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.

19 June 2019

19 June

Francesco Moser - Giro d’Italia winner

Only two riders have won more races

The cycling champion Francesco Moser, winner of the 1984 Giro d’Italia and the 1977 World road racing championship among 273 road victories in his career, was born on this day in 1951 in Palù di Giovo, a village about 10km (6 miles) north of Trento in northern Italy.  Only the great Belgians Eddy Merckx (525) and Rik Van Looy (379) won more road races than Moser, who was at his peak during the late 1970s and early 1980s.  One of his proudest achievements was to break Merckx’s record for the greatest distance covered in one hour.  He became renowned as a specialist in the so-called Monuments, the five road races among what are generally termed the Classics considered to be the oldest, hardest and most prestigious one-day events in cycling.  Of those events, Moser won the Paris-Roubaix three times, the Giro di Lombardia twice and the Milan-San Remo once.  Read more…


Pier Angeli - Hollywood star

Actress hailed for talent and beauty died tragically young

The actress Pier Angeli, a Hollywood star in the 1950s and 60s, was born on this day in 1932 in Cagliari, Sardinia.  She won awards in Italy and in America at the start of her career, when she was likened by some critics to the Swedish-born star Greta Garbo.  Described by the actor Paul Newman as "the most beautiful Italian actress of the century", Angeli was also a fixture in the gossip columns.  Linked romantically with a number of Hollywood's leading male actors, she dated Kirk Douglas and became close to the celebrated 'rebel' James Dean before marrying another star, the Italian-American actor and singer, Vic Damone.  It would be the first of two marriages.  Born Anna Maria Pierangeli, the daughter of an architect, she had a twin sister, Maria Luisa, who would also become an actress.  Her mother, Enrica, used to dress the girls to resemble the American child star, Shirley Temple. The family moved to Rome when she was three.  Read more…


Francesco Baracca – flying ace

Italy’s most successful First World War fighter pilot

Italy’s top fighter pilot of the First World War, Francesco Baracca, died in action on this day in 1918.  He had been flying a strafing mission against Austro-Hungarian ground troops in support of an Italian attack on the Montello Hill, about 17km (11 miles) north of Treviso in the Veneto, on which he was accompanied by a rookie pilot, Tenente Franco Osnago.  They split from one another after being hit by ground fire but a few minutes later, Osnago saw a burning plane falling from the sky.  Witnesses on the ground saw it too. Osnago flew back to his base but Baracca never returned.  Only when the Austro-Hungarian troops were driven back was the wreckage of Baracca’s Spad VII aircraft found in a valley.  His body was discovered a few metres away. A monument in his memory was later built on the site. Read more…


Marisa Pavan - actress

Twin sister of tragic star Pier Angeli

The actress Marisa Pavan, whose twin sister Pier Angeli was a Hollywood star in the 1950s and 1960s, was born on this day in 1932 as Maria Luisa Pierangeli in Cagliari, Sardinia.  Pavan’s career ran parallel with that of her sister, who was born 20 minutes before her, but she rejected the re-invention as an ultra-glamorous starlet that Pier Angeli underwent within the Hollywood studio system.  She turned roles down when she felt they did not have enough substance and did not hesitate to sack agents if she felt they were putting her forward for unsuitable parts.  She refused to sign up to any one studio.  Her biggest success was The Rose Tattoo, the 1955 film adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play in which she played the daughter of the central character, played by Anna Magnani, one of postwar Italian cinema’s most respected actresses.  Magnani won an Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of a Sicilian widow, with Pavan receiving a nomination for best supporting actress. Although that award went to someone else, she did have the substantial compensation of winning a Golden Globe for the role.  Read more…


Francesco Moser - Giro d’Italia winner

Only two riders have won more road races

Francesco Moser was one of the greatest  road racers of his or any era
Francesco Moser was one of the greatest
road racers of his or any era
The cycling champion Francesco Moser, winner of the 1984 Giro d’Italia and the 1977 World road racing championship among 273 road victories in his career, was born on this day in 1951 in Palù di Giovo, a village about 10km (6 miles) north of Trento in northern Italy.

Only the great Belgians Eddy Merckx (525) and Rik Van Looy (379) won more road races than Moser, who was at his peak during the late 1970s and early 1980s.  One of his proudest achievements was to break Merckx’s record for the greatest distance covered in one hour.

He became renowned as a specialist in the so-called Monuments, the five road races among what are generally termed the Classics considered to be the oldest, hardest and most prestigious one-day events in cycling.

Of those events, Moser won the Paris-Roubaix three times, the Giro di Lombardia twice and the Milan-San Remo once.

Moser attributed his cycling prowess to growing up on the family farm in Val di Cembra, working in steep-sided vineyards in an era when most of the work was carried out by hand, rather than machinery.  Family members used bicycles to move around the estate, where he worked for four years between leaving school at 14 and beginning to focus on his cycling career at 18.

Moser competed for Italy at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich
Moser competed for Italy at the 1972
Olympic Games in Munich
He continued to help out on the farm for a couple of years after that, and attributes his physical strength to hours of manual labour.  In an age when nutritional supplements were not the norm, he felt his Mediterranean diet also gave him an advantage.

Before turning professional, Moser competed in the individual road race and team time trial events at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.  He had won the Girobio - the amateur Giro d'Italia - in 1971.

He was the most gifted and driven of four cycling Moser brothers, the others being Aldo, Enzo and Diego. His achievements clearly encouraged others in the family: a nephew, Moreno Moser, is a professional racer, and Francesco's son Ignazio Moser enjoyed success at the junior and amateur levels before retiring at the age of 22

Despite his success in the Giro d’Italia, in which he and his great rival Giuseppe Saronni broke the hold of the Belgians and French on the event, Moser always put the Classics ahead of the Grand Tours, considering his qualities were better suited to one-day races rather than the endurance events.

Of those the Paris-Roubaix was his favourite.  After finishing second in 1974 behind Roger De Vlaeminck and in 1976 behind Marc Demeyer of Belgium, Moser finally won the event three consecutive times. Only De Vlaeminck, with nine, had more podium finishes than Moser’s seven podium finishes in Paris–Roubaix; only De Vlaeminck, with nine, has more.

Moser pictured at the Giro d'Italia in 2011, after his retirement
Moser pictured at the Giro d'Italia in
2011, after his retirement
The 1974 season had been his first as a professional.  After he won Paris-Tours, the Tours of Emilia, Tuscany and Piedmont, as well as being second in Paris-Roubaix and seventh in the Giro d'Italia and the World Championships, it was clearly he was going to be a force.

After his two second places, in 1978 he beat De Vlaeminck and Jan Raas of the Netherlands; in 1979, De Vlaeminck and Hennie Kuiper of the Netherlands; and in 1980, Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle of France and the German, Dietrich Thurau.

Moser came in third in 1981 behind Bernard Hinault and Roger De Vlaeminck, and was also third in 1983 behind Hennie Kuiper and Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle. He rode Paris–Roubaix in his final season as a cyclist in 1987.

His other Monument victories came in 1975 and 1978 in the Giro di Lombardia, and in the 1984 Milan–San Remo.

Moser won the 1977 world road racing championship in San Cristobal, Venezuela. He was also the silver medallist in 1976, behind Freddy Maertens of Belgium, and second in 1978 to Gerrie Knetemann of the Netherlands.

Despite his preference, Moser had some success in the three-week grand tours.

He rode the Tour de France in 1975, and although he won two stages, led the race for seven days and won the young rider competition, he never rode the Tour again, claiming the mountains did not suit him. He was never seen as a good climber.

One of the aerodynamic bikes produced by Moser at his factory in Trento. He broke the hour record on one similar
One of the aerodynamic bikes produced by Moser at his
factory in Trento. He broke the hour record on one similar 
It was against the odds, therefore, that he won the 1984 Giro d'Italia, coming home ahead of Laurent Fignon of France and Moreno Argentin of Italy. On an unusually flat course, Moser used time-trialing ability to overcome the setbacks he suffered in the mountain stages. He also won the points classification in the Giro in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1982.

He said in an interview in 2015 he said that his team were always focused on the Giro ahead of the Tour de France and it was difficult to ride both in the same year.

Among Moser’s other Classic wins were the 1974 Paris–Tours, the 1977 Züri-Metzgete, the 1979 Gent–Wevelgem, and the 1977 Flèche Wallonne.

It was on January 19, 1984, in Mexico City, that Moser broke the 1972 hour record of Eddy Merckx, at the age of 32.

He rode 50.808km (31.57 miles) on an aerodynamic bike with full disc wheels more advanced than the conventional bike Merckx used in 1972. Later, in 1997, the Union Cycliste Internationale banned hour records set on bikes featuring technological advantages. Under these new rules, Merckx's record stood until 2000.

In retirement, Moser started a bike company, Moser Cicli, in a workshop in Trento, and was appointed the first chairman of the CPA (Cyclistes Professionels Associés), a union for professional riders. He held the position from 1999 until 2007.

Moser also continued his father's winery with his children Francesca, Carlo and Ignazio on the family estate, Maso Villa Warth, experimenting with new grape varieties. A passionate hunter, he hosted a television series A Caccia con Moser - Hunting with Moser.

The Piazza del Duomo in Trento, the city considered one of the most attractive places to live in Italy
The Piazza del Duomo in Trento, the city considered one
of the most attractive places to live in Italy
Travel tip:

The cosmopolitan city of Trento is considered to be one of the most desirable places to live in Italy on the basis of job opportunities and quality of life. With a population of 117,000, it is situated in an Alpine valley on the Adige river between the northern tip of Lake Garda and the border city of Bolzano, about 115km (71 miles) north of Verona. Settled by the Romans in the first century, it changed hands many times before becoming a major city in the Holy Roman Empire. The Austrians took charge in the 14th century and it remained under their control, with the exception of a spell of French domination in the Napoleonic era until the First World War.  It is notable in the 16th century for hosting the Council of Trent, the ecumenical council of the Catholic Church that gave rise to the resurgence of the church following Protestant Reformation.

The Church of Santa Maria Assunta di Giovo, with its 50m (262yds) tall bell tower
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta di Giovo, with its
50m (262yds) tall bell tower
Travel tip:

The Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Verla di Giovo, site of the parish church of Giovo, was built in the years 1766 to 1774, designed by the Como architect Caminada, Built in late Baroque style, it has a solemn facade, punctuated by pilasters and stucco cornices . On the southern side rises the bell tower, also eighteenth century, 50m (262 yards) tall and dominated by a characteristic pear-shaped dome.  The high altar is the work of Domenico Sartori, as are the statues of San't Antonio Abate and San Sebastiano placed on the same altar.

Also on this day:

1918: The death of flying ace Francesco Baracca

1932: The birth of Hollywood actress Pier Angeli

1932: The birth of Pier Angeli's twin, Marisa Pavan


18 June 2019

18 June

Bartolomeo Ammannati – sculptor and architect

Florentine artist created masterpieces for his home city

Bartolomeo Ammannati, whose buildings in Italy marked the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque style, was born on this day in 1511 at Settignano near Florence.  Ammannati began his career as a sculptor, carving statues in a number of Italian cities during the 1530s.  He trained first under Baccio Bandinelli and then under Jacopo Sansovino in Venice, working with him on the Library of St Mark, the Biblioteca Marciana, in the Piazzetta.  Pope Julius III called Ammannati to Rome in 1550 on the advice of architect and art historian Giorgio Vasari. Ammannati then worked with Vasari and Giacomo da Vignola on the Villa Giulia, which belonged to the Pope.  Ammannati’s masterpiece in Florence is considered to be the Pitti Palace, where he enlarged Filippo Brunelleschi’s basic structure and designed a courtyard and facade opening on to the Boboli Gardens. His other major works in Florence are the Bridge of Santa Trinità over the Arno and the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza della Signoria. It is believed the sculptor modelled Neptune’s face on that of Cosimo I de' Medici. Read more…


Fabio Capello - leading football manager

Veteran Champions League winner with five Serie A titles 

Fabio Capello, one of European club football's most successful managers, was born on this day in 1946 in San Canzian d'Isonzo, close to the border of Italy and Slovenia.  The winner of five Serie A titles as a coach and four as a player, plus two La Liga titles as manager of Real Madrid, and the Champions League with AC Milan, Capello was born in an area occupied by Allied forces after the end of the Second World War.  He began his playing career at the Ferrara-based SPAL club and went on to represent Roma, Juventus and AC Milan.  A midfielder with an eye for goal, he was a Serie A champion as a player three times with Juventus and once with Milan, also winning the Coppa Italia with Roma and Milan.  He represented Italy 32 times, playing at the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany.  As a coach, he took England to the World Cup finals in South Africa in 2010.  Read more…


Raffaella Carrà - entertainer and TV presenter

Much-loved star with long and varied career

Raffaella Carrà, the singer, dancer, television presenter and actress often simply known as la Carrà or Raffaella, was born in Bologna on this day in 1943.  Carrà has become a familiar face on Italian TV screens as the host of many variety shows and, more recently, as a judge on the talent show The Voice of Italy.  She has also enjoyed a recording career spanning 45 years and was a film actress for the best part of 25 years, having made her debut at the age of nine.  Her best-known screen role outside Italy was alongside Frank Sinatra in the hit American wartime drama, Von Ryan’s Express.  Carrà was born Raffaella Maria Roberta Pelloni. Shew grew up in the Adriatic resort of Bellaria-Igea Marina, just north of Rimini, where her father ran a bar and her maternal grandfather an ice cream parlour.  At the age of eight, she won a place at the National Dance Academy in Rome.  Read more…


17 June 2019

17 June

Saint Joseph of Copertino 

Flying friar now protects aviators

Saint Joseph, a Franciscan friar who became famous for his miraculous levitation, was born Giuseppe Maria Desa on this day in 1603 in Copertino, a village in Puglia that was then part of the Kingdom of Naples.  Joseph was canonised in 1767, more than 100 years after his death, by Pope Clement XIII and he is now the patron saint for astronauts and aviation.  Joseph’s father, Felice Desa, had died before his birth leaving large debts. After the family home was seized to settle what was owed, his mother, Francesca Panara, was forced to give birth to him in a stable.  Joseph experienced ecstatic visions as a child at school. When he was scorned by other children he had outbursts of anger.  He was apprenticed to a shoemaker but when he applied to join the Franciscan friars he was rejected because of his lack of education.  He was accepted in 1620 as a lay brother by the Capuchin friars only to be dismissed because his constant ecstasies made him unfit to carry out his required duties.  Read more...


Rinaldo ‘Dindo’ Capello - endurance racing driver

Three times winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours 

Rinaldo ‘Dindo’ Capello, one of Italy’s most successful endurance racing drivers, was born on this day in 1964 in Asti, in Piedmont.  During a period between 1997 and 2008 in which there was an Italian winning driver in all bar two years, Capello won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most prestigious endurance race on the calendar, three times.  Only Emanuele Pirro, his sometimes Audi teammate and rival during that period, has more victories in the race among Italian drivers, with five. Pirro won in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2007, Capello in 2003, 2004 and 2008.  Capello’s career record also includes two championship wins in the American Le Mans Series and five victories in the 12 Hours of Sebring. He is also record holder for most wins at Petit Le Mans, the race run annually at Atlanta, Georgia to Le Mans rules, with five.  Alongside teammates Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish, he was regarded as the quiet man of the all-conquering Audi sports car team, although his contribution was every bit as impressive.  Read more…


Giovanni Paolo Panini – artist

Painter who preserved scenes of Rome

Giovanni Paolo Panini, an artist mainly known for his views of Rome, was born on this day in 1691 in Piacenza. He is particularly remembered for his view of the interior of the Pantheon, commissioned by the Venetian collector, Francesco Algarotti, in around 1734. The Pantheon was as much a tourist attraction in Panini’s day as it is today and Panini manipulated the proportions and perspective to include more of the interior that is actually visible from any one vantage point. Indeed, many of his works, especially those of ruins, have slightly unreal embellishment. He sought to meet the needs of visitors for painted postcards depicting scenes of Italy and his clients were often happy with minor distortions of reality if it meant they could show off a unique picture. As a young man, Panini trained in his native town of Piacenza. He moved to Rome where he studied drawing. His work was to influence other painters, such as Canaletto, who resolved to do for Venice what Panini had done for Rome. Read more...


Sergio Marchionne - business leader

Man who saved Fiat divides opinions in Italy

Controversial business leader Sergio Marchionne was born on this day in 1952 in the city of Chieti in the Abruzzo region of Italy.  The former chief executive of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is credited with saving the iconic Italian motor manufacturer from potential extinction in 2004, when Fiat was on the verge of being taken into the ownership of the banks that were keeping it afloat.  It had suffered cumulative losses of more than $8 billion over the previous two years and a strategic alliance with General Motors had failed. Its share of the European car market had shrunk to an historic low of just 5.8 per cent.  Yet after the little-known Marchionne was appointed chief executive at the company's Turin headquarters it took him only just over a year to bring Fiat back into profit.  When Fiat opened a new assembly line at the Mirafiori plant outside Turin in 2006, Marchionne was hailed as a hero.  Soon, the new Fiat 500 was launched, tapping into Italian nostalgia by reprising the name that was synonymous with the optimistic years of the 1950s and 60s.  But Marchionne in time antagonised the more hard-line unions with the changes he introduced to working conditions.  Read more…


Saint Joseph of Copertino

Flying friar now protects aviators

Painter Ludovico Mazzanti's 18th century  depiction of Saint Joseph levitating
Painter Ludovico Mazzanti's 18th century
depiction of Saint Joseph levitating
Saint Joseph, a Franciscan friar who became famous for his miraculous levitation, was born Giuseppe Maria Desa on this day in 1603 in Copertino, a village in Puglia that was then part of the Kingdom of Naples.

Joseph was canonised in 1767, more than 100 years after his death, by Pope Clement XIII and he is now the patron saint for astronauts and aviation.

Joseph’s father, Felice Desa, had died before his birth leaving large debts. After the family home was seized to settle what was owed, his mother, Francesca Panara, was forced to give birth to him in a stable.

Joseph experienced ecstatic visions as a child at school. When he was scorned by other children he had outbursts of anger.

He was apprenticed to a shoemaker but when he applied to join the Franciscan friars he was rejected because of his lack of education.

He was accepted in 1620 as a lay brother by the Capuchin friars only to be dismissed because his constant ecstasies made him unfit to carry out his required duties.

Forced to return home he pleaded with the Franciscan friars near Copertino to be allowed to work in their stables.  After several years he was admitted to the Order and he was ordained a priest in 1628.

The Basilica of San Giuseppe da Copertino in Piazza Gallo was dedicated to St Joseph
The Basilica of San Giuseppe da Copertino
in Piazza Gallo was dedicated to St Joseph
He began to experience more ecstasies and it was claimed he began to levitate while participating in Mass, remaining suspended in the air for some time. He gained a reputation for holiness among ordinary people but was considered disruptive by the Church authorities, who found that even piercing his flesh or burning him with candles would have no effect on him while he was levitating. He was eventually confined to a small cell and forbidden to join in any public gatherings.

Joseph was denounced to the Inquisition because flying and levitation were then considered to be a type of witchcraft.

On the Inquisition’s orders, he was transferred from one friary to another to be kept under observation. He lived under a strict regime, eating solid food only twice a week.

In 1657 he was at last allowed to return to live in a religious community and was sent to a friary in Osimo in Le Marche, then part of the Papal States, where he died six years later at the age of 60.

Joseph was beatified in 1753 and made a Saint in 1767.

People sceptical about the reports of Saint Joseph’s levitating or seeming to become airborne have suggested he was either a very agile man who leapt into the air or was perhaps suffering convulsions as a result of consuming bread made from infected grain, which was common centuries ago.

Nevertheless, many pilgrims now visit Joseph’s tomb to pay their respects at the Basilica of Saint Joseph of Copertino in Piazza Gallo in Osimo.

Copertino Castle, built in 1540, has tapered ramparts in each of its four corners
Copertino Castle, built in 1540, has tapered ramparts in
each of its four corners 
Travel tip: 

Copertino, where Saint Joseph was born, is a town in the province of Lecce in the Puglia region of south east Italy. Red and rosé DOC wines are made in the area around the town. Copertino Castle, built in 1540 on the site of an older fortress, is one of the biggest fortifications in the entire region. It has a distinctive design, built on a quadrangle plan with a tapered rampart at each of the four corners. There is also a sanctuary dedicated to Saint Joseph in the town.

The main square in Osimo, the town in Le Marche where Saint Joseph died in 1663
The main square in Osimo, the town in Le Marche where
Saint Joseph died in 1663
Travel tip:

One of the main sights in Osimo, where Saint Joseph died, is the Basilica of San Giuseppe da Copertino, which was founded as a church dedicated to Saint Francis but was later rededicated and refurbished to house Saint Joseph’s relics.  There is also a restored Romanesque-Gothic church has a portal with sculptures of the 13th century. A town of more than 35,000 inhabitants, Osimo is located approximately 15km (9 miles) south of the port city of Ancona and the Adriatic Sea.

Also on this day:

1691: The birth of painter Giovanni Paolo Panini

1952: The birth of Sergio Marchionne, businessman 

1964: The birth of racing driver Rinaldo 'Dindo' Capello


16 June 2019

16 June

Pietro Bracci - sculptor

Artist best known for Oceanus statue at Trevi Fountain

The sculptor Pietro Bracci, who left his mark on the architectural landscape of Rome with the colossal six-metre high statue Oceanus that towers over the Trevi Fountain, was born on this day in 1700 in Rome.  The monumental figure is shown standing on a chariot, in the form of a shell, pulled by two winged horses flanked by two tritons. Bracci worked from sketches by Giovanni Battista Maini, who died before he could execute the project.  He also completed work on the fountain itself, built in front of Luigi Vanvitelli’s Palazzo Poli. This was started by Bracci’s close friend Nicola Salvi, who had been commissioned by Pope Clement XII to realize plans drawn up by Gian Lorenzo Bernini that had been shelved in the previous century. Salvi died in 1751, before he could complete the work. Giuseppe Pannini was also involved for a while before Bracci took over in 1761.  The work confirmed Bracci as a major talent of his time in the field of sculpture, one of the greatest of the late Baroque period, continuing in the tradition established by Bernini in the previous century that gave the city of Rome so many wonderful monuments.  Read more...


Giacomo Agostini - world motorcycle champion

Lovere legend clocked up 122 Grand Prix wins

Giacomo Agostini, 15 times Grand Prix world motorcycling champion, was born on this day in 1942 in Brescia. Agostini moved with his family to the lakeside town of Lovere when he was 13. In 2016, his career was commemorated with a month-long exhibition at the Accademia Tadini, which overlooks the picturesque Lago d'Iseo.  The exhibition marked the 50th anniversary of Agostini's first world championship in 1966.  Riding for the Italian MV Agusta team, Agostini won the 500cc class seven times in a row from 1966 to 1972 and the 350cc class seven times in succession from 1968 to 1974, adding a further 500cc title on a Yamaha in 1975.  His total of 122 Grand Prix wins from 1965 to 1976 is the highest by any rider in the history of the sport, although his fellow Italian, Valentino Rossi, is now not far behind on 115.  Agostini, considered perhaps the greatest motorcycle racer of all time, was at the peak of his powers between 1967 and 1970. Between 1968 and 1970, he won every race in which he competed in 350cc and 500cc classes, equalling Mike Hailwood's record for most wins in a single year in 1970 when he was first in 19 races.  Read more…


Mario Rigoni Stern – author

Brave soldier became a bestselling novelist

The novelist Mario Rigoni Stern, who was a veteran of World War II, died on this day in 2008 in Asiago in the Veneto region.  His first novel, Il sergente della neve - The Sergeant in the snow - was published in 1953. It drew upon his experiences as a sergeant major in the Alpine corps during the disastrous retreat from Russia in the Second World War. It became a best seller and was translated into English and Spanish.  Rigoni Stern had been a sergeant commanding a platoon in Mussolini’s army in the Soviet Union during the retreat of the Italians in the winter of 1942.  His book was inspired by how he succeeded in leading 70 survivors on foot from the Ukraine into what was then White Russia - now part of Belarus - and back to Italy.  In 1953 he sent the manuscript of his book to the Einaudi publishing house. They agreed to publish it but said they didn’t think he had a future as a writer.  They were proved wrong. One of more than a dozen novels and collections of short stories he would go on to publish, it won the Viareggio Prize for best debut novel and went on to sell more than a million copies.  Read more…


15 June 2019

15 June

Lisa del Giocondo – the Mona Lisa

Florentine wife and mother who became a global icon

Merchant’s wife Lisa del Giocondo, who has been identified as the model for the Mona Lisa, was born on this day in 1479 in Florence.  Her enigmatic beauty was immortalised by Leonardo da Vinci in the early part of the 16th century when he painted her portrait, a major work of art known as the Mona Lisa, which is now in the Louvre in Paris.  The painting, sometimes known as La Gioconda, has become a global icon that has been used in other works of art, illustrations and advertising. The face of the Mona Lisa belongs to a woman who was born as Lisa Gherardini into a well-off Tuscan family. When she was still in her teens she was married to Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, a successful cloth and silk merchant. In 1503 it is thought Leonardo da Vinci started work on her portrait. In the painting, Leonardo portrays Lisa as a faithful wife, who is dressed fashionably to demonstrate her financial status.  The word 'Mona' in the title of the painting is a contraction 'Ma donna', a form of address similar to Madam or Ma'am or 'my lady' in English.  In Italian it is often spelled Monna.  Read more…


Carlo Cattaneo - philosopher and writer

Intellectual who became a key figure in Milan uprising

Carlo Cattaneo, the philosopher and political writer who emerged as a leader in the so-called Five Days of Milan, the 1848 rebellion against the harsh rule of Austria, was born on this day in 1801 in Milan.  An influential figure in academic and intellectual circles in Milan, whose ideas helped shape the Risorgimento, Cattaneo was fundamentally against violence as a means to achieve change.  Yet when large-scale rioting broke out in the city in March 1848 he joined other intellectuals bringing organisation to the insurrection and succeeded in driving out Austrian’s occupying army, at least temporarily.  The uprising happened against a backcloth of social reform in other parts of the peninsula, in Rome and further south in Salerno, Naples and Sicily.  By contrast, the Austrians, who ruled most of northern Italy, sought to strengthen their grip by imposing harsh tax increases on the citizens and sent out tax collectors, supported by the army, to ensure that everybody paid.  Read more…


Hugo Pratt – comic book creator

Talented writer and artist travelled widely

The creator of the comic book character, Corto Maltese, was born Hugo Eugenio Pratt on this day in 1927 in Rimini.  Pratt became a famous comic book writer and artist and was renowned for combining strong storytelling with extensive historical research.  His most famous character, Corto Maltese, came into being when he started a magazine with Florenzo Ivaldi.  Pratt spent most of his childhood in Venice with his parents, Rolando Pratt and Evelina Genero. His paternal grandfather, Joseph Pratt, was English and Hugo Pratt was related to the actor, Boris Karloff, who was born William Henry Pratt.  Hugo Pratt moved to Ethiopia with his mother in the late 1930s to join his father, who was working there following the conquest of the country by Benito Mussolini.  Pratt’s father was later captured by British troops and died from disease while he was a prisoner of war.  Pratt and his mother were interned in a prison camp where he would regularly buy comics from the guards.  After the war, Pratt returned to Venice where he organised entertainment for the Allied troops. He later joined what became known as ‘the Venice group’ with other Italian cartoonists, including Alberto Ongaro and Mario Faustinelli.  Read more…


14 June 2019

14 June

Giacomo Leopardi – poet and philosopher

The tragic life of a brilliant Italian writer

One of Italy’s greatest 19th century writers, Giacomo Leopardi, died on this day in 1837 in Naples.  A brilliant scholar and philosopher, Leopardi led an unhappy life in Recanati in the Papal States, blighted by poor health, but he left as a legacy his superb lyric poetry.  By the age of 16, Leopardi had independently mastered Greek, Latin and several modern languages and had translated many classical works. Plagued  by ill health, he was forced to suspend his studies and, saddened by an apparent lack of concern from his parents, he poured out his feelings in poems such as the visionary work, Appressamento della morte - Approach of Death - written in 1816 in terza rima, in imitation of Petrarch and Dante.  The death from consumption of the young daughter of his father’s coachman inspired perhaps his greatest lyric poem, A Silvia.  His frustrated love for a Florentine beauty, Fanny Targioni-Tozzetti, led him to write some of his saddest poetry.  After many years’ travelling, Leopardi finally settled in Naples in 1833, where he wrote the long poem, Ginestra.  He died there in 1837 during a cholera epidemic.  Read more…


Battle of Marengo

Napoleon works up an appetite driving out the Austrians

Napoleon was victorious in battle against the Austrians on this day in 1800 in an area near the village of Marengo, about five kilometres south of Alessandria in Piedmont.  A chicken dish named after the battle, Pollo alla Marengo, keeps the event alive by continuing to appear on restaurant menus and in cookery books.  It was an important victory for Napoleon, who effectively drove the Austrians out of Italy by forcing them to retreat.  Initially French forces had been overpowered by the Austrians and had been pushed back a few miles. The Austrians thought they had won and retired to Alessandria.  But the French received reinforcements and launched a surprise counter-attack, forcing the Austrians to retreat and to have to subsequently sign an armistice.  This sealed a political victory for Napoleon and helped him secure his grip on power.  There are various stories about the origin of the chicken dish named after the battle. Some say Napoleon ate it after his victory, while others say a restaurant chef in Paris invented it and named it after the battle in Napoleon’s honour.  Read more…


Salvatore Quasimodo - Nobel Prize winner

Civil engineer wrote poetry in his spare time

Salvatore Quasimodo, one of six Italians to have won a Nobel Prize in Literature, died on this day in 1968 in Naples.  The former civil engineer, who was working for the Italian government in Reggio Calabria when he published his first collection of poems and won the coveted and historic Nobel Prize in 1959, suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in Amalfi, in Campania, where he had gone to preside over a poetry prize.  He was taken by car to Naples but died in hospital a few hours later, at the age of 66.  The committee of the Swedish Academy, who meet to decide each year’s Nobel laureates, cited Quasimodo’s “lyrical poetics, which with ardent classicism expresses the tragic experiences of the life of our times".  The formative experiences that shaped his literary life began after the family moved from Modica, the small city in the province of Ragusa in Sicily, where Salvatore was born in 1901, to Messina, at the tip of the island closest to the mainland, which had been almost destroyed in the devastating earthquake of December 1908.  Read more…


13 June 2019

13 June

Saint Anthony of Padua

Pilgrims honour the saint famous for his miracles

The feast of Saint Anthony of Padua (Sant’Antonio da Padova) will be celebrated  by thousands of pilgrims visiting the northern Italian city today.  Special services will be held in the Basilica di Sant’Antonio and a statue of the saint will be carried through the streets of Padua.  Anthony was born in Portugal where he became a Catholic priest and a friar of the Franciscan order. He died on 13 June, 1231 in Padova and was declared a saint by the Vatican a year after his death, which is considered a remarkably short space of time.  Anthony is one of the most loved of all the saints and his name is regularly invoked by Italians to help them recover lost items. It is estimated that about five million pilgrims visit the Basilica every year in order to file past and touch the tomb of the Franciscan monk, who became famous for his miracles, particularly relating to lost people or things.  The magnificent basilica in Piazza del Santo is an architectural masterpiece created between the 13th and 14th centuries, but it was later enriched with works of art by masters such as Titian, Tiepolo and the sculptor Donatello.  Read more…


Giovanni Antonio Magini – astronomer and cartographer

Scientist laboured to produce a comprehensive atlas of Italy

Giovanni Antonio Magini, who dedicated his life to producing a detailed atlas of Italy, was born on this day in 1555 in Padua.  He also devised his own planetary theory consisting of 11 rotating spheres and invented calculating devices to help him work on the geometry of the sphere.  Magini was born in Padua and went to study philosophy in Bologna, receiving his doctorate in 1579. He then dedicated himself to astronomy and in 1582 wrote his Ephemerides coelestium motuum, a major treatise on the subject, which was translated into Italian the following year.  In 1588 Magini joined in the competition for the chair of mathematics at Bologna University and was chosen over Galileo because he was older and had more moderate views. He held the position for the rest of his life.  But his greatest achievement was the preparation of his atlas, entitled Italia, or the Atlante geografico d’Italia, which was printed posthumously by Magini’s son in 1620.  Although Italy as a state has existed only since 1861, the name Italia, referring to the southern part of the peninsula, may go back to the ancient Greeks. Magini’s atlas set out to include maps of every Italian region with exact names and historical notes.  Read more…


Pope's would-be killer pardoned

Turkish gunman 'freed' but immediately detained

Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Italy’s president, signed the order granting an official pardon to Pope John Paul II’s would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, on this day in 2000.  The Turkish gunman had spent 19 years in jail after wounding the pontiff in St Peter’s Square in Rome in May 1981 but John Paul II, who had forgiven Agca from his hospital bed and visited him in prison in 1983, had been pressing the Italian government to show clemency and allow him to return to Turkey.  However, at the same time as granting him his freedom under the Italian judicial system, Ciampi also signed Agca’s extradition papers at the request of the Turkish authorities, who required him to serve the outstanding nine years of a 10-year jail sentence after being convicted in his absence of the murder of a Turkish journalist in 1978.  He was handed over to Turkish police, who escorted him onto a military flight to Istanbul airport.  At the time, a Vatican statement described the Pope as "very happy" about the pardon and said that John Paul II’s satisfaction was all the greater for the pardon being carried out during the Roman Catholic Church's Holy Year, the theme of which was pardon and forgiveness.  Read more…


12 June 2019

12 June

Charles Emmanuel II - Duke of Savoy

Ruler who was notorious for massacre of Protestant minority

Charles Emmanuel II, who was Duke of Savoy for almost his whole life, died on this day in 1675 in Turin.  His rule was notorious for his persecution of the Valdesi – a Christian Protestant movement widely known as the Waldenses that originate in 12th century France, whose base was on the Franco-Italian border.  In 1655, he launched an attack on the Valdesi that turned into a massacre so brutal that it sent shockwaves around Europe and prompted the English poet, John Milton, to write the sonnet On the Late Massacre in Piedmont.  The British political leader Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, proposed to send the British Navy if the massacre and subsequent attacks were not halted, and raised funds for helping the Waldensians.  More positively, Charles Emmanuel II was responsible for improving commerce and creating wealth in the Duchy. He was a driver in developing the port of Nice and building a road through the Alps towards France.  Read more…


Nick Gentile - mafioso

Sicilian mobster defied code of silence by publishing memoirs

The mafioso Nicola Gentile, known in the United States as Nick, who became notorious for publishing a book of memoirs that revealed the inner workings of the American Mafia as well as secrets of the Sicilian underworld, was born on this day in 1885 in Siculiana, a small town on the south coast of the Sicily, in the province of Agrigento.  Gentile’s book, Vita di Capomafia, which he wrote in conjunction with a journalist, was published in 1963 and provided much assistance to the American authorities in their fight against organized crime.  As a result Gentile was sentenced to death by the mafia council in Sicily for having broken the code of omertà, a vow of silence to which all mafiosi are expected to adhere to protect their criminal activities.  Siculiana, in fact, was a mafia stronghold, where the code was usually enforced with particular rigour.  Yet the mobsters from the city of Catania who were tasked with carrying out the sentence declined to do so, for reasons that have not been explained. In the event, Gentile died in Siculiana in 1966 of natural causes. Read more…


Margherita Hack – astrophysicist

TV personality made science more popular

Writer and astrophysicist Margherita Hack was born on this day in 1922 in Florence.  She studied stars by analysing the different kinds of radiation they emitted and frequently appeared on television to explain new findings in astronomy and physics.  Hack, whose father, Roberto Hack, was of Swiss origin, graduated in physics from the University of Florence in 1945. She worked at the Brera Astronomical Observatory just outside Milan and then became a professor at the University of Trieste.  She spent more than 20 years as director of the observatory in Trieste, the first woman in Italy to hold such a position. Under her leadership, the observatory became one of the foremost research centres in Italy.  Hack wrote many scientific papers and books, winning awards for her research. Her television appearances helped make science more popular with ordinary people.  Read more…


11 June 2019

11 June

Corrado Alvaro - writer and journalist

Novelist from Calabria won Italy's most prestigious literary prize

The award-winning writer and journalist Corrado Alvaro died on this day in 1956 at the age of 61.  Alvaro won the Premio Strega, Italy’s most prestigious literary prize, in 1951 with his novel Quasi una vita – Almost a lifetime.  The Premio Strega – the Strega Prize – has been awarded to such illustrious names as Alberto Moravia, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Elsa Morante, Primo Levi, Umberto Eco and Dacia Maraini since its inception in 1947.  Alvaro began his newspaper career writing for Il Resto di Carlino of Bologna and Milan’s Corriere della Sera, both daily newspapers, for whom he combined reporting with literary criticism.   After serving in the Italian army during the First World War, in which he was wounded in both arms and spent a long time in hospital, he resumed his journalistic career as a correspondent in Paris (France) for the anti-Fascist paper Il Mondo. In 1925, he supported Benedetto Croce’s Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals.  Alvaro’s debut novel L’uomo nel labirinto – the Man in the labyrinth, published in 1926, explored the growth of Fascism in Italy in the 1920s. Read more...


Giovanni Antonio Giay – composer

Opera composer also wrote religious music for the Savoy family

Opera and music composer Giovanni Antonio Giay was born on this day in 1690 in Turin.  A protégée of Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy, Giay sometimes spelt Giai or Giaj, wrote 15 operas, five symphonies and a large quantity of sacred music for the royal chapel of Turin Cathedral.  Giay’s father, Stefano Giuseppe Giay, who was a chemist, died when Giovanni Antonio was just five years old.  At the age of ten, Giovanni Antonio became the first member of his family to study music when he entered the Collegio degli Innocenti at Turin Cathedral to study under Francesco Fasoli.  Giay’s first opera, Il trionfo d’amore o sia La Fillide, was premiered at the original Teatro Carignano during the Carnival of 1715.  At the invitation of Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy, Giay became maestro di cappella at the royal chapel in Turin in 1732, succeeding Andrea Stefano Fiore.   The composer produced a great deal of religious music for the chapel but continued to write opera as well.  Giay remained in the post of maestro di cappella for 26 years until his death in 1764 in Turin.  Read more...


Antonio Cifrondi – painter

Artist who has preserved images of everyday life for us

Baroque artist Antonio Cifrondi was born on this day in 1655 in Clusone, just north of Bergamo, in Lombardy.  He is known for his religious works and his genre paintings of old men and women and of people at work, in which he depicts their clothing in great detail.  Some of his work is on display in the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo. A self-portrait can be seen in the church of Sant' Alessandro della Croce in Via Pignolo in Bergamo.  Cifrondi was born into a poor family in Clusone, the main town in Val Seriana to the north east of Bergamo.  After training as a painter locally he moved to Bologna, and then to Turin and to Rome, where he stayed for about five years. He also worked briefly at the Palace of Versailles near Paris.  He came back to live in the Bergamo area in the 1680s, after which he painted many of his major works. He lived for the last years of his life in a convent near Brescia, the city where he died in 1730.  Read more…


10 June 2019

10 June

Carlo Ancelotti - football manager

Three-times winner of the Champions League

Carlo Ancelotti, a former top-level player who has become one of football’s most accomplished managers, was born on this day in 1959 in Reggiolo, a small town in Emilia-Romagna.  One of only three managers to have won the UEFA Champions League three times - twice with AC Milan and once with Real Madrid - he is one of only two to have managed teams in four finals.  Ancelotti, who has managed title-winning teams in four countries, is also one of only seven to have won the European Cup or Champions League as a player and gone on to do so as a manager too.  As a boy, Ancelotti often helped his father, Giuseppe, who made and sold cheese for a living, in the fields on the family farm, which is where he claims he acquired his appreciation of hard work.  But despite the cheeses of Emilia-Romagna having international renown, especially the famous Parmigiana-Reggiano, he saw how his father struggled to make enough money to feed his family and vowed to make more of his own life.  His talent for football, allied to that work ethic, enabled him to fulfil that promise.  Read more…


Arrigo Boito – writer and composer

Death of a patriot who fought for Venice

Arrigo Boito, who wrote both the music and libretto for his opera, Mefistofele, died on this day in 1918 in Milan.  Of all the operas based on Goethe’s Faust, Boito’s Mefistofele is considered the most faithful to the play and his libretto is regarded as being of particularly high quality.  Boito was born in Padua in 1842, the son of an Italian painter of miniatures and a Polish countess. He attended the Milan Conservatory and travelled to Paris on a scholarship.  It was there he met Giuseppe Verdi, for whom he wrote the text of the Hymn of the Nations in 1862.  He fought under the direction of Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1866 in the Third Italian War of Independence, after which Venice was ceded to Italy.  While working on Mefistofele, Boito published articles, influenced by the composer Richard Wagner, in which he vigorously attacked Italian music and musicians.  Verdi was deeply offended by his words and by 1868, when Mefistofele was produced in Milan, Boito’s opinions had provoked so much hostility there was nearly a riot.  Boito and Verdi were reconciled in 1873 and Boito revised the libretto for Simon Boccanegra. He also produced a libretto for both Otello and FalstaffRead more…


Italy enters the Second World War

Mussolini sides with Germany against Britain and France

One of the darkest periods of Italian history began on this day in 1940 when the country's Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, declared war on Great Britain and France, ending the possibility that Italy would avoid being drawn into the Second World War.  Mussolini made the declaration from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, where he had his office. The balcony enabled him to address a large crowd in the Piazza Venezia and he ordered his Blackshirts to ensure that the square was full of enthusiastic supporters.  Italy had already signed a Pact of Steel with Germany but had been reluctant to enter the conflict. Mussolini had a strong navy but a relatively weak army and a lack of resources across the board.  By June 1940, however, Germany was on the point of conquering France and it was thought that Britain would soon follow. Historians believe Mussolini's decision to enter the conflict was an opportunistic attempt to win a share of French territory.  He told the Italian people that going to war was a matter of honour after his efforts to preserve peace had been rebuffed by 'treacherous' Western democracies, but many believe his motives were simply to pursue his expansionist ambitions at minimal cost.  Read more…


9 June 2019

9 June

The death of Nero

Brutal emperor killed himself with help of aide

The Roman emperor Nero, whose rule was associated with extravagance and brutality, died on this day in 68 AD in what would now be described as an assisted suicide.  Effectively deposed as emperor when simultaneous revolts in the Gallic and Spanish legions coincided with the Praetorian Guard rising against him, with Galba named as his successor, Nero fled Rome, seeking refuge with one of his few remaining loyalists.  Phaon, an imperial freedman, gave him the use of a villa four miles outside Rome along Via Salaria, where he hastened, under disguise, along with Phaon and three other freedmen, Epaphroditos, Neophytus, and Sporus.  Nero had hoped to escape to Egypt but realised there was no one left to provide the means and asked the four freedmen to begin digging his grave, in readiness for his death by suicide.  In the meantime, the Senate had declared Nero a public enemy.  Nero had been unable to keep his hiding place a secret and soon a courier arrived with news of the Senate’s declaration and their intention to have him beaten to death in the Forum. Armed men had been despatched to apprehend him.  According to legend, when it came to the ultimate drama of taking his own life he was found wanting and begged one of his freedmen to help. Out of loyalty, Epaphroditos obliged and plunged a knife into the emperor’s chest.  Read more…


The Maestà of Duccio

Masterpiece influenced the course of Italian art history

A magnificent altarpiece by the artist Duccio di Buoninsegna was unveiled in the cathedral in Siena on this day in 1311.  Duccio’s Maestà was to set Italian painting on a new course, leading away from Byzantine art towards using more realistic representations of people in pictures.  The altarpiece was commissioned by the city of Siena from the artist and was composed of many individual paintings.  The front panels made up a large picture of an enthroned Madonna and Child with saints and angels.  At the base of the panels was an inscription, which translated into English means: ‘Holy Mother of God, be thou the cause of peace for Siena and life to Duccio because he painted thee thus.’  When the painting was installed in the cathedral on June 9, 1311, one witness to the event wrote: ‘…on that day when it was brought into the cathedral, all workshops remained closed and the bishop commanded a great host of devoted priests and monks to file past in solemn procession.  This was accompanied by all the high officers of the commune and by all the people; all honourable citizens of Siena surrounded said panel with candles held in their hands, and women and children followed humbly behind.’ Read more…


Luigi Fagioli - racing driver

Man from Le Marche is Formula One's oldest winner

Racing driver Luigi Fagioli, who remains the oldest driver to win a Formula One Grand Prix, was born on this day in 1898 at Osimo, an historic hill town in the Marche region.  Fagioli was a highly skilled driver but one who was also renowned for his fiery temperament, frequently clashing with rivals, team-mates and his bosses.  It was typical of his behaviour after recording his historic triumph at the F1 French Grand Prix at Reims in 1951 he announced in high dudgeon that he was quitting Formula One there and then.  He was furious that his Alfa Romeo team had ordered him during the race to hand his car over to Juan Manuel Fangio, the Argentine who would go on win the 1951 World Championship, which meant the victory was shared rather than his outright.  Nonetheless, at 53 years and 22 days, Fagioli's name entered the record books as the oldest F1 Grand Prix winner.  Fagioli trained as an accountant but was always fascinated with the new sport of car racing and his background - he was born into a wealthy family of pasta manufacturers - gave him the financial wherewithal to compete.  He made his debut in 1926. Read more…


8 June 2019

8 June

Tomaso Albinoni - Venetian composer

Prolific writer of operas and instrumental music

The composer Tomaso Albinoni, perhaps best known for the haunting and powerful Adagio in G Minor, was born on this day in 1671 in Venice.  Albinoni was a contemporary of two other great Venetian composers, Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi, and was favourably compared with both.  It is his instrumental music for which he is popular today, although during his own lifetime he was famous for his operas, the first of which was performed in Venice in 1694.  He is thought to have composed some 81 operas in total, although they were not published at the time and the majority were lost.  His first major instrumental work also appeared in 1694. With the support of sponsorship from noble patrons, he published nine collections - in Italy, Amsterdam and London - beginning with Opus 1, the 12 Sonate a Tre, which he dedicated to his fellow Venetian, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, the grand-nephew of Pope Alexander VIII.  It was this work that established his fame.  Read more…


Giuseppe Fiorelli - archaeologist

The man whose painstaking work saved Pompeii

Giuseppe Fiorelli, the archaeologist largely responsible for preserving the ruins of Pompeii, was born on this day in 1823, in Naples.  It was due to Fiorelli’s painstaking excavation techniques that much of the lost Roman city on the Neapolitan coast was preserved as it had looked when, in 79 AD, it was totally submerged under volcanic ash following the eruption of Vesuvius.  He also hit upon the idea of filling the cavities in the hardened lava and solidified ash left behind by long-rotted bodies and vegetation with plaster to create a model of the person or plant that had been engulfed.  This became known as the Fiorelli process.  Fiorelli was only 21 when, in 1844, he was appointed an inspector in the Soprintendenza Generale degli Scavi – the body responsible for all excavations in the Naples region – and in 1847 inspector specifically for the Pompeii site.  In a bizarre twist to his story, Fiorelli was arrested and imprisoned after a rival archaeologist took advantage of a crackdown on political activists following riots in 1848 by maliciously reporting him to the authorities as a nationalist republican.  Read more…


Guido Banti – physician

Doctor was the first to define leukaemia

The innovative physician and pathologist Guido Banti was born on this day in 1852 in Montebichieri in Tuscany.  His work on the spleen led him to discover that a chronic congestive enlargement of the spleen resulted in the premature destruction of red blood cells. Closely related to leukaemia, this was later named 'Banti’s disease' in his honour.  After graduating in 1877, he was appointed an assistant at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence and also as an assistant in the laboratory of Pathological Anatomy.  The ability to observe patients in bed and then carry out post mortem examinations was to prove fundamental to his work.  He studied enlargement of the spleen and wrote a paper describing the condition that would become known as Banti’s disease. Banti’s name is still primarily connected with leukaemia and he opposed the views of other scientists about the disease. His description of leukaemia published in 1913 accords closely with the modern definition of leukaemia. Read more...