economic policy. As a member of the European parliament between 1989 and 1992, he regularly travelled abroad giving lectures.  Elected President in 2006, he remained in office for nine years. Read more…

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28 June 2019

28 June

Walter Audisio - partisan and politician


The man who carried out Mussolini execution

The partisan and later politician Walter Audisio, whose claim to be the man who executed Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in April 1945 is generally accepted as likely to be true, was born on this day in 1909 in Alessandria in Piedmont.  Mussolini was captured in the town of Dongo on the shore of Lake Como as he tried to flee from Italy to Switzerland, having accepted that the Axis powers were facing near-certain defeat to the Allies as the Second World War moved into its final phase.  He was taken along with his entourage to the village of Giulino di Mezzegra, 20km (12 miles) south of Dongo along the lakeside road, and after spending the night under guard in a remote farmhouse was taken back into the village, where he and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were ordered to stand against a wall.  There they were shot dead by a partisan who went under the nom de guerre of "Colonnello Valerio", before their bodies were taken to Milan and hung by their feet from the roof of a petrol station in Piazzale Loreto. Read more…

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Giovanni della Casa - advocate of good manners


Bishop and poet remembered for his manual on etiquette

Giovanni della Casa, the Tuscan bishop whose witty book on behaviour in polite society became a handbook for generations long after he had passed away, was born on this day in 1503 in Borgo San Lorenzo, 30 kilometres north-east of Florence.  Born into a wealthy family, Della Casa was educated in Bologna and followed his friend, the scholar and poet Pietro Bembo, into the church.  He became Archbishop of Benevento in 1544 and was nominated by Pope Paul III as Papal nuncio to Venice. Disappointed at not having been elevated to Cardinal, however, he retired to a life of writing and reading. At some point between 1551 and 1555, living at an abbey near Treviso, he wrote Galateo: The Rules of Polite Behaviour, a witty treatise on good manners intended for the amusement of a favourite nephew.  He thought it would be regarded as frivolous compared with other books he had written. Little did he know it would become one of the most celebrated books on etiquette in European history.  Read more…

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Pietro Mennea – Olympic sprint champion


200m specialist won gold at Moscow in 1980

Pietro Mennea, one of only two Italian sprinters to win an Olympic gold, was born on this day in 1952 in the coastal city of Barletta in Apulia.  Mennea won the 200m final at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, depriving Britain's Allan Wells of a sprint double. In doing so, Mennea emulated his compatriot, Livio Berruti 20 years earlier in Rome.  He held the world record at 200m for almost 17 years, from 1979 until 1996.  His time of 19.72 seconds remains the European record.  It would stand as the world record for 16 years, nine months and 11 days, until Michael Johnson ran 19.66 at the US Olympic trials in 1996.  As well as winning his gold medal, outrunning Britain’s Allan Wells in the last 50m, Mennea’s other great Olympic feat was to reach the 200m final at four consecutive Games, the first track athlete to do at any distance. He also won the bronze medal in Munich in 1972, was fourth in 1976 at Montreal and seventh place in Los Angeles in 1984.  Read more…

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Lorenzo Amoruso - footballer


Defender was most successful Italian in British football

Lorenzo Amoruso, a defender who played for teams in Italy, San Marino, England and Scotland during a career spanning almost two decades, was born on this day in 1971 in Bari.  Formerly the captain of Fiorentina, Amoruso signed for Glasgow Rangers for £4 million in 1997 and remained at the Scottish club for six seasons, during which time he won nine major trophies, which makes him the most successful Italian player in British football.  The first Catholic player to captain Rangers - traditionally the club supported by Glasgow’s Protestant community - Amoruso won the Scottish Premier League title three times, the Scottish Cup three times and the Scottish League Cup three times.  His total of winners’ medals dwarfs those of much higher profile Italian stars in England.  The illustrious Chelsea trio of Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto di Matteo each won two FA Cup and League Cup winners’ medals, but did not feature in a Premier League title-winning team.  Mario Balotelli was part of the Manchester City team that won the FA Cup in 2011 and the Premier League the following year, but he stayed with the club for only half a seasons more.  Read more…

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Walter Audisio - partisan and politician

Claimed to be the man who killed Mussolini


Walter Audisio addressing a Communist Party rally a couple of years after the end of the Second World War
Walter Audisio addressing a Communist Party rally a
couple of years after the end of the Second World War
The partisan and later politician Walter Audisio, whose claim to be the man who executed Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in April 1945 is generally accepted as likely to be true, was born on this day in 1909 in Alessandria in Piedmont.

Mussolini was captured in the town of Dongo on the shore of Lake Como as he tried to flee from Italy to Switzerland, having accepted that the Axis powers were facing near-certain defeat to the Allies as the Second World War moved into its final phase.

He was taken along with his entourage to the village of Giulino di Mezzegra, 20km (12 miles) south of Dongo along the lakeside road, and after spending the night under guard in a remote farmhouse was taken back into the village, where he and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were ordered to stand against a wall.

There they were shot dead by a partisan who went under the nom de guerre of "Colonnello Valerio", before their bodies were taken to Milan and hung by their feet from the roof of a petrol station in Piazzale Loreto, which had been the scene of the massacre of 15 partisans a year earlier.

A simple cross marks the place where Mussolini and his  mistress, Claretta Petacci, were killed in a lakeside village
A simple cross marks the place where Mussolini and his
mistress, Claretta Petacci, were killed in a lakeside village
Two years after the event, the Communist Party of which he was a member revealed that Colonnello Valerio was, in fact, Walter Audisio, and that it was he who had pulled the trigger.

Audisio claimed that, as an official of the National Liberation Committee (CLN) and the head of the Italian resistance in Milan, he had been ordered to carry out the sentence in accordance with a CLN directive that all Fascist leaders were liable to the death penalty.

His account of the execution described how the dictator and his mistress cowered before him as they awaited their fate, their agony prolonged as his own machine gun and then his pistol each jammed as he pulled the trigger. Another partisan, standing nearby, handed him a second machine gun, which did successfully discharge.

Audisio claimed that he felt he was shooting “not a man but an inferior being” and said that Mussolini had shown no dignity. He said that his mistress, who he also killed, had pleaded for her lover to be spared.

Audisio served as a Deputy from 1948 to 1963
Audisio served as a Deputy
from 1948 to 1963
Before the war, Audisio had been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on the island of Ponza for his anti-Fascist activities in his home town of Alessandria, where he worked for the Borsalino hat company before becoming an accountant.

Upon his release, he resumed his activities against the government of Benito Mussolini, and in September 1943 he started to organize the first bands of partisans in Casale Monferrato, not far from Alessandria. During this time he managed to hold down a job in the Fascist civil service.

He joined the Italian Communist Party and became the inspector of the Garibaldi Brigades, a faction of the National Liberation Committee, commanding formations operating in the Province of Mantova and the Po Valley.

By January 1945, he had become the principal figure of the Italian resistance movement in Milan, where he acquired his nom de guerre. Confusingly, the name Colonnello Valerio may also have been used by Luigi Longo, another partisan.

Once the conflict was over, Audisio continued to work with the communist movement, and in 1948 was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for Alessandria as an Italian Communist Party member and part of the Popular Democratic Front. From 1948 to 1963, he served three consecutive terms as a Deputy.  As a legislator, he was a consistent supporter of bills to outlaw or curb fascism.

Audisio's tomb at the Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano in Rome
Audisio's tomb at the Cimitero Comunale
Monumentale Campo Verano in Rome
He supported the party until 1963, when he entered the Senate. In 1968 he left to work for Italian fuel company Eni.

Audisio died five years later in 1973 of a heart attack. He was buried at the Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano in Rome.

His memoirs, titled In nome del popolo italiano - In the Name of the Italian People - were published two years after his death, in 1975.

Dongo is a picturesque town on the shore of Lake Como
Dongo is a picturesque town on the shore of Lake Como
Travel tip:

Dongo is one of many picturesque towns along the shore of Lake Como, with a number of hotels, restaurants and shops.  It is very popular during the summer months and also attracts walkers, who can explore nearby mountain villages on foot. Dongo has a small harbour adjoining the town's main square, where one can find the Palazzo Manzi, built in 1803 and now Dongo's town hall.  The ground floor houses the Museum of the End of the War, refurbished in 2014, dedicated to the partisans and in particular to the capture of Mussolini.

The city of Alessandria, with the famous Cittadella in the foregroud
The city of Alessandria, with the famous
Cittadella in the foregroud
Travel tip:

The historic city of Alessandria became part of French territory after the army of Napoleon defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in 1800.  It was ruled by the Kingdom of Sardinia for many years and is notable for the Cittadella di Alessandria, a star-shaped fort and citadel built in the 18th century, which today it is one of the best preserved fortifications of that era, even down to the surrounding environment.  Situated across the Tanaro river to the north-west of the city, it has no buildings blocking the views of the ramparts, or a road bordering the ditches.

More reading:

The founding of the Italian Fascists

Mussolini's last stand

The death of Benito Mussolini

Also on this day:

1503: The birth of Giovanni della Casa, advocate of good manners

1952: The birth of Olympic sprint champion Pietro Mennea

1971: The birth of footballer Lorenzo Amoruso


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27 June 2019

27 June

Gianluigi Aponte - shipping magnate


Billionaire started with one cargo vessel

Gianluigi Aponte, the billionaire founder of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which owns the second largest container fleet in the world and a string of luxury cruise liners, was born on this day in 1940 in Sant’Agnello, the seaside resort that neighbours Sorrento in Campania.  He and his wife, Rafaela, a partner in the business, have an estimated net worth of $11.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.  The Mediterranean Shipping Company has more than 510 container ships, making it the second largest such business in the world. Only the Danish company Maersk is bigger.  MSC Cruises, meanwhile, has grown into the fourth largest cruise company in the world and the largest in entirely private ownership. With offices in 45 countries, it employs 23,500 people, with a fleet of 17 luxury cruise liners.  Aponte has been able to trace his seafaring ancestry back to the 17th century. His family’s roots are on the Sorrentine Peninsula. Read more…


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Giorgio Vasari - the first art historian


Artist and architect who chronicled lives of Old Masters

Giorgio Vasari, whose 16th century book on the lives of Renaissance artists led to him being described as the world's first art historian, died on this day in 1574 in Florence.  Born in Arezzo in 1511, Vasari was a brilliant artist and architect who worked for the Medici family in Florence and Rome and amassed a considerable fortune in his career.  But he is remembered as much for his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times, a collection of biographies of all the great artists of his lifetime.  The six-part work is remembered as the first important book on art history.  Had it not been written, much less would be known of the lives of Cimabue, Giotto, Donatello, Botticelli, Da Vinci,  Giorgione, Raphael, Boccaccio and Michelangelo among many others from the generation known as the Old Masters.  Vasari is believed to have been the first to describe the period of his lifetime as the Renaissance. Read more…

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The Ustica Massacre


Mystery plane crash blamed on missile strike

An Italian commercial flight crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea between Ponza and Ustica, killing everyone on board on this day in 1980.  The aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas DC9-15 in the service of Itavia Airlines was en route from Bologna to Palermo, flight number IH870. All 77 passengers and the four members of the crew were killed, making this the deadliest aviation incident involving a DC9-15 or 10-15 series.  The disaster became known in the Italian media as the Ustica massacre - Strage di Ustica - because Ustica, off the coast of Sicily, was a small island near the site of the crash.  Many investigations, legal actions and accusations resulted from the tragedy, which continues to be a source of speculation in Italy.  In 2013, Italy’s top criminal court in Rome ruled that there was clear evidence the flight was brought down by a missile and upheld a ruling made by a court in Palermo in 2011 that Italian radar systems had failed adequately to protect the skies, and therefore Italy must compensate the victims' families.  Read more…

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Giorgio Almirante – politician


Leader who tried to make Fascism more mainstream

Giorgio Almirante, the founder and leader of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, was born on this day in 1914 at Salsomaggiore Terme in Emilia Romagna.  He led his political party for long periods from 1946 until he handed over to his protégé, Gianfranco Fini, in 1987.  Almirante graduated in Literature and trained as a schoolteacher but went to work for the Fascist journal Il Tevere in Rome.  In 1944, he was appointed Chief of Cabinet of the Minister of Culture to the Italian Social Republic, the short-lived German puppet state of which Benito Mussolini was the head after he was thrown out of office as Italy’s prime minister.  After the Fascists were defeated, Almirante was indicted on charges that he had ordered the shooting of partisans, but these were lifted as part of a general amnesty.  He set up his own fascist group in 1946, which was soon absorbed into the Italian Social Movement (MSI).  Read more…


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Gianluigi Aponte - shipping magnate

Billionaire started with one cargo vessel


Gianluigi Aponti launched his MSC company in 1970 with one ship
Gianluigi Aponti launched his MSC
company in 1970 with one ship
Gianluigi Aponte, the billionaire founder of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which owns the second largest container fleet in the world and a string of luxury cruise liners, was born on this day in 1940 in Sant’Agnello, the seaside resort that neighbours Sorrento in Campania.

He and his wife, Rafaela, a partner in the business, have an estimated net worth of $11.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

The Mediterranean Shipping Company has more than 510 container ships, making it the second largest such business in the world. Only the Danish company Maersk is bigger.

MSC Cruises, meanwhile, has grown into the fourth largest cruise company in the world and the largest in entirely private ownership. With offices in 45 countries, it employs 23,500 people, with a fleet of 17 luxury cruise liners.

Overall, the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which Aponte began in 1970 with one cargo vessel, has more than 60,000 staff in 150 countries.

Aponte has been able to trace his seafaring ancestry back to the 17th century. His family’s roots are on the Sorrentine Peninsula and there are records of his family’s boats ferrying goods between Naples and Castellammare di Stabia, just along the coast.

His own involvement after the death of his father, who had left Italy to open a hotel in Somalia. Gianlugi returned to his homeland and enrolled at the nautical institute in Naples. He joined the company of the Naples shipping entrepreneur, Achille Lauro, and was employed on the Naples-to-Capri ferry fleet. Eventually, he became a captain.

The MSC logo can be seen on all of the company's cruise ships
The MSC logo can be seen on all
of the company's cruise ships
He met his wife, Swiss-born Rafaela Diamant Pinas, when she was a passenger on one of his boats and the couple moved to Geneva.

Aponte for a while worked in banking but craved a return to the maritime industry. He raised $280,000 to buy Patricia, a German freighter, and in 1970 established the Mediterranean Shipping Company. Another cargo ship, which he named Rafaela after his wife, followed a year later.

Operating largely between Europe and Africa, Aponte's fleet had expanded to 20 cargo ships by the 1980s, which the billionaire sold to move into container shipping.

He diversified into cruise lines after buying his mentor Achille Lauro's cruise fleet in 1987, initially under the name Starlauro. The company was renamed MSC Cruises in 1995.

Among the company’s first ships was the ill-fated passenger ship named Achille Lauro, which in 1985 was hijacked by members of the Palestine Liberation Front off the coast of Egypt and in 1994 caught fire and sank off Somalia in the Indian Ocean.

The MSC Opera, one of the Lirica class vessels that marked the start of the company's investment in modern ships
The MSC Opera, one of the Lirica class vessels that marked
the start of the company's investment in modern ships
MSC Cruises became a serious player in the cruise market in the early 2000s, when a €5.5 billion investment programme was launched to build the world’s most modern cruise fleet.

This began with the purchase or commission of four Lirica class vessels, each with the capacity to carry more than 2,000 passengers. Each subsequent generation of cruise ships bearing the company’s distinctive star logo has been bigger than the previous one.

The latest is the Meraviglia class, which comprises two enormous boats, each with 15 passenger decks and which can carry 4,500 guests in addition to more than 1,500 crew. The Meraviglia is the fourth largest cruise ship in service anywhere in the world.

Another massive investment programme was launched in 2014, which included refurbishment of the original Lirica vessels in addition to plans for new boats. Between 2014 and 2026, this investment is expected to total $11.6 million, with an even bigger Meraviglia on the horizon, with capacity for 6,334 guests and powered by Liquefied Natural Gas.

MSC Cruises already has the honour of being the first cruise company in the world to be awarded the coveted ‘6 Golden Pearls’ for its outstanding standards in environmental protection, health and safety.

Aponte has been decorated with many awards, including in 2009 a prize for "Neapolitan Excellence in the World". Alongside the footballer Fabio Cannavaro, who captained the Italy team that won the World Cup in 2006, and the ballerina Ambra Vallo, he was presented with the award at a ceremony at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples by the then Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Something of a recluse, Aponte makes few public appearances, largely limited to the christenings of new MSC cruise ships. He lives with his wife in Geneva. His children, Diego and Alexa, both work at MSC, as chief executive and chief financial officer respectively.

A clifftop hotel in Sant'Agnello with Vesuvius in the  background, across of the Gulf of Naples
A clifftop hotel in Sant'Agnello with Vesuvius in the
background, across of the Gulf of Naples
Travel tip:

Aponte’s birthplace of Sant’Agnello is a small town of just over 9,000 inhabitants which neighbours Sorrento and Piano di Sorrento, which along with another small town, Meta di Sorrento, enjoy a clifftop location overlooking the Gulf of Sorrento, a picturesque bay that forms part of the larger Gulf of Naples.  Like the bigger and better-known Sorrento, Sant’Agnello’s economy relies heavily on the tourist industry and has plenty of hotels and restaurants.

The medieval castle from which the resort of Castellammare di Stabia, built above a buried Roman city, takes its name
The medieval castle from which the resort of Castellammare
di Stabia, built above a buried Roman city, takes its name
Travel tip:

Castellammare di Stabia, a one-time thriving resort now more often associated with shipyards, was built over the ruins of the ancient Stabiae, a Roman village destroyed in 79 AD by the violent eruption of the Vesuvius volcano, which buried Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Some of the ruins are being excavated.  The name of the town is said to derive from the medieval castle that overlooks the Gulf of Naples, which can be found alongside the road from Castellammare to Sorrento, Castello a Mare meaning Castle on the Sea.  The town was the birthplace of Pliny the Elder, who was a philosopher and author as well as a military commander of the early Roman empire.

More reading:

Sophia Loren, Neapolitan siren of the silver screen

Achille Vianelli, the artist who captured the character of Naples

How Cannavaro led Italy to a fourth World Cup

Also on this day:

1574: The death of Giorgio Vasari, painter and architect who was art's first historian

1914: The birth of politician Giorgio Almirante

1980: The plane crash known as the Ustica Massacre


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26 June 2019

26 June

San Marino is bombed by Britain


British believed the Germans were using rail facilities

The British Royal Air Force bombed the tiny Republic of San Marino on this day in 1944 as a result of receiving incorrect information.  It was recorded at the time that 63 people were killed as a result of the bombing, which was aimed at rail facilities. The British mistakenly believed that the Germans were using the San Marino rail network to transport weapons.  San Marino had been ruled by Fascists since the 1920s but had managed to remain neutral during the war.  After the bombing, San Marino’s government declared that no military installations or equipment were located on its territory and no belligerent forces had been allowed to enter.  However, by September of the same year San Marino was briefly occupied by German forces, but they were defeated by the Allied forces in the Battle of San Marino.  Read more…

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Paolo Maldini - football great


Milan defender's record-breaking career spanned 25 years

Paolo Maldini, the AC Milan defender who won the European Cup and Champions League more times than any other player in the modern era, was born on this day in 1968 in Milan.  A Milan player for the whole of his 25-year professional career - plus six years as a youth player before that - Maldini won Europe's biggest club prize five times. Only Francisco Gento, a member of the all-conquering Real Madrid side of the 1950s and 60s, has more winner's medals.  Maldini also won seven Serie A championships plus one Coppa Italia and five Supercoppa Italiana titles in domestic competition, as well as five European Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups and a World Club Cup.  Only in international football did trophies elude him, although he played on the losing side in the finals of both the World Cup, in 1994, and the European Championships, in 2000.  His European Cup/Champions League triumphs came under the management of Arrigo Sacchi (1989 and 1990), Fabio Capello (1994) and Carlo Ancelotti (2003 and 2007).  The 1994 victory by 4-0 against Barcelona was described as one of the greatest team performances of all time.  Read more…

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Alberto Rabagliati - singer and actor


Performer found fame through radio

The singer and movie actor Alberto Rabagliati, who became one of the stars of Italian radio in the 1930s and 40s, was born on this day in 1906 in Milan.  His movie career reached a peak in the post-War years, when he had roles in the Humphrey Bogart-Ava Gardner hit Barefoot Contessa and in Montecarlo, starring Marlene Dietrich.  The son of parents who had moved to Milan from the village of Casorzo, near Asti, in Piedmont, Rabagliati’s career in the entertainment business began when he entered a competition in 1927 to find a Rudolph Valentino lookalike.  To his astonishment he won.  The prize was to be taken to Hollywood to audition, so his life changed overnight.  He lived in America for the next four years but never achieved more than modest success and decided to return to Italy. During his time in America, however, he took the opportunity to get to know some new musical genres such as jazz, swing, and ‘scat’ singing. Read more…

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25 June 2019

25 June

Elena Cornaro Piscopia – philosopher


First woman to graduate from a university

Elena Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman to receive an academic degree from a university on this day in 1678, it is thought, in Padua.  She was awarded her degree in philosophy at a special ceremony in the Duomo in Padua in the presence of dignitaries from the University of Padua and guests from other Italian universities.  Piscopia was born in a palazzo in Venice in 1646. Her father had an important post at St Mark’s and he was entitled to accommodation in St Mark’s Square.  On the advice of a priest who was a family friend, she was taught Latin and Greek when she was a young child. She was proficient in both languages by the time she was seven. She then went on to master other languages as well as mathematics, philosophy and theology.  Her tutor wanted her to study for a degree in theology at Padua University but the Bishop of Padua refused to allow it because she was female, although he allowed her to study philosophy instead.  Read more…

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Aldo Serena - footballer


Azzurri striker left field in tears after penalty miss

Aldo Serena, one of the two Italian players who most felt the agony of defeat after the Azzurri suffered the pain of losing at the semi-final stage when the football World Cup last took place on home soil, was born on this day in 1960 in Montebelluna, a town in the Veneto.  The match that ended the host nation's participation in the Italia '90 tournament took place in Naples against an Argentina side that included the local hero, Diego Maradona. It was decided on penalties after finishing 1-1 over 120 minutes. Italy converted their opening three penalties, as did Argentina.  Then Roberto Donadoni’s shot was saved by the Argentina goalkeeper, Sergio Goycochea.  Up stepped Maradona, who scored, to the delight of many in the crowd who had divided loyalties.  Suddenly, everything was down to Aldo Serena, who could not afford to miss if Italy were to stay alive in a tournament in which they had played football at times that deserved to win.  Read more…

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Marta Abba - actress


Aspiring star who became Pirandello’s muse

Marta Abba, who as a young actress became the stimulus for the creativity of the great playwright Luigi Pirandello, was born on this day in 1900 in Milan.  The two met in 1925 when Pirandello, whose most famous works included the plays Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) and Henry IV (1922), asked her to see him, having read an enthusiastic appreciation of her acting talents by Marco Praga, a prominent theatre critic of the day.  Abba had made her stage debut in Milan in 1922 in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and was noted for the exuberance and passion of her performances. Pirandello was impressed with her and immediately hired her as first actress for his Teatro d’Arte company in Rome.  Over the next nine years until Pirandello’s death in 1936, Abba would become not only his inspiration but his confidante. When Abba was not working with him but was on stage in some other city or country, they would correspond in writing, exchanging hundreds of letters.  Read more…

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24 June 2019

24 June

Vittorio Storaro - cinematographer


Triple Oscar winner among best in movie history

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, whose work has won three Academy Awards, was born on this day in 1940 in Rome.  Storaro won Oscars for Best Cinematography for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, for the Warren Beatty-directed historical drama Reds in 1981, and for The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertolucci’s story of imperial China, in 1987.  Described as someone for whom cinematography was “not just art and technique but a philosophy as well”, Storaro worked extensively with Bertolucci, for whom he shot the controversial Last Tango in Paris and the extraordinary five-hour epic drama 1900.  He filmed many stories for his cousin, Luigi Bazzoni, collaborated with Coppola on three other movies and recently has worked with Woody Allen, whose latest picture, A Rainy Day in New York, is due to be released next month.  Read more…

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Battle of Solferino


Suffering of soldiers led to the founding of the Red Cross

The Battle of Solferino took place on this day in 1859 south of Lake Garda between Milan and Verona.  It was the last battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs.  The French army under Napoleon III was allied with the Sardinian army commanded by Victor Emmanuel II. Together, they were victorious against the Austrian army led by Emperor Franz Joseph I.  The battle lasted more than nine hours and resulted in thousands of deaths on both sides.  The Austrians were forced to retreat and it was a crucial step towards the eventual unification of Italy under an Italian king.  Jean-Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman, toured the battlefield afterwards and was horrified by what he saw, joining in with the efforts of local people to care for the injured.  Greatly moved by the suffering of the thousands of wounded and dying soldiers, he wrote a book about what he had seen and set about establishing the International Red Cross.  Read more…

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Piero Barone – singer


Young tenor found fame on TV talent show

Piero Barone, one of the three singers who make up the Italian opera and pop group, Il Volo, was born on this day in 1993 in Naro, a town in the province of Agrigento in Sicily.  Il Volo hit the headlines after winning the Sanremo Music Festival in 2015. They came third when they represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest with their hit Grande Amore later that year in Austria and have since acquired growing popularity world wide.  In 2016, the group, together with tenor Placido Domingo, released Notte Magica – A Tribute to the Three Tenors, a live album featuring many of the songs performed by the Three Tenors (Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras) for their iconic concert held at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome on the eve of the Italia ’90 World Cup.  Piero’s musical talent was discovered by his grandfather, Pietro Ognibene, when he was just five years of age. Pietro was a blind musician who had written a song in Sicilian and when Piero sang it for him he was amazed by his voice.  Read more…

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Battle of Custoza


Austrians thwart Italy’s hopes of unifying the peninsula

An army of the recently unified Kingdom of Italy was driven out of Custoza in the Veneto region by Austrian troops on this day in 1866.  Although the Italians had twice the number of soldiers, the Austrians were victorious strategically and drove the Italians back across the Mincio river and out of the area then known as Venetia.  King Victor Emmanuel II’s younger son, Amadeo, was severely wounded in the battle but he survived his injuries and went on to reign briefly as King of Spain from 1870 to 1873.  The German Kingdom of Prussia had declared war on the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy seized the opportunity to join forces with Prussia, with the intention of annexing Venetia and uniting the Italian peninsula. The Austrian Imperial army joined up with the Venetian army.  The Italians divided their troops into two armies, one led by General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora, accompanied by the King, and the other led by Enrico Cialdini.  La Marmora’s troops crossed the Mincio river and invaded Venetia.   Read more…

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Vittorio Storaro - cinematographer

Triple Oscar winner among best in movie history



Vittorio Storaro has won three Oscars as one of film's greatest cinematographers
Vittorio Storaro has won three Oscars as
one of film's greatest cinematographers
Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, whose work has won three Academy Awards, was born on this day in 1940 in Rome.

Storaro won Oscars for Best Cinematography for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, for the Warren Beatty-directed historical drama Reds in 1981, and for The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertolucci’s story of imperial China, in 1987.

Described as someone for whom cinematography was “not just art and technique but a philosophy as well”, Storaro worked extensively with Bertolucci, for whom he shot the controversial Last Tango in Paris and the extraordinary five-hour epic drama 1900.

He filmed many stories for his cousin, Luigi Bazzoni, collaborated with Coppola on three other movies and recently has worked with Woody Allen, whose latest picture, A Rainy Day in New York, is due to be released next month.

Storaro inherited his love of the cinema from his father, who was a projectionist at the Lux Film Studio, which was based in Rome from 1940 having been established in Turin by the anti-Fascist businessman Riccardo Gualino in 1934.

Storaro at the Portuguese Academy in 2017 to receive a lifetime achievement award
Storaro at the Portuguese Academy in 2017
to receive a lifetime achievement award
He began studying photography at the age of 11, enrolled at the CIAC (Italian Cinemagraphic Training Centre) and continued his education at the state cinematography school Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, the institute created by Mussolini, who was intrigued by the movie boom and wanted to see Rome become one of the most important film-making centres in the world.

When Storaro enrolled at age of 18, he was one of the youngest students in the centre’s history.

Soon finding work as a camera operator, Storaro drew inspiration from visiting art galleries and studying the works of great painters, which helped him understand how light and darkness could be used to create different effects.

It is said that his philosophy is largely based by the 18th century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's theory of colours, which explores the psychological effects created by different colours have and the way in which colours influence our perceptions of different situations.

He worked as as an assistant cameraman on Before the Revolution (1964), one of the first films directed by Bertolucci. His long collaboration with Bertolucci began to develop when he was credited as cinematographer on The Spider's Stratagem in 1970.

Bernardo Bertolucci worked with Storaro on several films
Bernardo Bertolucci worked with
Storaro on several films
Later in the same year, he shot Bertolucci’s political drama The Conformist, based on the novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia. Following Last Tango in Paris in 1972, they would work together on Luna (1979), The Sheltering Sky (1990) and Little Buddha (1993), as well as The Last Emperor.

His collaboration with Beatty generated another Oscar nomination, for Dick Tracy in 1990.

Storaro worked outside Italy for the first time on Apocalypse Now (1979), for which director Coppola gave him free rein on the film's visual look.

He had at first been reluctant to take on the assignment because he considered Gordon Willis to be Coppola's cinematographer, but Coppola wanted him, having been impressed by Storaro’s filming of the star of Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando, in Last Tango in Paris. 

Some great moments of in late 20th century cinema resulted from their collaboration. They would work together again on One from the Heart (1981) and Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) and the Life without Zoe segment of New York Stories (1989).

In addition to his three Oscars, Storaro won a BAFTA for Best Cinematography for Bertolucci’s The Sheltering Sky (1990), as well as a Primetime Emmy Award, a Goya Award, and a David di Donatello Silver Ribbon Award, in addition to numerous lifetime achievement honours from various film organizations, including, in 2017, the George Eastman Award for distinguished contribution to the art of film.

With his son Fabrizio, he created the Univisium format system to unify all future theatrical and television movies into one respective aspect ratio of 2:1. His first work with the format was the television science fiction mini-series Dune in 2000.

The Cinecittà studios in Rome are the largest in Europe
The Cinecittà studios in Rome are the largest in Europe
Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome is the largest film studio in Europe, spreading over an area of 100 acres with  22 stages and 300 dressing rooms. Situated six miles south of the city centre, it is the hub of the Italian film industry. Built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio, the studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there.

The Palazzo del Podestà in Parma
The Palazzo del Podestà in Parma
Travel tip:

Much of the location shooting for 1900, the colossal movie Storaro shot for Bernardo Bertolucci, took place in Parma, the historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, the true ‘parmesan’. In 1545 the city was given as a duchy to the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, whose descendants ruled Parma till 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regio.

More reading:

Why Last Tango in Paris caused outrage

Francesco Rosi and the birth of neorealism

Luchino Visconti, the aristocrat of Italian cinema

Also on this day:

1866: Austria defeats Italy at the Battle of Custoza

1859: Italy sees off the French at the Battle of Solferino

1993: The birth of Piero Barone, tenor with Il Volo

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23 June 2019

23 June

Giuseppina Tuissa - partisan


Key figure in capture and execution of Mussolini

Giuseppina Tuissa, who was among a group of partisans who captured the deposed Fascist leader Benito Mussolini as he tried to escape to Switzerland in 1945, was born on this day in 1923 in Abbiategrasso, near Milan.  Tuissa and her comrades seized Mussolini at Dongo, a small town on the shores of Lake Como, on April 27, 1945, along with his mistress Claretta Petacci.  Having heard that Hitler was preparing to surrender to the Allies, Mussolini was trying to reach Switzerland before flying on to Spain in the hope of finding refuge under Franco’s nationalist dictatorship.  He and Petacci and their entourage were executed at the village of Giulino di Mezzegra the following day before the partisan group took their bodies to be put on public display in Milan.  Tuissa, however, would herself be killed less than a couple of months later, probably at the hands of fellow partisans who suspected her of betraying comrades. Read more…


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Francesca Schiavone – tennis player


First Italian woman to win a Grand Slam

French Open tennis winner Francesca Schiavone was born on this day in 1980 in Milan.  When she won her title at Roland Garros in 2010 she became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam event in singles. She was the runner-up in the French Open final the following year.  To date she is also the last one-handed backhand player to win a Grand Slam title on the women’s tour.  Schiavone has won six titles on the WTA tour and has also been the runner up in events 11 times.  Her highest career ranking is World Number Four, which she achieved in January 2011.  She has helped Italy win the Federation Cup in 2006, 2009 and 2010 and she has had the most wins for the Italian team.  She also appeared in the women’s doubles final at the 2008 French Open.  Read more…

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Claudio Capone – actor and dubber


The Italian voice of a host of stars

Italy lost one of its most famous voices on this day in 2008 with the premature death of Claudio Capone.  The Rome-born actor was working in Scotland when he suffered a stroke. He was admitted to hospital in Perth but despite the best efforts of doctors he died two days later, at the age of only 55.  Although he began his career with the ambitions of any actor to reach the top of his profession, he was offered an opportunity only a few years out of drama school to do some voice-over work and found the flow of work in dubbing to be so consistent he ultimately made it his career.  Unlike some countries, Italian cinema and TV audiences have always preferred to watch imported films and TV shows with dubbed Italian voices rather than subtitles, which meant that a talented dubbing actor was seldom unemployed.  Capone was among the best and it was down to him that many foreign stars became famous in Italy, even though many did not speak a word of Italian.  Read more…

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22 June 2019

22 June

Galileo Galilei convicted of heresy


'Father of Science' forced to deny that earth revolved around sun

One of the more bizarre episodes in the history of human intellectual advancement took place in Rome on this day in 1633 when Galileo Galilei, the brilliant astronomer, mathematician, philosopher and engineer – often described as ‘the father of science’ - was convicted of heresy.  His crime was to support the view – indeed, to confirm it with scientific proof – that the sun rather than the earth was the centre of the solar system, as had been theorised by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus in the previous century.  This flew completely in the face of a major plank of orthodox Roman Catholic beliefs, within which the contention that the sun moved around the earth was regarded as a fact of scripture that could not be disputed.  Galileo, something of a celebrity in his day who won the patronage of such powerful Italian families as the Medicis and the Barberinis following the discoveries he made with his astronomical telescope, was summoned to Rome for trial by Inquisition in 1633 and despite the strength of his evidence was found guilty of heresy. Read more…

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Walter Bonatti - mountaineer


Climber's outstanding career marred by 50-year row

Walter Bonatti, the Italian who some would argue is the greatest alpine mountain climber that ever lived, was born on this day in 1930 in Bergamo in Lombardy.  He was the first to complete some of the most demanding climbs in the Alps and the Himalayas, including the first solo climb in winter of the North face of the Matterhorn.  But those achievements were marred for half a century by the bitter row that sprang from the part he played in the 1954 Italian expedition to conquer K2, the 8,611-metre peak north-east of the Himalayas that is the second highest in the world - behind Mount Everest (8,848 metres) - but is regarded as the more difficult climb.  Incredibly fit and able to survive at high altitudes without oxygen, he was already such an accomplished climber at just 24 years of age that he was chosen to join the expedition, which aimed to succeed where five previous attempts over 52 years had failed.  The row stemmed from the decision taken by expedition leader Ardito Desio as the party neared the summit that the more experienced Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni should be the climbers to make the final ascent, even though Bonatti was in better physical condition than either.  Read more…

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Lucrezia Tornabuoni - political adviser


Medici wife one of most powerful women of the Renaissance

Lucrezia Tornabuoni, who became one of the most influential and therefore powerful women in 15th century Italy through family connections and her own political and business acumen, was born on this day in 1427 in Florence.  Connected by birth to the powerful Tornabuoni family on her father’s side and the Guicciardinis through her mother, Lucrezia entered a third powerful family when she married Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici.  Yet she was an important figure in her own right, revealing politic skill and a talent for diplomacy during her husband’s time as de facto leader of Florence and when their son, Lorenzo, succeeded him.  She was also a successful property owner, buying houses, shops and farms in and around Pisa and Florence, which she would then lease out. She bought and renovated a hot spring, Bagno a Morba, turning it into a resort and spa for paying guests.  And she enhanced her popularity in Florence by supporting religious convents and working with them to help widows and orphans. Read more…

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21 June 2019

21 June

Pier Luigi Nervi - architect


Striking designs from football stadiums to churches

The brilliant structural engineer and architect Pier Luigi Nervi was born on this day in 1891 in Sondrio, an Alpine town in northern Lombardy at the heart of the Valtellina.  Nervi made his mark with a number of strikingly original designs at home and abroad and was noted both for his innovative use of reinforced concrete and his multi-dimensional designs, which enabled him to create structures that were both strong and elegant.  His major works in Italy include the Palazzo del Lavoro in Turin, the bell tower of the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore in Florence and the Papal Audience Hall at the Vatican City, as well as a number of important sports facilities.  The Stadio Artemio Franchi (formerly the Stadio Communale) in Florence - home of the Fiorentina football club - was one of his first important projects and he designed several stadia for the Rome Olympics in 1960, including the Stadio Flaminio and the Palazzo dello Sport EUR.  Around the world, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the George Washington Bridge Bus Station in New York, the Stock Exchange Tower in Montreal, St Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco and the Italian Embassy in Brasilia are among Nervi's legacy.  Read more…

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Pope Paul VI


Former pontiff made a saint by Pope Francis

Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini was elected as Pope Paul VI on this day in 1963 in Rome.  He succeeded Pope John XXIII. Pope Paul had been born in Concesio near Brescia in 1897 and was ordained a priest in Brescia in 1920. He took a doctorate in Canon Law in Milan and afterwards studied at various universities, therefore never working as a parish priest.  After the outbreak of the Second World War, he created an information office for prisoners of war and refugees, producing more than 11 million replies to enquiries about missing persons.  He was attacked by Mussolini’s government several times for allegedly meddling in politics.  Pope Pius XII made him archbishop of Milan in 1954 and Pope John XXIII made him Cardinal Priest of SS Silvestro e Martino ai Monti in 1958.  After Pope John XXIII died of stomach cancer in 1963, Cardinal Montini was elected as his successor on the sixth ballot.  Pope Paul VI became the first pope to visit six continents, earning the nickname ‘the Pilgrim Pope.’  A man tried to attack him with a knife after he had arrived at Manila in the Philippines in 1970 but one of his aides managed to push the aggressor away.  Read more…

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Paolo Soleri - architect


Italian greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright

The groundbreaking architect and ecologist Paolo Soleri was born on this day in 1919 in Turin.  Soleri is largely remembered for the Arcosanti project, an experiment in urban design in the Arizona desert influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright that was like no other town on the planet, a unique fusion of architecture and ecology.  Originally conceived as providing a completely self-sufficient urban living space for 5,000 people when it began in 1970, only about five per cent of the proposed development was ever completed.  At its peak, Arcosanti’s population barely exceeded 200 yet the buildings Soleri erected in accordance with his vision are still there, rising from the desert as an assortment of concrete blocks, domes and soaring vaults.  In Italy, in 1954 he built an extraordinary factory for a producer of ceramics in Vietri sul Mare, of which the exterior interspersed conical shapes covered with multi-coloured ceramic tiles and inverted triangles of glass.  Among many wonders of Campania’s spectacular Amalfi coast, the Ceramica Artistica Solimene is a tourist attraction in its own right.  Read more…

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