Showing posts with label 1918. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1918. Show all posts

16 February 2019

Achille Castiglioni - designer

Leading figure in post-war Italian style

Achille Castiglioni regarded furniture-making as art
Achille Castiglioni regarded
furniture-making as art
The designer Achille Castiglioni, whose innovative ideas for lighting, furniture and items for the home put him at the forefront of Italy’s post-war design boom, was born on this day in 1918 in Milan.

Many of his designs, including the Arco floor lamp for which he is most famous, are still in production today, even 17 years after his death.

The Arco lamp, which he designed in 1962 in conjunction with his brother, Pier Giacomo, combined a heavy base in Carrara marble, a curved telescopic stainless steel arm and a polished aluminium reflector.

Designed so that the reflector could be suspended above a table or a chair, the Arco was conceived as an overhead lighting solution for apartments that removed the need for holes in the ceiling and wiring, yet as an object of simple chic beauty it came to be seen as a symbol of sophistication and good taste.

The Arco lamp, anchored in a block of marble, is perhaps Castiglioni's most famous creation
The Arco lamp, anchored in a block of marble, is
perhaps Castiglioni's most famous creation
The Arco was commissioned by the Italian lighting company Flos, which still produces numerous other lamps designed by Castiglioni.

Achille’s father was the sculptor Giannino Castiglioni. His brothers Livio and Pier Giacomo, both older, were architects.

He initially studied classics at the Liceo classico Giuseppe Parini in Milan, but switched to study the arts at the Liceo artistico di Brera. In 1937 he enrolled in the faculty of architecture of the Politecnico di Milano.

As was common for young Italians of his generation, the Second World War interrupted Achille’s progress. He joined up, became an officer in the artillery, and was stationed on the Greek front and later in Sicily, returning to Milan just before the Allied invasion of 1943. In March 1944 he was able to graduate.

The Mezzadro chair incorporated a tractor seat mounted on a metal and wood base
The Mezzadro chair incorporated a tractor seat
mounted on a metal and wood base
He joined the studio his brothers ran with Luigi Caccia Dominioni, another young Italian architect and designer. They designed interiors and created products, among them the Fimi-Phonola 547 radio, an extraordinary piece in metal and moulded bakelite that fulfilled the need to be inexpensive but was uniquely stylish.

After the war, Italy entered a kind of mini-Renaissance, inspired with the sense of a new beginning. Designers gave free rein to their imagination, often placing art above functionality in the design process. Castiglioni managed to marry the two.

When Livio left in 1952, Achille and Pier Giacomo continued to work together on innovative, sleekly modern designs for everyday objects and appliances. One creation, a vacuum cleaner in red plastic with a leather strap that the user could carry on his or her back, made for the REM company, can now be found in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, along with more than a dozen other Castiglioni designs.

Lighting was always Achille Castiglioni's speciality, enabling him to indulge his fascination with symbolism and theatricality. From the 1960s to the ‘80s, seen as Milan’s heyday as the city of design - he applied the same creative strategy to a wide range of projects, as diverse as hi-fi equipment and hospital beds.

Castiglioni's unique bakelite radio, the  Fimi-Phonola 547
Castiglioni's unique bakelite radio, the
Fimi-Phonola 547
He embraced the concept of using ‘found objects’ to create unusual but functional furniture, such as his Sella - saddle - stool, which featured a bicycle seat atop a pole with a rounded base designed as a telephone stool. Another seating solution, the Mezzadro, incorporated a tractor seat.

In his later years, after Pier Giacomo's death, Achille remained active in the studio in Piazza Castello but also went back to college, this time to lecture in design, first at the Polytechnic of Turin and later as a professor at the Polytechnic of Milan.

Castiglioni, who was one of the founding members of Association for Industrial Design (Associazione per il Disegno Industriale), established in 1956, died in 2002 at the age of 84. He was survived by his wife, Irma, and three children.

Castiglioni's studio, now a museum, is close to Milan's magnificent Castello Sforzesco
Castiglioni's studio, now a museum, is close to Milan's
magnificent Castello Sforzesco

Travel tip:

Castiglioni’s studio in the Piazza Castello in Milan has been turned into a museum, looked after by his youngest daughter, Giovanna. It is also the headquarters of the Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, established in 2011 to celebrate his work but also to promote innovative and stylish design. Piazza Castello is the semi-circular space surrounding the Castello Sforzesco, Milan’s impressive 15th century castle, which can be found about a 20-minute walk from the Duomo in a northwesterly direction. The Fondazione, at Piazza Castello 27, is open to the public via guided visits only, which take about an hour and cost €10. For more information, visit

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The main building of the Politecnico di Milano in Piazza Leonardo da Vince in the Città Studi
The main building of the Politecnico di Milano in
Piazza Leonardo da Vince in the Città Studi
Travel tip:

The Politecnico di Milano was founded in November 1863 by Francesco Brioschi, secretary of the Ministry of Education and rector of the University of Pavia. It is the oldest university in Milan. Originally, only civil and industrial engineering were taught. Architecture was introduced in 1865 in cooperation with the Brera Academy. There were only 30 students admitted in the first year; today, there are 42,000. Its central offices and headquarters are on Piazza Leonardo da Vinci, located in the historical campus of Città Studi in Milan, about 3.5km (2 miles) northeast of the city centre.

More reading:

How Marco Zanuso's ideas put Italy at the forefront of contemporary design

The Rome designer who became England's Royal jeweller

Flaminio Bertoni: car design as sculpture

Also on this day:

1740: The birth of Giambattista Bodoni - printer and type designer

1970: The birth of footballer Angelo Peruzzi

1979: The birth of multiple world motorcycling champion Valentino Rossi

(Picture credits: Mezzadro chair by Sailko; Watch by austincalhoon; Castello Sforzesco by Gpaolo; Politecnico by Luigi Brambilla; all via Wikimedia Commons)


21 January 2019

Antonio Janigro - conductor and cellist

Musician who found ‘accidental’ fame in Yugoslavia

Antonio Janigro spent much of his career in Yugoslavia after being trapped there on holiday
Antonio Janigro spent much of his career in
Yugoslavia after being trapped there on holiday
The conductor and cellist Antonio Janigro, who spent more than two decades as an orchestra leader in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, was born on this day in 1918 in Milan.

An accomplished cello soloist in Italy, his adventure in Yugoslavia happened by accident, in a way.  He was on holiday there in 1939 when the Second World War began, leaving him stranded with no prospect of returning home.

Happily, Zagreb Conservatory offered Janigro a job as professor of cello and chamber music. This turned out to be a providential turn of fate and he was to remain in Yugoslavia for much of his life.

He founded the school of modern cello playing in Yugoslavia, formed the exemplary chamber orchestra I Solisti di Zagreb with Dragutin Hrdjok in 1954 and for 10 years led the Radio Zagreb symphony orchestra.

Raised in a house on the Via Guido d’Arezzo in Milan, Janigro was born in a musical family, although his father’s dream of becoming a concert pianist had to be abandoned, sadly, when he lost his arm after being shot in the First World War. 

Janigro himself studied piano from the age of six, and then began playing the cello in 1926, when he was eight years old. In less than a year he had progressed enough to be admitted to the Milan Conservatory.

Janigro was admitted to the Milan Conservatory at the age of nine
Janigro was admitted to the Milan
Conservatory at the age of nine
At the age of 11, through the efforts of his mother Nicola, he found the opportunity to play for Pablo Casals, the world renowned  Spanish cellist, who gave him a recommendation to study at the École Normale in Paris, describing him as “a brilliant instrumentalist with a fine sense of style.”

Janigro moved to Paris in 1934, when he was 16, coming into contact there with other great cellists and musicians, including the violinist Jacques Thibaud, the composers Paul Dukas and Igor Stravinsky and the conductor Nadia Boulanger. The pianist Dinu Lipatti and the violinst Genette Neveu were fellow students.

He began a solo career immediately after graduating, playing in recitals with Lipatti and Paul Badura-Skoda, another gifted pianist. He often travelled between Milan and Paris on the railway, seeking out empty compartments in which to practice his cello.

Janigro’s relocation to Yugoslavia may have been an accident, but he would remain there continuously until 1968. At the same time, he maintained his solo career, travelling as far away as South America and the Far East. In 1959, he was Hungarian conductor Fritz Reiner's soloist in a renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra recording of Richard Strauss's Don Quixote.

He returned to Milan after the break-up of I Solisti di Zagreb but then devoted himself increasingly to teaching, with positions at the Düsseldorf Conservatory, the Salzburg Mozarteum, and the Stuttgart Conservatory attracting students from all over the globe.

Among his many students who would themselves excel were the Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga, the Brazilian Antonio Meneses and the Italian Mario Brunello, the latter two bringing him prestige by winning the International Tchaikovsky Competition.

He died in 1989, having spent his final years in Zagreb.

The Parco Guido Vergani is a park established on former industrial land in the heart of Milan
The Parco Guido Vergani is a park established on former
industrial land in the heart of Milan
Travel tip:

Janigro’s childhood home in Via Guido d’Arezzo in Milan is close to Parco Guido Vergani,  also known as Parco Pallavicino, an area of reclaimed land that used to be occupied until the mid-1930s by railway sidings and the small Sempione Airport. The park, inaugurated in the sixties, covers an area of ​​approximately 88,000 square metres. The park is rich in tree varieties, a fountain and areas for games and dog walking. Like most of the green areas in Milan, it was named after famous personalities - in this case, the Milanese journalist and writer Guido Vergani.

Janigro was a precociously talented child musician who was admitted to Milan Conservatory (above) at nine years old
Janigro was a precociously talented child musician who was
admitted to Milan Conservatory (above) at nine years old
Travel tip:

The Milan Conservatory - also known as Conservatorio di musica “Giuseppe Verdi” di Milano - was established by a royal decree of 1807 in Milan, capital of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. It opened the following year with premises in the cloisters of the Baroque church of Santa Maria della Passione in Via Conservatorio. The largest institute of musical education in Italy, its alumni include Giacomo Puccini, Amilcare Ponchielli, Arrigo Boito, Pietro Mascagni, Riccardo Muti and Ludovico Einaudi.

More reading:

How Luigi Boccherini popularised cello music in the 18th century

The double bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini

Alfredo Casella - composer from a family of cellists

Also on this day:

1916: The birth of World Cup-winning footballer Pietro Rava

1926: The birth of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Camillo Golgi

1949: The birth of chef Gennaro Contaldo


28 March 2018

Anselmo Colzani - opera star

Baritone who had 16 seasons at the New York Met

Anselmo Colzani in his signature role, Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca
Anselmo Colzani in his signature role,
Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca
Anselmo Colzani, an operatic baritone who was a fixture at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as La Scala in his home country, was born on this day in 1918 in Budrio, a town not far from Bologna.

His stage career continued until 1980, when he made his final stage appearance in one of his signature roles as Scarpia in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca.

Although his repertoire was much wider, his reputation became strongly associated with the works of Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi, with Jack Rance in Puccini's Fanciulla del West and the title role of Verdi's Falstaff, as well a Amonasro in Aida and Iago in Otello among his most famous roles.

Colzani’s association with the Met began in March 1960 after he was approached by Rudolf Bing, the opera house’s general manager, following the sudden death of Leonard Warren onstage during a performance of La Forza del Destino.

A few weeks later, Colzani took over Warren's role in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. It was not only the first time he had sung at the Met, but the first time he had sung the role, which he had to learn it in a matter of days.

Yet so impressive was he that he returned to the Met for the next 16 seasons, making 272 appearances either in New York or on tour. A measure of the stature he achieved there in a short space of time was that he was the baritone chosen for the title role in the first performance of Franco Zeffirelli’s acclaimed production of Falstaff in 1964, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Colzani with the soprano Renata Tebaldi, with whom he starred many times
Colzani with the soprano Renata Tebaldi, with
whom he starred many times
Brought up in a musical family, Colzani joined the Italian Army before beginning to study singing formally, signing up as an 18-year-old in 1936. His service required him to fight in the Second World War. Thankfully he survived and in 1945 began attending the Bologna Conservatory under the tutelage of Corrado Zambelli.

He made his debut at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna in 1947 in the small role of the Herald in Wagner's Lohengrin. Also in the cast and making her house debut was the  soprano Renata Tebaldi, with whom he would later be reunited in New York.

Colzani made his bow at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, in 1952, as the murderous Alfio in Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, and he continued to sing there until 1970, his last appearance being also as Alfio.

He was soon in demand throughout Italy for the dramatic baritone roles of Verdi in particular, becoming a major draw  in Naples, Verona and in Rome, where he enjoyed several seasons at the Baths of Caracalla.

He made his United States debut at the San Francisco Opera in 1956, but it was at the Met that he established an enduring foothold, appearing there with many of the major stars of the day, including Maria Callas, Franco Corelli and Carlo Bergonzi.

Colzani's last Met performance was as Michonnet in Adriana Lecouvreur, by Francesco Cilea, in 1978. He continued singing until 1980, when he gave his final performance in Tosca, reprising the Scarpia role in which he most frequently appeared during his years at the Met.

Married twice - his first wife died young - Colzani died in 2006, a few days before what would have been his 88th birthday. He was survived by his second wife, Ada, and his two children, Bianca and Miriam.

One of the towers that formed part of
Budrio's medieval 
Travel tip:

Colzani’s home town, Budrio, is 15km (9 miles) east of Bologna. A former Roman settlement, it is notable for the remains of the four corner towers of a castle rebuilt in the 14th century, inside which the original village was contained. Each year, the town stages an international opera competition in Colzani’s memory.

Travel tip:

Bologna has a tradition of presenting opera that goes back to the early 17th century. The Teatro Comunale, where Colzani made his debut, came into being in 1763 as the Nuovo Teatro Pubblico, designed by Antonio Galli Bibiena, who won a competition to design a new theatre for the city after another one, Teatro Mavezzi, had been destroyed by fire.  Arturo Toscanini, who went on to be musical director at La Scala, the Met and the New York Philharmonic, conducted there many times in the early part of his career.

More reading:

Why Renata Tebaldi was said to have the 'voice of an angel'

How Arturo Toscanini became a conductor by chance

Tito Gobbi - the baritone who enjoyed a movie career

Also on this day:

1472: The birth of the great Renaissance painter Fra Bartolommeo

1925: The birth of legendary film producer Alberto Grimaldi


8 July 2017

Ernest Hemingway – American novelist

War wounds sustained in Italy inspire the great American novel

Hemingway in the uniform he  wore while serving in Italy
Hemingway in the uniform he
wore while serving in Italy
An 18-year-old American Red Cross driver named Ernest Hemingway was severely wounded by shrapnel from an Austrian mortar shell on this day in 1918 at Fossalta di Piave in the Veneto.

Hemingway was taken to a field hospital in Treviso, from where he was transferred by train to a hospital in Milan. While in the hospital and recovering after two operations, he fell in love with his nurse, 26-year-old Agnes von Kurowsky.

His experiences of being wounded in Italy and falling in love later inspired him to write the novel, A Farewell to Arms.

On leaving school Hemingway had worked briefly as a reporter for The Kansas City Star before leaving for the Italian front in World War One to enlist as an ambulance driver.

While stationed at Fossalta di Piave he was bringing chocolates and cigarettes to the men on the front line when he was seriously injured by mortar fire. Despite his own wounds, Hemingway assisted some Italian soldiers to safety, for which he later received the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery.

Hemingway recuperating in hospital in Milan
Hemingway recuperating in hospital in Milan
After his release from hospital, he returned to the United States in January 1919. He and Agnes had agreed to get married in America, but two months later she wrote to say she had become engaged to an Italian army officer.

A Farewell to Arms, which was published in 1929, is a first-person account told by an American, Frederic Henry, who was serving as a lieutenant in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. The novel focuses on a love affair between Henry and a woman he meets, Catherine Barkley, which is set against the backdrop of the First World War, with its cynical soldiers, combat and the displacement of populations.

A Farewell to Arms was Hemingway’s first best seller and is regarded as the finest American novel to depict World War One.

The Monument to Peace in Fosslalta, where the  memorial to Hemingway can be found
The Monument to Peace in Fosslalta, where the
memorial to Hemingway can be found
Travel tip:

Fossalta di Piave, where Hemingway was injured during the First World War, is a small town situated 64 km (38 miles) north of Venice, which is famous for the wine it produces. There is a memorial to Hemingway overlooking the river Piave.

Travel tip:

Treviso, where Hemingway was taken to hospital after he was wounded, is an historic, walled city in the Veneto region, with picturesque canals and water wheels. It is the headquarters of the clothing firm, Benetton, and is famous for producing Prosecco wine and the vegetable, radicchio.

19 June 2017

Francesco Baracca – flying ace

Italy’s most successful First World War fighter pilot

Francesco Baracca alongside his Spad XIII with the  family's prancing stallion logo displayed on the side
Francesco Baracca alongside his Spad XIII with the
family's prancing stallion logo displayed on the side
Italy’s top fighter pilot of the First World War, Francesco Baracca, died in action on this day in 1918.

He had been flying a strafing mission against Austro-Hungarian ground troops in support of an Italian attack on the Montello Hill, about 17km (11 miles) north of Treviso in the Veneto, on which he was accompanied by a rookie pilot, Tenente Franco Osnago.

They split from one another after being hit by ground fire but a few minutes later, Osnago saw a burning plane falling from the sky.  Witnesses on the ground saw it too. Osnago flew back to his base but Baracca never returned.

Only when the Austro-Hungarian troops were driven back was the wreckage of Baracca’s Spad VII aircraft found in a valley.  His body was discovered a few metres away.

A monument in his memory was later built on the site. Osnago, fellow pilot Ferruccio Ranza and a journalist recovered his body. It was taken back to his home town of Lugo in the province of Ravenna, where a large funeral was held.

Francesco Baracca in his airman's uniform in 1916
Francesco Baracca in his airman's
uniform in 1916
It is thought that Barocca was seeking to provide Osnago with cover from above as he swooped on enemy trenches when he was attacked by an Austrian plane and downed.  The official version of events, written in the interests of propaganda, was that he had been hit by groundfire but records later showed a kill claimed by the crew of an Austrian two-seater, who noted the exact time and location of the engagement and took a photograph of the shot-down aircraft.

Mystery surrounded the condition of Baracca’s body, which reportedly bore the marks of a bullet to the head, while his pistol was out of its holster. This led to speculation that he had taken his life as the plane fell, rather than be killed in the crash or taken prisoner.

Baracca had claimed a total of 34 aerial victories, which made him the most successful of all Italy’s First World War flying aces.

His first came in 1916, flying a French-built Nieuport II, equipped with Lewis guns.  His victim was an Austrian Hansa-Brandenburg CI, which he hit in the fuel tank.  It was also Italy's first aerial victory in the war, brought about by what would become his favourite manoeuvre, which was to zoom in unseen behind and below an enemy.

The monument to Baracca erected on the spot where his plane fell
The monument to Baracca erected
on the spot where his plane fell
From the 1a Squadriglia Caccia, Baracca transferred to the 70a Squadriglia, where he was promoted to captain, before moving again, with nine victories, to the newly formed 91st Squadriglia, known as the "Squadron of the Aces", flying the Spad VII and Spad XIII planes. Soon, his ever-increasing list of victories made him nationally famous.

He had entered the Military Academy of Modena in October 1907 and became a cavalryman with the prestigious Piemonte Reale Cavalleria Regiment on his commissioning in 1910. He became interested in aviation and learned to fly at Reims, France, receiving his pilot's licence in July 1912.

From a wealthy landowning background, Baracca had the title of Count. The family’s coat of arms bore the black prancing stallion symbol he attached to all his aircraft.
Baracca's mother is said to have presented the emblem, the Cavallino Rampante, to Enzo Ferrari, who incorporated it as part of the badge displayed by cars belonging to his Scuderia Ferrari racing team and in time all Ferrari automobiles.

Lugo's main square contains a huge memorial to Baracca
Lugo's main square contains a huge memorial to Baracca
Travel tip:

The town of Lugo, Baracca’s place of birth, is situated in the Emilia-Romagna countryside between the cities of Bologna and Ravenna.  From above, coincidentally, some say the shape of the town resembles an aircraft. The town’s landmark is the Rocca Estense, an Este-family fortress that now contains the town hall. Next to the fortress is a monument to Baracca erected in 1936 and town also has a museum dedicated to him, in his former house, which displays mementos, uniforms, medals from Baracca's life, as well as rudders and guns taken from shot-down aircraft.

Artillery shells stockpiled in Crocetta, which was on the front line in World War One
Artillery shells stockpiled in Crocetta, which
was on the front line in World War One
Travel tip:

The village of Crocetta del Montello, once known as Crocetta Trevigiana, the nearest community to where Baracca was shot down, suffered badly because of the First World War. It had become prosperous after the construction, in 1882, of a vast hemp rope mill, providing employment and helping the area acquire resources including electricity, thanks to water-driven generators set up on the Brentella river. But the mill was destroyed during the 1918 battle that Baracca was supporting – the Battle of the Solstice. It was rebuilt only to be hit by global financial crises, forcing it to close in 1938, leaving an unemployment problem and triggering the bankruptcy of many local businesses that depended on it

21 March 2017

Alberto Marvelli - Rimini's Good Samaritan

Heroic deeds helped victims of bombing raids

Alberto Marvelli devoted his life to serving his community
Alberto Marvelli devoted his life to
serving his community
Alberto Marvelli, who came to be seen as a modern day Good Samaritan after risking his life repeatedly to help the victims of devastating air raids in the Second World War, was born on this day in 1918 in Ferrara.

He died in 1946 at the age of only 28 when he was struck by a truck while riding his bicycle but in his short life identified himself to many as a true hero.

He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004.

Marvelli's acts of heroism occurred mainly in Rimini, his adopted home town, which suffered heavy bombing from the Allies due to its proximity to the Gothic or Green Line, a wide belt of German defensive fortifications that ran across the whole peninsula from La Spezia to the Adriatic coast.

As well as giving aid and comfort to the wounded and dying and to those whose homes and possessions had been destroyed, Marvelli also rescued many Rimini citizens from trains destined for concentration camps.

Alberto was the second of six children born to Luigi Marvelli and Maria Mayr. Growing up, he was set a powerful example by his mother, who always kept open house for the poor and regularly gave away food intended for her own family.

In June 1930 the Marvellis moved to Rimini on the Adriatic coast and Alberto, having already embraced the strong values instilled in him by his devoutly Catholic parents, began to attend the Salesian Oratory and Catholic Action group.

Alberto Marvelli was a prominent member of the group Catholic Action, becoming president at the age of 18
Alberto Marvelli was a prominent member of the group
Catholic Action, becoming president at the age of 18
He had a wide social circle - his friends included Federico Fellini, who would go on to become famous as a film director - and enjoyed sport, in particular cycling. Yet he also maintained a strict observance of the rituals of his faith, which included Mass every morning, Holy Communion, and 30 minutes each of meditation and spiritual reading every day.

He was held in such high esteem that he was elected president of Catholic Action for the whole of Italy at the age of just 18.

Marvelli attended Bologna University and graduated in engineering in 1941.  He moved to Turin, where he began working for Fiat, but left after only a few weeks to do military service in Trieste.  In the event, he returned to Rimini after only a few months after he was exempted on account of three of his brothers being already in service

By then he was effectively head of the family following the unexpected death of his father and took a teaching job at a local high school, devoting his spare time to helping the sick and poor on behalf of Catholic Action.

When the bombing of Rimini began in earnest in 1944, ahead of the Battle of Rimini in which the Allies achieved a decisive victory, the Marvelli family moved inland to the village of Vergiano.

German soldiers in Rimini in 1944 before being driven  out by the Allies at the Battle of Rimini
German soldiers in Rimini in 1944 before being driven
out by the Allies at the Battle of Rimini
With each report of new air raids, however, Alberto would insist on taking his bicycle and riding the 8km into Rimini to lend assistance to the clear-up operations, giving no thought to his own safety, often arriving with bombs still dropping.

He bought food, clothing, mattresses and blankets with his own money or money he had collected, using his bicycle to distribute it to those in need. Many times, it is said, he would return to Vergiano having given away his bicycle and even the shoes on his feet.

During the German occupation, he made repeated journeys from Vergiano to the nearby village of Santarcangelo, sneaking past security at the railway station and breaking open the doors of carriages into which Jews and others had been herded for deportation to the concentration camps, saving many lives in the process, at grave risk of his own.

He helped many refugees reach the safety of San Marino by arranging transportation to the nearby republic, which remained neutral during the conflict.  When he was beatified in 2004, San Marino issued some stamps commemorating his life.

Once the war was over, the interim authorities entrusted Marvelli with the allocation of housing. Within a few months, he was appointed to Rimini's town council as an alderman and was put in charge of civil engineering as the city began to rebuild.

He also opened a soup kitchen for the poor and, as co-founder of Italian Workers' Catholic Action, formed a cooperative for construction workers.

Marvelli had not expressed a strong interest in politics previously but he became convinced he could make a difference and joined the Christian Democrats.

San Marino commemorated Marvelli with a set of stamps
San Marino commemorated Marvelli with a set of stamps
He planned to stand in local elections and appeared to have considerable support and respect, even from the Communists, whose ideology he openly criticized. He was seen by all sides as an honest candidate dedicated to the well-being of the community.

Sadly, Marvelli never had the chance to serve.  Cycling to a party meeting on a poorly lit road on the evening of October 5, 1946, the day before polling, he was run over by an army truck and died a few hours later without regaining consciousness.

Voting was under way as news of his death spread throughout the city. Many citizens still voted for him, to express their faith in him and respect for him, and he was posthumously elected. Afterwards, his mother agreed to serve in his place.

He was buried in the Church of Sant' Agostino in Rimini.  The Catholic Church has honoured him by marking October 5 as a feast day in his name.

A square at the end of Viale Tripoli has been renamed Piazza Alberto Marvelli in his honour, while the Alberto Marvelli Foundation set up in his name helps fund projects dedicated to the community including the Alberto Marvelli Institute, a comprehensive school in Rimini.

The Grand Hotel on the seafront at Rimini
The Grand Hotel on the seafront at Rimini
Travel tip:

Rimini's history as a tourist resort began in the mid-19th century with the construction of the Kursaal, a seafront bathing establishment that doubled as a prestigious venue for social events.  It became the symbol of Rimini's Belle Époque, the period of European history before the First World War, which also saw the town's first major hotel, the Grand Hotel, built near the beach.  Its major development as a resort came after the Second World War and the city now has a population close to 150,000.

Rimini hotels by  

Travel tip:

Ferrara, the city of Marvelli's birth, is notable for being a combination of Medieval and Renaissance architecture, its history bound up with that of the d'Este family, whose castle has dominated the centre of the city since the late 14th century.  The most significant legacy of the city's thriving status in the Middle Ages is the Cattedrale di San Giorgio, built in the 1100s, which has a facade that blends Romanesque style in the lower section with Gothic in the upper.

5 December 2016

Armando Diaz - First World War general

Neapolitan commander led decisive victory over Austria

General Armando Diaz in 1918
General Armando Diaz in 1918
Armando Diaz, the general who masterminded Italy's victory over Austrian forces at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto in 1918, was born on this day in 1861 in Naples.

The battle, which ended the First World War on the Italian front, also precipitated the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ending more than 200 years of Austrian control of substantial parts of Italy.

The general's announcement of the total defeat of the Austrian Army at Vittorio Veneto sparked one of the greatest moments of celebration in the history of Italy, with some Italians seeing it as the final culmination of the Risorgimento movement and the unification of Italy.

Diaz was born to a Neapolitan father of Spanish heritage and an Italian mother. He decided to pursue his ambitions to of a military career despite the preference for soldiers of Piedmontese background in newly formed Royal Italian Army.

After attending military colleges in Naples and Turin, Diaz served with distinction in the Italo-Turkish War.

In 1914, when the First World War broke out, General Count Luigi Cadorna promoted Diaz to major general and made him Chief of Operations.

Italian troops on the move in Val d'Assa during the Battle of Vittorio Veneto
Italian troops on the move in Val d'Assa
during the Battle of Vittorio Veneto
The disastrous Battle of Caporetto, which took place near what is now the Slovenian town of Kobarid, saw the Royal Italian Army overwhelmed in the face of the Austrian advance, losing 300,000 men. It spelled the end for General Cadorna and Diaz was appointed to replace him as Chief of Staff.

Diaz had to rebuild the army and restore morale after Caporetto, while at the same time making progress against the Austrians.  Yet he proved to be enormously astute. His strategy was defensive but well-timed tactical strikes inflicted significant losses on the enemy.

When the Austrians launched their next offensive, Diaz's forces repelled them and some 150,000 Austrians were killed or wounded.

Diaz was under pressure from the Allies to make gains for Italy to ensure the territorial concessions promised by France and Britain were granted but was determined to bide his time. He did not want to move until what he considered the most opportune moment against a weakened enemy in which unity was beginning to fragment.

That moment came on October 23, 1918, when the Italian offensive was launched against Austro-Hungarian forces at Vittorio - later Vittorio Veneto - the point chosen because Diaz reasoned that the capture of the town, at the midway point of the Austro-Hungarian line across northern Italy, would split the enemy forces in two and make it much more likely their resistance would crumble.

An attack was launched along a line that stretched from Venice through Treviso, Vicenza and Bormio and within seven days Vittorio Veneto had fallen. The Austrians lost 35,000 dead, 100,000 wounded and a further 300,000 to 500,000 were captured as prisoners of war.

By contrast, only 5,800 Italians were killed and 26,000 wounded.

Austro-Hungarian troops captured at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto
Austro-Hungarian troops captured
at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto
As bad as Caporetto had been for Italy, Vittorio Veneto was worse for the Austrians, and not just in terms of casualties. During the offensive, Hungary broke away from Austria and ordered the Hungarian troops on the Italian front to stop fighting.  Czechoslovakia then declared itself independent of Austria, as did Yugoslavia.

Diaz was given much of the credit and in 1921 was appointed to the Senate by King Victor Emmanuel III and given the title 'Duke of Victory'.  In the same year he became the first Italian general to be honoured with a ticker tape parade in New York City when he and other Allied commanders visited the United States.

Diaz became a somewhat controversial figure in the years after the First World War, persuading Victor Emmanuel III against the military action that might have prevented Mussolini's Fascists coming to power.

The King had wanted his soldiers to be ready to fire on Mussolini's armed Blackshirts if they went ahead with their planned 'march on Rome' in October 1922 but Diaz, aware of significant support for Mussolini's nationalistic ambitions within the army's rank and file, feared there might be a mutiny if the order was given.

As a result, the Blackshirts were unopposed and Mussolini was invited to form a government.

Diaz was then appointed Minister of War in the first Fascist cabinet and later promoted to the rank of Marshal of Italy.

He retired in 1924 in failing health and died in Rome in 1928 at the age of 66.  He was buried in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. 

Travel tip:

Vittorio Veneto is a town of some 28,000 people in the Province of Treviso, in Veneto, situated between the Piave and Livenza rivers at the foot of the mountain region known as the Prealpi.  It was formed from the joining of the communities of Serravalle and Ceneda in 1866 and named Vittorio in honour of Victor Emmanuel II.  The Veneto suffix was added in 1923 to commemorate the decisive battle.

Hotels in Vittorio Veneto by

The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri off Rome's Piazza della Repubblica
The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri
off Rome's Piazza della Repubblica
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, which was built inside the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian off Rome's Piazza della Repubblica to a design by Michelangelo, was the official state church of the Kingdom of Italy (1870-1946). It hosts the tombs of both General Armando Diaz and Admiral Paolo Thaon di Revel, the First World War naval commander, and is today used for funerals of Italian soldiers killed abroad.

Hotels in Rome by Expedia

More reading:

Villa Giusti armistice formerly ends the First World War in Italy

Mussolini and the rise of Italian Fascism

The abdication of Victor Emmanuel III

Also on this day:

1443: Birth of Julius II - the pope who commissioned Michelangelo's greatest works

(Picture credit: Basilica by Bgabel via Wikimedia Commons)


9 September 2016

Oscar Luigi Scalfaro – President of Italy

Devout lawyer served the Republic all his life

Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, who was the ninth President of the Italian Republic
Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, who was the ninth
President of the Italian Republic
The ninth President of the Italian Republic, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, was born on this day in 1918 in Novara.

After studying law and entering the magistrature he became a public prosecutor and is the last Italian attorney to have obtained a death sentence.

In 1945 he prosecuted the former Novara prefect Enrico Vezzalini and five servicemen, who were accused of collaborating with the Germans. All six were condemned to death and the sentence was carried out a few months later.

Subsequently Scalfaro obtained another death sentence, but the accused was pardoned before the execution could take place.

Scalfaro was brought up to be a devout Catholic and studied law at Milan’s Università Cattolica.

Before the war ended he lost his wife, Maria Inzitari, who died a few weeks after giving birth to their daughter. He never remarried.

In 1948, as a member of Democrazia Cristiana, Scalfaro became a deputy representing Turin and was to keep the seat for more than 40 years, during which he held a number of leadership positions within the Christian Democrat party and in the Chamber of Deputies.

The cloister at the Università Cattolica in Milan, the largest private university in Europe
The cloister at the Università Cattolica in Milan, the
largest private university in Europe
At various times Scalfaro was the minister in charge of transport, civil aviation, education and the interior and, in 1987, he tried unsuccessfully to form a Government himself.

He was elected President of the Republic in 1992 and served till 1999. He then became a Senator for life.

He campaigned for the ‘No’ side in the 2006 referendum on constitutional reform and also served briefly as President of the Senate, despite by then being in his late eighties.

Scalfaro died in Rome in 2012 at the age of 93.

The 121m cupola of the Basilica of San Gaudenzio dominates the Novara skyline
The 121m cupola of the Basilica of San
Gaudenzio dominates the Novara skyline
Travel tip:

Novara, where Oscar Luigi Scalfaro was born, is in the Piedmont region to the west of Milan. In the historic centre you can still see part of the ancient Roman walls. The most imposing monument, which has become the symbol of Novara, is the Basilica of San Gaudenzio with its 121-metre high cupola designed by Alessandro Antonelli.

Travel tip:

The seat of the Italian Senate is Palazzo Madama in Rome, which was built on top of the ancient baths of Nero close to Piazza Navona at the end of the 15th century for the Medici family. The Palazzo takes its name from Madama Margherita of Austria, the illegitimate daughter of the Emperor Charles V, who married Alessandro dè Medici. In 1871 after the conquest of Rome by Victor Emmanuel’s troops, Palazzo Madama became the seat of the Senate of the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy.

More reading:

How Moro tragedy blighted career of President Cossiga

(Photo of Universita Cattolica by Scruch CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Novara cupola by Guido06 CC BY-SA 3.0)


10 February 2016

Ernesto Teodoro Moneta – Nobel Prize winner

Supporter of Garibaldi was also an ‘apostle for peace’

Moneta was a supporter of Garibaldi but also a pacifist
Ernesto Teodoro Moneta
Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, who was at times both a soldier and a pacifist, died on this day in 1918.

Moneta was only 15 when he was involved in the Five Days of Milan uprising against the Austrians in 1848, but in later life he became a peace activist.

He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1907, but publicly supported Italy’s entry into the First World War in 1915. On the Nobel Prize official website he is described as ‘a militant pacifist’.

Moneta was born in 1833 to aristocratic parents in Milan. He fought next to his father to defend his family home during the revolt against the Austrians and then went on to attend the military academy in Ivrea.

In 1859 Moneta joined Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand and fought in the Italian army against the Austrians in 1866.

He then seemed to become disillusioned with the struggle for Italian unification and cut short what had been a promising military career.

For nearly 30 years Moneta was editor of the Milan democratic newspaper, Il Secolo. Through the columns of his newspaper he campaigned vigorously for reforms to the army which would strengthen it and reduce waste and inefficiency.

During this time Moneta also wrote his work Wars, Insurrection and Peace in the 19th Century, in which he describes the development of the international peace movement.

He wrote articles for pamphlets and periodicals and gave lectures campaigning for peace. In 1887 he founded the Lombard Association for Peace and Arbitration, which called for disarmament.

Alongside Louis Renault, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1907.

But Moneta’s Italian patriotism led him to support the Italian conquest of Libya in 1912 and later publicly express his agreement with Italy’s entry into the First World War.

Travel tip:

There is a monument to Moneta in the Porta Venezia Gardens in Milan. The inscription reads: ‘Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, garibaldine, thinker, journalist, apostle of peace among free people.’  The gardens are the largest public park in the city and a rare area of greenery in Milan. They are next to the Bastioni di Porta Venezia, part of the walls built to defend Milan in the 16th century.

Find a Milan hotel with

The Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea is a carnival tradition
The Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea, in which fighting
can be particularly intense. 
Travel tip:

Ivrea, where Moneta attended a military academy, is a town in the province of Turin in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. It has a 14th century castle and the ruins of a first century Roman theatre that would have been able to hold 10,000 spectators. During the annual carnival before Easter, Ivrea stages the Battle of the Oranges, where teams of locals on foot throw oranges at teams riding in carts.

3 November 2015

Villa Giusti armistice

Talks held at villa in Padova end First World War in Italy

The Villa Giusti, owned by Count Giusti del Giardino, just outside Padua, was the scene of the historic treaty signing
The Villa Giusti, owned by Count Giusti del Giardino, just
outside Padua, was the scene of the historic treaty signing
An armistice signed between Italy and Austria-Hungary at Villa Giusti near Padua ended World War I on the Italian front on this day in 1918.

After the Allied troops were victorious in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, the Austria-Hungary commanding officers asked for a ceasefire and for peace talks.

They were invited to Villa Giusti at Mandria just outside Padua, which was owned by Count Giusti del Giardino, a former mayor of Padua and an Italian senator.

The principal signatories on the Italian side were Tenente Generale Pietro Badoglio and Maggior Generale Scipione Scipioni. Leading the Austria-Hungary delegation was General Viktor Weber Edler von Webenau.

During the war, the Villa Giusti had been the temporary residence of King Victor Emmanuel III when he was away from the front.

The signing of the armistice came after the commanders of the Austro-Hungarian Army sought a ceasefire. Their troops were fatigued, while at home the Austro-Hungarian Empire was tearing itself apart under ethnic lines. If the empire were to survive, it would have to withdraw from the war.

As the Battle of Vittorio Veneto reached a near-stalemate, the Austro-Hungarian force started a chaotic withdrawal. While a truce was being negotiated, the Italians reached Trento and Udine and landed in Trieste.  The Austro-Hungarians at first threatened to pull out of the talks, but on November 3 they accepted the armistice.

The armistice was seen by many Italians as the final phase of the Risorgimento, the movement started in 1815 to unify Italy. The bells of a nearby church rang out when news came from the villa that the armistice had been agreed.

Travel tip:

Villa Giusti in Via Armistizio, Mandria, is just outside Padua. Guided visits can be made to the villa by arrangement. The furniture in the room where negotiations were conducted remains just as it was on that day. Visitors can even see the round table on which the armistice was signed. Tel: +39 049 867 0492.

Vittorio Veneto's present day Piazza del Popolo, with the city's Municipio (Town Hall) in the background
Vittorio Veneto's present day Piazza del Popolo, with the
city's Municipio (Town Hall) in the background
Travel tip:

Two separate towns in the Veneto region, Ceneda and Serravalle, were merged and renamed Vittorio in 1866 in honour of King Vittorio Emanuele II. After the last, decisive battle in the First World War had taken place nearby, the city was renamed Vittorio Veneto. Franco Zeffirelli shot some of the scenes for his film version of Romeo and Juliet against the backdrop of 15th century buildings in Seravalle.

Also on this day:

(Picture credit: Municipio at Vittorio Veneto by Mauro)