Showing posts with label 1939. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1939. Show all posts

25 November 2019

Rosanna Schiaffino – actress

Dramatic life of Italian sex goddess

Rosanna Schiaffino became a movie goddess in the mould of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida
Rosanna Schiaffino became a movie goddess in
the mould of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida
Film star Rosanna Schiaffino, who for more than 20 years, between the 1950s and the 1970s, starred opposite the most famous actors of the period, was born on this day in 1939 in Genoa in Liguria.

Schiaffino worked for some of Italian cinema’s greatest directors, but in the 1980s turned her back on the cinema world to marry the playboy and steel industry heir, Giorgio Falck, entering a relationship that descended into acrimony after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Born into a wealthy family, Schiaffino was encouraged in her acting ambitions by her mother, who paid for her to go to a drama school.  She entered beauty contests and won the title of Miss Liguria when she was just 14.

She also took some modelling jobs and her photograph appeared in many magazines. She was spotted by the film producer Franco Cristaldi, who paired her with Marcello Mastroianni in Un ettaro di cielo (Piece of the Sky) in 1959.

Schiaffino made her name in her second film for Cristaldi, La Sfida (The Challenge), directed by Francesco Rosi, in which she gave a powerful, but sensitive performance as a Neapolitan girl, inspired by the real life character of Pupetta Maresca, a former beauty queen who became a famous Camorra figure after killing the murderer of her husband in revenge.  The film won acclaim at the 1958 Venice film festival.

She  won an award for her performance as Lucrezia in the film La Mandragola (The Mandrake), an adaptation of a play by Niccolò Machiavelli.

Schiaffino and Marcello Mastroianni in a  scene from A Piece of the Sky
Schiaffino and Marcello Mastroianni in a
scene from A Piece of the Sky
Schiaffino was often referred to as ‘the Italian Hedy Lamarr’ but she was more of a sex goddess in the style of Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.

In 1966 she married the film producer Alfredo Bini, with whom she had a daughter, Antonella. They would divorce in 1976.

After making more than 40 films, working with directors including Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roberto Rossellini and Jean-Luc Godard, Rosanna gave up acting to enjoy a new life mixing with the jet set, her activities often featuring in gossip magazines all over the world.

During the summer of 1980 in Portofino, she met Giorgio Falck, who was newly divorced, and they had a well publicised affair. They had a son, Guido, in 1981 and were married in 1982.

In 1991 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and the marriage then went into decline. They divorced after unpleasant disputes over the custody of their son and the allocation of money.

She died of the illness in 2009, aged 69, in Milan.

The maritime city of Genoa is the capital of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy
The maritime city of Genoa is the capital of Liguria and
the sixth largest city in Italy
Travel tip:

Genoa, where Rosanna Schiaffino was born, is the capital city of the region of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy. It has earned the nickname of La Superba because of its proud history as a major port. Part of the old town was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2006 because of the wealth of beautiful 16th century palaces there.

The picturesque fishing village of Portofino has become a draw for artists and celebrities
The picturesque fishing village of Portofino has become
a draw for artists and celebrities
Travel tip:

The region of Liguria in northwest Italy is also known as the Italian Riviera. It runs along a section of the Mediterranean coastline between France and Tuscany and is dotted with pretty seaside villages, with houses painted in different pastel colours.  The fishing village of Portofino, about an hour’s drive southeast along the coast from Genoa, has become famous for its picturesque harbour and for its associations with artists and celebrities. A novel published in 1922 is credited with making Portofino famous. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim was inspired by the author’s stay in Portofino and was made into a film in 1991 with a cast including Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson and Alfred Molina. The film was nominated for three Oscars.

Also on this day:

1343: Amalfi is destroyed by a tsunami

1881: The birth of Pope John XXIII

1950: The birth of writer and entertainer Giorgio Faletti

1955: The birth of choreographer and dancer Bruno Tonioli


9 August 2017

Romano Prodi – politician

Il Professore became prime minister and European Commission president

Romani Prodi was twice Italy's prime minister
Romani Prodi was twice Italy's prime minister
Romano Prodi, who has twice served as prime minister of Italy, was born on this day in 1939 in Scandiano in Emilia-Romagna.

A former academic, who was nicknamed Il Professore by the Italians, Prodi was also president of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004.

Prodi graduated from the Catholic University in Milan in 1961 and studied as a postgraduate at the London School of Economics.

After moving up to become professor of economics at Bologna University, Prodi served the Italian government as minister for industry in 1978.

In 1996 after two productive stints as chairman of the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction, Prodi set his sights on becoming Italy’s prime minister and built a centre-left base of support known as the Olive Tree coalition.

While Silvio Berlusconi used television to campaign, Prodi went on a five-month bus tour round Italy, calling for more accountability in government. His approach appealed to the voters and his coalition won by a narrow margin.

Prodi was appointed prime minister of Italy for the first time on May 17, 1996.

Silvio Berlusconi twice lost out to Prodi in Italian elections
Silvio Berlusconi twice lost out to
Prodi in Italian elections
He remained prime minister for two years and four months, during which time he privatised telecommunications and reformed the government’s employment and pension policies. He significantly reduced the budget deficit to facilitate the country’s acceptance into the European Monetary Union, a task that had seemed impossible before he took office.

When he lost support from left-wing members of his coalition following disputes over the country’s proposed budget, he had to resign in October 1998.

The following year Prodi was appointed president of the European Commission after the entire 20-member commission was forced to resign following charges of widespread fraud and corruption.

During his five-year term, the EU expanded beyond its western European roots to include Malta, Cyprus and eight other countries.

After his term as president of the European Commission ended in 2004, Prodi returned to Italian politics and campaigned to become prime minister again in 2006, pledging to improve the country’s ailing economy and withdraw troops from Iraq.

Prodi with his wife, Flavia Franzoni
Prodi with his wife, Flavia Franzoni
Prodi’s centre-left coalition won a narrow victory over Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right group. Berlusconi initially contested the results but resigned in May 2006.

Prodi’s second term in office lasted one year and eight months until he resigned in January 2008 after losing a confidence vote.

Later that year, Prodi was selected to become president of the African Union-UN peace keeping panel. He is currently serving as the UN Special Envoy for the Sahel.

Prodi has received 20 honorary degrees from institutions in Italy and throughout the rest of the world.

Prodi shares his home town of Scandiano with the biologist  Lazzaro Spallanzani, whose statue in the main square
Prodi shares his home town of Scandiano with the biologist
Lazzaro Spallanzani, whose statue in the main square
Travel tip:

Scandiano, where Romano Prodi was born, is in the province of Reggio Emilia in Emilia-Romagna. The town was founded in 1262 when a defensive castle was built and houses later developed round it. Scandiano was ruled by the princes of Este between 1645 and 1796. The current holder of the title of Marquis of Scandiano is Prince Lorenz of Belgium, Archduke of Austria-Este, who is also the Duke of Modena. Since the 1960s the town has been an important centre for the production of tiles.

Travel tip:

Romano Prodi and his wife, Flavia, had two sons, Giorgio and Antonio. The family still lives in Bologna, where Prodi used to teach at the University. Bologna has the oldest university in the world, which was established in 1088 and attracted popes and kings as well as students of the calibre of Dante, Copernicus and Boccaccio. The oldest university building, the Archiginnasio, is open to the public from Monday to Saturday between 9 am and 1 pm, and is admission free.

23 April 2017

Stefano Bontade - Mafia supremo

Well-connected Cosa Nostra boss had links to ex-premier Andreotti

Stefano Bontade, head of  major crime family in Palermo
Stefano Bontade, head of  major
crime family in Palermo
Stefano Bontade, one of the most powerful and well connected figures in the Sicilian Mafia in the 1960s and 1970s, was born on this day in 1939 in Palermo, where he was murdered exactly 42 years later in a birthday execution that sparked a two-year war between the island’s rival clans.

Known as Il Falco – the Falcon – he was said to have close links with a number of important politicians on Sicily and with the former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti.

He was strongly suspected of being a key figure in the 1962 murder of Enrico Mattei, the president of Italy’s state-owned oil and gas conglomerate ENI, and in the bogus kidnapping of Michele Sindona, the disgraced banker who used the Vatican Bank to launder the proceeds of Cosa Nostra heroin trafficking.

Born into a Mafia family, Bontade controlled the Villagrazia area in the south-west of Palermo and became head of the Santa Maria di Gesù crime family at the age of 25 when his father, Francesco Paolo Bontade, a major Cosa Nostra boss known as Don Paolino, stepped down in failing health.

He was banished to the mainland, specifically Qualiano in Campania, following his arrest in 1972 after Pietro Scaglione, the chief prosecutor of Palermo, had been murdered.  A sustained crackdown on Mafia activity following the Ciaculli Massacre of 1963 had achieved significant progress in cutting off the organisation’s income streams but, ironically, the banishment of bosses in Bontade’s generation backfired on the authorities.

Along with others, Bontade made new contacts with Mafiosi on the mainland and their involvement in cigarette smuggling and heroin trafficking enabled them to rebuild their powerbase in Sicily.  Bontade became part of a network involved with the processing and trafficking of heroin from Turkey to the streets of cities in the United States, where it was distributed by the Gambino family.

Gambino family boss Carlo Gambino
Gambino family boss Carlo Gambino
Bontade’s links with Cosa Nostra figures in the US were seemingly behind his alleged organising of the Mattei killing, supposedly requested by a Sicilian-born Mafioso from Philadelphia because Mattei’s policies threatened the profitability of the United States oil industry, in which the American Mafia had vested interests.

Later, the Gambino family enlisted his help in a scheme proposed by Sindona to recover a Cosa Nostra fortune that had been lost when the Franklin National Bank in Long Island, which Sindona controlled and through which much of the laundered heroin proceeds were laundered, collapsed in 1974.

Sindona was in the US awaiting trail on fraud charges connected with the collapse, while being also wanted in Italy in connection with the murder of a police superintendent and a lawyer who were investigating of his failed Banca Privata Italiana.

In what appeared to be a kidnap, he was smuggled out of the US and back to Sicily, where he attempted to blackmail former political allies, including Andreotti, in return for the re-establishment of his banking empire and the recovery of Mafia money.   The plot failed and Sindona was returned to America, where he died in prison, apparently through poisoning, shortly after he was convicted for the murder of the Sicilian lawyer, Giorgio Ambrosoli.

Three times PM Giulio Andreotti
Three times PM Giulio Andreotti
Bontade, a freemason, cultivated a network of connections that included Christian Democrat politicians in Sicily, through whom links could be traced right to the top of Italian politics and to Andreotti, who was prime minister twice in the 1970s and again from 1989-92.

Andreotti is said to have appealed directly to Bontade in a bid to prevent the murder of Christian Democrat politician Piersanti Mattarella, who became a target after promising to smash the Mafia’s public contracts racket on Sicily. According to the evidence of a Mafia pentito, Francesco Marino Mannoia, Bontade threatened Andreotti with wiping out all of his party’s representatives in Sicily unless his demands were met and the Mattarella killing went ahead.

Bontade’s own death in 1981 came after Salvatore Riina, the most powerful figure in the Corleonesi clan from inland Sicily, formed a secret alliance with the Palermo mafioso and Bontade adversary Michele Greco with the aim of seizing control of the heroin trafficking operation.  Riina and Bontade were supposed to be allies as members of the Sicilian Mafia Commission, on which Greco eventually replaced a Bontade ally, Gaetano Badalamenti.

Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino
Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino
Riina and Greco organised the killing of many of Bontade’s friends and associates and tipped off police to arrest others, especially those involved directly with the trafficking network.  Bontade himself was murdered as he drove home from a party to celebrate his 42nd birthday, the execution carried out with a Kalashnikov machine gun by Pino Greco, Michele's nephew and a favoured Riina hitman.

Subsequently, two Bontade allies, Tommaso Buscetta and Salvatore Contorno, became pentiti, and it was largely their evidence that enabled the anti-Mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino to convict 360 Cosa Nostra members in the mid-1980s in the so-called Maxi Trial. Those sent to jail included Greco and Riina, although Riina later exacted revenge by ordering the murders of both Falcone and Borsellino in 1992.

The convent of  San Benedetto il Moro
The convent of  San Benedetto il Moro
Travel tip:

Santa Maria de Gesù, which gave its name to the area of Palermo Bontade controlled at the height of his powers, is actually a village at the foot of Monte Grifone, the 832m (2,730ft) peak that forms part of the Monti di Palermo chain and was once home to a colony of griffon vultures. Panoramic views of the city can be obtained from the Convent of San Benedetto il Moro, the patron saint of Palermo, who died at Santa Maria de Gesù in 1589. In the highest part of town is the tree of San Benedetto, a 500-year-old cypress that according to legend was planted by the saint himself.

The golden mosaics of the Cappella Palatina
The golden mosaics of the Cappella Palatina
Travel tip:

By common consensus, if there is one attraction visitors to Palermo should not miss it is the Cappella Palatina, the extraordinary chapel that occupies the middle level of the three-tiered loggia of the Palazzo dei Normanni in Piazza Indipendenza. Almost every inch of the inside of the chapel is decorated with gold mosaics and inlaid precious stones. The chapel was built by Roger II, the King of Sicily, who hired Byzantine Greek artisans to work on the project in about 1140. The marble floor and walls reflect Islamic influences.

More reading:

How Giulio Andreotti, the great survivor, spent 45 years in government

The anti-Mafia crusade of Giovanni Falcone

A life of corruption and fraud: the failed banker Michele Sindona

Also on this day:

1857: The birth of opera composer Ruggero Leoncavallo

1964: The birth of conductor Gianandrea Noseda

17 March 2017

Giovanni Trapattoni - football coach

His seven Serie A titles is unequalled achievement

Giovanni Trapattoni during his time as Juventus coach
Giovanni Trapattoni during his
time as Juventus coach
Giovanni Trapattoni, the former Juventus and Internazionale coach who is one of only four coaches to have won the principal league titles of four different European countries, was born on this day in 1939 in Cusano Milanino, a suburb on the northern perimeter of Milan.

The most successful club coach in the history of Serie A, he won seven titles, six with Juventus and one with Inter.  His nearest challengers in terms of most Italian domestic championships are Fabio Capello and Marcello Lippi, each of whom has five Scudetti to his name.

In addition, Trapattoni has also won the German Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, the Portuguese Primeira Liga with Benfica and the Austrian Bundesliga with Red Bull Salzburg, with whom he secured his 10th league title all told in 2007.

Current Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho is among the other three managers to have won titles in four countries.  He has been successful in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain.

Alongside former Bayern Munich coach Udo Lattek, Trapattoni is the only coach to have won all three major European club competitions - the European Cup, the UEFA Cup and the now defunct European Cup-Winners' Cup - and the only one to do it with the same club.  With Juventus, he also won the European Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.

During a career in the dugout that spanned four decades, Trapattoni - often referred to as 'Il Trap' or simply 'Trap' -  was in charge at nine different clubs, including five in Italy.  He has also tasted international management twice, with the Italian national side and with the Republic of Ireland.

Trapattoni (right) and his assistant Marco Tardelli on the bench with the Republic of Ireland
Trapattoni (right) and his assistant Marco Tardelli on the
bench with the Republic of Ireland
He built his achievements around a method that combined elements of 'catenaccio' - for many years the defensive foundation of Italy's best teams - and the 'total football' pioneered by the Dutch coach Rinus Michels in the 1970s. His biggest regret was that he could not translate it to success with the Azzurri after he succeeded Dino Zoff as Italy coach in 2000.

Trapattoni's team qualified unbeaten for the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea but in the finals were knocked out in the round of 16 in controversial circumstances by the co-hosts, South Korea, when a number of decisions by Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno went against Italy, leading many Italian commentators and Trapattoni himself to suspect a conspiracy to keep the Koreans in the tournament.

He also led them to the finals of Euro 2004 but the Azzurri this time failed to survive the group stage, their fate sealed when the final group match, between Denmark and Sweden, ended in a draw, which resulted in Italy's elimination. Trapattoni was replaced by Lippi as coach soon afterwards.

Trapattoni entered coaching after a massively successful playing career with AC Milan.

Trapattoni with goalkeeper Fabio Cudicini and coach Nereo Rocco after the 1968 Cup-Winners' Cup Final
Trapattoni with goalkeeper Fabio Cudicini and coach
Nereo Rocco after the 1968 Cup-Winners' Cup Final
A central defender or defensive midfielder in the Milan team in which Gianni Rivera was creative star, Trapattoni won two Serie A titles and two European Cups during his 12 years with the rossoneri, also winning the Cup-Winners' Cup, the European Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.

Apart from one season with Varese at the end of his career, he played only for AC Milan. It was there that he began life as a coach, looking after the youth team and, for one season, the senior team before Juventus took him to Turin, where he enjoyed immediate success, leading his new team to the Serie A title in his first year in charge.

After four titles in his first six seasons with Juve, he took the bianconeri to the European Cup final in 1983, where they lost to Hamburg.  Two years later, he won the European Cup, although the victory over reigning champions Liverpool in Brussels was rendered hollow by the crowd violence at the Heysel Stadium, where 39 fans - mainly Italians - were killed when a wall collapsed.

Following a decade with Juve that brought six Serie A titles, two Coppe Italia and all the European glory, Trapattoni moved to Inter, where he won his seventh Serie A crown, then back to Juve, adding the 1993 UEFA Cup to his long list of silverware, before venturing abroad for the first time, with Bayern Munich.

Giovanni Trapattoni
Giovanni Trapattoni
He left Munich after just one season to become coach at Cagliari, where he was sacked for the first time in his career in 1996, before a triumphant second spell in Germany, in which he led Munich to the Bundesliga title in 1997.  Next stop was Fiorentina, whom he took into the Champions League.

After his disappointing four years in charge of the national side, Trapattoni's next five seasons took him to Benfica, Stuttgart and Salzburg.  After winning his ninth and 10th national titles, he returned to international football in slightly unexpected circumstances, taking over as coach of the Republic of Ireland team in 2008.

His biggest achievement with the Irish was qualification for the Euro 2012, hosted by Poland and Ukraine, although in some ways it was small consolation for failing to reach the World Cup finals in 2010, when Ireland earned a play-off against France only to be beaten by a contentious goal from William Gallas in the second leg in Paris after Thierry Henry handled the ball twice in the build-up.

Away from football, Trapattoni, who came from a working class background, has been married for 53 years to Paola. They have two children and a number of grandchildren.

A religious man, he is a follower of the Catholic institution Opus Dei and has been known to sprinkle holy water on the field before a game.  In 2010, he realised a lifetime's ambition by coaching the Vatican City team for a match against an Italian police team.

Cusano Milanino, notable for its leafy thoroughfares, is served by Milan's extensive tram network
Cusano Milanino, notable for its leafy thoroughfares, is
served by Milan's extensive tram network
Travel tip:

Although the history of the town of Cusano goes back to the fourth century, the 20th century brought a change in its character due to the development of the garden city of Milanino, the first to be built in Italy along the lines of those that began to appear in England at the end of the 19th century. With the support of a co-operative movement founded by Luigi Buffoli, Milanino was created to meet the housing needs of the middle class, consisting of elegant villas and cottages, in Art Nouveau and eclectic styles, interspersed with numerous green spaces, which are a particular rarity in the urbanised northern outskirts of Milan. The area became known as Cusano Milanino in 1915.

Milan's stunning Gothic cathedral
Milan's stunning Gothic cathedral
Travel tip:

Milan, where Trapattoni spent almost his entire playing career, is to many a more appropriate city to be the capital of Italy than Rome.  The global capital of fashion and design, it is also home to Italy's stock exchange, a financial hub and a city with a wealth of culture and history. The striking Gothic Duomo di Milano is one of the finest cathedrals in Europe, there are numerous prestigious art galleries and the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent houses Leonardo da Vinci’s mural The Last Supper.  The city has one of the world's most important opera houses in Teatro alla Scala and two of Europe's leading football clubs in AC Milan, for whom Trapattoni played and coached, and Internazionale, where he coached.

18 May 2016

Giovanni Falcone - anti-Mafia crusader

Sicilian lawyer made life's work of taking on Cosa Nostra 

Photo of Giovanni Falcone with Paolo Borsellino
Giovanni Falcone (left), pictured with his fellow anti-Mafia
magistrate Paolo Borsellino. Both were murdered in 1992
Giovanni Falcone, who would become known as an anti-Mafia crusader during his career as a judge and prosecuting magistrate, was born on this day in 1939 in Palermo.

The son of a state clerk, he was raised in a poor district of the Sicilian city. Some of the boys with whom he played football in the street would go on to become Mafiosi but Falcone was determined from an early age that he would not be drawn into their world.

Educated at the local high school, he studied law at Palermo University. In 1966, at the age of 27, he was appointed a judge in Trapani, a crime-ridden port on the west coast of Sicily and began his lifelong quest to defeat the criminal organisation.

In time, Falcone became the Mafia's most feared enemy and by 1987, when he was the chief prosecutor at the so-called 'maxi-trial' in Palermo which convicted 342 members of the so-called Cosa Nostra, the likelihood he would be murdered meant he could not leave home without a heavily armed police escort.

He worked in a bomb-proof bunker underneath the city's law courts. His home was similarly protected and when he travelled between the two it was with a convoy of armoured police cars.

Yet he refused to be cowed, even when a wave of Mafia reprisals led to the deaths of many of his colleagues.  The first was Gaetano Costa, Palermo's chief magistrate, who was murdered shortly after signing 80 arrest warrants for Mafia bosses that Falcone's investigations had linked to mobsters in America.

The assassination of Boris Giuliano, the Head of Police in Palermo, soon followed, after which Falcone was assigned to a select pool of anti-Mafia judges and prosecutors.

In 1982 Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, the carabinieri general who had smashed the Red Brigades, was despatched to Palermo to co-ordinate Rome's anti-Mafia policy. Only 100 days after taking office, he was machine-gunned to death in the street.

Falcone became effective head of the anti-Mafia drive after its co-ordinator, Judge Rocco Chinnici, was blown up by a car bomb in July 1983.

His work led to the dramatic 'maxi-trial' of 1986-87, in which 8,000 pages of evidence, much of it based on information passed on by pentiti - the Mafiosi turned informants - led to the conviction of 342 gang members.

They received sentences totalling 2,665 years in prison, including 19 life sentences, although the success of the operation was much undermined when all bar around 30 of those found guilty were later released on appeal, with doubts expressed over the validity of testimony from informants.

After the 'maxi-trial', Falcone had hoped to be appointed chief prosecutor in Palermo but was denied the opportunity.

Instead, he took a position in Rome with the Ministry of Justice, where he was successful in preparing a decree that overturned the judgment of the Supreme Court to quash so many of the 'maxi-trial' convictions and led to the re-arrest of many Mafia bosses.  In another judgment by the Supreme Court, in January 1992, the original convictions were upheld.

Falcone died four months later, on one of the visits to his home in Palermo he made every week. He was killed when a half-ton of explosives was detonated under a section of the coastal motorway he always used on his way from the airport. His wife, Francesca, died with him, along with three police officers.

The assassination had been ordered by the head of the Corleonesi faction of the Sicilian Mafia, Salvatore "Toto" Riina, who was arrested the following year and jailed for life.  Less than two months after Falcone's death, his friend and close associate in the anti-Mafia fight, the magistrate Paolo Borsellino, was killed by a car bomb in Palermo.

Photo of the Cappelli Palatina in Palermo
Gold mosaics line the ceilings of the Cappella Palatina,
one of Palermo's main tourist attractions 
Travel tip:

Despite its inevitable association with the criminal underworld, Palermo is an attractive tourist destination, a vibrant city with a wealth of history, culture, art, music and food. It has many outstanding restaurants as well as fine examples of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque churches, palaces and buildings.  Top attractions include the extraordinary Cappella Palatina, featuring Byzantine mosaics decorated with gold leaf and precious stones.

Travel tip:

Sicily's most famous coastal resort is the clifftop town of Taormina, overlooking the Ionian coast. Full of restaurants and shops, with beaches nearby, it is rich in history. The Greek amphitheatre, with its panoramic view of Mount Etna and the coast, is used for concerts and plays, and the town's old streets are enclosed within medieval walls.

(Photo from Cappella Palatinia by Woodguy CC BY-SA 3.0)


29 March 2016

Terence Hill – actor

Film star progressed from playing cowboys to become a popular parish priest

Terence Hill was born as Mario Girotti on this day in 1939 in Venice.

He became an actor as a child and went on to have many starring roles in films, particularly spaghetti westerns.

Don Matteo has been a long-running show on Italian television with Terence Hill in the starring role
Terence Hill (left), born Mario Girotti, in his most famous
role as the parish priest Don Matteo

It was when he began acting in that genre that he changed his name to Terence Hill at the suggestion of one of his producers, who told him that Italian-made westerns were better received in English-speaking countries if the names in the credits sounded American. 

He is said to have settled on Hill after the first name of his German-born mother, Hildegard, and Terence after the name of a Roman poet and playwright he admired.

Terence Hill later became a household name in Italy as the actor who played the lead character in the long-running television series, Don Matteo.

Hill lived in Germany as a child but then his family moved to Rome, the capital of Italy’s film industry. When he was 12 years old, Hill was spotted by director Dino Risi and given a part in Vacanze col gangster, an adventure movie in which five youngsters help a dangerous gangster escape from prison.

Other film parts quickly followed and at the height of his popularity, Hill was said to be among the highest-paid actors in Italy.

Hill had a leading role in Visconti's The Leopard
Hill had a leading role in Il Gattopardo
(The Leopard) under his real name
His most famous films are They Call Me Trinity and My Name is Nobody, in which he appeared with Henry Fonda. Another of his films, Django, Prepare a coffin was featured at the 64th Venice film festival in 2007.

Hill also had a major role in Luchino Visconti’s film, The Leopard along with Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon, in which he was listed in the cast under his real name.

Since 2000, on Italian television, Hill has portrayed Don Matteo, an inspirational parish priest who assists the Carabinieri to solve crimes that affect his community in Gubbio.

Hill received an international ‘Outstanding Actor of the Year’ award for this role at the 42nd Monte Carlo television festival.
The next episode of Series 10 of Don Matteo will be shown on Thursday, 31 March at 21.20 Italian time on Rai Uno.

The Piazza della Signoria is at the heart of Gubbio
The Piazza della Signoria in Gubbio
(Photo: Lisa1963 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Gubbio in Umbria, where Don Matteo is filmed, is a small medieval town perched on the lower slopes of Mount Ingino in the Apennines. Via della Repubblica, the main street, leads to Piazza della Signoria where there is a magnificent 14th century palace, Palazzo dei Consoli, which houses the Tavole Eugubine, bronze tablets written in an ancient Umbrian language. From the square there are wonderful views over the town and surrounding countryside.

Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome, the hub of the Italian film industry, is a large studio complex to the south of the city, built during the fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio. The studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there and it has its own dedicated Metro stop.


2 March 2016

Pope Pius XII

Pope elected on 63rd birthday to lead the church during the war

Pope Pius XII during his time as nuncio of Bavaria
Pope Pius XII during his time
as nuncio of Bavaria

Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected Pope and took the name of Pius XII on this day in 1939, his 63rd birthday.

A pre-war critic of the Nazis, Pius XII expressed dismay at the invasion of Poland by Germany later that year.

But the Vatican remained officially neutral during the Second World War and Pius XII was later criticised by some people for his perceived silence over the fate of the Jews.

Pope Pius was born Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli on March 2, 1876 in Rome.

His family had a history of links with the papacy and he was educated at a school that had formerly been the Collegio Romano, a Jesuit College in Rome.

He went on to study theology and became ordained as a priest.

He was appointed nuncio to Bavaria in 1917 and tried to convey the papal initiative to end the First World War to the German authorities without success. After the war he worked to try to alleviate distress in Germany and to build diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the Soviet Union.

He was made a Cardinal priest in 1929 and elected Pope on March 2, 1939. 

When war broke out again he had to follow the strict Vatican policy of neutrality. It is thought he had genuine affection for Germany but he did not like the criminal hands it had fallen into, and he feared Bolshevism.

He used the modern technology of radio to offer sympathy to the victims of war in his broadcasts and towards the end of the war he appealed to the Allies to be lenient.

His supporters say he had sympathy with the Jews and that he tried to help them along with prisoners of war and people who had gone missing during the conflict. But his critics argue that he was too weak and did little to challenge the Nazis.

Pope Pius XII died in 1958 at his residence in Castel Gandolfo to the south of Rome .

Travel tip:

After Pope Pius XII died in Castel Gandolfo he was brought back to Rome to lie in state surrounded by four Swiss Guards. He was then placed in a coffin and buried beneath St Peter’s Basilica in a simple tomb in a small chapel. The Vatican Grottoes beneath the floor of St Peter’s Basilica house the tombs of many dead Popes, including St Peter himself.

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The Pope has his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo
The papal palace in the centre of Castel Gandolfo
(Photo: Ra Boe)
Travel tip:

Castel Gandolfo, where the Pope has his summer residence, overlooks Lake Albano from its wonderful position in the hills south of Rome. The Pope spends every summer in the Apostolic Palace there. Although his villa lies within the town’s boundaries, it is one of the properties of the Holy See. The palace is not under Italian jurisdiction and is policed by the Swiss Guard. The whole area is part of the regional park of Castelli Romani, which has many places of historic and artistic interest to visit.