29 December 2022

29 December

- The Battle of San Mauro

Defeat that ended Sicily’s separatist ambitions  

Soldiers from the Italian army, bolstered by Carabinieri officers, decisively defeated the paramilitaries of the clandestine Volunteer Army for the Independence of Sicily at what became known as the Battle of San Mauro on this day in 1945.  The confrontation, which took place in the hills above the city of Caltagirone in southeast Sicily, concluded with the arrest of Concetto Gallo, commander of the paramilitary group, and the effective end of the movement for Sicilian independence that grew during the Allied military occupation of the island in World War Two.  The Volunteer Army (EVIS) had formed in February 1945 as a secret paramilitary wing of the Movimento per l'Indipendenza della Sicilia (MIS), a political party launched in 1943 with the aim of achieving independence for the island.  The party brought together individuals from across the political spectrum in Sicily under the leadership of Andrea Finocchiaro Aprile, including the revolutionary socialist Antonio Canepa, the social-democrat Giovanni Guarino Amella, local aristocratic land owners and even Mafia figures, such as the powerful Calogero Vizzini.  Read more…


The opening of Venice’s historic Caffè Florian

Meeting place on St Mark’s Square became an institution

Venice’s famous Caffè Florian opened its doors for the first time on this day in 1720.  Florian’s nowadays occupies a long stretch of the arcades on the southern side of Piazza San Marco, its seats stretching out across the square with a permanent orchestra in residence to entertain clients. Yet the original consisted of just two rooms.  It was officially given the grand title of Alla Venezia Trionfante (“To Triumphant Venice”), but soon became known as Florian’s after the owner, Floriano Francesconi.  The cafè’s 301-year history makes it the oldest still-active coffee house in Italy and the second oldest in Europe behind the Café Procope in Paris, which was founded in 1686.  Florian’s soon became a fashionable meeting place for Venetian society, especially its writers. Among its 18th century clientele were the Venetian playwright and librettist Carlo Goldoni and the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, while the writer and adventurer Giacomo Casanova is said to have been regularly seen there, possibly drawn by the cafè’s then-unusual policy of opening its doors to women.  When the critic and dramatist Gasparo Gozzi launched his literary magazine Gazzetta Veneta in 1760, Florian’s agreed to help him publicise his venture and sell copies.  Read more…


Gaetano Russo - sculptor

Creator of New York’s Christopher Columbus Monument

The sculptor Gaetano Russo, famous for having created the monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle in New York, was born on this day in 1847 in the Sicilian city of Messina.  Russo’s 13ft (3.96m) statue of the 15th century Genoese explorer, carved from a block of Carrara marble, stands on top of a 70ft (21.3m) granite column, decorated with bronze reliefs depicting the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, Columbus’s three caravel sailing ships.  At the foot of the column there is an angel holding the globe.  Unveiled on October 12, 1892 on the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to the Americas, the statue was a gift to the city from New York’s Italian-American community, funded by a campaign by an Italian-language newspaper, Il Progresso.  For the laying of the statue’s cornerstone, a procession took place from Little Italy to what is now called Columbus Circle, at the southern end of Central Park, a distance of 6.5km (4.2 miles). Close to 10,000 people are said to have attended the dedication ceremony.  Additional ornamentation around the base of the column depicts Columbus’s journey, American patriotic symbols, and allegorical figures.  Read more…


Luigi Olivari – flying ace

First World War pilot claimed 19 victories

Lieutenant Luigi Olivari, a pilot in the military aviation corps of the Royal Italian Army who was decorated with a string of awards for valour in action, was born on this day in 1891 in La Spezia, the maritime city on the coast of what is now Liguria.  Olivari became a proficient aerial duellist, claiming to have downed 19 enemy aircraft as Italian planes took on Austro-Hungarian opponents after Italy had joined the war on the side of the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia.  Only eight of these were confirmed, yet Olivari was awarded four silver and two bronze medals for valour by the Italian government, as well as the French Croix de guerre and the Serbian Order of the Star of Karadorde.  The last of his silver medals was awarded posthumously after he was killed on October 13, 1917 when his Spad VII aircraft stalled and crashed during take-off at the Santa Caterina airfield just outside Udine in northwest Italy.  Born to middle-class parents in La Spezia, as a boy he moved with his family to Turin.  A good all-round sportsman and an accomplished motorcyclist, Olivari entered the school for civil pilots at Mirafiori, just outside Turin.  Read more…


Tullio Levi-Civita – mathematician

Professor from Padua who was admired by Einstein

Tullio Levi-Civita, the mathematician renowned for his work in differential calculus and relativity theory, died on this day in 1941 in Rome.  With the collaboration of Gregorio Ricci-Curbastro, his professor at the University of Padua, Levi-Civita wrote a pioneering work on the calculus of tensors. Albert Einstein is said to have used this work as a resource in the development of the theory of general relativity.  Levi-Civita corresponded with Einstein about his theory of relativity between 1915 and 1917 and the letters he received from Einstein, carefully kept by Levi-Civita, show how much the two men respected each other.  Years later, when asked what he liked best about Italy, Einstein is reputed to have said ‘spaghetti and Levi-Civita.’  The mathematician, who was born into an Italian Jewish family in Padua in 1873, became an instructor at the University of Padua in 1898 after completing his own studies.  He became a professor of rational mechanics there in 1902 and married one of his own students, Libera Trevisani, in 1914.  In 1917, having been inspired by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Levi-Civita made his most important contribution to this branch of mathematics.  Read more…


Stefano Eranio – footballer

Fast forward made his mark in England’s Premier League

Italy international footballer Stefano Eranio was born on this day in 1966 in Genoa, the main city of Liguria.  He represented his country 20 times between 1990 and 1997 but is most remembered for his playing career with AC Milan and Genoa.  A midfield player or wing-back, Eranio had brilliant technique, good pace and the ability to make attacking runs.  Towards the end of his career he played in the English Premier League for Derby County and was made an official ‘Derby Legend’ in 2006.  Eranio began his career with Genoa in 1984.  He played for them for eight seasons before moving to A C Milan in 1992.  At Milan he won three league titles, three Italian Super Cups and played in two Champions League finals.  Eranio’s first international goal was against the Netherlands in 1992 when Italy won the match 3-2. In 1997 he played his last game for Italy, helping them beat Moldova 3–0.  When he moved to Derby County in the Midlands of England, Eranio quickly became a favourite with the fans as part of an exciting team that included another Italian player, Francesco Baiano.  Eranio is credited with scoring the first goal in a competitive match at Derby's Pride Park Stadium.  Read more…



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