20 July 2024

20 July

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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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.  Eventually, Giovanni is said to have paid 800 million lira (about $933,000 dollars), for her release, partly raised from box office receipts from the Star Wars movie playing at his cinemas.  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.  Morandi became associated with a Fascist-influenced Futurist group in Bologna.  Read more…

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Book of the Day: Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World, by Marc Raboy

A little over a century ago, the world went wireless. Cables and all their limiting inefficiencies gave way to a revolutionary means of transmitting news and information almost everywhere, instantaneously. By means of "Hertzian waves," as radio waves were initially known, ships could now make contact with other ships (saving lives, such as on the doomed S.S. Titanic); financial markets could coordinate with other financial markets, establishing the price of commodities and fixing exchange rates; military commanders could connect with the front lines, positioning artillery and directing troop movements. Suddenly and irrevocably, time and space telescoped beyond what had been thought imaginable. Someone had not only imagined this networked world but realized it: Guglielmo Marconi.  Born to an Italian father and an Irish mother, he was in many ways stateless, working his cosmopolitanism to advantage. Through a combination of skill, tenacity, luck, vision, and timing, Marconi popularized - and, more critically, patented - the use of radio waves. Soon after he burst into public view at the age of 22 with a demonstration of his wireless apparatus in London, 1896, he established his Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company and seemed unstoppable. Until his death in 1937, Marconi was at the heart of every major innovation in electronic communication. Based on original research and unpublished archival materials in four countries and several languages, Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World is the first to connect significant parts of Marconi's story, from his early days in Italy, to his groundbreaking experiments and his role in world affairs. Raboy also explores Marconi's relationships  with his wives, mistresses, and children, and examines in unsparing detail the last ten years of the inventor's life, when he returned to Italy and became a pillar of Benito Mussolini's fascist regime. 

Marc Raboy is a writer and emeritus professor in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University in Montreal.

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19 July 2024

19 July

The Great Fire of Rome

City devastated by nine-day blaze

Almost two thirds of the ancient city of Rome was destroyed in the Great Fire of Rome, which took hold on this day in 64 AD.  Accounts vary as to whether the blaze began on July 19 or on the evening of July 18. What seems not to be in doubt is that the fire spread uncontrollably for six days, seemed to burn itself out, then reignited and continued for another three days.  Of Rome’s 14 districts at the time, only four were unaffected. In three, nothing remained but ashes and the other seven fared only marginally better, with just a few scorched ruins still standing.  Among the more important buildings in the city, the Temple of Jupiter Stator, the House of the Vestals, and the emperor Nero's palace, the Domus Transitoria were damaged or destroyed, along with the part of the Forum where senators lived and worked.  According to the historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus, who published an account of the fire in his Annals, which covered the period from Tiberius to Nero, the blaze probably began in shops around Rome's chariot stadium, Circus Maximus.  Driven by a strong wind, it quickly spread along the length of the Circus Maximus and into adjoining streets.  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, now renamed Arquà Petrarca. Known in English as Petrarch, he 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.  Petrarch travelled widely throughout Italy and Europe during his life and once climbed Mount Ventoux near Vaucluse in France just for pleasure, writing about the experience afterwards.  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 the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the 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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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.  But Cremonini said that Aristotle had proved that the Moon could only be a perfect sphere and was having none of Galileo’s claim that it was not, refusing Galileo’s invitation to see for himself.  Read more…

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Book of the Day: Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, by Simon Baker

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire is the story of the greatest empire the world has ever known. Simon Baker charts the rise and fall of the world's first superpower, focusing on six momentous turning points that shaped Roman history. Welcome to Rome as you've never seen it before - awesome and splendid, gritty and squalid. From the conquest of the Mediterranean beginning in the third century BC to the destruction of the Roman Empire at the hands of barbarian invaders some seven centuries later, we discover the most critical episodes in Roman history: the spectacular collapse of the 'free' republic, the birth of the age of the 'Caesars', the violent suppression of the strongest rebellion against Roman power, and the bloody civil war that launched Christianity as a world religion.  At the heart of this account are the dynamic, complex but flawed characters of some of the most powerful rulers in history: men such as Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Nero and Constantine. Putting flesh on the bones of these distant, legendary figures, Simon Baker looks beyond the dusty, toga-clad caricatures and explores their real motivations and ambitions, intrigues and rivalries. The superb narrative, full of energy and imagination, is a brilliant distillation of the latest scholarship and a wonderfully evocative account of Ancient Rome.

Simon Baker read Classics at Oxford University. In 1999 he joined the BBC's award-winning History Unit where he has worked on Timewatch and a wide range of programmes about the classical world. He was the Development Producer on the BBC One series Ancient Rome - The Rise and Fall of an Empire. This is his second book.

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18 July 2024

18 July

NEW - Angelo Morbelli - painter

Artist known for socially conscious themes

Angelo Morbelli, a painter who won acclaim for his socially conscious genre scenes, was born on this day in 1853 in the Piedmont city of Alessandria.  Initially a painter of landscapes and historical scenes, he switched quite early in his career to contemporary subjects, many of which reflected his own social concerns. He had a particular interest in the lives of the elderly and the fate of the women who laboured in the region’s rice fields.  He was a proponent of the Divisionist style of painting that was founded in the 1880s by the French post-Impressionist Georges Seurat. In Divisionism, rather than physically blending paints to produce variations in colour, the painter constructed a picture from separate dots of paint that by their proximity would produce an optical interaction. Divisionists believed this technique achieved greater luminosity of colour.  Morbelli developed his painting as a student at the prestigious Brera Academy in Milan but his original ambitions had been in the field of music.  The son of a wealthy vineyard owner from Casale Monferrato, about 35km (22 miles) north of Alessandria, Morbelli had shown a remarkable aptitude for the flute but was forced by illness into a change of direction.  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.  Read more…

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William Salice - businessman and chocolatier

Former salesman known as inventor of Kinder Eggs

William Salice, the man credited with being the inventor of the enormously popular children’s confectionery known as Kinder Eggs, was born on this day in 1933 in Casei Gerola, a small town in Lombardy, southwest of Milan. Salice worked for the chocolate and confectionery company headed by Michele Ferrero, which had already enjoyed considerable success thanks to the Nutella hazelnut chocolate spread launched in the 1960s.  Keen to better himself after joining Ferrero as a salesman in 1960 at the age of 27, Salice studied marketing in his spare time, aware that Italy needed to make up ground on some other western countries in that area of business.  His willingness to embrace new ideas impressed Michele Ferrero, who commissioned him to come up with a way of turning the popularity in Italy of children’s chocolate Easter eggs into a product that could be sold all year round, with the added benefit that the moulds used to produce eggs at Easter did not need to be dismantled and stored away once the Easter holiday had passed.  Salice came up with the Kinder Sorpresa. 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.  Some remains were transferred to the municipal cemetery in Porto Ercole.  Read more…

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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 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.  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.  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.  He was directed by Pope Pius XI to form a close working relationship with Bernardino Nogara, a layman working as a financial adviser to the Vatican. Nogara helped di Jorio build up the Vatican’s financial strength.  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.  Read more…

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Book of the Day: Painting Light - Italian Divisionism 1885-1910, by Renato Miracco

Inspired by the achievements of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists, the school of painting known as Divisionism emerged in Italy around the end of the 19th century. Like their French counterparts, these artists were fascinated with capturing effects of light, and this pioneering exhibition explored their attempts to evoke that most elusive of subjects. Closely allied to the work of artists such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, the Divisionist technique was grounded in the construction of images from small dashes of pure colour that would blend in the eye of the spectator when viewed from a distance, resulting in works characterised by an intense luminosity.  Despite its close links with French artistic theories, Divisionism was very much an autonomous and independent movement, distinguished by its attempts to strike a careful balance between formal and narrative concerns. Many Italian artists, such as Giacomo Balla and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, combined their study of light and their investigation of optical phenomena with social commentary, applying their pictorial theories to depictions of the marginalised elements of society. Painting Light - Italian Divisionism 1885-1910 catalogues the paintings displayed at an exhibition of the same name staged by the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in London in 2003. It also featured the work of painters such as Giovanni Segantini, Angelo Morbelli and Gaetano Previati. 

Renato Miracco is a scholar, art critic, and curator from Naples, Italy. He previously served as the Cultural Attaché of the Italian Embassy in Washington, and he is a former member of the Board of Guarantors for the Italian Academy at Columbia University.

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Angelo Morbelli - painter

Artist known for socially conscious themes

Morbelli, pictured in this self-portrait, highlighted social issues in his work
Morbelli, pictured in this self-portrait,
highlighted social issues in his work
Angelo Morbelli, a painter who won acclaim for his socially conscious genre scenes, was born on this day in 1853 in the Piedmont city of Alessandria.

Initially a painter of landscapes and historical scenes, he switched quite early in his career to contemporary subjects, many of which reflected his own social concerns. He had a particular interest in the lives of the elderly and the fate of the women who laboured in the region’s rice fields.

He was a proponent of the Divisionist style of painting that was founded in the 1880s by the French post-Impressionist Georges Seurat. In Divisionism, rather than physically blending paints to produce variations in colour, the painter constructed a picture from separate dots of paint that by their proximity would produce an optical interaction. Divisionists believed this technique achieved greater luminosity of colour.

Morbelli developed his painting as a student at the prestigious Brera Academy in Milan but his original ambitions had been in the field of music.

The son of a wealthy vineyard owner from Casale Monferrato, about 35km (22 miles) north of Alessandria, Morbelli had shown a remarkable aptitude for the flute but was forced by illness into a change of direction. At the age of seven, he contracted mastoiditis, a serious ear infection that caused him to suffer permanent hearing loss.

His parents instead encouraged him instead to study drawing, which quickly revealed a different talent, which would in time win him a scholarship granted by the Municipality of Alessandria to move to Milan and enrol at the Brera, where he studied under Giuseppe Bertini, Raffaele Casnedi and Luigi Riccardi, three renowned professors.

Morbelli's Giorni...ultimi, painted at the Pio Albergo Trivulzio retirement home, is one of his greatest works
Morbelli's Giorni...ultimi, painted at the Pio Albergo
Trivulzio retirement home, is one of his greatest works
His early works were primarily landscapes and historical scenes. His 1880 work, La morte di Goethe - the Death of Goethe - was among the first he exhibited to bring him public attention. 

Around 1883, Morbelli shifted his focus to contemporary subjects. Notably, he depicted elderly residents of the Pio Albergo Trivulzio, a retirement home and hospital in Milan that was founded in the 18th century following a bequest from Tolomeo Trivulzio, a Milanese aristocrat. 

Morbelli’s series of paintings from the home included Giorni…ultimi (Last Days), which earned him a Gold Medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889. 

Early in the 1880s he married Maria Pagani, a woman with whom he would share the rest of his life. They had four children, inspiring him to paint several works on motherhood. He often painted Maria with the children at their house in Milan and in the garden of their summer residence, Villa Maria, at Colma di Rosignano Monferrato, in the hills above Casale Monferrato.

He began to experiment with Divisionism in around 1890, at first painting landscapes close to the Villa Maria.

Morbelli's Per ottanta centesimi highlighted the exploitation of female labour in the rice fields
Morbelli's Per ottanta centesimi highlighted the
exploitation of female labour in the rice fields
In the mid-90s, his interest drawn towards another social issue, he began to visit the farms in the rice fields around Vercelli, north of Casale Monferrato. A collapse in the price of rice led to the harsh exploitation of workers, mainly women, who were made to toil long hours for low wages.

His painting Per ottanta centesimi (For Eighty Cents), which depicted groups of women, standing ankle deep in water, engaged in the back-breaking work of picking the rice, was awarded the Gold Medal at the 1897 International Exhibition in Dresden.  He used photography to inform some of his work, which attracted criticism from some other painters.

The year that opened the millennium was important for Morbelli, who at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris received another Gold Medal - and the award of the Legion of Honor - for Giorno di festa (Day of Celebration), another painting set in the Pio Albergo Trivulzio.

Between 1902 and 1903, continuing to ponder old age and death, Morbelli set up a studio in the rooms of the hospice, where he created Il Natale dei resta (The Christmas of the Remainers), part of a cycle entitled Il poema della vecchiaia (The Poem of Old Age). The painting presented a stark image of five men sitting in a hall partly lit by the sun, among many rows of empty benches.

Morbelli’s work in the early part of the 20th century returned to painting landscapes, with work ranging from a view of Milan’s Duomo to a boat on Lake Garda. His 1913 painting Angolo di giardino (Corner of the Garden), which offered a glimpse of the family villa in Colma, was noted for the vibrant luminous depth he gave to the countryside beyond the villa’s garden.  Some of his last work was completed between 1914 and 1919 in the Usseglio valley, a mountainous area in the east of Piedmont, close to the border with France.

Between 1908 and 1903, Morbelli is said to have met Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni, two important painters of the Italian Futurist movement. Divisionism was influential in the development of Futurism, whose proponents adopted some of its methods to help evoke the dynamism of the urban environment they sought to convey in their work

He was still active when, in 1919, he developed pneumonia, which led to his death in Milan on November 7, at the age of 66. 

The Cattedrale dei Santi Pietro e Marco was consecrated in 1879, replacing an older church
The Cattedrale dei Santi Pietro e Marco was
consecrated in 1879, replacing an older church 
Travel tip:

The historic city of Alessandria, about 90km (56 miles) southeast of Turin, became part of French territory after the army of Napoleon defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in 1800 on fields to the east of the city. Alessandria has a Museum of the Battle of Marengo in Via della Barbotta in the district of Spinetta Marengo. The city was ruled by the Kingdom of Sardinia for many years and is notable for the Cittadella di Alessandria, a star-shaped fort and citadel built in the 18th century, which covers more than 180 acres on a site just across the Tanaro river and is one of the best preserved fortifications of its type.  It remained a military establishment until as recently as 2007 and now holds a permanent exhibition of about 1500 uniforms, weapons and memorabilia. The city's neoclassical Cattedrale dei Santi Pietro e Marco was built in between 1874 and 1879. Alessandria is also a rail hub for northern Italy. The railway station opened in 1850 to form part of the Turin to Genoa railway and now also has lines to many other towns and cities both in Piedmont and neighbouring Lombardy. 

Submerged fields in the rice-growing area around the city of Vercelli
Submerged fields in the rice-growing
area around the city of Vercelli
Travel tip:

Vercelli is best known as the centre of Italy’s rice production industry, with many of the surrounding fields in the vast Po plain submerged under water during the summer months. Rice has been cultivated in the area since the 15th century. One of Vercelli’s speciality dishes, panissa, is made from risotto rice and beans, with pork and red wine.  The city, which has around 46,500 inhabitants, is some 85km (53 miles) west of Milan and about 75km (46 miles) northeast of Turin. It is reckoned to be built on the site of one of the oldest settlements in Italy, dating back to 600BC, and was home to the world's first publicly-funded university, which was opened in 1228 but folded in 1372. Vercelli’s Basilica of Sant'Andrea is regarded as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved Romanesque buildings in Italy. The city also has an amphitheatre from the Roman period.

Also on this day:

1610: The death of Renaissance painter Caravaggio

1871: The birth of painter Giacamo Balla

1884: The birth of Cardinal Alberto di Jorio, Vatican banker

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

1933: The birth of William Salice, inventor of the Kinder Egg


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