Showing posts with label 1990. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1990. Show all posts

10 November 2018

Vanessa Ferrari - gymnast

First Italian woman to win a World Championship gold

Vanessa Ferrari is Italy's most successful female gymnast
Vanessa Ferrari is Italy's most
successful female gymnast
The gymnast Vanessa Ferrari, who in 2006 became the first Italian female competitor to win a gold medal at the World Championships of artistic gymnastics, was born on November 10, 1990, in the town of Orzinuovi in Lombardy.

Ferrari won the all-around gold - consisting of uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise - at the World Championships in Aarhus in Denmark when she was only 15 years old. It remains the only artistic gymnastics world title to be won by an Italian woman.

Earlier in 2006, Ferrari had picked up her first gold medal of the European Championships at Volos in Greece as Italy won the all-around team event.

Naturally small in stature, Ferrari was inspired to take up gymnastics by watching the sport on television as a child, when the sport was dominated by Russian and Romanian athletes.

With the help of her Bulgarian-born mother, Galya, who made many sacrifices to help her daughter fulfil her ambitions, Ferrari joined the Brixia gym in the city of Brescia, a 30km (19 miles) drive from the family home.

Brixia was co-founded by Enrico Casella, a former rugby player who was technical director of the Italian women’s gymnastics team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Casella recognised Ferrari’s potential and took it upon himself to become her personal coach.

Vanessa Ferrari became a World champion when she was only 15 years old
Vanessa Ferrari became a World champion
when she was only 15 years old
Ferrari’s first major success came at the 2004 European junior championships, when as a 13-year-old she won the silver medal. She dominated the Mediterranean Games and European Junior Olympic festival the following year. She was all-around champion at both events, as well as winning four more golds at the former.

After her success in the European and World senior events in 2006, she won two gold medals at the 2007 European championships in Amsterdam, finishing first in both the all-around event and the floor exercises.

She could finish only ninth in the all-round when the European championships were held on home ground in Milan in 2009 but collected another medal by finishing runner-up to Great Britain’s Beth Tweddle in the floor exercises.

In Brussels in 2012 she picked up her sixth medal overall with bronze in the team event before bouncing back to win her fourth gold on the floor in Sofia in 2014.

Although she is the most successful of all female Italian gymnasts, an Olympic medal has eluded Ferrari so far, although she has twice narrowly missed out.

At the London Games of 2012 she finished level on points with close rival Aliya Mustafina in the floor exercises only for the Russian to be given the bronze medal on the tie-break system, despite Ferrari finishing with a better mark for difficulty than her rival.

Vanessa Ferrari was injured at the   2017 World Championships
Vanessa Ferrari was injured at the
 2017 World Championships
And at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Ferrari again had to settle for fourth place. This time bronze medallist Amy Tinkler of Great Britain scored higher for difficulty and execution but missing out was again a disappointment for Ferrari because she was in the bronze medal position at the end of qualifying, although it later emerged that she was struggling with an Achilles tendon injury for which she had surgery later in 2016.

Rio was Ferrari’s third Olympics - the most at which any female Italian gymnast has competed - and although she once said she would retire after the 2012 Games she has ambitions to compete at a fourth in Tokyo in 2020 in the hope of clinching that elusive medal.

Since Rio, however, she has another Achilles tendon injury.  She has begun a coaching career alongside competing and hopes to be in Tokyo at least as a coach if not actually on the floor herself.

The Sforzesca Castle at Soncino, one of the neighbouring towns of Ferrari's home town of Orzonuovi
The Sforzesca Castle at Soncino, one of the neighbouring
towns of Ferrari's home town of Orzonuovi
Travel tip:

Orzinuovi is a town in Lombardy of just over 12,500 inhabitants about 30km (19 miles) southwest of Brescia and about 36km (22 miles) northeast of Cremona in an area of historical interest that includes the neighbouring town of Soncino, where there is well-preserved castle - the Rocca Sforzesca - built in 1473 for Galeazzo Maria Sforza and often used nowadays as a location for films and TV series, and the Casa degli Stampatori - Printers' House - where, in 1488, the first complete Jewish Bible in the world was printed.

Il Torrazzo in Cremona is the tallest bell tower in the whole of Italy
Il Torrazzo in Cremona is the tallest bell
tower in the whole of Italy
Travel tip:

Cremona is famous for having the tallest bell tower in Italy, il Torrazzo, which measures more than 112m (367ft) in height. The city is famous for violins, being the home of Antonio Stradivari and the Amati family, and there is a fascinating museum, the Museo Stradivariano in Via Ugolani Dati, which is dedicated to the city’s violin-making tradition of the 16th and 17th centuries. As well as violins, Cremona is also famous for producing confectionery. Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino specialises in the city’s famous torrone (nougat), a concoction of almonds, honey and egg whites created to mark the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza in 1441, when the city was given to the bride as part of her dowry.

More reading:

How Valentina Vezzali became Italy's most successful female athlete

World records and Moscow gold for high jumper Sara Simeoni

Horrific accident that drove Francesca Porcellato to Paralympic glory

Also on this day:

1816: Lord Byron arrives in Venice

1869: The birth of assassin Gaetano Bresci

1928: The birth of film music maestro Ennio Morricone


7 July 2018

1990 World Cup - Italy’s consolation prize

Azzurri beat England for third place

The Italian team that faced England in Bari to decide which nation finished third at the 1990 World Cup
The Italian team that faced England in Bari to decide
which nation finished third at the 1990 World Cup
Italy beat England 2-1 in Bari to claim third place in the World Cup finals, of which they were the host nation, on this day in 1990.

It was a small consolation for the team, managed by Azeglio Vicini, who had played some of the best football of all the competing nations to reach the semi-finals, only to be held to a 1-1 draw by Argentina in Naples and then lose the match on a penalty shoot-out.

Their heartbreak mirrored that suffered by England, who had also suffered a defeat on penalties in their semi-final against West Germany in Turin.

Many neutrals believed that Italy and England would have been more worthy finalists, particularly in retrospect after West Germany had beaten Argentina by a penalty five minutes from the end of 90 minutes in a match of cynical fouls and attritional football that is seen as the poorest World Cup final in the competition’s history.

Azeglio Vicini was Italy's head coach for the 1990 World Cup on home soil
Azeglio Vicini was Italy's head coach for the
1990 World Cup on home soil
The play-off for third place lacked the intensity of a final, reflecting the heavy weight of disappointment each set of players was carrying.

Yet it was important to the Azzurri to finish on a high note and a crowd of 51,426 inside the Stadio San Nicola - a new stadium built specially for Italia ‘90 - saw the game decided with three goals in the final quarter.

The decider was particularly significant - a penalty converted by Salvatore ‘Toto’ Schillaci in the 86th minute.

The goal gave the Sicilian striker, an inspired choice for Vicini’s team who had been the revelation of the tournament, his sixth goal in Italia ‘90, earning him the coveted Golden Boot as the highest goalscorer, ahead of the Czechoslovakia forward Tomáš Skuhravý, whose tally of five included a hat-trick against Costa Rica in the round of 16 but whose team did not progress beyond the quarter-finals.

Italy’s first goal had been scored by Roberto Baggio, then with Fiorentina, who had been another of Italy’s stars. The brilliant playmaker had scored one of the best goals of the tournament against Czechoslovakia in the group stages.

Vicini’s team, in fact, was packed with exciting talent.  With one of the best defences in international football - comprising the AC Milan players Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, and the Internazionale duo Giuseppe Bergomi and Riccardo Ferri - the coach could afford to attack with gusto and in addition to Baggio and Schillaci, he told the likes of Giuseppe Giannini, Roberto Donadoni and Gianluca Vialli to express their creative instincts whenever there was opportunity.

The Azzurri's brilliant playmaker, Roberto Baggio, scored against England
The Azzurri's brilliant playmaker, Roberto
Baggio, scored against England
The match was the first between Italy and England at a World Cup finals. The second, at the Brazil 2014 tournament, also ended in a 2-1 win for the Azzurri, although in the event neither qualified for the round of 16.

Of 27 international meetings in total, eight of them in competitive championship matches, Italy have 10 wins to England’s eight.

Today, England play Sweden in the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, hoping to reach the semi-finals for the first time since Italia ‘90.

Italy, meanwhile, have been absent from the finals for the first time since 1958, their 60-year run of qualifying ended coincidentally by Sweden, who beat them in a two-leg play off last November.

Their new coach is Roberto Mancini, who was a member of Vicini’s squad at Italia ‘90 but did not play.

Renzo Piano's Stadio San Nicola, built especially for the  1990 World Cup finals, is now the home of FC Bari
Renzo Piano's Stadio San Nicola, built especially for the
1990 World Cup finals, is now the home of FC Bari
Travel tip:

The Stadio San Nicola in Bari was designed by the award-winning Italian architect Renzo Piano, whose other creations include the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City and the Shard in London.  He saw the stadium as resembling an open flower, with spectators housed in 26 petals separated from one another by eight-metre wide void spaces. Purpose-built for the 1990 World Cup, it has a capacity of more than 58,000. After the World Cup it was the venue for the 1991 European Cup final between Marseille and Red Star Belgrade and became the home of FC Bari, who currently play in Serie B, the second tier of Italian domestic football.

The Stadio delle Alpi in Turin was unpopular with fans for a variety of reasons
The Stadio delle Alpi in Turin was unpopular with fans
for a variety of reasons
Travel tip:

Work on the Stadio delle Alpi in Turin began in 1988 and was completed in time for the World Cup.  Apart from hosting matches in the Italia ‘90 tournament it was to be the new home of Juventus and FC Torino following the closure of the Stadio Olimpico. But it was never popular. Apart from its out-of-town location - 8km (5 miles) from the city centre - compared with the Olimpico, fans disliked the stadium for giving them a poor viewing experience, mainly because of the distance between the stands and the pitch, with an athletics track surrounding the playing area. Advertising hoardings also affected the view.  Many fans boycotted it. One Coppa Italia match between Juventus and Sampdoria attracted just 237 spectators. It was demolished in 2006. Torino moved to a redeveloped Stadio Olimpico, which they shared with Juve until a purpose-built Juventus Stadium, with no running track, was built on the site of the Stadio delle Alpi.

More reading:

Was Roberto Baggio Italy's greatest player?

Azeglio Vicini and the heartbreak of Italia '90

The golden moment of Salvatore Schillaci

Also on this day:

1573: The death of architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola

1901: The birth of film director Vittorio De Sica


12 August 2017

Mario Balotelli - footballer

Volatile star of Milan clubs and Manchester City

Mario Balotelli in action for Italy's national team
Mario Balotelli in action for Italy's national team
Controversial footballer Mario Balotelli, who has played for both major Milan clubs in Serie A and for Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League in England, was born on this day in 1990 in Palermo.

He currently plays in Ligue 1 in France for Nice, who finished third behind Monaco and Paris St Germain in the 2016-17 season, helped by 15 goals from the Italian international Balotelli.

Balotelli scored 20 goals in 54 Premier League matches for Manchester City and made the pass from which Sergio Aguero scored City’s dramatic late winning goal against Queen’s Park Rangers on the last day of the 2011-12 season, which gave City the title for the first time since 1968.

He had a difficult relationship with City manager Roberto Mancini, with whom he first worked at Internazionale in Milan, and with Mancini’s successor in charge of the nerazzurri, Jose Mourinho.  His volatile temperament has also brought him more red and yellow cards than he and his managers would have liked.

Yet he still won three Serie A winner’s medals with Inter in addition to his English title and won the Coppa Italia with Inter and the FA Cup with Manchester City.

Balotelli is also a Champions League winner, having been part of the Inter squad in 2009-10, when Diego Milito’s two goals beat Bayern Munich in the final in Madrid.

Balotelli was a sensation in his  early days at Internazionale
Balotelli was a sensation in his
early days at Internazionale
The son of Ghanaian immigrants, Balotelli was born Mario Barwuah.  His parents had little money and after the family moved to Bagnolo Mella, a municipality near Brescia, in northern Italy, when he was two, they placed Mario in foster care.  He was a sickly child with intestinal problems and they felt he would do better in a family that could give him a modern home and good food.

He was taken in by Francesco and Silvia Balotelli, a white couple from the town of Concesio, in pretty countryside in the Val Trompia to the north of Brescia. 

Although bureaucratic obstacles prevented the Balotellis from ever adopting Mario formally, they raised him as their own son, alongside their own children Giovanni, Corrado and Cristina, who made him feel part of the family.

Subsequently he came to regard Francesco and Silvia as his true parents and distanced himself from his blood family.  He insisted that without the Balotellis' love and support his football career would not have happened and when he scored twice for the Italian national team as they beat Germany 2-1 in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 in Warsaw his first instinct at the end of the match was to look for his adoptive family in the crowd.

A picture of him embracing Silvia appeared in newspapers round the world.

Much as he felt safe and loved by the Balotellis, he still regularly encountered racism as he grew up.  Although Italy accepts many immigrants, including refugees, from northern Africa, they form a tiny percentage of the population and tend to be more widely scattered than in some European countries.

Mario Balotelli lines up with the Italian national team at the finals of Euro 2012
Mario Balotelli lines up with the Italian national
team at the finals of Euro 2012
Thus, Balotelli’s skin colour made him stand out and many believe his sometimes erratic behaviour is a consequence of feeling he was not accepted as an ordinary Italian as he grew up. It did not help that he was not allowed to apply for Italian citizenship until he was 18.

His talent for football did help, but only up to a point. He encountered jealousy at school and when he made his debut at 15 years of age for Lumezzane, the Serie C club 20 minutes from his home where he took his first steps towards a professional career, he was subjected to racial abuse by a section of the crowd.

This continued after he joined Inter at the age of 16, with racist chants and monkey noises a particular problem in matches against the Turin club Juventus.

Nonetheless, his talent shone through.  He made his Inter debut aged 17 in a friendly in England in November 2007, scoring twice in a match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, to mark the 150th anniversary of Sheffield FC, the world’s oldest association football club. He also scored twice in his first competitive start, in a Coppa Italia match against Reggina on December 19.

Balotelli in his time at Liverpool
Balotelli in his time
at Liverpool
His first Serie A goal came in April the following year against Alalanta in Bergamo as Inter closed in on the 2007-08 Serie A title.

In all, Balotelli scored 20 goals in 59 Serie A appearances for Inter, 20 in 54 Premier League games for Manchester City and 26 in 43 top-flight matches for AC Milan, to whom City sold him in 2013 for €20 million, a move Mancini believed would be better for his career, allowing him to live closer to his family home.

The only fallow periods in his career came at Liverpool, for whom he scored only once in 16 Premier League matches, and in a second spell with AC Milan, on loan, which again yielded just one goal in 20 Serie A appearances.  But his goalscoring form has been restored since moving to France, where his 15 goals for Nice in his first season, following a free transfer from Liverpool, came in 23 Ligue 1 games, including two on his debut against Marseille.

At 18 years and 85 days, Balotelli was the youngest goalscorer in Champions League history when he found the net for Inter against against Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta in November 2008. His career tally of Champions League goals stands at eight, with 13 from 33 appearances for Italy, for whom he last played in the 2014 World Cup finals.

Balotelli has been an object of fascination for the media, from the glossy magazines for whom he has done fashion shoots to the tabloid newspapers in England, who reported many off-field incidents of unusual behaviour, some of the them true, others not.

Val Trompia is notable for spectacular scenery
Val Trompia is notable for spectacular scenery
Travel tip:

Concesio, where Balotelli grew up, is in the Val Trompia, historically a mining area due to its rich mineral deposits. The route between the valley and the city of Brescia has been called La Via del Ferro e delle Miniere - The Road of Iron and Mining - which takes visitors through a largely undiscovered area of forests, adventure parks and ski slopes with many restaurants featuring local cheeses, meats, game and river trout.

The dome of Brescia's Duomo Nuovo
The dome of Brescia's Duomo Nuovo
Travel tip:

Likewise, the city of Brescia tends not to attract many tourists, partly because Bergamo, Verona and the lakes are nearby.  Yet its history goes back to Roman times and there are many notable attractions, including two cathedrals – the Duomo Vecchio and its younger neighbour, the Duomo Nuovo – and the pretty Piazza della Loggia, with a Renaissance palace, the Palazzo della Loggia, which is the town’s municipal centre. 


24 February 2017

Sandro Pertini - popular president

Man of the people who fought Fascism

Sandro Pertini (right) congratulates coach Enzo Bearzot after Italy won the World Cup in Spain in 1982
Sandro Pertini (right) congratulates coach Enzo Bearzot
after Italy won the World Cup in Spain in 1982
Sandro Pertini, the respected and well-liked socialist politician who served as Italy's President between 1978 and 1985, died on this day in 1990, aged 93.

Pertini, a staunch opponent of Fascism who was twice imprisoned by Mussolini and again by the Nazis, passed away at the apartment near the Trevi Fountain in Rome that he shared with his wife, Carla.

After his death was announced, a large crowd gathered in the street near his apartment, with some of his supporters in tears.  Francesco Cossiga, who had succeeded him as President, visited the apartment to offer condolences to Pertini's widow, 30 years his junior.  They had met towards the end of the Second World War, when they were both fighting with the Italian resistance movement.

Pertini's popularity stemmed both from his strong sense of morality and his unwavering good humour.  He had the charm and wit to win over most people he met and was blessed with the common touch.

Sandro Pertini with his customary pipe
Sandro Pertini with his
customary pipe
He would make a point whenever it was possible of appearing in person to greet parties of schoolchildren visiting the presidential palace, sometimes joined the staff for lunch and endeared himself to the nation with his passionate support for Italy's football team at the 1982 World Cup final in Spain.

Pertini's life story was extraordinary.  Born in Stella, in Liguria, in the province of Savona, he was the son of a wealthy landowner and was given an expensive education, culminating in a Law degree from the University of Genoa.

He was patriotic inasmuch as he enlisted to fight in the Italian army in the First World War even though he opposed Italy's involvement, but his politics leaned towards the left.  After the war he joined the Unitary Socialist Party (PSU) and settled in Florence.

Already openly opposed to the Fascists, whose squads of paramilitary thugs beat him up more than once, his attitude hardened considerably when Giacomo Matteotti, the PSU leader, was murdered soon after accusing Mussolini's party of using violence and fraud to influence the 1924 elections.

He was arrested for the first time in 1925 for 'inciting hatred' after attacking the Fascists in print for their "barbarous domination" and sentenced to eight months' jail.  He managed to escape and fled to France.

Sandro Pertini made a point whenever possible of meeting children in person when they visited the presidential palace
Sandro Pertini made a point whenever possible of meeting
children in person when they visited the presidential palace
Pertini kept his head down at first, working as a taxi driver in Paris, but after moving to Nice to work as a bricklayer he was twice prosecuted for his role in political disturbances.  Back in Italy, where he felt compelled to return to join the anti-Fascist underground, he was arrested in connection with a failed plot assassinate Mussolini.

Exiled to Santo Stefano, an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, he was released with the arrest of Mussolini in 1943. Recaptured by the occupying Nazi forces and sentenced to death, he was freed by partisans and joined the anti-Nazi resistance movement.

By then the PSU had rejoined the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) from which it had broken away previously, and after being part of the Constituent Assembly charged with designing the constitution for the new Italian Republic, Pertini was elected to the Chamber of Deputies under the PSI flag.

In 1968 he became president of the Chamber of Deputies and in 1978 President of the Republic, elected as a compromise candidate respected by politicians of the left and right.

Although by then he was 72, the pipe-smoking Pertini did much to restore the credibility of the political system in Italy at a time when the country was demoralised by internal terrorism, corruption scandals and a weak economy. He denounced the violence of the Red Brigades, spoke out against organized crime and expressed his disgust with South African apartheid, the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and other dictatorial regimes. He also criticised the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Pertini was pictured playing cards with Dino Zoff, Franco  Causio, and Enzo Bearzot on the plane home from Spain
Pertini was pictured playing cards with Dino Zoff, Franco
 Causio, and Enzo Bearzot on the plane home from Spain
By the time he left office in 1985, corruption was still a problem but the Anni di piombo - the Years of Lead - had been left behind, the economy was recovering well... and Italy had won the World Cup.

Always his own man, Pertini declined the opportunity to live in the Quirinale Palace, preferring his own apartment, and rather than be ferried around in state-owned limousines he had his wife drive him around Rome in a red Fiat 500.  Despite being an atheist, he had a close friendship with Pope John Paul II. He rushed to the Gemelli Hospital in Rome as soon as news reached him of the assassination attempt against John Paul II in 1981 and refused to go home until doctors assured him the pontiff was out of danger.

After Italy's World Cup victory, he invited the team to a reception at the Quirinale, telling striker Paolo Rossi, whose goals had been vital to the Azzurri triumph, that the chance to congratulate the players made it his "best day as President."

Stella San Giovanni nestles on a hillside overlooking the coast of Liguria, not far from the port of Savona
Stella San Giovanni nestles on a hillside overlooking
the coast of Liguria, not far from the port of Savona
Travel tip:

Sandro Pertini was born in Stella San Giovanni, one of five frazioni that make up an area collectively known as Stella, situated about 15 minutes inland from the Ligurian coastline not far from the sea port of Savona, which is notable for having been a major centre in the Italian iron industry and also as the one-time home of the explorer Christopher Columbus.  Its medieval centre is interesting for the Cathedral of Assunta and the adjoining Cistine Chapel and for the Priamar Fortress, built in 1542 after the Genoese had captured Savona. It later became a prison, where the revolutionary politician Giuseppe Mazzini was once held for being a member of a banned political organisation.

Hotels in Savona from

The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque  fountain in Rome
The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque
 fountain in Rome 
Travel tip:

The Trevi Fountain, which takes its name from the Trevi district in Rome, was commissioned by Pope Clement XII and designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi in slightly controversial circumstances. The Pope had organised a contest for the best design, which Salvi lost to Alessandro Galilei, but awarding the commission to a Florentine caused a public outcry in Rome and to curb unrest it was eventually given to Salvi by default. Standing 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world, playing a starring role in Federico Fellini's film, La Dolce Vita.  Work began in 1732 and the fountain was completed in 1762, long after Salvi's death, with Pietro Bracci - who was responsible for setting Oceanus - the god of all water - in the central niche, taking over.

(Picture credits: all Pertini pictures from; Stella San Giovanni panorama by Davide Papalini; Trevi Fountain by Paul Vlaar; all via Wikemedia Commons)

31 December 2016

Giovanni Michelucci - architect

Designer made mark with railway station and motorway church

Giovanni Michelucci
Giovanni Michelucci 
The architect Giovanni Michelucci, whose major legacies include the Santa Maria Novella railway station in Florence, died on this day in 1990 in his studio just outside the Tuscan city at Fiesole.

Considered by many to be the 'father' of modern Italian architecture, he was only two days away from his 100th birthday.  He was still working and is said to have been inspecting progress on his latest project when he slipped and fell, later suffering a cardiac arrest.

Michelucci, who was born in Pistoia on January 2, 1891, is also remembered for the brilliantly unconventional church of San Giovanni Battista, with its tent-like curved roof, which forms part of a rest area on the Autostrada del Sole as it passes Florence.

The Santa Maria Novella station project for which he first won acclaim came after a collective of young architects known as the Tuscan Group, co-ordinated by Michelucci, beat more than 100 other entries in a national competition in the early 1930s to built a new station behind the church of the same name.

The linear design was loathed by conservatives but loved by modernists, although it could not be said to conform to the style identifiable as Fascist architecture in Italy at the time, which had echoes of classical Roman design, albeit without ornate decoration.

It met with the approval of Fascist leader Mussolini, nonetheless, who approved the design, and it came to be regarded subsequently as a masterpiece of rationalist architecture. The stone of its exterior blended with the historic colours of Florence, yet a spacious entrance hall and gallery with a thermolux and steel roof made it functional and modern.

Santa Maria Novella railway station in Florence
Santa Maria Novella railway station in Florence
The station was built between 1932 and 1935, almost 30 years before Michelucci's second landmark work, which he undertook at the age of 73 after the highways authority commissioned him to design a church that would both honour the memory of those who died in the construction of the motorway and provide a 'parish for tourists', where travellers could break their journeys to worship.

The church, in concrete and stone, is built around a traditional 'cross' floor plan with tent-like vertical elements, rising to a height of 27.5 metres (90 feet), giving it a modern feel. The roof is of copper, oxidised to a blue-green colour on the outside and burnished blond on the inside, with marble, glass and bronze used for other interior features.

Michelucci came from a family which owned a craft iron workshop, which gave him his introduction to design. He graduated from the Higher Institute of Architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence before teaching at the Institute of Architecture of Florence, where he could later become Dean.

During his military service in the First World War, he built his first architectural work, a chapel for soldiers on the eastern front in Casale Ladra, near Caporetto in what is now Slovenia.

In the early 1920s, Michelucci taught in Rome, the city where he married the painter Eloisa Pacini. He returned to Florence in 1928.

Michelucci's church of San Giovanni Battista
Michelucci's 'motorway' church of San Giovanni Battista
Other important works in Tuscany include a 1936 town plan for Pistoia, the classicist-style Palazzo del Governo in Arezzo the same year and the Borsa Merci in Pistoia (1950).

In Florence, he designed an urban plan for the Sorgane neighbourhood of Florence in 1955) and the Cassa di Risparmio of Florence in 1957.  The Inn of the Red Crawfish at the Pinocchio Park in Collodi (1963) is his, as is the skyscraper in Piazza Matteotti in Livorno (1966).

His biggest disappointments were the rejection of his plans for reconstruction of the Ponte Vecchio area after the Second World War II and for restoring the buildings around Piazza Santa Croce after the 1966 flood.

However, Michelucci did become involved with the reconstruction work necessitated by the Vajont Dam disaster in the mountains above Venice in 1963, in particular the village of Longarone, where he designed a memorial church.

Always an architect who wanted his buildings to benefit the people who used them, in his later years he concentrated almost entirely on what might be deemed social projects, designing churches, schools, hospitals, and prisons. He also devoted time and energy to setting up the Michelucci Foundation to support research into urban planning and modern architecture and to promote his own values and ideals.

Travel tip:

Florence's railway station was opened on February 3, 1848, to serve the railway lines to Pistoia and Pisa. It was initially called Maria Antonia in honour of Princess Maria Antonia of the Two Sicilies but was renamed after the church of Santa Maria Novella after the unification of Italy.  Nowadays, the station is used by 59 million people every year and is one of the busiest in Italy, with high speed lines to Rome and Bologna.

The 11th century cathedral of Fiesole
The 11th century cathedral of Fiesole
Travel tip:

Fiesole, situated in an elevated position about 8km (5 miles) north-east of Florence, has since the 14th century been a popular place to live for wealthy Florentines and even to this day remains the richest municipality in Florence.  Formerly an important Etruscan settlement, it was also a Roman town of note, of which the remains of a theatre and baths are still visible.  Fiesole's cathedral, built in the 11th century, is supposedly built over the site of the martyrdom of St. Romulus.

More reading:

Ulisse Stacchini's architectural legacy to Milan

Pier Luigi Nervi - from football stadiums to churches

How Marcello Piacentini's designs symbolised Fascist ideals

Also on this day:

New Year's Eve - the Festa di San Silvestro

(Picture credits: Motorway church by Luca Aless)


20 March 2016

Azeglio Vicini - 1990 World Cup coach

Semi-final heartbreak ended dream of victory on home soil

Azeglio Vicini was Italy's coach at the 1990 World Cup finals
Azeglio Vicini
Azeglio Vicini, the coach who led Italy to the semi-finals when the nation hosted the 1990 World Cup finals, celebrates his 83rd birthday today.

Born in the city of Cesena in Emilia-Romagna, on this day in 1934, Vicini worked for the Italian Football Federation for an unbroken 23 years in various roles, having joined their technical staff in 1968 after less than one season as a coach at club level.

He was head coach of the Italy Under-23 and Italy Under-21 teams before being succeeding World Cup winner Enzo Bearzot as coach of the senior Italy side in 1986.

Vicini's brief with the senior team was an onerous one.  When Italy won the right to host the 1990 World Cup finals there was an expectation among Italian football's hierarchy that a nation with such a proud history should be capable of winning the tournament on home soil.

Responsibility for producing a team good enough rested squarely on Vicini's shoulders but he was well prepared, having guided his under-21 team to the later stages of the European Championships consistently and brought through the likes of Roberto Mancini, Giuseppe Giannini, Roberto Donadoni, Walter Zenga and Gianluca Vialli, all of whom played in the 1986 European Under-21 Championships final.

Vicini is credited with helping Bearzot devise the defensive strategy behind Italy's triumph at the 1982 World Cup in Spain and his plans for the 1990 finals were built around one of the best defences in the history of the tournament, comprising the AC Milan players Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, and the Internazionale duo Giuseppe Bergomi and Riccardo Ferri.

He brought through some fine creative talent, too. Roberto Baggio, the brilliant playmaker from Fiorentina, scored one of the goals of the tournament against Czechoslovakia in the group stages, while Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci, an inspired choice with only one international appearance before the finals, famously scored within two minutes of being sent on as a substitute in Italy's opening group match against Austria and went on to win the Golden Boot as the tournament's leading goalscorer.

Roberto Baggio starred at Italia '90
Roberto Baggio, one of Italy's
stars at Italia '90
Yet Italy ultimately failed, going out at the semi-final stage to Argentina after a penalty shoot-out at the Sao Paolo Stadium in Naples.

Italy had reached the last four without conceding a goal and when Schillaci gave them the lead after only 17 minutes in the semi-final it seemed their destiny was to reach the final at least.

But, in classic Italian style, the team's instinct was to defend their lead rather than go all out for a second goal and ultimately Argentina found a way back. When Claudio Caniggia levelled the scores midway through the second half, it mattered little that Italy's 517 minutes without conceding a goal was a record for the finals.

The match went into extra time, during which Argentina's Ricardo Giusti was sent off, but neither side could score again and when it came down to the pressure of taking penalties to determine the winner, the South Americans kept their nerve.

After Baresi, Baggio and Luigi de Agostini had scored, Roberto Donadoni and Aldo Serena both saw their kicks saved.  In between, Diego Maradona - then playing his club football in the same stadium for Napoli - scored what would be the winning penalty.

Vicini's team finished third, beating England in the play-off match after England had similarly been eliminated in the semi-finals on penalties, and Vicini initially remained in the job. He was sacked after failing to qualify for the 1992 European Championship finals, giving way to Arrigo Sacchi.

Subsequently, he spent two seasons in Serie A as manager of Cesena and then Udinese before returning to the Italian Federation as head of the technical sector until his retirement in 2010.

Piazza del Popolo in the centre of Cesena
Photo: Lorenzo Gaudenzi (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Cesena, where Azeglio Vicini was born, is an historic city in Emilia-Romagna, south of Ravenna and north west of Rimini. It is famous as the site of the ‘Cesena bloodbath’ in 1377 when Pope Gregory’s legate ordered the murder of thousands of citizens for revolting against the papal troops. The city recovered and prospered under the rule of the Malatesta family in the 14th and 15th centuries, who rebuilt the castle, Rocca Malatestiana, and founded a beautiful library, Biblioteca Malatestiana, which has been preserved in its 15th century condition and still holds valuable manuscripts.

Cesena hotels by

The Stadio San Paolo in Naples hosted the 1990
World Cup semi-final between Italy and Argentina 
Photo: Gaetano Capaldo (CC BY 4.0)
Travel tip:

Stadio San Paolo in Naples has become famous for hosting the 1990 World Cup semi-final between Italy and Argentina. Situated in Piazzale Vincenzo Tecchio in the suburb of Fuorigrotta, it is the home of the Serie A club Napoli and is the third largest football stadium in Italy. The stadium takes its name from St Paul, who is said to have landed on Italian soil in the area of Fuorigrotta.