Showing posts with label Alcide de Gasperi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alcide de Gasperi. Show all posts

18 April 2020

Giuseppe Pella – prime minister

Economist did wonders for the value of the lira

Giuseppe Pella's time in Alcide De Gasperi's  government helped Italy's postwar recovery
Giuseppe Pella's time in Alcide De Gasperi's
government helped Italy's postwar recovery
Giuseppe Pella, who served as the 31st Prime Minister of Italy from August 1953 to January 1954, was born on this day in 1902 in Valdengo in Piedmont.

Pella is considered one of the most important politicians in Italy’s postwar history because his economic and monetarist policies led to the strong economic growth that transformed his shattered country into a global industrial power and improved the standard of living for most Italians.

Born into a family of sharecroppers, after finishing elementary school Pella attended a technical school and then an accounting institute in Turin. He graduated in economy and commerce in 1924.

Pella became a professor of accounting at the Sapienza University of Rome and the University of Turin and also worked as a tax advisor and auditor.

Under the Mussolini regime, Pella was forced to join the National Fascist Party to be able to continue with his profession.

He was appointed a member of the governing council of the Fascist Culture Provincial Institute of Biella, a town near his birth place of Valdengo, and in the late 1930s was appointed deputy podestá - mayor - of Biella.

At the end of World War II he joined the Christian Democrats led by Alcide De Gasperi.

Alcide De Gasperi respected Pella's financial acumen
Alcide De Gasperi respected
Pella's financial acumen
In 1947 he was appointed minister of finance by De Gasperi.  Pella also served as minister of budget and minister of treasury. His monetarist policies were disliked by the Communist and Socialist parties.

After De Gasperi was forced to resign, Pella was appointed prime minister by President Luigi Einaudi.

He attracted criticism from other parties for quarrelling with the Yugoslav leader Marshall Tito over the status of Trieste although the public and the media regarded his actions at the time as patriotic.

Hiwever, after only five months in power, members of his own party forced Pella to resign over appointing Salvatore Aldisio as minister of agriculture.

Pella then served as President of the European Parliament from 1954 to 1956.

In 1957, Pella served as minister of foreign affairs and deputy prime minister in the government of Adone Zoli and in 1960 as minister of budget in the government of Amintore Fanfani.

He became president of the Senate foreign affairs committee in 1968 and briefly returned to government as finance minister in the first government of Giulio Andreotti in 1972.

After leaving politics, Pella led Piemonte Italia, an institute for studies of the regional economy.  He died in 1981 in Rome, aged 79.

The Sacro Monte di Oropa is one of the attractions of Biella, near Pella's home
The Sacro Monte di Oropa is one of the
attractions of Biella, near Pella's home
Travel tip:

Pella was born in Valdengo, a municipality in the province of Biella in Piedmont, about 60km (37 miles) northeast of Turin. The city of Biella is famous as the location of the Sacro Monte di Oropa, a Roman Catholic devotional complex, which is one of the nine Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.  Biella is also notable for its Romanesque baptistery, built between the 10th and 11th centuries and adjoining the city’s neoclassical cathedral.

The Palazzo Chigi has been the official Rome residence of Italian prime ministers since the 1960s
The Palazzo Chigi has been the official Rome residence
of Italian prime ministers since the 1960s
Travel tip:

The official residence of the prime minister of Italy is Palazzo Chigi, which is a 16th century palace in Piazza Colonna, just off Via del Corso and close to the Pantheon in the centre of Rome.  Work on the palace was begun in 1562 by Giacomo della Porta and completed by Carlo Maderno in 1580 for the Aldobrandini family. It was in the ownership of the Chigi family from 1659 until the 19th century.  Formerly the home of the colonial affairs minister and then the foreign minister, it became the prime minister’s official residence in the 1960s.

Also on this day:

1446: The birth of noblewoman Ippolita Maria Sforza

1480: The birth of scheming femme fatale Lucrezia Borgia

1911: The birth of racing car designer Ilario Bandini


9 February 2020

Pietro Nenni - politician

Pietro Nenni led the Italian Socialist Party for 22 years in total
Pietro Nenni led the Italian Socialist
Party for 22 years in total

Orphan who became influential leader of Italian Socialist Party

The politician Pietro Sandro Nenni, who was a major figure of the Italian left for five decades, was born on this day in 1891 in Faenza in Emilia-Romagna.

Nenni was general secretary of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) on three occasions and rose to high office in the Italian government, twice serving as foreign affairs minister and several times as deputy prime minister, notably under the progressive Christian Democrat Aldo Moro in the centre-left coalitions of the 1960s.

He was a recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize in 1951 but returned the $25,000 that came with the honour in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

Born into a peasant family, Nenni lost both his parents before he was five years old and grew up in an orphanage, having been placed there by the aristocratic landowners for whom his father had worked.

His experiences there seemed to stir in him a desire to rebel against authority.  He was only nine years old when, on learning of the assassination of King Umberto I by the anarchist Gaetano Bresci, he is said to have written ‘Viva Bresci’ on a wall in the orphanage.

Nenni volunteered to fight for his country in the First World War
Nenni volunteered to fight for his country
in the First World War
As soon as he was old enough to make his own way in the world he became involved in protest movements. By the age of 16 he was editing a Republican party newspaper in nearby Forlì, where the local Socialist newspaper was edited by Benito Mussolini.  He and Mussolini would become linked when both were arrested and briefly jailed after taking part in a strike against the Italo-Turkish War in Libya.

Both he and Mussolini supported Italy’s entry in the First World War, however. After the conflict, in which Nenni volunteered, was wounded, and returned to frontline service again, their paths diverged.

Both formed fascii - the Italian word in use at the time for political groups - but where Mussolini’s evolved into what would become the National Fascist Party, Nenni’s was soon dissolved. In the same year - 1921 - as Mussolini’s Fascists came into being, Nenni left the Italian Republican Party and joined the PSI, from which a breakaway group had recently left to form the Italian Communist Party (PCI).

Their opposition could not have been more clear when Mussolini was appointed prime minister in 1922 and Nenni, by now editor of the PSI newspaper Avanti!, attacked Mussolini’s ideology on a regular basis.

Mussolini looked for a way to silence Nenni, as he did with most of his political opponents, and he found one in 1925 when Nenni published a booklet whipping up anti-Fascist sentiment following the murder of Socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti.  Mussolini had Nenni arrested for anti-Fascist activity, and though he was soon released it was not long before Avanti!’s offices were damaged in an arson attack and a law brought in to ban its publication.

Nenni served as deputy prime minister in three governments led by the Christian Democrat Aldo Moro
Nenni served as deputy prime minister in three
governments led by the Christian Democrat Aldo Moro
Nenni fled the country and spent the next 17 years in exile, first in France and then Spain, where he fought on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War as co-founder of the Garibaldi Brigade.  He returned to France in 1943, by then under Nazi occupation, and was arrested by the Germans. He was held first in Vichy but then returned to Italy to continue his imprisonment on the island of Ponza.

After Italy was liberated later in 1943, he was able to resume his political career, his determination to bring about change hardening after learning of the death of his daughter, Vittoria, who had been taken prisoner by the Nazi regime earlier in the Second World War.

He became leader of the PSI and after the surrender of Italy to the Allies became a member of the National Liberation Committee, the political element of the Italian Partisans.  He was deputy prime minister in the interim government of Ferruccio Parri and the first government of Alcide De Gasperi. He became minister for foreign affairs in  the second De Gasperi government, the first administration after Italians voted to make their country a republic in 1946, for which Nenni had been a prominent campaigner.

For several years, the PSI worked closely with the Communists but Nenni broke with them again after Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary, which was an embarrassment to Nenni not only as a recipient of the Stalin Prize but also because he had returned from a meeting with the Russian leader before the invasion and proclaimed Stalin as a man of peace.

As a consequence, Nenni gradually shifted his party’s support away from the Soviet Union in favour of NATO, of which he advocated membership.

After the overwhelming victory of De Gaspari’s Christian Democrats in the divisive 1948 elections, it was not until the 1960s that Nenni’s Socialists were part of government again.  Now a veteran political figure in his 70s, he served as deputy leader under Aldo Moro in three centre-left coalitions that he had helped to broker.

Following poor results in the 1968 elections, Nenni began to release his grip on the PSI and resigned as leader the following year. He was made a senator for life in 1970 but his bid to become President of the Republic in 1971 was unsuccessful. He died in 1980, aged 88.

Faenza's cathedral still has a simple brick facade, and as  such is regarded as an unfinished project
Faenza's cathedral still has a simple brick facade, and as
such is regarded as an unfinished project
Travel tip:

Faenza is in the Emilia-Romagna region, about 50km (31 miles) southeast of Bologna and 35km (22 miles) southwest of Ravenna. The city is famous for the manufacture of a type of decorative majolica-ware known as faience. It is also home to the International Museum of Ceramics, which has examples of ceramics from ancient times, the Middle Ages and the 18th and 19th centuries as well as displaying work by important contemporary artists. The museum is in Viale Baccarini.  Although the origins of the city go back further, Faenza preserves traces of its Roman rectangular plan, surrounded by 15th-century walls. Notable landmarks include the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, where the city’s cathedral, begun in 1474 by Giuliano da Maiano, can be found. Construction finished in 1515 but was never completed, inasmuch as the front of the building is plain brick, with no stone or marble facade.

Faenza hotels by

A Linea A metro train crosses the Ponte Pietro Nenni, which carries trains over the River Tiber in Rome
A Linea A metro train crosses the Ponte Pietro Nenni,
which carries trains over the River Tiber in Rome
Travel tip:

Not all architecture in Rome is classical. One example is the Ponte Pietro Nenni, which spans the Tiber as a link between the Flaminio and Prati districts and is known by many as the Metro Bridge, on account of its primary purpose, which was to carry Linea A of the Rome metro from one side of the river to the other in the only section of the line that is above ground.  It carries vehicular traffic on both sides of the metro tracks. The bridge, a concrete cantilever structure with two supporting V-shaped piles, was designed by the architect Luigi Moretti and the engineer Silvano Zorzi and built between 1969 and 1972. It was inaugurated in 1980 and dedicated to Nenni, who died a month before the inauguration.

(Picture credits: Top portrait by; Faenza cathedral by Tecsis; metro train by Lucaf1; via Wikimedia Commons)

5 September 2019

Mario Scelba – Prime Minister of Italy

Tough interior minister worked for social and economic reform

The Christian Democrat Mario Scelba became Italy's 33rd Prime Minister in February 1954
The Christian Democrat Mario Scelba became Italy's
33rd Prime Minister in February 1954
Mario Scelba, a Christian Democrat who would become Italy’s 33rd Prime Minister, was born on this day in 1901 in Caltagirone in Sicily.

He earned the nickname ‘the Iron Sicilian’ while serving as Interior Minister because of his repression of both left-wing protests and Neo-Fascist rallies.

Scelba had been born into a poor family that worked on land owned by the priest Don Luigi Sturzo, who was to become one of the founders of the Italian People’s Party (PPI).

As his godfather, Sturzo paid for Scelba to study law in Rome. When the Fascists suppressed the PPI and forced Sturzo into exile, Scelba remained in Rome as his agent.

He wrote for the underground newspaper, Il Popolo, during the Second World War. He was once arrested by the Germans but freed after three days as he was considered to be ‘a worthless catch’.

After Rome’s liberation by the Allied Forces, Scelba joined the new Christian Democrats, reborn out of the PPI.

Scelba (right) served in two governments under Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi (left)
Scelba (right) served in two governments under Prime
Minister Alcide De Gasperi (left)
The Christian Democrats started organising post-Fascist Italy in competition with the centre and left parties, but also at times in coalition with them.

Scelba was Minister of Post and Telecommunications in Ferruccio Parri’s anti-Fascist government and in the two successive Governments of Alcide de Gasperi.

In 1947 as Interior Minister in De Gasperi’s third government, he became infamous for his hard line against the Communists and labour unions. He expelled former partisans from the police and cracked down on left-wing demonstrations, often using violence.

He thought the police were so ineffective at that time he once said if he were a Communist he would start a revolution the next day.

An Italian statute defining and banning fascism is known as the Scelba Law, but he wrote it to restrain the activities of the Communists as well.

Scelba increased police numbers and armed and equipped them with cars and jeeps to deal with riots. He made enemies because of his harsh methods and his concern for law and order but he also favoured social reforms and public works and attacked speculators for pushing up prices.

The bandit Salvatore Giuliano was blamed for the Portella della Ginestra massacre
The bandit Salvatore Giuliano was blamed
for the Portella della Ginestra massacre
He thought it was possible to undermine the Communists with social and economic improvement, particularly in southern Italy.

Scelba was involved in setting up the Gladio network, the clandestine NATO stay behind operation in Italy after the Second World War to organise resistance against an invasion of Europe.

In 1947, a few days after a victory for the left in local elections in Sicily, a Labour Day parade in Portella della Ginestra was attacked, culminating in the killing of 11 people and the wounding of more than 30.

The attack was attributed to the bandit leader, Salvatore Giuliano, and was thought to be punishment for the local election results.

Scelba reported to Parliament the next day that the police believed the massacre to be non-political.

But the Communist deputy, Girolamo Li Causi, claimed the Mafia had ordered the attack, working with landowners and monarchists.

In the summer of 1950 the men responsible for the attack went on trial in Viterbo. Scelba was accused of involvement in the plot to carry out the massacre but at the end of the trial the judge concluded that no higher authority had ordered the massacre and that Guiliano had acted autonomously.

Communist deputy Girolamo Li Causi claimed the massacre was ordered by the Mafia
Communist deputy Girolamo Li Causi claimed
the massacre was ordered by the Mafia
The 1948 elections in Italy were overshadowed by the Cold War confrontations between the Soviet Union and the US and Scelba announced that the Government had 330,000 men ready to take on the Communists if they tried to make trouble on election day.

As Prime Minister of Italy between 1954 and 1955, Scelba tried to steer a middle course between the left and the right.

He worked for strong relations with the US and resolved outstanding wartime issues, such as the recovery of Trieste for Italy. In 1954 his Government passed a law introducing an investment plan for the public construction of economic housing.

Scelba was one of the last influential Christian Democrats to oppose the inclusion of left-wing Socialists in Government coalitions. In 1962 he was eventually dropped from Amintore Fanfani’s cabinet for that reason.

He was elected a senator in 1968 and served until his resignation in 1979. He was president of the European parliament from 1969 to 1971.

Scelba died of thrombosis at his home in Rome in October 1991, aged 90.

The city of Caltagirone in Sicily, where Prime Minister Mario Scelba was born in 1901
The city of Caltagirone in Sicily, where Prime Minister
Mario Scelba was born in 1901
Travel tip:

Caltagirone, where Mario Scelba was born, is a municipality about 70 km (43 miles) southwest of Catania in Sicily. In 1987 Caltagirone was given the title of city. It is well-known for the production of pottery, maiolica and terracotta wares. Its main attraction for visitors is the 142-step Scalinata di Santa Maria del Monte, which dates back to 1608. Each step is decorated with different hand painted ceramics using ancient designs. Every year on 25 July, the Feast Day of Caltagirone’s patron saint, St James, the staircase is illuminated with candles in different colours, arranged to look like a large work of art.

The jagged upright stones that mark the bleak site of the Porta della Ginestra Massacre
The jagged upright stones that mark the bleak site
of the Porta della Ginestra Massacre
Travel tip:

The site of the Porta della Ginestra Massacre, which is about 4km (2.5 miles) southwest of Piana degli Albanesi and about 30 km (19 miles) from Palermo, is marked with 11 jagged upright stones, one for each of the victims, on the spot where they fell. May Day celebrations have been held there every year since 1893.

More reading:

The Porta della Ginestra Massacre

How novelist Leonardo Sciascia exposed the links between Italian politics and the Mafia

Francesco Cossiga's bid to keep the Communists out of power

Also on this day:

1533: The birth of philosopher Giacomo Zabarella

1568: The birth of Tommaso Campanella

1970: The birth of Paralympian Francesca Porcellato


21 November 2018

Giorgio Amendola - politician and partisan

Anti-Mussolini activist who sought to moderate Italian Communism

Giorgio Amendola was against extremism on the right or left of politics
Giorgio Amendola was against extremism
on the right or left of politics
The politician Giorgio Amendola, who opposed extremism on the right and left in Italy, was born on this day in 1907 in Rome.

Amendola was arrested for plotting against the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini in the 1930s, fought with the Italian resistance in the Second World War and later worked to move the Italian Communist Party (PCI) away from the doctrines of Soviet Communism and Leninism towards a more moderate position acceptable in the mainstream of Italian politics.

Amendola was almost born to be a political thinker. His mother, Eva Kuhn, was an intellectual from Lithuania, his father Giovanni a liberal anti-Fascist who was a minister in the last democratically elected Italian government before Mussolini.

It was as a reaction to his father’s death in 1926, following injuries inflicted on him by Fascist thugs who tracked him down in France on Mussolini’s orders, that Amendola secretly joined the PCI and began to work for the downfall of the dictator.

Giorgio's father, Giovanni, died after being beaten by Fascist thugs
Giorgio's father, Giovanni, died
after being beaten by Fascist thugs
He was largely based in France and Germany but from time to time returned to Italy undercover in order to meet other left-wing figures. It was on one visit in 1932 that he was arrested in Milan.

After a few months in jail he was freed under a supposed amnesty but then detained again and sentenced to confinement on Santo Stefano island in the Pontine archipelago, which Mussolini used for political prisoners. After leading protests by inmates against the requirement that they greet visiting politicians with the Fascist ‘Roman salute’ he was exiled to France and later Tunisia.

Amendola was not freed until 1943, at which point he returned to Rome to join in the Italian partisans in helping to liberate the city.

He was a PCI representative in the Central Committee of National Liberation and as the commander of a so-called “Garibaldini" corps - named after the volunteers who fought with Giuseppe Garibaldi in the unification of Italy in the 19th century - he reached Milan in 1944, helping with the work of partisan group in parts of northern Italy still under German occupation.

After the war, Amendola served as a deputy for the PCI from 1948 until his death in 1980.

A minister in the postwar governments of Ferruccio Parri and Alcide De Gaspari, he adopted a position on the right-wing of the party, opposing the extremism of the left as fiercely as he had fought against the extremism of Mussolini’s followers.

Italian Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer built on the work of Amendola in making the left more mainstream
Italian Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer built on the work
of Amendola in making the left more mainstream
It was Amendola’s goal to shift the party away from the ideology of the Russian Communists towards a position where meaningful alliances could be formed with more moderate left-wing groups, such as the Italian Socialist Party (PSI).

His attempts to reposition the PCI was in part responsible for the emergence of the concept of Eurocommunism that gained popularity as the philosophy embraced by Italy’s most successful communist politician, the long-time PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer.

Amendola turned his political philosophy into several books, including Comunismo, antifascismo e Resistenza (Communism, Anti-Fascism and Resistance, 1967), Lettere a Milano (Letters to Milan, 1973), Intervista sull'antifascismo (Interview on Anti-Fascism, 1976, with Piero Melograni), Una scelta di vita (A choice of Life, 1978), and Un'isola (An Island, 1980), which was a biographical work about his time on Santo Stefano.

Amendola died in Rome, aged 72, after a long illness. His wife Germaine Lecocq, whom he met during his French exile in Paris and who helped him to write his last work, passed away only a few hours later.

The ruins of the prison building on the island of Santo Stefano that Mussolini used to incarcerate his opponents
The ruins of the prison building on the island of Santo
Stefano that Mussolini used to incarcerate his opponents
Travel tip:

Santo Stefano is an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the west coast of Italy, part of the Pontine Islands.  The prison built by the Bourbons in 1797 remained in use until 1965. It was one of the prisons used extensively by the Fascists to imprison opponents of Benito Mussolini’s regime.  The future president of the republic, Sandro Pertini, was incarcerated there. These days, the island is uninhabited except for the tourists who visit each day.

The Campo Verano cemetery in Rome has many highly elaborate and ornate tombstones
The Campo Verano cemetery in Rome has many highly
elaborate and ornate tombstones
Travel tip:

Giorgio Amendola was buried in the Campo Verano cemetery in Rome, close to the Basilica of San Lorenzo al Verano in the Tiburtino quarter of the city, not far from the Sapienza University of Rome. The cemetery, built on the site of ancient Roman catacombs, is also the last resting place among others of the novelist Alberto Moravia, the actor Marcello Mastroianni, the racing driver Elio de Angelis, and Claretta Petacci, who was the mistress of the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

More reading:

How Enrico Berlinguer turned Italy's Communists into a political force

Alcide de Gaspari - the man charged with rebuilding a broken Italy

Antonio Gramsci - the Communist intellectual Mussolini could not gag

Also on this day:

1688: The birth of engraver Antonio Visentini

The Festival of Madonna della Salute in Venice

1854: The birth of Pope Benedict XV, First World War pontiff


24 March 2017

Luigi Einaudi - politician and winemaker

Composer's grandfather was President of the Republic

Luigi Einaudi was President of the Italian Republic from 1948 to 1955
Luigi Einaudi was President of the Italian
Republic from 1948 to 1955
The politician, economist, journalist and winemaker Luigi Einaudi was born on this day in 1874 in Carrù, in the province of Cuneo in what is now Piedmont.

Einaudi, who is the grandfather of the musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi and the father of publisher Giulio Einaudi, was elected President of the new Italian Republic between 1948 and 1955, the second person to occupy the post.

He was actively involved with politics from his university days, when he supported socialist movements.  For a decade he edited a socialist magazine but later took a more conservative position.

After being appointed to the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy in 1919, in the days when the upper house of the Italian parliament was a non-elected body, he was one of the signatories in forming the Italian Liberal Party (PLI).

The PLI initially joined forces with the Italian Fascists and it was through their support that Mussolini was able to win the 1924 general election with an absolute majority.

Einaudi had been both a journalist and an academic since graduating in law from Turin University in 1895.

The musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi
The musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi
He became a professor at Turin University as well as the Polytechnic of Turin and the Bocconi University in Milan. He wrote on economic matters for the Turin daily La Stampa before moving to Corriere della Sera in Milan in 1903.

At first broadly supportive of some elements of Fascist policy, he became distrustful of Mussolini's plans for constitutional reform and when the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti was murdered in 1924, with suspicion falling on gangsters recruited to Mussolini's secret police, he distanced himself from the Fascists.

In 1925, he was among the signatories of the Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals, written by the writer and philosopher Benedetto Croce. In the same year he resigned from Corriere della Sera after the Fascists removed the editor, Luigi Albertini.  His positions at the Bocconi University and Turin Polytechnic were taken from him but he retained his professorship at Turin University's law school, signing an oath of allegiance to Fascism rather that let the chair be occupied by a Fascist.

In the Senate, he voted against Mussolini's war in Ethiopia in 1935 and against proposed racial laws in 1938.  When Mussolini was deposed and arrested in 1943, he was appointed Rector of Turin University but when the Germans freed the dictator from house arrest and installed him as head of a new Italian Socialist Republic he fled Italy to Switzerland, where he was granted asylum.

Alcide de Gasperi, in whose governments Einaudi occupied several offices
Alcide de Gasperi
On his return he was made Governer of the Bank of Italy and became part of Italy's governing National Council prior to the formation of the Republic, in which he served its first prime minister, Alcide de Gasperi, in several ministerial positions, including deputy premier, before his election as President.  He was the first to hold that office to reside at the Palazzo Quirinale.

Einaudi entered the winemaking business in 1897 at the age of 23 when he acquired an 18th century farmhouse called San Giacomo outside Dogliani, his mother's home town, about 10km (six miles) from Carrù, which came with a ruined chapel and about 15 hectares of vines.

The farm began bottling Dolcetto di Dogliani under the label Poderi Einaudi (Einaudi Estates), with Luigi attending the harvest every year, despite his numerous commitments.

Although Luigi died in 1961 at the age of 87, the business remained in the family and now extends across 145 hectares, mainly in Dogliani but with some in Barolo.  The current owner is Matteo Sardagna, Luigi's great grandson and Ludovico's cousin.

The University of Turin now has an Einaudi Campus named in his honour.

Dogliani's church of Santi Quirico e Paolo
Dogliani's church of
Santi Quirico e Paolo
Travel tip:

Dogliani, where there has been a settlement since pre-Roman times, is a town of some 4,500 inhabitants about 60km (37 miles) southeast of Turin. As well as being the home of the red wine Dolcetto di Dogliani, it is famous for the annual tradition of Presepio Vivente, in which around 350 people take part in a living nativity scene in the medieval streets.  The town is also notable for the magnificent parish church of Santi Quirico and Paolo, designed by Giovanni Battista Schellino.

Dogliani hotels by

A typical hamlet in the picturesque Langhe area of  Piedmont
A typical hamlet in the picturesque Langhe area of  Piedmont
Travel tip:

Like Dogliani, the similarly sized Carrù is one of the towns of the Langhe, a picturesque area of hills to the south and east of the Tanaro river famous for wines, cheeses and truffles, in particular the white truffles of Alba.  The wines produced in the region include Barbera, Barbaresco, Barolo, Dolcetto and the Langhe Nebbiolo.  Carrù hosts the Sagra dell'Uva (fair of the grape) each year.  The town's castle, now a bank, is said to be haunted by La dama blu (the blue lady), the wife of one of the counts of Carrù, who was killed by an arrow fired by a murderer who was never caught.

More reading:

Alcide de Gasperi - the prime minister who rebuilt Italy

The distinctive and beautiful music of Ludovico Einaudi

Why Giaocomo Matteotti was called a 'martyr of freedom'

Also on this day:

1926: The birth of actor and writer Dario Fo

(Picture credits: Ludovico Einaudi by Joergens; Church in Dogliani by Luigi.tuby; Langhe hamlet by M^3)


14 January 2017

Giulio Andreotti - political survivor

Christian Democrat spent 45 years in government

Giulio Andreotti, pictured in 1979
Giulio Andreotti, pictured in 1979
Giulio Andreotti, who was Italy's most powerful politician for a period lasting almost half a century, was born on this day in 1919 in Rome.  He was a member of almost every Italian government from 1947 until 1992, leading seven of them.

He would have certainly gone on to be president were it not for the scandals in which he became embroiled in the 1990s, when his Christian Democrat party collapsed as a result of the mani pulite - clean hands - bribery investigations.  Andreotti himself was accused of an historic association with the Mafia and of commissioning the murder of a journalist, although he was acquitted of the latter charge on appeal.

The youngest of three children, Andreotti was brought up in difficult circumstances by his mother after his father, who had taught at a junior school in Segni, about 60km (37 miles) south-east of the capital in Lazio, had died when he was only two years old.

In contrast with the unassuming, mild-mannered persona for which he became known as an adult, the young Andreotti had a fiery temper.  On one occasion, in church, he attacked another altar boy, stubbing out a lit taper in his eye after feeling he had been ridiculed.

He attended the prestigious Liceo Torquato Tasso in Via Sicilia, not far from the Borghese Gardens and the Via Vittorio Veneto, before going on to graduate with honours after studying law at the University of Rome, while at the same time working in a tax office.

An opponent of Fascism, Andreotti's instinct was to keep his head down during Mussolini's reign but he did join the Italian Catholic Federation of University Students (FUCI), which was the only non-fascist youth organisation allowed to exist at the time.  Membership of the group enabled him to meet Aldo Moro, the future Christian Democrat prime minister, whom he succeeded as FUCI president in 1942.

Alcide de Gasperi, the founder of the  Christian Democrats and Andreotti's sponsor
Alcide de Gasperi, the founder of the
Christian Democrats and Andreotti's sponsor
Italy voted to become a republic in 1946 and Andreotti's political career began at the same time.  With the support of the first prime minister of the republic, Alcide de Gasperi, he was elected to the Constituent Assembly, the provisional parliament which had the task of writing the new Italian constitution.

De Gasperi had been a fierce opponent of Mussolini and was imprisoned in 1927 before being released on the grounds of poor health and being given refuge by the Catholic Church. He met Andreotti at the Vatican Library, where he worked as a cataloguer between 1929 and 1943.  The latter showed enthusiasm for the Christian Democrat party De Gasperi had been secretly establishing and when the party was formally launched it was not long before Andreotti was appointed as De Gasperi's assistant.

Andreotti began his government career in 1947, when he became Secretary of the Council of Ministers in De Gasperi's cabinet at the age of just 28. The following year he was elected to the newly formed Chamber of Deputies, representing the constituency of Rome-Latina-Viterbo-Frosinone, which would remain his stronghold until the 1990s.

During Andreotti's long period of influence, there were many groups with a vested interest in making sure that the country was run by a Catholic party, and it was Andreotti's ability to form unlikely alliances across the country's fragmented political spectrum that held the line for so many years.

Those groups included, naturally enough, the church itself - still a massive part of the fabric of Italian society.  The United States, meanwhile, was determined to keep Italy out of the hands of the Italian Communist Party, which also suited the drivers of Italy's post-War industrial and financial recovery. The Mafia, too, feared that their ability to strike clandestine deals would be compromised by a shift to the left.  Andreotti, a quiet, self-effacing man who carried an aura of calm, emerged as the perfect figure to stand untouched at the centre of the whirlwind of Italian political life, skilfully maintaining the status quo.

In that Italy did not become communist and grew at one point to be the fifth largest economy in the world, he succeeded.  But his time at the forefront was not without difficult moments, most notably the kidnap and murder of his friend, Aldo Moro, by the Red Brigades in 1978.

Andreotti, left, with Aldo Moro in 1978, shortly before the latter was kidnapped by the Red Brigades terrorist group
Andreotti, left, with Aldo Moro in 1978, shortly before the
latter was kidnapped by the Red Brigades terrorist group
Andreotti refused to negotiate with the terrorist group, despite personal pleas from Moro, while the police and Italian secret services attracted criticism for failing to locate the apartment in which the former prime minister was being held, even though it was under their noses in central Rome.

Theories began to circulate that Andreotti was somehow complicit in the kidnap because Moro had been one of the politicians pushing for the so-called 'historic compromise', in which the Communists would be invited to play a direct role in government for the first time, in return for keeping the Christian Democrats in power.

Nothing was ever proved, although what is fact is that, after Moro had been killed, Andreotti took the opportunity to propose a government of 'National Solidarity' in the face of the possibility of more acts of terrorism, strengthening his grip on power. The Communists supported the move but when they asked to participate directly in a new coalition, they found the 'historic compromise' was no longer on the agenda.

The theories resurfaced in the 1990s when Andreotti admitted the existence at the time of the kidnap of Operation Gladio, an undercover network sponsored by NATO and the US secret services to bolster Italy as the last line of defence against the advance of Soviet communism.

Similar theories lay behind the accusation that Andreotti had colluded with the Sicilian Mafia to arrange the murder of a journalist, Carmine Pecorelli, in Rome in 1979, to prevent the publication of a book by Pecorelli which contained information related to the Moro kidnap that would probably have ended Andreotti's career.

In 2002, Andreotti was sentenced, along with Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti, to 24 years in jail for Pecorelli's murder. The sentence was thrown out by the Italian Supreme Court in 2003.

A long-running investigation into Andreotti's suspected links with the Mafia ended with no sentence handed down after a court in Palermo decided that, since no links could be proved after 1980, too much time had elapsed for Andreotti to be prosecuted.

The disbanding of the Christian Democrats after the mani pulite revelations did not spell the end of Andreotti, although his role in politics became increasingly peripheral. He died in Rome in 2013 at the age of 94.

The Palazzo Chigi in Rome is the official residence of the Italian prime minister
The Palazzo Chigi in Rome is the official residence
of the Italian prime minister
Travel tip:

During the six and a half years in total that Giulio Andreotti was Italy's prime minister, his official residence was the Palazzo Chigi in Piazza Colonna, a square just off Via del Corso, about equidistant from the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. Originally built in 1580 for the Aldobrandi family - Ippolito Aldobrandi was Pope Clement VIII - it was bought by the Chigi family in 1659.  In 1878 it was acquired by the Austro-Hungarian empire to be the residence of their ambassador in Rome before the Italian state took ownership in 1916.

Travel tip:

First-time visitors to Rome might be daunted by the prospect of so much to see in such a large area and not know where to start.  In fact, most of the city's major attractions and contained within a four sided area that can be defined on a map by drawing a line between the Vatican and the Borghese Gardens, Stazione Termini, the Baths of Caracalla and back to the Vatican. Even so, it would take the best part of a week to see everything contained within that area.

More reading:

Alcide de Gasperi - the prime minister who rebuilt Italy

The kidnap and murder of Aldo Moro

Enrico Berlinguer - the leader who turned Italy's Communists into a political force

Also on this day:

1883: Birth of fashion designer Nina Ricci

(Picture credit: Palazzo Chigi by Jordiferrer via Wikimedia Commons)


10 July 2016

Manlio Brosio - NATO secretary-general

Anti-Fascist politician became skilled diplomat

Manlio Brosio was secretary-general of NATO from 1964-71
Manlio Brosio
Manlio Brosio, the only Italian to be made a permanent secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), was born on this day in 1897 in Turin.

Brosio, whose distinguished diplomatic career had seen him hold the office of Italian ambassador to the Soviet Union, Britain, the United States and France, was appointed to lead NATO in 1964 and remained in post until 1971, the second longest-serving of the 13 secretary-generals so far.

Known for his congenial personality, he insisted that others behaved courteously and with respect for etiquette, while conducting himself with self-restraint.  This enabled him to maintain a good relationship with all NATO ambassadors and helped him manage a number of difficult situations.

Some critics felt he was too cautious but his low-key approach is now credited with keeping NATO together during the crisis that developed in 1966 when General Charles de Gaulle, the French president, threatened the organisation's existence by insisting that NATO removed all its military installations from France within a year.

France was one of three nuclear powers among the 15 members of NATO and key to the alliance's Cold War strategic planning but de Gaulle was of the view that the United States was too dominant and feared that France could be drawn into a conflict it did not want.

NATO had to move its headquarters from Paris to Brussels as a result but with Brosio overseeing attempts to reach a solution as France withdrew from the command structure, de Gaulle did ultimately give an assurance that France would participate in the defence of Western Europe in the event of a Soviet attack.

This remained France's position until 2009, when president Nicolas Sarkozy took them back into the command structure.

Brosio always encouraged the member nations to develop a diplomatic strategy towards the Soviet Union rather than simply a military one and his stance led indirectly to the Nixon administration in the United States negotiating with the Soviets on arms control and nuclear weapons limitation.

The monument to Italian partisans killed in battle at the summit of Monte Grappa
The monument to Italian partisans killed in battle at
the summit of Monte Grappa
One of six brothers, Brosio graduated with a law degree from the University of Turin, where his studies were interrupted while he served with the Alpine Regiment on Monte Grappa in the First World War, a duty for which he volunteered despite being opposed to Italian involvement.

After the war he entered politics, soon becoming a leading figure within the so-called "liberal revolution", but after being threatened by Mussolini's secret police over what they saw as anti-Fascist activity he returned to practising law.

By this time, the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti had already been murdered following his denouncement of the Fascists in parliament and it was clear to Brosio and many on the left or centre-left of Italian politics that their lives would be in danger were they to continue.

Following the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943. Brosio joined the resistance movement in the north and became a member of the National Liberation Committee.  As secretary of the Italian Liberal Party he was elected to serve in Italy's immediate post-war governments, ultimately as Minister of War under Alcide de Gasperi.

He began his diplomatic career as Italy's ambassador in Moscow in 1947, moving to London in 1952, to Washington in 1955 and finally to Paris in 1960.

Awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1955, he was given the United States' Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon in 1971.

Married to Clotilde but with no children, Manlio died in Turin after a short illness in March 1980, aged 82.  He was buried in a family tomb in Venaria Reale, near Turin.

Travel tip:

Monte Grappa is a mountain in the Venetian Pre-alps, rising to 1,775 metres, situated some 27km north of Bassano del Grappa, in Vicenza province in the Veneto region.  It was the scene of military action in both World Wars. On the summit there is an extraordinary memorial to those killed there in the Second World War, when Nazi and Fascist troops slaughtered huge numbers of partisans who had sought refuge.  The monument is composed of five concentric circles, laid on top of each other to form a pyramid, containing the remains of 12,615 soldiers. On the top there is the little sanctuary of the Madonnina del Grappa.

The Royal Palace at Venaria Reale was built as a base for Duke Charles Emmanuel II of Savoy's hunting expeditions
The Royal Palace at Venaria Reale
Travel tip:

Venaria Reale is a town of around 35,000 inhabitants situated about eight kilometres north-west of Turin, notable for its Royal Palace, one of the residences of the Royal House of Savoy, built in 1675 for Duke Charles Emmanuel II, who wanted a base for his hunting expeditions.  The name Venaria Reale derives from the Latin Venatio Regia, meaning 'Royal Hunt'.  The house was added to the UNESCO Heritage List in 1997.

(Photo of Monte Grappa monument by Gabriele dalla Porta CC BY-SA 2.0)
(Photo of the Royal Palace at Venaria Reale by Valerio Manassero CC BY-SA 3.0)


3 April 2016

Alcide De Gasperi - prime minister who rebuilt Italy

Christian Democrat founder was jailed by Mussolini

Alcide de Gasperi founded the Italian Christian Democrat Party
Alcide De Gasperi
Born on this day in 1881, Alcide De Gasperi was the Italian prime minister who founded the Christian Democrat party and led the rebuilding of the country after World War II.

An opponent of Benito Mussolini who survived being locked up by the Fascist dictator, he was the head of eight consecutive governments between 1945 and 1953, a record for longevity in post-War Italian politics.

Although Silvio Berlusconi has spent more time in office - nine years and 53 days compared with De Gasperi's seven years and 238 days - the media tycoon's time in power was fragmented, whereas De Gasperi served continuously until his resignation in 1953.

As prime minister, De Gasperi was largely responsible for Italy's post-War economic salvation and for helping to hold the line between East and West as the Soviet Union established its border on Italy's doorstep.

During his premiership, Italy became a republic, signed a peace treaty with the Allies, joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and became an ally of the United States, who in turn provided considerable help in reviving the shattered Italian economy.

De Gasperi took advantage of America's nervousness about the rise of the Soviet-funded Italian Communist Party, negotiating a peace treaty much more favourable to Italy than might have been expected and securing immediate financial help towards rebuilding Italy's damaged infrastructure. In return he promised to mobilise opposition to the Communists.

America then supported De Gasperi's Christian Democrats in the crucial 1948 election not only through financial contributions, some above board but others less so, but also through propaganda, with Italian-Americans encouraged to urge their relatives at home to vote against the Communists.

De Gasperi's tomb is in the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura in Rome
The tomb of Alcide de Gasperi in the
Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura
(Photo: Panairjdde CC BY-SA 3.0)
De Gasperi is also credited with introducing social reforms to help working Italians enjoy the benefits of better housing, improved pensions and unemployment insurance.  A pro-Europe politician, he saw that Italy became a member of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which evolved into the European Union (EU).

The Christian Democrat Party was formed after the fall of Benito Mussolini's Fascists, with De Gasperi the driving force.

Born in Pieve Tesino, a town in the South Tyrol area of Trentino-Alto Adige today but then part of the Austria-Hungary, he was a member of the Austrian parliament for six years before his home region became part of Italy under the terms of the settlement following World War I.

Continuing his political career, he was among the founders of the Italian People's Party (PPI) in 1919 and served as a deputy in the Italian parliament between 1921 and 1924, the period that coincided with the rise of Fascism.

At first, De Gasperi was keen for the PPI to be part of Mussolini's first government but this support wavered as the Fascists began to introduce major constitutional changes and attempted to subdue their opponents with violence and intimidation.

When the socialist politician, Giacomo Matteoti, who had spoken out against the violence, was murdered, De Gasperi himself began to campaign against the Fascists.  In 1927 he was arrested and sentenced to four years in jail.

In poor health, he was released after 18 months following an appeal from the Catholic Church.  In serious financial difficulties, he found work as a cataloguer in the Vatican Library and remained there for 14 years.

For most of this time, he kept a low profile, but after Mussolini's grip on power began to loosen, he resumed his political activity by forming another party, Democrazia Christiana, drawing on the ideology of the PPI, and publishing his Ideas for Reconstruction, after which he was appointed the party's first general secretary.

De Gasperi died in 1954, a year after he resigned as prime minister following his party's failure to secure a majority in the 1953 elections and only two months after stepping down as leader.  He had returned to Trentino but political office in Italy at the time did not bring significant financial reward and it is said that he died with not enough money even to pay for a dignified burial.

Fortunately, the Italian government felt his achievements deserved to be recognised with a state funeral.  His remains are buried at the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura in Rome.

The Fountain of Neptune in Piazza Duomo in
Trento (Pic: Matteo Ianeselli CC BY-SA 4.0)
Travel tip:

Trentino-Alto Adige is a region bordering Switzerland and Austria that includes part of the Dolomites, a section of the Italian Alps notable for its sawtooth limestone peaks. Trento, the region's capital, has some notable Renaissance palaces and the region as a whole is dotted with medieval castles.

Travel tip:

The Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura can be found in Piazzale San Lorenzo, close to the University of Rome and accessible by following the Via Tiburtina to the north-west of the main Roma Termini railway station.  There are bus services along the route.  The Basilica suffered bomb damage during World War II and had to be rebuilt.  The original was constructed in the fourth century, was rebuilt 200 years later and added to at various times subsequently.