28 November 2020

28 November

Alberto Moravia - journalist and writer

Italian novelist recognised as major 20th century literary figure

The novelist Alberto Moravia was born Alberto Pincherle on this day in 1907 in Rome.  He adopted Moravia, the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, as a pen name and became a prolific writer of short stories and novels. Much of his work has been made into films.  Before the Second World War, he had difficulties with the Fascist regime, which banned the publication of one of his novels. But his anti-Fascist novel Il conformista later became the basis for the film The Conformist directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.  In 1941 he married the novelist Elsa Morante and they went to live first on Capri, and then in the Ciociaria area of Lazio before returning to Rome after it was liberated in 1944.  Moravia was once quoted as comparing a childhood illness, which confined him to bed for a long period, with Fascism. He said they had both made him suffer and do things he otherwise would not have done.  He died in Rome in 1990 and is remembered today as an important literary figure of the 20th century.  Read more…


Laura Antonelli - actress

Pin-up star of 1970s sex-comedies

The actress Laura Antonelli, whose career was at its peak while Italian cinema audiences were indulging a taste for sex-comedies during the 1970s, was born on this day in 1941 in Pula, a port city now part of Croatia but then known as Pola, capital of the Italian territory of Istria.  A curvaceous brunette who posed for both the Italian and French editions of Playboy magazine in the early 1980s, Antonelli was mostly remembered for appearing scantily clad opposite male stars such as Marcello Mastroianni and Michele Placido, yet she was a talented actress, winning a Nastro d’Argento - awarded by Italian film journalists - as best actress in Salvatore Samperi’s 1974 comedy-drama Malizia (Malice).  She also worked on several occasions for Luchino Visconti, one of Italy’s greatest directors. Indeed, she starred in 1976 as the wife of a 19th century Roman aristocrat in Visconti’s last film, L’Innocente (The Innocent), based on the novel The Intruder by Gabriele d'Annunzio.  However, the success of her career was largely built on roles in films such as Devil in the Flesh (1969), The Divine Nymph (1975) and Tigers in Lipstick (1979), the content of which outraged Italy’s fledgling feminist movement and shocked the Catholic Church.  Read more…


Mario Nascimbene - film music composer

First Italian to score for Hollywood

The composer Mario Nascimbene, most famous for creating the music for more than 150 films, was born on this day in 1913 in Milan.  Nascimbene’s legacy in the history of Italian cinema is inevitably overshadowed by the work of Ennio Morricone and the late Nino Rota, two composers universally acknowledged as giants of Italian film music.  Yet the trailblazer for the great Italian composers of movie soundtracks was arguably Nascimbene, whose engagement to score Joseph L Mankiewicz’s 1954 drama The Barefoot Contessa won him the distinction of becoming the first Italian to write the music for a Hollywood production.  It was such an unexpected commission that Nascimbene confessed in an interview in 1986 that when he was first contacted about the film by Mankiewicz’s secretary he shouted down the phone and hung up, suspecting a hoax perpetrated by a friend who only a few months earlier had caught him out in a similar wind-up over the score for the William Wyler movie Roman Holiday.  Only after a third call from the secretary did he reluctantly agree to meet the director and when his doorbell rang he was convinced his friend would be on the other side.  Read more…


Fabio Grosso - World Cup hero

Unspectacular career illuminated by unforgettable goal

Fabio Grosso, the unlikely hero of Italy's victory in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, was born on this day in 1977 in Rome.  Selected for Marcello Lippi's squad for the Finals as cover for first-choice left-back Gianluca Zambrotta, Grosso eventually secured a place in Lippi's team and went on to score one of the most important goals in Italy's World Cup history as they beat the hosts, Germany, to reach the final.  He then secured his place in Azzurri folklore by scoring the winning penalty in the final against France as Italy lifted the trophy for the fourth time, equalling Brazil's record.  Yet Grosso arrived at the finals as a player who, if not an unknown, seldom attracted attention and had enjoyed a career that was respectable but certainly not eye-catching.  Five years before 2006,  he was playing in Serie C for Chieti, in the town in Abruzzo where he grew up, and only two and a half years before the tournament he left Serie A side Perugia to play for Palermo in Serie B.  Nonetheless, Palermo did win promotion to Serie A soon after Grosso arrived and at the same time he quietly established himself as Lippi's first choice at left back in the 2006 World Cup qualifying competition.  Read more…


Caterina Scarpellini – astronomer and meteorologist

Female ‘assistant’ remembered for her important discoveries

The astronomer Caterina Scarpellini, who discovered a comet in 1854 and was later awarded a medal by the Italian government for her contribution to the understanding of astronomy and other areas of science, died on this day in 1873 in Rome.  Caterina had moved from her native Foligno in Umbria to Rome at the age of 18 to work as an assistant to her uncle, Abbe Feliciano Scarpellini, who was the director of the Roman Campidoglio Observatory. He had been appointed in 1816 by Pope Pius VI to a new chair of sacred physics in the Roman College of the Campidoglio, marking a turning point in the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to science.  From 1847 onwards, Caterina edited Corrispondenza Scientifica in Rome, a bulletin publishing scientific discoveries. She carried out her observations six times a day and reported on her findings.  She married Erasmo Fabri, who was also an assistant at the observatory, and together they established a meteorological station in Rome in 1856.  Caterina published reports of her astronomical observations and meteorological measurements in Italian, French and Belgian journals and also wrote about electrical, magnetic and geological phenomena.  Read more…


27 November 2020

27 November

- Gianni Vernetti – politician and writer

Ecologist who now provides support for emerging economies

Former centre-left politician Gianni Vernetti was born on this day in 1960 in Turin, the capital city of the Piedmont region of Italy.  While serving in the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian parliament he promoted initiatives on renewable energies and, after he was elected to the Senate, he served as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Romano Prodi’s government between 2006 and 2008.  Vernetti is married to the television journalist Laura De Donato and they have four children.  In 1985, Vernetti graduated in architecture from the University of Turin and in 1989 obtained a PhD in urban ecology at the University of Milan. For 10 years, between 1985 and 1995, he worked as an architect and urban planner.  As the child of politically active parents - his father, a philosophy professor and ex-partisan and his mother, an architect, were both former members of the Italian Communist Party - it was always likely he would enter politics himself.   Vernetti was a student protester in the late 1970s and founder-member of the anti-nuclear committee of the town of Trino Vercellese in Piedmont, later becoming a founder-member of the Federation of Italian Greens.  Read more…


Horace - Roman poet

Writer who ‘seized the day’ and left his vivid account of it

Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known as Horace, died on this day in 8 BC in Rome.  He had become a leading poet during the reign of the Emperor Augustus and acquired a farm near Rome which he made famous through his poetry.  His Odes and his more informal Satires and verse Epistles vividly portrayed contemporary Roman society, with the background themes of love, friendship and philosophy.  Horace’s career coincided with Rome’s momentous change from a republic to an empire and he became a spokesman for the new regime.  He is said to have revealed far more about himself and his way of life in his writings than any other poet in antiquity. His most famous two words are ‘carpe diem’ – taken from his first book of Odes – which are usually translated as ‘seize the day’.  Horace was born in 65 BC in Venusia in southern Italy, a town that lay on a trade route between Apulia and Basilicata. Horace’s father had been a slave but had managed to gain his freedom and improve his social position.  He spent money on his son’s education and eventually took him to Rome to find him the best school.  At the age of 19 Horace went to Athens to enrol in the Academy founded by Plato.  Read more…


Jacopo Sansovino – architect

Death of the designer praised by Palladio

Jacopo d’Antonio Sansovino, the sculptor and architect renowned for his works around Piazza San Marco, died on this day in 1570 in Venice.  He designed the Libreria Sansoviniana - also known as the Biblioteca Marciana - in the Piazzetta, which was later praised by the architect Andrea Palladio as ‘the finest building erected since antiquity’.  Sansovino had been born Jacopo Tatti in 1486 in Florence and was apprenticed to the sculptor Andrea Sansovino, whose surname he subsequently adopted.  He was commissioned to make a marble sculpture of St James for the Duomo and a Bacchus, which is now in the Bargello in Florence.  However, his designs for sculptures to adorn the façade of the Church of San Lorenzo were rejected by Michelangelo, who was in charge of the scheme.  In 1529 Sansovino became chief architect to the Procurators of San Marco, making him one of the most influential artists in Venice.  His first Venetian building was the Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande, a huge classical palace for one of the richest families in Venice.  Sansovino designed the Loggetta and its sculptures adjoining the Campanile and statues for the Basilica of San Marco. He also helped rebuild many of the churches and palaces in Venice.  Read more…


Roberto Mancini - footballer and manager

Skilful player now highly successful coach

Roberto Mancini, a former Italy player and the current manager of the Italian national team, was born on this day in Iesi in Marche in 1964.  Roberto Mancini enjoyed huge success with Internazionale in Italy and Manchester City in England.  Mancini, an elegant and creative forward, was capped 36 times by Italy between 1984 and 1994.  After a highly successful playing career, in which he was part of title-winning teams at Sampdoria and Lazio, he enjoyed immediate success as a manager, winning the Coppa Italia in his first season as Fiorentina boss in 2000. He repeated the feat in his second season at his next club, Lazio.  Mancini then made his mark emphatically at Internazionale, guiding the Milan club to a club record three consecutive Serie A titles, as well as winning the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa (a pre-season match between the Serie A champions and the Coppa Italia winners) twice. This made him the club's most successful manager for 30 years.  While at Inter, he also set a Serie A record by winning 17 consecutive matches.  He was out of football for a year after being dismissed by Inter in 2008, despite his domestic success.  Read more…


Senesino - operatic castrato

Sienese singer who worked with composer Handel

The acclaimed contralto castrato singer Senesino, who enjoyed a long professional relationship with the composer George Frederick Handel, died on this day in 1758 in Siena.  During the 18th century, when opera’s popularity was at its height, the castrati singers - male singers castrated as boys to preserve their prepubescent vocal range - were the highest paid members of the cast and the likes of Carlo Broschi, who sang under the stage name Farinelli, Giovanni Carestini (“Cusanino”), Gaetano Majorano ("Caffarelli") and Gaspare Pacchierotti were the genre’s first superstars.  Senesino could be added to that list.  When he made his first appearance for Handel in his three-act opera Radamisto in 1720 his salary was reported as between 2000 and 3000 guineas, which today would be worth around £250,000 to £365,000 (€280,000-€400,000).  Born Francesco Bernardi in 1686, Senesino took his name from his home town, Siena. His father was a barber in the Tuscan city.  He joined the choir of Siena’s Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta - in 1695 and was castrated at the comparatively late age of 13.  Read more…


Gianni Vernetti – politician and writer

Ecologist who now provides support for emerging economies

Gianni Vernetti's political roots were in the Italian Greens
Gianni Vernetti's political roots
were in the Italian Greens
Former centre-left politician Gianni Vernetti was born on this day in 1960 in Turin, the capital city of the Piedmont region of Italy.

While serving in the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian parliament he promoted initiatives on renewable energies and, after he was elected to the Senate, he served as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Romano Prodi’s government between 2006 and 2008.

Vernetti is married to the television journalist Laura De Donato and they have four children.

In 1985, Vernetti graduated in architecture from the University of Turin and in 1989 obtained a PhD in urban ecology at the University of Milan. For 10 years, between 1985 and 1995, he worked as an architect and urban planner.

As the child of politically active parents - his father, a philosophy professor and ex-partisan and his mother, an architect, were both former members of the Italian Communist Party - it was always likely he would enter politics himself. 

Vernetti was a student protester in the late 1970s and founder-member of the anti-nuclear committee of the town of Trino Vercellese, in Piedmont, later becoming a founder-member of the Federation of Italian Greens.

Vernetti was a prominent member of the Daisy party
Vernetti was a prominent
member of the Daisy party
He was elected to Turin city council as a Green in 1990, serving as Deputy Mayor between 1993 and 1999 in charge of public works, environment and sustainable development and urban renovation.

He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 2001 and was a member of the national steering committee of his party, Democracy is Freedom, better known as La Margherita - The Daisy.

After he was elected to the Senate and the centre-left coalition won the general election, he served in the second Prodi government from 2006 to 2008. He coordinated all the Italian initiatives in Afghanistan when Italy was taking part in the NATO military mission. He implemented aid projects in Central Asia and coordinated Italian aid to the countries affected by the 2004 tsunami.

He promoted Italy’s entrance into the Pacific Islands Forum and represented Italy on the UN Human Rights Council.

In 2008, Vernetti was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for a third term, this time on the Democratic Party list and served as a member of the foreign affairs committee and the Italian delegation to the NATO parliamentarian assembly.

Laura De Donato is a presenter of TG3's Leonardo programme
Laura De Donato is a presenter
of TG3's Leonardo programme
He decided not to stand for parliament in 2013, but instead founded Geo Solar, a company supporting countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

Since 2018, Vernetti has been a columnist on foreign affairs for the Turin newspaper, La Stampa, and in May this year began writing for the Huffington Post.

Laura De Donato has been a journalist with Rai’s TG3 news programmes since 1999. She is a presenter of Leonardo, a show dedicated to investigating topics related to science, technology, health, environment and society.

She met Vernetti when he was 18 and she 15 and they were friends for many years before deciding to get married. They became parents for the first time in 1996.

Turin is renowned for its elegant squares and a thriving coffee house culture
Turin is renowned for its elegant squares and
a thriving coffee house culture
Travel tip:

The city of Turin, once the capital of Italy and traditionally the seat of the Savoy dynasty, is best known for its royal palaces and as a travel destination benefits from being somewhat overlooked by visitors to Italy, especially new ones, who flock first to Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan. Yet as an elegant, stylish and sophisticated city, Turin has much to commend it, from its many historic cafés to 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in Piedmont. Turin’s café culture is concentrated in the area around Via Po, Turin’s famous promenade linking Piazza Vittorio Veneto with Piazza Castello, and nearby Piazza San Carlo, one of the city’s main squares. In the 19th century, these cafès were popular with writers, artists, philosophers, musicians and politicians among others, who would meet to discuss the affairs of the day.

La Stampa is one of Italy's oldest newspapers
La Stampa is one of
Italy's oldest newspapers
Travel tip:

The Turin newspaper La Stampa, established in 1867 and one of the oldest newspapers in Italy, has since 2012 been produced from one of the most technologically advanced newspaper offices in the world, in Via Lugaro in the San Salvario area of the city, having been previously based for 40 years in Via Marenco . The newsroom has an open space layout in concentric rings, designed so that all the workers can see the entire news production process, from paper to digital.  Its former headquarters is now part of the University of Turin. The ground floor of the newspaper’s new headquarters is now a museum dedicated to the history of the city seen through the pages of its newspaper.

Also on this day:

8BC: The death of the Roman poet Horace

1570: The death of architect Jacopo Sansovino

1758: The death of the castrato singer Senesino

1964: The birth of football manager Roberto Mancini


26 November 2020

26 November

Amelita Galli-Curci - soprano

Singer’s beautiful voice lives on thanks to early recordings

Amelita Galli-Curci, one of the most popular Italian opera singers and recording artists of the early 20th century, died on this day in 1963.  Galli-Curci was a ‘coloratura’ soprano and her voice has been described as ‘florid, vibrant, agile and able to perform trills.’  Although she was largely self-taught her voice was much admired and it has been claimed she was encouraged to become an opera singer by composer Pietro Mascagni, who was a family friend.  She was born Amelita Galli in Milan in 1881 and studied the piano at the Milan Conservatory, which is in the centre of the city close to the Duomo. She made her stage debut as a soprano at Trani in 1906, singing Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto. She was widely acclaimed and her career took off from there.  In 1908 she married an Italian nobleman, the Marquese Luigi Curci and she subsequently attached his surname to hers. She remained known as Amelita Galli-Curci even after they divorced.  She sang in just two performances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lamermoor with Enrico Caruso in Buenos Aires in 1915 but they went on to make wonderful recordings together.  Read more…


Charles Forte - businessman and hotelier

Multi-billion pound empire started with a single café

Businessman Charles Forte - later Sir Charles and then Baron Forte of Ripley - was born Carmine Forte in the hamlet of Mortale in the Frosinone province of southern Lazio on this day in 1908.  Forte was most famous for his hotels empire, which once numbered more than 800 properties ranging from Travelodge motels to the high-end luxury of the Grosvenor House in London and the George V in Paris.  Starting with a single milk bar in London, opened in 1935, he grew a business that became so vast that, when it changed hands 61 years later, it was valued at £3.9 billion.  Charles Forte was brought up largely in Scotland, where his family emigrated in 1911 after his father, Rocco, decided to follow the lead of his brother by abandoning farming in his impoverished homeland to try his luck in the catering business abroad.   Rocco ran a café and ice cream parlour in Alloa, a town in central Scotland about an hour's drive north-east of Glasgow and a similar distance to the north-west of Edinburgh.  Charles went to school in Alloa and nearby Dumfries before completing his education at the Mamiani High School in Rome.  Read more…


Enrico Bombieri – Mathematician

Brilliant professor who won top award in his field at just 34

The mathematician Enrico Bombieri, one of the world’s leading authorities on number theory and analysis, which has practical application in the world of encryption and data transmission, was born on this day in 1940 in Milan.  Bombieri, who is also an accomplished painter, won the Fields Medal, an international award for outstanding discoveries in mathematics regarded in the field of mathematical sciences as equivalent to a Nobel Prize, when he was a 34-year-old professor at the University of Pisa in 1974.  As well as analytic number theory, he has become renowned for his expertise in other areas of highly advanced mathematics including algebraic geometry, univalent functions, theory of several complex variables, partial differential equations of minimal surfaces, and the theory of finite groups.  Mathematics textbooks now refer to several discoveries named after him in his own right or with fellow researchers, including the Bombieri-Lang conjecture, the Bombieri norm and the Bombieri–Vinogradov theorem.  He has been described as a "problem-oriented" scholar - one who tries to solve deep problems rather than to build theories.  Read more…


Letizia Moratti – politician and businesswoman

First woman to be Mayor of Milan and head of RAI

Letizia Moratti, one of Europe’s best-known businesswomen and a successful politician, was born on this day in 1949 in Milan.  Married to the oil magnate Gianmarco Moratti, she was chair of the state television network RAI between 1994 and 1996, a minister in former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s second and third administrations, and Mayor of Milan between 2006 and 2011.  Born Letizia Maria Brichetto Arnaboldi, her antecedents are the Brichetto family from Genoa, who founded the first insurance brokerage company in Italy, and the noble Arnaboldi family from Milan.  Her grandmother, Mimona Brichetto Arnaboldi, was a society hostess in the 1930s and an outspoken opponent of Fascism.  Letizia attended a private school in Milan and had classical dance classes at the Carla Strauss Academy in the Brera district.  She attended the University of Milan and graduated in political science.  At around the same time, she met Gianmarco Moratti, an oil contractor whose brother, Massimo, a petrochemicals tycoon, is the former chairman of Internazionale.  With funding from the Moratti family, Letizia launched her first business at the age of 25.  Read more…


25 November 2020

25 November

Giorgio Faletti – writer and entertainer

Comedian who became best-selling novelist

Giorgio Faletti, who became a best-selling thriller writer, was born on this day in 1950 in Asti in Piedmont.  He was a successful actor, comedian, and singer-songwriter before he turned his hand to writing fiction. His first thriller, I Kill (Io uccido), sold more than four million copies.  Faletti’s books have now been published in 25 languages throughout Europe, South America, China, Japan, Russia and the US.  Faletti graduated from law school but then began a career as a comedian at the Milanese Club ‘Derby’.  In 1983 he made his debut on local television before appearing alongside the popular hostess and former actress, Raffaella Carrà, on RAI’s daytime game show, Pronto, Raffaella? He was cast as a comedian in the popular variety show, Drive In, which was followed by other television successes.  He wrote the soundtrack for a TV series in which he was one of the main actors and then released an album of his songs.  In 1992 he took part in the San Remo Music Festival with Orietta Berti with the song Rumba di tango.  In 1994, performing his own song, Signor tenente, he came second at San Remo.  Read more…


Rosanna Schiaffino – actress

Dramatic life of Italian sex goddess

Film star Rosanna Schiaffino, who for more than 20 years, between the 1950s and the 1970s, starred opposite the most famous actors of the period, was born on this day in 1939 in Genoa in Liguria.  Schiaffino worked for some of Italian cinema’s greatest directors, but in the 1980s turned her back on the cinema world to marry the playboy and steel industry heir, Giorgio Falck, entering a relationship that descended into acrimony after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Born into a wealthy family, Schiaffino was encouraged in her acting ambitions by her mother, who paid for her to go to a drama school.  She entered beauty contests and won the title of Miss Liguria when she was just 14.  She also took some modelling jobs and her photograph appeared in many magazines. She was spotted by the film producer Franco Cristaldi, who paired her with Marcello Mastroianni in Un ettaro di cielo (Piece of the Sky) in 1959.  Schiaffino made her name in her second film for Cristaldi, La Sfida (The Challenge), directed by Francesco Rosi, in which she gave a powerful, but sensitive performance as a Neapolitan girl, inspired by the real life character of Pupetta Maresca, a former beauty queen who became a famous Camorra figure.  Read more…


Bruno Tonioli - dance show judge

Dancer and choreographer is star of Strictly Come Dancing

Dancer, choreographer and television dance show judge Bruno Tonioli was born on this day in 1955 in Ferrara in north-east Italy.  Tonioli is one of the judging panel of Strictly Come Dancing on British TV and on its US equivalent Dancing With the Stars, which requires him to divide his time between London and New York when seasons overlap.  He began his showbusiness career in the 1980s as a member of the Paris-based dance company La Grande Eugène before moving into the music industry as a choreographer.  Among the artists he has worked with are Tina Turner, Sting, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Freddie Mercury, Sinitta, Boy George, Dead or Alive, and Duran Duran.  Tonioli has also worked on numerous films and television shows including Little Voice, The Gathering Storm, Dancin' thru the Dark and Enigma.  He also has a number of acting credits, including the role of Peppino, manservant to Michael Gambon's Oscar Wilde in the BBC production Oscar.  Tonioli appeared as himself in the movie version of the BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous.  Renowned for his flamboyantly wild gestures and amusingly extravagant comments, Tonioli has been a member of the Strictly Come Dancing team since the show's launch in 2004.  Read more…


Amalfi destroyed by tsunami

Quake beneath Tyrrhenian Sea sparked killer wave

The former maritime republic of Amalfi, which once had a population of 70,000 people, was effectively wiped out when a massive earthquake that occurred under the Tyrrhenian Sea on this day in 1343 sparked a devastating tsunami along the coast of southern Italy.  The tremor itself caused deaths but not on the scale of the tsunami that followed, as a stretch of coastline from north of Naples to south of the Cilento National Park bore the brunt of a huge killer wave.  The towns of Bussanto and Blanda, near the present-day resorts of Sapri and Maratea, were among communities that disappeared completely, while Amalfi and Minori on what we know now as the Amalfi Coast were decimated.  Amalfi’s harbour and all the boats in it were destroyed, while the lower town fell into the sea. Where there had once been a thriving city, only a village remained, the population of which has never grown much beyond about 6,000 people. Its days as a significant maritime power were over.  Salerno and Naples suffered considerable damage, although the death toll was never recorded, it can be assumed it ran into tens of thousands.  Read more…


Pope John XXIII

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

Pope John XXIII was born on this day in 1881 at Sotto il Monte near Bergamo.  He was originally named Angelo Roncalli and was part of a large farming family but he went on to become a much loved Pope and respected world leader.  Angelo was tutored by a local priest before entering the Seminary in Bergamo at the age of 12. He went on to study theology in Rome and rose to become Cardinal Patriarch of Venice before being elected Pope in 1958.  His religious studies had been interrupted by a spell in the Italian army, but he was ordained in 1904. He served as secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo for nine years before becoming an army chaplain in World War One.  After the war he worked in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece on behalf of the church helping to locate and repatriate prisoners of war.  In 1944 he was appointed nuncio to Paris to help with the post war effort in France. He became a Cardinal in 1953 and expected to spend his last years serving the church in Venice.  But when he was elected Pope by his fellow cardinals in the conclave of 20 October 1958, it was a turning point in the church’s history.  Read more…


24 November 2020

24 November

Carlo Collodi - journalist and writer

Satirical journalist created Pinocchio to express his own views 

Carlo Collodi, in real life Carlo Lorenzini, was born on this day in 1826 in Florence.  Although he was a satirical journalist who supported the cause of the Risorgimento, Collodi is best remembered for his stories for children about the character, Pinocchio.  The writer was brought up in the small town of Collodi where his mother had been born and he adopted the name of her birthplace as a pen name.  After becoming interested in politics he started the satirical newspaper, Il Lampione, in 1848. This was censored by order of the Grand Duke of Tuscany so in 1854 he started Lo Scaramuccia, which was also controversial.  In 1856 he wrote his first play for the theatre and, after Italian unification in 1861, he turned his attention to writing for children.  Collodi’s stories about his first main character, Giannettino, were a way of expressing his own political ideas through allegory.  He began writing Storia di un Burattino (The Story of a Marionette), in 1880. He went on to contribute regular stories about his character, who he later called Pinocchio, to a newspaper for children.  Pinocchio was created out of wood by a woodcarver, Geppetto, but he became a mischievous boy whose nose grew when he told a lie.   Read more…


Pietro Torrigiano – sculptor

Achievements overshadowed by assault on Michelangelo

Pietro Torrigiano, the sculptor credited with introducing Renaissance art to England in the early years of the 16th century but who is best remembered for breaking the nose of Michelangelo in a fight, was born on this day in 1472 in Florence.  The incident with the man who would become the greatest artist of their generation came when both were teenagers, studying in Florence under the patronage of Lorenzo de’ Medici.  Torrigiano was older than Michelangelo by two and a half years and confessed some years later that he found his young rival to be somewhat irritating, especially since it was his habit to peer over the shoulders of his fellow students and make disparaging comments about the quality of their work. On the occasion they clashed, when Michelangelo was said to be about 15, he was with Torrigiano and some others in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine, studying frescoes by Masaccio.  Looking at a sketch Torrigiano was making, the younger boy made some slighting remark and Torrigiano lashed out.  He caught him such a blow that Michelangelo, who was knocked out cold at the time, suffered a broken nose and a disfigurement he would carry for life.  Read more…


Lucky Luciano - Mafia boss

Sicilian who brought order among warring clans

Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, the mobster best known for shaping the structure of Italian-dominated organized crime in the United States, was born Salvatore Lucania on this day in 1897 in Lercara Friddi, a town about 70km (44 miles) south-east of the Sicilian capital, Palermo.  Raised in New York's Lower East Side after his family emigrated in 1906, it was Luciano who famously put the New York underworld into the control of the so-called Five Families and also set up The Commission, which served as a governing body for organized crime nationwide.  After he was jailed in 1936 on extortion and prostitution charges, Luciano is said to have struck a deal with the American authorities to use his criminal connections to help the Allies in their invasion of Sicily, a vital first step in driving the German forces and their supporters out of the Italian peninsula.  In return he was given parole and allowed to return to Sicily at the end of the Second World War.  Luciano, whose father, Antonio, had worked in a sulphur mine in Lercara Friddi, began his life in crime as a teenager, when he set up his own gang and became friends with Jewish gang members Meyer Lansky and his associate Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel.  Read more…


Vittorio Miele - artist

Painter scarred by Battle of Monte Cassino

The 20th century artist Vittorio Miele, who found a way to express himself in art after losing his family in the Battle of Monte Cassino, was born in Cassino on this day in 1926.  Miele was a teenager when his home town and the mountain top Benedictine monastery witnessed one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War as Allied armies attempted to break the Gustav Line of the Axis forces.  Over a three-month period, the Allies made four assaults, each backed up by heavy bombing, and though the objective was eventually achieved it was at a very high price. There were at least 80,000 soldiers killed or  wounded, as well as countless civilians caught in the crossfire.  Miele lost his father, mother and sister. He survived but left the area as soon as he was able, settling 400km (249 miles) north in Urbino in the Marche. It was there, from the age of 19, that he took courses in painting and became part of the city’s artistic life, developing a talent that in his mature years saw him once described as “the poet of silence”.  In the following decades his work began to reach further afield.  Read more…


23 November 2020

23 November

Ludovico Einaudi – composer

Musician world famous for his unique blend of sounds

Pianist and film music composer Ludovico Maria Enrico Einaudi was born on this day in 1955 in Turin.  Einaudi has composed the music for films such as The Intouchables and I’m Still Here and has released many solo albums for piano and orchestra.  His distinctive music, which mixes classical with contemporary rhythms of rock and electronic, is now played all over the world and has been used as background music and in television commercials.  Einaudi’s mother, Renata Aldrovandi, played the piano to him as a child and her father, Waldo Aldrovandi, was a pianist, opera conductor and composer, who went to live in Australia after the Second World War.  His father, Giulio Einaudi, was a publisher, who worked with authors Italo Calvino and Primo Levi, and his grandfather, Luigi Einaudi, was President of Italy between 1948 and 1955.  Einaudi started composing his own music and playing it on a folk guitar when he was a teenager.  He began his musical training at the Conservatorio Verdi in Milan, obtaining a diploma in composition in 1982. He took an orchestration class with the composer Luciano Berio, in which, according to Einaudi himself, he learnt to have a very open way of thinking about music.  Read more…


Franco Nero – actor

The film Camelot sparked long love affair with English actress

Francesco Clemente Giuseppe Sparanero, better known by his stage name Franco Nero, was born on this day in 1941 in San Prospero Parmense.  Nero became well-known for playing the title role in Sergio Corbucci’s Spaghetti Western film Django in 1966 and then reprising the role in Nello Rossati’s film Django Strikes Again in 1987.  The actor has had a long-standing relationship with British actress Vanessa Redgrave, which began in the 1960s during the filming of the musical comedy-drama Camelot. They had a son, Carlo Gabriel Redgrave Sparanero in 1969. Now known as Carlo Gabriel Nero, their son is a screenwriter and director. Franco Nero was the son of a Carabinieri officer, who was originally from San Severo, a city in the province of Foggia in Apulia.  He grew up in Bedonia in Emilia-Romagna and then in Milan, where he studied briefly at the Economy and Trade Faculty of the University. He left there to study at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan.  Nero’s first film role was a small part in Giuseppe Fina's Pelle Viva in 1962. After his success in Django, he played the part of Lancelot in Camelot, opposite Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere, in 1967.  Read more…


Fred Buscaglione - singer and actor

Fifties sensation who died tragically young

The singer and actor Fred Buscaglione, a nightclub singer who became a huge star of the pop world in 1950s Italy, was born on this day in 1921 in Turin.  Buscaglione’s style - he portrayed himself tongue-in-cheek as a sharp-suited gangster with a taste for whiskey and women - caught the imagination of an Italian public desperate to be entertained after the austerity of Fascism, when all ‘foreign’ music was banned.  He formed a partnership with the writer Leo Chiosso after their first collaboration, on a song called Che bambola (What a Babe!), which resulted in more than one million record sales, catapulting Buscaglione to fame.  They had several more hits, including Love in Portofino, which was covered by Andrea Bocelli in 2013 as the title track from an album.  Born Ferdinando Buscaglione, he was from a creative family. His father was a painter and his mother a piano teacher. They enrolled their son at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Turin at the age of 11 but by his teens Buscaglione had adopted jazz as his passion.  His career as a singer and musician was going well and Chiosso was one of the friends he had made through his appearances in night clubs around Turin.  Read more…


Prospero Alpini - botanist

How coffee was first introduced to Europe

Physician and botanist, Prospero Alpini, was born on this day in 1553 in Marostica near Vicenza.  He is credited with being the first person in Europe to observe and write about the coffee plant.  Alpini went to study medicine in Padua in 1574 and after taking his degree settled down to work as a doctor in nearby Campo San Pietro.  He was very interested in botany and so to extend his knowledge of exotic plants he travelled to Egypt in 1580 as physician to George Emo, the Venetian consul in Cairo.  While in Egypt he studied date trees which helped him to work out that there were gender differences between plants. He wrote that: “the female date trees or palms do not bear fruit unless the branches of the male and female plants are mixed together, or, as is generally done, unless the dust found in the male sheath or male flowers is sprinkled over the female flowers.”  In 1593 he was appointed professor of botany at Padua University and, after he died in 1617, he was succeeded in the role by his son, Alpino Alpini.  His botanical work De Medicina Egyptiorum is believed to contain the first report on the coffee plant ever published in the western world.  Read more…


22 November 2020

22 November

- Rocco Commisso - entrepreneur

US businessman with roots in Calabria

Rocco Commisso, the founder of the American cable TV provider Mediacom and owner of football clubs in the United States and Italy, was born on this day in 1949 in Marina di Gioiosa Ionica, a small seaside town in Calabria.  With annual revenues of more than $2,000 million, Mediacom is the fifth largest cable company in the US, having been launched from Commisso’s basement in 1995, when he began to buy up small community cable systems, mainly in the Midwest and Southeast. It now has its headquarters in Blooming Grove, New York.  Commisso, a football fan from his childhood, bought a majority stake in the New York Cosmos club in 2017 and completed the purchase of ACF Fiorentina in Italy two years later, with plans to return each club to its glory days of the past.  With a southwest aspect on the Ionian coast, Marina di Gioiosa Ionica is something of an idyllic spot today, blessed with wide beaches and clear inviting water. As Commisso was growing up, however, it was a relative deprived area as Italy struggled to rebuild after World War Two and it was not uncommon for families to leave the area in search of prosperity elsewhere.  Read more…


Nevio Scala - footballer and coach

Led Parma to success in golden era of 1990s

Nevio Scala, a European Cup winner with AC Milan as a player and the most successful coach of Parma's golden era in the 1990s, was born on this day in 1947 in Lozzo Atestino, a small town in the Euganean Hills, just south of Padua.  A midfielder who also played for Roma, Vicenza and Internazionale at the top level of Italian football, Scala was never picked for his country but won a Serie A title and a European Cup-Winners' Cup in addition to the European Cup with AC Milan.  But his achievements with Parma as coach arguably exceeded even that, given that they were a small provincial club that had never played in Serie A when Scala was appointed.  He had given notice of his ability by almost taking the tiny Calabrian club Reggina to Serie A in 1989 only a year after winning promotion from Serie C, and needed only one season to take Parma to the top flight for the first time.  With the massive financial backing of Calisto Tanzi, the founder and chairman of the local dairy giants Parmalat, Scala then led Parma into a period of sustained success no one could have predicted.  Between 1991 and 1995, Parma won the Coppa Italia, the European Cup-Winners' Cup, the European Super Cup and the UEFA Cup.  Read more…


Bernardo Pasquini - composer

Talented musician wrote music for a queen

Baroque composer Bernardo Pasquini died on this day in Rome in 1710.  He is remembered as an important composer for the harpsichord and for his musical scores for operas. Along with his fellow composers Alessandro Scarlatti and Arcangelo Corelli, Pasquini was a member of the Arcadian Academy (Accademia degli Arcadi) which was set up in Rome by one of his patrons, Queen Christina of Sweden.  Pasquini enjoyed Queen Christina’s protection while he was living in Rome and produced several operas in her honour. These were staged in Rome initially and then replayed in theatres all over Italy.  Queen Christina had abdicated from the throne of Sweden in 1654, converted to Roman Catholicism and moved to live in Rome.  While living in the Palazzo Farnese, she opened up her home for members of the Arcadian Academy to enjoy music, theatre, literature and languages with her.  She became a cultural leader and protector of many Baroque artists, composers and musicians.  The Baroque period, which influenced sculpture, painting and architecture, as well as literature, dance, theatre and music, began in Rome around 1600.  Read more…


Alfonso II d’Este – Duke of Ferrara

Tasso’s patron raised Ferrara to the height of its glory

Alfonso II d’Este, who was to be the last Duke of Ferrara, was born on this day in 1533 in Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna.  Famous as the protector of the poet Torquato Tasso, Alfonso II also took a keen interest in music.  He was also the sponsor of the philosopher Cesare Cremonini, who was a friend of both Tasso and the scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei.  Although he was married three times, he failed to provide an heir for the Duchy.  Alfonso was the eldest son of Ercole II d’Este and Renée de France, the daughter of Louis XII of France.  As a young man, Alfonso fought in the service of Henry II of France against the Habsburgs but soon after he became Duke in 1559 he was forced by Pope Pius IV to send his mother back to France because she was a Calvinist.  In 1583 he joined forces with the Emperor Rudolf II in his war against the Turks in Hungary.  Alfonso II was proficient in Latin and French as well as Italian and like his ancestors before him encouraged writers and artists. He welcomed the poet Tasso to his court in Ferrara and he wrote some of his most important poetry while living there, including his epic poem, Gerusalemme Liberata.  Read more…


Paolo Gentiloni – politician 

Italy’s 57th premier both noble and a Democrat

Italy’s Prime Minister from 2016 to 2018, Paolo Gentiloni, was born on this day in 1954 in Rome.  A member of the Democratic Party, Gentiloni was asked to form a Government in December 2016 by Italian President Sergio Mattarella.  A professional journalist before he entered politics, Gentiloni is a descendant of Count Gentiloni Silveri and holds the titles of Nobile of Filottranno, Nobile of Cingoli and Nobile of Macerata.  The word nobile, derived from the Latin nobilis, meaning honourable, indicates a level of Italian nobility ranking somewhere between the English title of knight and baron.  Gentiloni is related to the politician Vincenzo Ottorino Gentiloni, who was a leader of the Conservative Catholic Electoral Union and a key ally of Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti, who held the office five times between 1892 and 1921.  Gentiloni attended the Classical Lyceum Torquato Tasso in Rome and went on to study at La Sapienza University in the city where he became a member of the Student Movement, a left wing youth organisation. He moved on to become a member of the Workers’ Movement for Socialism and graduated in Political Sciences.  Read more…


Rocco Commisso - entrepreneur

US businessman with roots in Calabria

Rocco Commisso cheering on his Fiorentina team from the stands in Florence
Rocco Commisso cheering on his Fiorentina
team from the stands in Florence
Rocco Commisso, the founder of the American cable TV provider Mediacom and owner of football clubs in the United States and Italy, was born on this day in 1949 in Marina di Gioiosa Ionica, a small seaside town in Calabria.

With annual revenues of more than $2,000 million, Mediacom is the fifth largest cable company in the US, having been launched from Commisso’s basement in 1995, when he began to buy up small community cable systems, mainly in the Midwest and Southeast. It now has its headquarters in Blooming Grove, New York.

Commisso, a football fan from his childhood, bought a majority stake in the New York Cosmos club in 2017 and completed the purchase of ACF Fiorentina in Italy two years later, with plans to return each club to its glory days of the past.

With a southwest aspect on the Ionian coast, Marina di Gioiosa Ionica is something of an idyllic spot today, blessed with wide beaches and clear inviting water. As Commisso was growing up, however, it was a relatively deprived area as Italy struggled to rebuild after World War Two and it was not uncommon for families to leave the area in search of prosperity elsewhere.

Rocco’s father, a carpenter, joined a stream of emigrants from the area to the United States, setting up as a carpenter just outside Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Once established, he paid for the rest of the family to join him and Commisso left for a new life at the age of 12, with his mother and two siblings.  A year after arriving, the Commisso family moved to New York, making their home in the Bronx.

Commisso grew his Mediacom empire after  starting the business in his basement
Commisso grew his Mediacom empire after 
starting the business in his basement
A bright student, Commisso made rapid progress at school but it was his talent for football and music that were most helpful in advancing his education.

In 1963, a week after moving from Pittsburgh, he entered a talent show at the Wakefield Theatre in the Bronx and landed a weekly gig playing the accordion to entertain the audience before and between movie showings. The manager of the theatre took a liking to him and helped him obtain a place at the Mount Saint Michael Academy, a prestigious private high school, where he studied while working at his brother’s pizza restaurant in his spare time.

His football skills, acquired during a childhood in which his heroes were the likes of John Charles and Omar Sivori at Juventus, helped him with the next step in his education, first of all winning him a 50 percent scholarship at New York University and then a full scholarship at Columbia, one of America’s great Ivy League universities, where he graduated in industrial engineering in 1971.

A degree from Columbia University opened doors, for Commisso to a position at the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, who allowed him to arrange his shifts so that he could study for an MBA from Columbia Business School.

A natural entrepreneur, he always had an eye for a side hustle and in 1975 he opened a discotheque in the Bronx specifically geared towards Italian immigrants, who appreciated the mix of dance music and traditional Italian crooners.

Commisso still has the accordion skills that helped him progress after arriving in New York
Commisso still has the accordion skills that helped
him progress after arriving in New York
Meanwhile, his business career took him into the financial sector, in which he worked for Chase Manhattan Bank before moving to the Royal Bank of Canada, where his work involved making finance available to the media and communications sectors.

That led first to a position as Chief Financial Officer for Cablevision, which grew to become the eighth largest company in the sector in the US under his stewardship, and then to him launching Mediacom.

Meanwhile, he never lost his affection for football and was captivated by the launch of the North American Soccer League in the 1970s, becoming a regular fan of the New York Cosmos, the team of Brazil legend Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer and the Italian star Giorgio Chinaglia.

The Cosmos went out of business in 1985 after the NASL boom faded. The name was relaunched in 2009 but teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in 2017, when Commisso moved in to save it from a second extinction.  The club’s current status, in the National Independent Soccer Association, effectively the third tier of professional football in the United States, is a long way from the extravagance of the early 1970s but Commisso has ambitions to return the club to the top of the American game.

He has similar ambitions for Fiorentina, whom he bought in 2019 after being approached by several clubs in Serie A. Fiorentina were a powerful club in the 1960s and 70s. Their last Serie A title came in 1969 but Commisso has plans to turn them into a force again. 

Married with two children, Commisso lives in Saddle River, New Jersey.  According to the Bloomberg Index, he is worth around nine billion dollars. 

Marina di Gioiosa Ionica is blessed with long expanses of wide beaches
Marina di Gioiosa Ionica is blessed with long
expanses of wide beaches
Travel tip:

Commisso’s home town of Marina di Gioiosa Ionica is situated in the province of Reggio Calabria, about 80km (50 miles) southwest of Catanzaro and about 120km (75 miles) northeast of Reggio Calabria, with a population of just over 6,500. As well as offering broad beaches and clean water for bathing, the town has the remains of an ancient Roman theatre that was unearthed in the early 20th century, a relic of the former Roman settlement of Romechium.  There are also a number of towers built to defend the area against invasions by Saracens and Turks. 

Catanzaro's rebuilt duomo, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta
Catanzaro's rebuilt duomo, the Cattedrale di
Santa Maria Assunta
Travel tip:

The city of Catanzaro, the nearest major population centre to Marina di Gioiosa Ionica, is a city largely reconstructed following major earthquakes in 1783 and 1832, that destroyed all its ancient monuments. The small Norman church of Omobono was one of only a few survivors. Overlooking the confluence of the Fiumarella and Musofalo rivers, Catanzaro offers beautiful scenery with peaks, ridges, mountain ranges as far as the eye can see. The city’s cathedral, built over a Norman cathedral built in 1121, was given a Renaissance façade in the 16th century but has been destroyed and rebuilt at least twice since, most recently after the Allied bombings of 1943.

Also on this day:

1553: The birth of Alfonso II d’Este, the last Duke of Ferrara

1710: The death of Baroque composer Bernardo Pasquini

1947: The birth of football coach Nevio Scala

1954: The birth of former Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni


21 November 2020

21 November

Festival of Madonna della Salute

Venetians celebrate their deliverance from the plague

Venice has held a festival on this day every year since 1681 to give thanks to Santa Maria della Salute for delivering the city from the plague.  A terrible epidemic hit Venice in 1630 during the war against Austria and in just 15 months 46,000 people died from the disease.  The epidemic was so bad that all the gondolas were painted black as a sign of mourning and they have remained like that ever since.  The Doge had called for people to pray to the Madonna to release the city from the grip of the plague and had vowed to dedicate a church to her if their prayers were answered.  When the plague ceased, in order to thank the Virgin Mary, the Senate commissioned Baldassare Longhena to design Santa Maria della Salute, a splendid baroque church on Punta della Dogana, a narrow finger of land between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal.  Construction of the magnificent church began in 1631 and took 50 years to complete.  On the occasion of the inauguration in 1681, a bridge of galleys and ships was formed across the Grand Canal to allow a mass procession of the faithful to the Church.  Read more…


Antonio Visentini – architect and engraver

His copies took Canaletto paintings to wider world

Antonio Visentini, whose engravings from Canaletto’s paintings helped the Venetian artist achieve popularity and earn commissions outside Italy, particularly in England, was born on this day in 1688 in Venice.  A pupil of the Baroque painter Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, Visentini was commissioned by Canaletto’s agent, Joseph Smith, who was the British Consul in Venice, to produce engravings of Canaletto’s celebrated views of the city to be published as a catalogue.  Engraving itself was an intricate skill and in the days before photography anyone who could produce faithful copies of paintings or original art that could be printed on paper was much in demand.  Visentini embarked on his first series of 12 Canaletto views, mainly of canal scenes, in around 1726 and they were published in 1735. This was followed by two more series of engravings of Canaletto works arranged by Smith, which were published in 1742.  In all, Visentini copied some 38 Canaletto views, which not only furthered Canaletto’s career but his own.  Smith encouraged Canaletto to travel to England to paint views of London.  Read more…


Pope Benedict XV

Humanitarian pope who tried to stop the war 

Pope Benedict XV, who was pontiff for the whole of the First World War, was born on this day in 1854 in Genoa.  He tried to stop the war, which he described as ‘the suicide of a civilised Europe’, but when his attempts failed, he devoted himself to trying to alleviate the suffering.  Christened Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista della Chiesa, the future Pope Benedict XV was encouraged to study law by his family and attended the University of Genoa. Afterwards his father reluctantly agreed to let him study for the priesthood and he was allowed to move to Rome.  Pope Pius X made him Archbishop of Bologna in 1907 and a Cardinal in 1914.  He became Pope Benedict (Benedetto) XV in September 1914 after World War One was already under way.  The new Pope immediately tried to mediate to achieve a peaceful settlement but his attempts were rejected by all the parties involved.  He then concentrated on humanitarian works, such as the exchange of wounded prisoners of war and the distribution of food among starving people.  Although Benedict had been chosen at the age of 59 because the church was looking for a long-lasting Pope, he died in Rome in 1922.  Read more…


Giorgio Amendola - politician and partisan

Anti-Mussolini activist who sought to moderate Italian Communism

The politician Giorgio Amendola, who opposed extremism on the right and left in Italy, was born on this day in 1907 in Rome.  Amendola was arrested for plotting against the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini in the 1930s, fought with the Italian resistance in the Second World War and later worked to move the Italian Communist Party (PCI) away from the doctrines of Soviet Communism and Leninism towards a more moderate position acceptable in the mainstream of Italian politics.  Amendola was almost born to be a political thinker. His mother, Eva Kuhn, was an intellectual from Lithuania, his father Giovanni a liberal anti-Fascist who was a minister in the last democratically elected Italian government before Mussolini.  It was as a reaction to his father’s death in 1926, following injuries inflicted on him by Fascist thugs who tracked him down in France on Mussolini’s orders, that Amendola secretly joined the PCI and began to work for the downfall of the dictator.  He was largely based in France and Germany but from time to time returned to Italy undercover in order to meet other left-wing figures. It was on one visit in 1932 that he was arrested in Milan.  Read more…