24 June 2021

24 June

Piero Barone – singer

Young tenor found fame on TV talent show

Piero Barone, one of the three singers who make up the Italian opera and pop group, Il Volo, was born on this day in 1993 in Naro, a town in the province of Agrigento in Sicily.  Il Volo hit the headlines after winning the Sanremo Music Festival in 2015. They came third when they represented Italy in the Eurovision Song Contest with their hit Grande Amore later that year in Austria and have since acquired growing popularity worldwide.  In 2016, the group, together with tenor Placido Domingo, released Notte Magica – A Tribute to the Three Tenors, a live album featuring many of the songs performed by the Three Tenors (Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras) for their iconic concert held at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome on the eve of the Italia ’90 World Cup.  Piero’s father, Gaetano Barone, is a mechanic and his mother, Eleonora Ognibene, a housewife.  His musical talent was discovered by his grandfather, Pietro Ognibene, when he was just five years of age. Pietro was a blind musician who had written a song in Sicilian and when Piero sang it for him he was amazed by his voice.  Read more…

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Benedetta Tagliabue - architect

Italian half of an acclaimed design partnership

The architect Benedetta Tagliabue, whose work in partnership with her late husband Enric Miralles included the iconic Scottish Parliament Building at Holyrood in Edinburgh, was born on this day in 1963 in Milan.  Tagliabue formed a close friendship with Barcelona-born Miralles when she was a student and he was teaching at Columbia University in New York.  They became business partners in 1991 and married a year later.  Tragically, Miralles died in 2000 at the age of just 45, having been diagnosed with a brain tumour, but Tagliabue has continued to run the business they created.  Tagliabue studied architecture in Switzerland and Venice, attending the Istituto di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV), which is part of the University of Venice. She fell in love with the city of canals and made it her home for several years. Indeed, she first met Miralles in Venice when she interviewed him for a magazine.  They were reacquainted when she went to New York for the final thesis of her degree and stayed in touch. They began a formal collaboration in 1991 and founded the architecture firm Miralles Tagliabue EMBT.  Read more…

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Battle of Solferino

Suffering of soldiers led to the founding of the Red Cross

The Battle of Solferino took place on this day in 1859 south of Lake Garda between Milan and Verona.  It was the last battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs.  The French army under Napoleon III was allied with the Sardinian army commanded by Victor Emmanuel II. Together, they were victorious against the Austrian army led by Emperor Franz Joseph I.  The battle lasted more than nine hours and resulted in thousands of deaths on both sides.  The Austrians were forced to retreat and it was a crucial step towards the eventual unification of Italy under an Italian King.  Jean-Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman, toured the battlefield afterwards and was horrified by what he saw, joining in with the efforts of local people to care for the injured.  Greatly moved by the suffering of the thousands of wounded and dying soldiers, he wrote a book about what he had seen and set about establishing the International Red Cross.  This battle is also referred to as the Battle of Solferino and San Martino as there was fighting near both of the towns.  Read more…

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Vittorio Storaro - cinematographer

Triple Oscar winner among best in movie history

Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, whose work has won three Academy Awards, was born on this day in 1940 in Rome.  Storaro won Oscars for Best Cinematography for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now, for the Warren Beatty-directed historical drama Reds in 1981, and for The Last Emperor, Bernardo Bertolucci’s story of imperial China, in 1987.  Described as someone for whom cinematography was “not just art and technique but a philosophy as well”, Storaro worked extensively with Bertolucci, for whom he shot the controversial Last Tango in Paris and the extraordinary five-hour epic drama 1900.  He filmed many stories for his cousin, Luigi Bazzoni, collaborated with Coppola on three other movies and recently has worked with Woody Allen, whose latest picture, A Rainy Day in New York, is due to be released next month.  Storaro inherited his love of the cinema from his father, who was a projectionist at the Lux Film Studio, which was based in Rome from 1940 having been established in Turin by the anti-Fascist businessman Riccardo Gualino in 1934.  He began studying photography at the age of 11.  Read more…

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Battle of Custoza

Austrians thwart Italy’s hopes of unifying the peninsula

An army of the recently unified Kingdom of Italy was driven out of Custoza in the Veneto region by Austrian troops on this day in 1866.  Although the Italians had twice the number of soldiers, the Austrians were victorious strategically and drove the Italians back across the Mincio river and out of the area then known as Venetia.  King Victor Emmanuel II’s younger son, Amadeo, was severely wounded in the battle but he survived his injuries and went on to reign briefly as King of Spain from 1870 to 1873.  The German Kingdom of Prussia had declared war on the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy seized the opportunity to join forces with Prussia, with the intention of annexing Venetia and uniting the Italian peninsula. The Austrian Imperial army joined up with the Venetian army.  The Italians divided their troops into two armies, one led by General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora, accompanied by the King, and the other led by Enrico Cialdini.  La Marmora’s troops crossed the Mincio river and invaded Venetia. The Austrians led by Archduke Albrecht of Habsburg marched west from Verona to the north of the Italian position, so as to cut them off from the rear.  Read more…


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23 June 2021

23 June

Giuseppina Tuissi - partisan

Key figure in capture and execution of Mussolini

Giuseppina Tuissi, who was among a group of partisans who captured the deposed Fascist leader Benito Mussolini as he tried to escape to Switzerland in 1945, was born on this day in 1923 in Abbiategrasso, near Milan.  Tuissi and her comrades seized Mussolini at Dongo, a small town on the shores of Lake Como, on April 27, 1945, along with his mistress Claretta Petacci.  Having heard that Hitler was preparing to surrender to the Allies, Mussolini was trying to reach Switzerland before flying on to Spain in the hope of finding refuge under Franco’s nationalist dictatorship.  He and Petacci and their entourage were executed at the village of Giulino di Mezzegra the following day before the partisan group took their bodies to be put on public display in Milan.  Tuissi, however, would herself be killed less than a couple of months later, probably at the hands of fellow partisans who suspected her of betraying comrades during a period earlier in the year in which she had been held captive and tortured by Fascist militia and handed over to the Nazis but was then released.  Although she was born in Abbiategrasso, about 30km (19 miles) southwest of Milan, Tuissi lived and worked in Baggio, a suburb of Milan.  Read more…

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Francesca Schiavone – tennis player

First Italian woman to win a Grand Slam

Tennis champion Francesca Schiavone was born on this day in 1980 in Milan.  When she won the French Open at Roland Garros in 2010 she became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam event in singles. She was the runner-up in the French Open final the following year.  To date she is also the last one-handed backhand player to win a Grand Slam title on the women’s tour.  Schiavone has won six titles on the WTA tour and has also been the runner up in events 11 times.  Her highest career ranking is World Number Four, which she achieved in January 2011.  She has helped Italy win the Federation Cup in 2006, 2009 and 2010 and she has had the most wins for the Italian team.  She also appeared in the women’s doubles final at the 2008 French Open.  At the 2016 French Open in May it was mistakenly announced that Schiavone was retiring from tennis after she was defeated in the first round of the competition.  She retired from tennis after the 2018 US Open. In December 2019, Schiavone revealed she had been diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year but after successful treatment she was free of the disease.  Read more…

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Claudio Capone – actor and dubber

The Italian voice of a host of stars

Italy lost one of its most famous voices on this day in 2008 with the premature death of Claudio Capone.  The Rome-born actor was working in Scotland when he suffered a stroke. He was admitted to hospital in Perth but despite the best efforts of doctors he died two days later, at the age of only 55.  Although he began his career with the ambitions of any actor to reach the top of his profession, he was offered an opportunity only a few years out of drama school to do some voice-over work and found the flow of work in dubbing to be so consistent he ultimately made it his career.  Unlike some countries, Italian cinema and TV audiences have always preferred to watch imported films and TV shows with dubbed Italian voices rather than subtitles, which meant that a talented dubbing actor was seldom unemployed.  Capone was among the best and it was down to him that many foreign stars became famous in Italy, even though many did not speak a word of Italian.  The biggest example of this was the American actor Ronn Moss, who played the part of fashion magnate Ridge Forrester in the CBS soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful.  Read more…


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22 June 2021

22 June

Galileo Galilei convicted of heresy

'Father of Science' forced to deny that earth revolved around sun

One of the more bizarre episodes in the history of human intellectual advancement took place in Rome on this day in 1633 when Galileo Galilei, the brilliant astronomer, mathematician, philosopher and engineer – often described as ‘the father of science’ - was convicted of heresy.  His crime was to support the view – indeed, to confirm it with scientific proof – that the sun rather than the earth was the centre of the solar system, as had been theorised by the Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus in the previous century.  This flew completely in the face of a major plank of orthodox Roman Catholic beliefs, within which the contention that the sun moved around the earth was regarded as a fact of scripture that could not be disputed.  Galileo, something of a celebrity in his day who won the patronage of such powerful Italian families as the Medicis and the Barberinis following the discoveries he made with his astronomical telescope, had been essentially under surveillance by the Church since 1609 after publishing details of observations he had made that supported Copernicus’s theory of heliocentrism.  Read more…

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Walter Bonatti - mountaineer

Climber's outstanding career marred by 50-year row

Walter Bonatti, the Italian who some would argue is the greatest alpine mountain climber that ever lived, was born on this day in 1930 in Bergamo in Lombardy.  He was the first to complete some of the most demanding climbs in the Alps and the Himalayas, including the first solo climb in winter of the North face of the Matterhorn.  But those achievements were marred for half a century by the bitter row that sprang from the part he played in the 1954 Italian expedition to conquer K2, the 8,611-metre peak north-east of the Himalayas that is the second highest in the world - behind Mount Everest (8,848 metres) - but is regarded as the more difficult climb.  Incredibly fit and able to survive at high altitudes without oxygen, he was already such an accomplished climber at just 24 years of age that he was chosen to join the expedition, which aimed to succeed where five previous attempts over 52 years had failed.  The row stemmed from the decision taken by expedition leader Ardito Desio as the party neared the summit that the more experienced Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni should be the climbers to make the final ascent, even though Bonatti was in better physical condition than either.  Read more…

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Lucrezia Tornabuoni - political adviser

Medici wife one of most powerful women of the Renaissance

Lucrezia Tornabuoni, who became one of the most influential and therefore powerful women in 15th century Italy through family connections and her own political and business acumen, was born on this day in 1427 in Florence.  Connected by birth to the powerful Tornabuoni family on her father’s side and the Guicciardini through her mother, Lucrezia entered a third powerful family when she married Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici.  Yet she was an important figure in her own right, revealing political skill and a talent for diplomacy during her husband’s time as de facto leader of Florence, and when their son, Lorenzo, succeeded him.  She was also a successful property owner, buying houses, shops and farms in and around Pisa and Florence, which she would then lease out. She bought and renovated a hot spring, Bagno a Morba, turning it into a resort and spa for paying guests.  And she enhanced her popularity in Florence by supporting religious convents and working with them to help widows and orphans. She would draw on her own income to provide dowries for women from poor families so that they could marry and use her influence to help family members obtain good positions in the church or government.  Read more…


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21 June 2021

21 June

Pier Luigi Nervi - architect

Striking designs from football stadiums to churches

The brilliant structural engineer and architect Pier Luigi Nervi was born on this day in 1891 in Sondrio, an Alpine town in northern Lombardy at the heart of the Valtellina.  Nervi made his mark with a number of strikingly original designs at home and abroad and was noted both for his innovative use of reinforced concrete and his multi-dimensional designs, which enabled him to create structures that were both strong and elegant.  His major works in Italy include the Palazzo del Lavoro in Turin, the bell tower of the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore in Florence and the Papal Audience Hall at the Vatican City, as well as a number of important sports facilities.  The Stadio Artemio Franchi (formerly the Stadio Communale) in Florence - home of the Fiorentina football club - was one of his first important projects and he designed several stadia for the Rome Olympics in 1960, including the Stadio Flaminio and the Palazzo dello Sport EUR.  Around the world, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the George Washington Bridge Bus Station in New York, the Stock Exchange Tower in Montreal, St Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco and the Italian Embassy in Brasilia are among Nervi's legacy.  Read more…

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Pope Paul VI

Pontiff who helped wartime prisoners

Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini was elected as Pope Paul VI on this day in 1963 in Rome.  He succeeded Pope John XXIII and immediately re-convened the Second Vatican Council which had automatically closed after Pope John’s death.  Pope Paul then implemented its various reforms and as a result had to deal with the conflicting expectations of different Catholic groups.  Following his famous predecessor Saint Ambrose of Milan, Pope Paul named Mary as the Mother of the Church.  He described himself as ‘a humble servant for a suffering humanity’ and demanded changes from the rich in North America and Europe in favour of the poor in the third world.  Pope Paul had been born in Concesio near Brescia in 1897 and was ordained a priest in Brescia in 1920. He took a doctorate in Canon Law in Milan and afterwards studied at various universities, therefore never working as a parish priest.  He had one foreign posting, to the office of the papal nuncio in Poland.  After the outbreak of the Second World War, he created an information office for prisoners of war and refugees, producing more than 11 million replies to enquiries about missing persons.  Read more…

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Paolo Soleri - architect

Italian greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright

The groundbreaking architect and ecologist Paolo Soleri was born on this day in 1919 in Turin.  Soleri is largely remembered for the Arcosanti project, an experiment in urban design in the Arizona desert that was like no other town on the planet, a unique fusion of architecture and ecology.  Originally conceived as providing a completely self-sufficient urban living space for 5,000 people when it began in 1970, only about five per cent of the proposed development was ever completed.  At its peak, Arcosanti’s population barely exceeded 200 yet the buildings Soleri erected in accordance with his vision are still there, rising from the desert as an assortment of concrete blocks, domes and soaring vaults, resembling a cross between the remains of some ancient civilisation and a set from Star Wars.  It has never been abandoned, however, and although Soleri died in 2013 the project is still home to between 50 and 100 of his most ardent disciples, still seeking to live as Soleri envisaged.  Although Soleri grew up in Italy, it was a visit to the United States in 1946 that had the most profound influence on his life.  Read more…


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20 June 2021

20 June

NEW - Gian Galeazzo Sforza - Duke of Milan

Ruler who never truly held power

Gian Galeazzo Sforza, the third member of the Sforza family to have the title Duke of Milan, was born on this day in 1469 in Abbiategrasso, a town in the Po Valley about 22km (14 miles) north of Milan.  He was the sixth Duke of Milan in all, the title having previously been the property of the Visconti family.  However, Gian Galeazzo had only a short life and never truly held any power, having inherited the Duchy at the age of seven when his father, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, was assassinated in the porch of Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore in Milan, on December 26, 1476, where he was attending a celebration for the Festa di San Stefano.  Gian Galeazzo could not legally inherit the Duchy until he reached the age of majority, which in Renaissance times was 14. Until then, Milan would be ruled by his mother, Galeazzo Maria’s widow, Bona of Savoy.  But Gian Galeazzo’s uncle, Ludovico Sforza, had designs on the Duchy as Galeazzo Maria’s brother and the next five years encompassed a bitter struggle for the regency.  With the help of her powerful counsellor, the ducal secretary Cicco Simonetta, Bona managed to repel Ludovico’s first bid to seize power, but not for long.  Read more…

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Giannina Arangi-Lombardi – opera singer

Soprano’s superb voice was captured in early recordings

Soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi was born on this day in 1891 in Marigliano near Naples in Campania.  She studied singing at the Conservatory of San Pietro a Majella in Naples and made her debut on the stage in Rome in 1920. Arangi-Lombardi sang mezzo-soprano roles for the next three years at theatres in Rome, Sicily, Parma, Florence and Naples.  She then underwent further study and returned to the stage as what is known as a spinto soprano, a singer who can reach the high notes of the lyric soprano but can also achieve dramatic climaxes with her voice.  Arangi-Lombardi’s second debut, this time as a soprano, was in 1923. The first time she sang the role of Aida in Verdi's opera of the same name the audience was stunned by her voice and her fame quickly spread.  She appeared on stage at Teatro alla Scala in Milan for the first time in 1924 singing Elena in Boito’s Mefistofele. The orchestra for her debut performance was conducted by Arturo Toscanini.  She sang regularly at La Scala until 1930 and appeared at many other opera houses in Europe as well as in South America.  Read more…

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Armando Picchi - footballer

Star defender captained ‘La Grande Inter’

The footballer Armando Picchi, who was captain of the Inter-Milan of the 1960s known as La Grande Inter and one of Italian football’s most accomplished players in the libero position, was born on this day in 1935 in the Tuscan port of Livorno.  Under his captaincy, the Inter side managed by the Argentina-born coach Helenio Herrera won the European Cup twice as well as three Serie A titles and two Intercontinental Cups between 1963 and 1966.  After retiring as a player at 34, Picchi embarked on a coaching career of his own, but after his progress with Varese and hometown club AS Calcio Livorno earned him the chance to take the helm at Juventus his life was cut tragically short in 1971, when he developed an aggressive form of cancer and died just three months after being diagnosed.  Picchi grew up 30km (19 miles) south of Livorno in the coastal resort of Vada.  He had the good fortune to have a brother, Leo, who was already a professional footballer when he was growing up. Leo, 14 years’ his senior, nurtured Armando’s early development and recommended him to Livorno, then playing in Serie C.  Read more…

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Valerio Evangelisti - novelist

Writer's stories of the Inquisition are bestsellers

The bestselling novelist Valerio Evangelisti, best known for his science fiction, fantasy, historical novels and horror stories, was born in Bologna on this day in 1952.  He is famous in Italy for his series of novels featuring the inquisitor Nicolas Eymerich and for the Magus trilogy, all of which have been translated into many languages.  Eymerich is a real historical character, a member of the order of the Dominicans and of the Spanish Inquisition who was born in 1320 in Girona, Catalonia.  Evangelisti portrays him as a cruel and ruthless man who acts without mercy to protect the Catholic Church against threats of both natural and supernatural origin.  Evangelisti uses the Eymerich novels to investigate the mysterious phenomena in medieval Europe that strategically influenced the great historical events of the time, creating a dark and nightmarish picture of the epoch.  The Magus trilogy is a romanticized biography of the famous Middle Ages writer of prophecies, Nostradamus. The three novels, Il presagio (The Omen), L’inganno (The Deceit) and L'abisso (The Abyss) were also bestsellers in Italy.  Read more…

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Luigi de Magistris - politician

Popular and progressive Mayor of Naples

Luigi de Magistris, who has been Mayor of Naples since a shock win in the 2011 local elections, was born on this day in 1967.  A former public prosecutor with a reputation for standing up against corruption and organised crime, De Magistris was the Member of the European Parliament for Southern Italy between 2009 and 2011, when he ran for Italy of Values, the centre-left party founded by another former magistrate, Antonio di Pietro.  He stood in the 2011 mayoral elections in Naples with the support of minor parties on the left and the right and won in the second round of voting with 65 per cent of the vote, defeating Gianni Lettieri, the candidate for a centre right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party.  In office, De Magistris has faced difficult times because of the city’s precarious financial situation, which at times has seen local transport suspended because fuel bills were not paid and rubbish piling up in the streets because of continuing problems with the disposal of domestic refuse that had reached a peak in 2008.  De Magistris claims year-on-year improvements in refuse collection as one of his success stories.  Read more…


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Gian Galeazzo Sforza - Duke of Milan

Ruler who never truly held power

Gian Galeazzo Sforza was too young to inherit his father's title
Gian Galeazzo Sforza was too
young to inherit his father's title
Gian Galeazzo Sforza, the third member of the Sforza family to have the title Duke of Milan, was born on this day in 1469 in Abbiategrasso, a town in the Po Valley about 22km (14 miles) north of Milan.

He was the sixth Duke of Milan in all, the title having previously been the property of the Visconti family.

However, Gian Galeazzo had only a short life and never truly held any power, having inherited the Duchy at the age of seven when his father, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, was assassinated in the porch of Basilica di Santo Stefano Maggiore in Milan, on December 26, 1476, where he was attending a celebration for the Festa di San Stefano.

Gian Galeazzo could not legally inherit the Duchy until he reached the age of majority, which in Renaissance times was 14. Until then, Milan would be ruled by his mother, Galeazzo Maria’s widow, Bona of Savoy.

But Gian Galeazzo’s uncle, Ludovico Sforza, also known as Ludovico il Moro, had designs on the Duchy as Galeazzo Maria’s brother and the next five years encompassed a bitter struggle for the regency.

With the help of her powerful counsellor, the ducal secretary Cicco Simonetta, Bona managed to repel Ludovico’s first bid to seize power, but not for long.

Ludovico Sforza had designs on the Duchy of Milan
Ludovico Sforza had designs
on the Duchy of Milan

Ludovico was determined that Milan would be his and redoubled his efforts, this time using deception, persuading Bona that Simonetta was plotting against her.

Taken in by Ludovico’s false story, Bona had Simonetta arrested, tried for treason, imprisoned in Pavia and ultimately executed, at which point Ludovico turned on Bona, seized her son and ordered Bona to leave Milan.

By this time, Gian Galeazzo was 13, still not old enough to assume power, and in the meantime Ludovico, while ostensibly ruling as regent, strengthened his power base.

Gian Galeazzo grew up, marrying his cousin, Princess Isabella of Naples, at the age of 19.  He had no desire to challenge his uncle’s position as regent of Milan, even though he had every right to reclaim the Duchy, and the couple moved to the castle of Pavia, where they had four children.

The peace between them began to fragment, however, when Ludovico married Beatrice d'Este, daughter of Duke Ercole I d'Este of Ferrara and Modena in 1491.

Isabella and Beatrice became rivals on behalf of their children. Isabella feared that her son, Francesco, would be deprived of the Duchy to which she believed he was the rightful heir, while Beatrice insisted that Ludovico’s unchallenged rule meant that his son, Massimiliano, should inherit the title.

The argument came to a head when Gian Galeazzo died in 1494, at the age of 25, at the Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace), the summer home of the the Sforza family, in Vigevano, in the province of Pavia, about 40km (25 miles) southwest of Milan. 

Ludovico's wife, Beatrice, wanted her son to inherit the Duchy
Ludovico's wife, Beatrice, wanted
her son to inherit the Duchy
Bizarre stories circulated as to the cause of death, among them that it was due to sexual excesses. However, according to the 16th century Italian historian Francesco Guicciardini in his History of Italy, he was poisoned by Ludovico.

One version of events claims that Gian Galeazzo was taken prisoner by his uncle, kept in a caged pit in his dining room at the Palazzo Ducale, and given only enough food to keep him alive. The story has it that Ludovico let him out on the occasion of a visit by Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, at which he demanded that he be cooked a dinner of pheasants. Ludovico is said to have agreed to his request but contaminated one of the birds with poison, which killed his nephew in front of the shocked cardinal.

Ludovico is said to have joked afterwards that Gian Galeazzo was “Duke for an hour” before being undone by his greed. 

Whatever the truth of Gian Galeazzo’s death, Ludovico immediately approached the State Council of Milan, demanding the Duchy should pass to him rather than four-year-old Francesco. The council, fearing the implications of another child as Duke, agreed to his demand.

Five years later, however, in the course of the Italian Wars, the army of Louis XII of France took Milan from Ludovico Sforza and it was not until 1512, four years after Ludovico’s death in captivity in France, when Imperial German troops drove out the French, that Massimiliano was able to become Duke.

The Visconti Castle in Abbiategrasso was built in 1382 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti
The Visconti Castle in Abbiategrasso was built
in 1382 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti
Travel tip:

Abbiategrasso, today a town of 32,000 inhabitants in the Milan metropolitan area, is home to the Visconti Castle, built in 1382 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti and enlarged and decorated by Filippo Maria Visconti after 1438. The nearby Basilica church of Santa Maria Nuova was built in 1388 to celebrate the birth of Gian Galeazzo Visconti's son. The castle passed into the ownership of the Sforza family in common with much of the Visconti family’s property when the male line died out in 1450.  Abbiategrasso is also the home town of Giuseppina Tuissa, one of the partisans who captured Mussolini as he tried to flee to Switzerland in 1945, and of the fashion designer, Franco Moschino.

The beautiful Piazza Ducale in Vigevano, seen from the Castello Sforzesco
The beautiful Piazza Ducale in Vigevano,
seen from the Castello Sforzesco
Travel tip:

Historic Vigevano is renowned for shoemaking and is a centre for rice growing but its main claim to fame is as the home of the Castello Sforzesco, a Lombard fortress developed by the Visconti family and rebuilt between 1492–94 for Ludovico Sforza, born in the town, who transformed the fortification into a rich noble residence. Leonardo da Vinci was his guest at Vigevano, as was the architect Donato Bramante, who designed the tower that watches over the beautiful rectangular Piazza Ducale, which was completed in 1493 as the forecourt to the castle.  The Peroni Brewery was founded by Giovanni Peroni in Vigevano in 1846.

Also on this day:

1891: The birth of soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi

1935: The birth of footballer Armando Picchi

1952: The birth of novelist Valerio Evangelisti

1967: The birth of Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris


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19 June 2021

19 June

Francesco Baracca – flying ace

Italy’s most successful First World War fighter pilot

Italy’s top fighter pilot of the First World War, Francesco Baracca, died in action on this day in 1918.  He had been flying a strafing mission against Austro-Hungarian ground troops in support of an Italian attack on the Montello Hill, about 17km (11 miles) north of Treviso in the Veneto, on which he was accompanied by a rookie pilot, Tenente Franco Osnago.  They split from one another after being hit by ground fire but a few minutes later, Osnago saw a burning plane falling from the sky.  Witnesses on the ground saw it too. Osnago flew back to his base but Baracca never returned.  Only when the Austro-Hungarian troops were driven back was the wreckage of Baracca’s Spad VII aircraft found in a valley.  His body was discovered a few metres away.  A monument in his memory was later built on the site. Osnago, fellow pilot Ferruccio Ranza and a journalist recovered his body. It was taken back to his home town of Lugo in the province of Ravenna, where a large funeral was held.  It is thought that Barocca was seeking to provide Osnago with cover from above as he swooped on enemy trenches when he was attacked by an Austrian plane.  Read more…

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Pier Angeli - Hollywood star

Actress hailed for talent and beauty died tragically young

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

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Marisa Pavan - actress

Twin sister of tragic star Pier Angeli

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

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Francesco Moser - Giro d’Italia winner

Only two riders have won more road races

The cycling champion Francesco Moser, winner of the 1984 Giro d’Italia and the 1977 World road racing championship among 273 road victories in his career, was born on this day in 1951 in Pal├╣ di Giovo, a village about 10km (6 miles) north of Trento in northern Italy.  Only the great Belgians Eddy Merckx (525) and Rik Van Looy (379) won more road races than Moser, who was at his peak during the late 1970s and early 1980s.  One of his proudest achievements was to break Merckx’s record for the greatest distance covered in one hour.  He became renowned as a specialist in the so-called Monuments, the five road races among what are generally termed the Classics considered to be the oldest, hardest and most prestigious one-day events in cycling.  Of those events, Moser won the Paris-Roubaix three times, the Giro di Lombardia twice and the Milan-San Remo once.  Moser attributed his cycling prowess to growing up on the family farm in Val di Cembra, working in steep-sided vineyards in an era when most of the work was carried out by hand, rather than machinery.  Family members used bicycles to move around the estate.  Read more…


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