29 November 2021

29 November

Agostino Chigi - banker and arts patron

Nobleman from Siena became one of Europe’s richest men

The banker Agostino Chigi, who was a major sponsor of artists during the Renaissance, was born on this day in 1466 in Siena.  At its height, Chigi’s banking house in Rome was the biggest financial institution in Europe, employing up to 20,000 people, with branches throughout Italy and abroad, as far apart as London and Cairo.  Chigi invested a good deal of his wealth in supporting the arts, notably providing financial backing to almost all the main figures of the early 16th century, including Perugino, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni da Udine, Giulio Romano, Il Sodoma (Giovanni Bazzi) and Raphael.  Perugino painted The Chigi Altarpiece, dated at around 1506-1507, which hangs in the Chigi family chapel in the church of Sant'Agostino in Siena.  Chigi’s significant legacy to Rome was to have built a chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Pace, another - his mortuary chapel, the Chigi Chapel - in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, and the superb suburban villa in Trastevere, on the banks of the Tiber, which since 1579 has been known as the Villa Farnesina.  Agostino Chigi was the son of the prominent Sienese banker Mariano Chigi, from an ancient and illustrious Tuscan family.   Read more…

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Cardinal Andrea della Valle – antiquities collector

Restoration and conservation techniques set example to others

Andrea della Valle, remembered for amassing one of the earliest known collections of Roman antiquities, was born into a noble family on this day in 1463 in Rome.  He was the son of Filippo della Valle and Girolama Margani, and was the second of their four children.  After entering the Church, he was elected Bishop of Crotone in 1496. He was chosen to direct the Apostolic Chancery between 1503 and 1505 and served as Apostolic secretary during the reign of Pope Julius II.  Della Valle was transferred to the titular diocese of Miletus in 1508, but resigned from it to give way to his nephew, Quinzio Rustici, in 1523.  He was created cardinal priest in 1517 and participated in the papal conclaves of 1521 and 1523.  As archpriest of the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, Della Valle ceremonially opened and closed the holy door in the Jubilee year of 1525. The door is sealed by mortar and cement from the inside so it cannot normally be opened, but is ceremoniously opened during holy year to allow pilgrims to enter and gain plenary indulgences.  Della Valle had inherited some antiquities collected by his ancestors but was always eager to acquire more.  Read more…

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Gaetano Donizetti - opera composer

Birthplace of musical genius has been declared a national monument

Gaetano Donizetti, a prolific composer of operas in the 19th century, was born on this day in 1797 in Bergamo in northern Italy.  Donizetti came into the world in the basement of a house in Borgo Canale just outside the walls of the Città Alta, Bergamo’s upper town. He was the fifth of six children born to a textile worker and his wife.  He once wrote about his birthplace: “…I was born underground in Borgo Canale. One descended the stairs to the basement, where no ray of sunlight had ever been seen. And like an owl I flew forth…”  Donizetti developed a love for music and, despite the poverty of his family, benefited from early tuition in Bergamo. He went on to become a brilliant composer of operas in the early part of the 19th century and is considered to have been a major influence on Verdi, Puccini and many other composers who came after him.  Experts consider some of his work, for example Lucia di Lammermoor and L’elisir d’amore, to be among the greatest lyrical operas of all time.  After a magnificent international career, Donizetti returned to Bergamo, where he died in 1843 in the Palazzo Scotti.  Read more…

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Agostino Richelmy – Cardinal

Former soldier sent priests to say mass for troops

Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, who fought for Garibaldi as a teenager, was born on this day in 1850 in Turin.  He joined the Garibaldi Volunteers during the war of 1866 and is said to have worn his red shirt under his cassock for years afterwards.  When Italy entered the First World War in 1915, Richelmy organised priests to serve as army chaplains in the mountains of Trentino, where they had to carve altars out of snow and say mass in temperatures below zero.  Richelmy was born into an ancient, noble family and his father, Prospero was a hydraulic engineer.  He was educated at the Liceo Classico Cavour and the Archiepiscopal Seminary in Turin and gained a doctorate in theology in 1876. He became a professor of moral and dogmatic theology and then a professor in the faculty of canon law.  Richelmy was elected Bishop of Ivrea in 1886 and named as the Archbishop of Turin in 1897.  He was created cardinal priest of Sant’Eusebio in Rome in 1899 and was then transferred to Santa Maria in Via in Rome in 1911.  Richelmy supported all the social directives of Pope Leo XIII, who worked to encourage understanding between the Church and the modern world during his papacy.  Read more…

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28 November 2021

28 November

NEWAlessandro Altobelli - World Cup winner

Scored Italy’s third goal in 1982 Final

Alessandro Altobelli, one of only four players to score in a World Cup final after starting on the substitutes’ bench, was born on this day in 1955 in Sonnino, a small medieval town in mountainous southern Lazio.  At the age of 26, Altobelli was part of Enzo Bearzot’s squad for the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, in which Italy triumphed for the first time since their two tournament victories under Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s.  A striker with Internazionale of Milan, Altobelli did not start a single game in the 1982 finals and had played only a few minutes during Italy’s progress to the knock-out stages.  But he was called on after just seven minutes of the Final against West Germany, replacing Francesco Graziani, stricken with a shoulder injury, and his patience waiting for his chance was rewarded when he finished an Italian counter-attack with their third goal in the second half, giving the Azzurri a 3-0 lead that the Germans could not overcome.  Italy’s tournament hero, Paolo Rossi, had scored their opening goal before Marco Tardelli fired home their second, which he celebrated wildly in what became the enduring image of the tournament. Read more…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…


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Alessandro Altobelli - World Cup winner

Scored Italy’s third goal in 1982 Final

Alessandro Altobelli in action in one of his 61 games for the Italy national team
Alessandro Altobelli in action in one of
his 61 games for the Italy national team 
Alessandro Altobelli, one of only four players to score in a World Cup final after starting on the substitutes’ bench, was born on this day in 1955 in Sonnino, a small medieval town in mountainous southern Lazio.

At the age of 26, Altobelli was part of Enzo Bearzot’s squad for the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, in which Italy triumphed for the first time since their two tournament victories under Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s.

A striker with Internazionale of Milan, Altobelli did not start a single game in the 1982 finals and had played only a few minutes during Italy’s progress to the knock-out stages.

But he was called on after just seven minutes of the Final against West Germany, replacing Francesco Graziani, stricken with a shoulder injury, and his patience waiting for his chance was rewarded when he finished an Italian counter-attack with their third goal in the second half, giving the Azzurri a 3-0 lead that the Germans could not overcome.

Italy’s tournament hero, Paolo Rossi, had scored their opening goal before Marco Tardelli fired home their second, which he celebrated wildly in what became the enduring image of the tournament.  Paul Breitner then scored for West Germany but the Italians by then looked unassailable.

The Italians had made a poor start to the tournament, scraping through the opening group phase, in which they drew all of their three games but progressed to the second phase only because they scored one more goal than outsiders Cameroon, who had an identical record.

Paolo Rossi was Italy's  star in the 1982 finals
Paolo Rossi was Italy's 
star in the 1982 finals
Yet they exploded into life in the second group phase, defeating holders Argentina before stunning favourites Brazil in one of the greatest games in World Cup history, Rossi scoring a hat-trick in a 3-2 win.

They swept aside Poland in the semi-finals before proving too strong for the Germans in the final before a 90,000 crowd in the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Madrid.

Altobelli began his career with his local team, Latina, in Serie C - the third tier of the Italian football pyramid. He impressed enough in his debut season in the first team to earn a move to Brescia, who played in Serie B, where his form caught the eye of Serie A scouts. In 1977 he joined Inter.

It was at the San Siro, where Inter shared the famous Giuseppe Meazza Stadium with city rivals AC Milan, that his quality came to the fore. In 317 Serie A appearances, he scored 128 goals, finishing as Inter’s top scorer in nine of his 10 seasons. His 15 goals in the 1977-78 helped them win the scudetto - the Serie A title - for the 12th time.

In his time with Inter, Altobelli also won the Coppa Italia twice. He left in 1988 to join Juventus and finished his career back at Brescia.  With almost 300 career goals in senior football, he is one of the top 10 most prolific strikers in Italian football history. His 56 goals in 93 games in the Coppa Italia remains the biggest tally for any player in the competition.

Altobelli today is a familiar face to television viewersall shows
Altobelli today is a familiar
face to television viewers
Despite a slender build that saw him acquire the nickname Il spillo - the needle - Altobelli was deceptively strong and difficult to knock off the ball, as well as possessing a powerful and accurate shot with each foot.

His international career began in his third season with Inter, making his debut in the 1980 European championships, and he went on to make 61 appearances for the Azzurri, scoring 25 goals, captaining the side at Euro 1988.

After his retirement as a player, Altobelli had a brief career in politics, gaining election as a councillor in Brescia in 1991, representing the Christian Democrats, and made an unsuccessful attempt to be elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1996.

By that time, he was back in football, both as a player - representing Italy at the world beach football championships - and in a management capacity as sporting director at Calcio Padova. He also acted as a scout for Inter.

More recently, he has been a regular television pundit, appearing on a number of popular shows.

A narrow street typical of medieval Sonnino
A narrow street typical
of medieval Sonnino
Travel tip:

Sonnino is a small hill town with many preserved medieval features in the Monti Lepini mountain range of southern Lazio, in the province of Latina. It is thought to have grown from an eighth century settlement established when inhabitants of the town of Priverno moved to higher ground to hide from invading Barbarians. Over the centuries it was controlled by several major Italian families, including the Borgias and Colonnas. Situated about an hour and 45 minutes’ journey from Rome to the north and a similar distance from Naples to the south, Sonnino’s elevated position offers spectacular views, while visitors can explore a network of steep, narrow streets.

Latina's Cattedrale di San Marco was completed in 1933
Latina's Cattedrale di San
Marco was completed in 1933
Travel tip:

To some, Latina, the capital of the province of the same name that includes Sonnino, serves as an ugly reminder of the dark days of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship. To others, it stands as a monument to the architectural style that typified the era, which combined some elements of classicism, with its preponderance of columns and arches, with the stark lines of 1920s and 30s rationalism. The city itself owes its very existence to Mussolini, being built on land reclaimed when his government fulfilled its pledge to drain the inhospitable, mosquito-ridden Pontine Marshes to which visitors frequently became infected with malaria. Established in 1932 as Littoria - a name in itself associated with Fascist symbolism - it has a large number of monuments and edifices, including a town hall with a tall clock tower and a cathedral, designed by architects such as Marcello Piacentini and Angiolo Mazzoni. Renamed Latina in 1946, it has grown into a substantial city with a population of 126,000, making it the second largest city in Lazio after Rome. 

Also on this day:

1873: The death of astronomer Caterina Scarpellini

1907: The birth of writer Alberto Moravia

1913: The birth of film music composer Mario Nascimbene

1941: The birth of actress Laura Antonelli

1977: The birth of 2006 World Cup hero Fabio Grosso


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27 November 2021

27 November

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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…


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26 November 2021

26 November

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…

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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…

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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…

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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…


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25 November 2021

25 November

NEW
- Stefano Boeri - architect

Milan urban planner famous for Vertical Forest

The architect Stefano Boeri, a specialist in environmentally sustainable developments and best known for his Bosco Verticale - Vertical Forest - project in Milan, was born on this day in 1956 in Milan.  The Bosco Verticale consists of two residential tower blocks in the Isola neighbourhood in the north of the city, just beyond the Porta Garibaldi railway station.  The two towers, one of 111m (364 ft), the other of 76m (249 ft), incorporate 8,900 sqm (96,000 sq ft) of terraces that are home to approximately 800 trees, 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 perennial plants.  The vegetation - the equivalent of what might be found in three hectares of woodland but with a footprint of just 3,000 sqm - mitigates against urban pollution, absorbing dust and carbon dioxide while producing oxygen. The trees also provide natural climate control for the inhabitants, shading the interior from sun in the summer and blocking cold winds in the winter.  Boeri incorporated other features to make the building self-sufficient, generating energy from solar panels and using filtered waste water to irrigate the plants.  Construction of the towers began in late 2009 and the project was completed in 2014.  Read more…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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Stefano Boeri - architect

Milan urban planner famous for Vertical Forest

Stefano Boeri is a specialist in sustainable development projects
Stefano Boeri is a specialist in
sustainable development projects
The architect Stefano Boeri, a specialist in environmentally sustainable developments and best known for his Bosco Verticale - Vertical Forest - project in Milan, was born on this day in 1956 in Milan.

The Bosco Verticale consists of two residential tower blocks in the Isola neighbourhood in the north of the city, just beyond the Porta Garibaldi railway station.  The two towers, one of 111m (364 ft), the other of 76m (249 ft), incorporate 8,900 sqm (96,000 sq ft) of terraces that are home to approximately 800 trees, 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 perennial plants.

The vegetation - the equivalent of what might be found in three hectares of woodland but with a footprint of just 3,000 sqm - mitigates against urban pollution, absorbing dust and carbon dioxide while producing oxygen. The trees also provide natural climate control for the inhabitants, shading the interior from sun in the summer and blocking cold winds in the winter.

Boeri incorporated other features to make the building self-sufficient, generating energy from solar panels and using filtered waste water to irrigate the plants.

Construction of the towers began in late 2009 and the project was completed in 2014, since which time similar projects have been started in Lausanne in Switzerland, Eindhoven and Utrecht in the Netherlands and several cities in China.

Boeri studied architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan, where he earned a master's degree, before adding a PhD in architecture in 1989 from the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia.

Boeri's Bosco Verticale tower blocks are now a eyecatching feature of the Milan skyline
Boeri's Bosco Verticale tower blocks are now
a eyecatching feature of the Milan skyline
He was editor-in-chief of the international architectural magazine Domus from 2004 to 2007 and the Italian monthly design magazine Abitare from 2007 to 2011. He founded Multiplicity, a research agency investigating the relationships between geopolitics and urban planning, took part in numerous international exhibitions and wrote many academic articles.

In 1999, he founded the Boeri Studio with fellow architects Gianandrea Barreca and Giovanni La Varra, that evolved in 2009 into Stefano Boeri Architetti, in partnership with Michele Brunello, which now has offices in Shanghai and Doha, Qatar as well as Milan.

Between April 2011 and March 2013, Boeri was Head of Culture, Design and Fashion for the city of Milan, and between July 2014 and October 2015 was Councillor for Culture and Major Events for the Mayor of Florence.

Other notable projects for which Boeri was responsible include the Villa Méditerranée in Marseille and the House of the Sea of La Maddalena in Sardinia.

The Villa Méditerranée in Marseille, with the city's Romanesque-Byzantine style cathedral in the distance
The Villa Méditerranée in Marseille, with the city's
Romanesque-Byzantine style cathedral in the distance
The Villa Méditerranée is a museum and cultural center dedicated to historical, cultural, scientific, and sociological matters affecting countries bordering the Mediterranean. Located in the docks area of the port of Marseille, the building features a cantilevered exhibition floor and an underwater conference suite.

Located on the south-western edge of the port area of La Maddalena, the main a town in the Maddalena archipelago off the northern tip of the island of Sardinia, the House of the Sea building, which is used for commercial purposes as well as hosting exhibitions dedicated to nautical and sailing events, is a striking structure consisting of two rectangular elements of different sizes, one placed flush with the quay and, suspended above, a larger upper body that juts out over the water.

Boeri is married to Maddalena Bregani, a former TV writer and editor who co-founded the Multiplicity agency with him and now works as a consultant in projects around the cultural production and the communication fields, based in Milan. 

The Unicredit Tower is another Isola landmark
The Unicredit Tower is
another Isola landmark
Travel tip:

Situated adjacent to the Porta Garibaldi railway station, Isola used to be one of Milan’s toughest working-class neighbourhoods but since the early 2000s, after rents in the sought-after Brera and Navigli districts increased sharply, artists and young professionals began to be drawn to the Isola area’s village vibe and much cheaper apartments and is now one of the city’s trendiest,  up-and-coming areas, well connected to the city centre by a metro line. The area boasts a vibrant nightlife, chic boutiques, some fine restaurants and an array of cafes serving good coffee and delicious pastries. The area has also become famous for second-hand shops that stock vintage designer pieces, such as Chanel bags and Ferragamo shoes.


The Maddalena Archipelago is known for its white sand beaches and crystal clear waters
The Maddalena Archipelago is known for its
white sand beaches and crystal clear waters
Travel tip:

The Maddalena Archipelago is a group of islands in the Strait of Bonifacio between the French island of Corsica and north-eastern Sardinia (Italy). It consists of seven main islands and numerous small islets, the largest one of which is the island of La Maddalena with its homonymous town. Maddalena has the same clear waters and wind blown granite coastlines as the nearby upmarket tourist resorts of the Costa Smeralda but remains a haven for wildlife, home to the Parco Nazionale Arcipelago di La Maddalena.

Also on this day:

1343: Amalfi destroyed by tsunami

1881: The birth of Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII

1939: The birth of actress Rosanna Schiaffino

1950: The birth of novelist Giorgio Faletti

1955: The birth of dance show judge Bruno Tonioli


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24 November 2021

24 November

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…

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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…

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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…

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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 hometown 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…