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.

22 July 2019

22 July

Gorni Kramer - jazz musician


Multi-talented composer of more than 1,000 songs

The songwriter, musician and band leader Gorni Kramer was born on this day in 1913 in the village of Rivarolo Mantovano, near Mantua.  An accomplished accordion and double bass player, Kramer later became a record producer, arranger and television writer.  His embrace of the jazz and swing genres developed in spite of them banned from being played on Italian state radio during the Fascist era.  He was a prolific composer thought to have written more than 1,000 songs during a career that spanned 60 years.  Kramer’s non-Italian sounding name led to a popular misconception that he was born in another country, yet it was his real name - reversed.  He was born Francesco Kramer Gorni, so named because his father was a fan of the American cycling world champion Frank Kramer.  It was from his father that Gorni inherited his passion for music, having played the accordion in his father’s band.  Gorni studied double bass at the Conservatory in Parma and obtained his diploma in 1930. He began to work as a musician for dance bands, then in 1933, aged 20, formed his own jazz group.  Read more…


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Palermo falls to the Allies


Capture of Sicilian capital triggered ousting of Mussolini

One of the most significant developments of the Second World War in Italy occurred on this day in 1943 when Allied forces captured the Sicilian capital, Palermo.  A battle took place between General George S Patton’s Seventh Army and some German and Italian divisions but it was not a prolonged affair.  The Sicilians themselves by then had little appetite to fight in a losing cause on behalf of the Germans and the invading soldiers were greeted by many citizens as liberators.  It was not a decisive victory for the Allies but it had a symbolic value, signifying the fall of Sicily only 12 days after Allied forces had crossed the Mediterranean from bases in North Africa. When news reached Rome that Palermo had fallen, the Fascist Grand Council, who had for some time given only uneasy support to Mussolini, knew that something had to be done to limit the damage of what now looked like an inevitable defeat for the Axis powers in Italy.  Two days after the fall of Palermo, after Mussolini had told the Grand Council that Hitler was thinking of withdrawing German forces from the south of Italy, a motion calling for Mussolini’s removal from power was passed.  Read more…

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Indro Montanelli – journalist


Veteran writer who cast a critical eye on Italian politics and society

One of the greatest Italian writers and journalists of the 20th century, Indro Montanelli, died on this day in 2001 in Milan.  The previous year he had been named as one of 50 World Press Freedom Heroes by the International Press Institute.  Montanelli had been a witness to many of the major events of the 20th century. He was in Danzig when Hitler rejected the ultimatum from Britain and France in September 1939. He was in the streets of Budapest in 1956 when Soviet tanks rolled in and he was shot in the legs by Red Brigades terrorists on an Italian street in 1977.  Montanelli was born Indro Alessandro Raffaello Scizogene Montanelli in 1909 at Fucecchio near Florence.  He began his journalistic career by writing for the Fascist newspaper, Il Selvaggio.  He then worked as a crime reporter for Paris Soir before serving as a volunteer with Italian troops in the Eritrean Battalion in Ethiopia - Abyssinia as it was then - where what he saw caused him to change his mind about Benito Mussolini, the Fascist leader, after which the regime took exception to some of his writing and withdrew his press accreditation. Read more…

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St Lawrence of Brindisi


Talented linguist who converted Jews and Protestants

St Lawrence of Brindisi was born Giulio Cesare Russo on this day in 1559 in Brindisi.  He became a Roman Catholic priest and joined the Capuchin friars, taking the name Brother Lawrence.  He was made St Lawrence in 1881, remembered for his bravery leading an army against the Turks armed only with a crucifix.  Lawrence was born into a family of Venetian merchants and was sent to Venice to be educated. He joined the Capuchin order in Verona when he was 16 and received tuition in theology, philosophy and foreign languages from the University of Padua. He progressed to be able to speak many European and Semitic languages fluently.  Pope Clement VIII gave Lawrence the task of converting Jews living in Rome to Catholicism because of his excellent command of Hebrew. Lawrence also established Capuchin monasteries in Germany and Austria and brought many Protestants back to Catholicism.  While serving as the imperial chaplain to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II, he led an army against the Ottoman Turks threatening to conquer Hungary armed only with a crucifix and many people attributed the subsequent victory to his leadership.  Read more…

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Gorni Kramer - jazz musician

Multi-talented composer of more than 1,000 songs


Gorni Kramer was a popular performer for many decades
Gorni Kramer was a popular performer
for many decades
The songwriter, musician and band leader Gorni Kramer was born on this day in 1913 in the village of Rivarolo Mantovano, near Mantua.

An accomplished accordion and double bass player, Kramer later became a record producer, arranger and television writer.  His embrace of the jazz and swing genres developed in spite of them banned from being played on Italian state radio during the Fascist era.

He was a prolific composer thought to have written more than 1,000 songs during a career that spanned 60 years.

Kramer’s non-Italian sounding name led to a popular misconception that he was born in another country, yet it was his real name - reversed.

He was born Francesco Kramer Gorni, so named because his father was a fan of the American cycling world champion Frank Kramer.

It was from his father that Gorni inherited his passion for music, having played the accordion in his father’s band.

Gorni studied double bass at the Conservatory in Parma and obtained his diploma in 1930. He began to work as a musician for dance bands, then in 1933, aged 20, formed his own jazz group.

Kramer (centre) with the comedy duo Garinei &
Giovanni, with whom they worked for many years
Despite the American genre being forbidden to be played on state radio by the Fascist party, Gorni developed a knowledge through mixing with musicians who worked on the liners connecting Europe and North America.

In the mid-1930s, by which time he was using Kramer as his professional name, his career as a songwriter took off. He composed the music for Alberto Rabagliati’s 1936 hit Crapa pelada, and in 1939 he wrote Pippo non lo sa, one of Trio Lescano's most famous songs.

During World War II, he wrote  he worked with Natalino Otto, a singer also banned by the state radio station EIAR because of swing. Gorni wrote Ho un sassolino nella scarpa, one of Otto's greatest hits.

It was around the same time that he began a collaboration with Franco Cerri and the Quartetto Cetra.

In 1949 he met humorist duo Garinei e Giovanni and began to compose for their worldwide stage performances.  This was his main activity for the next ten years.

Gorni made his television debut in 1957 on Il Musichiere, a music show hosted by Mario Riva. He composed the show's theme song Domenica è sempre domenica. Other shows followed, such as Buone vacanze, Giardino d'inverno, L'amico del giaguaro and Leggerissimo.

By the mid-60s, he had gradually reduced his public performances, but he continued to work as a music publisher and a TV author.  He died of a heart attack, in Milan in 1995. He was survived by his daughters Teresa and Laura.

One of the three gateways into the  historic village of Rivarolo Mantovano
One of the three gateways into the
historic village of Rivarolo Mantovano
Travel tip:

Rivarolo Mantovano, Gorni Kramer’s birthplace, is an historic  village in Lombardy in the province of Mantua, the city of Mantua being some 30km (19 miles) to the northwest. It was known as Rivarolo di Fuori until 1907.  The village with a squared plan and perpendicular roads as established by duke Vespasiano I Gonzaga in the late 16th century.  The perimeter walls, interrupted by three gates, enclose the entire village in a rectangular shape. Along the village streets it is rare to find buildings that stand out from the others, with the exception of the main square, once called Piazza Grande (now Piazza Finzi), around which most of the important buildings are clustered.

The Conservatory of Parma was named after Arrigo Boito, who was the author of several libretti for Verdi operas
The Conservatory of Parma was named after Arrigo Boito,
who was the author of several libretti for Verdi operas
Travel tip:

Parma, where Gorni Kramer attended the Conservatory, is an 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. The Conservatory, named in honour of Arrigo Boito, who wrote the libretti for many of Verdi’s operas, is on Strada Conservatorio.

More reading:

Pippo Barzizza, pioneer of Italian jazz and swing

The short life of 50s jazz club sensation Fred Buscaglione

Renato Carosone, writer of classic Italian songs

Also on this day:

1559: The birth of St Lawrence of Brindisi

1943: Palermo falls to the Allies

2001: The death of the great 20th century journalist Indro Montanelli


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21 July 2019

21 July

Suso Cecchi D'Amico - screenwriter


Woman who scripted many of Italy's greatest movies

Suso Cecchi D’Amico, the most accomplished and sought-after screenwriter in 20th century Italian cinema, was born on this day in 1914 in Rome.  She collaborated on the scripts of more than 100 films in a career spanning 60 years and worked with almost every Italian director of note, particularly the pioneers of neorealism, the movement in which she was a driving force.  The classic films in which she was involved are some of the greatest in cinema history, including  Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948), William Wyler's Roman Holiday (1953), Mario Monicelli's I Soliti Ignoti (1958), which was released in the United States and Britain as Big Deal on Madonna Street, and Francesco Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano (1962).  She was best known for her professional relationship with Luchino Visconti, for whom she was the major scriptwriter on almost all his films from Bellissima (1951) to The Innocent (1976), including his acclaimed masterpieces Rocco and His Brothers (1960) and Il Gattopardo (1963).  She was born Giovanna Cecchi in Rome. Just after her birth, her father named her Susannah, of which Suso is a Tuscan diminutive. Read more…

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Guglielmo Ferrero - journalist and historian


Nobel prize nominee who opposed Fascism

The historian, journalist and novelist Guglielmo Ferrero, who was most famous for his five-volume opus The Greatness and Decline of Rome, was born on this day in 1871.  The son of a railway engineer, he was born just outside Naples at Portici but his family were from Piedmont and while not travelling he lived much of his adult life in Turin and Florence.  A liberal politically, he was vehemently opposed to any form of dictatorship and his opposition to Mussolini’s Fascists naturally landed him in trouble. He was a signatory to the writer Benedetto Croce's Anti-Fascist Manifesto and when all liberal intellectuals were told to leave Italy in 1925, he refused. Consequently he was placed under house arrest.  It was only after four years, following appeals by officials from the League of Nations and the personal intervention of the King of Belgium, that he was allowed to leave Italy to take up a professorship at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.  Read more…


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Beppe Grillo - comedian turned activist


Founder of Five Star Movement 

The comedian turned political activist Beppe Grillo was born on this day in 1948 in Genoa.  Grillo is the founder and president of the Five Star Movement - Movimento Cinque Stelle - a growing force in Italian politics that currently shares power with the right-wing Lega party.  Five Star’s rise was highlighted first when its candidate Virginia Raggi was elected Mayor of Rome.  The party then polled more than 25 per cent of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies at the 2013 elections in Italy and almost 24 per cent of the votes for the Senate, emerging as the biggest threat to then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party. Raggi won 67 per cent of the vote in Rome. Another M5S candidate, Chiara Appendino, was elected Mayor of Turin, beating the Democratic Party candidate into second place.  Overall, Five Star won 19 of 20 mayoral elections which it contested.  Grillo launched M5S as a protest group in 2009 but his ability to inspire audiences led to a rapid growth in popularity.  It positioned itself as anti-corruption, anti-globalisation and pro transparency in the political system.  Read more…

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20 July 2019

20 July

Giovanna Amati - racing driver


Kidnap survivor who drove in Formula One

Racing driver Giovanna Amati, the last female to have been entered for a Formula One Grand Prix, was born on this day in 1959 in Rome.  The story of Amati’s signing for the Brabham F1 team in 1992 was all the more remarkable for the fact that 14 years earlier, as an 18-year-old girl, she had been kidnapped by a ransom gang and held for 75 days in a wooden cage.  Kidnaps happened with alarming frequency in Italy in the 1970s, a period marked by social unrest and acts of violence committed by political extremists, often referred to as the Years of Lead. Young people with rich parents were often the targets and Amati, whose father Giovanni was a wealthy industrialist who owned a chain of cinemas, fitted the bill.  She was snatched outside the family’s villa in Rome in February 1978 and held first in a house only a short distance away and then at a secret location, where she was physically abused and threatened with having her ear cut off while her captors negotiated with her 72-year-old father.  Read more…

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Giorgio Morandi – painter


The greatest master of still life in the 20th century

The artist Giorgio Morandi, who became famous for his atmospheric representations of still life, was born on the day in 1890 in Bologna.  Morandi’s paintings were appreciated for their tonal subtlety in depicting simple subjects, such as vases, bottles, bowls and flowers.  He studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna and taught himself to etch by studying books on Rembrandt. Even though he lived his whole life in Bologna, he was deeply influenced by the work of Cézanne, Derain and Picasso.  In 1910 Morandi visited Florence, where the work of Giotto, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca and Paolo Uccello also impressed him.  Morandi was appointed as instructor of drawing for elementary schools in Bologna, a position he held from 1914 until 1929. He joined the army in 1915 but suffered a breakdown and had to be discharged.  During the war his paintings of still life became purer in form, in the manner of Cezanne. After a phase of experimenting with the metaphysical style of painting he began to focus on subtle gradations of hue and tone.  Read more…

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Death of Marconi


State funeral for engineer who was at first shunned

Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian electrical engineer who is credited with the invention of radio, died on this day in Rome in 1937.  Aged 63, he passed away following a series of heart attacks.  He was granted a state funeral in recognition of the prestige he brought to Italy through his pioneering work.  In Great Britain, where he had spent a significant part of his professional life, all BBC and Post Office radio transmitters observed a two-minute silence to coincide with the start of the funeral service in Rome.  Marconi was born in Bologna on April 25, 1874. His father, Giuseppe Marconi, was an Italian country gentleman who was married to Annie Jameson, a member of the Jameson whiskey family from County Wexford in Ireland.  A student of physics and electrical science from an early age, Guglielmo conducted experiments at his father's country estate at Pontecchio, near Bologna, where he succeeded in sending wireless signals between two transmitters a mile and a half apart.  Disappointingly, the initial response to his discovery was sceptical and Marconi's request to the Italian government to help fund further research did not even receive a reply.  As a result, in 1896, he moved to London.  Read more…

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19 July 2019

19 July

Cesare Cremonini - philosopher


Great thinker famous for Galileo ‘denial’

The philosopher Cesare Cremonini, the contemporary and friend of Galileo Galilei who famously refused to look at the Moon through Galileo’s telescope, died on this day in 1631 in Padua.  Cremonini was considered one of the great thinkers of his time, a passionate advocate of the doctrines of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. He was paid a handsome salary by his patron, Alfonso II d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara, and kings and princes regularly sought his counsel.  He struck up a friendship with the poet, Torquato Tasso, while he was studying in Ferrara, and met Galileo in 1550 after he was appointed by the Venetian Republic to the chair of the University of Padua.  The two built a relationship of respect and friendship that endured for many years, despite many differences of opinion, yet in 1610 their divergence of views on one subject created an impasse between them.  It came about when Galileo observed the surface of the Moon through his telescope and proclaimed that he had discovered mountains on the Moon.  Read more…

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Petrarch – Renaissance poet


Writer whose work inspired the modern Italian language

Renaissance scholar and poet Francesco Petrarca died on this day in 1374 at Arquà near Padua.  Petrarca, known in English as Petrarch, is considered to be an important figure in the history of Italian literature.  He is often credited with initiating the 14th century Renaissance, after his rediscovery of Cicero’s letters, and also with being the founder of  Humanism.  In the 16th century, the Italian poet, Pietro Bembo, created the model for the modern Italian language based on Petrarch’s works.  Petrarch was born in Arezzo in Tuscany in 1304. His father was a friend of the poet Dante Alighieri, but he insisted that Petrarch studied law.  The poet was far more interested in writing and in reading Latin literature and considered the time he studied law as wasted years.  Petrarch’s first major work, Africa, about the Roman general, Scipio Africanus, turned him into a celebrity. In 1341 he became the first poet laureate since ancient times and his sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe.  Read more…


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Jacopo Tiepolo - Doge of Venice


Ruler laid down the law and granted land for beautiful churches

Jacopo Tiepolo, the Doge who granted the land for the building of Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo and Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, died on this day in 1249 in Venice.  His election as Doge in 1229 had sparked a feud between the Tiepolo and Dandolo families, which led to the rules being changed for future elections. He also produced five books of statutes setting out Venetian law which was to change life in Venice significantly, bringing a raft of civil and economic regulations to which Venetians were obliged to adhere.  Tiepolo, who was also known as Giacomo Tiepolo, had previously served as the first Venetian Duke of Crete and had two terms as podestà – chief administrator - in Constantinople.  He acted as the de facto ruler of the Latin Empire, negotiating treaties with the Egyptians and the Turks.  Tiepolo was elected Doge, a month after his predecessor, Pietro Ziani, abdicated. At the election a stalemate was reached between Tiepolo and his rival, Marino Dandolo, both of them having 20 votes each. The contest was decided by drawing lots, which led to Tiepolo’s victory.  Read more…

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18 July 2019

18 July

Giacomo Balla - painter


Work captured light, movement and speed

The painter Giacomo Balla, who was a key proponent of Futurism and was much admired for his depictions of light, movement and speed in his most famous works, was born on this day in Turin.  An art teacher who influenced a number of Italy’s most important 20th century painters, Balla became interested in the Futurist movement after becoming a follower of the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who is regarded as the ideological founder of Futurism.  Futurism was an avant-garde artistic, social and political movement. Its ethos was to embrace modernity and free Italy from what was perceived as a stifling obsession with the past.  Balla was one of the signatories of Il manifesto dei pittori futuristi - the Manifesto of Futurist Painters - in 1910. He differed from some of the other artists who signed the Manifesto, painters such as Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni, whose work tried to capture the power and energy of modern industrial machinery and the passion and violence of social change, in that his focus was primarily on exploring the dynamics of light and movement.  Read more…

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Gino Bartali - cycling star and secret war hero


Tour de France champion was clandestine courier

Gino Bartali, one of three Italian cyclists to have won the Tour de France twice and a three-times winner of the Giro d’Italia, was born on this day in 1914 in the town of Ponte a Ema, just outside Florence.  Bartali’s career straddled the Second World War, his two Tour successes coming in 1938 and 1948, but it is as much for what he did during the years of conflict that he is remembered today.  With the knowledge of only a few people, Bartali repeatedly risked his life smuggling false documents around Italy to help Italian Jews escape being deported to Nazi concentration camps.  He hid the rolled up documents inside the hollow handlebars and frame of his bicycle and explained his frequent long-distance excursions as part of the training schedule he needed to maintain in order to keep himself in peak physical fitness.  In fact, he was carrying documents from secret printing presses to people who needed them in cities as far apart as Florence, Lucca, Genoa, Assisi, and the Vatican in Rome.  Sometimes he would pull a cart that contained a secret compartment in order to smuggle Jewish refugees in person into Switzerland, explaining that hauling a heavy cart was also essential to his training routine.  Read more…

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Mysterious death of Caravaggio


Experts divided over how brilliant artist met his end

The death of the brilliant Renaissance artist Caravaggio is said to have occurred on this day in 1610 but the circumstances and even the location are disputed even today.  Official records at the time concluded that the artist died in the Tuscan coastal town of Porto Ercole, having contracted a fever, thought to have been malaria.  However, there is no record of a funeral having taken place, nor of a burial, and several alternative theories have been put forward as to what happened to him.  One, which came to light in 2010 on the 400th anniversary of the painter's death, is that Caravaggio's death was caused by lead poisoning, the supposition being that lead contained in the paint he used entered his body either through being accidentally ingested or by coming into contact with an open wound.  This was supported by research led by Silvano Vincenti, a prominent art historian and broadcaster, who claimed to have found evidence that Caravaggio had been buried at a cemetery in Porto Ercole that was built over in the 1950s.  Another theory, put forward in 2012 by Vincenzo Pacelli, a professor at the University of Naples, is that the artist, notorious for a quick temper and violent behaviour, was assassinated by the ancient order of the Knights of Malta with the connivance of the Vatican.  Read more…

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Alberto di Jorio – Cardinal


Priest spent 60 years accumulating money for the Vatican

Cardinal Alberto di Jorio, who increased the wealth of the Vatican by buying shares in big corporations, was born on this day in 1884 in Rome.  Di Jorio was considered to be the power behind the Istituto per le Opere di Religione, popularly known as the Vatican Bank, which he served for 60 years.  As a young man he had been sent to the prestigious Pontifical Roman Seminary and he became a Catholic priest in 1908.  Di Jorio worked in an administrative role for the Vatican to begin with, but in 1918, when he was still in his early 30s, he took up the position of president of the Istituto per le Opere di Religione - The Institute of Religious Works.  After the Lateran Treaty settled the Roman Question and made the Vatican an independent state, di Jorio was chosen to run the Vatican Bank and allowed to buy shares in any company, even if it made products that were contrary to Catholic Church teaching.  By buying into strong businesses such as General Motors, Standard Oil, IBM and Italgas, the major supplier of gas to Italy at the time, he substantially increased the wealth of the Vatican.  Read more…

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Giacomo Balla - painter

Work captured light, movement and speed


Giacomo Balla's work Le mani del violinista - The Hands of  the Violinist - stemmed from his fascination with movement
Giacomo Balla's work Le mani del violinista - The Hands of
 the Violinist - stemmed from his fascination with movement
The painter Giacomo Balla, who was a key proponent of Futurism and was much admired for his depictions of light, movement and speed in his most famous works, was born on this day in 1871 in Turin.

An art teacher who influenced a number of Italy’s most important 20th century painters, Balla became interested in the Futurist movement after becoming a follower of the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who is regarded as the ideological founder of Futurism.

Futurism was an avant-garde artistic, social and political movement. Its ethos was to embrace modernity and free Italy from what was perceived as a stifling obsession with the past.

Balla was one of the signatories of Il manifesto dei pittori futuristi - the Manifesto of Futurist Painters - in 1910.

Giacomo Balla was one of the signatories of the Manifesto of Futurist Painters
Giacomo Balla was one of the signatories
of the Manifesto of Futurist Painters 
He differed from some of the other artists who signed the Manifesto, painters such as Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni, whose work tried to capture the power and energy of modern industrial machinery and the passion and violence of social change, in that his focus was primarily on exploring the dynamics of light and movement.

Giacomo Balla was the son of a seamstress and a waiter who was an amateur photographer. He lost his father at the age of nine, at which point he gave up an early interest in music and began working in a lithograph print shop. As he grew up, he decided to study painting and several of his early works were shown at exhibitions.

In 1895, after completing his academic studies at the University of Turin, Balla moved to Rome, where he married Elisa Marcucci and found work as an illustrator, caricaturist and portrait painter.  He also passed on his painting skills as a teacher.

After a period in Paris in 1900, where he spent seven months assisting the illustrator Serafino Macchiati, he became fascinated with French neo-impressionism and, on returning to Rome, he adopted the neo-impressionist style in his work.  Among his young students were Boccioni and Gino Severini, to whom he passed on his enthusiasm for contemporary French trends.

Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash  identified him as a Futurist painter
Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash
identified him as a Futurist painter
Influenced by Marinetti’s philosophy, Balla, Boccioni and Severini adopted the Futurism style. Balla was driven by the idea of creating a pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed.  Typical for his new style was his 1912 painting Dinamismo di un cane al guinzaglio - Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash - which is in the care of the Albright–Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.

Another notable work painted at around the same time is Le mani del violinista - The Hands of the Violinist - which depicts a musician's hand and the neck of a violin, blurred and duplicated to suggest the motion of frenetic playing.  The Hands of the Violinist is currently kept at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Islington, north London.

If the theme of those two paintings was movement, Balla’s interest in breaking down the elements of light is exemplified in two other famous works.

Balla's extraordinary 1909 painting Street Light (Lampada ad arco)
Balla's extraordinary 1909 painting
Street Light (Lampada ad arco)
Street Light (Lampada ad arco), painted in 1909, which vividly depicts the glow of modern street lighting, can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, while his 1914 work Mercury Passing Before the Sun (Mercurio transita davanti al sole), an almost kaleidoscopic representation of the planet and the sun seen through a telescope, is on long-term loan to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

In 1914, Balla branched out into designing Futurist furniture and even the so-called Futurist antineutral clothing. He also received some commissions as a sculptor.  His studio became a meeting place for young artists.

In 1935, he was made a member of Rome's Accademia di San Luca.  He died in Rome in March 1958, at the age of 86, and was buried at the Campo Verano cemetery.

The Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura adjoins the Cemetary of Campo Verano
The Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura adjoins the
Cemetary of Campo Verano
Travel tip:

The Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano, where Balla is interred, is situated beside the Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, in the Tiburtino area of Rome. It is the city's largest cemetery, with some five million internments. The name 'Verano' is thought to date back to the Roman era, when the area was known as Campo dei Verani.

The Via Po in Turin, pictured here in 1930 is at
the heart of the city's café culture
Travel tip:

The city of Turin, once the capital of Italy and traditionally seat of the Savoy dynasty, is best known for its royal palaces but tends to be overlooked by visitors to Italy, especially new ones, who flock first to Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan. Yet as an elegant, stylish and sophisticated city, Turin has much to commend it, from its many historic cafés to 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in Piedmont. To enjoy Turin’s café culture, head for Via Po, Turin’s famous promenade linking Piazza Vittorio Veneto with Piazza Castello, or nearby Piazza San Carlo, one of the city’s main squares. In the 19th century, these cafès were popular with writers, artists, philosophers, musicians and politicians among others, who would meet to discuss the affairs of the day.

More reading:

Umberto Boccioni, the brilliant talent who died tragically young

How the funeral of an anarchist inspired Carlo Carrà

The 'noise music' of Futurist Luigi Russolo

Also on this day:

1610: The mysterious death of Caravaggio

1884: The birth of Alberto di Jorio, shrewd head of the Vatican Bank

1914: The birth of Gino Bartali, cycling champion and secret war hero


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17 July 2019

17 July

Gino D'Acampo - celebrity chef


Neapolitan inherited talent from grandfather

The celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo was born on this day in 1976 in Torre del Greco, a conurbation of around 90,000 inhabitants within the Metropolitan City of Naples.  Based in England since 1995, D’Acampo is scarcely known in his native country yet his social media pages have more than two and a half million followers.  The author of 12 books on cooking, his numerous television appearances include several series of his own show, Gino’s Italian Escapes.  In 2017, he owned three restaurants and five pasta bars and had plans to open more.  D’Acampo is also the co-owner of a company selling Italian ingredients.  His success is all the more remarkable given that he had to rebuild his life after being convicted in 1998 of burglary, an episode that took place while he was working as a waiter. He described the incident as a mistake he vowed never to repeat and has since spent time helping disadvantaged young people to learn from their mistakes.  Born Gennaro d’Acampo, he grew up around food. His grandfather, Giovanni, who had been head chef for a cruise company, owned a restaurant. Read more…

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Lady Blessington’s Neapolitan Journals


Irish aristocrat fell in love with Naples

Marguerite, Lady Blessington, an Irish-born writer who married into the British aristocracy, arrived in Naples on this day in 1823 and began writing her Neapolitan Journals.  She was to stay in the city for nearly three years and her detailed account of what she saw and who she met has left us with a unique insight into life in Naples nearly 200 years ago.  Lady Blessington made herself at home in Naples and thoroughly embraced the culture, attending local events, making what at the time were adventurous excursions, and entertaining Neapolitan aristocrats and intellectuals at the former royal palace that became her home.  Those who know Naples today will recognise in her vivid descriptions many places that have remained unchanged for the last two centuries.  She also provides a valuable insight into what life was like at the time for ordinary people as well as for the rich and privileged.  A society beauty, she came to Naples during a long European tour after her marriage to Charles Gardiner, the first Earl of Blessington, and immediately became fascinated by the local customs, food and traditions. Read more…

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Michele Casadei Massari - chef and restaurateur


American dream from small beginnings

The chef and businessman Michele Casadei Massari, who is the owner and founder of the Piccolo Cafe and the Lucciola restaurant in New York City, was born on this day in 1975 in Riccione, on the Adriatic coast of Emilia-Romagna.  Massari had planned to become a doctor but abandoned his studies in order to pursue his dream of cooking in his own restaurant.  After working as general manager and executive chef of a restaurant at a holiday resort in Sardinia, Massari and an old school friend decided to go it alone and chose to start a business in New York.  They began by selling coffee from a kiosk on Union Square in Manhattan before graduating to a cafe selling traditional Italian food as well as salads, panini and egg dishes.  Massari and his partner opened their first Piccolo Cafe in Third Avenue, a couple of blocks from Union Square in 2010. Now they have four branches of Piccolo Cafe and a restaurant, Lucciola, that specialises in the cuisine of Bologna and Emilia-Romagna.  Read more…

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16 July 2019

16 July

Andrea del Sarto – painter


The brief career of an artist ‘senza errori’

Renaissance artist Andrea del Sarto was born Andrea d’Agnolo di Francesco di Luca di Paolo del Migliore on this day in 1486 in Florence.  He had a brilliant career but died at the age of 43 during an outbreak of plague and afterwards his achievements were eclipsed by the talents of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.  Andrea’s father, Agnolo, was a tailor and therefore the child became known as del Sarto, meaning son of the tailor.  As a young boy del Sarto was apprenticed to a goldsmith and then a woodcarver before being sent to learn to be an artist.  He decided to open a joint studio with an older friend, Franciabigio, and from 1509 onwards they were employed to paint a series of frescoes at Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence. Del Sarto also painted a Procession of the Magi, in which he included a self-portrait, and a Nativity of the Virgin for the entrance to the church.  After spending a year as court painter to Francis I of France in 1518, del Sarto returned home to his wife and was offered a major commission by the Medici family, to decorate the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano near Florence. Read more…

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Vincenzo Gemito - sculptor


Neapolitan who preserved figures from local street life

Vincenzo Gemito, one of the sculptors responsible for eight statues of former kings that adorn the western façade of the Royal Palace in Naples, was born on this day in 1852.  The statues are in niches along the side of the palace that fronts on to the Piazza del Plebiscito, displayed in chronological order beginning with Roger the Norman, also known as Roger II of Sicily, who ruled in the 12th century, and ends with Vittorio Emanuele II, who was on the throne when his kingdom became part of the united Italy in 1861.  Gemito sculpted the fifth statue in the sequence, that of Charles V, who was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556 and, by virtue of being king of Spain from 1516 to 1556, also the king of Naples.  Born in Naples, Gemito’s first steps in life were difficult ones.  The son of a poor woodcutter, he was taken by his mother the day after his birth to the orphanage attached to the Basilica of Santissima Annunziata Maggiore in the centre of the city and left on the steps.  He was brought up by a family who adopted him after two weeks at the orphanage. Read more…

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St Clare of Assisi


Birth of the founder of the Poor Clares

St Clare was born on this day in 1194 in Assisi as Chiara Offreduccio, the beautiful daughter of a Count.  As a young girl Clare was extremely devout and at the age of 18 she was inspired by hearing Francis of Assisi preach and went to see him to ask for help to live her life according to the Gospel.  In 1212, Clare left her father’s home and went to the chapel of Porziuncula to meet Francis. Her hair was cut off and she was given a plain robe and veil in exchange for her rich gown.  Clare joined a convent of Benedictine nuns and when her father tracked her down refused to leave it to return home.  Francis sent her to another monastery, where she was later joined by her sister. Over the years other women came to be with them who also wanted to serve Jesus and live with no money. They became known as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano because of the austere lifestyle they lived.  Clare took care of St Francis when he became old and after his death continued to lead her Order of Poor Women in the Franciscan tradition. Read more… 

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15 July 2019

15 July

Frances Xavier Cabrini – the first American saint


Missionary who was directed to the US by the Pope

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, who founded a religious institute to provide support for impoverished Italian immigrants in the United States, was born on this day in 1850 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, in Lombardy.  Frances went on to become the first naturalised citizen of the United States to be canonised in 1946.  She had been born into a family of cherry tree farmers, the youngest of 13 children. She was two months premature and remained in delicate health all her life.  After her parents died she applied for admission to the Daughters of the Sacred Heart but was told she was too frail for the life.  She became the headmistress of an orphanage in Codogno, about 30km (19 miles) from her home town and took religious vows in 1877. Along with other women who had taken religious vows, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Frances went to seek Pope Leo X’s approval to establish missions in China but he suggested she went to the United States instead, to help the many Italian immigrants who were living in poverty.  Read more…

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Guido Crepax - cartoonist


Erotic character Valentina captured spirit of 1960s Italy

The cartoonist Guido Crepax, whose character Valentina became a heroine of the 1960s generation in Italy and beyond, was born on this day in 1933 in Milan.  Valentina first appeared in May 1965 as a secondary character in another cartoon, the photographer girlfriend of an art critic and amateur sleuth.  But the sinuous, sensual female depicted by Crepax, her hair cut in a glossy bob, soon acquired fans both male and female.  In an era when Italian society was beginning to experience a sense of sexual liberation for the first time, Valentina’s eroticism naturally attracted a legion of male fans. But her assertive individuality struck a chord with many modern Italian women, too, even if her readiness to shed her clothes caused outrage among others.  Soon, Valentina left behind her fictional boyfriend and starred in a series of her own adventures, which Crepax continued to produce for three decades. She was outspoken in her left-wing political views, while her uninhibited fantasies increasingly reflected the world of dreams and psychoanalysis that fascinated her creator.  Read more…

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Fire damages St Paul Outside-the-Walls


Beautiful Basilica was faithfully rebuilt and restored

A blaze nearly destroyed the ancient Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls (Basilica Papale San Paolo Fuori Le Mura) in Rome on this day in 1823.   A workman repairing the lead in the church roof accidentally started a fire that burnt down the Basilica, which dated back to the third century and was unique in Rome, having retained its primitive style.  St Paul Outside-the-Walls is one of four major Papal Basilicas in Rome, along with St John in the Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano), St Peter’s (San Pietro in Vaticano) and St Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore).  After the fire, Pope Leo XII appealed for donations to help rebuild the church in exactly the same style.  The Basilica was reopened in 1840 and reconsecrated in 1855 in the presence of Pope Pius IX.  The redecoration was helped by contributions from all over the world, including pillars of alabaster from Egypt and malachite and lapis lazuli from Russia.  The Italian Government funded the work on the façade and declared the Church a national monument.  Read more…

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14 July 2019

14 July

Palmiro Togliatti – politician


Communist leader gunned down near Italian parliament

The leader of the Italian Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti, was shot three times on this day in 1948 near Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome.  Togliatti was seriously wounded and for several days it was not certain that he would survive, causing a political crisis in Italy.  Three months before the shooting, Togliatti had led the Communists in the first democratic election in Italy after the Second World War, which would elect the first Republican parliament.  He lost to the Christian Democrats after a confrontational campaign in which the United States played a big part, viewing Togliatti as a Cold War enemy.  On July 14, Togliatti was shot three times near the Parliament building. It was described as an assassination attempt, the perpetrator of which was named as Antonio Pallante, an anti-Communist student with mental health problems. While the Communist leader’s life hung in the balance a general strike was called.  He eventually recovered and was able to continue as head of the party until his death in 1964.  Read more…


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Collapse of St Mark’s Campanile


Dramatic fall of instantly recognisable symbol of Venice

The bell tower (Campanile) in St Mark’s Square in Venice collapsed on this day in 1902.  No one was killed but the Biblioteca Marciana nearby was partially damaged by its fall.  A crack had appeared in one of the walls of the bell tower a few days before and at approximately 9.45 am on Monday, 14 July, the entire structure collapsed into a heap of rubble.  Venetians regarded the event as a tragedy. The bell tower, just short of 100 metres (328ft) tall, had stood for around 1,000 years and was seen as symbolic of the city.  Built on foundations of wood and mud, however, there was always the danger it would become unstable over time.  On the evening of the day of the collapse, the Venice authorities approved funding for the reconstruction of the Campanile in exactly the same place in the piazza, to be built to resemble how it looked after 16th century improvements to the original ninth century design.  The rubble was painstakingly removed from the square, loaded on to barges and dumped in the sea about five miles offshore from Venice Lido.  Read more…


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Camillus de Lellis - saint


Reformed gambler who became devoted to caring for sick

Camillo de Lellis, a gambler and streetfighter who reformed his life and eventually set up a religious order to tend the wounds of soldiers on the battlefield, died on this day in 1614 in Rome.  He was made Saint Camillus de Lellis by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746. Nowadays he is recognised as the patron saint of the sick, hospitals, nurses and physicians. Sometimes his assistance is also invoked by individuals with gambling problems.  The Order of Clerks Regular, Ministers of the Infirm (M.I), better known as the Camillians, is seen as the original Red Cross on account of an incident during the Battle of Canizza in 1601, when a tent containing all of the Camillians’ equipment and supplies was destroyed in a fire.  Among the ashes, the red cross from the back of a religious habit belonging to one of the Camillians was found to have survived. It became known as the Red Cross of Camillus. It was on an inspection tour of hospitals around Italy that he fell ill and died. He had suffered periods of illness most of his adult life, mainly on account of a leg wound suffered while serving in the Venetian army. Read more…

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13 July 2019

13 July

Jarno Trulli - racing driver and winemaker


Ex-Formula One star still winning prizes

The racing driver-turned-winemaker Jarno Trulli was born on this day in 1974 in Pescara on the Adriatic coast.  Trulli competed in Formula One from 1997 until 2011, competing in more than 250 Grand Prix.  He enjoyed his most successful season in 2004, when he represented the Mild Seven Renault team and finished sixth in the drivers’ championship.  He retired from racing in 2014-15 to focus on his winemaking business, which he had established while still competing and which now produces more than 1.2 million bottles every year.  Trulli’s Podere Castorani vineyard, situated near the village of Alanno, some 35km (22 miles) inland of Pescara, focuses largely on wines made from Abruzzo’s renowned Montepulciano grapes.   Although he was familiar with vineyards as a boy - his grandfather was a winemaker - Trulli’s parents were motorsports fans and named him after a Finnish Grand Prix motorcycling champion, Jarno Saarinen, who had been killed at the Monza circuit the year before Trulli was born.  Trulli began kart racing at the age of seven and by 17 was Karting World Champion.  Read more…


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Tommaso Buscetta - Mafia ‘pentito’


Sicilian gangster’s testimony put hundreds behind bars

The Sicilian mobster Tommaso Buscetta, who was the first major Mafia figure to break the code of omertá and pass details of organised criminal activity to the authorities, was born on this day in 1928 in Palermo.  His evidence to the celebrated anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone paved the way for the so-called Maxi Trial, a process lasting six years that led to the conviction and jailing of 350 mafiosi.  Buscetta’s testimony in the Pizza Connection Trial in New York State at around the same time in the mid-1980s led to the conviction of several hundred more mobsters both in Italy and the United States, including the powerful Sicilian Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti.  Arguably the most shocking information he passed on to the authorities concerned Italy’s three-times former prime minister, the late Giulio Andreotti, whose links with the Cosa Nostra he exposed shortly after Falcone was murdered in May 1992, killed by a massive bomb placed under the motorway linking Palermo with the city’s international airport.  Read more…


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Giulio d’Este of Ferrara


Plots and prison ruin life of handsome son of Duke

Giulio d’Este, who spent more than half of his life in prison for taking part in a failed conspiracy against his half-brother, the Duke of Ferrara, was born on this day in 1478 in Ferrara.  He was the illegitimate son of Ercole I d’Este, an earlier Duke of Ferrara, born as a result of an affair the Duke had with Isabella Arduin, a lady in waiting to his wife.  Giulio was often in conflict with his half-brothers, Alfonso and Ippolito, which led to him eventually playing his part in a plot to assassinate them.  He had grown up in the court of Ferrara and later lived in a palace on the Via degli Angeli in Ferrara.  The first major conflict between Giulio and Ippolito arose over a musician, Don Rainaldo of Sassuolo. Rainaldo was in the service of Giulio, but Ippolito, who had by then become a Cardinal, wanted him for his chapel and so in 1504 he abducted Rainaldo and held him in the Fortress of Gesso.  Read more…

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The founding of the Carabinieri


Italy’s stylish ‘First Force’

The Carabinieri Corps was created on this day in 1814 in Italy by a resolution passed by Victor Emmanuel I of Savoy.  He established an army of mounted and foot soldiers to provide a police force, to be called Royal Carabinieri (Carabinieri Reali). The soldiers were rigorously selected ‘for their distinguished good conduct and judiciousness.’  Their task was defined as ‘to contribute to the necessary happiness of the State, which cannot be separated from protection and defence of all good subjects.’  Their functions were specified in the royal licence issued at the time, which underlined the importance of the personal skills required by the soldiers selected. It also affirmed their dual military and civil roles.  The sense of duty and high level of conduct displayed by the Carabinieri went on to win the respect of the Italian people.  They were called Carabinieri to avoid any comparisons with the former Napoleonic gendarmerie, and because they were equipped with carbines as weapons. Their dress uniform was designed to reflect the solemn image of the sovereign state, with a two cornered hat, known as the lucerna, and dark blue dress coat. The uniform is still in use today.  Read more…

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Jarno Trulli - racing driver and winemaker

Ex-Formula One star still winning prizes


Former F1 racing driver Jarno Trulli now produces wine from his Abruzzo vineyard
Former F1 racing driver Jarno Trulli now
produces wine from his Abruzzo vineyard
The racing driver-turned-winemaker Jarno Trulli was born on this day in 1974 in Pescara on the Adriatic coast.

Trulli competed in Formula One from 1997 until 2011, competing in more than 250 Grand Prix.  He enjoyed his most successful season in 2004, when he represented the Mild Seven Renault team and finished sixth in the drivers’ championship.

He retired from racing in 2014-15 to focus on his winemaking business, which he had established while still competing and which now produces more than 1.2 million bottles every year.

Trulli’s Podere Castorani vineyard, situated near the village of Alanno, some 35km (22 miles) inland of Pescara, focuses largely on wines made from Abruzzo’s renowned Montepulciano grapes.

Although he was familiar with vineyards as a boy - his grandfather was a winemaker - Trulli’s parents were motorsports fans and named him after a Finnish Grand Prix motorcycling champion, Jarno Saarinen, who had been killed at the Monza circuit the year before Trulli was born.

Trulli began kart racing at the age of seven and by 17 was Karting World Champion.

The Renault car that Trulli drove to victory at the 2004
Monaco Grand Prix, his only success in Formula 1
He made his debut in Formula Three in 1993 and in 1996, driving for the Benetton-sponsored Opel team, won the German F3 Championship, winning six races from 15 starts.

His F3 success led to him being handed a drive for Minardi in the 1997 F1 season, soon switching to the Prost team to replace an injured driver. He impressed by finishing fourth in the German GP at Hockenheim.

As an F1 driver, he was a respected figure renowned for his skill in qualifying, regularly achieving better grid positions than rivals with superior cars to his own.

On the track, he excelled in a defensive driving style which allowed him successfully to hold off quicker drivers, sometimes for an entire race. Often starting from high grid positions in comparatively slow cars, his skill in denying quicker cars the chance to pass him often resulted in a line of vehicles forming behind him during a race. Commentators began to refer to these lines of frustrated rivals as forming a ‘Trulli Train'.

Trulli was a very capable driver who had a reputation for positioning his car so he could hog the middle ground
Trulli was a very capable driver
 who was difficult to pass
Overall, Trulli’s F1 career was rather unsuccessful.  He was seldom in a car that was competitive enough to be in contention in the closing stages of a race and he managed only 11 podium finishes all told.

He won just one Grand Prix, although it was a memorable one. At Monaco in 2004, driving a Renault, Trulli achieved the first pole position of his career after setting a circuit record for the fastest lap.

Pole position had regularly failed to produce the winner at the Monaco street circuit but in the event Trulli beat the British driver Jenson Button to the first corner and led almost throughout, surrendering first place only briefly - to Michael Schumacher - before coming home almost half a second ahead of Button with Rubens Barrichello third.

It was with the encouragement of his father that Trulli invested in a future in the wine business.

In partnership with his manager, Lucio Cavuto, who also had a winemaking background, Trulli bought the Podere Castorani estate, which dates back to 1793, in 1999.

The label on Trulli's Castorani wines
The label on Trulli's Castorani wines
Between them, the two families invested around £5 million into the business over the next few years, increasing the number of wines in their range year on year and selling more bottles with each vintage.

Podere Castorani wines regularly win prizes and the vineyard was named Winery of the Year in the London Wine Competition in 2018.  Among Trulli's most successful wines are his Jarno Rosso and Majolica, two full-bodied reds made from Montepulciano grapes.

Trulli has generated orders for his company’s wines all over the world, capitalising on his fame as a racing driver by setting up promotion events to coincide with Grand Prix dates.

Married to Barbara, Trulli has two sons, Enzo, born in 2005 and named after Jarno’s father, and Marco, who was born in 2006.

A typical narrow street in medieval Alanno
A typical narrow street in
medieval Alanno
Travel tip:

Alanno is a medieval village situated in the hills between the Cigno stream and the Aterno-Pescara river, some 25km (16 miles) from the ancient city of Chieti. The most important landmark of Alanno is the Renaissance church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, built around 1485, which was built on a sacred site overlooking a valley 3km (2 miles) outside the town. There are also the remains of the village’s castle and medieval walls.  The Wildlife Oasis of Alanno is home to many species of wild birds.

The birthplace of  Gabriele D'Annunzio in Pescara
The birthplace of  Gabriele
D'Annunzio in Pescara
Travel tip:

Pescara, a city of almost 120,000 people on the Adriatic in the Abruzzo region, is known for its 10 miles of clean, sandy beaches, yet is only 50km (31 miles) from the Gran Sasso mountain range, the snow-capped peaks of which are visible even from the coast on a clear winter’s day. The city is the birthplace of the poet, patriot and military leader, Gabriele D’Annunzio. His childhood home, the Casa Natale di Gabriele D’Annunzio, which can be found in the historic centre of the city on the south side of the Fiume Pescara, which bisects the city, houses a museum about his life and works. The Museo delle Genti d'Abruzzo has exhibitions on regional industries like ceramics and olive oil. Pieces by Miró and Picasso are on view at the Vittoria Colonna Museum of Modern Art.

More reading:

How Alex Zanardi went from F1 star to paralympic athlete

Giamperi Moretti - racing driver turned entrepreneur

Elio de Angelis, the last of the 'gentleman racers'





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