31 January 2017

Bernardo Provenzano - Mafia boss

Head of Corleonesi clan dodged police for 43 years

Bernardo Provenzano after he was arrested in 2006 following 43 years on the run from police
Bernardo Provenzano after he was arrested in 2006
following 43 years on the run from police

Bernardo Provenzano, a Mafia boss who managed to evade the Sicilian police for 43 years after a warrant was issued for his arrest in 1963, was born on this day in 1933 in Corleone, the fabled town in the rugged countryside above Palermo that became famous for its association with Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather.

The former farm labourer, who rose through the ranks to become the overall head - il capo di tutti i capi - of the so-called Cosa Nostra, lived for years under the eyes of the authorities in an opulent 18th century villa in a prestigious Palermo suburb, although ultimately he took refuge in the hills, alternating between two remote peasant farmhouses.

He was finally captured and imprisoned in 2006 and died in the prisoners' ward of a Milan hospital 10 years later, aged 83.

Although Provenzano assumed power during one of the bloodiest periods in Mafia history, he was eventually credited with rescuing the organisation from the brink of collapse by turning away from the violent path followed by his predecessor as capo di tutti i capi, Salvatore 'Toto' Riina, and restoring traditional Mafia values.

Corleone - the small agricultural town in the hills above Palermo that became a Mafia power hub
Corleone - the small agricultural town in the hills above
Palermo that became a Mafia power hub
Provenzano was born and raised in Corleone, the small agricultural town that acquired mythical status after Puzo chose Vito Corleone as the name for his fictional mafia boss in The Godfather.

He left school at the age of 10 to work in the fields at the time of the Allied invasion of Sicily in the summer of 1943.  He and Riina knew each other as boys and they joined the Mafia as teenagers. Provenzano was an excellent shot and he and Riina were hired by the ambitious mobster Luciano Liggio as armed escorts in his cattle-rustling operation.

Provenzano and Riina were subsequently among the 14 gunmen who in 1958 helped Liggio seize control of the Corleonese clan by murdering its leader, Michele Navarra.  Provenzano was identified as one of the killers and implicated in several other murders during a power struggle that ensued within the Corleone clan following the Navarra slaying. A warrant for his arrest was issued in 1963 and he went into hiding.

He was seldom seen in public, refused to have his picture taken and never answered the telephone in person, so fearful was he that he would be found. Yet over the next four decades he would become one of the most powerful figures in organised crime in Italy.

For more than 40 years, these police mug shots were the only pictures by which the fugitive boss could be identified
For more than 40 years, these police mug shots were the
only pictures by which the fugitive boss could be identified
When Leggio was arrested and jailed in 1974, Riina became the boss of the Corleonese clan and chose Provenzano as his right-hand man.

Riina set his sights on taking over the Mafia throughout Sicily and on switching from traditional Mafia activities such as extortion and protection rackets to the heroin trade, which was far more lucrative. However, his ambitions met with fierce opposition from the Palermo families and sparked a civil war within the Cosa Nostra that claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Ultimately, Riina prevailed. But the bloodshed outraged public opinion, prompting a concerted crackdown on Mafia activities culminating in the “Maxi Trial” of 1986-87 that saw nearly 360 mobsters convicted.  Many were found guilty in absentia, including Riina and Provenzano.

Extraordinarily, Provenzano was all this time living in the spectacular 18th century Villa Valguarnara in Bagheria, which was his home for much of the 1980s and 1990s. He went to considerable lengths to keep himself invisible, never having a bank account or a telephone, communicating with associates by way of pizzini - typewritten coded notes folded into tiny squares - and travelling to meetings in an ambulance.

Riina's response to the "Maxi Trial" was to wage a new war on the State itself, in which high profile victims included the Euro MP and former Mayor of Palermo, Salvatore Lima, and Italy’s most prominent anti-Mafia judges, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were murdered in Sicily within the space of five months in 1992.

These deaths caused still more public outrage and in January 1993 Riina was finally tracked down and arrested.

The anti-State campaign continued after Riina's arrest with a series of bomb attacks in public places in mainland Italy.  Five people, including a baby girl, were killed in 1993 when a car bomb exploded outside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

The Torre dei Pulci, close to the Uffizi Gallery, which took the brunt of the 1993 bomb attack
The Torre dei Pulci, close to the Uffizi Gallery,
which took the brunt of the 1993 bomb attack
In the meantime, Provenzano had taken Riina's place as capo di tutti i capi. The bombings stopped, it is thought, because he saw the high levels of violence that characterised Riina's reign as being an impediment to Mafia operations, attracting unwanted attention from the authorities.

It is even suspected that it was Provenzano who tipped off the police, through intermediaries, about Riina's address, so that he could seize power and oversee a return to more traditional Mafia practices.

Despite Riina's arrest, Provenzano kept out of sight and for many years it was assumed he was dead. In fact, he was quietly rebuilding the organisation and restoring its financial power.

That he was alive came to light in January 2005 during the arrest of other suspected Mafiosi, when police discovered some of his type-written coded notes and, working on a tip-off from a supergrass, found him living in a shepherd’s refuge in the countryside outside Corleone.

He was arrested on April 11, 2006. Having been already convicted in absentia of several murders, including those of the judges Falcone and Borsellino, he was imprisoned with no requirement for a trial.

Paradoxically, for one who made his money from crimes supported by threats and violence, Provenzano was deeply religious. Associates described how his notes often included blessings or quotations from the bible, while he appeared at one meeting of Cosa Nostra bosses in 1992 dressed as a cardinal. When arrested, all that he took with him from the shepherd’s refuge were his medicine and his rosary.

Travel tip:

Corleone, a town of around 12,000 inhabitants in the province of Palermo, was once dominated by Arabs before falling into the hands of the Normans.  Its strategic position overlooking the main routes between Palermo and Agrigento meant it was on the frontline in many wars.  At one time the town had two castles and was encircled by a defensive wall.  Its association with the Mafia began in the 1960s following the outbreak of violence that followed the killing of Michele Navarra. The link was solidified when Mario Puzo decided his main character in The Godfather would be known as Vito Corleone after a United States immigration official processing the arrival of Vito Andolini mistook his place of origin for his surname.

Inside the cathedral at Monreale, just outside Palermo, with its fabulous Byzantine mosaics
Inside the cathedral at Monreale, just outside Palermo, with
its fabulous Byzantine mosaics
Travel tip:

Some of the most impressive buildings in Palermo were left behind following the period in which the Normans ruled after conquering Sicily in 1072. The Norman legacy was a blend of Romanesque architecture, Byzantine mosaics and Arabic domes.  Notable examples are the Palazzo dei Normanni on Piazza Indipendenza, where the Palatine Chapel features golden mosaics of scenes from the Bible, the Church of La Martorana in Piazza Bellini and, a little out of town, cathedral at Monreale, with ceilings and walls decorated by master mosaicists from Byzantium.

More reading:

How Giovane Falcone made taking on the Cosa Nostra his life's work

Paolo Borsellino - the other half of Sicily's dynamic duo of Mafia-busters

Lucky Luciano - mobster from Palermo who organised the gangs of New York

Also on this day:

1788: The death in Rome of Bonnie Prince Charlie, pretender to the English throne

1888: The death of the Saint, Don Bosco


30 January 2017

Carlo Maderno - architect

Facade of St Peter's among most notable works

The facade of St Peter's Basilica in Rome is one of Carlo Maderno's most significant architectural works
The facade of St Peter's Basilica in Rome is one of
Carlo Maderno's most significant architectural works
The architect Carlo Maderno, who has been described as one of the fathers of Italian Baroque architecture, died on this day in 1629 in Rome.

His most important works included the facades of St Peter’s Basilica and the other Roman churches of Santa Susanna and Sant’ Andrea della Valle.

Although most of Maderno's work was in remodelling existing structures, he had a profound influence on the appearance of Rome, where his designs also contributed to the Palazzo Quirinale, the Palazzo Barberini and the papal palace at Castel Gandolfo. 

One building designed and completed under Maderno's full control was the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in the Sallustiano district.

Carlo Maderno was born in Capolago on the shore of Lake Lugano
Carlo Maderno was born in Capolago
on the shore of Lake Lugano
Maderno was born in 1556 in the village of Capolago, on the southern shore of Lake Lugano in what is now the Ticino canton of Switzerland, part of the finger of Italy's northern neighbouring country that extends between the Italian lakes Como and Maggiore.

Marble was quarried in the mountains around Capolago and as well as a talent for sculpture he had experience as a marble cutter when he moved with four of his brothers to Rome in 1588 to work with his uncle, Domenico Fontana.

Fontana also made his architectural mark in the city, where he worked on the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and the nearby Palazzo Montalto.  He also erected the 327-ton Egyptian obelisk at the centre of St Peter's Square as well as the obelisks in Piazza del Popolo, Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore, and Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Maderno's first commission in his own right, in 1596, was to build a facade for the church of Santa Susanna at the Baths of Diocletian, located on the Quirinal Hill.

Completed in 1603, Maderno's work on Santa Susanna has earned praise from modern architectural critics and at the time won him the admiration of Pope Paul V, who appointed him as the architect of St Peters, a position previously held by Domenico Fontana.

The facade of St Peter's has attracted criticism because it obscures the view of Michelangelo's dome from the piazza
The facade of St Peter's has attracted criticism because it
obscures the view of Michelangelo's dome from the piazza
Extensive changes to St Peter's Basilica were demanded of Maderno by Paul V, both inside and out. Principally, he was required to modify Michelangelo's plans by adding an extended nave and a palatial facade.

His work on the inside, which changed the layout from Michelangelo's Greek cross to the present Latin cross, is generally seen as a seamless expansion but the facade has been condemned by some critics as a disaster.

Their main complaint is that the massive classical structure, with its lower two levels in brown stone and the top level in white marble, severely limits the view of Michelangelo's magnificent dome, despite it being the tallest in the world, particularly for the crowds looking up from the piazza.  The eight unevenly spaced columns have also divided opinions, praised in some quarters as a forceful statement, criticised in others as incongruous.

Happily, more blame was attached to an over-ambitious and architecturally ignorant pope than to Maderno himself.  There is an acceptance that he had much less freedom over the design than in his other projects.

The Palazzo Barberini was designed by Maderno on  behalf of the the family of Pope Urban VIII
The Palazzo Barberini was designed by Maderno on
behalf of the the family of Pope Urban VIII
Maderno's influence is seen too in the churches of Gesù e Maria, San Giacomo degli Incurabili, Santa Lucia in Selci and San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, where he is buried.

The Palazzo Barberini, which Maderno designed for the family of Pope Urban VIII, was completed by Francesco Borromini and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Travel tip:

From conception to completion, St Peter's Basilica took more than 150 years to build.  Suggested by Pope Nicholas V in about 1450, at which time the original St Peter's was near collapse, it was not finished until 1615.  Although the principal design input from the laying of the first stone in 1506 came from Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Maderno and Bernini, contributions were also made by Giuliano da Sangallo, Fra Giocondo, Raphael and Antonio da Sangallo.  Michelangelo became involved with reluctance, ironically, after Pope Paul III's first choice as architect, Giulio Romano, died before he could take up the post and second choice Jacopo Sansovino refused to leave Venice.

Michelangelo's dome dominates the Rome skyline
Michelangelo's dome dominates the Rome skyline
Travel tip:

For all that the view from close quarters may have been impaired, Michelan- gelo's dome is one of the dominant features of the Rome skyline.  Situated in the Vatican City next to the Tiber river, St Peter's is the largest Christian church in the world, covering 5.7 acres with a capacity to accommodate 60,000 people, with room for a further 400,000 in the square outside.  The dome itself rises to a height of 136.57 metres (448.1 feet) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross.  The Egyptian obelisk in the square, which rises to 40m (132 ft), is said to have been erected at or near the spot in which St Peter was allegedly crucified by the Romans in 64 AD.

More reading:

Why Michelangelo was called 'the greatest artist of all time'

How Gian Lorenzo Bernini's spectacular fountains adorn Rome

The consecration of St Peter's Basilica

Also on this day:

1935: The birth of movie actress Elsa Martinelli

(Picture credits: Main picture of St Peter's by Jean-Pol Grandmont; Palazzo Berberini by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra; Rome skyline by Daryl_Mitchell; all via Wikimedia Commons)


29 January 2017

Luigi Nono - avant-garde composer

Venetian used music as a medium for political protest

Luigi Nono: the composer who used his music to express his political viewpoint
Luigi Nono: the composer who used his music
to express his political viewpoint
The Italian avant-garde composer Luigi Nono, famous for using music as a form of political expression, was born in Venice on this day in 1924.

Nono, whose compositions often defied the description of music in any traditional sense, was something of a contradiction in that he was brought up in comfortable surroundings and had a conventional music background.

His father was a successful engineer, wealthy enough to provide for his family in a large house in Dorsoduro, facing the Giudecca Canal, while his grandfather, a notable painter, inspired in him an interest in the arts.  He had music lessons with the composer Gian Francesco Malipiero at the Venice Conservatory, where he developed a fascination for the Renaissance madrigal tradition, before going to the University of Padua to study law.

Nono appreciated the natural sounds of Venice, in particular how much they were influenced by the water, and as he began to compose works of his own there might have been an expectation that any contemporary influences would have been against a backcloth of ideas rooted in tradition.

Yet the classical Venetian music of Giovanni Gabrieli, Antonio Vivaldi and others could not have been further away from the sounds that would define much of Nono's output.

There was no harmony or melody, none of the things commonly associated with music.  Instead, Nono's compositions often comprised strange sounds, generated by conventional instruments and voices, yet difficult to associate with them.  Listening to them was uncomfortable but that was their purpose, to defy convention and challenge the listener to be aroused and seek an interpretation, in much the same way that modern art asks the observer to see visual images in a different way.

Luigi Nono was born in this house on Fondamenta Zattere al Ponte Longo, facing the wide Giudecca Canal
Luigi Nono was born in this house on Fondamenta Zattere
al Ponte Longo, facing the wide Giudecca Canal
Nono's early influences were the Italian composer-conductor Bruno Maderna and German conductor Hermann Scherchen, with whom he began working in 1946 and who both encouraged his work.  He attended the Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt, Germany, where his compositions reflected his admiration for the Austrian abstract composer Anton Webern. 

Yet just as strong an influence was his politics. Like many Italian intellectuals of the post-war period, Nono had been disturbed by the experience of growing up under Fascism. He rebelled in the 1950s by becoming a Communist, following in the footsteps of other well-heeled intellectuals, such as the film director Luigi Visconti.

However, there was nothing faddish or self-indulgent about his interest in left-wing causes. It seemed to be at the roots of his being. "An artist must concern himself with his time," he once said. "Injustice dominates in our time. As man and musician I must protest.

"The genesis of every work of mine springs from some human 'provocation' – an event or a text in our lives which provokes my instinct and my consciousness to bear witness."

Thus he produced pieces such as Il Canto Sospeso  - 'The Suspended Song' - which celebrates the heroic deaths of Resistance fighters. Later pieces would highlight revolutionary causes around the world from Mao to Castro yet never was any protesting sentiment expressed in a rousing chorus, rather in distorted and fragmented sounds, the sounds of shouts and screams and rage.

Nono's grave at the cemetery of San Michele
Nono's grave at the cemetery of San Michele
He wrote pieces protesting against the atomic bomb, against American involvement in Vietnam and was inspired by visits to former Nazi prison camps.  Nono was once described as the angriest composer that ever lived, a flippant remark yet once that seemed to be borne out by his body of work.

Only in his later years did he mellow, when his compositions sought to reflect the stillness and muffled sounds of Venice at its most haunting, in the winter, empty of crowds and shrouded in mists.

Married to the daughter of Arnold Schoenberg, the Austrian composer and music theorist who was an early influence, Nono had two daughters, Silvia and Serena. He died from a liver complaint in 1990. He is buried at the cemetery on San Michele island.

Travel tip:

The Dorsoduro, where Nono grew up, is one of the six sestieri - municipal areas - of Venice, sitting between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal.  It is regarded as a good place to get the feel for the more traditional Venice, without the huge crowds and tourist trappings associated with the areas around St Mark's and the Rialto.  There are many traditional bacari, the small bars that sell inexpensive small snacks - cicchetti - along with glasses of wine - known locally as ombre, as well as squares where local people meet during the day and students gather at night.  Yet it is also home to some fine churches, such as San Sebastiano, full of works by Veronese, and two of the city's most prestigious galleries, the Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim.

Hotels in Venice from Hotels.com

The church of San Sebastiano in Dorsoduro has many  works by the Venetian Renaissance painter Veronese
The church of San Sebastiano in Dorsoduro has many
works by the Venetian Renaissance painter Veronese
Travel tip:

The Giudecca itself - an island divided from the main body of Venice by the wide Giudecca Canal - is perhaps even more representative of the real Venice, if such a thing exists.  Rarely a destination for many tourists, apart from the well-heeled ones who stay at the famed Hotel Cipriani at its eastern tip, it was once home to only the residents of a small fishing village. Later it was developed for market gardens and then became fashionable with Venice's wealthier residents as somewhere with space to build their grand houses.  More recently, the western end of the island has become home to shipyards and factories.  There are plenty of interesting streets and enough bars and local restaurants to satisfy those curious enough to explore.

Hotels in Venice from Expedia

More reading:

How the Baroque master Antonio Vivaldi died penniless in Vienna

Gabrieli's music led the transition from Renaissance to Baroque in music of Venice

How the Venetian Patty Pravo turned her back on classical music for a career in pop

Also on this day:

1966: Fire destroys Venice's La Fenice opera house

(Picture credits: Luigi Nono from Zoeken; Nono's house and San Sebastiano by Didier Descouens; grave by Smerus; all via Wikimedia Commons)


28 January 2017

Paolo Gorini – scientist

Teacher invented technique for preserving corpses

The statue of Paolo Gorini in  Piazza Ospedale in Lodi
The statue of Paolo Gorini in
Piazza Ospedale in Lodi
Mathematician and scientist Paolo Giuseppe Antonio Enrico Gorini, who made important discoveries about organic substances, was born on this day in 1813 in Pavia.

He is chiefly remembered for preserving corpses and anatomical parts according to a secret process he invented himself. His technique was first used on the body of Giuseppe Mazzini, the politician and activist famous for his work towards the unification of Italy.

Gorini was orphaned at the age of 12, but thanks to financial help from former colleagues of his father, who had been a university maths professor, he was able to continue with his studies and he obtained a mathematics degree from the University of Pavia.

He paid tribute in his autobiography to his private teacher, Alessandro Scannini, who he said first inspired his interest in geology and volcanology.

Gorini went to live in Lodi, just south of Milan, in 1834, where he became a physics lecturer at the local Lyceum.

As well as teaching, he dedicated his time to geology experiments, actually creating artificial volcanoes to illustrate their eruptive dynamics. He also made his first attempts at the preservation of animal substances.

Gorini took an interest in politics at a time when Italy was moving towards unification and was in touch with some of the famous names of the time, such as Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi. He even came up with an innovative plan of attack against the Austrians during a secret meeting of revolutionaries in Lodi in 1848.

The Mazzini Mausoleum in Genoa, where the body of Giuseppe Mazzini, preserved by Gorini, was laid to rest
The Mazzini Mausoleum in Genoa, where the body of
Giuseppe Mazzini, preserved by Gorini, was laid to rest
He retired from teaching at the age of 43 to spend more time on his experiments. He was commissioned by the Government to write a report on the characteristics and dangers of the volcanoes in Italy and in 1871 he published Sull’origine dei vulcani - On the Origins of Volcanoes.

He was asked to preserve the remains of Mazzini after the latter's death in Pisa in 1872, ahead of a funeral in Genoa that drew a crowd of some 100,000 people.

Mazzini’s body now lies in the cemetery of Stigliano near Genoa and the last examination of the corpse in 1946 acknowledged its substantial preservation.

Gorini had arrived in Pisa two days after the death of Mazzini when the body’s condition was already compromised.

Gorini embalmed the body of the novelist Giuseppe Rovani
Gorini embalmed the body of
the novelist Giuseppe Rovani
But although the process of mineralisation of the tissues did not produce excellent results because of the delay, the Gorinian technique was praised and brought the scientist international fame.

After successfully preserving the body of the novelist Giuseppe Rovani, who died in Milan in 1874, Gorini began to focus his energies on cremation. He planned the first crematorium in Italy, which was built in the cemetery of Riolo near Lodi in 1877.

In 1878 he was commissioned by the Cremation Society of Great Britain to construct the cremator at Woking Crematorium.

Gorini died in 1881 at the age of 67 in Lodi. There is now a statue of him and a museum dedicated to his work in Lodi.

The beautiful Piazza della Vittoria in Lodi is famous  for the porticoes that line all four sides
The beautiful Piazza della Vittoria in Lodi is famous
 for the porticoes that line all four sides
Travel tip:

Lodi, where Gorini taught and carried out his experiments, is a city in Lombardy, south of Milan and on the right bank of the River Adda. The main square, Piazza della Vittoria, has been listed by the Touring Club of Italy as among the most beautiful squares in Italy and it has porticoes on all four sides. Nearby Piazza Broletto has a 14th century marble baptismal font from Verona.

Travel tip:

A museum in Lodi houses the Collezione Anatomica Paolo Gorini, where you can see some of the animal and human anatomical preparations created by the scientist as he focused his efforts on preserving dead bodies. The collection is on display inside the Ospedale Vecchio of Lodi in the beautiful 15th century Chiostro della Farmacia. It is open on Wednesday from 10.00 to 12.00, on Saturday from 9.30 to 12.30 and on Sunday from 14.30 to 16.30. Entry is free of charge.

More reading:

Giuseppe Mazzini, the revolutionary who became the hero of Italian unification

Why the discoveries of 18th century anatomist Antonio Maria Valsava still help astronauts today

How physicist Luigi Galvani's name entered scientific terminology

Also on this day:

1968: The birth of Italy and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon


27 January 2017

Trajan - Roman emperor

Military expansionist with progressive social policies

This bust of the Emperor Trajan, one of many, can be  found in the Royal Baths Park in Warsaw, Poland
This bust of the Emperor Trajan, one of many, can be
found in the Royal Baths Park in Warsaw, Poland
Marcus Ulpius Traianus succeeded to the role of Roman Emperor on this day in 98 AD.  The 13th ruler of the empire and known as Trajan, he presided over the greatest military expansion in Roman history, the consequence of which was that in terms of physical territory the empire was at its largest during his period in office.

Despite his taste for military campaigns - he conquered Dacia (the area now called Romania), Armenia, Mesopotamia, and the Sinai Peninsula - Trajan was seen as the second of the so-called Good Emperors to rule during the years known as Pax Romana, a long period of relative peace and stability.

He was credited with maintaining peace by working with rather than against the Senate and the ruling classes, introducing policies aimed at improving the welfare of citizens, and engaging in massive building projects that were to the benefit of ordinary Romans.

Marcus Ulpius Traianus was born in the Roman province of Baetica, which approximates to the area now known as Andalusia in southern Spain. His father was a provincial governor who then turned soldier, commanding a legion in the Roman war against Jews. He became a consul and then governor, successively, of Syria and Asia.

Trajan served 10 years as a legionary staff tribune before being appointed to the command of a legion in Spain in 89 AD, in which capacity he was sent to help quell a revolt against the emperor Domitian by the governor of Upper Germany. Domitian rewarded him with a consulship.

His rise to emperor followed the assassination of Domitian in a palace conspiracy. Domitian's replacement, Nerva, was childless but adopted Trajan as his successor as someone who seemed acceptable both to the army commanders and to the Senate.

Trajan's Column, built in 113 AD
Trajan's Column, built in 113 AD
Trajan, who had married Pompeia Plotina but, in common with many among the Roman high command, had male and female sexual partners, was a much more active ruler than Nerva had been during his short reign. He immediately began planning for his Dacia campaign, remaining at his governer's residence in Upper Germany for almost a year before returning to Rome to accept the imperial powers.

When he finally did return to Rome in 99 AD, he made generous gifts to the people, distributing cash handouts and giving more poor citizens free grain from the state.  He reduced taxes and began a public fund for the support of poor children in the Italian cities, who had previously had to rely on donations from private individuals.

He saw to it that competent and honest officials administered  the provinces, with special governors appointed to provinces whose cities had suffered financial difficulties.

Trajan undertook or encouraged extensive public works. Roads, bridges and aqueducts were built, wastelands reclaimed and harbours constructed.

Rome, in particular, saw substantial improvements, including a new aqueduct bringing water from the north. An impressive public bathing complex was built on the Esquiline Hill, and a magnificent new forum, designed by the architect Apollodorus of Damascus, at the centre of which was a colossal equestrian statue of the emperor. New streets of shops and warehouses sprang up nearby.

A court flanked by libraries for Greek and Latin books and backed by a temple was developed close to the forum. Trajan’s Column, an innovative work of art that commemorated his Dacian Wars, is still standing. Trajan's ashes were later placed in the column's cubical base. The statue of Trajan on top was removed during the Middle Ages and replaced in 1588 by one of Saint Peter.

Scenes from the Dacian Wars are captured on the  extraordinary bas relief that decorates Trajan's Column
Scenes from the Dacian Wars are captured on the
extraordinary bas relief that decorates Trajan's Column
Away from his civil accom- plishments, Trajan made his mark chiefly by abandoning the policy, established by the first Roman emperor, Augustus, and generally maintained by his success- ors, of not extending the Roman frontiers. In 101, he resumed the invasion of Dacia that Domitian had been forced to abandon, creating a new province that enabled Rome to exploit rich mines of gold and salt.

Trajan’s second major war was against the Parthians. He annexed the Nabataean kingdom, the part of Arabia extending east and south of Judaea, reinstated the pre-Roman king of Armenia previously deposed by the Parthians, annexed upper Mesopotamia and captured the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon.

In 115, Trajan survived the earthquake that devastated Antioch (modern Antakya, Turkey) but not long afterwards decided to leave after revolts had broken out in the newly conquered territories. He intended to return to Rome but did not get there. Aged 64 and in failing health, he died at Selinus - now the southern Turkish resort of Gazipasa.

His ashes were returned to Rome for a state funeral. Just before his death was made public, it was announced that he had nominated Hadrian as his successor.

Travel tip:

Trajan's Column is located in what remains of Trajan's Forum, built near the Quirinal Hill in Rome. The freestanding column is most famous for its spiral bas relief, which depicts 155 scenes from the Dacian Wars.  Standing about 30m (98 feet) in height -  35m including the pedestal - the column is made from 20 colossal drums in Carrara marble, each weighing about 32 tons. Inside the shaft, a spiral staircase of 185 steps provides access to a viewing platform at the top. After construction, a statue of Trajan was put in place on the top but this statue disappeared in the Middle Ages. In 1587, Pope Sixtus V replaced it with a bronze figure of St. Peter, which remains to this day.

The remains of Trajan's Forum, looking towards the  church of  Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano
The remains of Trajan's Forum, looking towards the
 church of  Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano
Travel tip:

Trajan's Forum, situated in Via Alessandrina, was the last Imperial forum to be constructed in ancient Rome. It consisted of a vast portico-lined piazza measuring 300m (980 feet) by 185m (607 feet), which required parts of the Quirinal and Capitoline hills to be excavated to make a flat area sufficiently large. The main entrance on the southern side was via a triumphal arch surmounted by a statue of Trajan in a six-horse chariot.  Today, only a restored section of the nearby markets - off Via Quattro Novembre - and Trajan's Column remain. A number of columns from the Basilica Ulpia which remained on site have been re-erected.

More reading:

How Emperor Titus rallied support for the victims of Vesuvius eruption

Walk around the forum inspired Edward Gibbon's epic history of the Roman empire

Santa Giustina and the purge of Christians that claimed her life

Also on this day:

1901: The sudden death in Milan of the great composer Giuseppe Verdi

(Picture credits: Warsaw bust by Brandmeister; Trajan's Column by Alvesgaspar; Forum and church by LPLT;  all via Wikimedia Commons)


26 January 2017

Hebrew Bible in print for first time

Bologna printer makes history

The early printed editions of the Torah  were presented in the form of a scroll
The early printed editions of the Torah
were presented in the form of a scroll
The first printed edition of the Hebrew Bible was completed in Bologna on this day in 1482.

Specifically, the edition was the Pentateuch, or Torah, which consists of the first five books of the Christian and Jewish Bibles - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Torah, in Hebrew, means 'instruction'.  The book was given that name because the stories within it, which essentially form the opening narrative of the history of the Jewish people, and the interpretations offered of them, were intended to set out the moral and religious obligations fundamental to the Jewish way of life.

The book was the work of the Italian-Jewish printer Abraham ben Hayyim dei Tintori, from Pesaro.

The text consisted of large, clear square letters, accompanied by a translation in the Jewish biblical language Aramaic and a commentary by Rashi, who had been the foremost biblical commentator of the Middle Ages.

It was published and financed by Joseph ben Abraham, a member of the Caravita banking family in Bologna. The editor was the Hebrew scholar Yosef Hayyim ben Aaron, of Strasbourg.

The printing press had been invented in Germany in 1439 by Johannes Gutenburg and presses were soon set up across Europe as news of the phenomenon - as revolutionary at the time as the word processor more than five centuries later - spread.

The technology reached Italy in 1464, when the German monks Arnold Pannartz and Konrad Sweinheim set up the Subiaco Press in the Abbey of Santa Scolastica at Subiaco, about 70km (43 miles) to the east of Rome.

The Abbey of Santa Scolastica at Subiaco, which saw Italy's first printing press set up by German monks in 1464
The Abbey of Santa Scolastica at Subiaco, which saw Italy's
first printing press set up by German monks in 1464
It is thought that Abraham ben Hayyim probably started as a textile printer and bookbinder at Pesaro. In 1477 he printed two Hebrew books at Ferrara.

In Bologna, where he was employed as master printer for the wealthy Soncino family from just outside Milan, he became the first printer to find a solution for the difficult technical problem of adding vowels and cantillation signs to the previously vocalised biblical text.

How many copies were printed is not known. Some 27 are known to exist in public collections, of which only 10 are complete. One of them, auctioned at Christie's in Paris in 2014, printed on vellum in an 18th century binding, achieved a price of €2.785 million ($3,866,578).

Six years later, ben Hayyim completed the first printed edition of the whole of the Hebrew Bible, comprising the Neviim and Ketuvim as well as the Torah, at the Soncino press in the town of the same name, near Milan.

The Basilica of San Petronio towers over the  Piazza Maggiore in Bologna
The Basilica of San Petronio towers over the
Piazza Maggiore in Bologna
Travel tip:

The origins of Bologna, one of Italy's most historic cities, can be traced back to 1,000BC or possibly earlier, with a settlement that was developed into an urban area by the Etruscans, the Celts and the Romans.  The University of Bologna, the oldest in the world, was founded in 1088.  Bologna's city centre, which has undergone substantial restoration since the 1970s, is one of the largest and best preserved historical centres in Italy, characterised by 38km (24 miles) of walkways protected by porticoes.  At the heart of the city is the beautiful Piazza Maggiore, dominated by the Gothic Basilica of San Petronio, which at 132m long, 66m wide and with a facade that touches 51m at its tallest, is the 10th largest church in the world and the largest built in brick.

Travel tip:

Subiaco, a town on the eastern fringe of the Lazio region near the border with Abruzzo, is notable for its two abbeys, the Abbey of Santa Scolastica, and St Benedict's, where the Benedictine Order originated in the sixth century, the first of 12 monasteries built by St Benedict, who from the age of 14 lived for three years in a cave above the nearby Anio river.  Over the centuries, many monks came to Subiaco from Germany, hence the presence of Pennartz and Sweinheim in 1464.  Notable people born in Subiaco include Lucrezia Borgia and the actress, Gina Lollobrigida.

More reading:

Giambattista Bodoni - printer patronised by Napoleon

Guglielmo Marconi - inventor from Bologna who created first radio

How Giovanni Riccioli had a moon crater named after him

Also on this day:

Saints day of friar Gabriela Allegra

(Picture credits: Bible scroll by HOWI; Abbey by Livioandronico2013; Basilica by Giovanni Dall'Orto; all via Wikimedia Commons)


25 January 2017

Antonio Scotti - baritone

Neapolitan singer who played 35 seasons at the Met

Antonio Scotti in his most famous role as Baron Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca
Antonio Scotti in his most famous role as
Baron Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca
The operatic baritone Antonio Scotti, who performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York for a remarkable 35 consecutive seasons, was born on this day in 1866 in Naples.

Scotti's career coincided with those of many fine baritones and experts did not consider his voice to be among the richest. Yet what he lacked in timbre, he compensated for in musicality, acting ability and an instinctive grasp of dramatic timing.

Later in his career, he excelled in roles that emerged from the verismo movement in opera in the late 19th century, of which the composer Giacomo Puccini was a leading proponent, drawing on themes from real life and creating characters more identifiable with real people.

For a while, Scotti's portrayal of the chief of police Baron Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca, for example, was the yardstick against which all performances were measured, at least until Tito Gobbi's emergence in the 1930s.  Indeed, in 1924 the Met chose a gala presentation of Tosca as a fitting way for Scotti to mark the 25th anniversary of his debut there.

Scotti's parents in Naples were keen for him to enter the priesthood but he chose to pursue his ambitions in music. He received his first serious training at the Naples Conservatory under Esther Trifari-Paganini and Vincenzo Lombardi, who was the vocal coach employed by Enrico Caruso.

Most accounts of Scotti's career say he made his debut in Malta in 1889 in Giuseppe Verdi's Aida but some suggest he had already performed in public at the Circolo Filarmonico in Naples in Gaspare Spontini's La vestale.  What is agreed is that audiences and critics were impressed by the young baritone and he was soon being booked to appear elsewhere, not only in Italy but in Spain and Portugal, Russia and South America.

Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where Scotti made his debut in 1898 in Richard Wagner's Der Meistersinger
Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where Scotti made his debut
in 1898 in Richard Wagner's Der Meistersinger
His status as a singer destined for an illustrious career was confirmed when he made his debut at La Scala in Milan in 1898 in the role of Hans Sachs in Richard Wagner's Der Meistersinger, under the baton of Arturo Toscanini.

He performed at Covent Garden in London for the first time in 1899 as Don Giovanni in Mozart's opera of the same name, in which he also made his New York debut in the same year.  He would return to Covent Garden almost every year until the outbreak of war in 1914.

Scotti's association with Baron Scarpia in Tosca began in 1901, when he became the first artist to sing the role in America.  He would go on to perform the role a further 216 times, playing opposite 15 different Toscas, including the beautiful American soprano Geraldine Farrar, with whom he was said to be infatuated.

Farrar had an affair with Toscanini and was rumoured to be involved romantically also with Caruso, who became Scotti's close friend, their careers at the Met running parallel.  Scotti was Rigoletto to Caruso's Duke of Mantua when the latter made his debut at the house in Verdi's opera in 1903 and they would share the stage on many occasions.

A dapper Antonio Scotti pictured in New  York in 1915 at the height of his fame
A dapper Antonio Scotti pictured in New
York in 1915 at the height of his fame
By the time he retired, Scotti had clocked up more than 1,200 performances with the Metropolitan Opera House Company, either in New York or on tour.  Among his other notable roles, he was Puccini's Marcello in La bohème and Sharpless in Madame Butterfly, each on more than 100 occasions.

From 1919 he also toured with his own troupe of singers, under the name of the Scotti Opera Company, although the venture was not a financial success.

His final Met appearance came in January 1933, shortly before his 67th birthday, when he sang Chim-Fen in Franco Leoni's one-act opera L'Oracolo, a role he had premiered at Covent Garden in 1905 and which he played in New York several times.  Despite a voice that was by then beginning to fail, a dynamic performance was still hailed as a fitting send-off.

Scotti made a number of recordings, including several duets with Caruso, Farrar and with the Polish coloratura soprano, Marcella Sembrich, although he did not enjoy the commercial success that came the way of Caruso.

He returned to Naples, intending to enjoy retirement in the city of his birth, but had not been able to turn his years of celebrity in New York into financial security and after three years in reduced circumstances, relying on money he was sent occasionally by sympathetic friends and fans in the United States, he died in hospital in 1936 from arterial disease.

Travel tip:

Milan's famous opera house, Teatro alla Scala - popularly known as La Scala - came into being in 1778.  It was at first called the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala, having been commissioned by the Empress Maria Theresa of the House of Hapsburg, of which the Duchy of Milan was at the time a part, as replacement for the Teatro Regio Ducale following a fire in 1776.  It was built on the site of the former church of Santa Maria alla Scala.  As with many theatres of the time, La Scala was also a casino, and opera-goers in the early days had to contend with the distraction of gambling activities taking place at the same time as the cast were performing on the stage.

The Naples Music Conservatory is next to the
Church of San Pietro a Majella 
Travel tip:

The Naples Music Conservatory occupies the former monastery adjoining the church of San Pietro a Majella at the western end of Via dei Tribunali, one of the three parallel streets running from east to west that mark the grid of the historic centre of the city, one of which - Via San Biagio dei Librai - is more commonly known as Spaccanapoli.  Formerly housed in the monastery of San Sebastiano, on the eastern side of Piazza Dante, the Conservatory moved to its present location in 1826.

More reading:

Also on this day:

1348: Devastating earthquake hits Friuli Venezia Giulia

(Picture credit: Church of San Pietro a Majella by Armando Mancini; via Wikimedia Commons)


24 January 2017

Giorgio Chinaglia - footballer

Centre-forward from Carrara became a star on two continents

Giorgio Chinaglia, wearing the blue shirt of Lazio. embroidered with the Scudetto
Giorgio Chinaglia, wearing the blue shirt
of Lazio. embroidered with the Scudetto
The footballer Giorgio Chinaglia, who would start his career in Wales before enjoying stardom in his native Italy and then the United States, was born on this day in 1947 in Carrara in Tuscany.

A powerful centre forward and a prolific goalscorer, Chinaglia scored more than 100 goals for Lazio. His 193 for New York Cosmos made him the all-time leading goalscorer in the North American Soccer League.

Chinaglia left Italy at the age of nine after his father, Mario, decided that his family would enjoy a more prosperous future abroad given the state of Italy's economy in the immediate wake of the Second World War.  Jobs at a Cardiff steelworks were advertised in the employment office in Carrara and Mario successfully applied.  He would eventually leave the steelworks to train as a chef, building on his experience as a cook in the army, and ultimately opened his own restaurant.

The catholic schools Chinaglia attended tended to favour rugby as their principal winter game and his teachers saw in him a potential second-row forward.  But rugby was an alien game to him and he much preferred football.  Ultimately he was picked for Cardiff Schools, for whom he scored a hat-trick in an English Schools Shield match, in doing so earning a trial at Swansea Town.

The Second Division club - now playing in the Premier League as Swansea City - signed him as an apprentice in 1962 but he was criticised for poor timekeeping, for having a casual attitude to training and being more interested in drinking, gambling and women.  He had to wait until 1965 to make his league debut and after just six appearances - and one goal - in a 15-month period, he was released.

Giorgio Chinaglia celebrates a goal for New York Cosmos
Giorgio Chinaglia celebrates a goal for New York Cosmos
National service then compelled Chinaglia to return to Italy.  The experience was perfect for him, enabling him to train hard and develop discipline.

On returning to civilian life, he was barred from playing for a Serie A club for three years because he had been a professional in another country.  But he was able to play for Massese, a Serie C club in the neighbouring town to Carrara, before moving to Naples to play for another Serie C team, Internapoli, for whom he scored 26 goals in 66 games.

Lazio gave him his chance in Serie A and although he was not an elegant player - more a big, bustling centre forward in the classic English style - he was a deadly finisher, scoring 122 goals in 246 appearances for the Rome club.

Nicknamed 'Long John' for his resemblance to John Charles, the Wales striker who had starred for Juventus a generation before, he helped Lazio win the first Scudetto in their history in 1974, when his 24 goals included the title-winning penalty against Foggia.

Giorgio Chinaglia made 14 appearances for  the Azzurri - Italy's national team
Giorgio Chinaglia made 14 appearances for
the Azzurri - Italy's national team
He made 14 appearances in the Italy national team but his international career ended abruptly in 1974 when was substituted in a game against Haiti in the World Cup finals in West Germany and reacted by arguing with head coach Ferruccio Valcareggi and kicking down a dressing-room door.

Subjected to abuse back home, he took the bold decision to quit Italy for America. Married to an American girl he had met in Italy, he had already bought a house in Englewood, New Jersey and in 1976 joined New York Cosmos.

The wealthy NASL franchise had signed up the Brazilian great Pelé the year before and Chinaglia would soon be joined in by former West Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer and other big-name stars such as Carlos Alberto of Brazil and Johan Neeskens of The Netherlands.

But whereas these players were nearing the end of their careers, Chinaglia was a player in his prime.  Coaches and team officials found him difficult, but the Cosmos were NASL champions four times during his seven seasons and he was the league's top scorer on four occasions, including three of the title-winning years. In all competitions, including the indoor league, he scored 262 goals.

Aware of his star quality, Chinaglia would hold court for the media after games in the locker room wearing a brocaded dressing gown.

He became an American citizen in 1979, but was tempted back to Italy in 1983 to become president of Lazio. His temperament was not suited to being a club official, however. and he was banned from football for eight months for threatening a referee.

He died in 2012 in Naples, Florida, having suffered a heart attack.

The mountains above Carrara are famous for the blue-grey marble used for many buildings in Italy and worldwide
The mountains above Carrara are famous for the blue-grey
marble used for many buildings in Italy and worldwide
Travel tip:

Carrara, a small city in Tuscany just inland from the Ligurian Sea coastline, is famous for its blue-grey marble, which is quarried in the mountains nearby and has been used since the time of ancient Rome.  The Pantheon and Trajan's Column were both constructed using Carrara marble, which was also the material used for many Renaissance sculptures.  Carrara is home to many academies of sculpture and fine arts and a museum of statuary and antiquities.  The exterior of the city's own 12th century duomo is almost entirely marble.

Travel tip:

Società Podistica Lazio - Lazio Athletics Club - was founded in January 1900 in the Prati district of Rome, making it the oldest Roman football team currently active. Keen to attract players and supporters from outside the city of Rome, the club took the name of the region, Lazio.  It might have gone out of existence in 1927, when the Fascist government proposed merging all the city's teams into one under the umbrella of AS Roma. However, Giorgio Vaccaro, a general in the Fascist regime and a Lazio fan, defended the club's right to keep its own identity, thereby creating one of Italian football's fiercest rivalries as the two battle each year to be the city's number one club.

More reading:

How Luigi Riva became the darling of Cagliari and Italy's greatest goalscorer

Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci - the golden boy of Italia '90

Gigi Radice - the coach who brought joy back to Torino

Also on this day:

1916: Birth of actor Arnaldo Foà


23 January 2017

Muzio Clementi – composer and pianist

Musician is remembered as ‘father of the piano’

Muzio Clementi, the Italian composer who helped  found England's Royal Philharmonic Society
Muzio Clementi, the Italian composer who helped
found England's Royal Philharmonic Society
Composer Muzio Clementi, whose studies and sonatas helped develop the technique of the early pianoforte, was born on this day in 1752 in Rome.

He moved to live in England when he was young, where he became a successful composer and pianist and started a music publishing and piano manufacturing business. He also helped to found the Royal Philharmonic Society in London.

Clementi was baptised Mutius Philippus Vincentius Franciscus Xaverius the day after his birth at the Church of San Lorenzo in Damaso in Rome.

His father was a silversmith, who soon recognised Clementi’s musical talent and arranged for him to have lessons from a relative, who was maestro di cappella at St Peter’s Basilica.

By the time he was 13, Clementi had already composed an oratorio and a mass and he became the organist at his parish church, San Lorenzo in Damaso, at the age of 14.

Sir Peter Beckford, a wealthy Englishman, was so impressed with Clementi’s musical talent and his skill with the harpsichord when he visited Rome in 1766 that he offered to take him to England and sponsor his musical education until he was 21.

The interior of the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso in Rome, where Clementi was baptized and was later organist
The interior of the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso in
Rome, where Clementi was baptized and was later organist
In return, Clementi was to provide musical entertainment for Beckford and his guests. The musician lived for seven years at Beckford’s country estate practicing on the harpsichord, composing sonatas and performing.

Mozart used the opening of one of Clementi’s sonatas in the overture for The Magic Flute. Although this was meant as a compliment, Clementi made sure he put it on record that his sonata had been written ten years before Mozart’s opera.

Clementi moved to live in London when he became an adult, playing the piano, composing, conducting and teaching music.

He began publishing music in 1798, taking over a firm in Cheapside, which was then the most prestigious shopping street in London. Ludwig van Beethoven gave him full publishing rights to all his music in England and in later life Beethoven started to compose chamber music specifically for the British market because of his connection with Clementi.

The house in Kensington Church Street where Clementi lived in London
The house in Kensington Church Street where
Clementi lived in London
In 1813 Clementi was part of a group of prominent musicians who founded the Philharmonic Society of London, which became the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1912.

Bartolomeo Cristofori from Padua has been widely credited with creating the first piano as a development of the harpsichord in 1700.

The oldest surviving Cristofori piano is a 1720 model, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The piano had been slow to catch on, but after composers, such as Clementi, started writing for it, the piano became more popular and by the late 18th century it had become a leading musical instrument.

The piano was probably more of a success in England than anywhere else and Clementi carefully studied its features in order to make the best use of the instrument’s capabilities.

Many of his compositions have been lost or are incomplete, but his chief claims to fame are thought to be his piano sonatas and his studies, such as Gradus ad Parnassum - Steps Towards Parnassus - which he composed in 1817.

Clementi started a business manufacturing pianos in London and, as it flourished, he made important improvements to the construction of the instrument, some of which have become standard in the pianos manufactured today.

At a banquet held in his honour in London in 1827, one of the organisers noted in his diary afterwards that Clementi ‘improvised at the piano on a theme by Handel’.

The tomb of Muzio Clementi can be  found in Westminster Abbey
The tomb of Muzio Clementi can be
found in Westminster Abbey
The musician made his last public appearance at a Philharmonic Society concert in 1828 and then retired and moved to live in Staffordshire.

Clementi died in Evesham in 1832 at the age of 80. He was buried in Westminster Abbey and on his tombstone inscription he is remembered as ‘father of the piano’.

Clementi had been married three times and had five children.

Among his descendants are the British Colonial administrators, Sir Cecil Clementi Smith and his nephew, Sir Cecil Clementi, Air Vice Marshall Cresswell Clementi of the RAF and a deputy governor of the Bank of England, Sir David Clementi.

Travel tip:

The Basilica of San Lorenzo in Damaso, the church where Clementi was baptised and also played the organ, is in the southern part of the historic centre of Rome between the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Tiber. It may once have been the site of a pagan temple, but a church was built there in about 380 by Pope Damasus I. This building was demolished in the time of Pope Sixtus IV, who commissioned the construction of the Palazzo della Cancelleria in 1489. The new church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, where Clementi would have played the organ, was incorporated into the side of the palace.

The Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome
The Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome
Travel tip:

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, the Papal Chancellery, is believed to be the earliest Renaissance palace in Rome. It is a property of the Holy See and has been designated a World Heritage Site. Just to the south of the square named after the palace, Piazza della Cancelleria, is the Campo dè Fiori, the site of a market in Rome for centuries, which has plenty of bars and restaurants and is a popular nightspot when the markets stalls have all been packed away.

More reading:

Bartolomeo Cristofori - the inventor of the piano

Why Lorenzo Perosi chose sacred music over opera

How Nicolò Amati created the world's finest violins

Also on this day:

1980: The death of car designer Giovanni Michelotti, the man behind the Triumph Spitfire

(Picture credits: San Lorenzo interior by antmoose; London house by Simon Harriyott; tombstone by oosoom; Palazzo della Cancelleria by Lalupa)