31 August 2019

31 August

Altiero Spinelli - political visionary


Drafted plan for European Union while in Fascist jail

Altiero Spinelli, a politician who is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the European Union, was born on this day in 1907 in Rome.  A lifelong Communist who was jailed for his opposition to the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, he spent much of the Second World War in confinement on the island of Ventotene in the Tyrrhenian Sea, one of an archipelago known as the Pontine Islands.  It was there that he and two prisoners, Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni, agreed that if the forces of Fascism in Italy and Germany were defeated, the only way to avoid future European wars was for the sovereign nations of the continent to join together in a federation of states.  The document they drew up, which became known as the Ventotene Manifesto, was the first document to argue for a European constitution and formed the basis for the Movimento Federalista Europeo, which Spinelli, Rossi and some 20 others launched at a secret meeting in Milan as soon as they were able to leave their internment camp.  In a nutshell, the Ventotene Manifesto put forward proposals for creating a European federation of states so closely joined together they would no longer be able to go to war with one another. Read more…


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Isabella de’ Medici – noblewoman


Tuscan beauty killed by her husband

Isabella Romola de’ Medici, the daughter of the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, was born on this day in 1542 in Florence.  She was said to have been beautiful, charming, educated and talented and was the favourite child of her father, Cosimo I de’ Medici.  But she died at the age of 33, believed to have been murdered by the husband her family had chosen for her to marry.  While Isabella was growing up she lived first in Palazzo Vecchio and later in Palazzo Pitti in Florence with her brothers and sisters. Her brother, Francesco, who was a year older than her, eventually succeeded his father as Grand Duke of Tuscany.  The Medici children were educated by tutors in classics, languages and the arts and Isabella particularly loved music.  When Isabella was 11 she was betrothed to 12-year-old Paolo Giordano Orsini, heir to the Duchy of Bracciano in Tuscany, because her father wanted to secure the southern border of Tuscany and his relationship with the Orsini family.  Five years later, when Isabella was 16, they were married at the Medici country estate, Villa di Castello.  Read more…


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Amilcare Ponchielli - opera composer


Success of La Gioconda put musician on map

The opera composer Amilcare Ponchielli was born on this day in 1834 in Paderno Fasolaro, near Cremona, about 100km (62 miles) south-east of Milan in what is now Lombardia.  Ponchielli's works in general enjoyed only modest success, despite the rich musical invention for which he was later applauded.  One that did win acclaim in his lifetime, however, was La Gioconda, which was first produced in 1876 and underwent several revisions but remained unaltered after 1880.  Well known for the tenor aria, Cielo e Mar, and the ballet piece, Dance of the Hours, La Gioconda is the only opera by Ponchielli still performed today and many recordings have been made, featuring some of the biggest stars of recent times.  Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi and Montserrat Caballe are among those to have played the role of Gioconda, written for soprano, while the lead tenor part of Enzo, whose affections are sought both by Gioconda and another major character, Laura, has been taken by Giuseppe Di Stefano, Carlo Bergonzi, Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo among others.  Read more…


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Gino Lucetti – failed assassin


Anarchist tried to kill Mussolini with grenade

Gino Lucetti, who acquired notoriety for attempting to assassinate Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in Rome in 1926, was born on this day in 1900.  A lifelong anarchist, part of a collective of like-minded young men and women from Carrara in Tuscany, he planned to kill Mussolini on the basis that doing so would save the lives of thousands of potential future victims of the Fascist regime.  Lucetti hatched his plot while in exile in France, where he had fled after taking a Fascist bullet in the neck following an argument in a bar in Milan, clandestinely returning several times to Carrara to finalise the details.  After enlisting the help of other anarchists, notably Steffano Vatteroni, who worked as a tinsmith in Rome, and Leandro Sorio, a waiter originally from Brescia, he returned to Rome to carry out the attack.  Vatteroni was able to obtain information about Mussolini’s movements from a clerical worker in the dictator’s Rome offices, including details of his regular motorcades through the city. These were carefully choreographed affairs in which cheering citizens lined the streets, enabling Mussolini to present an image to the world of a popular leader.  Read more...


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Isabella de’ Medici – noblewoman

Tuscan beauty killed by her husband


Isabella Romola de' Medici: a portrait painted by Alessandro Allori, at the Uffizi Gallery
Isabella Romola de' Medici: a portrait painted by
Alessandro Allori owned by the Uffizi Gallery
Isabella Romola de’ Medici, the daughter of the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, was born on this day in 1542 in Florence.

She was said to have been beautiful, charming, educated and talented and was the favourite child of her father, Cosimo I de’ Medici.

But she died at the age of 33, believed to have been murdered by the husband her family had chosen for her to marry.

While Isabella was growing up she lived first in Palazzo Vecchio and later in Palazzo Pitti in Florence with her brothers and sisters. Her brother, Francesco, who was a year older than her, eventually succeeded his father as Grand Duke of Tuscany.

The Medici children were educated by tutors in classics, languages and the arts and Isabella particularly loved music.

When Isabella was 11 she was betrothed to 12-year-old Paolo Giordano Orsini, heir to the Duchy of Bracciano in Tuscany, because her father wanted to secure the southern border of Tuscany and his relationship with the Orsini family.

Five years later, when Isabella was 16, they were married at the Medici country estate, Villa di Castello.

The only known painting of Paolo Giordano Orsini, Isabella's husband
The only known painting of Paolo
Giordano Orsini, Isabella's husband
Cosimo decided to keep his daughter and her substantial dowry at home with him in Florence, while Paolo continued to live a lavish lifestyle in Rome. This gave Isabella greater freedom and control over her life than most women had at the time.

After the death of her mother, Eleonora di Toledo, Isabella took on her role of first lady of Florence, showing an aptitude for politics.

She suffered several miscarriages and was childless until her late 20s when she bore Paolo a daughter in 1571 and a son in 1572.

After Paolo’s cousin, Troilo Orsini, was charged with looking after Isabella while Paolo was away on military duties, rumours began to circulate about the nature of their relationship. Troilo fled to France after being accused of murder and Isabella was summoned by her husband to join him on a hunting holiday.

She was given no choice and had to leave Florence to be with him in July 1576. Within a few days of her arrival, Isabella was found dead at the Medici villa in Cerreto Guidi. The official version was that her death happened while she was washing her hair, but the story leaked out that she was strangled by her husband in the presence of several servants.

Her death occurred just a few days after her cousin, Leonora, had died in a similar ‘accident.’ She had been married to Cosimo’s son, Pietro, and so was also Isabella’s sister in law as well as a cousin. Leonora had been part of Isabella’s circle and had followed her example in sponsoring the arts and taking a lover.

Isabella's father, Cosimo I de' Medici, who arranged for her to marry Orsini
Isabella's father, Cosimo I de' Medici, who
arranged for her to marry Orsini
While Cosimo I de’ Medici had been alive their behaviour had been tolerated, but once Francesco became Grand Duke he was less willing to condone it, despite having a mistress himself, and felt he could not ignore the complaints of their husbands.

Most historians believe Paolo killed Isabella because she was having an affair with his cousin, Troilo, but another theory is that she died of natural causes but that enemies of the Medici family had spread rumours that she was murdered.

In order to keep in favour with the King of Spain, Francesco eventually had to admit the truth about Leonora’s death and exile his brother, Pietro.

The Palazzo Vecchio was
Isabella's home as a child
Travel tip:

Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, where Isabella lived as a child, was built in the 14th century as a government building in Piazza della Signoria, an L-shaped square in the centre of the city where important events and public meetings were held. Isabella’s father, Cosimo I, had the interior of Palazzo Vecchio redecorated and also adopted Palazzo Pitti as another residence for his family. He had a gallery over Ponte Vecchio built to enable them to move easily from one palace to another.

An 18th century depiction of the Medici villa at the Tuscan town of Cerreto Guidi, south of Florence
An 18th century depiction of the Medici villa at the
Tuscan town of Cerreto Guidi, south of Florence
Travel tip:

Isabella’s death occurred at a villa commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici in Cerreto Guidi, a small town to the south of Florence. It was built around 1556 as a hunting residence and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with other Medici villas. The design is attributed to Bernardo Buontalenti. The villa is in Via Ponti Medicei and now houses the Historical Museum of Hunting, which has a collection of hunting and shooting equipment dating from the 17th to the 19th century.

More reading:

An unsolved murder mystery: the death of Francesco I de' Medici

The shocking fate of Eleonora Garcia di Toledo

The banker who founded the Medici dynasty

Also on this day:

1834: The birth of Amilcare Ponchielli, opera composer

1900: The birth of Gino Lucetti, an anarchist who tried to kill Mussolini

1907: The birth of Altiero Spinelli, the man who invented the EU


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30 August 2019

30 August

Joe Petrosino - New York crime fighter


Campanian immigrant a key figure in war against Mafia

Joe Petrosino, a New York police officer who dedicated his life to fighting organised crime, was born Giuseppe Petrosino in Padula, a southern Italian town on the border of Campania and Basilicata, on this day in 1860.  The son of a tailor, Prospero Petrosino, he emigrated to the United States at the age of 12.  The family lived in subsidised accommodation in Mulberry Street, part of the area now known as Little Italy on the Lower East Side towards Brooklyn Bridge, where around half a million Italian immigrants lived in the second half of the 19th century.  Giuseppe took any job he could to help the family, at first as a newspaper boy and then shining shoes outside the police headquarters on Mulberry Street, where he would dream of becoming a police officer himself.  In 1878, by then fluent in English and known to everyone as Joe, Petrosino became an American citizen but it took him five years to realise his dream of joining the police. At 5ft 3ins he was technically too short to meet the criteria for an officer but it was decided he could be of use in the fight against Italian organised crime. He was the first Italian-speaking officer in the history of the New York Police Department.  Read more…

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Andrea Gabrieli - composer


Father of the Venetian School

The Venetian composer and organist Andrea Gabrieli, sometimes known as Andrea di Cannaregio, notable for his madrigals and large-scale choral works written for public ceremonies, died on this day in 1585.  His nephew, Giovanni Gabrieli, is more widely remembered yet Andrea, who was organist of the Basilica di San Marco – St Mark’s – for the last 19 years of his life, was a significant figure in his lifetime, the first member of the Venetian School of composers to achieve international renown. He was influential in spreading the Venetian style of music in Germany as well as in Italy.  Little is known about Andrea’s early life aside from the probability that he was born in the parish of San Geremia in Cannaregio and that he may have been a pupil of the Franco-Flemish composer Adrian Willaert, who was maestro di cappella at St Mark’s from 1527 until 1562.  In 1562 – the year of Willaert’s death – Andrea is on record as having travelled to Munich in Germany, where he met and became friends with Orlando di Lasso, who wrote secular songs in French, Italian, and German, as well as Latin.  There was evidence in the later work of Di Lasso of a Venetian influence.  Read more…

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Emanuele Filiberto – Duke of Savoy


Ruler who made Turin the capital of Savoy

Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, who was nicknamed testa di ferro (iron head) because of his military prowess, died on this day in 1580 in Turin.  After becoming Duke of Savoy he recovered most of the lands his father Charles III had lost to France and Spain and he restored economic stability to Savoy.  Emanuele Filiberto was born in 1528 in Chambery, now part of France. He grew up to become a skilled soldier and served in the army of the emperor Charles V, who was the brother-in-law of his mother, Beatrice of Portugal, during his war against Francis I of France. He distinguished himself by capturing Hesdin in northern France in July 1553.  When he succeeded his father a month later he began the reacquisition of his lands.  His brilliant victory over the French at Saint Quentin in northern France in 1557 on the side of the Spanish helped to consolidate his power in Savoy.  The peace of Cateau-Cambresis in 1559 ended the wars between Charles V and the French Kings and restored part of the Duchy of Savoy back to Emanuele Filiberto on the understanding that he would marry Margaret of France, the sister of King Henry II. They had one child, Charles Emmanuel I of Savoy, who succeeded him as duke.  Read more…

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29 August 2019

29 August

Libero Grassi - anti-Mafia hero


Businessman brutally murdered after refusing to pay

Libero Grassi, a Palermo clothing manufacturer, died on this day in 1991, shot three times in the head as he walked from his home to his car in Via Vittorio Alfieri, a street of apartment buildings not far from the historic centre, at 7.30am.  It was a classic Mafia hit to which there were no witnesses, at least none prepared to come forward. Such killings were not uncommon in the Sicilian capital as rival clans fought for control of different neighbourhoods.  Yet this one was different in that 67-year-old Grassi had no connection with the criminal underworld apart from his brave decision to stand up to their demands for protection money and refuse to pay.  Grassi owned a factory making underwear, which he sold in his own shop.  In a struggling economy, he was doing very well.  Of course, the Mafia wanted their cut.  Grassi began receiving demands, first by telephone, then in person, that he fall in line with other Palermo businesses and pay a pizzo, the term used for the monthly payment the mob collects from businesses.  The penalties imposed for not paying range from vandalism or arson directed at business premises to physical harm and even death.  But Grassi decided he would not pay.  Read more…  


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Tiziana ‘Tosca’ Donati - singer


Versatile performer whose range spans musicals to sacred songs

The singer Tiziana Donati, who performs under the stage name Tosca, was born on this day in 1967 in Rome.  Winner of the Sanremo Festival in 1996, Tosca has recorded 10 studio albums, released the same number of singles and has recorded duets with many other artists.  She has enjoyed a successful stage career, appearing in numerous 20 theatrical productions, and has been invited to perform songs for several movies, including the title track for Franco Zeffirelli’s version of Jane Eyre in 1996. She also sang and spoke the part of Anastasia in the Italian dubbed version of the Disney cartoon of the same name.  At Christmas in 1999, she participated in concerts in churches in Italy where she performed Latin songs set to music by Vincenzo Zitello and Stefano Melone.  Following this she began a collaboration with the Vatican, taking part in several televised events to commemorate the Jubilee of 2000, and was chosen to sing the Mater Iubilaei, the Marian anthem of the Jubilee, in a ceremony led by Pope John Paul II.  Throughout 2000, she toured with Musica Caeli, a concert made up of never-before performed sacred chants, staged in some of the biggest churches and cathedrals around the world.  Read more…


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Leonardo De Lorenzo – flautist


Flair for the flute led to international career

Leonardo De Lorenzo, a brilliant flute player who passed on his knowledge of the instrument to others through his books, was born on this day in 1875 in Viggiano in the province of Potenza.  De Lorenzo started playing the flute at the age of eight and then moved to Naples to attend the music conservatory of San Pietro a Majella.  He became an itinerant flautist until he was 16, when he moved to America, where he worked in a hotel. He returned to Italy in 1896 to do his military service in Alessandria and became a member of a military band directed by Giovanni Moranzoni, whose son was to become a famous conductor of the orchestra at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.  De Lorenzo then began a career as a flautist and toured Italy, Germany, England and South Africa, joining an orchestra in Cape Town for a while. Eventually he returned to Naples to continue his studies.  When he travelled to America again, he became first flautist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Gustav Mahler. He was warned never to answer back to Mahler, who had a reputation for being unpleasant. Read more…

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28 August 2019

28 August

Lamberto Maggiorani - unlikely movie star


Factory worker who shot to fame in Bicycle Thieves

Lamberto Maggiorani, who found overnight fame after starring in the neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves (1948), was born on this day in 1909 in Rome.  Maggiorani was cast in the role of Antonio Ricci, a father desperate for work to support his family in post-War Rome, who is offered a job pasting posters to advertising hoardings but can take it only on condition that he has a bicycle – essential for moving around the city carrying his ladder and bucket.  He has one, but it has been pawned.  To retrieve it, his wife, Marie, strips the bed of her dowry sheets, which the pawn shop takes in exchange for the bicycle. They are happy, because Antonio has a job which will support her, their son Bruno and their new baby.  However, on his first day in the job the bicycle is stolen, snatched by a thief who waits for Antonio to climb to the top of his ladder before seizing his moment.  The remainder of the film follows Antonio and Bruno as they try to find the bicycle.  As a portrait of life among the disadvantaged working class in Rome in the late 1940s, the film is hailed as a masterpiece by director Vittorio de Sica.  Read more... 

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Elisabetta Sirani – artist


Sudden death of talented young woman shocked Bologna

The brilliant Baroque painter and printmaker Elisabetta Sirani died in unexplained circumstances at the age of 27 on this day in 1665 in Bologna.  The body of the artist was carried to the Chapel of the Rosary in the Basilica of San Domenico in Bologna to be mourned, not just by her family, but by an entire community as she was loved and respected as an important female painter.  Elisabetta has been described as beautiful, focused and selfless and she became a symbol of the progressive city of Bologna, where the creativity of women was encouraged and they were able to express themselves through art and music.  Elisabetta’s father, Giovanni Andrea Sirani, was himself an artist and she was trained in his studio, although contemporary writers have recorded that he was reluctant to teach her to paint in the Bolognese style, as established by artists in the city in the 16th and 17th centuries as a way to distinguish themselves from the artists of Florence and Rome.  But Elisabetta acquired the technique anyway and became one of the most renowned painters in Bologna. Read more…

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Maurizio Costanzo - talk show host


Journalist whose show is the longest running on Italian TV

Veteran talk show host and writer Maurizio Costanzo was born on this day in 1938 in Rome, Costanzo has spent more than 40 years in television.  His eponymous programme, The Maurizio Costanzo Show, has broken all records for longevity in Italian television.  Launched on September 18, 1982, the current affairs programme continued for 27 years, alternating between Rete 4 and Canale 5, two of Italy's commercial television networks, part of the Mediaset group owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.  Its run came to an end in 2009 but was relaunched on the satellite channel Mediaset Extra in 2014 and returned to terrestrial television in 2015, again on Rete 4.  Costanzo began his media career in print journalism with the Rome newspaper Paese Sera at just 18 years old and by the time he was 22 he was in charge of the Rome office of the mass circulation magazine Grazia.  After branching into radio, he switched to television in 1976, hosting the RAI programme Bontà loro, which is considered to be Italy's first TV talk show.  Others followed before the launch of The Maurizio Costanzo Show. Read more…

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27 August 2019

27 August

Titian - giant of Renaissance art


Old master of Venice who set new standards

Tiziano Vecellio, the artist better known as Titian, died in Venice on August 27, 1576.  Possibly in his 90s by then - his date of birth has never been established beyond doubt - he is thought to have succumbed to the plague that was sweeping through the city at that time.  Titian is regarded as the greatest painter of 16th century Venice, a giant of the Renaissance held in awe by his contemporaries and seen today as having had a profound influence on the development of painting in Italy and Europe.  The artists of Renaissance Italy clearly owe much to the new standards set by Titian in the use of colour and his penetration of human character.  Beyond Italy, the work of Rubens, Rembrandt and Manet have echoes of Titian.  Titian was enormously versatile, famous for landscapes, portraits, erotic nudes and monumental religious works.  Although it was his fullness of form, the depth of colour and his ability to bring his figures almost to life which he earned his reputation, he was not afraid to experiment with his painting.  Towards the end of his life, some of his works were impressionist in nature, almost abstract.  Read more…

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Zanetta Farussi – actress


Venetian performer who gave birth to a legendary womaniser

Zanetta Farussi, the comedy actress who was the mother of the notorious adventurer, Casanova, was born on this day in 1707 in Venice.  At the age of 17, Zanetta had married the actor Gaetano Casanova, who was 10 years older than her.  He had just returned to Venice after several years with a touring theatrical troupe, to take a job at the Teatro San Samuele.  Farussi’s parents opposed the marriage because they considered acting to be a disreputable profession.  But Farussi soon began working at Teatro San Samuele herself and the following year she gave birth to a son, Giacomo, who was to grow up to make the name Casanova synonymous with womanising and philandering.  Giacomo Casanova would later claim that his real father was Michele Grimani, who owned the Teatro San Samuele.  Zanetta and Gaetano accepted a theatrical engagement in London where Farussi gave birth to their second son, Francesco, who became a well-known painter.  They returned to Venice in 1728 and went on to have four more children.  Read more…

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Alessandro Farnese – Duke of Parma, Piacenza and Castro


Duke was a brilliant strategist and diplomat

The outstanding military leader, Alessandro Farnese, was born on this day in 1545 in Rome.  As regent of the Netherlands on behalf of Philip II of Spain between 1578 and 1592, Alessandro restored Spanish rule and ensured the continuation of Roman Catholicism there, a great achievement and testimony to his skill as a strategist and diplomat.  However, his brilliant military career gave him no time to rule Parma, Piacenza and Castro when he succeeded to the Dukedom.  Alessandro was the son of Duke Ottavio Farnese of Parma and Margaret, the illegitimate daughter of the King of Spain and Hapsburg Emperor, Charles V.  Ottavio, was the grandson of Pope Paul III, a Farnese who had set up the papal states of Parma, Piacenza and Castro as a duchy in order to award them to his illegitimate son, Pier Luigi. Ottavio became Duke in 1551 after his father, Pier Luigi,was murdered.  Alessandro had a twin brother, Charles, who died after one month. He was sent to live in the court of Philip II as a young child as a guarantee of Ottavio’s loyalty to the Habsburgs. He lived with Philip II first in the Netherlands and then in Madrid.  Read more…

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The 410 Sack of Rome


Invasion that signalled terminal decline of Western Roman Empire

The ancient city of Rome was left in a state of shock and devastation after three days of looting and pillaging by Visigoths under the command of King Alaric came to an end on this day in 410.  An unknown number of citizens had been killed and scores of others had fled into the countryside. Countless women had been raped. Many buildings were damaged and set on fire and Alaric and his hordes made off with vast amounts of Roman treasure.  It was the first time in 800 years that an invading army had successfully breached the walls of the Eternal City and many historians regard the event as the beginning of the end for the Western Roman Empire.  It could have been more devastating still had Alaric, a Christian, been a more cruel leader.  Although he struggled to control his men - historians believe they were an ill-disciplined rabble rather than an organised fighting force - he stopped short of ordering large-scale slaughter of the Roman population, while silver and gold objects they were told had belonged to St Peter were left behind.  It was brought to a swift conclusion because Alaric had other targets he wished to attack in the far south of Italy and in northern Africa. Read more…

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Alessandro Farnese – Duke of Parma, Piacenza and Castro

Duke was a brilliant strategist and diplomat


Otto van Veen's 16th century portrait of Alessandro Farnese
Otto van Veen's 16th century
portrait of Alessandro Farnese
The outstanding military leader, Alessandro Farnese, was born on this day in 1545 in Rome.

As regent of the Netherlands on behalf of Philip II of Spain between 1578 and 1592, Alessandro restored Spanish rule and ensured the continuation of Roman Catholicism there, a great achievement and testimony to his skill as a strategist and diplomat.

However, his brilliant military career gave him no time to rule Parma, Piacenza and Castro when he succeeded to the Dukedom.

Alessandro was the son of Duke Ottavio Farnese of Parma and Margaret, the illegitimate daughter of the King of Spain and Hapsburg Emperor, Charles V.

Ottavio, was the grandson of Pope Paul III, a Farnese who had set up the papal states of Parma, Piacenza and Castro as a duchy in order to award them to his illegitimate son, Pier Luigi. Ottavio became Duke in 1551 after his father, Pier Luigi,was murdered.

Alessandro had a twin brother, Charles, who died after one month. He was sent to live in the court of Philip II as a young child as a guarantee of Ottavio’s loyalty to the Habsburgs. He lived with Philip II first in the Netherlands and then in Madrid.

Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli's 1556 painting entitled Parma embraces Alessandro Farnese
Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli's 1556 painting
entitled Parma embraces Alessandro Farnese
In 1565 he returned to the Netherlands, where his mother, Margaret had been regent for six years. In 1565, at the age of 20, he was married to Infanta Maria of Portugal.

Alessandro was sent to help his cousin, Don John, who was trying to deal with the revolt against Spanish rule in the Netherlands, in 1577.

Because of Alessandro’s decisive strategy they won the Battle of Gembloux in 1578. After Don John’s death, Philip II appointed Alessandro to take his place as Captain General of the Army and Governor General of the Netherlands.

By exploiting the divisions between Protestants and Catholics, Alessandro regained the allegiance of part of the Netherlands to the King of Spain. The towns in the north pledged to fight on but Alessandro laid siege to them one by one, offering generous terms for surrender rather than carrying out massacres and looting, and gradually brought them back to the Catholic Church.

He won back Antwerp with an act of military genius by constructing a bridge of boats to cut off all access to the seaport. He gave Protestants four years to leave the city and defeated the English troops sent over to fight against him by Elizabeth I.

In 1586 when his father died, Alessandro became Duke of Parma but he named his son, Ranuccio, as his regent to rule on his behalf. Philip II could not even spare him to visit his Duchy.

Ranuccio - pictured here by Titian as a 12-year-old boy - was sent to rule Parma on his father's behalf
Ranuccio - pictured here by Titian as a 12-year-old
boy - was sent to rule Parma on his father's behalf
Alessandro wanted to use his army to invade England and stir up a Catholic insurrection against Elizabeth but Philip would not sanction this and made plans to send over the Spanish Armada instead.

The plan was for Alessandro’s troops to cross the channel in barges protected by the Armada, but the English attack on the Armada in 1588 made this impossible.

In 1589 Henry III of France was assassinated and Alessandro was ordered into France to support Catholic opposition to the Protestant Henry IV. He was wounded in the hand during the siege of Caudebec and had to withdraw to Flanders.

With his health declining, Alessandro sent for his son Ranuccio to take over command of his troops. He died in Arras in 1592, aged 47.

Prosciutto di Parma is one of a number of food items for which the city in Emilia-Romagna is famous
Prosciutto di Parma is one of a number of food items for
which the city in Emilia-Romagna is famous
Travel tip:

Parma is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its ham (Prosciutto di Parma) and cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano), the true ‘parmesan’. The city was given as a duchy to Pier Luigi Farnese, the illegitimate son of Pope Paul III, and his descendants ruled Parma till 1731. The composer, Verdi, was born near Parma at Bussetto and the city has a prestigious opera house, the Teatro Regia.

Francesco Mochi's bronze statute of  Alessandro Farnese in Piacenza
Francesco Mochi's bronze statute of
Alessandro Farnese in Piacenza
Travel tip:

Piacenza is about 75 km (46 miles) to the north east of Parma in Emilia-Romagna.  The main square in Piacenza is named Piazza Cavalli because of its two bronze equestrian monuments featuring Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and his son Ranuccio I Farnese, Duke of Parma, who succeeded him. The statues are masterpieces by the sculptor Francesco Mochi. Castro is a fortified city on a cliff, near the border between Tuscany and Lazio and was also given to Pier Luigi Farnese by Pope Paul III. The Duchy stretched from the Tyrrhenian Sea to Lago di Bolsena. Ranuccio II Farnese, the last Duke of Castro, was forced to cede the land back to Pope Innocent X. The present day comune, Ischia di Castro, in the province of Viterbo, takes its name from the ancient city of Castro destroyed by papal forces. Ischia di Castro still has a Ducal Palace, where members of the Farnese family used to live.

More reading:

How Ranuccio II's feuding with the Popes led to the downfall of a city

The Royal jeweller descended from the Farnese dynasty

The musician encouraged by a Farnese duke

Also on this day:

410: Rome is sacked by the Visigoths

1576: The death of Renaissance master Titian

1707: The birth of Zanetta Farussi, the actress and mother of Casanova


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26 August 2019

26 August

La Pietà - Michelangelo's masterpiece


Brilliant sculpture commissioned by French Cardinal

Michelangelo Buonarotti agreed the contract to create the sculpture that would come to be regarded as his masterpiece on this day in 1498.  It was made between the artist and Cardinal Jean de Bilhères-Lagraulas, the French ambassador to the Holy See, who wanted a sculpture of the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus, which was a common theme in religious art in northern Europe at the time.  Michelangelo, who would live until he was almost 89, was just 23 at the time and had been in Rome only a couple of years, but was about to produce a piece of work that astounded his contemporaries and is still seen as one of the finest pieces of sculpture ever crafted.  La Pietà – in English, 'the pity' – was carved from a block of blue and white Carrara marble selected by Michelangelo a good six feet (183cm) tall by six feet across.  The Cardinal intended it to be his funeral monument. It was eventually placed in a chapel in St Peter’s Basilica.  The work shows the body of Christ, shortly after being taken down from the cross following his crucifixion by the Romans, cradled in the lap of Mary.  Read more…

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Carlo Camillo Di Rudio - soldier


Italian aristocrat who survived Battle of the Little Bighorn

Carlo Camillo Di Rudio, a military officer who became known as Charles Camillus DeRudio and gave 32 years’ service to the United States Army in the late 19th century, was born in Belluno in northern Italy on this day in 1832.  Having arrived in New York City as an immigrant from England in 1860, he served as a volunteer in the American Civil War (1861-65) before joining the Regular Army in 1867 as a 2nd lieutenant in the 2nd Infantry, an appointment which was cancelled when he failed a medical. Undeterred, he was readmitted and joined the 7th Cavalry in 1869, eventually attaining the rank of Major.  He participated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, in which the US Army suffered a defeat to the combined forces of Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribesmen. The battle was part of the Great Sioux Wars of 1876, fought for possession of the Black Hills in South Dakota, where gold had been found.  DeRudio was thrown from his horse and left stranded on the western side of the Little Bighorn River and hid for 36 hours with a private, Thomas O’Neill. They were twice almost captured but eventually managed to cross the river to safety.  Read more…

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Sant’Alessandro of Bergamo


Annual festival keeps alive the memory of city’s saint

The patron saint of Bergamo, Sant’Alessandro, was martyred on this day in 303 by the Romans for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.  It is believed Alessandro was a devout citizen who had continued to preach in Bergamo, despite having several narrow escapes from would-be Roman executioners, but he was eventually caught and suffered public decapitation.  In Christian legend, Alessandro was a centurion of the Theban Legion, a legion of the Roman army that converted en masse to Christianity, whose existence prompted a crusade against Christianity launched by the Romans in around AD 298.  Alessandro was reputedly held in prison in Milan on two occasions but escaped to Bergamo, where he defiantly refused to go into hiding and instead openly preached, converting many Bergamaschi to his faith.  Of course, he was ultimately taken into custody again by the Romans and beheaded on August 26, 303, on the spot now occupied by the church of Sant' Alessandro in Colonna in Bergamo’s Città Bassa (lower town).  Read more…

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25 August 2019

25 August

Vesuvius erupts


Terrible toll of Europe's worst volcanic catastrophe 

Mount Vesuvius erupted on this day in AD 79, burying the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis and Stabiae and causing the deaths of thousands of people.  An eyewitness account of the eruption, in which tons of stones, ash and fumes were ejected from the volcano, has been left behind for posterity by a Roman administrator and poet, Pliny the Younger, who described the event in his letters to the historian Tacitus.  Although there were at least three large eruptions of Vesuvius before AD 79 and there have been many since, the disaster in August AD 79 is considered the most catastrophic volcanic eruption in European history.  Mount Vesuvius had thrown out ash the day before and many people had left the area. But in the early hours of the morning of August 25, pyroclastic flows of hot gas and rock began to sweep down the mountain.  The flows were fast moving and knocked down all the structures in their path, incinerating or suffocating the people who had remained. Pliny noted there were also earth tremors and a tsunami in the Bay of Naples.  The remains of about 1500 people have been found at Pompeii and Herculaneum (Ercolano) but it is not known what percentage this represents of the overall death toll.  Read more…


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Saint Patricia of Naples


Patron saint performs a miracle every week

The feast day of Saint Patricia is celebrated every year in Naples on this day.  The saint, who is also sometimes referred to as Patricia of Constantinople, is one of a long list of patron saints of Naples.  She is less well known than San Gennaro, also a patron saint of the city, who attracts crowds to Naples Cathedral three times a year to witness the miracle of a small sample of his blood turning to liquid.  But Saint Patricia’s blood, which is kept in the Church of San Gregorio Armeno, is said to undergo the same miraculous transformation every Tuesday morning as well as on August 25 each year - her feast day - which was believed to be the day she died in 665 AD.  Saint Patricia was a noble woman, who may have been descended from St Constantine the Great.  She was a devout virgin and travelled to Rome to become a nun in order to escape an arranged marriage.  She received the veil – symbolising her acceptance into the monastic community – from Pope Liberius.  When her wealthy father died, she returned to Constantinople and, renouncing any claim to the imperial crown, distributed her wealth among the poor.  Read more…


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Galileo demonstrates potential of telescope


Scientist unveiled new instrument to Doge of Venice

The scientist and inventor Galileo Galilei demonstrated the wonders of the telescope to an audience of Venetian lawmakers on this day in 1609.  The 90th Doge, Leonardo Donato, and other members of the Venetian senate accompanied Galileo to the top of the campanile of St Mark’s Basilica, where each took it in turn to look through the instrument.  The meeting had been arranged by Galileo’s friend, Paolo Sarpi, who was a scientist, lawyer and statesman employed by the Venetian government. The two were both professors at the University of Padua.  Galileo, whose knowledge of the universe led him to be called the ‘father of observational astronomy’, was for many years wrongly credited with the invention of the telescope when in fact the first to apply for a patent for the device was a Dutch eyeglass maker named Hans Lippershey.  However, Galileo’s work using uncertain details of Lippershey’s design certainly took the idea to a different level.  Whereas Lippershey’s device magnified objects by about three times, Galileo eventually produced a telescope with a magnification factor of 30.  The one he demonstrated on August 25, 1609, is thought to have had a factor of about eight or nine.  Read more…

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24 August 2019

24 August

Parmigianino - Mannerist painter


Artist from Parma left outstanding legacy

The artist Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola – better known as Parmigianino – died on this day in 1540 in Casalmaggiore, a town on the Po river south-east of Cremona in Lombardy.   Sometimes known as Francesco Mazzola, he was was only 37 years old when he passed away but had nonetheless made sufficient impact with his work to be regarded as an important influence on the period that followed the High Renaissance era of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.   Known for the refined sensuality of his paintings, Parmigianino – literally ‘the little one from Parma’ – was one of the first generation of Mannerist painters, whose figures exuded elegance and sophistication by the subtle exaggeration of qualities associated with ideal beauty.  Parmigiano is also thought to have been one of the first to develop printmaking using the technique known as etching and through this medium his work was copied, and circulated to many artistic schools in Italy and other countries in northern Europe, where it could be studied and admired.  Parmigianino’s figures would often have noticeably long and slender limbs and strike elegant poses. Read more…


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Carlo Gambino - Mafia Don


Sicilian thought to be model for Mario Puzo's Godfather

Carlo Gambino, who would become one of the most powerful Mafia Dons in the history of organised crime, was born on this day in 1902 in Palermo, Sicily.  For almost two decades up to his death in 1976, he was head of the Gambino Crime Family, one of the so-called Five Families that have sought to control organised crime in New York under one banner or another for more than a century.  He is thought to have been the real-life Don that author Mario Puzo identified as the model for Vito Corleone, the fictional Don created for the best-selling novel, The Godfather.  During Gambino's peak years, the family's criminal activities realised revenues of an estimated $500 million per year.  Yet Gambino, who kept a modest house in Brooklyn and a holiday home on Long Island, claimed to make a living as a partner in a company that advised on labour relations.  Despite coming under intensive surveillance by the FBI, he managed to avoid prison during a life spent almost exclusively in crime.  Everything he did was planned meticulously to avoid detection, even down to communicating with associates through coded messages.  Read more…

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Peppino De Filippo - comedian, actor and playwright


Talented Neapolitan who lived in shadow of his brother

The playwright and comic actor Peppino De Filippo was born Giuseppe De Filippo on this day in 1903 in Naples.  A highly accomplished performer on stage in serious as well as comedy roles, De Filippo also had a list of film credits numbering almost 100, of which he is best remembered for his screen partnership with the brilliant comic actor Totò.  To an extent, however, he spent his career in the shadow of his older brother, Eduardo De Filippo, who after Luigi Pirandello was regarded as the second great Italian playwright of the 20th century.  The two fell out in the 1940s for reasons that were never made clear, although it later emerged that they had many artistic differences.  They were never reconciled, and though Peppino went on to enjoy a successful career and was widely acclaimed it annoyed him that he was always seen as a minor playwright compared with his brother.  When Peppino published an autobiography in 1977, three years before he died, he called it Una famiglia difficile - A Difficult Family. In the book he described his relationship with his sister, Titina, as one of warmth and affection, but portrays Eduardo as something of a tyrant.  Read more…

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23 August 2019

23 August

Pino Presti – bass player and composer


Talented musician could sing, play guitar, compose and conduct

Pino Presti, one of the most important personalities in the Italian music business, was born Giuseppe Prestipino Giarritta on this day in 1943 in Milan.  He is a bass guitar player, arranger, composer, conductor and record producer and his work ranges between the different music genres of pop, jazz, funk, latin and dance.  His father, Arturo Prestipino Giarritta, was a well-known violinist and Presti began studying piano and music theory at the age of six.  He taught himself to play the bass guitar and began playing professionally at the age of 17, having developed his own special technique using either the pick or thumb.  Presti was a pioneer of electric bass and was probably the first to play a Fender Jazz Bass in Italy.  His talent for playing the instrument led him to collaborate with the major Italian pop artists of the 1960s, including the famous singer, Mina, who is Italy's all-time top-selling female recording artist. Presti arranged and conducted 86 tracks and composed four songs for her, also sometimes backing her as a singer.  Among the many other artists he worked with were Bobby Solo, Gigliola Cinquetti and Adriano Celentano.  Read more…

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Rita Pavone - teenage singing star


Precocious talent who conquered America

Rita Pavone, who was one of Europe's biggest teenage singing stars in the 1960s and was still performing live concerts as recently as 2014, was born on this day in 1945 in Turin. The singer had her first hit single when she was just 17 years old and enjoyed success at home and in America during a career that spanned more than five decades, going on to become an accomplished actress on television and in the theatre.  She announced she was quitting show business in 2006 but came out of retirement in 2013 to record two studio albums as a tribute to the stars who had influenced her throughout her career, then embarking on a series of live concerts in Italy in 2014 and performing in Toronto, Canada exactly 50 years after her first appearance there.  In 2016, she appeared in Ballando Con le Stelle - the Italian equivalent of the US show Dancing With the Stars and Britain's Strictly Come Dancing - and finished third with partner Simone de Pasquale, reaching the final despite being the oldest competitor.  Pavone spent her early years living in a two-room apartment in Turin.  She was the third of four children yet it was not until 1959 that the family was able to move somewhere bigger, in the Mirafiori district, when a scheme run by the FIAT factory where her father worked enabled employees to obtain a family home at low rent.  Read more…

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Roberto Assagioli – psychiatrist


Harsh imprisonment sparked new psychiatric theories

Roberto Assagioli, the pioneering psychiatrist who founded the science of psychosynthesis, died on this day in 1974 in Capolona in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany.  His innovative psychological movement, which emphasised the possibility of progressive integration, or synthesis, of the personality, and aimed at finding inner peace and harmony, is still admired and is being developed by therapists and psychologists today.  Assagioli explained his ideas in four books - two published posthumously - and the many different pamphlets he wrote during his lifetime.  In 1940 the psychiatrist had to spend 27 days in solitary confinement in prison, having been arrested by Mussolini’s Fascist government for praying for peace and encouraging others to join him. He later claimed this experience helped him make his psychological discovery.  Assagioli was born under the name of Roberto Marco Grego in 1888 into a middle-class, Jewish background in Venice.  His father died when he was two years old and his mother remarried quickly to Alessandro Emanuele Assagioli.  Read more…

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22 August 2019

22 August

Luca Marenzio – composer


Madrigal writer influenced Monteverdi

Luca Marenzio, a prolific composer of madrigals during the late Renaissance period, died on this day in 1599 in the garden of the Villa Medici on Monte Pincio in Rome.  Marenzio wrote at least 500 madrigals, some of which are considered to be the most famous examples of the form, and he was an important influence on the composer Claudio Monteverdi.  Born at Coccaglio, a small town near Brescia in 1553, Marenzio was one of seven children belonging to a poor family, but he received some early musical training at Brescia Cathedral where he was a choirboy.  It is believed he went to Mantua with the maestro di cappella from Brescia to serve the Gonzaga family as a singer.  Marenzio was then employed as a singer in Rome by Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo and, after the Cardinal’s death, he served at the court of Cardinal Luigi d’Este.  He travelled to Ferrara with Luigi d’Este and took part in the wedding festivities for Vincenzo Gonzaga and Margherita Farnese.  While he was there he wrote two books of madrigals and dedicated them to Alfonso II and Lucrezia d’Este.  Read more…


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History’s first air raid


Balloon bombs dropped on Venice

Venice suffered the first successful air raid in the history of warfare on this day in 1849.  It came six months after Austria had defeated the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in the First Italian War of Independence as the Austrians sought to regain control of Venice, where the revolutionary leader Daniele Manin had established the Republic of San Marco.  The city, over which Manin’s supporters had seized control in March 1848, was under siege by the Austrians, whose victory over the Piedmontese army in March 1849 had enabled them to concentrate more resources on defeating the Venetians.  They had regained much of the mainland territory of Manin’s republic towards the end of 1848 and were now closing in on the city itself, having decided that cutting off resources while periodically bombarding the city from the sea would bring Venice’s capitulation.  However, because of the shallow lagoons and the strength of Venice’s coastal defences, there were still parts of the city that were out of the range of the Austrian artillery.  It was at this point that one of Austrian commander Josef von Radetzky’s artillery officers, Lieutenant Franz von Uchatius, came up with the unlikely idea of attaching bombs to unmanned balloons and letting the wind carry them into Venice.  Read more...

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Bruno Pontecorvo - nuclear physicist


Defection to Soviet Union sparked unsolved mystery

Bruno Pontecorvo, a nuclear physicist who defected to the Soviet Union in 1950 and was suspected of espionage after working on research programmes in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, was born on this day in 1913 in Marina di Pisa.  One of eight children born to Massimo Pontecorvo - a Jewish textile manufacturer who owned three factories - Bruno was from a family rich in intellectual talent. One of his brothers was the film director Gillo Pontecorvo, another the geneticist Guido Pontecorvo.  After high school, he enrolled at the University of Pisa to study engineering, but after two years switched to physics in 1931. He received a doctorate to study at the University of Rome La Sapienza, where Enrico Fermi had gathered together a group of promising young scientists, whom he dubbed “the Via Panisperna boys” after the name of the street where the Institute of Physics  was then situated.  Fermi described the 18-year-old Pontecorvo as one of the brightest young men he had met and invited Pontecorvo to work with him on his experiments bombarding atomic nuclei with slow neutrons. Read more…

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Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi – bishop


Progressive priest who shaped the destiny of a future Pope

Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi, Bishop of Bergamo, who was a mentor for the future Pope John XXIII, died on this day in 1914 in Bergamo.  He was Bishop of the Diocese of Bergamo from 1905 until his death and is remembered with respect because of his strong involvement in social issues at the beginning of the 20th century when he sought to understand the problems of working class Italians.  Radini-Tedeschi was born in 1857 into a wealthy, noble family living in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna.  He was ordained as a priest in 1879 and then became professor of Church Law in the seminary of Piacenza.  In 1890 he joined the Secretariat of State of the Holy See and was sent on a number of diplomatic missions.  In 1905 he was named Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bergamo by Pope Pius X and was consecrated by him in the Sistine Chapel.  Radini-Tedeschi was a strong supporter of Catholic trade unions and backed the workers at a textile plant in Ranica, a district of Bergamo Province, during a labour dispute.  Working for him as his secretary at the time was a young priest named Angelo Roncalli, who went on to become Pope John XXIII in 1958 but never forgot the values Radini-Tedeschi had taught him.  Read more…

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Bruno Pontecorvo - nuclear physicist

Defection to Soviet Union sparked unsolved mystery 


Bruno Pontecorvo hailed from a family of talented individuals
Bruno Pontecorvo hailed from a family
of talented individuals
Bruno Pontecorvo, a nuclear physicist who defection to the Soviet Union in 1950 led to  suspicions of espionage after he had worked on research programmes in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, was born on this day in 1913 in Marina di Pisa.

One of eight children born to Massimo Pontecorvo - a Jewish textile manufacturer who owned three factories - Bruno was from a family rich in intellectual talent. One of his brothers was the film director Gillo Pontecorvo, another the geneticist Guido Pontecorvo.

After high school, he enrolled at the University of Pisa to study engineering, but after two years switched to physics in 1931. He received a doctorate to study at the University of Rome La Sapienza, where Enrico Fermi had gathered together a group of promising young scientists, whom he dubbed “the Via Panisperna boys” after the name of the street where the Institute of Physics  was then situated.

Fermi described the 18-year-old Pontecorvo as one of the brightest young men he had met and invited Pontecorvo to work with him on his experiments bombarding atomic nuclei with slow neutrons.

Everything changed, however, after Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government passed a series of race laws, one of which excluded Jews from participating in higher education.

Enrico Fermi (above) rated Pontecorvo as one of his brightest young scientists
Enrico Fermi (above) rated Pontecorvo
as one of his brightest young scientists
Pontecorvo fled to Paris to work at the laboratory of Frédéric Joliot-Curie. During this period, influenced by his cousin, Emilio Sereni, he became a supporter of the ideals of communism and married Marianne Nordblom, a Swedish woman working in Paris as a nanny.

When Paris was invaded by the Germans in 1940, he became unsettled again.  He could not return to Italy and instead travelled to the United States, where Fermi had also gone. His new wife accompanied him.

In 1943 Pontecorvo joined the Anglo-Canadian nuclear research team at Chalk River, Ontario. There he worked on the design of the world’s first nuclear reactor using heavy water as a neutron moderator.

Despite earlier being seen as “undesirable”, in 1948 he was granted British citizenship. He joined the Atomic Energy Authority research station at Harwell, Berkshire, where classified research was being conducted.

Once Mussolini had been toppled, Pontecorvo had felt comfortable to begin taking holidays in Italy but during on such trip, in 1950, instead of returning to London, he and Marianne and their three children flew to Stockholm in Sweden and then on to Helsinki in Finland, at which point they disappeared.

Pontecorvo worked in France, the United States and the United Kingdom before his defection in 1950
Pontecorvo worked in France, the United States and
the United Kingdom before his defection in 1950
Ten months earlier, one of Pontecorvo’s colleagues at Harwell, Klaus Fuchs, confessed to spying for the Soviet Union - be was blamed by the US for Russia's development of nuclear weapons - and there was speculation that Pontecorvo had followed suit.

Pontecorvo’s relatives, including his sister, Anna, who lived in London, were at a loss to explain his disappearance, insisting he had given no indication that he was planning to fly from Rome to Stockholm.

Nothing was heard of him until 1955, when Pontecorvo appeared at a press conference in Moscow to promote the peaceful use of nuclear power. He denied ever having worked on nuclear weapons research.

Nonetheless, amid speculation that he and Fuchs and others had seriously endangered the West, he was stripped of his British passport. It has never been established why he left so abruptly and there is no concrete evidence that he was ever a spy. An alternative theory is that, because of his links with Fuchs - although they were not close friends - he was under surveillance by agents from America's FBI and feared for his safety if he remained in the West.

He would remain in the Soviet Union for the rest of his life, mainly at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, outside Moscow.

Pontecorvo received numerous awards for his work in Russia, including the Lenin Prize (1963) and the Order of Lenin (1983). After his death,  the JINR founded the annual Bruno Pontecorvo Prize to honour work done in particle physics. 

In accordance with his wishes, half of Pontecorvo's ashes were buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, and another half in Dubna.

The yacht harbour at Marina di Pisa, the town where the Pontecorvo family grew up
The yacht harbour at Marina di Pisa, the town where
the Pontecorvo family grew up
Travel tip:

Pisa used to be one of Italy’s major maritime powers, rivalling Genoa and Venice, until silt deposits from the Arno river gradually changed the landscape and ultimately cut the city off from the sea in the 15th century. Nowadays, almost 15km (9 miles) inland, it is a university city renowned for its art and architectural treasures, notably the Campo dei Miracoli, formerly known as Piazza del Duomo, located at the northwestern end of the city, which contains the cathedral (Duomo), baptistery and famously the tilting campanile known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Marina di Pisa is situated where the Arno now meets the sea.  A popular seaside resort with a mix of sand and pebble beaches, it is home to the modern Port of Pisa yacht harbour.

The Via Panisperna (right) looking towards the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore from the junction with Via Cesare Balbo
The Via Panisperna (right) looking towards the Basilica di Santa
Maria Maggiore from the junction with Via Cesare Balbo
Travel tip:

The Via Panisperna is a Roman street that runs from Largo Angelicum, close to Trajan’s Forum and the Villa Aldobrandini in the direction of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. It forms part of the Rione Monti Roma district. It follows a straight, undulating path and crosses three of Rome’s seven hills - the Quirinale, the Viminale and the Esquilino.  The street is thought to take it name from the practice of the nearby convent of the Order of the Poor Clares for distributing “pane e perna” - bread and ham - among the local poor. The Church of San Lorenzo in Panisperna can reputedly trace its history to the reign of Emperor Constantine I in the early fourth century, only 100 years after the martyrdom of St Lawrence.

More reading:

Enrico Fermi - the Roman scientist who produced the world's first nuclear reactor

The first woman to head up Europe's major nuclear research body

Why Gillo Pontecorvo's most famous film was banned in France

Also on this day:

1599: The death of influential composer Luca Marenzio

1849: Austria launches world's first 'air raid' against Venice

1914: The death of Bishop Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi


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