Showing posts with label Acireale. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Acireale. Show all posts

23 March 2020

Franco Battiato – singer songwriter

Long career of a musical philosopher


Franco Battiato's musical career encompassed different genres but retained philosophical and religious themes
Franco Battiato's musical career encompassed different
genres but retained philosophical and religious themes
One of the most popular singer-songwriters in Italy, Franco Battiato, was born on this day in 1945 in Ionia in Sicily.

Nicknamed Il Maestro, Battiato has written many songs with philosophical and religious themes. He has also had a long-lasting professional relationship with Italian singer Alice, with whom he represented Italy at the 1984 Eurovision Song Contest.

Battiato graduated from high school at the Liceo Scientifico Archimede in Acireale, a city in the province of Catania in Sicily.

He went to Rome and then moved on to Milan, where he won his first musical contract.

After his first single, La Torre, was released, Battiato performed the song on television. After some success with the romantic song E l’amore, he released the science fiction single La convenzione, which was judged to be one of the finest Italian progressive rock songs of the 1970s.  The albums of electronic music he produced in the ‘70s, obscure at the time, are now sought after by collectors.

His popularity grew after he moved away from progressive rock to a more mainstream pop style, producing music that was regarded as elegant, yet easy to listen to. His album La Voce del Padrone remained at number one in the Italian charts for six months, becoming the first Italian album to sell more than one million copies in a month.

Battiato had a successful partnership with the popular singer Alice
Battiato had a successful partnership
with the popular singer Alice
He began collaborating with the singer Alice and their duet, I treni di Tozeur, was performed at the 1984 Eurovision Song Contest.  His 1988 album Fisiognomica, which sold more than 300,000 copies, was considered by Battiato himself to be his best work

In 1994 Battiato began to collaborate with the Sicilian philosopher Manlio Sgalambro, who went on to write the lyrics for many of his albums.  In 1996 they brought out what is regarded as their best work, L’imboscata, containing the romantic hit, La cura, which was chosen as the best Italian song of the year.

In 2003, Battiato released his first feature film, Perduto amor, for which he also composed the soundtrack.  The film won the Silver Ribbon for the best debutant director.

In 2012 he accepted an offer to become the new regional minister for Tourism and Culture in Sicily but was subsequently fired after making controversial remarks.

Battiato continued making music and went on tour with Alice in 2016. He held his last concert in Catania in 2017 but then had to give up for health reasons. His manager announced his retirement from the music scene at the end of last year.  Battiato celebrates his 75th birthday today.

UPDATE: Franco Battiato sadly passed away in May 2021 at the age of 76, from an undisclosed illness. He was living in the village of Milo, on the eastern slope of Mount Etna and only 10km (six miles) or so from his birthplace, where he bought a villa in the 1980s.

The beach at Riposto, which became part of an area  that was renamed Ionia in 1942
The beach at Riposto, which became part of an area
that was renamed Ionia in 1942
Travel tip:

Ionia, where Franco Battiato was born, is an area in Sicily on the west coast, a little over 30km (19 miles) north of Catania. It was renamed Ionia in 1942, three years before Battiato was born. Under Fascist rule it had been named Giarre-Riposto in 1935.  Giarrre and Riposto had separated in 1841 but the Fascist government had decided to unite them again to form a larger conurbation. The railway station, which is part of the Messina-Catania railway, is still named Giarre-Riposto.  The original names were restored in 1945 after the fall of Mussolini and the end of World War Two.

The beautiful cathedral of Saint Peter in Acireale's historic  Piazza Duomo, which sits in the shadow of Mount Etna
The beautiful cathedral of Saint Peter in Acireale's historic
Piazza Duomo, which sits in the shadow of Mount Etna
Travel tip:

The historic coastal city of Acireale, where Battiato was educated, can be found 17km (11 miles) to the north of Catania at the foot of Mount Etna. Facing the Ionian sea, Acireale has many old churches, including the neo-Gothic St Peter’s Basilica in Piazza Duomo, the Baroque St Sebastian’s Basilica and Acireale Cathedral and seminary for the training of priests.  Acireale also has the oldest art academy in Sicily, the Accademia dei Dafnici e degli Zelanti.

Also on this day:

1514: The birth of assassin Lorenzino De’ Medici

1919: The Italian Fascist Party is launched at a rally in Milan

1922: The birth of actor Ugo Tognazzi


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11 January 2019

The 1693 Sicily earthquake

Devastation that led to architectural rebirth


An engraving dated at 1696 is thought to depict ruined buildings in Catania after the 1693 earthquake
An engraving dated at 1696 is thought to depict ruined
buildings in Catania after the 1693 earthquake
A huge earthquake destroyed or severely damaged scores of towns and cities in Sicily on this day in 1693, killing more than 60,000 people.

Records say the tremor struck at around 9pm local time and lasted about four minutes.  It was mainly confined to the southeast corner of the island, with damage also reported in Calabria on the Italian mainland and even on Malta, 190km (118 miles) away.

Although it is an estimate rather than a verifiable figure, the earthquake has been given a recorded magnitude of 7.4, which makes it the most powerful in Italian history, although in terms of casualties it was eclipsed by the earthquake that destroyed much of Messina and Reggio Calabria in 1908, with perhaps up to 200,000 killed.

By another measure, the Mercalli intensity scale, it was awarded a score of XI, the maximum.  The Mercalli scale, devised in 1902, judges a quake’s severity by the intensity of shaking. The XI rating given to the 1693 event may well reflect accounts such as that offered by Vincentius Bonajutus, published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, who wrote that "It was in this country impossible to keep upon our legs, or in one place on the dancing Earth; nay, those that lay along on the ground, were tossed from side to side, as if on a rolling billow."

The Palazzo Ducezia, designed by Vincenzo Sinatra, is one of the Sicilian Baroque palaces in the rebuilt city of Noto
The Palazzo Ducezia, designed by Vincenzo Sinatra, is one
of the Sicilian Baroque palaces in the rebuilt city of Noto
At least 70 towns and cities - including Catania, Syracuse (Siracusa), Noto and Acireale - were either very badly damaged or destroyed, with an area of 5,600 sq km (2,200 sq mi) affected.

Locally recorded counts of the dead indicate that there were probably more than 60,000 people killed. Around 12,000 of those - two thirds of the city’s population - were in Catania alone.

More damage and deaths occurred before the main earthquake in a powerful foreshock on January 9, itself with an estimated magnitude of 6.2, and as a result of tsunamis that devastated the coastal villages on the Ionian Sea and in the Straits of Messina.

The exact position of the epicentre remains unknown, although it was probably close to the coast, or slightly offshore, between Catania and Syracuse.  The tsunamis that followed affected some but not all coastal settlements. One place that did suffer was the port of Augusta, north of Syracuse, where the harbour was left drained when the sea receded, only to be swamped by waves of up to eight metres (26ft) high as the waters surged back.

Stefano Ittar's facade of the Basilica  della Collegiata in Catania
Stefano Ittar's facade of the Basilica
della Collegiata in Catania
It may seem perverse to talk of good coming from such a catastrophic natural disaster that claimed so many lives, but it is an inescapable fact that had it not been for the 1693 earthquake, much of the wonderful architecture that makes the cities of southeast Sicily so attractive today might not exist.

That it does is thanks to the extravagantly wealthy aristocracy that controlled the purse strings on the island, which was then part of the Spanish empire.

After concentrating initially on restoring military defences around the strategically important Syracuse, Augusta, Catania and Acireale, the island’s government began drawing up of plans for the reconstruction of towns and cities.

Some, such as Catania, would be rebuilt to new plans on their existing sites, others such as Syracuse and Ragusa rebuilt following existing layouts, and others moved to new sites and built from scratch, as was the case with Noto and Avola.

In all cases, dozens of local architects were given palaces and churches to build.  Many had trained under the great Baroque architects in Rome and this was their opportunity, with money apparently no object, to recreate the sophisticated Baroque architecture that had become popular in mainland Italy, but had not really reached Sicily.

On such architect was Vincenzo Sinatra, a pupil of Rosario Gagliardi, who had been influenced by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s work in Rome.  Sinatra was responsible for many of the new buildings in the new city of Noto, including the churches of Monte Vergine and San Giovanni Battista, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and its Loggiato, and the splendid Palazzo Ducezio (now the town hall).

Their work inspired more local architects to follow suit and between 1730 and 1780 the style that became known as Sicilian Baroque, characterised by typically Baroque curves and flourishes, but often with the addition of grinning masks or chubby cherubs, was at its peak, reflecting the flamboyance of the era.

Although the fashion for neoclassicism changed the thinking of architects on the island towards the end of the 18th century, it is Sicilian Baroque that gives Sicily much of its architectural character even today.

Other notable Sicilian Baroque architects include Andrea Giganti, Guarino Guarini, Stefano Ittar, Andrea Palma and Giovanni Battista Vaccarini.

The facade of the cathedral at Syracuse, which was  rebuilt by Andrea Palma in Baroque style
The facade of the cathedral at Syracuse, which was
rebuilt by Andrea Palma in Baroque style
Travel tip:

As well as its Sicilian Baroque buildings, concentrated on the island of Ortygia, the historic centre linked to the modern city of Syracuse by the Ponte Umbertino, Syracuse is known for its ancient ruins. The Parco Archeologico Neapolis, situated within the city, comprises the Roman Amphitheater, the Teatro Greco and the Orecchio di Dionisio, a limestone cave shaped like a human ear. The Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi, meanwhile, exhibits terracotta artifacts, Roman portraits and Old Testament scenes carved into white marble.  Syracuse as a city is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


The city of Ragusa occupies a spectacular setting on a rugged hillside in southeastern Sicily
The city of Ragusa occupies a spectacular setting
on a rugged hillside in southeastern Sicily
Travel tip:

Ragusa, the principal city of the province of the same name, which also suffered much damage in the earthquake, is one of Sicily’s most picturesque cities. Set in same rugged landscape with a mix of medieval and Baroque architecture. The older part of the city, the spectacular Ragusa Ibla, is the town that was built on the site of the settlement destroyed in the quake, and is home to the grand Duomo di San Giorgio and the Giardino Ibleo, a public park with churches and fountains that offers stunning views.  Ragusa Ibla may seem familiar to viewers of the TV detective series Inspector Montalbano as the dramatic hillside city in the title sequence. The city streets also feature regular in location filming for the series, based on the books of Andrea Camilleri.



More reading:

How Giovanni Battista Vaccarini left his mark on Catania

The genius of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Why the Messina earthquake of 1908 is the worst in Italian history

Also on this day:

1944: Mussolini has his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, shot dead by a firing squad

1975: The birth of Matteo Renzi, Italy's youngest PM

1980: The birth of the Giannini sextuplets


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12 September 2017

Daniela Rocca – actress

Tragic beauty shunned after breakdown


Daniela Rocca broke into films after winning a beauty contest in her native Sicily at the age of 15
Daniela Rocca broke into films after winning a beauty
contest in her native Sicily at the age of 15
The actress Daniela Rocca, who starred in the hit big-screen comedy Divorce, Italian Style, was born on this day in 1937 in Sicily.

The movie, in which she starred opposite Marcello Mastroianni, won an Academy Award for its writers and acclaim for former beauty queen Rocca, who revealed a notable acting talent.

Yet this zenith in her short career would in some ways also prove to be its nadir after she fell in love with the director, Pietro Germi.

The relationship she hoped for did not materialise and she subsequently suffered a mental breakdown, which had damaging consequences for her career and her life.

Born in Acireale, a coastal city in eastern Sicily in the shadow of the Mount Etna volcano, Rocca came from poor, working class roots but her looks became a passport to a new life. She entered and won the Miss Catania beauty contest before she was 16.

Divorce, Italian Style broke new ground in Italian cinema
Divorce, Italian Style broke new ground
in Italian cinema
She subsequently entered Miss Italia, and although she did not win her looks made an impression on the movie talent scouts who took a close interest in such events, on the lookout for potential starlets.

Rocca’s acting debut came in 1957 in the French director Maurice Cloche’s film Marchand de Filles and after a series of roles as the glamorous love interest in various melodramas she began to acquire box office appeal.

Germi saw her in 1961 in Rome 1585, which was also known as I Masnadieri – the Mercenaries – the last film to be made by the veteran Italian director Mario Bonnard, by which time Rocca was popular enough with audiences to share top billing with Antonio Cifariello, an established star of romantic comedies and adventure movies.

The part Germi offered her in Divorce, Italian Style was a little different, however.

Although from a middle-class background in Liguria, Germi’s films were often realistic social dramas, usually with a Sicilian setting. He tackled serious subjects and though Divorzia all’Italiana was to be a comedy, his aim was to denounce what he saw as the absurdity of a society that would not allow a man to divorce his wife but would look leniently on him if he killed her in a so-called crime of passion, to protect his ‘honour’.

He chose Rocca to play Rosalia, the wife of Mastroianni’s character, an impoverished Sicilian nobleman called Ferdinando Cefal├╣, who wants to be free of the devoted but rather dowdy Rosalia so that he can marry his much younger and prettier cousin, Angela.

Rocca had enjoyed some success taking glamorous roles in adventure movies before Germi's film showcased her acting
Rocca had enjoyed some success taking glamorous roles in
adventure movies before Germi's film showcased her acting 
The plot sees Cefal├╣ concoct a scheme to push Rosalia into having an affair, so that he could discover her infidelity and kill her in a fit of impassioned rage at the stain on his honour.  Of course, his plan goes comically wrong.

Given her history of playing glamorous female leads, Rocca seemed an unusual choice to play a frumpy, oppressive housewife yet she gave a impressive performance, dressing in unflattering clothes and allowing make-up to give her a moustachioed top lip, allowing Angela (Stefania Sandrelli) to outshine her at every turn.

Divorce, Italian Style was ground-breaking in that it used comedy as a genre that allowed film directors to tackle controversial topics that would otherwise have been taboo in Italy. Other directors followed suit, producing movies that allowed Italians to laugh at themselves and which in some ways broke the ice surrounding difficult social problems that needed debate and resolution.

The movie won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. Mastroianni was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role and many critics considered Rocca to be worthy of similar acclaim.  

It should have been the springboard to her recognition as a serious actress. Instead, it virtually ended her career.

Pietro Germi, pictured with Claudia Cardinale, had been a successful actor before turning to directing
Pietro Germi, pictured with Claudia Cardinale, had been
a successful actor before turning to directing
During the making of the film, despite their age difference – at 48, he was twice her age – she developed an infatuation with Germi. When it became clear to Rocca that his feelings about her did not match hers for him she tried to kill herself.

As a result, other directors quickly became reluctant to cast her, fearful that her mental state was too fragile. Offers of parts became few and far between and soon ceased altogether.  She fell into a state of severe depression and, after cutting her wrists in what was seen as another suicide attempt, was admitted to a mental institution in Palermo.

She remained there for several years, finally allowed to go home in 1975.  Later she said she felt abandoned by former colleagues and misunderstood by doctors, claiming they mistook a simple nervous breakdown for insanity.

The experience aged Rocca prematurely and she died from heart failure at the age of just 57, having moved into a retirement home in Milo, near Catania - although she did leave something of a creative legacy.

Remarkably, while living in the home, she wrote and had published three novels, a book on psychoanalysis and a volume of poetry.

Acireale's Piazza del Duomo is illuminated at night
Acireale's Piazza del Duomo is illuminated at night
Travel tip:

Daniela Rocca came from a working class neighbourhood but Acireale is a city with a wealth of culture and many beautiful buildings, some with clear Muslim influences dating back to the Arabic conquest of Sicily in the ninth century, after which the Muslim forces remained in charge until the Normans took control in the 11th century. At the centre of the city is the beautiful Piazza del Duomo, where can be found not only the cathedral, dedicated to Maria Santissima Annunziata, but also the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul and the Town Hall.  The Zalantea art gallery showcases many local painters from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

The mighty Mount Etna, smoke emerging from its snow- capped peak, dominates eastern Sicily
The mighty Mount Etna, smoke emerging from its snow-
capped peak, dominates eastern Sicily
Travel tip:

Looming over Acireale and all the other communities, large and small, in the eastern part of Sicily, Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and by far the tallest of the three active volcanoes in Italy, at 3,329 metres (10,922 feet) some two and a half times the height of Vesuvius.  Across the whole of Europe and North Africa, only Mount Teide in Tenerife is taller.  Eruptions occur regularly and often last for long periods. One, starting on July 6, 2009, lasted 417 days, the longest since the 473-day affair between 1991 and 1993, and events lasting anything from three weeks to six months happen with relative frequency.  Despite its volatility, tourists can still take excursions to the summit. It is advisable to wear warm clothing, however. Visitors who board the cable cars in 25-30 degree summer temperatures are often surprised to it decidedly chilly at the top. 



26 January 2016

Gabriele Allegra – friar and scholar



Sicilian who learnt Chinese to carry out his life’s work


Allegra translated the whole Catholic bible into Chinese
Gabriele Allegra
The Blessed Gabriele Allegra, a Franciscan friar who translated the entire Catholic Bible into Chinese, is remembered on this day every year.

He was born Giovanni Stefano Allegra in San Giovanni la Punta in the province of Catania in Sicily in 1907 and he entered the Franciscan seminary in Acireale in 1918.

Gabriele Allegra was inspired to carry out his life’s work after attending a celebration for another Franciscan who had attempted a translation of the bible into Chinese in the 14th century. For the next 40 years of his life the friar devoted himself to his own translation.

Gabriele Allegra was ordained a priest in 1930 and set sail for China. On his arrival he started to learn Chinese.

With the help of his Chinese teacher he prepared a first draft of his translation of the bible in 1947 but it was not until 1968 that his one volume Chinese Bible was published for the first time.

Gabriele Allegra died on 26 January 1976 in Hong Kong. Although he was primarily a scholar, he had also helped the poor, the sick and lepers along the way.

He was declared Venerable in 1994 and was Beatified in 2012 at the Cathedral of Acireale. He is remembered each year on the anniversary of his death.

The Sicilian port city of Catania with the volcanic Mount Etna in the background
The Sicilian port city of Catania with the
volcanic Mount Etna in the background
Photo: Stefan (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Travel tip:

Catania is on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea between Messina and Syracuse and is at the foot of an active volcano, Mount Etna. There are many Greek and Roman buildings to see as well as Baroque churches.



Travel tip:

Acireale is a coastal city in the province of Catania at the foot of Mount Etna. The 17th century Cathedral where Gabriele Allegra was beatified contains many interesting art treasures but his relics are kept in the Church of San Biagio.

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