Showing posts with label 1871. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1871. Show all posts

18 July 2019

Giacomo Balla - painter

Work captured light, movement and speed

Giacomo Balla's work Le mani del violinista - The Hands of  the Violinist - stemmed from his fascination with movement
Giacomo Balla's work Le mani del violinista - The Hands of
 the Violinist - stemmed from his fascination with movement
The painter Giacomo Balla, who was a key proponent of Futurism and was much admired for his depictions of light, movement and speed in his most famous works, was born on this day in 1871 in Turin.

An art teacher who influenced a number of Italy’s most important 20th century painters, Balla became interested in the Futurist movement after becoming a follower of the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who is regarded as the ideological founder of Futurism.

Futurism was an avant-garde artistic, social and political movement. Its ethos was to embrace modernity and free Italy from what was perceived as a stifling obsession with the past.

Balla was one of the signatories of Il manifesto dei pittori futuristi - the Manifesto of Futurist Painters - in 1910.

Giacomo Balla was one of the signatories of the Manifesto of Futurist Painters
Giacomo Balla was one of the signatories
of the Manifesto of Futurist Painters 
He differed from some of the other artists who signed the Manifesto, painters such as Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni, whose work tried to capture the power and energy of modern industrial machinery and the passion and violence of social change, in that his focus was primarily on exploring the dynamics of light and movement.

Giacomo Balla was the son of a seamstress and a waiter who was an amateur photographer. He lost his father at the age of nine, at which point he gave up an early interest in music and began working in a lithograph print shop. As he grew up, he decided to study painting and several of his early works were shown at exhibitions.

In 1895, after completing his academic studies at the University of Turin, Balla moved to Rome, where he married Elisa Marcucci and found work as an illustrator, caricaturist and portrait painter.  He also passed on his painting skills as a teacher.

After a period in Paris in 1900, where he spent seven months assisting the illustrator Serafino Macchiati, he became fascinated with French neo-impressionism and, on returning to Rome, he adopted the neo-impressionist style in his work.  Among his young students were Boccioni and Gino Severini, to whom he passed on his enthusiasm for contemporary French trends.

Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash  identified him as a Futurist painter
Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash
identified him as a Futurist painter
Influenced by Marinetti’s philosophy, Balla, Boccioni and Severini adopted the Futurism style. Balla was driven by the idea of creating a pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed.  Typical for his new style was his 1912 painting Dinamismo di un cane al guinzaglio - Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash - which is in the care of the Albright–Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.

Another notable work painted at around the same time is Le mani del violinista - The Hands of the Violinist - which depicts a musician's hand and the neck of a violin, blurred and duplicated to suggest the motion of frenetic playing.  The Hands of the Violinist is currently kept at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Islington, north London.

If the theme of those two paintings was movement, Balla’s interest in breaking down the elements of light is exemplified in two other famous works.

Balla's extraordinary 1909 painting Street Light (Lampada ad arco)
Balla's extraordinary 1909 painting
Street Light (Lampada ad arco)
Street Light (Lampada ad arco), painted in 1909, which vividly depicts the glow of modern street lighting, can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, while his 1914 work Mercury Passing Before the Sun (Mercurio transita davanti al sole), an almost kaleidoscopic representation of the planet and the sun seen through a telescope, is on long-term loan to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

In 1914, Balla branched out into designing Futurist furniture and even the so-called Futurist antineutral clothing. He also received some commissions as a sculptor.  His studio became a meeting place for young artists.

In 1935, he was made a member of Rome's Accademia di San Luca.  He died in Rome in March 1958, at the age of 86, and was buried at the Campo Verano cemetery.

The Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura adjoins the Cemetary of Campo Verano
The Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura adjoins the
Cemetary of Campo Verano
Travel tip:

The Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano, where Balla is interred, is situated beside the Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, in the Tiburtino area of Rome. It is the city's largest cemetery, with some five million internments. The name 'Verano' is thought to date back to the Roman era, when the area was known as Campo dei Verani.

The Via Po in Turin, pictured here in 1930 is at
the heart of the city's café culture
Travel tip:

The city of Turin, once the capital of Italy and traditionally seat of the Savoy dynasty, is best known for its royal palaces but tends to be overlooked by visitors to Italy, especially new ones, who flock first to Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan. Yet as an elegant, stylish and sophisticated city, Turin has much to commend it, from its many historic cafés to 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in Piedmont. To enjoy Turin’s café culture, head for Via Po, Turin’s famous promenade linking Piazza Vittorio Veneto with Piazza Castello, or nearby Piazza San Carlo, one of the city’s main squares. In the 19th century, these cafès were popular with writers, artists, philosophers, musicians and politicians among others, who would meet to discuss the affairs of the day.

More reading:

Umberto Boccioni, the brilliant talent who died tragically young

How the funeral of an anarchist inspired Carlo Carrà

The 'noise music' of Futurist Luigi Russolo

Also on this day:

1610: The mysterious death of Caravaggio

1884: The birth of Alberto di Jorio, shrewd head of the Vatican Bank

1914: The birth of Gino Bartali, cycling champion and secret war hero


28 September 2018

Pietro Badoglio - soldier and politician

Controversial general who turned against Mussolini

Pietro Badoglio was Mussolini's Chief of Staff from 1925 to 1940
Pietro Badoglio was Mussolini's Chief of
Staff from 1925 to 1940
Marshal Pietro Badoglio, who was a general in the Italian Army in both World Wars and became Italy’s wartime prime minister after the fall of Mussolini, was born on this day in 1871 in the village of Grazzano Monferrato in Piedmont.

He was Mussolini’s Chief of Staff between 1925 and 1940, although his relationship with the Fascist dictator was fractious.

Indeed, he ultimately played a key part in Mussolini’s downfall in 1943, encouraging the Fascist Grand Council to remove him as leader and advising King Victor Emmanuel III in the lead-up to Mussolini’s arrest and imprisonment in July of that year, after which he was named as head of an emergency government.

It was Badoglio who then conducted the secret negotiations with the Allies that led to an armistice being signed barely five weeks later.

However, historians are divided over whether he should be seen as an heroic figure, in part because of his role in the disastrous defeat for Italian forces at the Battle of Caporetto in the First World War, at a cost of 10,000 Italian deaths and 30,000 more wounded.

Many Italian soldiers became German prisoners of war after Badoglio had secretly negotiated Italy's surrender
Many Italian soldiers became German prisoners of war
after Badoglio had secretly negotiated Italy's surrender
Badoglio hailed from a middle-class background. His father, Mario, was a small landowner. He trained at the Royal Military Academy in Turin.

After completing his studies, he served with the Italian Army from 1892, at first as a Lieutenant in artillery, taking part in the early Italian colonial wars in Eritrea and in Libya.

Early in Italy’s participation in the First World War, he was elevated to the rank of Major General following the capture of Monte Sabotino in May 1916, which was attributed to his strategic planning.

The Battle of Caporetto in October 1917 went less well, however. He was blamed in various reports for poor decision-making with regard to the forces under his command. However, by the time a commission of inquiry looked into his role Mussolini had taken control and, having identified Badoglio as someone he wanted on his side, is thought to have ordered all references to Badoglio to be excluded from the report.

Pietro Badoglio was a soldier for the  whole of his life
Pietro Badoglio was a soldier for the
whole of his adult life
Badoglio was uneasy, however, with the aggressive Fascist stance on foreign policy issues and, in an effort to distance himself from Mussolini’s ambitions, which he felt were unrealistic, asked to be assigned to an ambassadorial position in Brazil. However, Mussolini summoned him back and offered to make him his Chief of Staff, a position Badoglio felt unable to refuse.

He was made a Field Marshal in May 1926, governed Libya from 1928 to 1934 and assumed command of the Italian forces during the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, capturing Addis Ababa, the capital.  The conflict was notorious for the use by the Italian side of mustard gas, in contravention of the Geneva Protocol of 1925. Blame for this was laid at the feet of Mussolini, but some claim Badoglio had already ordered its deployment before authority was given.

Badoglio joined the Fascist Party but his relationship with Mussolini began to fracture soon after the Ethiopia war, in part because the dictator wanted to take personal credit for the operation’s success.  Badoglio opposed Italy’s involvement in the Pact of Steel with Germany in the lead-up to the Second World War because he had doubts about Germany’s ambitious military objectives, yet led Mussolini to believe the Italian army was capable of playing a significant role.

Indeed, the invasion of Greece by Italian forces in 1940 went ahead, seemingly with Badoglio’s endorsement.  The campaign was a disaster for the Italians, however, with considerable losses in personnel and equipment. Badoglio resigned as Chief of Staff soon afterwards.

Plaques identify the house in Grazzano where Badoglio was born
Plaques identify the house in Grazzano
where Badoglio was born
As the Second World War as a whole became one in which Italian sacrifices looked increasingly likely to be pointless, Badoglio positioned himself with those who believed the only hope for Italy was to remove Mussolini.  He began to be involved in talks with other prominent Fascists about how this might be brought about and made it known to Victor Emmanuel III that he would be willing to lead an interim government if Mussolini was overthrown.

In the event, he was installed as prime minister on the day Mussolini was arrested. However, he attracted criticism for allowing news of the armistice to come out on the Allied side before his own troops had been informed, appearing to put his own safety ahead of Italian personnel.

Right up to the moment it was announced, Badoglio had been reassuring the Germans that Italy remained a fully committed ally. When the armistice was revealed, many Italians were still fighting alongside German forces, unaware that their status had suddenly changed to enemies.  Badoglio and Victor Emmanuel, on the other hand, had removed themselves to safe locations in the south of the country, avoiding capture.

Badoglio dissolved the Fascist Party, and Italy declared war on Nazi Germany.  He was never a popular figure, however, as the political climate changed and in June 1944 he resigned, giving way to the left-winger, Ivanoe Bonomi.

Badoglio retired to his home in Grazzano Monferrato, which by then had changed its name to Grazzano Badoglio in his honour. He remained a figure of influence amid increasing tensions over the Soviet Union and managed to convince the British government that he could help prevent the establishment of a communist government in Italy, thus avoiding any prosecution for war crimes over what happened in Ethiopia.

He died in 1956 at the age of 85, having returned to his home village. He is buried at the village cemetery.

The Royal Palace in Turin is not far from where the  former military academy was located
The Royal Palace in Turin is not far from where the
former military academy was located
Travel tip:

The Royal Military Academy in Turin, where Badoglio trained, was the oldest military academy in the world, dating back to the 17th century, when Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy had the idea of creating an institute to train members of the ruling class and army officers in military strategy.  It was inaugurated on January 1, 1678, which predates the Royal Academy at Woolwich in Britain by 42 years and the Russian Academy in Petersburg, by 45 years. The court architect Amedeo di Castellamonte designed the building, work on which began in 1675, which was situated a short distance from the Royal Palace in the centre of the city. Unfortunately, the building was almost totally destroyed in 1943, during Allied air attacks.

The hilltop village of Grazzano Badoglio, with the former Abbey of Aleramica visible at the top
The hilltop village of Grazzano Badoglio, with the former
Abbey of Aleramica visible at the top 
Travel tip:

The hilltop village of Grazzano Badoglio, which was Grazzano Monferrato until 1939, is situated about 80km (50 miles) to the east of Turin in the province of Asti . In was renamed by the Fascist mayor in 1939 in honour of Pietro Badoglio.  The house where Badoglio grew up, which became an asylum in 1937, is marked with a commemorative plaque.  The village, which had Roman origins, is notable today for the Abbey of Aleramica - today the village’s parish church - which was founded in 961 by the Marquis Aleramo I of Monferrato on top of the hill where the church stands today. It was home to Benedictines monks for more than four centuries. The cloister, restored and open to the public by request, is among what remains of the original building. The Romanesque bell tower was added in 1910.

More reading:

Mussolini appointed prime minister with Italy on brink of civil war

Palermo falls to the Allies

Germans free captive Mussolini in daring raid

Also on this day:

1924: The birth of actor Marcello Mastroianni

1978: The sudden death of Pope John Paul I


27 September 2018

Grazia Deledda - Nobel Prize winner

First Italian woman to be honoured

Grazia Deledda was the first Italian woman to win a Nobel Prize
Grazia Deledda was the first Italian
woman to win a Nobel Prize
The novelist Grazia Deledda, who was the first of only two Italian women to be made a Nobel laureate when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926, was born on this day in 1871 in the city of Nuoro in Sardinia.

A prolific writer from the age of 13, she published around 50 novels or story collections over the course of her career, most of them drawing on her own experience of life in the rugged Sardinian countryside.

The Nobel prize was awarded "for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general."

Deledda’s success came at the 11th time of asking, having been first nominated in 1913. The successful nomination came from Henrik Schuck, a literature historian at the Swedish Academy.

Born into a middle-class family - her father, Giovanni, was in her own words a “well-to-do landowner” - Deledda drew inspiration for her characters from the stream of friends and business acquaintances her father insisted must stay at their home whenever they were in Nuoro.

The cover of an early edition of Elias Portolu, Deledda's first big success
The cover of an early edition of Elias
Portolú, Deledda's first big success
She was not allowed to attend school beyond the age of 11 apart from private tuition in Italian, which was not at the time the first language of many Sardinians, who tended to converse in their own dialect, sardo logudorese. Beyond that, she continued her education by reading as much quality literature as she could get hold of.

Her parents did not encourage her writing but she persevered and, on the advice of her English teacher, submitted a story to a magazine when she was 13 and was delighted when they decided to publish it.

Even at that early stage in her career, her stories tended to be starkly realistic in their reflection of the hard life many Sardinians endured at the time and she often used the sometimes brutally challenging landscape of the island as a metaphor for the difficulties in her characters’ lives.

Yet she would more often blame societal factors and flawed morals for the difficult circumstances in which her characters found themselves, which reflected her own optimistic view of human nature.

However, she was chastised by her father for the way her stories questioned the patriarchal structure of Sardinian society and they were not received well generally in Nuoro, where some people expressed their displeasure by burning copies of the magazine that published her work.

There is a commemorative bust of Grazia Deledda on Pincio hill in Rome
There is a commemorative bust of
Grazia Deledda on Pincio hill in Rome
Deledda completed her first novel, Fior di Sardegna (Flower of Sardinia) in 1892, when she was not quite 21. She sent to a publisher in Rome, who accepted. Again it was shunned in Nuoro, but it was successful enough elsewhere for her to set about writing more and she submitted at least one every year, sometimes using a pseudonym.

In 1900, she visited Cagliari, the Sardinian capital on a rare holiday. She had never been far from Nuoro before but it proved a momentous occasion. She met Palmiro Madesani, a civil servant who would become her husband.  After they were married, they moved to Rome, where Deledda would live for the remainder of her life.

It was there that she tasted her first real success with Elias Portolú (1903), a novel that was published in Italian first but which was translated into French and subsequently all the major European languages, bringing her international recognition for the first time.

The period between 1903 and 1920 was her most productive phase for her, in which she wrote some of her best work. Her 1904 novel Cenere (Ashes) was turned into a film starring the celebrated actress Eleonora Duse.

Deledda preferred a quiet life with her family to any celebrity despite the attention the prize brought her
Deledda preferred a quiet life with her family to any
celebrity despite the attention the prize brought her
Life in Sardinia continued to be her favourite theme. Nostalgie (Nostalgia, 1905), I giuochi della vita (The Gambles of Life, 1905), L’ombra del passato (Shadow of the Past, 1907) and L’edera (The Ivy, 1908) brought her more success.

This brought her a comfortable living and she was happy in Rome, even if she preferred a quiet life at home to celebrity. If she was bitter at the way her family had reacted to her writing, she did not let it stand in the way of her humanity and she supported her brothers, Andrea and Santus, after her father died.

Deledda died in Rome in 1936 at the age of just 64, having suffered with breast cancer. Her last years were painful but she never lost her optimistic view of life, which she believed was beautiful and serene and gave her the strength to overcome physical and spiritual hardships. Her later works reflected her strong religious faith.

Italy's only other female Nobel Prize-winner is Rita Levi-Montalcini, who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

The house in Nuoro where the novelist was born is now a museum
The house in Nuoro where the novelist
was born is now a museum
Travel tip:

Deledda's birthplace and childhood home in Nuoro has been preserved as a museum in her honour. Called the Museo Deleddiano, it consists of 10 rooms where the stages of the writer's life are reconstructed.  The building is located in Santu Pedru, one of the city's oldest quarters. The house was sold in 1913 but remains mostly unaltered. It was acquired by the Municipality of Nuoro in 1968 and, thanks to the generosity of the Madesani-Deledda family,  a large number of manuscripts, photographs, documents and personal belongings of the novelist are on display.  The museum, in Via Grazia Deledda, is open from 10am to 1pm and from 3pm to 7pm (8pm in summer), every day except Mondays.

Nuoro is situated in a ruggedly mountainous area
Nuoro is situated in a ruggedly mountainous area
Travel tip:

Nuoro, situated on the slopes of the Monte Ortobene in central eastern Sardinia, has grown to be the sixth largest city in Sardinia with a population of more than 36,000.  The birthplace of several renowned artists, including the poet Sebastiano Satta, the novelist Salvatore Satta - a cousin - the architect and car designer Flavio Manzoni and the award-winning sculptor Francesco Ciusa, it is considered an important cultural centre.  It is also home of one of reputedly the world’s rarest pasta - su filindeu, which in the Sardinian language means "the threads of God" - which is made exclusively by the women of a single family to a recipe passed down through generations.

More reading:

Giosuè Carducci - the first Italian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature

How Nobel Prize-winner Dario Fo put the spotlight on corruption

The groundbreaking talent of actress Eleonora Duse

Also on this day:

1966: The birth of rapper Jovanotti

1979: The death on Capri of actress and singer Gracie Fields 


21 July 2018

Guglielmo Ferrero - journalist and historian

Nobel prize nominee who opposed Fascism

Guglielmo Ferrero is best known for his five-volume history of power and collapse of the Roman Empire
Guglielmo Ferrero is best known for his five-volume
history of power and collapse of the Roman Empire
The historian, journalist and novelist Guglielmo Ferrero, who was most famous for his five-volume opus The Greatness and Decline of Rome, was born on this day in 1871.

The son of a railway engineer, he was born just outside Naples at Portici but his family were from Piedmont and while not travelling he lived much of his adult life in Turin and Florence.

A liberal politically, he was vehemently opposed to any form of dictatorship and his opposition to Mussolini’s Fascists naturally landed him in trouble. He was a signatory to the writer Benedetto Croce's Anti-Fascist Manifesto and when all liberal intellectuals were told to leave Italy in 1925, he refused. Consequently he was placed under house arrest.

It was only after four years, following appeals by officials from the League of Nations and the personal intervention of the King of Belgium, that he was allowed to leave Italy to take up a professorship at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.

Ferrero’s earliest works were in the field of sociology and criminology, inspired by his friendship with Cesare Lombroso, sometimes called the ‘father of modern criminology’, who he met during his studies. Ferrero attended the universities of Pisa, Bologna and Turin. They collaborated on a book called The Female Offender about crime among women.

Cesare Lombroso, the criminologist who inspired Ferrero's early work
Cesare Lombroso, the criminologist who
inspired Ferrero's early work
In the course of his work with Lombroso, Ferrero was introduced to Gina Lombroso, Cesare’s daughter, and they subsequently married.

From 1891 to 1894 Ferrero traveled extensively in Europe, working in the libraries of London, Berlin, and Paris on a planned history of justice. As a result of his travels he produced a sociological study entitled Young Europe, in which he noted the differences in societal structure developing in the industrial north compared with the agricultural south of the continent.

It was after musing on how ascendant civilisations could become decadent that he turned his attention to Rome.

His defining work, The Greatness and Decline of Rome was translated into all the major European languages and was a popular success, even though it was scorned by classicists, who took exception to his use of contemporary comparisons and on his attempts at sociological analysis of Roman politics. They did not care either for his assessment of Julius Caesar, usually portrayed as a leader who brought order from chaos, as a major catalyst in the collapse of the Roman Republic.

For the next few years, Ferrero wrote political essays and a number of novels, before turning his attention to the French Revolution, which he analysed as an attempt to establish a new liberal order that unintentionally led to the first modern dictatorship.

Once invited by Theodore Roosevelt, the United States president, to visit him at the White House and to give a number of lectures, Ferraro was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature no fewer than 20 times in six years.

He spent a good deal of his time in his declining years at his villa in Strada in Chianti, in the Tuscan countryside, but was in Mont Pèlerin-sur-Vevey in Switzerland when he died in 1942.

The Royal Palace at Portici, near Naples
The Royal Palace at Portici, near Naples
Travel tip:

Portici, which lies at the foot of Mount Vesuvius on the Bay of Naples, about 8 km (5 miles) southeast of Naples, is a metropolitan suburb these days but essentially evolved as a port, rebuilt after it was destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 1631. Its neighbour is Ercolano, where excavations revealed the city of Herculaneum, which had disappeared at the same time as Pompeii, following the eruption of 79AD.  Portici is famous for its Baroque royal palace, built as a grand residence by Charles III of Spain, King of Naples, between 1738 and 1742.

The church of San Cristoforo in Strada in Chianti
The church of San Cristoforo in Strada in Chianti
Travel tip:

Situated almost 300m (984ft) above sea level, Strada in Chianti is a small town that is increasingly favoured as a place to stay when visiting Florence, which is only 20km (12 miles) away to the north, barely half an hour by car and bus. Many Florentines escape to such places in the countryside during the summer, because the heat there is a little less oppressive. The town stages its annual fair in late September. The five parishes once competed in a horse race similar to the Palio di Siena, but they now vie for superiority in a series of games, including football and volleyball, over the course of a week.

More reading:

How Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall became the world's most famous history book

Cesare Lombroso, the first to encourage study of the criminal mind

Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, the historian who was both a soldier and a pacifist

Also on this day:

1914: The birth of Suso Cecchi D'Amico, the scriptwriter behind some of Italy's greatest movies

1948: The birth of Beppe Grillo, the comedian and founder of Italy's new political force, the Five Star Movement


11 September 2016

Scipione Borghese - adventurer

Nobleman from Ferrara won Peking to Paris car race

Scipione Borghese (left) and journalist Luigi Barzini pictured with Borghese's Itala car
Scipione Borghese (left) and journalist Luigi Barzini
pictured with Borghese's Itala car

The Italian adventurer Prince Scipione Borghese, who won a car race since described as the most incredible of all time, was born on this day in 1871 in Migliarino in Emilia-Romagna, not far from Ferrara.

Borghese was a nobleman, the eldest son of Paolo, ninth Prince of Sulmona.  He was described as an industrialist and politician but he was also a mountaineer and a keen participant in the revolution in transport that began when the first petrol-powered motor vehicles appeared in the late 19th century.

In 1907 the French newspaper, Le Matin, which was keen to promote the growing motor industry in France, challenged readers to prove their theory that the car would open up the world's horizons, enabling man to travel anywhere on the planet.

When it asked for volunteers to take part in a drive from Paris to Beijing - then known as Peking - a 5,000-mile journey - Borghese's taste for the daring was immediately excited.

Volunteers haul the Itala through a  steep mountain pass
Volunteers haul the Itala through a
steep mountain pass
Originally, more than 40 teams proposed to sign up.  In time, this dwindled to five vehicles and 11 men, consisting of drivers, mechanics and, in some cases, journalists who would file reports using the telegraph system as the event progressed.  Apart from Borghese, taking part were a Dutch Spyker driven by an unknown named Charles Goddard, a three-wheeler Cyclecar piloted by the father of the opera singer Lily Pons and two French De Dions.

Borghese, despite his family having lost much of their wealth through a series of misfortunes, commissioned a car powered by a seven-litre engine from the Itala company in Turin with sponsorship from tyre manufacturers Pirelli.  He would be accompanied on the journey by two more Italians - his mechanic and sometime chauffeur, Ettore Guizzardi, and Luigi Barzini, a journalist.

To avoid the monsoon rains, the proposed direction of the race was reversed to start in Peking in June 1907 with the cars driving westward to Paris. The conditions could hardly have been less car-friendly, the route taking in numerous mountain ranges and two major deserts where no provision had been made for recognisable roads.

Although the project was conceived as a demonstration of the potential of the automobile rather than a race, Borghese was determined to make it one and win it, planning assiduously to give his team the best chance.  He arranged for fuel and spare parts to be stored along the route and, before the race began, took a 300-mile ride on horseback to the mountain passes north of Peking carrying a bamboo pole cut to the width of his car to see if the Itala could squeeze through.

The route led through deserts, mountain passes and steppes to Outer Mongolia, on to Moscow and then across Russia, Poland, Germany and Belgium to Paris. There were often mountain tracks and paths rather than roads, no petrol stations and no one who had ever seen a motor car before.

The Itala was left upside down after falling through a bridge but survived
The Itala was left upside down after
falling through a bridge but survived
Auguste Pons dropped out of the race after running out of fuel in the Gobi Desert and being rescued by nomadic Mongolians and Goddard failed to complete the trip but Borghese's journey was hardly plain sailing.

At one point the Itala rolled back down a narrow pass and Guizzardi only just managed to stop the car dropping into a ravine, taking him with it; at another, all three of the team were lucky to escape injury when a bridge collapsed under them.  At times, the car had to be hitched to mule trains or teams of men to cross treacherous mountain passes.

Amazingly, the car kept going and by the time they reached Moscow, Borghese and his crew were 17 days in front of their nearest pursuers, enough of a lead for Borghese even to make a detour to St Petersburg for a party.

The final leg to Paris was uneventful by comparison, although Borghese was stopped for speeding in Belgium.  When the Itala reached Paris on August 10, the lead had been extended to 20 days.

The Itala arrived at the finishing line in the French capital at 4.30pm to a huge ovation from crowds encouraged to attend by Le Matin's trumpeting of the success of their challenge. A dinner was given in Borghese's honour, attended by the Italian chargé d’affaires and prominent automobile industry figures.

Luigi Barzini, who worked as a war correspondent during the First World War and was editor at different times of both Corriere della Sera and Il Mattino, two prominent Italian newspapers, was followed into journalism by his son, also called Luigi, who was most famous for his 1964 book, The Italians, a probing analysis of the Italian national character that is credited with generating the fascination with Italian life and culture shared by many outside the country.

Ferrara has 9km of ancient walls, with walkways and cycle  paths along most of its length
Ferrara has 9km of ancient walls, with walkways and cycle
paths along most of its length
Travel tip:

Migliarino, where Scipione Borghese was born, is a small town in the province in of Ferrara, a city famous for its castle, a wealth of palaces, a beautiful pink and white Duomo and the 12th century city walls that remain intact to this day, stretching to nine kilometres in length.

Travel tip:

Ferrara is the ideal city destination for cycling enthusiasts thanks to a network of cycle paths all around the city and the perimeter walls and a city centre from which cars are banned.  The self-proclaimed Città delle Biciclette - city of bicycles - since the late 1960s, Ferrara offers numerous outlets from which tourists can rent bicycles and enjoy exploring a beautiful city that combines medieval history and Renaissance elegance.


Luigi Barzini's book, Peking To Paris: Across Two Continents in an Itala, was reprinted by Penguin in 1986 and some second hand copies are still available on Amazon.

Buy Luigi Barzini junior's book, The Italians


3 July 2016

Ulisse Stacchini - architect

Designer behind two famous Milan landmarks

Photo of Ulisse Stacchini
Ulisse Stacchini
Ulisse Stacchini, the architect who designed two of Milan's most famous 20th century landmarks, was born on this day in 1871 in Florence.

A champion of Liberty style Art Nouveau designs, Stacchini's defining work was the gargantuan Stazione di Milano Centrale - the city's main railway terminal.

He also designed the stadium that evolved into the city's iconic Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, joint home of Milan's two major football clubs, Internazionale and AC Milan.

Stacchini studied in Rome and moved to Milan soon after graduating, setting up a partnership with the engineer Giulio de Capitani, building houses, offices and shops for private clients

Among his early projects was the Savini Caffè in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  His style can be seen in a number of town houses commissioned by wealthy patrons, including Via Gioberti 1 at Via Revere 7, which feature linear designs.

He became involved with the Milano Centrale project when he won a design competition in 1912, although construction was delayed by more than a decade because of the crisis in the Italian economy that followed the First World War.

This 1964 photo of  Milano Centrale illustrates the enormous size of the building
This 1964 photo of  Milano Centrale illustrates the
enormous size of the building
The project gained momentum only after Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister, with consequences for Stacchini's designs.  It was originally modelled on the Union Station in Washington but Mussolini wanted the new station to represent the power of the Fascist regime and encouraged Stacchini to create a majestic building that would have a huge presence.

To some critics, the end result was an incongruous mix of Liberty, Art Deco and classical features, adorned with numerous sculptures, yet it was impressive for its sheer scale.  Its façade spans 660 feet (200mt) and is 90 feet (27mt) high with three enormous porticos, each almost 30 feet (9mt) wide and 53 feet (16mt) high. It dominates the Piazza Duca D'Aosta.

It was while the station project was under way that Piero Pirelli, the president of AC Milan, commissioned Stacchini to design a new stadium for the club on a site in the San Siro district of the city.

Stacchini's original stadium bore little resemblance to the instantly recognisable structure of today, with its 11 cylindrical towers, three tiers of seats and a vast roof, but was impressive at the time, consisting of two grandstands, one of which was partially covered, and two end terraces, with a capacity of 35,000.  The first match there was staged in September 1926, a friendly between AC Milan and rivals Internazionale that the latter won 6-3.

It underwent several expansions and reconstructions and became home to both Milan clubs in 1945.  It was named after the footballer Giuseppe Meazza in part because he played for both AC Milan and Inter. He spent much the larger part of his career with Inter, however, hence AC Milan fans prefer to describe the stadium as the San Siro.

Stacchini went on to design many more buildings, especially for the banking sector, before spending the latter part of his working life teaching architecture at the Milan Polytechnic.  He died in Sanremo, Liguria, in 1947, aged 75.

Travel tip:

Milano Centrale has 24 platforms and handles about 320,000 passengers per day, using approximately 500 trains. The station is a major hub on the north-south route between Bologna and Salerno and also has trains running daily to international destinations including Bern, Lugano, Geneva, Zürich, Paris, Vienna, Barcelona and Munich.

Photo of the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza
The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza today
Travel tip:

The new M5 metro line has made access to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza easy to reach, with a new station (San Siro Stadio) situated directly outside the ground.  The line does not pass directly through the city centre but travellers using line M1 can change at Lotto, or at Garibaldi on line M2.   The Line 16 tram still runs from west of Piazza Duomo to the stadium, where the route terminates.  The journey by metro takes about 20 minutes, by tram half an hour.

(Old photo of Milano Centrale by Albertomos CC BY-SA 3.0)