14 April 2024

14 April

NEW - Randolfo Pacciardi – anti-Fascist and journalist

Valiant republican opposed Mussolini and served his country

Ardent anti-Fascist Randolfo Pacciardi, who was Deputy Prime Minister and then Minister of Defence for the Italian Government between 1948 and 1953, died on this day in 1991 in Rome.  Pacciardi had to live abroad in exile for many years after the Fascists outlawed all opposition parties in 1926, but he was able to return to Italy in 1944 after the liberation of Rome. He was born in 1899 in Giuncarico in the province of Grosseto in Tuscany. By the time he was 16 years old, Pacciardi had become a member of the Partito Repubblicano Italiano (PRI) the Italian Republican party.  He was a supporter of Italy’s participation in World War I and enrolled in the officers’ school of the Italian Army. He took part in the fighting and received two silver medals and a bronze medal for military valour, a British military cross and a French croix de guerre.  After receiving a law degree from the University of Siena in 1921, Pacciardi wrote for a local newspaper in the city.  In 1922 he went to live in Rome, where he became an opponent of the violent Fascist squads of the time, and he established Italia Libera, an anti-Fascist veterans’ organisation.  Read more…


The Milan-Sanremo cycle race

Classic event older than Giro d’Italia

The Milan-Sanremo cycle race - one of the sport’s oldest and most prestigious single-day contests - took place for the first time on this day in 1907.  Covering a distance of 286km (177 miles), the race followed a course said to have begun at the Conca Fallata Inn, next to a navigation basin on the Naviglio Pavese canal in Milan and ended on Corso Cavallotti on the outskirts of Sanremo, a seaside town on the coast of Liguria famed for its temperate Mediterranean climate.  Cycling was growing in popularity across Europe at the time, particularly in Belgium and France. Both of those countries had established single-day long distance races in the late 19th century and it is probable that these were the inspiration when Tullo Morgagni, a Milan journalist, put forward the idea for Milan-Sanremo.  Morgagni had launched what would become the Giro di Lombardia the previous year and proposed his new project to Eugenio Costamagna, director of the Milan sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport.  Morgagni reasoned that Sanremo’s standing at the heart of Italy’s nascent tourist industry would give the event a particular appeal.  Read more…


Girolamo Riario - papal military leader

Assassinated after failed attempt to unseat Medici family

Girolamo Riario, the 15th century governor of Imola and Forlì who was part of a major plot to displace the powerful Medici family as rulers of Florence, was assassinated on this day in 1488. Riario, a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV who had appointed him Captain General of the Church, was unpopular with his subjects as a result of imposing high taxes, but his murder was thought to be an attempt by the noble Orsi family of Forlì to seize control of the city. Two members of the family, Checco and Ludovico, led a group of assassins armed with swords into the government palace, where Riario was set upon.  Despite the presence of guards, Riario was stabbed and slashed repeatedly.  Eventually, his dead body was left in a local piazza, surrounded by a crowd celebrating his demise, as the Orsi brothers and their gang looted the palace.  A decade earlier, Riario, who had been appointed Lord of Imola by Sixtus IV, joined with Francesco Salviati, whose family were the Papal bankers in Florence, and members of the Pazzi family in a plot to assassinate the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and his brother, Giuliano.  Read more…


Lamberto Dalla Costa - Olympic bobsleigh champion

Fighter pilot who became first Italian to win a Gold medal

Lamberto Dalla Costa, part of the team that brought Italy its first gold medal for Olympic bobsleigh, was born on this day in 1920 in Crespano del Grappa, a small town in the Veneto. Dalla Costa was an adventurous individual with a passion for flying. He joined the Italian Air Force as a volunteer during World War Two and became a combat pilot who rose eventually to the rank of air marshall.  When Italy was chosen to host the 1956 Winter Olympics at Cortina d'Ampezzo they was a tradition of looking towards the military to provide the crews for the bobsleigh events and Dalla Costa was selected, even though he had never been involved with high-level competitive sport, after demonstrating the right level of skill and discipline.  It was an advantage when the Games came round that Dalla Costa and his colleagues were able to practise on the Cortina d'Ampezzo track, gaining familiarity with every quirk.  Partnered with another air force recruit, Major Giacomo Conti, from Palermo in Sicily, Dalla Costa registered the fastest times in all four heats and won the two-man bob event by more than a second from the second Italian crew of Eugenio Monti and Renzo Alvera.  Read more…


Gasparo da Salò – violin maker

Founder of the Brescian school of stringed instrument craftsmen

One of Italy’s earliest violin makers, Gasparo da Salò, died on this day in 1609 in Brescia. He developed the art of string making to a high level and his surviving instruments are still admired and revered. Da Salò was born Gasparo Bertolotti in Salò, a resort on Lake Garda in 1542. His father and uncle were violinists and composers and his cousin, Bernardino, was a violinist at the Este court in Ferrara and at the Gonzaga court in Mantua. Bertolotti received a good musical education and was referred to as ‘a talented violone player’ in a 1604 document about the music at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. Bertolotti moved to Brescia on the death of his father and set up shop in an area where there were other instrument makers. He became known as Gasparo da Salò and his workshop quickly became one of the most important in Europe. for the production of every type of stringed instrument that was played at the time.  His business was so successful that he was able to acquire land and property and provide financial assistance to members of his family.  It is not known whether da Salò was the first craftsman to produce a violin in its modern form.  Read more…


Gianni Rodari - children’s author

Writer whose books reflect the struggles of the lower classes in society

Writer and journalist Gianni Rodari, who became famous for creating Cipollino, a children’s book character, died on this day in 1980 in Rome. Regarded as the best modern writer for children in Italian, Rodari had been awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for children’s literature in 1970, which gained him an international reputation. Cipollino, which means Little Onion, fought the unjust treatment of his fellow vegetable characters by the fruit royalty, such as Prince Lemon and the overly proud Tomato, in the garden kingdom. The main themes of the stories are the struggle of the underclass against the powerful, good versus evil and the importance of friendship in the face of difficulties. Rodari was born in 1920 in Omegna, a small town on Lake Orta in the province of Novara in northern Italy.  His father died when he was ten years old and Rodari and his two brothers were brought up by their mother in her native village of Gavirate near Varese.  Rodari trained to be a teacher and received his diploma when he was 17. He began to teach elementary classes in rural schools around Varese.  Read more…


Book of the Day: The Archipelago: Italy Since 1945, by John Foot

Italy emerged from the Second World War in ruins. Divided, invaded and economically broken, it was a nation that some people claimed had ceased to exist. And yet, as rural society disappeared almost overnight, by the 1960s, it could boast the fastest-growing economy in the world.  In The Archipelago, historian John Foot chronicles Italy's tumultuous history from the post-war period to the present day. From the silent assimilation of Fascists into society after 1945 to the artistic peak of neorealist cinema, he examines both the corrupt and celebrated sides of the country. While often portrayed as a failed state on the margins of Europe, Italy has instead been at the centre of innovation and change - a political laboratory. This new history tells the fascinating story of a country always marked by scandal but with the constant ability to re-invent itself.  Comprising original research and lively insights, The Archipelago chronicles the crises and modernisations of more than seventy years of post-war Italy, from its fields, factories, squares and housing estates to Rome's political intrigue.

John Foot is an English academic historian specialising in Italy. He is the author of several books, including histories of Italian football, Italian cylcling and the story of the pioneering psychiatrist, Franco Basaglia, who led a revolution in mental health care in Italy. 

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