31 January 2016

Charles Edward Stuart – royal exile

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s heart will forever be in Frascati 

The portrait is part of a collection of the Earl of Wemyss, at Gosford House
A portrait of Charles Edward Stuart - Bonnie
Prince Charlie - painted by Allan Ramsey in 1745
The Young Pretender to the British throne, sometimes known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, died on this day in 1788 in Rome. 

The man who would have been King Charles III was born and brought up in Italy where his father, James, the son of the exiled Stuart King James II, had been given a residence by Pope Clement XI.

Charles Edward Stuart was raised as a Catholic and taught to believe he was a legitimate heir to the British throne.

In 1745 Charles sailed to Scotland hoping to gather an army to help him place his father back on the thrones of England and Scotland. 

He defeated a Government army at the Battle of Prestonpans and marched south. He had got as far as Derbyshire when the decision was made by his troops to return to Scotland because of the lack of English support for their cause.

They were pursued by King George II’s son, the Duke of Cumberland, who led troops against them at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Many of his soldiers were shot and killed and the surviving Jacobites fled. They were pursued by Cumberland ’s men, who committed atrocities against them when they were caught. 

Charles had to hide out in the Scottish moors until he could get away by boat to France, as commemorated in the Skye Boat Song.

Bonnie Prince Charlie died in Rome at the age of 67 after suffering a stroke. He was initially buried in the cathedral in Frascati, where his brother Henry Benedict Stuart was the Bishop. 

When Henry died in 1807, the remains of Bonnie Prince Charlie were moved to the crypt of St Peter’s in Rome, where they were laid to rest with his father and brother.

The Cattedrale San Pietro in Frascati, which houses the tombstone of Charles Edward Stuart
The Cattedrale San Pietro in Frascati, which
houses the tombstone of Charles Edward Stuart
Travel tip:

Frascati is an ancient city 20 kilometres south east of Rome in the Alban Hills. Inside the main church, Cattedrale San Pietro, is the tombstone of Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender. When his body was moved to St Peter’s, his heart was left in Frascati in a small urn under the floor below his monument. Among the art works in the church is a Madonna attributed to Domenichino.

Travel tip:

Bonnie Prince Charlie was born and died in Palazzo Muti in Rome, an ochre-coloured building in Piazza dei Santi Apostoli, which became the official Stuart court in exile. This residence had been given to them by the Pope, who recognised them as the rightful kings of Great Britain and Ireland.

More reading:

The founding of the Papal Swiss Guard

Europe's first free public school opens in Frascati

How Domenichino rivalled Raphael

Also on this day:

1888: The death of the saint, Don Bosco

1933: The birth of Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano


30 January 2016

Elsa Martinelli – actress

Tuscan beauty was spotted by Kirk Douglas

The actress Elsa Martinelli in a 1965 appearance in the TV show The Rogues
The actress Elsa Martinelli in a 1965
appearance in the TV show The Rogues
Actress and former model Elsa Martinelli was born Elisa Tia on this day in 1935 in Grosseto.

She moved to Rome with her family as a teenager and was discovered by designer Roberto Capucci in 1953 while working as a barmaid in the city.

Her stunning looks helped her to become a successful fashion model and she eventually began playing small parts in films.

As Elsa Martinelli she appeared in Claude Autant-Lara’s Le Rouge et Le Noir in 1954.

Her first important role came a year later when Kirk Douglas is said to have seen her on a magazine cover and told his production company to hire her to appear opposite him in the film, The Indian Fighter.

In 1956 she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival for playing the title role in Mario Monicelli’s Donatella.

Martinelli married Count Franco Mancinelli Scotti di San Vito and they had a daughter, Cristiana, in 1958.

Ten years later, after she had split up with her first husband, Martinelli married photographer and furniture designer Willy Rizzo.

In the 1950s and 1960s she attended lavish parties and events in Rome with celebrities such as Anita Ekberg, Maria Callas, Sophia Loren, Carlo Ponti and Harold Robbins.

More reading: Federico Fellini, film director, born 20 January, 1920

Martinelli went on to have a long string of film and television credits to her name.

She appeared in the 1992 comedy film Once Upon a Time and most recently in the television series, Orgoglio, in 2005.

The cathedral in Grossetto, Tuscany, birthplace of Elsa Martinelli
The Cathedral in Grosseto
Photo by Waugsberg (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Grosseto, where Elsa Martinelli was born and lived as a child, is in the centre of Tuscany, about 14 kilometers from the sea and surrounded by walls commissioned by Francesco I de Medici in the 16th century, There is a 13th century Cathedral with a façade of black and white marble as well as many beautiful old palaces in the centre of the city.

Travel tip:

Rome in the late 1950s and early 1960s was considered the most desirable place in the world in which to party. The economy was booming, designers, such as Roberto Capucci, had made the city synonymous with the word glamour and American directors flocked to make their films at Cinecittà, the studio complex south of the city. This golden era is epitomised by Federico Fellini’s film La dolce vita (The Sweet Life), featuring Marcello Mastroianni as a reporter who follows every move of the celebrities who frequent Rome’s exclusive nightclubs and live in the city’s historic, aristocratic villas.


29 January 2016

Fire at La Fenice

Oldest theatre in Venice keeps rising from the ashes

The sign welcoming visitors to Teatro La Fenice, Venice's famous opera house
The sign welcoming visitors to Teatro La Fenice,
Venice's famous opera house
La Fenice, the world famous opera house in Venice, was destroyed by fire on this day in 1996.

It was the third time a theatre had been burnt down in Venice and it took nearly eight years to rebuild.

The theatre had been named La Fenice, the Phoenix, when it was originally built in the 1790s, to reflect that it was helping an opera company rise from the ashes after its previous theatre had burnt down.

Disaster struck again in 1836 when La Fenice itself was destroyed by fire but it was quickly rebuilt and opened its doors again in 1837.

The American writer, Donna Leon, chose La Fenice to be the main location in her first novel featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti, published in 1992.

But in January 1996, approximately four years after Leon’s novel, Death At La Fenice,was published, the theatre burnt down again, making it front page news all over the world.

Arson was immediately suspected and in 2001 a court found two electricians guilty of setting the building on fire.

More on opera: Death of composer Giuseppe Verdi, 27 January, 1901

They were believed to have burnt it down because their company was facing heavy fines because of delays in the repair work they were carrying out. One of them disappeared after his final appeal was turned down, having been sentenced to seven years in prison. The other went on to serve a six-year prison sentence.

The fugitive electrician was arrested on the Mexico-Belize border in 2007 and extradited to Italy. After serving 16 months in prison he was released on day parole.

La Fenice was rebuilt in the same style as before at a cost of more than 90 million euros and it reopened with an orchestral concert in 2003.

The first opera performed in the rebuilt theatre was a production of Verdi’s La Traviata, staged in November 2004.

Travel tip:

Teatro La Fenice in Campo San Fantin is the oldest theatre in Venice. Its heyday was during the 19th century when the premieres of Rossini’s Tancredi and Semiramide and Verdi’s La Traviata were held there. During the Austrian occupation of Venice,  the audience threw red, white and green flowers on the stage to represent the Italian flag and shouted Viva Verdi. They weren’t just praising the composer, but using the letters of his last name as code for ‘Vittorio Emanuele Re d’Italia’.

Campiello Santa Maria Nova in Venice,
close to the home of author Donna Leon
Travel tip:

The writer Donna Leon, who lives in Venice, chose to put her character, Brunetti, on the opposite side of the Grand Canal from herself. She lives close to the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Cannareggio while Brunetti’s apartment is supposed to be in Calle Tiepolo near the church of San Polo.

She often describes Brunetti leaving the Questura and jumping on to a police launch that would then head out into the lagoon. But in her novel, A Venetian Reckoning, published in 1996, Brunetti has to go home urgently. Instead of going down to Riva Schiavoni and taking the Vaporetto, he knows it will be quicker to cut through the back streets to Campo Santa Maria Formosa and Campo San Bartolomeo and cross the Grand Canal on a traghetto. Two old ladies are waiting to be rowed across but he waves his police badge at the gondolier and orders him to take him to the end of Calle Tiepolo.

Browse books by Donna Leon at amazon.co.uk


28 January 2016

Gianluigi Buffon – goalkeeper

Record breaking footballer still at peak of his career

Gianluigi Buffon is goalkeeper for Italy and Juventus
Gianluigi Buffon
Picture courtesy of Puma
Italy and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was born on this day in 1978 in Carrara in Tuscany.

Widely considered by football experts to be the best goalkeeper in the world, he is known for his outstanding ability to stop shots.

He holds the record for the most clean sheets, both in Serie A and the national side, and he has won numerous awards.

Now aged 38, Buffon has announced that he will probably retire after the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.

He has played a record 154 times for Italy and is expected to be first choice at this summer’s European Championships in France.

Buffon, whose nickname is Gigi, was born into a family of athletes. His mother, Maria, was a discus thrower and his father, Adriano, was a weight lifter. His two sisters both played volleyball for the Italian national team and his uncle was a prominent basketball player.

Watch 10 of Gianluigi Buffon's greatest saves

His grandfather’s cousin, Lorenzo Buffon, was also a top goalkeeper, playing for AC Milan and Italy, representing his country at the 1962 FIFA World Cup.

Gianluigi Buffon began his career with the Parma youth team at the age of 13 as an outfield player. When both of the team’s goalkeepers were injured he was asked to deputise in goal and within two weeks he had been promoted to first team 'keeper.

Buffon saves a penalty from England's Ashley Cole during Italy's quarter-final shoot-out win at Euro 2012
Buffon saves a penalty from England's Ashley Cole
during Italy's quarter-final shoot-out win at Euro 2012
When he transferred from Parma to Juventus in 2001 for 100 billion lire, more than 51 million euros (the equivalent of £32.4 million) he became the most expensive goalkeeper in history and the record still stands.

Buffon auctions off his captain’s arm band after every match to benefit the charities he supports.

UPDATE: Since this article was written, Buffon spent the 2018-19 season playing for Paris St Germain in France, returned to Juventus for two more seasons and rejoined his boyhood club, Parma, last summer, continuing to play in Serie B, the second tier of the Italian championship. He retired from international football after Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals.

Travel tip:

The city of Carrara in Tuscany, where Buffon was born, is famous for the quarries that produce white and blue-grey Carrara marble. Among the sights worth seeing in the centre of the town are a decorative 12th century Duomo and a 16th century Ducal Palace, the Palazzo Cybo Malaspina, which is now the headquarters of a Fine Arts Academy.

Palazzo Cybo Malaspina in Carrara
Photo: Davide Papalini (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Juventus Football Club, colloquially known as Juve, play at Juventus Stadium in Corso Galileo Ferraris in Turin. You can book a ticket to visit the club’s museum and tour the stadium, which will even give you the chance to see inside the club's dressing rooms. For more details go to www.juventus.com 

27 January 2016

Giuseppe Verdi – composer

 How Italy mourned the loss of a national symbol

Giuseppe Verdi, photographed in about 1870
Giuseppe Verdi, photographed
in about 1870
Opera composer Giuseppe Verdi died on this day at the age of 87 in his suite at the Grand Hotel et de Milan in 1901.

The prolific composer who had dominated the world of opera for a large part of the 19th century was initially buried privately at Milan’s Cimitero Monumentale.

But a month later Verdi’s body was moved to its final resting place in the crypt of a rest home for retired musicians that he had helped establish in Milan.

An estimated crowd of 300,000 people are reported to have turned out to bid Verdi farewell and ‘Va, pensiero’, a chorus from his 1842 opera Nabucco, was performed by a choir conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

Verdi meant a great deal to the Italian people because his composition, ‘Va, pensiero’ had been the unofficial anthem for supporters of the Risorgimento movement, which had sought the unification of Italy.

In his early operas Verdi had demonstrated sympathy with the cause of the Risorgimento and people had come to associate him with the movement’s ideals.

But as he became older and more prosperous he had chosen to withdraw from public life and had established himself on a country estate just outside Busseto, the town of his birth, near Parma in Emilia-Romagna.

Verdi surprised the world of music with a triumphant final phase of his career when he composed his Requiem in 1874, Otello in 1887 and Falstaff in 1893.

The composer was reported to have been very upset by the assassination of King Umberto 1 in 1900 and started to write a poem about the monarch that was never completed. 

In January, 1901 Verdi suffered a stroke. Despite receiving dedicated medical care at his hotel he died a few days later.

Read more:

Verdi's Il trovatore first staged, 19 January 1853

Death of conductor Arturo Toscanini, 16 January 1957

Travel tip:

The Grand Hotel et de Milan in Via Manzoni in Milan is now part of the Leading Hotels of the World Group. It was designed in the 18th century but has been renovated and improved many times over the years. Close to La Scala, the Galleria and Duomo, it was in an ideal position for important visitors to Milan such as Verdi, Caruso and Maria Callas.

The statue of Giuseppe Verdi in his home town of Busseto
The statue of Giuseppe Verdi
in his home town of Busseto
Photo: VivaVerdi (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Busseto, the home town of Verdi, is in the province of Parma in Emilia-Romagna. Verdi was born in the nearby village of Le Roncole in 1813 but moved into the town in 1824. You can visit the churches of Santa Maria degli Angeli and San Michele Arcangelo where Verdi played the organ. Villa Verdi, the country house where he lived with singer Giuseppina Strepponi, is just outside the town in the nearby village of Sant’Agata.


26 January 2016

Gabriele Allegra – friar and scholar

Sicilian who learnt Chinese to carry out his life’s work

Allegra translated the whole Catholic bible into Chinese
Gabriele Allegra
The Blessed Gabriele Allegra, a Franciscan friar who translated the entire Catholic Bible into Chinese, is remembered on this day every year.

He was born Giovanni Stefano Allegra in San Giovanni la Punta in the province of Catania in Sicily in 1907 and he entered the Franciscan seminary in Acireale in 1918.

Gabriele Allegra was inspired to carry out his life’s work after attending a celebration for another Franciscan who had attempted a translation of the bible into Chinese in the 14th century. For the next 40 years of his life the friar devoted himself to his own translation.

Gabriele Allegra was ordained a priest in 1930 and set sail for China. On his arrival he started to learn Chinese.

With the help of his Chinese teacher he prepared a first draft of his translation of the bible in 1947 but it was not until 1968 that his one volume Chinese Bible was published for the first time.

Gabriele Allegra died on 26 January 1976 in Hong Kong. Although he was primarily a scholar, he had also helped the poor, the sick and lepers along the way.

He was declared Venerable in 1994 and was Beatified in 2012 at the Cathedral of Acireale. He is remembered each year on the anniversary of his death.

The Sicilian port city of Catania with the volcanic Mount Etna in the background
The Sicilian port city of Catania with the
volcanic Mount Etna in the background
Photo: Stefan (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Travel tip:

Catania is on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea between Messina and Syracuse and is at the foot of an active volcano, Mount Etna. There are many Greek and Roman buildings to see as well as Baroque churches.

Travel tip:

Acireale is a coastal city in the province of Catania at the foot of Mount Etna. The 17th century Cathedral where Gabriele Allegra was beatified contains many interesting art treasures but his relics are kept in the Church of San Biagio.


25 January 2016

Friuli earthquake

First of two disasters to rock Italy in the same year

Tolmezzo in Friuli Venezia Giulia was said to have been close to the epicentre of the 1348 earthquake
Tolmezzo in Friuli Venezia Giulia was said to have
been close to the epicentre of the 1348 earthquake
A devastating earthquake hit the area now known as Friuli Venezia Giulia on this day in 1348.

With a seismic intensity believed to be the equivalent of 6.9 on the Richter scale, the effects of the quake were felt right across Europe.

According to contemporary sources, houses and churches collapsed and there were numerous casualties. It was recorded that even as far away as Rome, buildings had been damaged.

The epicentre is believed to have been north of Udine to the east of the small towns of Tolmezzo, Venzone and Gemona.

The earthquake happened on 25 January early in the afternoon and its effects were immediately felt in Udine, where the castle and cathedral were both damaged.

In Austria the town of Villach was later hit by a landslide caused by the earthquake. Buildings in Carniola, part of present day Slovenia, and in Vicenza, Verona and Venice were also damaged.

It was recorded that the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome was damaged by the earthquake and an ancient tower nearby developed a permanent tilt. Aftershocks were felt in different parts of Italy for several weeks.

Later in the same year, the Black Death, or bubonic plague, swept through Italy and was reported to have killed off large numbers of the populations of Florence, Venice, Pisa and Naples.

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome was damaged by the earthquake
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome
was damaged by the earthquake
At the time the two disasters were believed to be connected and people interpreted them as Acts of God, sent to punish them for their sins and over indulgence.

Travel tip:

Udine, the main city in Friuli, is not far from Italy’s border with Slovenia but has some distinct Venetian influences. In the principal square, Piazza della Libertà, there are beautiful 15th century Venetian-style buildings, such as the candy striped town hall, Loggia del Lionello and the clock tower, Torre dell’Orologio, which resembles the one in Piazza San Marco in Venice. 

Travel tip:

Tolmezzo, to the north of Udine, is an historic town at the foot of a mountain. It had been a settlement even before it was taken over by the Romans but it did not become part of the Kingdom of Italy till 1866. There are interesting old streets to explore and the 18th century Duomo di San Martino contains 16th century art treasures. The town’s Museo delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari has a collection illustrating the life, traditions and early farming methods of the area.


24 January 2016

Arnoldo Foà – actor

 Talented performer, director and writer worked into his 90s.

Arnoldo Foà pictured in 2008.
Arnoldo Foà pictured in 2008. Photo
 by Roberto Becheri (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Theatre and film actor Arnoldo Foà was born on this day in 1916 in Ferrara.

He began acting in the 1930s and was still appearing on stage after the year 2000 when he was over 90. He had parts in more than 100 films between 1938 and 2007.

Foà was born into a Jewish family living in Ferrara but moved with his family to live in Florence when he was three years old, eventually attending an acting school there.

He abandoned his economics and commerce studies in Florence at the age of 20 to move to Rome and attend the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia.

Foà began appearing on stage in the 1930s but his situation became difficult during the war. In order to earn money he had to stand in for actors when they were ill using a false name.

He eventually moved to Naples and when the Allies arrived worked for their radio station as an announcer. At the end of the war Foà was able to work in the theatre under his own name again.

In the 1950s he started writing, became a theatre director and helped with the development of RAI.

During his film career Foà worked for many famous directors. On his website he picks as  two of his most prestigious films Il Processo (The Trial) directed by Orson Welles and Gente di Roma (People of Rome) directed by Ettore Scola, for which he received an award.

Arnoldo Foà with the actress Milly Vitale in the 1955 film 'Cantami Buongiorno Tristezza'
Arnoldo Foà with the actress Milly Vitale in the 1955
film 'Cantami Buongiorno Tristezza'
Foà also played many television roles and provided voices for films dubbed in Italian. He was Antony Quinn’s voice in Fellini’s film La Strada.

Foà has at times been a painter, sculptor and journalist and was briefly a local councillor for the Radical party. He has also had several books published.

He appeared in the film The Good Pope, about Pope John XXIII, in 2003 and was on stage in a play about Toscanini in 2007.

Foà died in 2014 just a few days short of his 98th birthday.

Ferrara's magnificent castle is the centrepiece of the town in Emilia-Romagna
Ferrara's magnificent castle
Travel tip:

Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna was the city of the Este dukes and is still beautiful today with winding cobbled streets, medieval houses, Renaissance palaces and a stunning castle. It has been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

Travel tip:

The Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (Experimental Film Centre) was established in 1935 in Rome to promote the art and technique of film making. It is located near Cinecittà, the hub of the Italian film industry, to the south of the city. Cinecittà was bombed during the Second World War but rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben-Hur. A range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there now and it has its own dedicated Metro stop.


23 January 2016

Giovanni Michelotti – car designer

The many Triumphs of Turin sports car genius

One of the most prolific designers of sports cars in the 20th century, Giovanni Michelotti died on this day in 1980 in Turin.

Michelotti's iconic Triumph Spitfire
Michelotti's iconic Triumph Spitfire
Photo: Luigi Rosa (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Known for his hard work and creative talent, Michelotti has been credited with designing more than 1200 different cars.

He worked for Ferrari, Lancia and Maserati in Italy but car firms abroad soon got to know about him and he also designed for Triumph and BMW.

Michelotti was born in Turin in 1921 and worked for coach building firms before opening his own design studio in 1959.
The first of his designs put into production was for an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 in 1947.

Among the legendary sports cars designed by Michelotti in Italy are the Ferrari 166 MM and the Maserati Sebring.

In Britain he was responsible for many successful Triumphs, including the famous Spitfire, Stag and TR4. He also designed buses and trucks for British Leyland.

The Shellette beach car with wicker seats
The Shellette beach car with wicker seats
Photo: Brian Snelson (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Under his own name he designed a beach car, the Shellette, with wicker seats. Only about 80 were made, but among the buyers were the Dutch royal family, who used it at their summer property in Porto Ercole, and Jacqueline Onassis.

Michelotti carried on working until the late 1970s and passed on his knowledge to future generations of car designers. He died in his home town of Turin on 23 January 1980 at the age of 58.

Travel tip:

Turin, the home town of Michelotti, is the capital city of the region of Piedmont in the north of Italy. It is an important business centre, particularly for the car industry, and has a rich history linked with the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of royal Turin .

Stay in Turin with Booking.com

The Dutch Royal Family had a summer home in the harbour town of Porto Ercole
The harbour at Porto Ercole in Tuscany
Photo: Mac9 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

The harbour town of Porto Ercole, where the Dutch royal family used a Michelotti beach car at their summer residence, is in Tuscany, about 40km (25 miles) from Grossetto. The resort is known for its good fish restaurants, its lovely old quarter and for being the place where the painter, Caravaggio, died of fever and was buried there while travelling to Rome in 1610. 

22 January 2016

Papal Swiss Guard

Colourful uniforms camouflage highly trained security professionals

The Pope’s Swiss Guard was founded on this day in Vatican City in 1506.

A soldier from the Swiss Guard on duty in the Vatican
A soldier from the Swiss
Guard on duty in the Vatican
A contingent of guards from Switzerland has continued to guard the Pope from that day to present times and it is one of the oldest military units still in existence.

The Swiss had been producing mercenary soldiers for hundreds of years with a reputation for loyalty and good discipline.

In the 15th century they were known for their good battle tactics and were employed by many European armies.

Pope Julius II ordered the first Swiss troops to guard the Vatican and they arrived in Rome on 22 January, 1506, the official date now given for the foundation of the Papal Swiss Guard.

The Pope later gave them the title ‘Defenders of the Church’s freedom’.

Recruits to the Pope’s Swiss Guard unit have to be Catholic men of Swiss nationality who have completed military training and can produce evidence of their good conduct.

Since the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981, the Guards have received training in unarmed combat and in the use of modern weapons.

They are a colourful sight on ceremonial occasions at the Vatican in their blue, red, orange and yellow uniforms of Renaissance design.

 US President Barack Obama on his way to an audience with Pope Francis in 2014, with a Swiss Guard escort
US President Barack Obama on his way to an audience
with Pope Francis in 2014, with a Swiss Guard escort
But inside every traditional costume is a state of the art-trained Swiss security professional.

Not only do they guard the Pope in Rome but they are also responsible for security at the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo .

Travel tip:

Vatican City is an independent state inside Italy, policed by its own security force, the Swiss Guard. Within it is St Peter’s Basilica, built over the place where St Peter is believed to have been crucified and buried. A few minutes walk from the Basilica you will come to the entrance to the Vatican museums where you can see the Sistine Chapel, which was decorated by Michelangelo. The Pope holds audiences in the Vatican every Wednesday and blesses the crowds in St Peter’s Square every Sunday.

The Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo is the Pope's summer residence
The Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo
Photo: Livioandronico2013 (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Travel tip:

Castel Gandolfo overlooks Lake Albano from its wonderful position in the hills south
of Rome. The Pope takes up residence every summer in the Apostolic Palace there. Although his villa lies within the town’s boundaries, it is one of the properties of the Holy See. The palace is not under Italian jurisdiction and is policed by the Swiss Guard. The whole area is part of the regional park of Castelli Romani and there are many places of historic and artistic interest to see there.


21 January 2016

Gennaro Contaldo – Chef

TV cook is passionate about Amalfi’s speciality dishes

Celebrity chef Gennaro Contaldo was born on this day in 1949 in Minori in Campania.

Gennaro Contaldo inspired Jamie Oliver's interest in Italian food
Gennaro Contaldo
Contaldo has made many appearances on British television alongside chefs such as Antonio Carluccio, Jamie Oliver and James Martin and he has also brought out several cook books.

It is well documented that he is the man responsible for inspiring Jamie Oliver’s interest in Italian food.

Contaldo grew up in the small seaside town of Minori near Amalfi and is a passionate advocate of the style of cooking in the area, cucina amalfitana.

From an early age he was interested in dishes cooked with local produce, going out to collect wild herbs for his mother, and he began helping out in local restaurants at the age of eight.

Contaldo moved to Britain in the late 1960s and travelled around the country working in village restaurants and studying the food growing wild in each area, such as herbs and mushrooms.

He eventually went to London and worked in several restaurants, including Antonio Carluccio’s establishment in Neal Street .

Contaldo opened his own restaurant in London, Passione, which won a Best Restaurant award, but he closed it after a few years when business began to decline.

His first cook book, Passione, dedicated to cucina amalfitana, won an award in 2003.

He mentored Jamie Oliver when they first met and has appeared on many of Oliver’s television shows, also helping him develop the menus for his chain of Italian restaurants in the UK .

Contaldo toured the regions of Italy with Antonio Carluccio for the BBC series, Two Greedy Italians. They then made a second series Two Greedy Italians: Still Hungry.

Contaldo now lives in London with his partner and their twin daughters.

Travel tip:

Minori is a pretty seaside resort on the Amalfi coast in the province of Salerno, with a good beach and plenty of hotels and restaurants. The ruins of a first century Roman villa were discovered there during the 1950s, showing that Minori had been considered a good holiday location more than 2000 years ago.

The Cathedral of St Andrew is Amalfi's architectural pride
The Cathedral of St Andrew
is Amalfi's architectural pride

Travel tip:

The quaint town of Amalfi was once a maritime power but now the boats just bring visitors to look round the narrow streets and enjoy the restaurants and shops. The town’s great architectural treasure, the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, which dates back to the ninth century, is up a flight of steps from the main square. Amalfi used to be a centre for the production of paper. Most of the paper mills have now closed but you can still buy beautiful stationery produced by one local business.


20 January 2016

Federico Fellini – film director

The cinematic legacy of Rimini’s most famous son

Federico Fellini, one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century, was born on this day in Rimini in 1920.

Fellini was one of Italy's greatest film directors
Federico Fellini
He had a career lasting almost 50 years and his films were nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four Oscars, each for Best Foreign Language Film, with La strada, Nights of Cabiria, 8½ and Amarcord.

Fellini went to Rome to study Law at University but ended up working as a journalist instead.

His assignments for a magazine gave him the opportunity to meet people involved in show business and he eventually got work as a script writer for films and radio.

Fellini worked as both a screenwriter and assistant director on Roberto Rossellini films as well as producing and directing for other filmmakers.

He began work on his first solo film, The White Sheik, in 1951. It received mixed reviews but in 1953 his film, I vitelloni, pleased both the public and the critics.

He won his first Academy Award with Nights of Cabiria, starring his wife, Giulietta Masini, in 1953.  Based on a story by Fellini, the film is about a prostitute who searches in vain for true love.

Watch the scene in La dolce vita in which Anita Ekberg bathes in the Trevi Fountain

Fellini’s film La dolce vita, starring Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni and set in Rome, broke all box office records in 1960 and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival. It is one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time.

Amarcord was based on his own memories of growing up in Rimini and features a group of adolescents living in a provincial town in Italy in the 1930s.
Mastroianni starred in Fellini's iconic movie La Dolce Vita
Fellini's La Dolce Vita starred
Marcello Mastroianni

It was Fellini’s second biggest commercial success after La dolce vita and won him his fourth Oscar. 

In 1985 he received an award for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale and he was also awarded an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1993.

Fellini died in Rome in October of the same year after suffering a stroke. At the request of his wife, “Improvviso dell’Angelo by Nino Rota, who had written the music for all of films, was played during his funeral.

The airport at Rimini has since been named the Federico Fellini airport in his honour.

Travel tip:

With wide sandy beaches, and plenty of hotels and restaurants, Rimini is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Europe, but it is also a historic town with many interesting things to see. The Tempio Maletestiano is a 13th century Gothic church,originally built for the Franciscans, that was transformed on the outside in the 15th century and decorated inside with frescoes by Piero della Francesca and works by Giotto and many other artists.

The Tempio Maletestiano houses works by Piero della Francesca and others
The Tempio Maletestiano in Rimini
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs (Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri) where Fellini’s funeral was held, is inside the former baths of Diocletian in Piazza della Repubblica in Rome. It was built on the orders of Pope Pius IV in 1561 to be dedicated to all Christian martyrs, known and unknown. Michelangelo and Vanvitelli both contributed to the design of the church.


19 January 2016

Il trovatore – opera

Verdi masterpiece is regularly performed all over the world 

One of the most successful operas composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Il trovatore was first staged on this day in 1853 in Rome.

Verdi's opera Il Trovatore premiered at Teatro Apollo in Rome
Giuseppe Verdi
The four act opera was based on a play by Antonio Garcia Gutiérrez about a troubadour, the son of a gypsy woman, who is in love with a lady in waiting at a Spanish castle.

After its premiere, at the Teatro Apollo in Rome, the opera became a  big success and in the first three years there were 229 productions of it worldwide.

In Naples alone there were 11 different productions in six theatres, including Teatro San Carlo, during the first three years.

The opera was first performed in America by the Max Maretzek Opera Company in 1855. The Metropolitan Opera in New York have performed it more than 600 times since it was first staged there in 1883.

Verdi was asked to prepare a French version of the opera in 1855, Le Trouvère, and to include music for a ballet. It was first performed in French in 1857 in Paris when Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugènie went to see it.

Listen to the Anvil Chorus, performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, in 2012

Along with Rigoletto and La traviata, Il trovatore is believed by experts to represent Verdi at the height of his artistry in the middle of his career.

The Anvil Chorus, or Gypsy Chorus, in Act Two has become one of the best-known passages of opera.

Nowadays, almost all performances of Il trovatore are in Italian and the opera is one of the most regularly performed worldwide.

Teatro Apollo, on the banks of the Tiber, staged many Verdi operas
The memorial in Rome on the
site of the Teatro Apollo

Travel tip:

Teatro Apollo in Rome was created from a medieval tower, the Torre dell’Annona, which had once acted as a prison. It became the Teatro Tordinona in the 17th century and then the Teatro Apollo in the late 18th century. The biggest theatre in Rome, it hosted the premieres of two Verdi operas but was demolished in 1888 when the embankments of the Tiber were built. A white marble fountain remains as a memorial, marking the sport where the theatre once stood.

Travel tip:

Teatro San Carlo in Naples is thought to be the oldest opera house in the world, opening in 1737 close to Piazza Plebiscito, the main square in the city. The theatre was designed by Giovanni Antonio Medrano for the Bourbon King of Naples, Charles I, and took just eight months to build. In the magnificent auditorium, the focal point is the royal box surmounted by the crown of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.