30 November 2015

Beniamino Gigli - opera singer

Tenor’s beautiful voice can still be appreciated today

One of the greatest tenors of the 20th century, Beniamino Gigli, died on this day in Rome in 1957.

The tenor Gigli died in Rome in 1957
The tenor Beniamino Gigli

Gigli is remembered for the beauty of his voice, which was powerful as well as mellow and smooth. He made many recordings, which have since been converted to CD and can still be enjoyed by opera lovers today. He also made some film appearances.

Gigli was born in Recanati near Ancona in the Marche in 1890. He sang in the choir at Recanati Cathedral as a boy and then went on to study music in Rome.

He won his first singing competition in Parma in 1914 and made his operatic debut in Rovigo in the same year, playing the role of Enzo in Amilcare Ponchielli’s opera, La Gioconda.

Gigli made his debut on the stage of La Scala in Milan in 1918 singing Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele. The orchestra was conducted by Arturo Toscanini. His first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York came two years later.

He became particularly associated with the roles of Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Boheme and the tile role in Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. His first appearance in London at Covent Garden was in Andrea Chenier in 1930.

Gigli rose to full international prominence after the death of Enrico Caruso in 1921 although experts have judged their voices to be very different.

The tenor also occasionally appeared on stage with his daughter, the soprano Rina Gigli, who was born in 1916.

Towards the end of his life he made appearances only at fundraising concerts. His last public appearance was at a concert in Washington two years before his death in Rome at the age of 67.
Travel tip:

Recanati is a town in the province of Macerati in the Marche region of Italy. The poet and writer Giacomo Leopardi was born there and it is also believed to be the place of origin of some of the Italian paternal ancestors of the Argentine footballer Lionel Messi.

La Scala houses a fascinatng costume museum
Teatro alla Scala in Milan
Travel tip:

La Scala in Milan has a fascinating museum that displays costumes and memorabilia from the history of opera. The entrance is in Largo Ghiringhelli, just off Piazza Scala. It is open every day except the Italian Bank Holidays and a few days when it is closed in December. Opening hours are from 9.00 to 12.30 and 1.30 to 5.30pm.

29 November 2015

Gaetano Donizetti - opera composer

Birthplace of musical genius has been declared a national monument

Gaetano Donizetti, a prolific composer of operas in the 19th century, was born on this day in 1797 in Bergamo in northern Italy.

Donizetti came into the world in the basement of a house in Borgo Canale just outside the walls of the Città Alta, Bergamo’s upper town. He was the fifth of six children born to a textile worker and his wife. 

Casa Natale, Donizett's birthplace, has been declared a national monument
Casa Natale is now a national monument
He once wrote about his birthplace: “…I was born underground in Borgo Canale. One descended the stairs to the basement, where no ray of sunlight had ever been seen. And like an owl I flew forth…”

Donizetti developed a love for music and, despite the poverty of his family, benefited from early tuition in Bergamo. He went on to become a brilliant composer of operas in the early part of the 19th century and is considered to have been a major influence on Verdi, Puccini and many other composers who came after him.

Experts consider some of his work, for example Lucia di Lammermoor and L’Elisir d’Amore, to be among the greatest lyrical operas of all time.

After a magnificent international career, Donizetti returned to Bergamo, where he died in 1843 in the Palazzo Scotti, which is in a street in the Città Alta since renamed Via Donizetti.
Travel tip:

Donizetti’s Casa Natale (birthplace), which has been declared a national monument, is open free to visitors every weekend. You can still see the well from which the family drew their water and the fireplace where meals were cooked, which would have been their only source of heating.

To reach Donizetti’s birthplace, leave the Città Alta through Porta Sant’Alessandro and go past the station for the San Vigilio funicolare. Borgo Canale is the next street on the right and Casa Natale, at number 14, is in the middle of a row of characteristic, tall houses and is marked by a plaque.

A monument to Gaetano Donizetti in Bergamo's lower town
Monument to Donizetti in Bergamo's lower town
Travel tip:

A museum dedicated to Donizetti’s life and career is housed in the Palazzo Misericordia Maggiore, which is still a musical institute, in Via Arena in the Città Alta. Donizetti’s tomb is in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Piazza Duomo in the Città Alta. A monument dedicated to him was erected in the Città Bassa in Bergamo in 1897, 100 years after his birth, near the theatre that was renamed Teatro Donizetti in Via Sentierone.

28 November 2015

Alberto Moravia - journalist and writer

Italian novelist recognised as major 20th century literary figure

The novelist Alberto Moravia was born Alberto Pincherle on this day in 1907 in Rome.

The island of Capri in the Bay of Naples

He adopted Moravia, the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, as a pen name and became a prolific writer of short stories and novels. Much of his work has been made into films.

Before the Second World War, he had difficulties with the Fascist regime, which banned the publication of one of his novels. But his anti-Fascist novel Il Conformista later became the basis for the film The Conformist directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.

In 1941 he married the novelist Elsa Morante and they went to live first on Capri, and then in the Ciociaria area of Lazio before returning to Rome after it was liberated in 1944.

Moravia was once quoted as comparing a childhood illness, which confined him to bed for a long period, with Fascism. He said they had both made him suffer and do things he otherwise would not have done.

The rugged terrain of the Ciociaria

He died in Rome in 1990 and is remembered today as an important literary figure of the 20th century.

Travel tip

The beautiful island of Capri is a sophisticated holiday resort that has attracted many writers, artists and celebrities over the centuries. It lies in the Bay of Naples and can be reached by boat from Sorrento and Naples. 

Travel tip

The Ciociaria is a remote, hilly part of Lazio, lying south of Rome and north of Naples, dotted with small towns and villages. It is believed the area is named after the ciocie (sandals), traditionally worn by the people living and working in the area.


27 November 2015

Roberto Mancini footballer and manager

Skilful player now highly successful coach

Roberto Mancini, a former Italy player and the current manager of Inter Milan, was born on this day in Iesi in Marche in 1964.

Roberto Mancini enjoyed huge success with Internazionale in Italy and Manchester City in England
Roberto Mancini during his
Manchester City days.
Photo by Roger Goraczniak
Mancini, an elegant and creative forward, was capped 36 times by Italy between 1984 and 1994.

After a highly successful playing career, in which he was part of title-winning teams at Sampdoria and Lazio, he enjoyed immediate success as a manager, winning the Coppa Italia in his first season as Fiorentina boss in 2000. He repeated the feat in his second season at his next club, Lazio.

Mancini then made his mark emphatically at Internazionale, guiding the Milan club to a club record three consecutive Serie A titles, as well as winning the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa (a pre-season match between the Serie A champions and the Coppa Italia winners) twice. This made him the club's most successful manager for 30 years.
While at Inter, he also set a Serie A record by winning 17 consecutive matches.

He was out of football for a year after being dismissed by Inter in 2008, despite his domestic success, having failed to meet expectations in the Champions League, reaching the quarter-finals in his first two seasons but being knocked out in the first round in the next two seasons.

He was hired by the wealthy new owners of Manchester City in December 2009 to replace Mark Hughes and again made a quick impact, winning the FA Cup in his first full season in charge, the club's first major trophy for 35 years. The following year, he led City to the Premier League title, making them English champions for the first time since 1968, after a 44-year wait.

Success in Europe again eluded him, however, and he was sacked in May 2013, following a shock defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup final.

After one season with Galatasaray in Turkey, he took charge at Inter for a second time in November 2014 and his customary winning ways quickly made an impact. Inter are the current leaders of Serie A.

UPDATE (November, 2022): Mancini was appointed head coach of the Italian national team in 2018 following their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia. Mancini likewise failed to secure a place at the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar. Unlike his predeccessor, Luigi Di Biagio, however, he remained in post, having signed a renewed long-term contract shortly before leading the azzurri to victory at the delayed 2020 European Championship finals in England.

Roberto Mancini guided Inter to three consecutive Serie A titles
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in San Siro, Milan, home
of Mancini's current club, Internazionale.
Photo by Dan Heap
Travel tip:

FC Inter-
nazionale Milano, often referred to simply as Inter, play their home games at the San Siro stadium in Milan, which they share with their rivals A C Milan. The stadium in Via Piccolomini is a short tram ride out of the centre of Milan.

Travel tip:

Iesi, the town of Roberto Mancini’s birth, is in the province of Ancona in the Marche region of Italy. Le Marche (the Marches) run along the Adriatic Sea in the central part of the peninsula and are considered a good holiday destination for travellers who like to get off the beaten track in Italy.

26 November 2015

Amelita Galli-Curci soprano

Singer’s beautiful voice lives on thanks to early recordings

Amelita Galli-Curci, one of the most popular Italian opera singers and recording artists of the early 20th century, died on this day in 1963.

Galli-Curci was a ‘coloratura’ soprano and her voice has been described as ‘florid, vibrant, agile and able to perform trills.’

Although she was largely self-taught her voice was much admired and it has been claimed she was encouraged to become an opera singer by composer Pietro Mascagni, who was a family friend.

The Duomo is at the heart of Milan's music district, close to La Scala opera house.
Milan's Duomo, in the heart of the 'music' district
She was born Amelita Galli in Milan in 1881 and studied the piano at the Milan Conser-
vatory, which is in the centre of the city close to the Duomo. She made her stage debut as a soprano at Trani in 1906, singing Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. She was widely acclaimed and her career took off from there.

In 1908 she married an Italian nobleman, the Marquese Luigi Curci and she subsequently attached his surname to hers. She remained known as Amelita Galli-Curci even after they divorced.

She sang in just two performances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lamermoor with Enrico Caruso in Buenos Aires in 1915 but they went on to make wonderful recordings together.

Galli-Curci enjoyed immediate success in America after appearing as Gilda in Rigoletto in Chicago. It was while performing there in 1916 that she signed a contract with a recording company. Her voice can still be heard on surviving 78 rpm recordings and some of these have been copied on to vinyl and subsequently on to CD. Galli-Curci’s ‘Caro nome’ from Rigoletto is considered one of the greatest operatic recordings ever made.

She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1921 as Violetta in La Traviata and remained with the Met until ill health prompted her to retire from the stage in 1930.

She lived in California, where she taught singing, until her death at the age of 81.

Travel tip:

Milan’s Conservatory of Music (Conservatorio di Musica ‘Giuseppe Verdi’) is in Via Conservatorio, just off Via Pietro Mascagni, behind the Duomo. It is just a short walk from there to Teatro alla Scala in Piazza della Scala, with its fascinating museum focusing on the history of opera.

Travel tip

Trani, where Amelita Galli-Curci made her stage debut as a soprano, is a charming old port on the Adriatic in the region of Puglia. A major landmark is the 12th century Cattedrale di San Nicola Pellegrino, an imposing building overlooking the sea. Close by is the Castello Svevo, which was built to defend Trani in the 13th century.

25 November 2015

Pope John XXIII

Farmer’s son went on to become ‘the Good Pope’

Pope John XXIII was born on this day in 1881 at Sotto il Monte near Bergamo.

He was originally named Angelo Roncalli and was part of a large farming family but he went on to become a much loved Pope and respected world leader.

Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII links Bergamo's railway station with Porta Nuova
Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII is one
of Bergamo's main streets

Angelo was tutored by a local priest before entering the Seminary in Bergamo at the age of 12. He went on to study theology in Rome and rose to become Cardinal Patriarch of Venice before being elected Pope in 1958.

His religious studies had been interrupted by a spell in the Italian army, but he was ordained in 1904. He served as secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo for nine years before becoming an army chaplain in World War One.

After the war he worked in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece on behalf of the church helping to locate and repatriate prisoners of war.

In 1944 he was appointed nuncio to Paris to help with the post war effort in France. He became a Cardinal in 1953 and expected to spend his last years serving the church in Venice.

But when he was elected Pope by his fellow cardinals in the conclave of 20 October 1958, it was a turning point in the church’s history.

Although he was Pope for less than five years, John XXIII enlarged the College of Cardinals to make it more representative, consecrated 14 new bishops for Asia and Africa, advanced ecumenical relations and worked for world peace.

He is known to the Italians as ‘il Papa Buono’, ‘the Good Pope’, and, since his death on 3 June 1963, his birthplace, and the museum set up to commemorate his life, have become popular destinations for pilgrims.

Travel Tip:
The Biblioteca Civica houses works by Pope Giovanni XIII
The Biblioteca Civica in Bergamo's Piazza Vecchia

There is a permanent reminder of Pope John in Bergamo’s lower town where the main thoroughfare from the railway station to Porta Nuova has been renamed Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII. In the upper town there are works by Pope John XXIII in the Biblioteca Civica, the white marble Civic Library, in Piazza Vecchia and you can see the Seminary he attended at the end of Via Arena.

Travel Tip:

Now renamed Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, Pope John’s birthplace is a short bus or car journey to the west of Bergamo . You can visit the house where he was born in the hamlet of Brusicco and the summer residence at Camaitino that he used when he was a cardinal is now a history museum dedicated to him.
Opening hours: Casa Natale (birthplace) at Brusicco 8.30 am to 5.30 pm; Museo di Papa Giovanni (Pope John Museum) at Camaitino 8.30 am to 11.30 and 2.30 pm to 6.30.

24 November 2015

Carlo Collodi - journalist and writer

Satirical journalist created Pinocchio to express his own views 

Carlo Collodi was a satirical journalist who supported the Risorgimento
Carlo Collodi was a satirical journalist
who supported the Risorgimento

Carlo Collodi, in real life Carlo Lorenzini, was born on this day in 1826 in Florence.

Although he was a satirical journalist who supported the cause of the Risorgimento, Collodi is best remembered for his stories for children about the character, Pinocchio.

The writer was brought up in the small town of Collodi where his mother had been born and he adopted the name of her birthplace as a pen name.

After becoming interested in politics he started the satirical newpaper, Il Lampione, in 1848. This was censored by order of the Grand Duke of Tuscany so in 1854 he started Lo Scaramuccia, which was also controversial.

But in 1856 he wrote his first play for the theatre and, after Italian unification in 1861, he turned his attention to writing for children.

Collodi’s stories about his first main character, Giannettino, were a way of expressing his own political ideas through allegory.
A giant statue of Pinocchio in the
village of Collodi

He began writing Storia di un Burattino, The Story of a Marionette, in 1880. He went on to contribute regular stories about his character, who he later called Pinocchio, to a newspaper for children.

Pinocchio was created out of wood by a woodcarver, Geppetto, but he became a mischievous boy whose nose grew when he told a lie. His adventures were allegories of the political times in Italy.

After Collodi died in Florence in 1890, his stories, which became known as Le Avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio) went on to become popular with children all over the world.

Travel tip:

You can visit Parco di Pinocchio ( Pinocchio Park ) in Collodi near the town of Pescia in Tuscany and walk through woodland, meeting the characters and seeing the places in the stories, which are represented through art and architecture. Visit www.pinocchio.it for more details.

Pescia's cathedral
Pescia's cathedral
Travel tip:

Pescia is in the northern part of Tuscany , close to the beautiful towns of Lucca , Pistoia and Montecatini Terme. It is known as the ‘city of flowers’, because of its large, wholesale flower market. In the church of San Francesco there are 13th century frescoes depicting the life of St Francis, which are believed to be an accurate representation of the Saint because the artist, Bonaventura Berlinghieri, actually knew him.

(Picture credits: Pinocchio by Sailko; Pescia cathedral by Miomiomio; via Wikimedia Commons)


23 November 2015

Prospero Alpini - botanist

How coffee was first introduced to Europe

Prospero Alpini's journals suggest he saw coffee for the first time in Egypt
Prospero Alpini's journals suggest he saw
coffee for the first time in Egypt
Physician and botanist, Prospero Alpini, was born on this day in 1553 in Marostica near Vicenza.

He is credited with being the first person in Europe to observe and write about the coffee plant.

Alpini went to study medicine in Padua in 1574 and after taking his degree settled down to work as a doctor in nearby Campo San Pietro.

He was very interested in botany and so to extend his knowledge of exotic plants he travelled to Egypt in 1580 as physician to George Emo, the Venetian consul in Cairo.

While in Egypt he studied date trees which helped him to work out that there were gender differences between plants. He wrote that: “the female date trees or palms do not bear fruit unless the branches of the male and female plants are mixed together, or, as is generally done, unless the dust found in the male sheath or male flowers is sprinkled over the female flowers.”

In 1593 he was appointed professor of botany at Padua University and, after he died in 1617, he was succeeded in the role by his son, Alpino Alpini.

His botanical work De Medicina Egyptiorum is believed to contain the first report on the coffee plant ever published in the western world. 

Alpini also noted that the Egyptians roasted the seeds of the coffee plant, from which they made a drink. On his return to Venice, he told friends and associates about this drink. Curiously, the discovery of coffee beans was initially heralded for their medicinal qualities. They were sold in pharmacies at a very high cost, which put them out of reach of ordinary people. 

Alpini's illustration of the leaves of the coffee plant
Alpini's illustration of the leaves
of the coffee plant
But the habit of drinking coffee 
for pleasure spread quickly in Venice and several coffee houses were set up, the first of which was thought to have opened on Piazza San Marco in 1630, almost a hundred years before the famous Caffè Florian opened there in 1720. 

By the mid-18th century, Venetians could choose from more than 200 coffee houses across the city and other cities in Italy and beyond had taken up the coffee fashion.  Coffee houses, such as the Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua, which opened in the centre of the town in 1831, became the places to meet and be seen.

The new drink did not meet with universal approval, however. Some prominent members of the Catholic Church dubbed it 'the drink of the devil' and urged Pope Clement VII to ban its sale. In the event, on tasting coffee himself, the pontiff rejected the notion of banning it. Now with papal approval, the coffee habit went from strength to strength.

Alpini went on to work in Bassano del Grappa and then Genoa, where he was employed as personal physician to Giovanni Andrea Doria, an admiral and a member of a wealthy Genovese family. Later he took a job as prefect at the Botanical Gardens in Padua, becoming an authority on the medicinal use of plants.

The entrance archway of the Palazzo del Bò in Via 8 Febbraio in the centre of Padua
The entrance archway of the Palazzo del
Bò in Via 8 Febbraio in the centre of Padua
Travel tip:

The main building of Padua University, Palazzo del Bò in Via 8 Febbraio in the centre of Padua, was named after the tavern known as Il Bo (‘the ox’ in Venetian dialect) that had been acquired by the university as new premises in 1493. Originally this building housed the university’s renowned medical faculty, where Alpini would have studied. You can take a guided tour of the building and see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught there between 1592 and 1610.  The anatomy theatre, built in 1594, is the oldest surviving medical lecture theatre in the world today. To find Palazzo del Bò, leave Piazza Cavour, passing Caffe Pedrocchi on your right and walk down Via 8 Febbraio. The university building is on the left hand side of the street at its corner with Via San Francesco.

The Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza, the city where Prospero Alpini was born in 1553
The Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza, the city where
Prospero Alpini was born in 1553
Travel tip:

Alpini was born near Vicenza, which has become famous as the city of Andrea Palladio, the most influential architect of his time, whose ideas have been copied by countless architects in the centuries since. Many of the palaces and buildings designed by Palladio in the centre of Vicenza would have been built during the time Alpini was growing up there, before he went to Padua University. A striking example of his work is the Basilica Palladiana in Piazza dei Signori. The most notable feature of the basilica is the loggia, which shows one of the first examples of what have come to be known as the Palladian window.

22 November 2015

Bernardo Pasquini - composer

Talented musician wrote music for a queen

Bernardo Pasquini was one of many composers supported by Queen Christina of Sweden
Bernardo Pasquini was one of many composers
supported by Queen Christina of Sweden
Baroque composer Bernardo Pasquini died on this day in Rome in 1710.

He is remembered as an important composer for the harpsichord and for his musical scores for operas.

Along with his fellow composers Alessandro Scarlatti and Arcangelo Corelli, Pasquini was a member of the Arcadian Academy (Accademia degli Arcadi) which was set up in Rome by one of his patrons, Queen Christina of Sweden.

Pasquini enjoyed Queen Christina’s protection while he was living in Rome and produced several operas in her honour. These were staged in Rome initially and then replayed in theatres all over Italy.

Queen Christina had abdicated from the throne of Sweden in 1654, converted to Roman Catholicism and moved to live in Rome.

While living in the Palazzo Farnese, she opened up her home for members of the Arcadian Academy to enjoy music, theatre, literature and languages with her.

She became a cultural leader and protector of many Baroque artists, composers and musicians.

The Trevi Fountain is an example of Rome's Baroque architecture
The Trevi Fountain is an example
of Rome's Baroque architecture
The Baroque period, which influenced sculpture, painting and architecture, as well as literature, dance, theatre and music, began in Rome around 1600. Rome's wealth of Baroque architecture includes the Trevi Fountain, built in 1762. It is the largest fountain in the style in the city.

Pasquini was born in what is now the municipality of Massa e Cozzile in Val di Nievole in Tuscany in 1637. He was a pupil of Marcantonio Cesti and Loreto Vittori before he went to live in Ferrara, where he was a church organist, and then moved on to Rome while he was still a young man.

He entered the service of Prince Borghese and, as a renowned virtuoso keyboard player, soon became the organist at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

Pasquini was buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, which is in Piazza San Lorenzo, just off Via del Corso in Rome.

The church of San Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome, where Pasquini is buried
The church of San Lorenzo in Lucina in Rome,
where Pasquini is buried
Travel tip:

You can see Pasquini’s tomb in San Lorenzo in Lucina which bears a carved portrait of him. Three years after Pasquini’s death, his nephew Felice Bernardo Ricordati and one of his pupils, Bernardo Gaffi, commissioned Pietro Francesco Papaleo to sculpt a portrait of the composer in Carrara marble.

Travel tip:

Palazzo Farnese in Piazza Farnese in the Campo De’ Fiori area of Rome is now being used as the French Embassy. Queen Christina was allowed to lodge in this important renaissance building by Pope Alexander VII while it was standing empty following the death of Cardinal Odoardo Farnese.

21 November 2015

Pope Benedict XV

Humanitarian pope who tried to stop the war 

Pope Benedict XV's papacy lasted from 1914 until his death in 1922
Pope Benedict XV's papacy lasted from
1914 until his death in 1922
Pope Benedict XV, who was pontiff for the whole of the First World War, was born on this day in 1854 in Genoa.

He tried to stop the war, which he described as ‘the suicide of a civilised Europe’, but when his attempts failed, he devoted himself to trying to alleviate the suffering.

Christened Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista della Chiesa, the future Pope Benedict XV was encouraged to study law by his family and attended the University of Genoa. Afterwards his father reluctantly agreed to let him study for the priesthood and he was allowed to move to Rome.

Pope Pius X made him Archbishop of Bologna in 1907 and a Cardinal in 1914.

He became Pope Benedict (Benedetto) XV in September 1914 after World War One was already under way.

The new Pope immediately tried to mediate to achieve a peaceful settlement but his attempts were rejected by all the parties involved.

He then concentrated on humanitarian works, such as the exchange of wounded prisoners of war and the distribution of food among starving people.

Although Benedict had been chosen at the age of 59 because the church was looking for a long-lasting Pope, he died in Rome in 1922 after becoming ill with pneumonia and was buried under St Peter’s Basilica.

Benedict XV is possibly the least-remembered  pope of the 20th century as he was to be overshadowed by his successors, Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II.

Travel tip:

The birthplace of Pope Benedict XV was Genoa, ‘la Superba’, the capital of the region of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy. It has a rich maritime history, but still has a busy port and there is plenty to see and do. Genoa has been called a ‘city of contrasts’, with splendid palaces standing next to humble alleyways.

The Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, where Benedict XV was previously archbishop for seven years
The Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, where Benedict XV was
previously archbishop for seven years
Travel tip:

Pope Benedict XV was Archbishop of Bologna from 1907 to 1914.   Bologna, with its iconic two towers (due torri), is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region and is home to the oldest university in the world. The famous meat sauce known as ragù bolognese, which is served with tagliatelle, or more often outside Italy with spaghetti, was invented there.

20 November 2015

Queen Margherita of Savoy

Princess and fashion icon who became Queen of Italy

Margherita of Savoy became Queen consort
of Italy by marriage to Umberto I
Margherita Maria Teresa Giovanna of Savoy was born on this day in 1851 in Turin.

The little girl, who was to later become the Queen consort of Italy, was the daughter of Prince Ferdinand Duke of Genoa and Princess Elisabeth of Saxony. She was educated to a high standard and renowned as a charming person with a lively curiosity to learn. A tall, stately blonde, she was not considered a beauty but nonetheless had many admirers.

Having first been suggested to marry Prince Charles of Romania, she instead married her first cousin Umberto, Prince of Piedmont, in April 1868 when she was just 16. The following year she gave birth to Victor Emmanuel, Prince of Naples, who later became King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. He was to be their only child.

Margherita was crowned Queen of Italy in Naples when Umberto succeeded his father to the throne in January 1878 and she was warmly welcomed by the Neapolitan people.

The city of Naples took Margherita to their hearts, even naming one of their famous pizzas after her
The city of Naples took Margherita to their hearts, even
naming one of their famous pizzas after her
It was not a particularly good marriage for Margherita. Umberto maintained an affair with a long-term lover, Eugenia Attendolo Bolognini, and the breakdown in their relationship may explain the fact that Victor Emmanuel would be their only child. However, they never made their personal separation known to the public, maintaining a harmonious partnership in their working life. 

Always stylishly dressed, in outfits designed and made in Italy and often covered in pretty brooches and pearls, Margherita quickly became a fashion icon and was said to be much more popular than her husband, who was assassinated in 1900.

When her son succeeded his father and became King of Italy, Margherita devoted herself to charitable works and to encouraging cultural organisations.

Queen Margherita died in 1926 at her home in Bordighera in Liguria.

The mountain hut on the top of Punta Gnifetti remains the highest building in Europe at 4,554m
The mountain hut on the top of Punta Gnifetti remains
the highest building in Europe at 4,554m
Travel tip:

A mountain hut is named after Queen Margherita on a peak of the Monte Rosa massif, which is in the Piedmont region on the Swiss-Italian border. The Queen made the climb to Punta Gnifetti for the hut’s inauguration in 1893. At 4,554 metres (14,941 ft) above sea level, it is the highest building in Europe. The closest settlement is Alagna Valsesia, a small village high in the Valsesia alpine valley in the province of Vercelli in Piedmont.

The pizza margherita combines tomato, mozzarella and green basil leaves
The pizza margherita combines tomato,
mozzarella and green basil leaves
Travel tip:

Pizzeria Brandi in Naples still proudly claims to be the ‘queen’s pizzeria’. Despite the debate about who first invented Pizza Margherita, with its tomato, mozzarella and basil topping, which replicates the colours of the Italian flag, it is worth visiting Pizzeria Brandi in Salita Sant’Anna di Palazzo in Naples to taste their version.


19 November 2015

Giuseppe Volpi - businessman and politician

Founder of the Venice film festival

Count Giuseppe Volpi of Misurata is the founder of the Venice Film Festival
Count Giuseppe Volpi of Misurata is
the founder of the Venice Film Festival
Businessman and politician Count Giuseppe Volpi of Misurata was born on this day in 1877 in Venice.

Volpi was responsible for bringing electricity to Venice and the north east of Italy in 1903 and had an influence on the development of Porto Marghera, the industrial complex across the lagoon from Venice.

But, in 1932, as president of the Venice Biennale, Volpi arranged the first Venice Film Festival. It took place between 6 and 21 August on the terrace of the Hotel Excelsior at the Venice Lido.

The first film to be shown at the festival was Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

The festival was considered a success and was held again in 1934 from 1 to 20 August, when it involved a competition for the first time.

In 1935 the Film Festival became a yearly event in Venice and the Coppa Volpi (Volpi Cup), an award for actors, was introduced for the first time.

Count Volpi received a personal letter from Walt Disney in 1939 thanking him, as president of the Biennale, for the prize awarded to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the film festival. This letter is now in the historical archives of the Biennale.

Volpi's tomb at the Frari church in Venice
Volpi's tomb at the Frari church in Venice
From 1921 to 1925 Volpi was governor of the Italian colony of Tripolitania, a former province of Libya, and as a result was created Count of Misurata in 1925. From 1925 to 1928 he served as Italy’s Finance Minister.  He was a signatory in 1923 of the Treaty of Lausanne, which established the borders of the modern Turkey.

Volpi died in Rome in 1947.  His son, Giovanni, became an important figure in motor racing as manager of the Scuderia Serenissima team. His grand daughter, the Countess Maria Cicogna, is a film producer, described by the New York Times as "the first major female Italian film producer" and "one of the most powerful women in European cinema".

Volpi was credited with restoring the Villa Barbaro in Maser in the Veneto, which was designed and built by Andrea Palladio and contains frescoes by Paolo Veronese and sculptures by Alessandro Vittoria.

He was buried at the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, usually just called the Frari, in the San Polo district of Venice.

The water bus - vaporetto - stop at Venice Lido
Travel Tip:

The Venice Lido is an eight-mile long sand bank that forms a natural barrier between Venice and the open sea and has become a seaside resort for the city. It is the only island in the lagoon with roads and can be reached from the mainland by car ferry. The Lido is served by regular vaporetti from Venice and has plenty of hotels. It became a fashionable holiday destination at the beginning of the 20th century for royalty, writers and film stars. The atmosphere at the time was brilliantly captured by Thomas Mann’s book Death in Venice, published in 1912, which was made into a film in 1971 directed by Luchino Visconti.

The Palazzo del Cinema on Venice Lido, which stages the festival each year
The Palazzo del Cinema on Venice Lido,
which stages the festival each year
Travel Tip:

The 73rd Venice International Film Festival, organised by La Biennale di Venezia, will be held on the Venice Lido from 31 August to 10 September 2016 . The aim of the festival will be to raise awareness of, and promote, international cinema as art, entertainment and also an industry. For more information about the 2016 festival, visit www.labiennale.org.