Showing posts with label 1892. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1892. Show all posts

4 February 2019

Ugo Betti - playwright

Judge who combined writing with legal career

Ugo Betti wrote 27 plays between 1927 and his death in 1953
Ugo Betti wrote 27 plays between 1927
and his death in 1953
Ugo Betti, a playwright whose works exploring facets of the human condition are considered by some to be the finest plays written by an Italian after Luigi Pirandello, was born on this day in 1892 in Camerino in Le Marche. 

Betti wrote 27 plays, mainly concerned with evil, guilt, justice, atonement and redemption, largely in his spare time alongside a career in the legal profession.

Although he started life in what was then a remote town in the Apennine mountains, about 75km (47 miles) inland from the Adriatic coast and a similar distance from the city of Perugia, Betti moved with his family at an early age to Parma in Emilia-Romagna.

He followed his older brother Emilio in studying law, although his progress was interrupted when he was enlisted as a volunteer in the army after Italy entered the First World War. He was captured in the disastrous Battle of Caporetto and interned in a German prisoner of war camp.

By chance, he found himself in the company of two writers, Carlo Emilio Gadda and Bonaventura Tecchi, who encouraged him in his own writing. His first collections of poems, entitled Il re pensieroso (The Thoughtful King) and published in 1922, were written while he was in German captivity.

Betti's plays have been reproduced in many editions in Italy
Betti's plays have been reproduced
in many editions in Italy
Betti returned to his studies after the war and became a magistrate and then a judge, first in Parma and later in Rome.  As a young man, he was also an enthusiastic amateur footballer and was one of a group that formed the city’s football club in 1913. In fact, along with another in the group, Betti designed the club’s original shirt - white with a black Latin cross - which has been revived this season as one of the Serie A team’s alternative strips.

His first play, La padrona (The Proprietress), was performed in 1927 at Rome's Teatro Odescalchi and received enough critical acclaim for him to continue. By the time the Second World War broke out, he had written seven more.

In one of these, Frana allo scalo nord (Landslide at the North Station), published in 1932, Betti explored the concept of collective guilt through a story about a court inquiry into an accident which had caused the death of some labourers and a girl. As the story evolves, the circle of those responsible becomes wider and wider so that ultimately humanity itself is on trial.

As a writer during the Fascist period in Italy, he was accused at different times of being anti-Fascist and a Fascist apologist, to the extent that he was threatened with imprisonment, although ultimately he continued to write unimpeded.  A job after the war in the library at the Ministry of Justice allowed him more time to write.

Betti managed to combine his literary career with his position as a judge in the Italian legal system
Betti managed to combine his literary career with
his position as a judge in the Italian legal system
Many consider his greatest play to be Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia (Corruption in the Palace of Justice), written between 1944 and 1945 although not performed until January 1949 at the Teatro delle Arti in Rome.

The play, in which an unscrupulous judge, having clawed his way to the presidency of the Supreme Court, realizes his own guilt after being investigated for corruption and and gives himself up. Again, Betti’s implication is that all of humanity is culpable.

Along with Delitto all'isola delle capre (Crime on Goat Island), a violent tragedy of love and revenge, and La regina e gli insorti (The Queen and the Rebels), in which the case is made for compassion and self-sacrifice, Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia established Betti’s reputation internationally.  Actors of the calibre of Vittorio Gassman, Enrico Maria Salerno, Salvo Randone and Tino Buazzelli - all highly regarded in Italian theatrical circles - eagerly accepted parts in Betti plays.

Betti, who finished his legal career at the court of appeal in Rome, won a number of awards, including the that of the Istituto Nazionale del Dramma in 1949 and the Premio Roma the following year.

He also co-founded the National Union of Dramatic Authors (SNAD), with the aim of safeguarding the work of dramatists and theatrical writers.

He died in Rome in June 1953, aged 61.

The walls of the Rocca Borgesca remain intact
The walls of the Rocca Borgesca remain intact
Travel tip:

Camerino is built over the site of Camerinum, a Roman settlement, although no remains are visible, lying at least one metre below ground level. However, the town, which has a population of around 8,000, does have a neoclassical cathedral built in the early 19th century, a university that dates back to 1336 and, just outside the town, the Rocca Borgesca, a castle built after Camerino was invaded by Cesare Borgia in 1502. The fortress was built around a convent, although most of the buildings within the walls were demolished in the 17th century after the castle fell into disuse. Today the walls remain, surrounded by gardens, while a surviving stable building inside the walls has become a restaurant.

Search for hotels in Camerino with tripadvisor

The pink marble baptistery is one of the attractions of Parma's elegant centre
The pink marble baptistery is one of the
attractions of Parma's elegant centre
Travel tip:

Parma, where Betti grew up and began his working life, is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, also known as ‘parmesan’. Noteworthy buildings include the 12th century Romanesque cathedral and its pink marble baptistery. The golden fresco that covers the cupola in the cathedral is Correggio’s 1520s masterpiece The Assumption of the Virgin. The Teatro Regio, a 19th-century opera house, is a noted theatre and the Galleria Nazionale, inside the Palazzo della Pilotta, displays works by painters including Correggio and Canaletto. The composer Giuseppe Verdi was born near Parma at Bussetto.

More reading:

Pietro Badoglio - the controversial general who presided over Italy's defeat at the Battle of Caporetto

Why Carlo Emilio Gadda's work draws comparisons with James Joyce and Carlo Levi

Vittorio Gassman - multi-talented star of stage and screen

Also on this day:

12 November 2018

Giulio Lega – First World War hero

Flying ace survived war to look after health of Italy’s politicians

Giulio Lega with the Hanriot HD1 in which he scored his five aerial successes
Giulio Lega with the Hanriot HD.1 in which
he scored his five aerial successes
Credited with five aerial victories during the First World War, the pilot Giulio Lega was born on this day in 1892 in Florence.

After the war he completed his medical studies and embarked on a long career as physician to Italy’s Chamber of Deputies.

Lega had been a medical student when he was accepted by the Italian army for officer training in 1915.

Because he was unusually tall, he became an ‘extended infantryman’ in the Grenadiers. He made his mark with them at the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo, for which he was awarded the War Merit Cross for valour. The following year he won a Bronze Medal for Military Valour in close-quarters combat, which was awarded to him on the battlefield.

Lega volunteered to train as a pilot in 1916 and was sent to Malpensa near Milan. After gaining his licence he was sent on reconnaissance duty during which he earned a Silver Medal for Military Valour. After completing fighter pilot training he joined 76a Squadriglia and went on to fly 46 combat sorties with them.

Silvio Scaroni was a colleague of Lega in the 76a Squadriglia of the Italian air force
Silvio Scaroni was a colleague of Lega in the
76a Squadriglia of the Italian air force
His first two victories in the air, near Col d’Asiago and over Montello, were shared with two other Italian pilots. During the last Austro-Hungarian offensive he downed a Hansa-Brandenburg C1 over Passagno single-handedly. His last two triumphs were downing an unidentified enemy over Mareno di Piave and an Albatros D111, both with pilots Silvio Scaroni and Romolo Ticconi.

His final three victories earned him another Silver Medal for valour. He continued to serve as a pilot until the end of the war when he was presented with the War Cross.

He then finished his medical studies, graduating from the University of Bologna in 1920 but remained in the Air Force Reserves, rising to the rank of tenente colonello.

In 1931 he was appointed head of the medical service for Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, a post he held until his retirement in 1957.

During World War II he was assigned to the headquarters of the Servizi Aerei Speciali.

Lega was still serving as a medical consultant to the Italian parliament when he died in 1973.

The Ponte Vecchio is one of the most famous of many famous landmarks in Florence
The Ponte Vecchio is one of the most famous of
many famous landmarks in Florence
Travel tip:

Giulio Lega is only one of many famous people born in Florence, a city so rich in history and artistic and architectural treasures that for visitors it feels like walking around an outdoor museum. In Piazza della Signoria, an L-shaped square in the centre of the city, the 14th century Palazzo Vecchio was the seat of government. Citizens gathered in the square for public meetings and the religious leader, Girolamo Savonarola, was burned at the stake there in 1498. The piazza is filled with statues, some of them copies, commemorating major events in the city’s history. Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia has become famous as the home of Michelangelo’s statue of David and is the second most visited museum in Italy, after the Uffizi, which is the main art gallery in Florence.

Milan's Malpensa airport is the second busiest in Italy in terms of passenger numbers
Milan's Malpensa airport is the second busiest in Italy
in terms of passenger numbers
Travel tip:

Malpensa airport started up in 1909 at Cascina Malpensa, an old farm to the northwest of Milan, where the land was used to test aircraft prototypes. During World War I it was established as a flying school for training pilots such as Giulio Lega. As an airfield used by the Germans in World War II, Malpensa was heavily bombed by the Allies, but in the 1940s the runway was repaired and flights to Brussels began. Today, Malpensa is the second busiest airport in Italy in terms of passengers, after Rome Fiumicino.

More reading:

Silvio Scaroni - the World War One pilot who shot down 26 enemy aircraft

How Italy's most famous World War One flying ace was killed in action

The aerial duellist who claimed 19 victories

Also on this day:

1920: Italy signs treaty with Balkan States

1948: The death of composer Umberto Giordano

2011: Silvio Berlusconi resigns as prime minister


30 March 2018

Fortunato Depero - artist

Futurist who designed iconic Campari bottle

Fortunato Depero's 1932 Campari Soda bottle is still in production today
Fortunato Depero's 1932 Campari Soda
bottle is still in production today
The Futurist painter, sculptor and graphic artist Fortunato Depero, who left a famous mark on Italian culture by designing the conical bottle in which Campari Soda is still sold today, was born on this day in 1892 in the Trentino region.

Depero had a wide breadth of artistic talent, which encompassed painting, sculpture, architecture and graphic design.

He designed magazine covers for the New Yorker, Vogue and Vanity Fair among others, created stage sets and costumes for the theatre, made sculptures and paintings and some consider his masterpiece to be the trade fair pavilion he designed for the 1927 Monza Biennale Internazionale delle Arti Decorative, which had giant block letters for walls.

Yet it is the distinctive Campari bottle that has endured longest of all his creations, which went into production in 1932 as the manufacturers of the famous aperitif broke new ground by deciding to sell a ready-made drink of Campari blended with soda water.

It was the first pre-mixed drink anyone had sold commercially and Depero, who was already working with the Milan-based company on a series of advertising posters and stylish black-and-white newspaper ads, was tasked with creating a unique miniature bottle in which the new product would be packaged.

Depero became an important designer in the advertising world
Depero became an important designer
in the advertising world
The conical shape, a little like an upturned glass, made it stand out on the shelves and at a time when the modern and unconventional was considered chic was perfect in helping establish Campari Soda as the sophisticated pre-dinner drink of choice among Italy’s style-setters.

The shape, timelessly modern, has not changed fundamentally in 88 years since and has become an icon of Italian design.

Depero was born either in the village of Fondo or its neighbour Malosco, about 40-50km (25-31 miles) north of Trento, and went to college a little further south in Rovereto, between Trento and Verona. He was apprenticed in a marble workshop, having been turned down in his efforts to obtain a place at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.

He first became aware of the Futurist movement on a trip to Florence in 1913 and when his mother died the following year he decided to move to Rome, where he met fellow Futurist Giacomo Balla. Together they produced an extraordinary text entitled Ricostruzione futurista dell’universo (Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe), a manifesto that reflected the core values of the movement, which rejected everything ancient and classical and aimed to free Italy from what was perceived as a stifling obsession with the past.

The establishment tended to dismiss Futurists as cranks, because they admired the speed and technological advancement of cars and aeroplanes and the new industrial cities, all of which they saw as demonstrating the triumph of humanity over nature through invention, and wanted to depict those things in their art.

Il Motociclista (the Motorcyclist) is an example of Depero's art
Il Motociclista (the Motorcyclist) is an example of Depero's art
Yet in many ways, Depero and Balla and talented Futurist painters such as Carlo Carrà and Umberto Boccioni, who embraced a parallel obsession with nationalistic revolution and the overthrow of the hierarchical class system, foresaw how the 20th century would unfold, from the evolution of technology to the explosion of violence and the spread of mass communication.

The movement was ultimately tarnished by its association with Fascism, with which they initially shared similar goals in terms of wishing to build a strong, egalitarian, productive, youthful and modern Italy.  Once the link existed, it was difficult to break and after Mussolini’s regime was defeated there were many Futurists who found themselves shunned.

Depero himself found Italy an uncomfortable place after the Second World War and decided to return to New York, where he had spent a couple of years in the late 1920s, working on magazines and in the theatre and even building a house.  During his second stay, which lasted until the early 1950s, he published an English version of an earlier autobiography, entitled So I Think, So I Paint.

Depero returned to Italy and lived out his final days in Rovereto, where he died in 1960 from complications of diabetes.  A large collection of his work can be seen at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto.

Rovereto's Campana dei Caduti sounds 100 times at nightfall each day
Rovereto's Campana dei Caduti sounds
100 times at nightfall each day
Travel tip:

The picturesque small city of Rovereto, east of Riva del Garda, is notable not only for the aforementioned art museum but for a 14th century castle, which contains the Italian War Museum, and for the Maria Dolens (Mary Grieving) bell, also known as the Campana dei Caduti (the Bell of the Fallen) and the Bell of Peace. The second largest swinging bell in the world, it was originally the idea of a local priest, Father Antonio Rossaro, to honour the fallen of all wars and to invoke peace and brotherhood. Cast in 1924, since 1965 it has been located on Miravale Hill outside the town and sounds 100 times at nightfall each evening.

The beautiful Piazza Duomo in Trento
The beautiful Piazza Duomo in Trento
Travel tip:

The city of Trento is considered to have arguably the best quality of life in Italy, based on climate, surroundings and employment opportunities. With a population of 117,000, it is situated in an Alpine valley on the Adige river between the northern tip of Lake Garda and the border city of Bolzano, about 115km (71 miles) north of Verona. It was controlled by the Austrians almost continuously from the 14th century until the First World War.  In the 16th century, it hosted the Council of Trent, the ecumenical council of the Catholic Church that gave rise to the resurgence of the church following Protestant Reformation.

More reading:

The explosive art of leading Futurist painter Carlo Carrà

Luigi Russolo and the strange phenomenon of 'noise music'

Painter whose work depicted Fascist repression

Also on this day:

1282: The revolt that became known as the Sicilian Vespers

1905: The birth of Modernist architect Ignazio Gardella


16 November 2017

Tazio Nuvolari – racing driver

Man from Mantua seen as greatest of all time

Tazio Nuvolari is seen by some as Italy's greatest racing driver
Tazio Nuvolari is seen by some as
Italy's greatest racing driver
Tazio Nuvolari, the driver many regard as the greatest in the history not only of Italian motor racing but perhaps of motorsport in general, was born on this day in 1892 in Castel d’Ario, a small town in Lombardy, about 15km (9 miles) east of the historic city of Mantua.

Known for his extraordinary daring as well as for his skill behind the wheel, Nuvolari was the dominant driver of the inter-war years, winning no fewer than 72 major races including 24 Grands Prix.  He was nicknamed Il Mantovano Volante - the Flying Mantuan.

From the start of his career in the 1920s, Nuvolari won more than 150 races all told and would have clocked up more had the Second World War not put motor racing in hibernation.  As it happens, Nuvolari’s last big victory came on September 3, 1939, the day the conflict began, in the Belgrade Grand Prix.

His popularity was such that when he died in 1953 from a stroke, aged only 60, his funeral in his adopted home city of Mantua attracted at least 25,000 people and possibly as many as 55,000 – more than the city’s recorded population.

His coffin was placed on a car chassis pushed by legendary drivers Alberto Ascari, Luigi Villoresi and Juan Manuel Fangio, at the head of a mile-long procession.

Today, his name lives on as the name of a motor racing channel on Italian subscription television.

Tazio Nuvolari at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo car in  which he won the 1935 German Grand Prix
Tazio Nuvolari at the wheel of the Alfa Romeo car in
which he won the 1935 German Grand Prix
Nuvolari was not only a brilliant driver but one who willingly risked his life on the track in order to satisfy his lust for victory.

The performances that have gone down in Italian motor racing folklore include his incredible performance against his rival Achille Varzi in the Mille Miglia endurance event of 1930.

A significant distance behind Varzi as the race entered its night-time phase between Perugia and Bologna, Nuvolari took the strategic decision to switch off his headlights despite reaching speeds of more than 150kph (93mph).

Unable to see Nuvolari in his mirrors, Varzi was fooled into thinking he had the race sewn up and eased back on the throttle only for Nuvolari to appear alongside him with three kilometres remaining, at which point he switched his lights on, gave Varzi a cheery wave and accelerated ahead.

More than once, after serious accidents, he defied doctors’ orders to get behind the wheel again while still heavily bandaged, returning to action within days when he was supposed to rest for at least a month.

How the start of a Grand Prix looked in 1935
How the start of a Grand Prix looked in 1935
His greatest performance, after which he was hailed as a national hero, came in the 1935 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, which had been set up by the Nazi propaganda machine as an opportunity to demonstrate the might of both the German drivers and their Mercedes and Auto Union cars.

Nuvolari had tried to join the Auto Union team only to be rebuffed and was obliged to tackle the race in an outdated and underpowered Alfa Romeo for Enzo Ferrari’s team, an arrangement brokered by none other than Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

It looked a hopeless cause.  Nuvolari had a poor start and lost more time through a refuelling delay, yet managed somehow to battle through the field to be second by the start of the final lap, on which he caught and passed the German Manfred von Brauchitsch to claim what some still believe to be the greatest motor racing triumph of all time.

The eight cars immediately in Nuvolari’s wake were all German.  As the Nazi hierarchy fumed, Mussolini seized the chance to score a propaganda success of his own.  As it happened, Nuvolari eventually got his wish to drive for Auto Union and his last three big wins – in the Italian and British Grands Prix of 1938 and the Belgrade event in 1939 – were under their flag.

A garlanded Nuvolari after winning the  French Grand Prix in 1932
A garlanded Nuvolari after winning the
French Grand Prix in 1932
Nuvolari’s daring was evident from a young age.  As a boy, he designed a parachute made from various pieces of material he had gathered up around the family home and decided to test it by jumping off the roof of the house.  He suffered serious injuries but survived to tell the tale.

In the First World War, despite his tender years, he persuaded the Italian army to take him on as an ambulance driver only to be deemed too dangerous behind the wheel to be entrusted with wounded personnel.

After the Second World War, Nuvolari did return to racing but his health began to decline in his 50s. He began to develop breathing problems attributed to years of breathing in dangerous fumes and suffered the first of his two strokes in 1952.

Dubbed "the greatest driver of the past, present and future" by Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the company which shares his name, in addition to his Grands Prix successes, Nuvolari also won five Coppa Cianos, two Mille Miglias, two Targa Florios, two RAC Tourist Trophies, a Le Mans 24-hour race, and the European Grand Prix Championship.

The son of a farmer, Arturo Nuvolari, Tazio had grown up with speed.  His father and brother, Giuseppe, both enjoyed success on two wheels. Indeed, Giuseppe was a multiple winner of the Italian national motorcycling championship.

Nuvolari was married to Carolina Perina, with whom he had two sons, Giorgio and Alberto, both of whom sadly died before they had reached the age of 20.

Mantua is surrounded by water on three sides
Mantua is surrounded by water on three sides
Travel tip:

Mantua has scarcely altered in size since the 12th century thanks to the decision taken to surround it on three sides by artificial lakes as a defence system. The lakes are fed by the Mincio river, which descends from Lake Garda, and it is largely as a result of the restrictions on expansion imposed by their presence that the city’s population has remained unchanged at around 48,000 for several centuries.  The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the 2017 European Capital of Gastronomy, famous for its pumpkin ravioli (Tortelli di zucca alla Mantovana), its pike in tangy parsley and caper sauce (Luccio in salsa) and its pasta with sardines (Bigoli con le sardelle alla Mantovana).

The monument to Tazio Nuvolari in Castel d'Ario
The monument to Tazio Nuvolari in Castel d'Ario
Travel tip:

The life of Tazio Nuvolari is commemorated in several ways around Mantua and Castel d’Ario.  He is buried in the family tomb in the Cimitero Degli Angeli, on the road from Mantua to Cremona, and his home on Via Giulia Romano how houses a museum dedicated to his achievements.  In Castel d'Ario there is a bronze statue of Nuvolari reclining against the bonnet of a Bugatti racing car in an open space behind the town hall as well as a square named after him.

18 May 2017

Ezio Pinza - opera and Broadway star

Poor boy from Rome who made his home at the Met

Ezio Pinza
The opera star Ezio Pinza, who had 22 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1926 to 1948 and sang to great acclaim at many other of the world’s most famous opera houses, was born on this day in 1892 in Rome.

Pinza, a bass who was blessed with a smooth and rich voice and matinee idol looks, also had a successful career in musical theatre on Broadway and appeared in a number of Hollywood films.

Born Fortunio Pinza in relative poverty in Rome, he was the seventh child born to his parents Cesare and Clelia but the first to survive.  He was brought up many miles away in Ravenna, which is close to the Adriatic coast, about 85km (53 miles) from Bologna and 144km (90 miles) from Venice.

He dropped out of Ravenna University but studied singing at Bologna’s Conservatorio Martini and made his opera debut at Cremona in 1914 in Bellini’s Norma.

Pinza signed up to fight for his country in the First World War, after which he resumed his career in 1919. Within a short time he was invited to perform at Italy’s most prestigious opera house, Teatro alla Scala in Milan, where he came under the baton of the brilliant but demanding conductor, Arturo Toscanini.

Toscanini recognised his talent and under his guidance, Pinza began to prosper. For a bass his voice had unusual beauty and Pinza had a great drive to make the most of the opportunity it gave him.

Ezio Pinza in the Broadway production of South
Pacific that made his name in musical theatre
His family’s circumstances had meant that he missed out on a formal education.  As a consequence, he was not able to read music, yet he had a sharp ear. He would listen to his part played on the piano and then sing it accurately, even picking up stylistic nuances.

Seen as a successor to the great Italian basses Francesco Navarini, Vittorio Arimondi and Nazzareno De Angelis, by November 1926 he had been invited to sing at the Metropolitan Opera, where he made his debut in Spontini's La vestale, which starred the popular American soprano Rosa Ponselle in the title role.

As he became established, Pinza became associated with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Figaro and Sarastro, as well as many roles in the Italian operas of Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi, and Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, which was sung in Italian.

Engagements at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, soon followed. He sang in London from 1930 to 1939 and was invited to sing at the Salzburg Festival in 1934-1937 by the German conductor Bruno Walter.

Like many Italians, he felt at home in America. Pinza sang again under the baton of Toscanini in 1935, this time with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall as the bass soloist in performances of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, one of which was broadcast on radio and recorded.

His life was rudely interrupted in 1942 after America had entered the Second World War.  All Italians and Germans living in the United States came under close scrutiny from the authorities and Pinza was accused of having a connection with Benito Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator.

With no warning, plain clothes FBI officers arrived at his house at Mamaroneck in Westchester County, overlooking Long Island Sound, and arrested him. After being taken to the Foley Square courthouse in Manhattan, where he was not allowed an attorney, he was detained at Ellis Island.

Pinza was only four months away from being granted his American citizenship and, fortunately for him, his fame afforded him more consideration than most of his compatriots and he was allowed to go free again after 12 weeks.

Pinza's grave
After the war, he announced his retirement from opera in 1948, when the Metropolitan Opera honoured him by naming the fountains at the new Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Centre after him.

He was not finished as a singer. Embarking on a second career in Broadway musicals, he achieved more success. His role in Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, in which the lead male part of the French planter Emil de Becque and the classic song Some Enchanted Evening were created specifically for him, turned him into a still bigger celebrity. In 1950, he received a Tony Award for best lead actor in a musical.

The fame brought him movie and television work and enabled him to buy a plush house next to the golf course at Westchester Country Club at Rye, where he was a member.  Sadly, he died suddenly in 1957 at the age of 64, having suffered a stroke. He is buried at Putnam Cemetery at Greenwich, Connecticut.

Travel tip:

Ravenna was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until its collapse in 406. The city’s Basilica of San Vitale, one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture, is famous for its wealth of Byzantine mosaics, the largest and best preserved outside Turkey, including masterpieces studded with gold, emerald and sapphire. The city was where the poet Dante lived in exile until his death in 1321. His tomb can be found in the Basilica of San Francesco, and the pretty Piazza del Popolo.

Travel tip:

The Conservatorio Martini, where Pinza received his formal musical education, can be found in Bologna’s Piazza Rossini, adjacent to the church of San Giacomo Maggiore, about 10 minutes’ walk from the city’s central square, Piazza Maggiore. Opened in 1804 as the Liceo Filarmonico di Bologna, its prestige was enhanced by its association with the composer Gioachino Rossini, who had attended the conservatory as a student, and returned later in life as a consultant.

25 April 2017

Ferruccio Ranza - World War One flying ace

Fighter pilot survived 57 aerial dogfights

Ferruccio Ranza in the cockpit of a Nieuport fighter plane
Ferruccio Ranza in the cockpit of a Nieuport fighter plane
Ferruccio Ranza, a World War One pilot who survived 465 combat sorties and scored 17 verified victories, died on this day in 1973 in Bologna, at the age of 80.

Ranza, who also saw service in the Second World War, when he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, was jointly the seventh most successful of Italy’s aviators in the 1914-18 conflict, and would be placed third if his eight unconfirmed victories had been proven.  In all, he engaged with enemy aeroplanes in 57 dogfights.

The most successful Italian flying ace from the First World War was Francesco Baracca, who chalked up 34 verified victories before he was killed in action in 1918.  Ranza served alongside Baracca in the 91st Fighter Squadron of the Italian air force, the so-called ‘squadron of aces’.

Ranza was born in Fiorenzuolo d’Arda, a medium-sized town in the province of Piacenza in what is now Emilia-Romagna, in 1892. Both his parents, Paolo and Maria, were teachers. 

Ferruccio Ranza, second left, with other member of the 91st Squadron, including Francesco Barraca (far right)
Ferruccio Ranza, second left, with other member of the 91st
Squadron, including Francesco Baracca (far right)
After attending the Istituto Tecnico ‘Romagnosi’ in Piacenza, he joined the Italian army in December 1913. He was a second lieutenant in the 1st Regiment of Engineers when the First World War began in 1914.

Italy had been part of the Triple Alliance at that time, along with Germany and Austria-Hungary, but delayed entering the conflict and by the time it did, in April 1915, it was on the side of the Triple Entente, with Russia, France and Britain, having been promised territorial gains in the Adriatic Sea region.

Ranza attended the flying school at Venaria Reale, just outside Turin. His first assignment, in October 1915, was to fly reconnaissance missions with the 43rd Squadron. He won a Bronze award of the Medal for Military Valor for carrying out an artillery spotting mission under heavy fire.

His success in aerial warfare began when he mastered the French-built Nieuport fighters and joined 77th Squadron in June 1916, scoring his first success after only five days when he downed a Hansa-Brandenburg CI, an aircraft designed by Ernst Heinkel, who would provide much of the Luftwaffe’s air power during the Second World War.

A scale model of the Nieuport 11 in which Ranza scored many of his victories after joining the 91st Squadron
A scale model of the Nieuport 11 in which Ranza scored
many of his victories after joining the 91st Squadron
In November 2016, Fulco Ruffo di Calabria was removed from command of 77th Squadron because of combat fatigue and Ranza was appointed to succeed him in command.

He was transferred to the crack 91st Squadron under the command of Francesco Baracca in May 2017, achieving his first kill the following month when he downed a two-seater armed reconnaissance plane in the skies above Barco, a small town near Vicenza in what is now the Veneto.

Ranza remained with the 91st until the end of the war, by which time he had won three Silver awards of the Medal for Military Valor, the Serbian Order of the Star of Karađorđe, four war crosses (two Italian, one French, one Belgian), and the Military Order of Savoy.

Even after the war had finished, with Italy counting a heavy cost in lives lost and economic consequences, Ranza continued his military career, seeing service in Africa and Albania as Mussolini pursued an aggressive foreign policy. 

Ferruccio Ranzo in 1944
Ferruccio Ranza in 1944
When Italy entered World War Two, Ranza was in charge of Italy’s air force in Albania, providing support for Italy’s campaign in Greece.  He had an escape in 1941 when, flying a transport plane, he was attacked by an Italian fighter who mistook him for an enemy. Ranza’s plane was hit and badly damaged but he managed to crash land and avoided serious injury.

By 1943, as the Allied invasion of Italy began, he was the commander of Italy’s airforce in the south of the peninsula, based in Bari, and after Mussolini’s overthrow was able to persuade the Allied command to allow Italian planes to contribute to the nation’s liberation by flying missions against the Germans.

Ranza retired in 1945 and was living in Bologna at the time of his death.  His body was returned to Fiorenzuolo d’Arda for burial in the family chapel at the town’s cemetery.

Travel tip:

Fiorenzuola d’Arda is a town of about 15,000 inhabitants situated about halfway between Piacenza and Parma in the plain of the Po Valley, in the Emilia-Romagna province. The Arda river flows through the town before joining the Po. It is a pleasant town built, at the centre of which, on Piazza Molinari, is the Collegiate Church of San Fiorenzo, the construction of which began in the 13th century.

The Royal Palace, Reggia di Venaria Reale
The Royal Palace, Reggia di Venaria Reale
Travel tip:

Venaria Reale is a town, on the north-west edge of the Turin metropolitan area, of historical significance for the presence of the Reggia di Venaria Reale, a palace of the Royal House of Savoy, which was designed and built from 1675 by Amedeo di Castellamonte, having been commissioned by duke Charles Emmanuel II as a base for his hunting expeditions in the countryside north of Turin. The town’s historic centre was also designed by Di Castellamonte to provide an appropriate backdrop to the palace.

More reading:

How Armando Diaz led decision World War One victory at Vittorio Veneto

Enea Bossi and the pedal-powered aeroplane

The Calabrian veteran who survived two world wars

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