Showing posts with label 1898. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1898. Show all posts

21 October 2018

Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta

Cousin of Italy's wartime monarch died in a POW camp

As Governor-General, the Duke of Aosta led the East Africa Campaign
As Governor-General, the Duke of
Aosta led the East Africa Campaign
Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, who died in a British prisoner-of-war camp after leading the defeated Italian Army in the East Africa Campaign of the Second World War, was born on this day in 1898 in Turin.

After distinguished military service in the First World War and seeing action as a pilot in the pacification of Italian Libya in the early 1930s, Amedeo had been appointed by Mussolini as Viceroy of Ethiopia and Governor-General of Italian East Africa in 1937, replacing the controversial Marshal Rodolfo Graziani.

Italy’s entry into the Second World War on the side of Germany in June 1940 meant the Duke of Aosta became the commander of the Italian forces against the British in what became known as the East African Campaign.

As such, he oversaw the Italian advances into the Sudan and Kenya and the Italian invasion of British Somaliland.

However, when the British launched a counter-invasion early the following year, the Italians were put on the defensive and after fighting desperately to protect their territory were beaten in the Battle of Keren. The rest of Eritrea, including the port of Massawa, fell soon afterwards.

Amedeo pictured with Umberto, Prince of Piedmont, the future King
Amedeo pictured with Umberto, Prince
of Piedmont, the future King
Amedeo attempted to save such resources as he still had by deploying his remaining troops to defend a number of strongholds, putting himself in charge of 7,000 Italians at the mountain fortress of Amba Alagi.

He was forced to surrender on May 18, his forces besieged by 9,000 British and Commonwealth troops and more than 20,000 Ethiopian irregulars, although their gallant resistance was noted by the British, who allowed them to lay down their arms with dignity.

The Duke was sent to a prison camp in Nairobi, Kenya but died there the following March, reportedly from complications caused by tuberculosis and malaria.

Born Amedeo Umberto Isabella Luigi Filippo Maria Giuseppe Giovanni di Savoia-Aosta, he was the third Duke of Aosta and a first cousin, once removed, of the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III.

His parents were Prince Emanuele Filiberto, second Duke of Aosta, and Princess Hélène, who was the daughter of Prince Philippe of Orléans. His great-grandfather was King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, making him a member of the House of Savoy.

An exceptional tall man, standing at 6ft 6ins (1.98m), he towered over the king, who was barely 5ft 0ins (1.53m).

Prince Amedeo and Princess Anne of Orléans in the Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples on their wedding day
Prince Amedeo and Princess Anne of Orléans in the
Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples on their wedding day
Educated in England at St David's College, Reigate, Surrey - about 40km (25 miles) south of central London - he cultivated British mannerisms, spoke Oxford English, and even enjoyed the pastimes of fox hunting and polo.

He joined the Italian Royal Army after attending the Nunziatella military academy in Naples.  He travelled widely in Africa after leaving the army in 1921, which gave him knowledge of the area he would later govern.

Widely known and respected for the gentlemanly way in which he conducted himself, Amedeo became Duke of Aosta on the death of his father

Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian Foreign Minister under his father-in-law Mussolini, said that with the Duke's death “the image of a Prince and an Italian - simple in his ways, broad in outlook, and humane in spirit - died with him."

Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia applauded the respect and care shown by the Duke to the exiled Emperor's personal property left behind in Addis Ababa.

Amedeo was married in November 1927 in Naples, to his first cousin HRH Princess Anne of Orléans (1906–1986).  They had two daughters and although both married royal princes - Margherita married Robert, Archduke of Austria-Este and Maria Cristina wed Prince Casimir of Bourbon-Two Sicilies - the lack of a male heir to Amedeo meant the title Duke of Aosta passed to his younger brother, Aimone.

The Nunziatella complex in the Pizzofalcone district if Naples, near the city centre
The Nunziatella complex in the Pizzofalcone
district if Naples, near the city centre
Travel tip:

The Nunziatella Military School of Naples, founded in November 1787 under the name of Royal Military Academy, is the oldest military school in the world among those still operating. Located in Via Generale Parisi in Pizzofalcone, it takes its name from the adjacent church of the Santissima Annunziata. In addition to Prince Amedeo and King Vittorio Emanuele III, the alumni include one former director of the European Union military committee, two chiefs of defence staff, four army chiefs of staff, two navy chiefs of staff, one air chief of staff, two commanders general of the Guardia di Finanza and two commanders general of the Carabinieri, as well as three prime ministers.

The beautiful Castello di Miramare near Trieste, where Prince Amedeo's daughter Maria Christina was born
The beautiful Castello di Miramare near Trieste, where
Prince Amedeo's daughter Maria Christina was born
Travel tip:

Prince Amedeo’s younger daughter, Maria Christina of Savoy-Aosta, was born at the Castello di Miramare, near Trieste, in 1933. Located on the end of a rocky spur jutting into Gulf of Trieste, about 8km (5 miles) from Trieste itself, the Hapsburg castle was built between 1856 and 1860 for Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium, based on a design by Carl Junker.  The castle's grounds include an extensive cliff and seashore park of 22 hectares (54 acres) designed by the archduke, which features many tropical species of trees and plants.  Legend has it that Ferdinand chose the spot to build the castle after taking refuge from a storm in the gulf in the sheltered harbour of Grignano that sits behind the spur.

More reading:

Umberto II, the last King of Italy

King Victor Emmanuel III abdicates

Why Galeazzo Ciano died in front of a firing squad

Also on this day:

1581: The birth of the Baroque master Domenichino

1928: The birth of the anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli


19 September 2018

Giuseppe Saragat – fifth President of Italy

Socialist politician opposed Fascism and Communism

Giuseppe Saragat
Giuseppe Saragat, who was President of the Italian Republic from 1964 to 1971, was born on this day in 1898 in Turin.

As a Socialist politician, he was exiled from Italy by the Fascists in 1926.

When he returned to Italy in 1943 to join the partisans, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazi forces occupying Rome, but he managed to escape and resume clandestine activity within the Italian Socialist Party.

Saragat was born to Sardinian parents living in Turin and he graduated from the University of Turin in economics and commerce. He joined the Socialist party in 1922.

During his years in exile he did various jobs in Austria and France.  After returning to Italy, he was minister without portfolio in the first post-liberation cabinet of Ivanoe Bonomi in 1944.

He was sent as ambassador to Paris between 1945 and 1946 and was then elected president of the Constitutional Assembly that drafted postwar Italy’s new constitution.

At the Socialist Party Congress in 1947, Saragat opposed the idea of unity with the Communist Party and led those who walked out to form the Socialist Party of Italian Workers (PSLI).

In 1951, Saragat founded the Italian Democratic Socialist Party
In 1951, Saragat founded the Italian
Democratic Socialist Party
Saragat was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in April 1948. He became vice premier and minister of the merchant marine, but he resigned from his posts in 1949 to devote himself to his party.

It became the Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI) in 1951 in an effort to reaffirm its independence from the Communists and the other left-wing groups.

Between 1954 and 1957 Saragat again served as vice-premier but resigned in opposition to the government’s position on NATO. He suggested the idea of ‘an opening to the left’ - a coalition government including left-wing socialists.

Saragat was minister of foreign affairs in the cabinet of Antonio Segni between 1959 and 1960 but then resigned causing the downfall of the government. In 1963 he campaigned against nuclear power stations in Italy saying they were an unnecessary extravagance.

He then became minister of foreign affairs under Aldo Moro and saw the opening to the left materialise as Moro formed Italy's first centre-left government He served until late 1964 when he succeeded Segni as President of Italy.

He stepped down from the presidency in 1971, becoming a Senator for Life.  In 1975 he became secretary of his old party, the PSDI.

Saragat died in June 1988 aged 89, leaving a son and a daughter.

An internal courtyard at the University of Turin
An internal courtyard at the University of Turin
Travel tip:

The University of Turin, where Saragat studied for his degree, is one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1406 by Prince Ludovico di Savoia. It consistently ranks among the top five universities in Italy and is an important centre for research. The university departments are spread around 13 facilities, with the main university buildings in Via Giuseppe Verdi, close to Turin’s famous Mole Antonelliana.

The Palazzo Quirinale in Rome is the official residence  of the presidents of Italy
The Palazzo Quirinale in Rome is the official residence
of the presidents of Italy
Travel tip:

When Giuseppe Saragat was the President of Italy, he lived in Palazzo Quirinale in Rome at one end of Piazza del Quirinale. This was the summer palace of the popes until 1870 when it became the palace of the kings of the newly unified Italy. Following the abdication of the last king, it became the official residence of the President of the Republic in 1947.

More reading:

Why Antonio Segni was famous for tactical cunning

Ivanoe Bonomi - a major figure in the transition to peace

When the Red Brigades kidnapped Aldo Moro

Also on this day:

The Festival of San Gennaro

1941: The birth of controversial Lega Nord politician Umberto Bossi


15 February 2018

Totò – comic actor

50 years on, remembered still as Italy’s funniest performer

Antonio De Curtis - Totò - in a scene from his first film, shot in 1937 and called Fermo con le mani (Hands off me!)
Antonio De Curtis - Totò - in a scene from his first film, shot
in 1937 and called Fermo con le mani (Hands off me!)
The comic actor Antonio De Curtis, universally known as Totò and still winning polls as the most popular Italian comedian of all time a half-century after his death, was born on this day in 1898 in Naples.

Totò had a distinguished career in theatre, wrote poetry and sang, but is best remembered for the 97 films in which he appeared between 1937 and his death in 1967, many of which were made simply as a platform for his inimitable talent.

Although he worked in dramatic roles for some of Italy’s most respected directors, it was for his comedy that he was most appreciated. He and the director Mario Monicelli, regarded as the 'father of the commedia all'italiana genre' enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership.

His characters were typically eccentric, his acting style sometimes almost extravagantly expressive both physically and vocally.  In his humour, he drew on his body and his face to maximum effect but also possessed an inherent sense of timing in the way he delivered his lines. Often, at the peak of his screen career with his characters so well defined, he would dispense with much of his script and simply adlib, giving free rein to the cynicism and irreverence that came naturally.

Such was his popularity that after his death from a heart attack at the age of 69 he was given funerals both in Rome, where he lived, and in his native Naples.  The crowd that witnessed his funeral procession in his home city was conservatively estimated at 250,000.

The movie poster for Guardie e ladri (Cops and Robbers), which Toto felt was his best film
The movie poster for Guardie e ladri (Cops and
Robbers), which Totò felt was his best film
Born in Rione Sanità, a poor neighbourhood in the northern part of Naples near Capodimonte hill, he was the illegitimate son of a Neapolitan marquis, Giuseppe De Curtis, and Anna Clemente, a Sicilian woman with whom his father had an affair. The marquis wanted nothing to do with the woman's baby and refused to acknowledge Totò’s existence until his son was 37 years old.

By then, bitter at having been neglected by his real father, Totò had persuaded another marquis, Francesco Gagliardo Focas, to adopt him.  As a result, Totò inherited an extraordinary list of titles, which meant he could call himself Duke of Macedonia and Illyria, Prince of Constantinople, Cilicia, Thessaly, Pontus, Moldavia, Dardania and Peloponnesus, Count of Cyprus and Epirus, Count and Duke of Drivasto and Durazzo, although none had any real meaning and became just another source of jokes.

During his schooldays, it soon became apparent that his mother’s hopes that he would become a priest would come to nothing.  Totò spent much of his time seeking to amuse his classmates with his jokes and funny faces.  It was during his time at school that he acquired his misshapen nose, thought to have been the result of an incident in a boxing match.

By the time he was 15 he was appearing in small theatres in Naples under the stage name Clement, his act inspired by the comedy of his boyhood hero, the Neapolitan variety and café-concert actor Gustavo De Marco.

He volunteered to serve in the Italian army in the First World War, although when he was about to be sent to the French front, where so many soldiers died, he was so terrified by the warnings of homosexuality rife in the trenches that he feigned an epileptic fit and was discharged.

Toto with Franca Faldini, the girl he regarded as the true love of his life
Totò with Franca Faldini, the girl he regarded as the
true love of his life
Returning to civilian life, he continued to seek opportunities to perform, although often the pay was poor and it was only his love of the theatre that kept him going. 

In 1922, he moved to Rome and it was there, on the recommendation of a friendly hairdresser who had a number of clients in positions to give him work, that he was given the opportunity to perform at the Teatro Sala Umberto, a prestigious variety theatre.  At the end of his debut performance, full of the touches that would become his trademarks, he left the stage to an ovation and returned for several encores.

Groomed to resemble a kind of comic Valentino, Totò took advantage of his popularity with female admirers by having a number of relationships. He had a particularly intense affair with a beautiful dancer, Liliana Castagnola, that was to end in tragedy. Jealous of the attention she received from other men, Totò decided to leave Rome to fulfil a contract he was offered in Padua, only to discover Liliana dead in her hotel room the following day from an overdose of sleeping pills, having recorded her heartbreak in a letter he found next to her body.

Totò was so stricken with grief and remorse that he arranged for Liliana to be buried in Naples in the family tomb, next to his mother and father, so that he would one day they would be reunited. When his wife, Diana Rogliani, gave birth to a girl three years later, in 1933, he insisted she be called Liliana.

It was not a lasting marriage. He filed for divorce in Hungary – it was outlawed in Italy – and they continued to live together only for the sake of their daughter.

Totò began a relationship with the actress Silvana Pampanini, who he met on the set of his first film in 1937, but it was with Franca Faldini, a beauty he saw on the cover of the magazine Oggi in 1951, that he eventually found what he claimed was his true love. Again it was a liaison scarred by tragedy. Shortly after they were married, in 1954, Franca gave birth to a son, Massenzio, who survived only a few hours.

Toto's death in 1967 was front page news
Totò's death in 1967 was front page news
His films, many of which had his name in the title, earned him considerable wealth but he never gave up his stage performances and when his sight began to fail in his latter years it was thought that his decades of exposure to harsh theatre spotlights were a contributing factor.

He also composed poetry and songs, one of which, Malafemmena (Wayward Woman) is considered a classic of Neapolitan popular music.

Totò was buried at the Cimitero Del Pianto in the Poggioreale quarter of Naples, next to his parents, his son Massenzio and his beloved Liliana.

His films are still shown from time to time on Italian television and sell in DVD form.  His daughter has campaigned for the original family home at Via Santa Maria Antesaecula, number 109, to be turned into a museum.

Dusk in the Rione Sanità district of Naples, where Totò grew up in the early years of the 20th century
Dusk in the Rione Sanità district of Naples, where Totò
grew up in the early years of the 20th century
Travel tip:

The Rione Sanità district of Naples, where Totò was born, was once home to some of the richest families in Naples, as the presence of some fine palaces is a reminder, but in more recent years has become a notorious slum area, with high unemployment and a dominant Camorra presence.  Its air of faded grandeur has attracted writers and film makers to use it as a backdrop. The director Vittorio De Sica, for example, used it as the setting for his neorealist film, The Gold of Naples (1954), in which Totò had a role, and for the comedy Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963), starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.

The Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna is close to where
Totò settled in a well-to-do part of Rome

Travel tip:

Totò’s home in Rome was in Via dei Monti Parioli, in a leafy, upmarket residential area between the Pincio and Flaminio quarters. The area is home to several museums and art galleries clustered around the Via delle Belle Arte, including the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (National Museum of Modern Art) in the magnificent neoclassical Palazzo delle Belle Arte (Palace of Fine Arts), designed by Cesare Bazzani and built between 1911 and 1915. The gallery houses some 1,100 paintings and sculptures of the 19th and 20th centuries.

More reading:

Also on this day:

1944: Monte Cassino Abbey destroyed in WW2 bombing raid

(Picture credits: Rione Sanità by Alexandre; Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna by Helix84; via Wikimedia Commons)

2 September 2017

Pietro Ferrero - baker and chocolatier

Humble beginnings of €20 billion company

Pietro Ferrero was the founder of the Ferrero brand
Pietro Ferrero
Pietro Ferrero, the founder of the Ferrero chocolate and confectionery company, was born in Farigliano, a small town in Piedmont, on this day in 1898.

A baker by profession, he moved to nearby Alba in 1926 with his wife and young son, Michele, before deciding to try his luck in Turin, where in 1940 he opened a large pastry shop in Via Sant’Anselmo.

Trading conditions were tough, however, and the business was not a success.  The family returned to Alba in 1942, setting up a smaller bakery in Via Rattazzi, at the back of which Pietro created a kind of confectionery laboratory.

He had hit upon the idea of trying to find alternative materials from which to make products, largely because the high taxes on cocoa beans meant conventional chocolate-based pastries were expensive to make.

Hazelnuts, on the other hand, were plentiful, Piedmont being one of Italy’s major producers. One of his experiments involved combining Gianduja, a traditional Piedmontese hazelnut paste, with about 20 per cent chocolate. 

Pietro's original Giandujot hazelnut 'chocolate' bars
Pietro's original Giandujot
hazelnut 'chocolate' bars
Convinced his customers would like the taste, he began manufacturing bars of his chocolate-substitute on site at the bakery, selling it wrapped in foil under the name Pasta Gianduja and then Giandujot. It was popular as a sweet snack, often served in thin slices on bread.

Demand for the product increased rapidly, so much so that producing it by hand became impracticable. Together with his wife, Piera, Pietro founded the company Ferrero on May 14, 1946, built a factory in Alba on Via Vivaro and began to hire new workers.

Sadly, Pietro died in 1949 at the age of just 50, not realising his company would grow in quite the way it did.

Sales soared after a creamy, spreadable version of Gianduja was produced in 1951 under the name Supercrema. This was the forerunner of Nutella, the chocolate-hazelnut spread invented by Pietro’s son, Michele, who inherited the business and turned it into one of the world’s biggest brands.

Under Michele’s astute management, the company expanded to produce a whole range of confectionary products, including Ferrero Rocher praline chocolates, the Kinder range of eggs and bars, Mon Cheri cherry liqueur chocolates and the espresso-filled Pocket Coffee chocolates.

Ferrero SpA produces 365,000 tons of Nutella each year
Ferrero SpA produces 365,000
 tons of Nutella each year
Today Ferrero sells more than 365,000 tons of Nutella every year, has 11 factories around the world, employs more than 33,000 people and the company is valued at around €20 billion ($23.72 billion).  Incredibly, the company uses 25 per cent of the entire global hazelnut crop n producing Nutella.

When he died in 2015, Michele Ferrero was the richest man in Italy according to the Bloomberg Billionaires index and the 20th richest person in the world, with a personal fortune of almost €15 billion.

Although it has offices in Luxembourg, Ferrero SpA remains a private company based in Alba and still, essentially, a family business.  Pietro’s grandson, Giovanni – son of Michele – is the current executive chairman.

The appointment earlier this year as chief executive of Lapo Civiletti, the company’s former head of operations in central and eastern Europe, was the first time a non-family member had filled such a high-ranking position in the company.

Alba's San Lorenzo cathedral
Alba's San Lorenzo cathedral
Travel tip:

Apart from Ferrero, the town of Alba – about 32km (20 miles) northeast of Farigliano and 60km (37 miles) southeast of Turin – is important for its production of truffles, peaches and wine.  The wines produced locally include Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Moscato. The town has a population of almost 32,000 and its historic centre, built on the site of the Roman city of Alba Pompeia, includes the Romanesque cathedral of San Lorenzo and the Gothic church of San Domenico.

Via Roma is one of Turin's main shopping streets
Via Roma is one of Turin's main shopping streets
Travel tip:

Via Sant’Anselmo, where Pietro Ferrero ran a pastry shop before moving to Alba, is one of the streets parallel with Turin railway station, south of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. The city’s main shopping area is on the north side of Corso Vittorio Emanuele, around Via Roma, Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange and Via Carlo Alberto. Turin also has 19km (11 miles) of covered arcades and hosts more than 60 markets, including the largest open market in Europe at Porta Palazzo in Piazza della Repubblica.

More reading:

Michele Ferrero - the man who invented Nutella


20 March 2017

Fulco di Verdura - jeweller

Exclusive brand favoured by stars and royalty

Fulco di Verdura, pictured in around 1939 at the time of launching the Verdura business in New York
Fulco di Verdura, pictured in around 1939 at the time
of launching the Verdura business in New York
The man behind the exclusive jewellery brand Verdura was born Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, Duke of Verdura, on this day in 1898 in Palermo.

Usually known as Fulco di Verdura, he founded the Verdura company in 1939, when he opened a shop on Fifth Avenue in New York and became one of the premier jewellery designers of the 20th century.

Well connected through his own heritage and through his friendship with the songwriter Cole Porter, Verdura found favour with royalty and with movie stars.

Among his clients were the Duchess of Windsor - the former socialite Wallis Simpson - and stars such as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Paulette Goddard, Millicent Rogers and Marlene Dietrich.

Although Verdura died in 1978, the company lives on and continues to specialise in using large, brightly coloured gemstones.

The Oppenheimer Blue, the most expensive diamond ever sold at auction
The Oppenheimer Blue, the most expensive
diamond ever sold at auction
The most expensive gemstone ever sold at auction, the so-called Oppenheimer Blue diamond, was set in a ring designed by Verdura. It changed hands at Christie's in Geneva for $50.6 million (£34.7 million) in May 2016.

The last to bear the now defunct Sicilian title of Duke of Verdura, Fulco grew up in aristocratic surroundings largely unchanged since the 18th century.  The novel The Leopard, written by his cousin, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, is said to depict his eccentric and artistic family.

However, his family were not so wealthy that he could live a life of leisure and it became clear he would need to find a profession appropriate to his stature in society and lucrative enough to fund the lifestyle he wished to maintain.

He wanted to be an artist but his destiny was shaped by meeting Linda and Cole Porter in Palermo in 1919.  They became friends and it was through the Porters that Di Ventura met Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel in Venice in 1925, when they were both guests at a party hosted by the American couple.

Chanel invited him to Paris, initially as a textile designer, but then asked him to update the settings of jewellery she had been given by a number of former lovers and it became clear where his talents lay. They began an eight-year collaboration when Chanel made him head designer of Chanel jewellery.

Cole Porter became a friend and financial backer of Fulco di Verdura
Cole Porter became a friend and financial
backer of Fulco di Verdura
It was not long after Fulco started working for Chanel that he designed the Maltese Cross Cuffs that are now considered the hallmark of the Verdura brand.

Fulco left Chanel in 1934 and moved to the United States, where Diana Vreeland, a Chanel client based in New York, introduced him to the jeweller Paul Flato, with whom he opened a boutique in Hollywood.

He set up on his own in 1939, opening a small salon called Verdura in New York at 712 Fifth Avenue, with the financial backing of Cole Porter and Vincent Astor. His designs were influenced by both his love of nature as a child in Sicily and his admiration for the art of the Renaissance.

His long list of celebrity clients prompted the New York Times to dub him "America's Crown Jeweller".

In 1941, Di Verdura collaborated with Salvador Dalí on a collection of jewellery designs and in the same year designed “Night and Day” cufflinks for Cole Porter, inspired by the lyrics of the hit song.

He continued to work in the United States until 1973, when he sold his stake in the Verdura business to Joseph Alfano, his business partner, and moved to London, where he would focus on painting. He died there five years later at the age of 80.

Verdura logo
In 1985, Alfano sold the company to Ward Landrigan, a former head of Sotheby's American jewellery department. Landrigan decided to preserve the Verdura aesthetic and made jewellery the same way Fulco had, using many of the same jewellers Fulco used.

Landrigan's son, Nico Landrigan, joined Verdura in 2003, becoming President of the company in 2009.

Today, Verdura continues to appear on the pages of the top fashion magazines and celebrity clients include Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Shields, Anne Hathaway and Cameron Diaz.

Most of Fulco's designs were from individual commissions, yet he produced an estimated 5,000 items of jewellery during his lifetime.

Travel tip:

If there is one attraction in Palermo that most visitors would describe as a must-see it is the Palatine Chapel, the royal chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily situated on the ground floor of the Palazzo Reale.  The mosaics of the chapel are of unrivalled elegance, noted for subtle changes in colour and luminance. The mosaics of the transept, dating from the 1140s and attributed to Byzantine artists and include an illustrated scene, along the north wall, of St. John in the desert. The rest of the mosaics, dated to the 1160s or the 1170s, feature Latin rather than Greek inscriptions.

Palermo hotels by

The Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi in Palermo
The Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi in Palermo
Travel tip:

Fulco di Verdura was a cousin of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the novel The Leopard, much of which is set in Palermo.  The director Luchino Visconti, who made a film of the book, chose for the magnificent ball at the end of the book the Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi in Piazza Croce dei Vespri, a palace designed in Baroque style.

5 November 2016

Francesco Chiarello - survivor of two World Wars

Calabrian veteran lived to be 109 years old

Francesco Chiarello fought in the  First World War at 20 years old
Francesco Chiarello fought in the
First World War at 20 years old
Francesco Domenico Chiarello, who would live to be one of the world's longest surviving veterans to serve in both World Wars, was born on this day in 1898.

Chiarello was 109 years old when he died in June 2008.  Of soldiers anywhere on the planet who were active in the 1914-18 conflict and were called up again after 1939, only the Frenchman Fernand Goux outlived him.

Goux, from the Loiret department of central northern France, died just five months later, aged 108.

Chiarello also died as one of the last two surviving Italian soldiers from the First World War, outlived only by Delfino Borroni, from just outside Pavia in Lombardy, who was a tram driver during the Second World War.

Italian troops in Trento on November 3, 1918, in the final hours of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto
Italian troops in Trento on November 3, 1918, in the final
hours of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto
Borroni recovered from serious injuries sustained in an Allied bombing raid to be 110 years old when he died four months after Chiarello.

Chiarello, a farmer from Umbriatico in the province of Crotone in Calabria,  joined the Italian army in 1918 as a member of the 19th infantry regiment from Cosenza.

He was sent to the northern front at Trento where he took part in the final Battle of Vittorio Veneto, a seminal moment in the history of the conflict and of Italy.

The Italian victory brought the end of the war on the Italian Front and sealed the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Some Italians see Vittorio Veneto as the completion of the Risorgimento nationalist movement, in which Italy was unified.

In 1968, the Italian government created a medal to commemorate the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, which was awarded to all veterans who fought for at least six months in the First World War.

After peace was declared, Chiarello continued his service in Albania, where he contracted malaria, and spent a period in Montenegro before returning to civilian life in Umbriatico in 1920.  He was called up for a second time in 1940 and was attached to a unit in Reggio Calabria, but was discharged after six months.

Examples of the Vittorio Veneto medal
Examples of the Vittorio Veneto medal
He remained in Umbriatico, a hill town accessible only by a viaduct over a steep valley, until he was in his 80s, at which point he moved with his son, Louis, to the coastal resort of Cirò Marina, about 30km away.

Chiarello attributed his long life to the clean air of Umbriatico and a simple Crotonese diet, of which the staples are fresh milk - a half-litre at breakfast and another at dinner - lunches combining pasta and fresh vegetables, fruit and occasionally ice cream, plus a daily tumbler (or two) of local red wine.

In Cirò Marina, where he bemoaned the air quality compared with Umbriatico, he would maintain his good health by taking long daily walks along the sea front.

A deputation of senior Italian army officers visited him shortly after his 109th birthday. They were concerned about how frail he might be but found him dressed and sitting in his armchair. His daughter-in-law, Maria, told them that Signor Chiarello suffered no rheumatic pains at all and refused to stay in bed in the mornings, even when offered the chance to do so.

Umbriatico is surrounded by steep ravines
Umbriatico is surrounded by steep ravines
Travel tip:

Umbriatico was the site, in 215 BC, of a battle between forces from the Carthagian and Roman empires in which Hannibal himself is said to have fought before escaping back to Carthage, leaving the Romans to overrun the city.  Nowadays, home to less than 1,000 inhabitants, it sits on a hill surrounded by ravines and connected to the outside world by just one road.  The medieval Cathedral of San Donato stands above a crypt that was originally a Greek pagan temple.

Travel tip:

The modern resort of Cirò Marina on the Ionian Sea is renowned for the quality of its bathing facilities and the cleanliness of its beaches and seawater. In 2015, Cirò Marina‘s beaches were awarded a blue flag certificate for the 15th time. The area is also known for its fine wine, Ciro DOC, and was named as Italy’s City of Wine in 2000.

Hotels in Cirò Marina from

More reading:

The armistice that followed Italy's victory at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto

Giuseppe Moscati - wartime doctor who became a saint

Also on this day


9 June 2016

Luigi Fagioli - racing driver

Man from Le Marche is Formula One's oldest winner

Photo of Luigi Fagioli in action
Luigi Fagioli in action in the 1928 Targa Florio
near Palermo in Sicily
Racing driver Luigi Fagioli, who remains the oldest driver to win a Formula One Grand Prix, was born on this day in 1898 at Osimo, an historic hill town in the Marche region.

Fagioli was a highly skilled driver but one who was also renowned for his fiery temperament, frequently clashing with rivals, team-mates and his bosses.

It was typical of his behaviour after recording his historic triumph at the F1 French Grand Prix at Reims in 1951 he announced in high dudgeon that he was quitting Formula One there and then.

He was furious that his Alfa Romeo team had ordered him during the race to hand his car over to Juan Manuel Fangio, the Argentine who would go on win the 1951 World Championship, which meant the victory was shared rather than his outright.

Nonetheless, at 53 years and 22 days, Fagioli's name entered the record books as the oldest F1 Grand Prix winner.

Fagioli trained as an accountant but was always fascinated with the new sport of car racing and his background - he was born into a wealthy family of pasta manufacturers - gave him the financial wherewithal to compete.

Having made his debut in 1926, he achieved his first major victories after signing as a works driver for Maserati in 1930, finishing first in the Coppa Ciano and the Circuito di Avellino.  He then won the Monza GP of 1931 and the Rome GP in 1932.

The bust of Luigi Fagioli in Osimo
In 1933 Fagioli was taken on to race Alfa Romeos for Enzo Ferrari, winning in the Coppa Acerbo and the Italian GP, which in turn earned him a move to Mercedes-Benz.

However, his relationship with team-mates Manfred von Brauchitsch and Rudolf Caracciola was fraught with problems. When team manager Alfred Neubauer ordered Fagioli to move over for Brauchitsch in his very first race, the Italian simply dropped out, abandoning his car in disgust.

Despite winning three races for Alfa Romeo in 1934 and 1935, Fagioli quit to join Auto Union in 1937, becoming embroiled in an altercation with Caracciola during his first season in which he attacked his former colleague with a wheel hammer.

Struggling with rheumatism, which restricted him to the extent that at times he needed the aid of a stick to walk, he did not race again before the Second World War but in 1950, in much better health, he returned to the sport to race for the Alfa Romeo factory team, finishing on the podium in all but one race and finishing third in the inaugural F1 World Championship.

After his controversial exit from Formula One, he signed to drive in sportscar events for Lancia, taking great delight in finishing in front of Caracciola when he was third in the 1952 Mille Miglia.

His aggressive driving style sometimes bordered on the reckless and he had many accidents, one of which forced him out of a supporting race at the Monaco GP meeting in June of that year.

He broke a hand and a leg, which seemed relatively minor injuries, but he developed complications as he recovered in hospital and three weeks later, at the age of only 54, he died.

Photo of Osimo Cathedral
The Cathedral of San Leopardo in Osimo
Travel tip:

The town of Osimo, perched on top of a hill about 15 kilometres from the port of Ancona, can trace its origins to 200BC and parts if the city walls dating back to that time remain intact.  It is dominated by the Cathedral of San Leopardo, the main structure of which was built between the 12th and 13th centuries.

Stay in Osimo with

Travel tip:

Luigi Fagioli is commemorated in a bronze statue which can be found in the Giardini Pubblici in Osimo

More reading:

Vittorio Jano - genius designer behind Italy's Formula One success

(Photo of Luigi Fagioli bust by Giorgio Gentili CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Catheral by Parsifall CC BY-SA 3.0)


5 June 2016

Salvatore Ferragamo - shoe designer

From humble beginnings to giant of the fashion industry

Photo of Ferragamo shoes
Shoes by Salvatore Ferragamo
Salvatore Ferragamo, the craftsman once dubbed 'Shoemaker to the Stars' after his success in creating made-to-measure footwear for movie stars and celebrities, was born on this day in 1898 in Bonito, a small hill town in Campania, in the province of Avellino.

Although in time he would become a prominent figure in the fashion world of Florence, Ferragamo learned how to make shoes in Naples, around 100 kilometres from his home village.  He was apprenticed to a Neapolitan shoemaker at the age of just 11 years and opened his first shop, trading from his parents' house, at 13.

When he was 16 he made the bold decision to move to the United States, joining one of his brothers in Boston, where they both worked in a factory manufacturing cowboy boots.  Salvatore was impressed at how modern production methods enabled the factory to turn out large numbers of boots but was concerned about compromises to quality.

This led him to move to California and to set up shop selling his own hand-made shoes in Santa Barbara, where he made his first contacts in the burgeoning American film industry.  Eager to make shoes that not only looked good but were comfortable to wear, he enrolled at the University of Southern California to study anatomy.

He moved to Hollywood when the movie makers relocated there and it was after opening the Hollywood Boot Shop that he acquired the label 'shoemaker to the stars'.

Picture of Ferragamo logo
The famous Ferragamo logo
In 1927, after 13 years in the United States, Ferragamo returned to Italy to base his business in Florence, a city with a wealth of skilled craftsmen. He opened a workshop in the Via Mannelli and was soon making shoes for some of the wealthiest women in the world.

The collapse of the US stock market in 1929, sparking the Great Depression, hit him hard, virtually destroying the export side of his business, and he filed for bankruptcy in 1933.  Yet such was his enterprise and appetite for work that, by concentrating on the domestic market, he was able to make a rapid recovery.

In 1936 he rented two workshops and opened a shop in Palazzo Spini Feroni in Via de' Tornabuoni, which he subsequently bought and which remains the company's headquarters.

By the 1950s, as Italy recovered from wartime austerity and embraced la dolce vita, Ferragamo was the shoe of choice for wealthy young socialites in Italy and beyond and the company workshops were employing 700 craftsmen turning out up to 350 pairs of shoes per day.

Photo of The Rainbow shoe
The Rainbow platform sandal Ferragamo crafted for the
 actress and singer Judy Garland
Among Salvatore's creations were stiletto heels with metal reinforcement made famous by Marilyn Monroe, and a platform sandal he made for Judy Garland, which he called The Rainbow as a tribute to the actress and singer's performance in the Wizard of Oz. His 'invisible' sandal, which featured almost transparent nylon thread uppers, won the Neiman Marcus Award in 1947, the first time the prestigious mark of recognition in the fashion world was given to a shoe designer.

In 1940 Salvatore had married the daughter of the local doctor in Bonito, Wanda Miletti, who joined him in Florence. They had six children: three sons - Ferruccio, Leonardo and Massimo - and three daughters - Fiamma, Giovanna and Fulvia.

Salvatore died in 1960 aged just 62, leaving the company to be run by the family, with Wanda initially in charge.  Nowadays, Ferruccio is the president of a business employing more than 4000 people with 550 stores in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

It now has a range of products that includes eyewear, perfume, belts, scarves, bags, watches and clothing, as well as shoes.

Travel tip:

Bonito, perched on top of a hill between the valleys of the Arvi and Calore rivers, is roughly equidistant between Benevento and Avellino in inland Campania.  The Church of the Assunta contains the tomb of Santa Crescenzo, an 11-year-old boy killed during the persecution by the Roman Emperor Diocletianus in the third century and subsequently celebrated as a martyr.

Photo of the entrance to the Ferragamo museum
The entrance to the Ferragamo museum at
the Palazzo Spini Feroni
Travel tip:

A museum dedicated to the life and work of Salvatore Ferragamo was opened in 1996 within the company's headquarters at the historic Palazzo Spini Feroni in Via de' Tornabouni, Florence's famed upmarket shopping street.  The museum has films, press cuttings, advertising posters, clothing and accessories and a staggering 10,000 shoes created by Salvatore himself or the skilled craftsmen he employed.

(Photo of Ferragamo shoes by Ben CC BY-SA 2.0)
(Photo of Judy Garland shoe by Sailko CC BY-SA 3.0)


8 May 2016

Italy's first football championship

Four teams played three matches - all in one day

Photo of Genoa Italian football champions 1900
The Genoa team that won the Italian Championship
for the third time in 1900
Genoa became the first football champions of Italy on this day in 1898, winning a four-team tournament that took place in Turin in the space of a single day.

The event was organised by the newly-formed Italian Football Federation, set up earlier in the year after Genoa and FC Torinese had met in the first organised match played on Italian soil.

The two other teams invited to take part were also from Turin, namely Internazionale di Torino and Ginnastica Torino.  They assembled at the Velodromo Umberto I, where there was space for a pitch at the centre of a cycle track, with the first match kicking off at 9am.

Internazionale beat FC Torinese 1-0 in the opening game, after which Genoa defeated Ginnastica 2-1. After a break for lunch, the final kicked off at 3pm, Genoa winning again by a 2-1 scoreline, reportedly after playing extra time.  The trophy was presented by the Duke of the Abruzzi.

At least four members of the Genoa team were British, including the goalkeeper, James Spensley, a doctor from Stoke Newington in London who had arrived in the port city in 1897 to look after the health needs of British sailors, who regularly stopped off in Italy en route to or from India via the Suez Canal.

Spensley was one of the pioneers of football in Italy, having organised the historic match between Genoa and FC Torinese. He is held in high regard still in the city, where a plaque can be found on the wall of the house in which he lived.  Today, a section of the modern Genoa supporters' club calls itself Genoa Club Spensley.

Genoa, which even today is still registered as Genoa Football and Cricket Club, retaining the anglicised version of the Italian city name Genova as well as the reference to the very non-Italian game of cricket, tends to be accepted as Italy's oldest football club, although that claim is disputed.

Photo of a football match at the Velodromo Umberto I
A football match at the Velodromo Umberto I in Turin
Where Genoa was established in 1893, set up by British consular officials mainly to play cricket, there is some evidence that a club was formed in Turin two years earlier, this time by an Italian, Edoardo Bosio, who had become a football enthusiast while working in the textile industry in Nottingham.

Football was already a popular sport in England and Nottingham was home to the world's first professional club, Notts County.  Bosio formed a team called the International Football Club with players drawn from his workplace, although with no other teams to play against their get-togethers were essentially no more than informal kickabouts.

The crowd that witnessed Genoa's triumph was modest.  Around 50 spectators watched the semi-finals and witnesses to the final put the crowd at no more than 100, which was reflected in takings for the day of just 197 lire, the admission charge having been set at one lira, with some discounts.

Life in Italy at the time was tough, however. Food was in short supply and on the very day that the football champions were being crowned in Turin, bread riots were taking place in Milan, with as many as 400 rioters killed after the army was sent in to quell the disorder.

What's more, Italian sports fans were much more interested in cycling, riding and hunting. Football, which had existed in Italy since a game called Calcio Fiorentino was played during the Renaissance, would not catch on for a few more years.

The Italian Championship, though, was established.  The following year it was played over three days while the 1900 event spanned almost three weeks.  By 1910 it had evolved into a season-long league format, with nine teams playing each other home and away.

Genoa were the dominant team for two decades, winning six of the first seven championships, and then three times more until their run came to an end in 1925.

Photo of rooftops in Genoa
A view over the rooftops of Genoa towards the harbour,
with the tower of San Lorenzo Cathedral in the centre
Travel tip:

The port city of Genoa (Genova), the capital of the Liguria region, has a rich history as a powerful trading centre with considerable wealth built on its shipyards and steelworks, but also boasts many fine buildings, many of which have been restored to their original splendour.  The Doge's Palace, the 16th century Royal Palace and the Romanesque-Renaissance style San Lorenzo Cathedral are just three examples.  The area around the restored harbour area offers a maze of fascinating alleys and squares, enhanced recently by the work of Genoa architect Renzo Piano, and a landmark aquarium, the largest in Italy.

Travel tip:

The Velodrome Umberto I, which was briefly the home of the Juventus football club, was demolished in 1917 as the Crocetta district of Turin saw significant development. Buildings in neo-Gothic and Art-Nouveau style are now characteristic of this elegant area just south of the city centre, criss-crossed with tree-lined avenues. On the northern edge, near the Gallery of Modern Art, is an impressive statue of Victor Emmanuel II, mounted on a 39-metre column.


13 January 2016

Carlo Tagliabue – opera singer

Powerful performer remembered for his Don Carlo

A leading Italian baritone in the middle of the last century, Carlo Tagliabue was born on this day in 1898 in Mariano Comense near Como in Lombardy.

Tagliabue became well known for his roles in Verdi operas
Carlo Tagliabue
He particularly excelled in Verdi roles at the height of his career and continued to perform on stage and make recordings when he was well into his fifties.

After studying in Milan, Tagliabue made his debut on stage at a theatre in Lodi in 1922 singing Amonasro, King of Ethiopia, in Aida.

He went on to sing in Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, when it was performed in Italian at theatres in Genoa, Turin , Milan , Rome and Naples.

He later became known for his performances in Verdi operas, particularly La forza del destino, Rigoletto, La traviata, Nabucco and Otello and he was consistently praised for the power of his voice.

Tagliabue is also remembered for creating the role of Basilio in the world premiere of Respighi’s La fiamma in 1934.

Listen to Carlo Tagliabue sing Di provenza il mar from Verdi's La Traviata

He went on to sing in Buenos Aires, New York, San Francisco and London but his final performance was in 1955 on the stage of La Scala in Milan as Don Carlo in La forza del destino, singing alongside Maria Callas playing Donna Leonora.

Tagliabue retired to teach in 1958 and died at the age of 80 in Monza in 1978.

More opera -- Giacomo Puccini, born 22 December, 1858.

More music -- Death of violin maker Antonio Stradivari, 18 December, 1737

Travel tip:
The Villa Olmo, an 18th century house set in magnificent grounds, is open to the public
The Villa Olmo in Como
Photo: Geobia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Como, to the north of Mariano Comense, the small town where Tagliabue was born, is right on the edge of Lake Como and a popular tourist destination with palaces, museums, parks and theatres to visit. There is an 18th century house, the Villa Olmo, which is set in magnificent grounds are open to the public and there is a 13th century town hall, known as the Broletto, striped in pink, white and grey, with a pretty balcony that was used for addressing the people.

Travel tip:

Lodi, where Tagliabue made his stage debut, is an historic city south east of Milan that was ruled by the Visconti family in the 15th century. There are still remains of the castle they built there but one of the main attractions is the Church of the Beata Vergine Incoronata, near Piazza della Vittoria, Lodi’s main square, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in Lombardy.