30 June 2020

30 June

First Martyrs' Day

Nero blamed Christians for his own crimes

Christians martyred in Rome during the reign of Nero in AD 64 are remembered every year on this day in Italy.  The Catholic Church celebrates the lives of the many men and women put to death by Nero, who are now known as i Primi Martiri, first martyrs of the Church of Rome, with a feast day every year on 30 June.  In the summer of AD 64, Rome was devastated by fire. The unpopular emperor Nero, who wanted to enlarge his palace, was suspected of setting fire to the city himself but he accused the early Christians then living in Rome and had them executed.  Some were fed to wild animals, some crucified, while others were burnt to death to illuminate the sky and provide evening entertainment.  The feast of the First Martyrs came into the Church calendar in 1969 as a general celebration day for the early Roman martyrs. It falls the day after the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Rome.  After the fires had cleared the existing buildings away, Nero had an elaborate villa, his Golden House (Domus Aurea), built a short walk away from the Colosseum on Palatine Hill in Rome.   Read more…


Gianrico Carofiglio - novelist

Ex anti-Mafia judge now bestselling author

The novelist Gianrico Carofiglio, whose books have sold more than five million copies, was born on this day in 1961 in Bari.  Carofiglio is best known for a series of thrillers featuring the character of lawyer Guido Guerrieri but he has also written a number of novels featuring other characters, still mainly in the crime thriller genre.  One of them, his 2004 novel Il passato è una terra straniera (The Past is a Foreign Country), was made into an acclaimed film, directed by Daniele Vicari and starring Elio Germano, who appeared in the multi award-winning TV series Romanzo Criminale, and Michele Riondino, who played Andrea Camilleri’s most famous detective in the TV series The Young Montalbano.  Carofiglio drew inspiration and much technical knowledge from his career as a magistrate, which culminated in him becoming deputy prosecutor in the Anti-Mafia Directorate of his home town, Bari.  He was an advisor to the anti-Mafia committee in the Italian parliament in 2007 and served as senator between 2008 and 2013. For many years, he was provided with a police bodyguard.  Read more…


Allegra Versace – heiress

‘Favourite niece’ who inherited Gianni fortune

The heiress Allegra Versace, owner of half the Versace fashion empire, was born on this day in 1986 in Milan.  The daughter of Donatella Versace, the company’s chief designer and vice-president, she was the favourite niece of Gianni Versace, who founded the fashion house in 1978.  When Gianni was shot dead outside his mansion in Miami in July 1997, Allegra was just 11 years old but could look forward to becoming immensely rich after it was announced that her uncle had willed his share of the business, amounting to 50 per cent, when she reached her 18th birthday.  By the most recent valuation of the Versace group, this means Allegra – now 30 – has a personal fortune worth $800 million. The remainder of the empire is owned by her mother, who has 20 per cent, and Gianni’s older brother, Santo Versace, who has 30 per cent.  Yet the promise of wealth and privilege did not bring her happiness as a young woman.  The daughter of Paul Beck, a former Versace model to whom Donatella was briefly married, Allegra enjoyed a contented childhood in which she read books and played the piano given to her as a gift by Sir Elton John, a family friend, but her world was shattered when her uncle was killed.  Read more…

29 June 2020

29 June

NEWFederico Peliti - catering entrepreneur and photographer

Italian became important figure in British Colonial India

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


Elizabeth Barrett Browning dies in Florence

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

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


Oriana Fallaci - journalist

Writer known for exhaustively probing interviews

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


Giorgio Napolitano – 11th President of Italy

Neapolitan was concerned about the development of southern Italy

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


Federico Peliti - catering entrepreneur and photographer

Italian became important figure in British Colonial India

Federico Peliti, pictured in traditional Indian headdress
Federico Peliti, pictured in traditional
Indian headdress
Federico Peliti, whose skills as a chef and pastry-maker led him to spend a large part of his life in India under British colonial rule, was born on this day in 1844 in Carignano, a town in Piedmont about 20km (12 miles) south of Turin.

He was also an accomplished photographer and collections of his work made an important contribution to the documentary history of the early years of British rule in India.

The restaurant Peliti opened in Shimla, the so-called summer capital of the British Empire in India, became a favourite with colonial high society and was mentioned in the writings of Rudyard Kipling and others.

Peliti’s family hailed from Valganna, near Varese in Lombardy. They had mainly been surveyors and Peliti initially studied sculpture at the Accademia Albertina in Turin. 

He was diverted from a career in sculpture by the Third Italian War of Independence, in which he participated as a cavalryman in the 1st Nizza regiment of the Italian army. By chance, during his active service, he made friends with a group of confectioners and pastry-makers, who taught him some of their skills.

Armed with this new talent and in search of a job after leaving the army, Peliti entered a competition organised by Richard Bourke, the sixth Earl of Mayo and Viceroy of British India, to find a personal chef. Peliti won, moved to India in 1869 and settled in Calcutta. 

A postcard advertising Peliti's restaurant
in Calcutta. The building still stands today
Lord Mayo was assassinated three years later but Peliti stayed in Calcutta, teaming up with business partner Thomas O’Neill to form O'Neill & Peliti, a bakery in Bentinck Street. 

When the partnership broke up, Peliti moved to the more upmarket Chowringhee Road in 1875, and in 1881 opened a restaurant at Esplanade East which became popular among British high society.

In the same year he set up in Shimla, the so-called summer capital of British India, opening a cafe next to the Combermere bridge in Shimla, which had a terrace overlooking a valley and became very popular. Peliti built a grand home in nearby Mashobra, which he called Villa Carignano, where he lived with his wife, Judith, the daughter of a British-Indian government official.

As his reputation grew, Peliti was invited to cater for a lunch hosted by the Prince of Wales in Burma in 1891. 

He expanded his operations, establishing Peliti's Grand Hotel in Shimla and starting a company that canned food for export.

Peliti also trained other Italian confectioners, such as Angelo Firpo from Genoa, who set up another restaurant in Calcutta, and Felice Cornaglia, who took over his business in Bombay.

Peliti's Grand Hotel in Shimla was part of the Italian's business empire in India
Peliti's Grand Hotel in Shimla was part of the
Italian's business empire in India
British expats took to Peliti's restaurants in both Shimla and Calcutta and they became centres of society life. The author and journalist Rudyard Kipling, who was born in Bombay in 1865, immortalised Peliti's Shimla restaurant Regent House by referring to it in his short story The Phantom Rickshaw and his poem Divided Destinies. 

Peliti never returned to sculpture but channelled his creative talents in another direction through his interest in photography. Formally trained by the Turin photographer and instrument maker Felice Bardelli, Peliti was fascinated by the exotic and picturesque and his images of life in India at the time of British rule provide a valuable record.  Much of his collection is now housed at the Istituto Centrale per la Grafica - the Central Institute for Graphics - in Rome.

In 1902 Peliti decided to return to Italy, handing the management of his company to his sons, Edoardo and Federico, and moving back to Carignano, where he had a house decorated with frescoes by the painter Paolo Gaidano, a contemporary of Peliti’s from the nearby town of Poirino.  Peliti died in Carignano in 1914. 

Today, the name of Peliti’s lives on in Peliti’s Vermut, a vermouth manufactured in Turin which is based faithfully on the liqueur Federico Peliti produced for an official visit by the Prince of Wales, Edward VII, in 1877, using a blend of Indian spices, Piemontese flowers, absinthe and muscat wine.

Carignano's 18th-century Baroque cathedral built by Benedetto Alfieri
Carignano's 18th-century Baroque cathedral
built by Benedetto Alfieri
Travel tip:

Carignano is one of the oldest towns in Piedmont with a rich history, going back to the Bronze Age.  It was an important stopping-off point on a road built by the Romans between Turin and Carmagnola and archaeological finds such as Roman tombs, pottery, cobblestones and weapons have been discovered locally.  Carignano became one of the most important municipalities of Turin in the late 19th century thanks to the Bona wool mill.  In the centre of the town, there is an 18th-century Baroque cathedral dedicated to Saints Giovanni Battista and Remigio, designed by Benedetto Alfieri and decorated by Paolo Gaidano, which overlooks the town’s market square.

The Badia di San Gemolo
in Valganna, near Varese
Travel tip:

The municipality of Valganna, from which Peliti’s family moved to Carignano, is a few kilometres north of Varese in Lombardy, in the heart of the Italian lake district, surrounded by the picturesque countryside of the Parco delle cinque vette nature reserve.  The Maggiore and Lugano lakes are nearby. Visitors to Valganna are often drawn to the Badia di San Gemolo, a church and abbey complex dedicated to the memory of San Gemolo, the nephew of a bishop who died after being attacked by robbers nearby, whose remains are preserved in the abbey.

Also on this day:

28 June 2020

28 June

Pietro Mennea – Olympic sprint champion

200m specialist won gold at Moscow in 1980

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


Giovanni della Casa - advocate of good manners

Bishop and poet remembered for his manual on etiquette

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


Lorenzo Amoruso - footballer

Defender was most successful Italian in British football

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


Walter Audisio - partisan and politician

Claimed to be the man who killed Mussolini

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

27 June 2020

27 June

Giorgio Vasari - the first art historian

Artist and architect who chronicled lives of Old Masters

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


Gianluigi Aponte - shipping magnate

Billionaire started with one cargo vessel

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


The Ustica Massacre

Mystery plane crash blamed on missile strike

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


Giorgio Almirante – politician

Leader who tried to make Fascism more mainstream

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


26 June 2020

26 June

Paolo Maldini - football great

Milan defender's record-breaking career spanned 25 years

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


Alberto Rabagliati - singer and actor

Performer found fame through radio

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


San Marino is bombed by Britain

British believed the Germans were using rail facilities

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

25 June 2020

25 June

Marta Abba - actress

Aspiring star who became Pirandello’s muse

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


Aldo Serena - footballer

Azzurri striker left field in tears after penalty miss

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


Elena Cornaro Piscopia – philosopher

First woman to graduate from a university

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

24 June 2020

24 June

- Benedetta Tagliabue - architect

Italian half of an acclaimed design partnership

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


Piero Barone – singer

Young tenor found fame on TV talent show

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


Battle of Custoza

Austrians thwart Italy’s hopes of unifying the peninsula

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


Vittorio Storaro - cinematographer

Triple Oscar winner among best in movie history

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


Battle of Solferino

Suffering of soldiers led to the founding of the Red Cross

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

Benedetta Tagliabue - architect

Italian half of an acclaimed design partnership

Benedetta Tagliabue is an  architect based in Barcelona
Benedetta Tagliabue is an award-winning
architect based in Barcelona, Spain
The architect Benedetta Tagliabue, whose work in partnership with her late husband Enric Miralles included the iconic Scottish Parliament Building at Holyrood in Edinburgh, was born on this day in 1963 in Milan.

Tagliabue formed a close friendship with Barcelona-born Miralles when she was a student and he was teaching at Columbia University in New York.

They became business partners in 1991 and married a year later.  Tragically, Miralles died in 2000 at the age of just 45, having been diagnosed with a brain tumour, but Tagliabue has continued to run the business they created.

Tagliabue studied architecture in Switzerland and Venice, attending the Istituto di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV), which is part of the University of Venice. She fell in love with the city of canals and made it her home for several years. Indeed, she first met Miralles in Venice when she interviewed him for a magazine.

They were reacquainted when she went to New York for the final thesis of her degree and stayed in touch. They began a formal collaboration in 1991 and founded the architecture firm Miralles Tagliabue EMBT.

Based in Barcelona, the company undertook projects in Barcelona as well as The Netherlands and Germany. 

They began work on the Scottish Parliament project in 1998. Miralles was familiar with the Scottish capital and had studied the Edinburgh architect William Adam.

The Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood in Edinburgh
was instigated by Enric Miralles and completed in 2004
The design for the parliament buildings, which has been compared to an upturned boat of even lines and symmetrical curves, won much praise but the project ran considerably over its original budget and Miralles was criticised for spending too little time in Edinburgh.

Not long afterwards Miralles became ill and underwent surgery in the United States following his diagnosis.  The operation was hailed a success but, after returning home to Barcelona, Miralles suffered a fatal blood clot.

Despite her loss and being left to bring up two children without a partner, Tagliabue vowed to complete the projects that she and her husband had begun, including the Scottish Parliament Building, which was completed in 2004.

These included the Diagonal Mar Park and the Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona and the University Campus in Vigo. The Santa Caterina Market features a striking roof in the shape of what has been described as a multicolored ceramic wave. 

Tagliabue has designed a metro station in Naples
Tagliabue has designed a
metro station in Naples
Tagliabue’s work has won many awards, including the prestigious RIBA International “Best International Building of 2011” award for the Spanish Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

Her projects in Italy include the development of redundant former railway sidings in Milan and a metro station in the Centro Direzionale business district in the Poggioreale area of Naples.

Tagliabue, who has been a visiting professor at Harvard University, Columbia University and the Barcelona School of Architecture, lives in Barcelona in the Ciutat Vella quarter, the oldest part of the city, which has been likened to Naples but which Tagliabue said reminds her of Venice.

This restored cotton mill on the Giudecca Canal is part of the Iuav campus in Venice
This restored cotton mill on the Giudecca Canal
is part of the Iuav campus in Venice
Travel tip:

Founded in 1926, Venice’s renowned School of Architecture began life as the Istituto di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV). Nowadays it is known as Iuav University of Venice, or simply Iuav. It is the only university in Italy to provide thorough education and training in architecture, urban planning, design, visual arts, theatre and fashion. The headquarters of Iuav can be found in the Santa Croce sestiere in Calle dei Amai, not far from Piazzale Roma and the Santa Lucia railway station. Other departments are housed in the Palazzo Badoer in Calle de la Laca, while the Palazzo Ca’ Tron on the Grand Canal near the church of San Stae is used as an exhibition centre.  The campus also includes the cotonoficio veneziana, a former cotton mill on the Giudecca Canal that dates back to 1883 and was restored in the 1960s after lying empty for more than 30 years.

The Toledo station is one of several artistic gems on the Naples metro
The Toledo station is one of several
artistic gems on the Naples metro
Travel tip

The metro station EMBT are creating in Naples is the latest of several stations on the city’s network in which the emphasis has been on turning the underground rail system into a thing of beauty as well as functionality. The most famous of these is Toledo, on the edge of the city’s Spanish Quarter, which features a breathtaking escalator descent through a vast mosaic by the Spanish architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca known as the Crater de Luz – the crater of light – which creates the impression of daylight streaming into a volcanic crater.

Also on this day:

23 June 2020

23 June

Claudio Capone – actor and dubber

The Italian voice of a host of stars

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


Giuseppina Tuissi - partisan

Key figure in capture and execution of Mussolini

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


Francesca Schiavone – tennis player

First Italian woman to win a Grand Slam

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

22 June 2020

22 June

Walter Bonatti - mountaineer

Climber's outstanding career marred by 50-year row

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


Lucrezia Tornabuoni - political adviser

Medici wife one of most powerful women of the Renaissance

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


Galileo Galilei convicted of heresy

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

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

21 June 2020

21 June

Paolo Soleri - architect

Italian greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright

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


Pope Paul VI

Pontiff who helped wartime prisoners

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


Pier Luigi Nervi - architect

Striking designs from football stadiums to churches

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