4 April 2020

4 April

Francesco De Gregori - singer-songwriter

Performer inspired by songs of hero Bob Dylan

The singer-songwriter Francesco De Gregori - popularly known as "Il Principe dei cantautori" (the prince of the singer-songwriters) – was born on this day in 1951.  Born in Rome, De Gregori has released around 40 albums in a career spanning 45 years, selling more than five million records.  Famous for the elegant and often poetic nature of his lyrics, De Gregori was once described by Bob Dylan as an “Italian folk hero”.  De Gregori acknowledges Dylan as one of his biggest inspirations and influences, along with Leonard Cohen and the Italian singer Fabrizio de André.  Covers of Dylan songs have regularly featured in his stage performances. He made an album in 2015 entitled Love and Theft: De Gregori Sings Bob Dylan.  Born into a middle class family – his father was a librarian, his mother a teacher - De Gregori spent his youth living in Rome or on the Adriatic coast at Pescara. He began to develop his musical career at the Folkstudio in Rome’s Trastevere district, where Dylan had performed in 1962.   He became friends with fellow singer-songwriters Antonello Venditti, Mimmo Locasciulli and Giorgio Lo Cascio.  Read more…


Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli - composer

Neapolitan who snubbed Napoleon wrote 37 operas

The composer Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli, who wrote 37 mainly comic operas and more than 500 pieces of sacred music, was born on this day in 1752 in Naples.  His success made him one of the principal composers of opera and religious music of his time. At various points in his career, he was maestro di cappella - music director - at Milan Cathedral, choir master at the Sistine Chapel and director of the Naples Conservatory.  Many of Zingarelli’s operas were written for Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Early in his career he worked in Paris, which held him in good stead later when he was arrested after refusing to conduct a hymn for the newly-born son of the Emperor Napoleon, who at the time was the self-proclaimed King of Italy.  Sometimes known as Nicola, the young Zingarelli studied from the age of seven at the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto, which was the original conservatory of Naples, dating back to 1537. He was tutored by Fedele Fenaroli, whose pupils also included Domenico Cimarosa and, later, Giuseppe Verdi, and also by Alessandro Speranza.  As a young man, Zingarelli earned a living as a violinist, while also composing.  Read more…


Irene Pivetti – journalist and politician

From top political office to TV presenter

Irene Pivetti, who was only the second woman to become president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, was born on this day in 1963 in Milan.  Once a key figure in Italy’s Lega Nord party, Pivetti has now quit politics for a career as a television presenter.  Pivetti obtained an honours degree in Italian literature from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan and afterwards worked in publishing, editing books on the Italian language. In this she was following in the footsteps of her maternal grandfather, Aldo, a renowned linguist.  While working as a journalist, she became involved with the Lega Lombardia (Lombard League), which later became the Lega Nord (Northern League) and in 1992 was elected as a deputy, the Italian equivalent of a Member of Parliament.  Two years later, after the vote had gone to a fourth ballot, Pivetti was elected President of the Chamber of Deputies. At the age of 31, she was the youngest president in the Chamber’s history. She occupied the role from 1994 to 1996.  Pivetti was re-elected as a deputy in the 1996 election but later that year was expelled from the Lega Nord because of her opposition to some of their ideas.  Read more…


Daniela Riccardi - businesswoman

Head of luxury glassware company trained as a ballet dancer

Born on this day in 1960, Daniela Riccardi is chief executive of Baccarat, the luxury glass and crystal manufacturer that originated in the town of the same name in the Lorraine region of France in the 18th century.  Formerly CEO of the Italian clothing company Diesel, she is one of Italy's most successful businesswomen, yet might easily have forged alternative careers as a dancer or a diplomat.  Born in Rome, she began dancing when she was five and studied ballet for 12 years at the National Dance Academy in Rome, with the aim of becoming a professional dancer.  When it became clear that she would not quite be good enough to grace the world's great stages, she remained determined to have a career that would satisfy her desire to experience many countries and cultures and went to Rome University to study political science and international studies, with the aim of working in diplomacy.  However, during a postgraduate year at Yale University in the United States, she spent a brief period as an intern at Pepsi, where she was so impressed by the energy and leadership of the company's management she realised that this was the career she really wanted.  Read more…


3 April 2020

3 April

NEW - Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco – composer

Versatile musician wrote for stringed instruments and for films

One of the most admired composers of the 20th century, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, was born on this day in 1895 in Florence.  He composed more than 100 pieces of music for the guitar, many of them written for the Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia.  Because of anti-semitism in Europe, Mario emigrated to the United States in 1939 where he went to work for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, composing music for about 200 films.  Mario was descended from a family of bankers that had lived in Siena since the Jews were expelled from Spain in the 16th century.  He was introduced to the piano by his mother and was composing music by the time he was nine years old. His mother recognised his musical talent and encouraged him to study the piano and composition under well-regarded musicians.  Mario came to the attention of the composer and pianist Alfredo Casella, who included some of his work in his repertoire and promoted him throughout Europe as an up-and-coming young composer.  In 1926, Mario’s first opera, La mandragola, was premiered. Based on a play by Niccolò Machiavelli, it was the first of his many works inspired by great literature.  Read more…


Maria Redaelli - supercentenarian

Inter fan who was the oldest living person in Europe

Maria Angela Redaelli, a supercentenarian who for 10 months was the oldest living person in Europe and for 14 months the oldest living person in Italy, was born on this day in 1899 in Inzago in Lombardy.  She died in 2013 on the eve of what would have been her 114th birthday, at which point she was the fourth oldest living person in the world, behind the Japanese supercentenarians Jiroemon Kimura and Misao Okawa, and the American Gertrude Weaver.  Kimura died two months later at the age of 116 years and 54 days, which is the most advanced age reached by any male in the history of the human race, according to verifiable records.  Okawa and Weaver survived for another two years, Okawa reaching 117 years and 27 days, which made her the fifth oldest woman in history at the time, although she has since been overtaken by the Italian Emma Morano, who is still living in Pallanza on Lake Maggiore and is, at 117 years and 124 days, the oldest person on the planet of verifiable age.  At the time of her death, Maria was living in Novate Milanese, a suburb of Milan, being looked after by her 88-year-old daughter Carla and her grandson, Lamberto.  Read more…


Alcide De Gasperi - prime minister who rebuilt Italy

Christian Democrat founder was jailed by Mussolini

Born on this day in 1881, Alcide De Gasperi was the Italian prime minister who founded the Christian Democrat party and led the rebuilding of the country after World War II.  An opponent of Benito Mussolini who survived being locked up by the Fascist dictator, he was the head of eight consecutive governments between 1945 and 1953, a record for longevity in post-War Italian politics.  Although Silvio Berlusconi has spent more time in office - nine years and 53 days compared with De Gasperi's seven years and 238 days - the media tycoon's time in power was fragmented, whereas De Gasperi served continuously until his resignation in 1953.  As prime minister, De Gasperi was largely responsible for Italy's post-War economic salvation and for helping to hold the line between East and West as the Soviet Union established its border on Italy's doorstep.  During his premiership, Italy became a republic, signed a peace treaty with the Allies, joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and became an ally of the United States, who in turn provided considerable help in reviving the shattered Italian economy.  Read more…


Alessandro Stradella – violinist and composer

Talented musician lived for romance and adventure

Baroque composer Alessandro Stradella, who led a colourful life courting danger while producing more than 300 highly regarded musical works, was born on this day in 1639 at Nepi in the province of Viterbo, north of Rome in the Lazio region.  After an affair with the mistress of a Venetian nobleman he was attacked in the street and left for dead by two hired assassins, but he lived on for another few years to compose more music.  Five years later he was stabbed to death in Genoa, but the identity of his killers was never confirmed.  Stradella was born into an aristocratic family and by the age of 20 was making a name for himself as a composer.  He moved to Rome where he composed sacred music for Queen Christina of Sweden, who had abdicated her throne to go and live there.  It is believed he tried to embezzle money from the Roman Catholic Church and his numerous reckless affairs with women also made him enemies among powerful people in the city.  In 1637 he moved to Venice where he was hired by a nobleman, Alvise Contarini, as a music tutor to his mistress.  Stradella began an affair with her and they attempted to elope together to Turin in 1677.  Read more…


Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco – composer

Versatile musician wrote for stringed instruments and for films

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco began composing music for the piano when he was a boy, growing up in Siena
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco began composing music for the
piano when he was a boy, growing up in Siena
One of the most admired composers of the 20th century, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, was born on this day in 1895 in Florence.

He composed more than 100 pieces of music for the guitar, many of them written for the Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia.

Because of anti-semitism in Europe, Mario emigrated to the United States in 1939 where he went to work for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, composing music for about 200 films.

Mario was descended from a family of bankers that had lived in Siena since the Jews were expelled from Spain in the 16th century.

He was introduced to the piano by his mother and was composing music by the time he was nine years old. His mother recognised his musical talent and encouraged him to study the piano and composition under well-regarded musicians.

Mario came to the attention of the composer and pianist Alfredo Casella, who included some of his work in his repertoire and promoted him throughout Europe as an up-and-coming young composer.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco recognised the potential of the guitar after meeting Segovia in 1932
Castelnuovo-Tedesco recognised the potential
of the guitar after meeting Segovia in 1932
In 1926, Mario’s first opera, La mandragola, was premiered. Based on a play by Niccolò Machiavelli, it was the first of his many works inspired by great literature.

Another source of inspiration for his music was his Jewish heritage. His violin concerto No 2, written in 1931 at the request of violinist Jascha Heifetz, showed his pride in his origins in the face of increasing anti-semitism in Europe.

Mario first met Segovia at the 1932 festival of the International Society of Contemporary Music in Venice, which prompted him to start writing for the guitar.

He went on to write about 100 compositions for the guitar, some dedicated to Segovia. He also composed concertos specifically for the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.

By the 1930s, Mario was not only one of Italy’s leading contemporary composers, but also a sought-after pianist and an insightful critic.

But even before the Italian Racial Laws were introduced in 1938, Mario was banned from the radio and had performances of his works cancelled.

Listen to Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Opus 129 for guitar, played by the Tuscan guitarist Martina Barlotta

Conductor Arturo Toscanini and Heifetz both supported him in his bid to emigrate to the US and Mario left Italy with his wife and two sons on a ship from Trieste in July 1939 before the Second World War started.

Arturo Toscanini, who supported Castelnuovo- Tedesco in his bid to reach the United States
Arturo Toscanini, who supported Castelnuovo-
Tedesco in his bid to reach the United States
He made his American debut performing his second piano concerto with the New York Philharmonic.

Mario went to Los Angeles to work as a composer of film music for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He was also asked by Rita Hayworth to write the music for her 1948 film The Loves of Carmen released by Columbia pictures.

He taught many other film composers, including John Williams, Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith, Nelson Riddle and Andre Previn.

Mario became a US citizen in 1946 but frequently visited Italy after the war.

In 1958 he won the Concorso Campari with his opera The Merchant of Venice, which was first performed in 1961 at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino under the baton of Gianandrea Gavazzeni.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco died in 1968 at the age of 72 in Beverly Hills. He is buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park cemetery.

A collection of his manuscripts was donated to the Library of Congress in Washington by his family in 2000. The Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Collection is now accessible online.

A tree-lined avenue within Florence's Parco delle Cascine. which was once a hunting estate owned by the Medici
A tree-lined avenue within Florence's Parco delle Cascine.
which was once a hunting estate owned by the Medici
Travel tip:

Florence, where Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was born, has named a road after the composer. Fittingly it joins up with Via Arturo Toscanini, who was one of his close friends. The road is near Parco delle Cascine, a park on the north bank of the River Arno.  The origins of the park can be traced to 1563, when it was developed as a farming and hunting estate for the Medici family. It became a public park in the early 19th century.

The Piazza Unita d'Italia in the centre of Trieste, which was
Castlenuovo-Tedesco's starting point on his voyage to America
Travel tip:

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco left Italy in 1939 on board the SS Saturnia, which set sail from Trieste, a seaport that is the capital city of the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region. Trieste lies in the northernmost part of the high Adriatic near the border with Slovenia and 30 kilometres north of Croatia. Over the centuries it has been ruled by the Romans, Venetians, French, Austrians, Germans and Yugoslavians. It officially became part of the Italian republic in 1954. Today, Trieste is a lively and cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building. In 2012, Lonely Planet called Trieste ‘the world’s most underrated travel destination’. It is a fascinating place to visit because of the Venetian, Slovenian, Austrian and Hungarian influences in the architecture, culture and cuisine.

Also on this day:

1639: The birth of composer Alessandro Stradella

1881: The birth of politician Alcide De Gasperi

1899: The birth of supercentenarian Maria Redaelli


2 April 2020

2 April

Giacomo Casanova – adventurer

Romantic figure escaped from prison in a gondola 

Author and adventurer Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was born on this day in 1725 in Venice.  He is so well known for his affairs with women that his surname is now used as an alternative word for ‘womaniser’.  Yet Casanova’s autobiography, ‘Story of My Life’, has come to be regarded as one of the most authentic sources of information about European social life produced during the 18th century.  Casanova was widely travelled, had several different professions and was a prolific writer but he spent a lot of his time having romantic liaisons and gambling.  The Venice into which he was born was the pleasure capital of Europe, a required stop on the Grand Tour for young men coming of age, because of the attractions of the Carnival, the gambling houses and the courtesans.  Casanova graduated from the University of Padua with a degree in law and had a short career as an ecclesiastical lawyer before setting out on his adventures.  He was attractive to women, being tall and dark and wearing his long hair powdered and curled.  At various times he worked as a clergyman, military officer, violinist, businessman and spy.  Read more…


Gelindo Bordin - marathon champion

First Italian to win Olympic gold in ultimate endurance test

Gelindo Bordin, the first Italian to win the gold medal in the Olympic Marathon, was born on this day in 1959 in Longare, a small town about 10km (six miles) south-east of Vicenza.  Twice European marathon champion, in 1986 and 1990, he won the Olympic competition in Seoul, South Korea in 1988.  Until Stefano Baldini matched his achievements by winning the marathon at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and claiming his second European title in Gothenburg in 2006, Bordin was Italy’s greatest long-distance runner.  He attained that status somewhat against the odds, too, having been sidelined for a year with a serious intestinal illness at the age of 20 and then being hit by a car while on a training run.  Bordin’s victory in Seoul at last made up for the disappointment the Italy team had suffered 80 years earlier when Dorando Pietri crossed the line first in the marathon at the London Olympics of 1908 only to be disqualified. In a bizarre finish to the race, Pietri took a wrong turning on entering the White City Stadium and had to be helped to his feet five times after collapsing on the track through exhaustion.  Read more…


Francesca Cuzzoni - operatic soprano

Diva who came to blows with rival on stage

Francesca Cuzzoni, an 18th century star whose fiery temper earned her a reputation as one of opera’s great divas, was born on this day in 1696 in Parma.  Described rather unkindly by one opera historian of the era as “short and squat, with a doughy face” she was nonetheless possessed of a beautiful soprano voice, which became her passport to stardom.  However, she was also notoriously temperamental and jealous of rival singers, as was illustrated by several incidents that took place while she was in the employment of George Frederick Handel, the German composer who spent much of his working life in London.  Already established as one of the finest sopranos in Europe, Cuzzoni was hired by Handel in 1722.  Handel at that time was Master of the Orchestra at the Royal Academy of Music, the company set up by a group of English aristocrats to stage Baroque opera, partly for their own entertainment but also as a commercial enterprise.  One of his responsibilities was to engage the soloists for the company’s productions.  He ran into immediate trouble with Cuzzoni, who was due to make her debut in Handel’s own Italian language opera Ottone at the King’s Theatre in Haymarket.  Read more…


Achille Vianelli - painter and printmaker

Artist from Liguria who captured scenes of Naples

The painter and printmaker Achille Vianelli, whose specialities were landscapes and genre pictures, notably in his adopted city of Naples, died on this day in 1894 in Benevento in Campania.  For a while he worked at the French court, giving painting lessons to King Louis Philippe. Some of his works have sold for thousands of euros.  Vianelli was born in 1803 in Porto Maurizio in Liguria. When he was a child, his family moved more than 1,200km (750 miles) to the other end of the Italian peninsula to the coastal town of Otranto in the province of Lecce, where his father, Giovan Battista Vianelli, Venetian-born but a French national, had been posted as a Napoleonic consular agent.  Achille spent his youth in Otranto before, in 1819, he moved to Naples. His father and sister moved to France, although they would return to Naples in 1826. Achille took a job in the Royal Topographic Office.  In Naples, he became close friends with Giacinto Gigante, with whom he shared an interest in painting. Together, they studied landscape painting, attending the school of the German painter Wolfgang Hüber.  Read more…


1 April 2020

1 April

Arrigo Sacchi -- football coach

AC Milan manager's tactics revolutionised football in Italy

Arrigo Sacchi, the football coach who led AC Milan to back-to-back European Cups and steered Italy to a World Cup final, was born on this day in 1946 in Fusignano, a small town not far from Ravenna in Emilia-Romagna.  Unusually among top coaches, Sacchi never played football as a professional.  Aware of his limited ability, he quickly decided he would concentrate instead on becoming a manager, taking charge of a local amateur team, Baracca Lugo, when he was just 26.  Literally, he worked his way up from the bottom, making a living as a shoe salesman while training his players in his spare time.  Yet step by step he ascended to the very top of the game, landing jobs on the coaching staffs at Cesena, Rimini and Fiorentina before Parma, then in the third tier of the Italian football pyramid, made him head coach in 1985.  He won promotion to Serie B in his first season and finished only three points short of promotion to Serie A in his second year, when Parma also pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season, knocking AC Milan out of the Coppa Italia, which is Italy's equivalent of England's FA Cup.  Read more…


April Fools' Day - Italian style

What lies behind the tradition of Pesce d'Aprile?

Playing practical jokes on April 1 is a tradition in Italy in the same way as many other countries, although in Italy the day is called Pesce d’Aprile – April’s Fish – rather than April Fools’ Day.  It is said to have become popular in Italy between 1860 and 1880, especially in Genoa, where families in the wealthier social circles embraced the idea, already popular in France, of marking the day by playing tricks on one another.  The most simple trick involves sticking a cut-out picture of a fish on the back of an unsuspecting ‘victim’ and watching how long it takes for him or her to discover he had been pranked but over the years there have been many much more elaborate tricks played.  Often these have involved spoof announcements or false stories in the newspapers or on TV or radio shows, aimed at embarrassing large numbers of gullible readers, viewers or listeners.  One of the first such large-scale hoaxes took place in 1878, when the newspaper Gazzetta d’Italia announced the cremation of an Indian Maharaja was to take place in Florence, attracting a large crowd to Parco delle Cascine where a pyre had been built in preparation.  Read more…


Alberto Zaccheroni - football coach

First Italian coach to lead a foreign nation to success

The football coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who won the Serie A title with AC Milan and steered the Japan national team to success in the Asia Cup, was born on this day in 1953 in Meldola, a town in Emilia-Romagna.  In a long coaching career, Zaccheroni has taken charge of 13 teams in Italy, a club side in China and two international teams, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.  In common with many coaches in Italy, Zaccheroni began at semi-professional level and worked his way up through the professional leagues.  Before winning the Scudetto with Milan in 1999, he had twice won titles at Serie D (fourth tier) level and twice in Serie C.  Zaccheroni played as a fullback, with the youth team at Bologna and the Serie D team Cesenatico in Emilia-Romagna, but his career was hampered by a lung disease he contracted at the age of 17, which meant he could not train or play for two years.  He quit playing in his mid-20s and began to coach Cesenatico’s youth teams.  His coaching talents began to attract attention when, in two consecutive seasons, he was asked to take over on the bench for Cesenatico’s first team following the sacking of the head coach and on each occasion saved them from relegation.  Read more…


31 March 2020

31 March

Franco Bonvicini – comic book artist

Comic artist became famous for satirising the Nazis

Franco Bonvicini, who signed his comic strips Bonvi, was born on this day in 1941 in either Parma or Modena in Emilia-Romagna.  The correct birthplace is unknown. According to the artist, his mother registered him in both places to obtain double the usual amount of food stamps for rations.  After a brief spell working in advertising, Bonvi made his debut in the comic strip world for the Rome newspaper Paese Sera with his creation Sturmtruppen in 1968.  This series satirising the German army was a big hit and was published in various periodicals over the years. It was also translated for publication in other countries.  Although left-wing and a pacifist, Bonvi was fascinated by war and built up immense knowledge about Nazi Germany’s uniforms, weapons and equipment, which he depicted faithfully in his illustrations. The cartoons satirised military life and the Nazis themselves, providing him with an endless source of comic and surreal situations.  Bonvi also created the character Nick Carter, a comic detective, who later featured in a play, two films and a number of television cartoons.  Read more…


Dante Giacosa - auto engineer

Designer known as ‘the father of the Cinquecento'

The automobile engineer Dante Giacosa, who worked for the Italian car maker Fiat for almost half a century and designed the iconic Fiat 500 - the Cinquecento - in all its incarnations as well as numerous other classic models, died on this day in 1996 at the age of 91.  Giacosa was the lead design engineer for Fiat from 1946 to 1970. As such, he was head of all Fiat car projects during that time and the direction of the company’s output was effectively entirely down to him.  In addition to his success with the Cinquecento, Giacosa’s Fiat 128, launched in 1969, became the template adopted by virtually every other manufacturer in the world for front-wheel drive cars.  His Fiat 124, meanwhile, was exported to the Soviet Union and repackaged as the Zhiguli, known in the West as the Lada, which introduced Soviet society of the 1970s to the then-bourgeois concept of private car ownership.  Born in Rome, where his father was undertaking military service, Giacosa's family roots were in Neive in southern Piedmont. He studied engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin.  After completing his compulsory military service he joined Fiat in 1928.  Read more…


Bianca Maria Visconti – Duchess of Milan

Ruler fought alongside her troops to defend her territory

Bianca Maria Visconti, the daughter of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, was born on this day in 1425 near Settimo Pavese in Lombardy.  A strong character, her surviving letters showed she was able to run Milan efficiently after becoming Duchess and even supposedly donned a suit of armour and rode with her troops into battle, earning herself the nickname, Warrior Woman.  Bianca Maria was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan, and was sent to live with her mother in comfortable conditions in a castle where she received a good education.  At the age of six she was betrothed for political reasons to the condottiero, Francesco I Sforza, who was 24 years older than her.  Despite the political situation changing many times over the years, Bianca Maria and Francesco Sforza did get married in 1441 when she was 16. The wedding took place in Cremona, which was listed as part of her dowry. The celebrations lasted several days and included a banquet, tournaments, a palio and a huge cake made in the shape of the city’s Torrazzo, the bell tower.  Bianca Maria quickly proved her skills in administration and diplomacy.  Read more…


Pope Benedict XIV

Bologna cardinal seen as great intellectual leader

Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini, who would in his later years become Pope Benedict XIV, was born on this day in 1675 in Bologna.  Lambertini was a man of considerable intellect, considered one of the most erudite men of his time and arguably the greatest scholar of all the popes.  He promoted scientific learning, the baroque arts, the reinvigoration of the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the study of the human form.  He was Bishop of Ancona at the age of 52, Archbishop of Bologna at 56 and Pope at 65 but at no time did he consider his elevation to these posts an honour upon which to congratulate himself.  He saw them as the opportunity to do good and tackled each job with zeal and energy. A man of cheerful character, he set out never to allow anyone to leave his company dissatisfied or angry, without feeling strengthened by his wisdom or advice.  He attracted some criticism for his willingness to make concessions or compromises in his negotiations with governments and rulers, yet his pursuit of peaceful accommodation was always paramount and historians have noted that few conflicts in which he sought to arbitrate remained unresolved.  Read more…


30 March 2020

30 March

Rimini Proclamation

Opening statement of the Risorgimento came from a Frenchman

The first political proclamation calling for all Italians to unite into a single people and drive out foreigners was issued on this day in 1815 in Rimini.  But the stirring words: ‘Italians! The hour has come to engage in your highest destiny…’ came from a Frenchman, Gioacchino (Joachim) Murat, who was at the time occupying the throne of Naples, which he had been given by his brother-in-law, Napoleon.  Murat had just declared war on Austria and used the Proclamation to call on Italians to revolt against the Austrians occupying Italy. He was trying to show himself as a backer of Italian independence in an attempt to find allies in his desperate battle to hang on to his own throne.  Although Murat was acting out of self-interest at the time, the Proclamation is often seen as the opening statement of the Risorgimento, the movement that helped to arouse the national consciousness of the Italian people. It led to a series of political events that freed the Italian states from foreign domination and unified them politically.  Murat’s Proclamation impressed the Milanese writer Alessandro Manzoni, who wrote a poem about it later that year, Il proclama di Rimini.  Read more…


Ignazio Gardella – architect

Modernist who created Venetian classic

The engineer and architect Ignazio Gardella, considered one of the great talents of modern urban design in Italy, was born on this day in 1905 in Milan.  He represented the fourth generation in a family of architects and his destiny was determined at an early age. He graduated in civil engineering in Milan in 1931 and architecture in Venice in 1949.  Gardella designed numerous buildings during an active career that spanned almost six decades, including the Antituberculosis Dispensary in Alessandria, which is considered one of the purest examples of Italian Rationalism, and the Casa alle Zattere on the Giudecca Canal in Venice, in which he blended modernism with classical style in a way that has been heralded as genius.  During his university years, he made friends with many young architects from the Milan area and together they created the Modern Italian Movement.  He worked with his father, Arnaldo, on a number of projects while still studying.  On graduating, he set up an office in Milan, although he spent a good part of his early career travelling, sometimes with a commission but at other times to study.  Read more…


Fortunato Depero - artist

Futurist who designed iconic Campari bottle

The Futurist painter, sculptor and graphic artist Fortunato Depero, who left a famous mark on Italian culture by designing the conical bottle in which Campari Soda is still sold today, was born on this day in 1892 in the Trentino region.  Depero had a wide breadth of artistic talent, which encompassed painting, sculpture, architecture and graphic design. He designed magazine covers for the New Yorker, Vogue and Vanity Fair among others, created stage sets and costumes for the theatre, made sculptures and paintings and some consider his masterpiece to be the trade fair pavilion he designed for the 1927 Monza Biennale Internazionale delle Arti Decorative, which had giant block letters for walls.  Yet it is the distinctive Campari bottle that has endured longest of all his creations, which went into production in 1932 as the manufacturers of the famous aperitif broke new ground by deciding to sell a ready-made drink of Campari blended with soda water.  It was the first pre-mixed drink anyone had sold commercially and Depero, who was already working with the Milan-based company on a series of advertising posters.  Read more…


The Sicilian Vespers

How the French lost control of the island they were ruling

As the citizens of Palermo walked to vespers - evening prayers - in the church of Santo Spirito on this day in 1282, a French soldier grossly insulted a pretty young Sicilian woman.  The girl’s enraged fiancé immediately drew his dagger and stabbed the soldier through the heart.  The violence was contagious and the local people exploded in fury against the French occupying forces. More than 200 French soldiers were killed at the outset and the violence spread to other parts of Sicily the next day resulting in a full-scale rebellion against French rule. This bloody event, which led to Charles of Anjou losing control of Sicily, became known in history as the Sicilian Vespers.  King Charles was detested for his cold-blooded cruelty and his officials had made the lives of the ordinary Sicilians miserable.  After he was overthrown, Sicily enjoyed almost a century of independence.  There have been different versions given of the events that led to the rebellion against the French and it is not known exactly how the uprising started.  But to many Italians the story of the Sicilian Vespers has always been inspirational.  Read more…