22 January 2022

22 January

Frankie Yale - gang boss

Mobster who employed a young Al Capone

The gang boss who gave Al Capone one of his first jobs was born on this day in 1893 in Longobucco in Calabria.  Francesco Ioele, who would later become known as Frankie Yale, moved to the United States in around 1900, his family settling into the lower Manhattan area of New York City.  Growing up, Ioele was befriended by another southern Italian immigrant, John Torrio, who introduced him to the Five Points Gang, which was one of the most dominant street gangs in New York in the early part of the 20th century.  In time, Ioele graduated from petty street crime and violent gang fights to racketeering, changing his name to Yale to make him sound more American and taking control of the ice delivery trade in Brooklyn.  With the profits Yale opened a waterfront bar on Coney Island, which was called the Harvard Inn. It was there that he took on a young Capone as a bouncer and in a fight there that Capone acquired the facial scars that would stay with him for life.  Capone worked for Yale for two years until Torrio, by then based in Chicago, recruited him to his organisation, and Capone moved to the city with which his criminal activities would become associated.  Read more…

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Carlo Orelli – soldier

The last trench infantryman

Carlo Orelli, the last surviving Italian soldier to have served at the start of Italy's involvement in the First World War, died on this day in 2005 at the age of 110.  Orelli had signed up for active duty at the age of 21 and joined the Austro-Hungarian front after Italy joined the war on the side of Britain, France and Russia in May 1915.  He took part in combat operations near Trieste, experiencing the brutality of trench warfare and seeing many of his friends die violent deaths, but after receiving injuries to his leg and ear he spent the rest of the war in hospital.  Orelli was born in Perugia in 1894, but his family moved to Rome, where he was to spend most of the rest of his life living in the Garbatella district.  He came from a military background and had a grandfather who had helped to defend Perugia against Austrian mercenaries in 1849. His father had served in the Italian Abyssinian campaign in the 1880s and his elder brother had fought in Libya during the war between Italy and Turkey in 1911.  The wounds Orelli suffered during a confrontation with Austrian soldiers ended his military career and he spent the rest of the war recovering from an infection in hospital.  Read more…

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Papal Swiss Guard

Colourful uniforms camouflage highly trained security professionals

The Pope’s Swiss Guard was founded on this day in Vatican City in 1506.  A contingent of guards from Switzerland has continued to guard the Pope from that day to present times and it is one of the oldest military units still in existence.  The Swiss had been producing mercenary soldiers for hundreds of years with a reputation for loyalty and good discipline.  In the 15th century they were known for their good battle tactics and were employed by many European armies.  Pope Julius II ordered the first Swiss troops to guard the Vatican and they arrived in Rome on 22 January, 1506, the official date now given for the foundation of the Papal Swiss Guard.  The Pope later gave them the title ‘Defenders of the Church’s freedom’.  Recruits to the Pope’s Swiss Guard unit have to be Catholic men of Swiss nationality who have completed military training and can produce evidence of their good conduct.  Since the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981, the Guards have received training in unarmed combat and in the use of modern weapons.  They are a colourful sight on ceremonial occasions at the Vatican in their blue, red, orange and yellow uniforms of Renaissance design.  Read more…

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Antonio Todde - supercentenarian

Sardinian shepherd holds record as oldest Italian in history

Antonio Todde, who was the oldest living man in the world before he died at the age of 112 years 346 days in 2002 and remains the oldest Italian man in history, was born on this day in 1889 in Tiana, a mountain village in Sardinia.  There are 19 other Italians who have attained a higher age, but all are women. Maria Giuseppa Robucci, from Apulia, is still living at the age of 115 years 307 days but would need to survive a further year and 195 days to match Emma Morano, from Piedmont, who died in 2017 aged 117 years 137 days as the oldest Italian of all time.  Todde was the world’s most senior male centenarian from the death of the American John Painter on March 1, 2001 until his own death 10 months later.  He was born to a poor shepherd family in Tiana, about 140km (87 miles) north of Cagliari in the Gennargentu mountains, about 55km (34 miles) southwest of the provincial capital, Nuoro.  The area historically has a high number of centenarians and there was longevity in Todde’s family. His father Francesco lived to be 90 years old, and his mother Francesca 98. His sister Maria Agostina - one of 11 siblings - was still alive at the age of 97 at the time of his death and herself lived to be 102.  Read more…



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21 January 2022

21 January

NEW
- Giuseppe Savoldi - footballer

The world’s first £1 million player

Giuseppe Savoldi, whose transfer from Bologna to Napoli in 1975 made him the first footballer in the world to be bought for £1 million, was born on this day in 1947 in Gorlago, a municipality a short distance from the city of Bergamo in Lombardy.  A prolific striker, Savoldi’s big-money deal came four years ahead of the much heralded £1 million transfer of another striker, Trevor Francis, from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest, which made him the first player in Britain to move for a seven-figure sum.  Napoli, who saw Savoldi as the last component in what they hoped would be a title-winning team, paid 1.4 billion lire in cash, plus two players, Sergio Clerici and Romario Rampanti, to secure his signature. The two players were valued at 600 million lire in total, which valued Savoldi at 2 billion lire, the equivalent at the time of about £1.2 million.  But where Francis, who later spent five seasons playing in Serie A, won two European Cups with Nottingham Forest, scoring the winning goal in the final in 1979, Savoldi’s move did not yield anything like the same kind of success.  Napoli had finished third and then second in Serie A in the seasons before Savoldi’s arrival but were unable to maintain their momentum. Read more…

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Gennaro Contaldo – Chef

TV cook is passionate about Amalfi’s speciality dishes

Celebrity chef Gennaro Contaldo was born on this day in 1949 in Minori in Campania.  Contaldo has made many appearances on British television alongside chefs such as the late Antonio Carluccio, Jamie Oliver and James Martin and he has also brought out several cook books.  It is well documented that he is the man responsible for inspiring Jamie Oliver’s interest in Italian food.  Contaldo grew up in the small seaside town of Minori near Amalfi and is a passionate advocate of the style of cooking in the area, cucina amalfitana.  From an early age he was interested in dishes cooked with local produce, going out to collect wild herbs for his mother, and he began helping out in local restaurants at the age of eight.  Contaldo moved to Britain in the late 1960s and travelled around the country working in village restaurants and studying the food growing wild in each area, such as herbs and mushrooms. He eventually went to London and worked in several restaurants, including Antonio Carluccio’s establishment in Neal Street.  Read more…

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Pietro Rava - World Cup winner

Defender was the last survivor from Azzurri of 1938

Pietro Rava, who was the last survivor of Italy's 1938 World Cup-winning football team when he died in December 2006, was born on this day in 1916 at Cassine in Piedmont.  A powerful defender who could play at full back or in a central position, Rava won 30 caps for the national team between 1935 and 1946, finishing on the losing side only once and being made captain in 1940.  He was also a member of the Italy team that won the gold medal in the football competition at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  At club level, he spent most of his career with Juventus, forming a formidable defensive partnership with Alfredo Foni, alongside whom he also lined up in the national side.  Rava won a Championship medal in 1949-50, his final season at Juventus, although by then he had fallen out of favour with Jesse Carver, the Turin club's English coach, and made only six appearances, moving to Novara the following year.  At the time of his birth, Rava's family were living in Cassine, a small town near Alessandria, about 100km (62 miles) south-east of Turin, because of his father's job with a railway company.  Read more…

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Antonio Janigro - conductor and cellist

Musician who found ‘accidental’ fame in Yugoslavia

The conductor and cellist Antonio Janigro, who spent more than two decades as an orchestra leader in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, was born on this day in 1918 in Milan.  An accomplished cello soloist in Italy, his adventure in Yugoslavia happened by accident, in a way.  He was on holiday there in 1939 when the Second World War began, leaving him stranded with no prospect of returning home.  Happily, Zagreb Conservatory offered Janigro a job as professor of cello and chamber music. This turned out to be a providential turn of fate and he was to remain in Yugoslavia for much of his life.  He founded the school of modern cello playing in Yugoslavia, formed the exemplary chamber orchestra I Solisti di Zagreb with Dragutin Hrdjok in 1954 and for 10 years led the Radio Zagreb symphony orchestra. Raised in a house on the Via Guido d’Arezzo in Milan, Janigro was born in a musical family, although his father’s dream of becoming a concert pianist had to be abandoned, sadly, when he lost his arm after being shot in the First World War.  Janigro himself studied piano from the age of six, and then began playing the cello in 1926, when he was eight years old.  Read more…

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Camillo Golgi – neuroscientist

Nobel prize winner whose name lives on in medical science

Camillo Golgi, who is recognised as the greatest neuroscientist and biologist of his time, died on this day in 1926 in Pavia.  He was well known for his research into the central nervous system and discovering a staining technique for studying tissue, sometimes called Golgi’s method, or Golgi’s staining.  In 1906, Golgi and a Spanish biologist, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of their work on the structure of the nervous system.  Golgi was born in 1843 in Corteno, a village in the province of Brescia in Lombardy. The village was later renamed Corteno Golgi in his honour.  In 1860 Golgi went to the University of Pavia to study medicine. After graduating in 1865 he worked in a hospital for the Italian army and as part of a team investigating a cholera epidemic in the area around Pavia.  He resumed his academic studies under the supervision of Cesare Lombroso, an expert in medical psychology, and wrote a thesis about mental disorders. As he became more and more interested in experimental medicine he started attending the Institute of General Pathology headed by Giulio Bizzozero, who was to influence Golgi’s research publications.  Read more…


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Giuseppe Savoldi - footballer

The world’s first £1 million player

Savoldi scored 168 goals in  405 matches for Bologna
Savoldi scored 168 goals in 
405 matches for Bologna
Giuseppe Savoldi, whose transfer from Bologna to Napoli in 1975 made him the first footballer in the world to be bought for £1 million, was born on this day in 1947 in Gorlago, a municipality a short distance from the city of Bergamo in Lombardy.

A prolific striker, Savoldi’s big-money deal came four years ahead of the much heralded £1 million transfer of another striker, Trevor Francis, from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest, which made him the first player in Britain to move for a seven-figure sum.

Napoli, who saw Savoldi as the last component in what they hoped would be a title-winning team, paid 1.4 billion lire in cash, plus two players, Sergio Clerici and Romario Rampanti, to secure his signature. The two players were valued at 600 million lire in total, which valued Savoldi at 2 billion lire, the equivalent at the time of about £1.2 million.

But where Francis, who later spent five seasons playing in Serie A, won two European Cups with Nottingham Forest, scoring the winning goal in the final in 1979, Savoldi’s move did not yield anything like the same kind of success.

Napoli had finished third and then second in Serie A in the seasons before Savoldi’s arrival but were unable to maintain their momentum. Savoldi was top scorer in each of his four seasons in Campania but i Partenopei - named after the ancient Greek settlement that evolved into Neapolis - could finish no higher than fifth in his time there.

Giuseppe Savoldi (left) with his brother, Gianluigi, who played for Juventus
Giuseppe Savoldi (left) with his brother,
Gianluigi, who played for Juventus
Indeed, although he ended his career as the 13th highest scorer in the history of the Italian championship with 168 goals from 405 matches, his only winners’ medals came in the Coppa Italia, which he won twice with Bologna and once with Napoli, and the Anglo-Italian League Cup, which he won once with each club.

Savoldi was born into a sporting family. His mother, Gloria Guerini, was a top-level volleyball player, winning the first Italian women’s championship in the sport as a member of the Amatori Bergamo club, and his younger brother, Gianluigi, also played professional football.

Giuseppe himself was a talented all-round athlete, excelling at both the high jump and basketball, despite standing only 1.75m (5ft 9ins). His footballing ability was clear, however, and in 1965, at the age of 18, he joined his local Serie A club, Atalanta.

Initially used as a winger, Savoldi took a while to reveal his potential. In his first full season, despite being given the No 9 shirt and a licence to attack through the middle, he managed only five goals. Yet in his second season at centre-forward he was Atalanta’s top scorer with 13 Serie A goals and began to attract attention from other clubs.

At first he was not keen to leave his hometown club but his chances of winning trophies with Atalanta were remote and in 1968 he willingly signed for Bologna, where he would become one of the club’s most successful forwards, his tally of 140 goals in all competitions bettered by only three other players in the club’s history.

Savoldi (back row, third from left) made his first
appearance in the
His tally in Serie A for the rossoblu was 85 from 201 appearances, an outstanding achievement given that Italian football was heavily defensive in the 1970s. It would have been 86 but for an extraordinary incident in a fixture against Ascoli Piceno in the 1974-75, when Savoldi was denied a goal after a ballboy managed to kick the ball back into play after it had crossed the line, without the referee noticing.

Savoldi was capocannoniere - top scorer - for Bologna for six consecutive seasons, winning the Coppa Italia in 1970 and 1974 and the Anglo-Italian League Cup - a short-lived competition that pitched the Coppa Italia winners against the English League Cup winners over two legs - by beating Manchester City.  But Bologna could not finish higher than fifth in Serie A, which persuaded him that he needed to move again.

Napoli looked like a team that could fulfil Savoldi’s dream of becoming a Serie A winner. There was an outcry in some quarters over the price Napoli were willing to pay.  Many Neapolitans lived on the breadline at the time and angry trade unions complained that half of the two billion lire would have paid the city’s refuse collectors what they were owed in unpaid wages by the near-bankrupt city council. Seven goals in his first seven matches by Savoldi quelled some of the discontent, however, and had the city dreaming of a first Serie A title.

Savoldi frequently offers his opinion as a regular Serie A pundit
Savoldi frequently offers his opinion as
a regular Serie A pundit
Sadly for Savoldi, that distinction would not come until the following decade, when a certain Diego Maradona arrived to transform the club’s fortunes. Savoldi had to content himself with his third Coppa Italia and another Anglo-Italian League Cup.

He returned to Bologna in 1979 but a shadow was cast over the end of his career when he became embroiled in the infamous Totonero match-fixing scandal that saw a number of high-profile players, including the future World Cup hero Paolo Rossi, handed lengthy bans.

Savoldi, who earned seven senior caps with the Italian national team, was barred from playing for three and a half years. This was reduced to two years on appeal but effectively ended his career at the top level. He returned for one more season with Atalanta in Serie B before retiring in 1983.

For the next 15 years, he concentrated on coaching but achieved only modest success. Nowadays, he is involved in football largely as pundit, in which role he is often asked his opinion on the current fortunes of his former clubs. He lives in the Bergamo area.


Bergamo's walls have been standing for about four and a half centuries
Bergamo's walls have been standing for
about four and a half centuries
Travel tip:

Bergamo in Lombardy, where Giuseppe Savoldi lives, having been born in nearby Gorlago, is a fascinating, historic city with two distinct centres. The Città Alta, upper town, is a beautiful, walled city with buildings that date back to medieval times, with a good deal of Venetian influence. The walls, which extend to more than six kilometres (3.72 miles) around the Città Alta, with four gates, go back to the mid-16th century. Designed to protect the city from enemies, they remain largely intact. The elegant Città Bassa, lower town, still has some buildings that date back to the 15th century, but more imposing and elaborate architecture was added in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Piazza Maggiore in Bologna; the square is the heart of the well-preserved city centre
Piazza Maggiore in Bologna; the square is the
heart of the well-preserved city centre
Travel tip:

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

Also on this day:

1918: The birth of conductor and cellist Antonio Janigro

1926: The death of neuroscientist Camillo Golgi

1949: The birth of chef Gennaro Contaldo

2006: The death of 1938 World Cup winner Pietro Rava


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20 January 2022

20 January

Franca Sozzani – magazine editor

Risk taker who turned Vogue Italia into a major voice

Franca Sozzani, the journalist who was editor-in-chief of the Italian edition of Vogue magazine for 28 years, was born on this day in 1950 in Mantua.  Under her stewardship, Vogue Italia was transformed from what she saw as little more than a characterless clothing catalogue for the Milan fashion giants to one of the edgiest publications the style shelves of the newsstands had ever seen.  Sozzani used high-end fashion and the catwalk stars to make bold and sometimes outrageous statements on the world issues she cared about, creating shockwaves through the industry but often selling so many copies that editions sometimes sold out even on second or third reprints.  It meant that advertisers who backed off in horror in the early days of her tenure clamoured to buy space again, particularly when the magazine began to attract a following even outside Italy.  She gave photographers and stylists a level of creative freedom they enjoyed nowhere else, encouraging them to express themselves through their photoshoots, particularly if they could deliver a message at the same time.  She encouraged her writers, too, not to shy away from issues she thought were important, and not to regard fashion as an insular world.  Read more…

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Federico Fellini – film director

The cinematic legacy of Rimini’s most famous son

Federico Fellini, one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century, was born on this day in Rimini in 1920.  He had a career lasting almost 50 years and his films were nominated for 12 Academy Awards. He won four Oscars, each for Best Foreign Language Film, with La strada, Nights of Cabiria, and Amarcord.  Fellini initially went to Rome to study Law at university but ended up working as a journalist instead.  His assignments for a magazine gave him the opportunity to meet people involved in show business and he eventually got work as a script writer for films and radio.  Fellini worked as both a screenwriter and assistant director on Roberto Rossellini films as well as producing and directing for other filmmakers. He began work on his first solo film, The White Sheik, in 1951. It received mixed reviews but in 1953 his film, I Vitelloni, pleased both the public and the critics.  He won his first Academy Award with Nights of Cabiria, starring his wife, Giulietta Masini, in 1953.  Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita, starring Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni and set in Rome, broke all box office records in 1960 and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival. It is one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time.  Read more…

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Marco Simoncelli - motorcycle world champion

Young rider whose career ended in tragedy

The motorcycle racer Marco Simoncelli, who is part of an illustrious roll call of Italian world champions headed by Giacomo Agostini and Valentino Rossi, was born on this day in 1987 in Cattolica on the Adriatic coast.  Simoncelli, who was European 125cc champion in 2002 in only his second year of senior competition, became 250cc world champion in 2008 when he won six races riding for Gilera.  He had dreams of emulating Rossi, winner of the 250cc world title in 1999, in going on to be a force in the premier MotoGP category, in which the latter has been world champion seven times, just one fewer than Agostini's record eight titles.  But after stepping up to MotoGP in 2010, Simoncelli suffered a fatal crash at the Malaysian Grand Prix in October the following year, killed at the age of just 24.  On only the second lap of the Sepang circuit, he lost control of his Honda at a corner and appeared to be heading for the gravel run-off area but suddenly veered back across the congested track.  With the bike almost on its side, Simoncelli was struck by two other competitors.  One of them, with chilling irony, was Rossi, who was entirely blameless but unable to prevent his front wheel from striking his compatriot's head.  Read more…

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Rafael Bombelli – mathematician

First person to explain algebra in simple language

Rafael Bombelli, the mathematician regarded as the inventor of complex numbers, was baptised and was also probably born on this day in 1526 near Bologna.  He wrote a book about algebra in simple language that could be understood by everyone, giving a comprehensive account of what was known about the subject at the time. The first three volumes, published in 1572, were the first European texts to explain how to perform computations with negative numbers.  Rafael Bombelli was the eldest son of Antonio Mazzoli, a wool merchant, who had changed his name to Bombelli to disassociate himself from the reputation of his family. His grandfather had taken part in a failed attempt to seize Bologna on behalf of the Bentivoglio family but had been caught and executed. Antonio Mazzoli was able to return to Bologna only after changing his name to Bombelli.  It is thought that Rafael Bombelli did not attend university but was taught by an engineer-architect named Pier Francesco Clementi.  He followed Clementi into the profession and acquired a patron, Alessandro Rufini. His patron was given the right to reclaim marsh land in the Val di Chiana by the Pope and Bombelli worked on this project until 1555.  Read more…

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19 January 2022

19 January

Paolo Borsellino - anti-Mafia judge

Magistrate slain by Mafia 57 days after colleague Giovanni Falcone

Paolo Borsellino, the judge who was helping to wage a successful war against the Sicilian Mafia when he was murdered in 1992, was born on this day in 1940 in Palermo.  He and his boyhood friend, Giovanni Falcone, became the most prominent members of a pool of anti-Mafia magistrates set up in the 1980s to investigate organised crime and share information. They made considerable progress in weakening the Sicilian Mafia, also known as Cosa Nostra, in particular through the so-called Maxi Trial of 1986-87, which resulted in 360 convictions and prison sentences totalling 2,665 years.  Yet both were killed within the space of two months, Falcone on May 23 by a bomb placed under the motorway between Sicilian capital Palermo and the city's airport, Borsellino on July 19 by a car bomb as he left his mother's house in the centre of the city.  The two were born and raised within a few streets of one another in the Kalsa district of Palermo, not far from the tree-lined Foro Italico Umberto I, the broad thoroughfare that runs along the city's waterfront.  It was a middle class neighbourhood that suffered severe damage in air raids as the Allies prepared to invade Sicily in 1943.  Read more…

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Il trovatore – opera

Verdi masterpiece is regularly performed all over the world 

One of the most successful operas composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Il trovatore was first staged on this day in 1853 in Rome.  The four act opera was based on a play by Antonio Garcia Gutiérrez about a troubadour, the son of a gypsy woman, who is in love with a lady in waiting at a Spanish castle.  After its premiere, at the Teatro Apollo in Rome, the opera became a  big success and in the first three years there were 229 productions of it worldwide. In Naples alone there were 11 different productions in six theatres, including Teatro San Carlo, during the first three years. The opera was first performed in America by the Max Maretzek Opera Company in 1855. The Metropolitan Opera in New York have performed it more than 600 times since it was first staged there in 1883.  Verdi was asked to prepare a French version of the opera in 1855, Le Trouvère, and to include music for a ballet. It was first performed in French in 1857 in Paris when Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugènie went to see it.  Along with Rigoletto and La traviata, Il trovatore is believed by experts to represent Verdi at the height of his artistry in the middle of his career.   Read more…

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Assunta ‘Pupetta’ Maresca – camorrista

Ex-beauty queen who avenged death of husband

Assunta Maresca, the mobster’s wife who made headlines around the world when she walked into a bar in Naples in broad daylight and shot dead the man she suspected of ordering the murder of her husband on behalf of the Neapolitan Mafia - the Camorra - was born on this day in 1935 in the coastal town of Castellammare di Stabia.  Better known as ‘Pupetta’ – the little doll – on account of her small stature and stunning good looks, Maresca took the law into her own hands after her husband – a young and ambitious camorrista and the father of her unborn child - was assassinated on the orders of a rival.  Her extraordinary act brought her an 18-year prison sentence, of which she served about a third, yet made her a figure of such public fascination that several movies and TV series were made about her life.  She went on to become the lover of another mobster and was alleged to have participated in Camorra activity herself, serving another jail term after she was found guilty of abetting the murder of a forensic scientist, which she denied.  Assunta Maresca was born into a world of crime.  Her father, Alberto, was a smuggler specialising in trafficking cigarettes.  Read more…

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Giuseppe Bonomi - architect

Roman who became famous for English country houses

The architect Giuseppe Bonomi, who became better known by his Anglicised name Joseph Bonomi after spending much of his working life in England, was born on this day in 1739 in Rome.  Records nowadays refer to him as Joseph Bonomi the Elder, to distinguish him from his son of the same name, who became a sculptor, artist and Egyptologist of some standing and tends to be described as Joseph Bonomi the Younger.   Joseph Bonomi the Elder is known primarily for designing a number of English country houses in the last two decades of the 18th century and the early years of the 19th.  Among these are Lambton Castle in County Durham, Barrells Hall in Warwickshire, Longford Hall in Shropshire and Laverstoke House in Hampshire.  He also designed the saloon in the grand house of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in Portman Square in London, sadly destroyed during the Blitz in the Second World War.  Bonomi’s father hailed from the Veneto and was an agent to members of the Roman aristocracy. Giuseppe was educated at the Collegio Romano, the Jesuit school in Rome that taught pupils from elementary school to university age.  Read more…

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Rosina Storchio - soprano

Star prospered despite Butterfly debut flop

The soprano Rosina Storchio, a major star of the opera world in the early 20th century, was born on this day in 1872 in Venice.  A favourite of the celebrated conductor Arturo Toscanini, with whom she had an affair that scandalised Milan, she sang opposite Enrico Caruso and other male stars of her era, including Giuseppe Anselmi, Titta Ruffo and the Russian, Fyodor Chaliapin.  She sang in five notable premieres.  Ruggero Leoncavallo cast her as the first Mimì in his version of La bohème (1897) and also as Zazà in the opera of the same name (1900), Umberto Giordano created the role of Stephana for her in Siberia (1903), while she was Pietro Mascagni’s first Lodoletta (1917).  The first night for which she was often remembered, however, was the one that turned into a personal catastrophe for Giacomo Puccini, when Madama Butterfly was unveiled at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1904 only to be roundly booed by the audience, forcing the opera to be pulled from La Scala’s spring programme after one night.  Critics argued that the second act was too long and that despite a star-studded cast, including the celebrated Storchio in the role of Cio-Cio San, the story’s tragic heroine, the performance suffered from being under-rehearsed.  Read more…

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Giuseppe Millico - opera singer, composer and teacher

Soprano castrato taught Lord Nelson’s lover

The castrato opera singer and composer Giuseppe Millico, who numbered Lord Nelson’s future lover, Emma Hamilton, as among his pupils as a singing teacher in Naples, was born on this day in 1737 in Terlizzi, a town in Apulia.  As a singer, Millico is best remembered for his performances in the operas of the Bavarian composer Christoph Willibald Gluck. He also compiled a significant body of work of his own, including eight operas, eight cantatas, numerous arias and duets not part of wider works, and 82 canzonets.  Having learned his craft in Naples in the 1750s, Millico returned to the city in 1780 after many years of touring, becoming a teacher as well as a composer. He taught singing to the Bourbon princesses Maria Teresa and Luisa Maria, as well as to Emma, Lady Hamilton, the actress and model, who was living in Naples after her marriage to Sir William Hamilton, the British Ambassador.  After studying at one of the Naples conservatories, Millico made his performing debut in Rome in 1757. Soon afterwards, he went to Moscow to sing at the Russian court. He remained in Russia for seven years, earning the nickname Il Moscovita on his return.  Read more…


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18 January 2022

18 January

Dino Meneghin – basketball player

Italy’s biggest star won 32 trophies and Olympic medal

Dino Meneghin, universally recognised as the greatest Italian player in basketball history, was born on this day in 1950 in Alano di Piave, a village in the Veneto.  The first Italian and only the second European player to be drafted by a National Basketball Association team when he was picked by the Atlanta Hawks in 1970, Meneghin enjoyed a professional career spanning 28 years.   He did not retire until he was 44 years old and had played in a professional match against his own son, Andrea, having won 32 trophies including 12 Italian national championships and seven EuroLeague titles.  Meneghin also participated in four Olympic basketball tournaments, winning a silver medal in the 1980 Games in Moscow. His international career amounted to 271 appearances for Italy, in which he scored 2,847 points.  Brought up in Varese in Lombardy, Meneghin was always exceptionally tall, growing to a height of 6ft 9ins (2.06m), and was earmarked for an athletic career.  He and his brother Renzo would train together, Renzo as a middle-distance runner, Dino as a shot-putter and discus thrower.  Read more…

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Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster – Cardinal

Blessed monk who tried to preach humility to Mussolini

Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster, who was a Benedictine monk and served as Cardinal and Archbishop of Milan during World War II, was born on this day in 1880 in Rome.  Towards the end of the war, Schuster attempted to arrange a truce between Mussolini and the partisans, but failed because Mussolini refused to accept the demands for total surrender made by the partisan delegates.  During the unsuccessful meeting between Mussolini and the partisans in the Archbishop’s Palace in Milan, Schuster is reported to have made an attempt to preach humility to the Fascist leader. More than 40 years after his death, Cardinal Schuster was beatified on 12 May 1996 by Pope John Paul II.  Schuster was the son of a Bavarian tailor who had moved to live in Rome and he served as an altar boy at a German Church near St Peter’s Basilica.  In 1898 he joined the Order of Saint Benedict and took the name Ildefonso before entering the monastic community of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.  He studied while he was a monk and graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy in 1903, later receiving a Doctorate in Theology.   Read more…

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Katia Ricciarelli - operatic soprano

Star whose peak years were in ‘70s and ‘80s

The opera singer Katia Ricciarelli, who at her peak was seen as soprano who combined a voice of sweet timbre with engaging stage presence, was born on this day in 1946 at Rovigo in the Veneto.  She rose to fame quickly after making her professional debut as Mimi in Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème in Mantua in 1969 and in the 1970s was in demand for the major soprano roles.  Between 1972 and 1975, Ricciarelli sang at all the major European and American opera houses, including Lyric Opera of Chicago (1972), Teatro alla Scala in Milan (1973), the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1974) and the Metropolitan Opera (1975).  In 1981, she began an association with the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro that she maintained throughout the ‘80s.  In addition to her opera performances, Ricciarelli also appeared in a number of films.  She was Desdemona in Franco Zeffirelli's film version of Giuseppe Verdi's Otello in 1986, alongside Plácido Domingo. In 2005 she won the best actress prize Nastro d'Argento, awarded by the Italian film journalists, for her role in Pupi Avati's La seconda notte di nozze (2005).  During her peak years, Desdemona was one of her signature roles. Read more…

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Alfonso Ferrabosco the elder – musician

Court composer suspected of being a spy

Alfonso Ferrabosco, the composer who first introduced the madrigal to England, was born on this day in Bologna in 1543.  As well as composing music for Queen Elizabeth I of England, he was also suspected of working as a spy for her.  Ferrabosco had been born into a family of musicians and travelled about in Italy and France while he was young with his father and uncle.  He went to England in 1562 with his uncle and found employment with Elizabeth I, becoming the first composer to introduce the unaccompanied harmony of the madrigal to England, where it later became very popular. Elizabeth is said to have settled an annuity equivalent to £66 on him.  Ferrabosco’s madrigals suited English tastes and were considered very skilful. He also composed sacred music and instrumental music for lutes and viols.  He made periodic trips back to Italy, but these were frowned upon both by the Pope and the Inquisition. England was at war with several Roman Catholic countries at the time and as a result, Ferrabosco lost his Italian inheritance.  At one point he was serving Cardinal Farnese in Rome, but decided he wanted to return to England.  Read more…


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17 January 2022

17 January

Antonio Moscheni - Jesuit painter

Unique legacy of chapel frescoes in India

The painter Antonio Moscheni, best known for the extraordinary frescoes he created in the chapel of St Aloysius College in Mangalore, India, was born on this day in 1854 in the town of Stezzano, near Bergamo in Lombardy.  St Aloysius, situated in the state of Karnataka in south-west India, was built by Italian Jesuit Missionaries in 1880 and the chapel added four years later.  A beautiful building, it would not look out of place in Rome and the Baroque extravagance of Moscheni's work, which adorns almost every available wall space and ceiling, makes it unique in India.  The chapel welcomes thousands of visitors each year simply to marvel at Moscheni's art for the vibrancy of the colours and the intricacy of the detail. Scenes depicted include the life of St. Aloysius, who as the Italian aristocrat Aloysius Gonzaga became a Jesuit and was studying in Rome when he died at the age of just 23, having devoted himself to caring for the victims of an outbreak of plague.  Also painted are the Apostles, the lives of the Saints and the life of Jesus.  Read more…

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Guidobaldo I – Duke of Urbino

Military leader headed a cultured court

Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, who was to become Duke of Urbino, was born on this day in Gubbio in 1472.  He succeeded his father, Federico da Montefeltro, as Duke of Urbino in 1482.  Guidobaldo married Elisabetta Gonzaga, the sister of Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, but they never had any children.  His court at Urbino was one of the most refined and elegant in Italy where literary men were known to congregate.  The writer Baldassare Castiglione painted an idyllic picture of it in his Book of the Courtier.  Castiglione was related on his mother’s side to the Gonzaga family of Mantua and represented them diplomatically.  As a result he met Guidobaldo, Duke of Urbino, and later took up residence in his court among the many distinguished guests.  During this time Castiglione also became a friend of the painter, Raphael, who painted a portrait of him that is now in The Louvre in Paris.  Castiglione’s book, Il Libro del Cortegiano, was written in the form of an imaginary dialogue between Elisabetta Gonzaga and her guests and provides a unique picture of court life at the time. It was published in 1528, the year before he died.  Read more…

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Antonio del Pollaiuolo – artist

Paintings of muscular men show knowledge of anatomy

Renaissance painter, sculptor, engraver and goldsmith Antonio del Pollaiuolo was born on this day in 1433 in Florence.  He was also known as Antonio di Jacopo Pollaiuolo and sometimes as Antonio del Pollaiolo. The last name came from the trade of his father who sold poultry.  Antonio’s brother, Piero, was also an artist and they frequently worked together. Their work showed classical influences and an interest in human anatomy. It was reported that the brothers carried out dissections to improve their knowledge of the subject.  Antonio worked for a time in the Florence workshop of Bartoluccio di Michele where Lorenzo Ghiberti - creator of the bronze doors of the Florence Baptistery - also received his training.  Some of Antonio’s paintings show brutality, such as his depiction of Saint Sebastian, which he painted for the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence and presents muscular men in action. His paintings of women show more calmness and display his meticulous attention to fashion details.   Antonio was also successful as a sculptor and a metal worker and although he produced only one engraving, The Battle of the Nude Men, it became one of the most famous prints of the Renaissance.  Read more…

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Pope Gregory XI returns the papacy to Rome

Important date in Roman and papal history

The French Pope, Gregory XI, returned the papacy to Rome, against the wishes of France and several of his cardinals, on this day in 1377.  The move back to Rome was a highly significant act in history as the papacy, from that date onwards, was to remain in the city.  Gregory was born Pierre-Roger De Beaufort in Limoges. He was the last French pope, and he was also the last pope to reign from Avignon, where he had been unanimously elected in 1370.  He immediately gave consideration to returning the papacy to Rome in order to conduct negotiations for reuniting the Eastern and Western Churches and to maintain papal territories against a Florentine revolt being led by the powerful Visconti family.  But Gregory had to shelve his Roman plan temporarily in order to strive for peace between England and France after another phase in the Hundred Years’ War started.  However, in 1375, he defeated Florence in its war against the Papal States and the following year, he listened to the pleas of the mystic Catherine of Siena, later to become a patron saint of Italy, to move the papacy back to Rome.  Read more…


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16 January 2022

16 January

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- Mario Tobino – poet, novelist and psychiatrist

Doctor was torn between literature and his patients

The author and poet who was also a practising psychiatrist, Mario Tobino, was born on this day in 1910 in Viareggio in Tuscany.  Tobino was a prolific writer whose works dealt with social and psychological themes. His novel, Il clandestino, inspired by his experiences fighting as a partisan to liberate Italy in 1944, won him the Premio Strega, the most prestigious Italian literary award.  After completing his degree in medicine in 1936, Tobino embarked on a career working in a mental hospital, treating people with mental disabilities.  He went to work as a doctor in Libya in 1940 but had to flee when war broke out in the country. His experiences were recorded in his book, Il deserto della Libia, which was published in 1952.  In 1953, his novel, Libere donne di Magliano, established him as an important Italian writer. In 1972, another novel, Per le antiche scale won the Premio Campiello, an annual Italian literary award. Both novels were inspired by his experiences as a director of a psychiatric hospital at Maggiano, a suburb of Lucca.  His novel Il manicomio di Pechino, published in 1990, also drew on his medical experiences. Read more…

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Arturo Toscanini - conductor

Talented musician had unexpected career change

World famous orchestra conductor Arturo Toscanini died on this day in 1957.  He served as musical director of La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  Toscanini was a well-known musician in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, respected for his amazing musical ear and his photographic memory.  Towards the end of his career he became a household name as director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra because of the radio and television broadcasts and recordings he made.  Toscanini was born in Parma in 1867 and won a scholarship to his local music conservatory where he studied the cello.  He joined the orchestra of an opera company and while they were presenting Aida on tour in Rio de Janeiro the singers went on strike.  They were protesting against their conductor and demanded a substitute. They suggested Toscanini, who they were aware knew the whole opera from memory.  Although he had no previous conducting experience, he was eventually persuaded to take up the baton late in the evening. He led a performance of the long Verdi opera, entirely relying on his memory.  Read more…

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Count Vittorio Alfieri – playwright and poet

Romantic nobleman inspired the oppressed with his writing

Dramatist and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri was born on this day in 1749 in Asti in Piedmont.  He earned himself the title of ‘the precursor of the Risorgimento’ because the predominant theme of his poetry was the overthrow of tyranny and with his dramas he tried to encourage a national spirit in Italy. He has also been called ‘the founder of Italian tragedy.’  Alfieri was educated at the Military Academy of Turin but disliked military life and obtained leave to travel throughout Europe.  In France he was profoundly influenced by studying the writing of Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu and in England he embarked on a doomed affair with an unsuitable woman.  When he returned to Italy in 1772 he settled in Turin and resigned his military commission.  Soon afterwards, he wrote a tragedy, Cleopatra, which was performed to great acclaim in 1775.  He decided to devote himself to literature and began a methodical study of the classics and of Italian poetry.  Since he expressed himself mainly in French, which was the language of the ruling classes in Turin, he went to Tuscany to familiarise himself with pure Italian.  Read more…

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Renzo Mongiardino - interior and set designer

Favourite of wealthy clients known as the ‘architect of illusion’

Lorenzo ‘Renzo’ Mongiardino, who became Italy’s leading classic interior designer and a creator of magnificent theatre and film sets, died in Milan on this day in 1998.  He was 81 years old and had never fully recovered from an operation the previous November to install a pacemaker.  Mongiardino, who was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Art Direction during his career, worked on interior design for an international clientele that included the industrialist and art collector Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the business tycoons Aristotle Onassis and Gianni Agnelli, the former Russian prince Stanisław Albrecht Radziwiłł and his socialite wife Lee Radziwill, the fashion designer Gianni Versace, the Lebanese banker Edmond Safra, the Rothschild family and the Hearst family.  Nonetheless, he habitually rejected his reputation as the eminence grise of interior design. ''I'm a creator of ambiance, a scenic designer, an architect but not a decorator,'' he once said.  The only son of Giuseppe Mongiardino, a theatre impresario who introduced colour television to Italy, Mongiardino grew up in an 18th-century palazzo in Genoa.  Read more…

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Niccolò Piccinni – opera composer

Writer drawn into 18th century Paris rivalry

The composer Niccolò Piccinni, one of the most popular writers of opera in 18th century Europe, was born on this day in 1728 in Bari.  Piccinni, who lived mainly in Naples while he was in Italy, had the misfortune to be placed under house arrest for four years in his 60s, when he was accused of being a republican revolutionary.  He is primarily remembered, though, for having been invited to Paris at the height of his popularity to be drawn unwittingly into a battle between supporters of traditional opera, with its emphasis on catchy melodies and show-stopping arias, and those of the German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, who favoured solemnly serious storytelling more akin to Greek tragedy.  Piccinni’s father was a musician but tried to discourage his son from following the same career. However, the Bishop of Bari, recognising Niccolò’s talent, arranged for him to attend the Conservatorio di Sant’Onofrio in Capuana in Naples.  He was a prolific writer. His first opera, a comedy entitled Le donne dispettose (The mischievous women) was staged at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples in 1755.  Read more…

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Carlo Maria Viganò - controversial archbishop

Former papal ambassador who shocked Catholic Church

Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States who was twice at the centre of serious corruption allegations against the Vatican, was born on this day in 1941 in Varese, northern Italy.  Viganò, who had occupied one of the most powerful positions in the Vatican before Pope Benedict XVI set him to be his ambassador in Washington in 2011, was a key figure in the so-called Vatileaks scandal in 2012 when the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published leaked documents that included letters from Viganò to Pope Benedict and to the Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone complaining of corruption in the awarding of contracts.  The subsequent scandal resulted in the conviction of Benedict’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was found guilty of theft by a Vatican court and handed an 18-month prison sentence.  Viganò’s 2011 allegations pale, however, alongside the extraordinary 11-page document he published seven years later, in which he claimed that high-ranking church officials were implicated in a cover-up surrounding sexual abuse allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  Read more…

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Mario Tobino – poet, novelist and psychiatrist

Doctor was torn between literature and his patients

Tobino combined his work in mental health with a literary career
Tobino combined his work in mental
health with a literary career
The author and poet who was also a practising psychiatrist, Mario Tobino, was born on this day in 1910 in Viareggio in Tuscany.

Tobino was a prolific writer whose works dealt with social and psychological themes. His novel, Il clandestino, inspired by his experiences fighting as a partisan to liberate Italy in 1944, won him the Premio Strega, the most prestigious Italian literary award.

After completing his degree in medicine in 1936, Tobino embarked on a career working in a mental hospital, treating people with mental disabilities.

He went to work as a doctor in Libya in 1940 but had to flee when war broke out in the country. His experiences were recorded in his book, Il deserto della Libia, which was published in 1952.

In 1953, his novel, Libere donne di Magliano, established him as an important Italian writer. In 1972, another novel, Per le antiche scale won the Premio Campiello, an annual Italian literary award. Both novels were inspired by his experiences as a director of a psychiatric hospital at Maggiano, a suburb of Lucca.

His novel Il manicomio di Pechino, published in 1990, also drew on his medical experiences, his relationships with his patients and his personal dilemma as an individual divided by his allegiance to his profession and his passion for literature.

Per le antiche scale won
the Premio Campiello
Tobino’s strong attachment to his native region of Tuscany is another recurrent motif in his work. He published Gli ultimi giorni di Magliano followed by La ladra in 1984 and Tre amici in 1988. He received the Premio Pirandello on 10 December 1991 in Agrigento and died the next day, aged 81.

He began working in 1942 as a doctor at the mental hospital of Lucca on the outskirts of  the city at Maggiano, where he was to remain for the next 40 years. The hospital, known as Spedale per I Pazzi, was founded by the republic of Lucca in the second half of the 18th century and is thought to be the oldest mental hospital in Italy. It was also in 1942 that Tobino met Paola Olivetti, who was to be his life-long companion.

The Mario Tobino Foundation, based at the site of the former hospital in Via Fregionaia, which was closed in 1999, was created in 2006 to preserve and develop the important cultural heritage of his work as a writer and psychiatrist. The Foundation also aims to promote the regional and national debate about the future of psychiatric help.

Viareggio's sea front is famed for its Liberty-style architecture
Viareggio's sea front is famed for its
Liberty-style architecture
Travel tip:

Viareggio, where Mario Tobino was born, is a popular seaside resort in Tuscany with excellent sandy beaches and some beautiful examples of Liberty-style architecture. The remains of the English poet Shelley, who drowned at sea, were washed up on a beach near the resort in 1822. They were identified because of the volume of poetry by John Keats found in his pocket and he was cremated on the beach under the supervision of his friend, the poet Lord Byron. There is a monument to Shelley in Piazza Paolina in Viareggio.

The hospital complex retained some  features of the monastery
The hospital complex retained some 
features of the monastery
Travel tip:

The Spedale per I Pazzi, where Mario Tobino worked, was formed in 1773 at Maggiano after the Republic of Lucca had put forward a request to Pope Clement to suppress the Monastery of the Lateran Canons of Santa Maria of Fregionaia. The monastery was then adapted for the care of mental patients and was officially opened on 20 April 1773. The day after, the first 11 patients were transferred from Carcere Cittadino della Torre, the city’s Tower prison.



Also on this day:

1728: The birth of composer Niccolò Piccinni

1749: The birth of dramatist and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri

1941: The birth of controversial archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò

1957: The death of conductor Arturo Toscanini

1998: The death of interior and set designer Renzo Mongiardino


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