25 January 2024

25 January

NEW - Giangiacomo Ciaccio Montalto - magistrate

Brave investigator murdered by the Sicilian Mafia

The fearless magistrate Giangiacomo Ciaccio Montalto was assassinated by Mafia gunmen in Valderice, a small town near the Sicilian city of Trapani, on this day in 1983.  Ciaccio Montalto, a state prosecutor who had been involved in every major organised crime investigation in western Sicily over the previous 12 years, was a short distance from his home in the early hours of the morning when his Volkswagen Golf was forced off the road.  Three men armed with machine guns and pistols opened fire, hitting Ciaccio Montalto multiple times, leaving his bullet-ridden body slumped in the driver’s seat. Used to hearing gunshots, none of the nearby residents ventured out to see what had happened and it was not until 7.15am that a passing carabinieri patrol came across the car and discovered the magistrate’s body. He was 41 years old.  The VW’s clock, which police believed stopped working because of the damage to the car, was showing 1.12am, which suggested that Ciaccio Montalto had been dead for just over six hours.  Ciaccio Montalto was an Italian magistrate who was a public prosecutor in Trapani.  Read more…


Antonio Scotti - baritone

Neapolitan singer who played 35 seasons at the Met

The operatic baritone Antonio Scotti, who performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York for a remarkable 35 consecutive seasons, was born on this day in 1866 in Naples.  Scotti's career coincided with those of many fine baritones and experts did not consider his voice to be among the richest. Yet what he lacked in timbre, he compensated for in musicality, acting ability and an instinctive grasp of dramatic timing.  Later in his career, he excelled in roles that emerged from the verismo movement in opera in the late 19th century, of which the composer Giacomo Puccini was a leading proponent, drawing on themes from real life and creating characters more identifiable with real people.  For a while, Scotti's portrayal of the chief of police Baron Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca, for example, was the yardstick against which all performances were measured, at least until Tito Gobbi's emergence in the 1930s.  Indeed, in 1924 the Met chose a gala presentation of Tosca as a fitting way for Scotti to mark the 25th anniversary of his debut there.  Scotti's parents in Naples were keen for him to enter the priesthood but he chose to pursue his ambitions in music. Read more…


Friuli earthquake

First of two disasters to rock Italy in the same year

A devastating earthquake hit the area now known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia on this day in 1348.  With a seismic intensity believed to be the equivalent of 6.9 on the Richter scale, the effects of the quake were felt right across Europe.  According to contemporary sources, houses and churches collapsed and there were numerous casualties. It was recorded that even as far away as Rome, buildings had been damaged.  The epicentre is believed to have been north of Udine to the east of the small towns of Tolmezzo, Venzone and Gemona.  The earthquake happened on 25 January early in the afternoon and its effects were immediately felt in Udine, where the castle and cathedral were both damaged.  In Austria the town of Villach was later hit by a landslide caused by the earthquake. Buildings in Carniola, part of present day Slovenia, and in Vicenza, Verona and Venice were also damaged.  It was recorded that the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome was damaged by the earthquake and an ancient tower nearby developed a permanent tilt. Aftershocks were felt in different parts of Italy for several weeks.  Read more…


Noemi - singer-songwriter

Debut album topped Italian charts

The singer-songwriter Noemi - real name Veronica Scopelliti - was born in Rome on this day in 1982.  Noemi’s first album, Sulla Mia Pelle, released in 2009, sold more than 140,000 copies, topping the Italian album charts.  It followed her appearance in the second series of the Italian version of The X-Factor, the television talent show that was launched in the United Kingdom in 2004.  Although she did not win the competition, Noemi proved to be the most popular singer, finishing fifth overall.  Soon afterwards, she landed her first recording contract, with Sony Music, and released a single, Briciole, which reached number two in the Italian singles chart.  Heavily influenced by soul music, Noemi established immediately the style that has seen her nicknamed the ‘lioness of Italian pop’.  The elder of two daughters of Armando and Stefania Scopelliti, Noemi - Veronica as she was then - had early experience of appearing in the spotlight - at 19 months she was chosen to model nappies in a TV commercial for Pampers.  She inherited her love for music from her father, who played guitar in a group, and began learning the piano at seven and the guitar at 11.  Read more…


Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza - explorer

Italian whose name is commemorated in an African capital

The explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, from whom Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo took its name, was born on this day in 1852 in Castel Gandolfo, a town 25km (16 miles) southeast of Rome.  His birth name was Pietro Paolo Savorgnan di BrazzĂ  but he became a French citizen in 1874 after obtaining sponsorship from the French government to help fund his African expeditions, and adopted a French version of his name.  Although it was because of de Brazza that much of Congo became a French colony, the transference of sovereignty took place without bloodshed and de Brazza was well liked for his friendly nature and commitment to peace. Its capital, founded in 1880, was named Brazzaville in his honour and the name was retained even after the Republic of Congo became fully independent in 1960.  De Brazza was born into a noble family, the seventh of 13 children. His father, Ascanio Savorgnan di BrazzĂ , was a sculptor and painter who had studied under Antonio Canova; his mother, Giacinta Simonetti, hailed from a Roman family with Venetian roots. The family also owned houses in what is now Friuli Venezia Giulia at Brazzacco and Soleschiano, near Manzano, in the province of Udine.  Read more…


Paolo Mascagni – physician

Scientist was first to map the human lymphatic system

The physician Paolo Mascagni, whose scientific research enabled him to create the first map of the complete human lymphatic system, was born on this day in 1755 in Pomarance, a small town in Tuscany about 40km (25 miles) inland from the western coastline.  Mascagni described his findings in a book with detailed illustrations of every part of the lymphatic system he had identified, which was to prove invaluable to physicians wanting to learn more about a part of the human body vital to the regulation of good health. He also commissioned the sculptor Clemente Susini to create a full-scale model in wax of the lymphatic system, which can still be seen at the Museum of Human Anatomy at the University of Bologna.  Later he created another significant tome, his Anatomia Universa, which comprises 44 enormous copperplate illustrations that set out to bring together in one book the full extent of human knowledge about the anatomy of the human body.  The ‘book’ in the event was so large it was never bound, each plate measuring more than 3ft 6ins (1.07m) by 2ft 6ins (0.76m), designed in such a way that those from the same plane of dissection can be placed together and show the whole body in life size.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style, by Letizia Paoli

Secrecy is one of the defining characteristics of the Italian Mafia. Wiretaps, financial records, and the rare informant occasionally reveal its inner workings, but these impressions are all too often spotty and fleeting, hampering serious scholarship on this major form of criminal activity. During her years as a consultant to the Italian government agency responsible for combating organised crime, Letizia Paoli was given unparalleled insider access to the confessions by pentiti (literally, repentants), former Mafia operatives who had turned. These came primarily from the two largest and most influential Southern Italian mafia associations, known as Cosa Nostra and 'Ndrangheta, each composed of about one hundred mafia families. The sheer volume of these confessions, numbering in the hundreds, and the detail they contained, enabled the Italian government to effectively break up the Italian Mafia in one of the dramatic law enforcement successes in modern times. It is on these same documents that Paoli draws to provide a clinically accurate portrait of mafia behaviour, motivations, and structure. Puncturing academic notions of a modernised Mafia, Paoli argues that to view mafia associations as bureaucracies, illegal enterprises, or an industry specialising in private protection, is simplistic and often inaccurate. These conceptions do not adequately describe the range of functions in which the Mafia engages, nor do they hint at the Mafia's limitations. Mafia groups, Paoli demonstrates, are essentially multifunctional ritual brotherhoods focused above all on retaining and consolidating their local political power base. It is precisely this myopia that has prevented these organisations from developing the skills needed to be a successful and lasting player in the entrepreneurial world of illegal global commerce. An interdisciplinary work of history, politics, economics, and sociology, Mafia Brotherhoods reveals in dramatic detail the true face of one of the world's most mythologized criminal organisations.

Letizia Paoli is Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Criminology of the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg, Germany and lecturer at the Department of Sociology of the Constance University, Germany.

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