29 June 2022

29 June

Federico Peliti - catering entrepreneur and photographer

Italian became important figure in British Colonial India

Federico Peliti, whose skills as a chef and pastry-maker led him to spend a large part of his life in India under British colonial rule, was born on this day in 1844 in Carignano, a town in Piedmont about 20km (12 miles) south of Turin.  He was also an accomplished photographer and collections of his work made an important contribution to the documentary history of the early years of British rule in India.  The restaurant Peliti opened in Shimla, the so-called summer capital of the British Empire in India, became a favourite with colonial high society and was mentioned in the writings of Rudyard Kipling and others.  Peliti’s family hailed from Valganna, near Varese in Lombardy. They had mainly been surveyors and Peliti initially studied sculpture at the Accademia Albertina in Turin.  He was diverted from a career in sculpture by the Third Italian War of Independence, in which he participated as a cavalryman in the 1st Nizza regiment of the Italian army. By chance, during his active service, he made friends with a group of confectioners and pastry-makers, who taught him some of their skills.  Read more…

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning dies in Florence

Romantic poet produced some of her best work after fleeing to Italy

English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning died on this day in 1861 in Florence.  She had spent 15 years living in Italy with her husband, the poet Robert Browning, after being disinherited by her father who disapproved of their marriage.  The Brownings’ home in Florence, Casa Guidi, is now a memorial to the two poets.  Their only child, Robert Weidemann Barrett Browning, who became known as Pen, was born there in 1849.  Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent English poets of the Victorian era and was popular in both Britain and the United States during her lifetime.  From about the age of 15 she had suffered health problems and therefore lived a quiet life in her father’s house, concentrating on her writing.  A volume of her poems, published in 1844, inspired another writer, Robert Browning, to send her a letter praising her work.  He was eventually introduced to her by a mutual acquaintance and their legendary courtship began in secret.  They were married in 1846 and, after she had continued to live in her father’s home for a week, they fled to Italy. They settled in Florence, where they continued to write.  Read more…

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Masaniello - insurgent

Fisherman who led Naples revolt 

The 17th century insurgent known as Masaniello was born on this day in 1620 in Naples.  A humble fishmonger’s son, Masaniello was the unlikely leader of a revolt against the Spanish rulers of his home city in 1647, which was successful in that it led to the formation of a Neapolitan Republic, even though Spain regained control within less than a year.  The uprising, which followed years of oppression and discontent among the 300,000 inhabitants of Naples, was sparked by the imposition of taxes on fruit and other basic provisions, hitting the poor particularly hard.  Masaniello - real name Tommaso Aniello - was a charismatic character, well known among the traders of Piazza Mercato, the expansive square that had been a centre of commerce in the city since the 14th century.  Born in a house in Vico Rotto al Mercato, one of the many narrow streets around the market square, situated close to the city’s main port area, he followed his father, Ciccio d’Amalfi, into the fish trading business.   He had his own clients among the Spanish nobility, with whom he traded directly to avoid taxation. He was a smuggler, too, although he was frequently caught.  Read more…

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Oriana Fallaci - journalist

Writer known for exhaustively probing interviews

Oriana Fallaci, who was at different times in her career one of Italy’s most respected journalists and also one of the most controversial, was born in Florence on this day in 1929.  As a foreign correspondent, often reporting from the world’s most hazardous regions in times of war and revolution, Fallaci interviewed most of the key figures on both sides of conflicts.  Many of these were assembled in her book Interview with History, in which she published accounts of lengthy conversations, often lasting six or seven hours, with such personalities as Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Yasser Arafat, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Willy Brandt, Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Henry Kissinger and the presidents of both South and North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  Others she interviewed included Deng Xiaoping, Lech Wałęsa, Muammar Gaddafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini.  She seldom held back from asking the most penetrating and awkward questions. Henry Kissinger, the diplomat and former US Secretary of State, later described his meeting with Fallaci for a piece published in Playboy magazine as "the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press".  Read more…

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Giorgio Napolitano – 11th President of Italy

Neapolitan was concerned about the development of southern Italy

Giorgio Napolitano, who served as the 11th President of the Republic of Italy, was born on this day in 1925 in Naples. He was the longest serving president in the history of the republic and the only Italian president to have been re-elected.  He graduated in law from Naples University in 1947, having joined a group of young anti-fascists while he was an undergraduate.  At the age of 20, Napolitano joined the Italian Communist Party. He was a militant and then became one of the leaders, staying with the party until 1991 when it was dissolved. He then joined the Democratic Party of the Left.  Napolitano was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 1953 and continued to be re-elected by the Naples constituency until 1996.  His parliamentary activity focused on the issue of southern Italy’s development and on national economic policy.  As a member of the European parliament between 1989 and 1992, he regularly travelled abroad giving lectures.  In 2005 he was appointed life Senator by the President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.  The following year he was elected as President of the Republic and he served until 2015.  Read more…

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28 June 2022

28 June

NEWAugusto De Angelis - crime writer

One of the first Italians to write detective novels

Regarded by many as the father of Italian crime fiction, the novelist Augusto De Angelis was born on this day in 1888 in Rome.  His first detective novel, The Murdered Banker - Il banchiere assassinato - was published in 1935, six years after Italian publishers Mondadori launched their crime series in yellow covers that would later result in the word gialli being used to refer to mystery novels and films.  However, there were no Italian authors on the Mondadori list to begin with, as the publishers did not see Italy as the right setting for the crime genre at that time. De Angelis did not agree with this, as he thought crime fiction was a natural product resulting from the fraught and violent times he was living in and writing about as a journalist.  De Angelis gave up studying jurisprudence to embark on a career in journalism and worked for some of the most important daily newspapers during the first half of the 20th century, such as La Stampa and La Gazzetta del Popolo in Turin, Il Resto di Carlino in Bologna and L’Ambrosiano in Milan.  He began his literary career by writing plays and non-fiction and then wrote a spy novel in 1930. But his most successful novels were his detective stories.  Read more…

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Pietro Mennea – Olympic sprint champion

200m specialist won gold at Moscow in 1980

Pietro Mennea, one of only two Italian sprinters to win an Olympic gold, was born on this day in 1952 in the coastal city of Barletta in Apulia.  Mennea won the 200m final at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, depriving Britain's Allan Wells of a sprint double. In doing so, Mennea emulated his compatriot, Livio Berruti, 20 years earlier in Rome.  He held the world record at 200m for almost 17 years, from 1979 until 1996.  His time of 19.72 seconds remains the European record.  It would stand as the world record for 16 years, nine months and 11 days, until Michael Johnson ran 19.66 at the US Olympic trials in 1996.  As well as winning his gold medal, outrunning Britain’s Allan Wells in the last 50m, Mennea’s other great Olympic feat was to reach the 200m final at four consecutive Games, the first track athlete to do so at any distance. He also won the bronze medal in Munich in 1972, was fourth in 1976 at Montreal and seventh place in Los Angeles in 1984.  At his last Olympics, in 1988, he carried the Italian flag at the opening ceremony.  Famous for his rather frantic running style, Mennea set the 200m record on September 12 1979 at the World University Games.  Read more…

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Giovanni della Casa - advocate of good manners

Bishop and poet remembered for his manual on etiquette

Giovanni della Casa, the Tuscan bishop whose witty book on behaviour in polite society became a handbook for generations long after he had passed away, was born on this day in 1503 in Borgo San Lorenzo, 30 kilometres north-east of Florence.  Born into a wealthy family, Della Casa was educated in Bologna and followed his friend, the scholar and poet Pietro Bembo, into the church.  He became Archbishop of Benevento in 1544 and was nominated by Pope Paul III as Papal nuncio to Venice. Disappointed at not having been elevated to Cardinal, however, he retired to a life of writing and reading.  At some point between 1551 and 1555, living at an abbey near Treviso, he wrote Galateo: The Rules of Polite Behaviour, a witty treatise on good manners intended for the amusement of a favourite nephew.  He thought it would be regarded as frivolous compared with other books he had written. Little did he know it would become one of the most celebrated books on etiquette in European history.  Published in Venice in 1558, it is considered one of the three great books on Italian conduct, alongside Baldassare Castiglione's Il Cortegiano and Niccolò Machiavelli's Il Principe (The Prince)Read more…

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Walter Audisio - partisan and politician

Claimed to be the man who killed Mussolini

The partisan and later politician Walter Audisio, whose claim to be the man who executed Italy’s Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in April 1945 is generally accepted as likely to be true, was born on this day in 1909 in Alessandria in Piedmont.  Mussolini was captured in the town of Dongo on the shore of Lake Como as he tried to flee from Italy to Switzerland, having accepted that the Axis powers were facing near-certain defeat to the Allies as the Second World War moved into its final phase.  He was taken along with his entourage to the village of Giulino di Mezzegra, 20km (12 miles) south of Dongo along the lakeside road, and after spending the night under guard in a remote farmhouse was taken back into the village, where he and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were ordered to stand against a wall.  There they were shot dead by a partisan who went under the nom de guerre of "Colonnello Valerio", before their bodies were taken to Milan and hung by their feet from the roof of a petrol station in Piazzale Loreto, which had been the scene of the massacre of 15 partisans a year earlier.  Two years later, the Communist Party revealed that Colonnello Valerio was, in fact, Walter Audisio, and that it was he who had pulled the trigger.  Read more…

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Lorenzo Amoruso - footballer

Defender was most successful Italian in British football

Lorenzo Amoruso, a defender who played for teams in Italy, San Marino, England and Scotland during a career spanning almost two decades, was born on this day in 1971 in Bari.  Formerly the captain of Fiorentina, Amoruso signed for Glasgow Rangers for £4 million in 1997 and remained at the Scottish club for six seasons, during which time he won nine major trophies, which makes him the most successful Italian player in British football.  The first Catholic player to captain Rangers - traditionally the club supported by Glasgow’s Protestant community - Amoruso won the Scottish Premier League title three times, the Scottish Cup three times and the Scottish League Cup three times.  His total of winners’ medals dwarfs those of much higher profile Italian stars in England.  The illustrious Chelsea trio of Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli and Roberto di Matteo each won two FA Cup and League Cup winners’ medals, but did not feature in a Premier League title-winning team.  Amoruso began his career with his local team in Bari before moving to Florence in 1995, captaining the team that won the Coppa Italia in 1996.  Read more…


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Augusto De Angelis - crime writer

One of the first Italians to write detective novels

Augusto De Angelis had many years working as a journalist
Augusto De Angelis had many
years working as a journalist

Regarded by many as the father of Italian crime fiction, the novelist Augusto De Angelis was born on this day in 1888 in Rome.

His first detective novel, The Murdered Banker - Il banchiere assassinato - was published in 1935, six years after Italian publishers Mondadori launched their crime series in yellow covers that would later result in the word gialli being used to refer to mystery novels and films.

However, there were no Italian authors on the Mondadori list to begin with, as the publishers did not see Italy as the right setting for the crime genre at that time. De Angelis did not agree with this, as he thought crime fiction was a natural product resulting from the fraught and violent times he was living in and writing about as a journalist.

De Angelis gave up studying jurisprudence to embark on a career in journalism and worked for some of the most important daily newspapers during the first half of the 20th century, such as La Stampa and La Gazzetta del Popolo in Turin, Il Resto di Carlino in Bologna and L’Ambrosiano in Milan.

He began his literary career by writing plays and non-fiction and then wrote a spy novel in 1930. But his most successful novels were his detective stories featuring Commissario Carlo De Vincenzi. To begin with, Italy's Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini approved of the crime fiction genre because it celebrated the achievements of the forces of order over evil and chaos by bringing about just solutions and restoring tranquillity. However, Mussolini and his associates eventually became wary of Italy being seen to be anything less than idyllic by the outside world.

De Angelis was the first Italian author
chosen for Mondadori's gialli series
The Murdered Banker was the first of 20 novels by De Angelis to feature Commissario De Vincenzi of the squadra mobile of Milan, which the novelist produced over the next eight years. De Angelis had a unique style and created a detective who could not have been more different from famous characters already popular with readers, such as the eccentric and clever Sherlock Holmes and the methodical, fussy little Belgian, Hercule Poirot.

It is interesting to see how many of the traits of Commissario De Vincenzi have appeared in fictional Italian detectives since. De Vincenzi’s loyalty to his friends and care for his subordinates is a quality shown by Donna Leon’s detective, Brunetti, and his disregard for the rules, unorthodox  behaviour and moments of inspiration are characteristics of both Michael Dibdin’s Zen and Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano.

The cultured and often emotional detective, De Vincenzi, was to become very popular with the Italian public, but the Fascist government eventually came to regard his creator, De Angelis, as their enemy.

De Angelis was arrested and imprisoned by the authorities in 1943, accused of being anti-Fascist. He was released from prison after three months, but was soon tracked down by a Fascist activist to where he was staying in Bellagio. De Angelis was beaten up so badly by the thug that he died of his wounds in hospital in Como in 1944.

Pushkin Vertigo's English translation
of The Murdered Banker 
The Murdered Banker is now regarded as a highly significant novel in the history of Italian crime fiction. The story starts on a foggy night in Milan, when police officer De Vincenzi is on the night shift. He is visited at his police station by an old schoolfriend, Giannetto Aurigi. While he is talking to his friend, who is clearly worried about something, De Vincenzi receives a call about a body being discovered in a house nearby and when he is given the address, he is horrified to discover the body has been found in his friend’s apartment.

He goes on to discover that Aurigi owes a lot of money , which was due to be paid that night, and that the dead body is that of the banker who lent it to him. De Vincenzi doesn’t just have to solve the crime, he has to prove his old friend is innocent of it and he has to do it quickly before the investigating magistrate becomes involved. He tells his friend that he has to tell him everything, or he could soon be facing the firing squad, but Aurigi just keeps repeating that he doesn’t know anything.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other suspects, such as Aurigi’s beautiful fiancée, his future father-in-law, Count Marchionni, and the mysterious tenant living in the apartment above. De Vincenzi is determined to get to the truth and he lays a clever trap for the murderer.

Some of the De Vincenzi novels were adapted for television by RAI in the 1970s with Paolo Stoppa playing the role of the detective. An English translation of The Murdered Banker was published by Pushkin Vertigo in 2016.

A vintage postcard showing how Milan looked in the 1930s at the time De Angelis was writing
A vintage postcard showing how Milan looked
in the 1930s at the time De Angelis was writing
Travel tip:

The Murdered Banker is set in Milan during the 1930s, where gentlemen wore evening dress when they were out at night. De Angelis would have known the city well from his time working for L’Ambrosiano. The opera house, Teatro alla Scala, which features in The Murdered Banker, was treated almost like a club and people in society visited each other in their boxes during the opera.  Milan’s world- famous opera house was officially inaugurated in 1778. It replaced the Teatro Regio Ducale which had been destroyed by fire. The new theatre was built on the site of the former Church of Santa Maria alla Scala, which is how it got its name. It is situated right in the centre of Milan opposite the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. La Scala, as it is popularly known, has hosted premieres of operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini and the world’s finest singers have appeared on its stage.

A steep stone staircase typical of Bellagio
A steep stone staircase
typical of Bellagio
Travel tip

Bellagio in Lombardy, where De Angelis was living just before his death, is a village on a promontory jutting out into Lake Como, at the point at which the lake divides into two legs, the more easterly of which is called Lago di Lecco. It is known for its cobbled lanes, elegant buildings, steep stone staircases, red-roofed and green-shuttered houses. The Villa Serbelloni Park, an 18th century terraced garden, offers spectacular views of the lake. The villa itself was once popular with European royalty, numbering Maximilian I of Austria and Queen Victoria of England among its guests.

Also on this day:

1503: The birth of Giovanni della Casa, 16th century author and advocate of good manners

1909: The birth of partisan Walter Audisio, who claimed to be the man who executed Mussolini

1952: The birth of Olympic sprint champion Pietro Mennea

1971: The birth of footballer Lorenzo Amoruso 


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27 June 2022

27 June

Giorgio Vasari - the first art historian

Artist and architect who chronicled lives of Old Masters

Giorgio Vasari, whose 16th century book on the lives of Renaissance artists led to him being described as the world's first art historian, died on this day in 1574 in Florence.  Born in Arezzo in 1511, Vasari was a brilliant artist and architect who worked for the Medici family in Florence and Rome and amassed a considerable fortune in his career.  But he is remembered as much for Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times, a collection of biographies of all the great artists of his lifetime.  The six-part work is remembered as the first important book on art history.  Had it not been written, much less would be known of the lives of Cimabue, Giotto, Donatello, Botticelli, Da Vinci, Giorgione, Raphael, Boccaccio and Michelangelo among many others from the generation known as the Old Masters.  Vasari, who is believed to have been the first to describe the period of his lifetime as the Renaissance, also went into much detail in discussing the techniques employed by the great artists.  It is partly for that reason that the book is regarded by contemporary art historians as "the most influential single text for the history of Renaissance art".  Read more…

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Gianluigi Aponte - shipping magnate

Billionaire started with one cargo vessel

Gianluigi Aponte, the billionaire founder of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which owns the second largest container fleet in the world and a string of luxury cruise liners, was born on this day in 1940 in Sant’Agnello, the seaside resort that neighbours Sorrento in Campania.  He and his wife, Rafaela, a partner in the business, have an estimated net worth of $11.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.  The Mediterranean Shipping Company has more than 510 container ships, making it the second largest such business in the world. Only the Danish company Maersk is bigger.  MSC Cruises, meanwhile, has grown into the fourth largest cruise company in the world and the largest in entirely private ownership. With offices in 45 countries, it employs 23,500 people, with a fleet of 17 luxury cruise liners.  Overall, the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which Aponte began in 1970 with one cargo vessel, has more than 60,000 staff in 150 countries.  Aponte has been able to trace his seafaring ancestry back to the 17th century. His family’s roots are on the Sorrentine Peninsula and there are records of his family’s boats ferrying goods between Naples and Castellammare di Stabia, just along the coast.  Read more…

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The Ustica Massacre

Mystery plane crash blamed on missile strike

An Italian commercial flight crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea between Ponza and Ustica, killing everyone on board on this day in 1980.  The aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas DC9-15 in the service of Itavia Airlines was en route from Bologna to Palermo, flight number IH870. All 77 passengers and the four members of the crew were killed, making this the deadliest aviation incident involving a DC9-15 or 10-15 series.  The disaster became known in the Italian media as the Ustica massacre - Strage di Ustica - because Ustica, off the coast of Sicily, was a small island near the site of the crash.  Many investigations, legal actions and accusations resulted from the tragedy, which continues to be a source of speculation in Italy.  The fragments of the aircraft that were recovered from the sea off Ustica were re-assembled at Pratica di Mare Air Force Base near Rome. In 1989, the Parliamentary Commission on Terrorism issued a statement asserting that “following a military interception action, the DC9 was shot down, the lives of 81 innocent citizens were destroyed by an action properly described as an act of war, real war undeclared, a covert international police action against our country, which violated its borders and rights.”  Read more…

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Giorgio Almirante – politician

Leader who tried to make Fascism more mainstream

Giorgio Almirante, the founder and leader of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, was born on this day in 1914 at Salsomaggiore Terme in Emilia-Romagna.  He led his political party for long periods from 1946 until he handed over to his protégé, Gianfranco Fini, in 1987.  Almirante graduated in Literature and trained as a schoolteacher but went to work for the Fascist journal Il Tevere in Rome.  In 1944, he was appointed Chief of Cabinet of the Minister of Culture to the Italian Social Republic, the short-lived German puppet state of which Benito Mussolini was the head after he was thrown out of office as Italy’s prime minister.  After the Fascists were defeated, Almirante was indicted on charges that he had ordered the shooting of partisans, but these were lifted as part of a general amnesty.  He set up his own fascist group in 1946, which was soon absorbed into the Italian Social Movement (MSI).  He was chosen as the party leader to begin with but was forced to give way to August de Marsanich as leader in 1950.   Almirante regained the leadership in 1969 and sought to make his party more moderate by dropping the black shirt and the Roman salute.  Read more…


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26 June 2022

26 June

Alberto Rabagliati - singer and actor

Performer found fame through radio

The singer and movie actor Alberto Rabagliati, who became one of the stars of Italian radio in the 1930s and 40s, was born on this day in 1906 in Milan.  His movie career reached a peak in the post-War years, when he had roles in the Humphrey Bogart-Ava Gardner hit Barefoot Contessa and in Montecarlo, starring Marlene Dietrich.  The son of parents who had moved to Milan from the village of Casorzo, near Asti, in Piedmont, Rabagliati’s career in the entertainment business began when he entered a competition in 1927 to find a Rudolph Valentino lookalike.  To his astonishment he won.  The prize was to be taken to Hollywood to audition, so his life changed overnight.  Later he recalled his own wide-eyed incredulity as he sailed across the Atlantic, bound for a new life.  "For someone like me, who had never been beyond Lake Como or Monza Cathedral, finding myself on board a luxury steamer with three cases full of clothes, a few rolls of dollars, grand-duchesses and countesses flirting with me was something extraordinary".  He lived in America for the next four years but never achieved more than modest success and decided to return to Italy.  Read more…

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San Marino is bombed by Britain

British believed the Germans were using rail facilities

The British Royal Air Force bombed the tiny Republic of San Marino on this day in 1944 as a result of receiving incorrect information.  It was recorded at the time that 63 people were killed as a result of the bombing, which was aimed at rail facilities. The British mistakenly believed that the Germans were using the San Marino rail network to transport weapons.  San Marino had been ruled by Fascists since the 1920s but had managed to remain neutral during the war.  After the bombing, San Marino’s government declared that no military installations or equipment were located on its territory and no belligerent forces had been allowed to enter.  However, by September of the same year San Marino was briefly occupied by German forces, but they were defeated by the Allied forces in the Battle of San Marino.  After the war, San Marino was ruled by the world’s first democratically-elected Communist government, which held office between 1945 and 1957.  The Republic of San Marino is not a member of the European Union but uses the euro as its currency.  San Marino, which is on the border between Emilia-Romagna and Marche, remains an independent state within Italy.  Read more…

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Paolo Maldini - football great

Milan defender's record-breaking career spanned 25 years

Paolo Maldini, the AC Milan defender who won the European Cup and Champions League more times than any other player in the modern era, was born on this day in 1968 in Milan.  A Milan player for the whole of his 25-year professional career - plus six years as a youth player before that - Maldini won Europe's biggest club prize five times. Only Francisco Gento, a member of the all-conquering Real Madrid side of the 1950s and 60s, has more winner's medals.  Maldini also won seven Serie A championships plus one Coppa Italia and five Supercoppa Italiana titles in domestic competition, as well as five European Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups and a World Club Cup.  Only in international football did trophies elude him, although he played on the losing side in the finals of both the World Cup, in 1994, and the European Championships, in 2000.  His European Cup/Champions League triumphs came under the management of Arrigo Sacchi (1989 and 1990), Fabio Capello (1994) and Carlo Ancelotti (2003 and 2007).  The 1994 victory by 4-0 against Barcelona was described as one of the greatest team performances of all time.   Read more…


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25 June 2022

25 June

Aldo Serena - footballer

Azzurri striker left field in tears after penalty miss

Aldo Serena, one of the two Italian players who most felt the agony of defeat after the Azzurri suffered the pain of losing at the semi-final stage when the football World Cup last took place on home soil, was born on this day in 1960 in Montebelluna, a town in the Veneto.  The match that ended the host nation's participation in the Italia '90 tournament took place in Naples against an Argentina side that included the local hero, Diego Maradona. It was decided on penalties after finishing 1-1 over 120 minutes. Italy converted their opening three penalties, as did Argentina.  Then Roberto Donadoni’s shot was saved by the Argentina goalkeeper, Sergio Goycochea.  Up stepped Maradona, who scored, to the delight of many in the crowd who had divided loyalties.  Suddenly, everything was down to Aldo Serena, who could not afford to miss if Italy were to stay alive in a tournament in which they had played football at times that deserved to win.  Serena, the Internazionale striker, had been a fringe player for Italy throughout the tournament, picked only as a substitute, although he had scored in that capacity against Uruguay in the round of 16 – on his 30th birthday.  Read more…

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Marta Abba - actress

Aspiring star who became Pirandello’s muse

Marta Abba, who as a young actress became the stimulus for the creativity of the great playwright Luigi Pirandello, was born on this day in 1900 in Milan.  The two met in 1925 when Pirandello, whose most famous works included the plays Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) and Henry IV (1922), asked her to see him, having read an enthusiastic appreciation of her acting talents by Marco Praga, a prominent theatre critic of the day.  Abba had made her stage debut in Milan in 1922 in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and was noted for the exuberance and passion of her performances. Pirandello was impressed with her and immediately hired her as first actress for his Teatro d’Arte company in Rome.  Over the next nine years until Pirandello’s death in 1936, Abba would become not only his inspiration but his confidante. When Abba was not working with him but was on stage in some other city or country, they would correspond in writing, exchanging hundreds of letters.  There was a considerable age gap between them - Abba was 24 and Pirandello 58 when they met - and their relationship was complex and not always harmonious.   Read more…

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Francesco Domenico Araja - composer

Brilliant musician introduced Italian opera to Russia

Francesco Araja was the first in a long line of Italian composers to work for the Imperial Court in St Petersburg in Russia. Born on this day in 1709 in Naples, then in the Kingdom of Sicily, Araja received a musical education in his native city and was composing operas by the age of 20.  He made history as the composer of the first Italian opera to be performed in Russia and as the composer of the first opera with a Russian text.  It is thought that Araja was probably taught music by his father Angelo Araja and his grandfather Pietro Aniello Araja, who were both musicians. He was appointed maestro di cappella at the church of Santa Maria La Nova in Naples at the age of just 14.  Araja’s early operas were staged in Naples, Florence, Rome, Milan and Venice. His opera Berenice was performed in Florence in 1730, with the famous castrati, Farinelli and Caffarelli, singing the main roles in a new production in Venice in 1734.   He was invited to St Petersburg in 1735 with a large Italian opera company and became the maestro di cappella to Empress Anna Ioannovna, and later to Empress Elizaveta Petrovna.  Read more…

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Elena Cornaro Piscopia – philosopher

First woman to graduate from a university

Elena Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman to receive an academic degree from a university on this day in 1678, it is believed, in Padua.  She was awarded her degree in philosophy at a special ceremony in the Duomo in Padua in the presence of dignitaries from the University of Padua and guests from other Italian universities.  Piscopia was born in a palazzo in Venice in 1646. Her father had an important post at St Mark’s and he was entitled to accommodation in St Mark’s Square.  On the advice of a priest who was a family friend, she was taught Latin and Greek when she was a young child. She was proficient in both languages by the time she was seven. She then went on to master other languages as well as mathematics, philosophy and theology.  Her tutor wanted her to study for a degree in theology at Padua University but the Bishop of Padua refused to allow it because she was female, although he allowed her to study philosophy instead.  On the day of her degree ceremony Piscopia demonstrated her brilliance in front of the specially invited audience by explaining difficult passages from Aristotle in faultless Latin.  Read more…

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24 June 2022

24 June

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. 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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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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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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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 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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