Showing posts with label Aosta. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Aosta. Show all posts

12 August 2018

Vittorio Sella - mountain photographer

Images still considered among the most beautiful ever made

A 1909 photograph by Sella of K2, on the China-Pakistan border
A 1909 photograph by Sella of K2, on
the China-Pakistan border 
The photographer Vittorio Sella, who combined mountaineering with taking pictures of some of the world’s most famous and challenging peaks, died on this day in 1943 in his home town of Biella in Piedmont.

Even though Sella took the bulk of his photographs between the late 1870s and the First World War, his images are still regarded as among the most beautiful and dramatic ever taken.

His achievements are all the more remarkable given that his first camera and tripod alone weighed more than 18kg (40lbs) and he exposed his pictures on glass plates weighing almost a kilo (2lbs).  He had to set up makeshift darkrooms on the mountain at first because each shot had to be developed within 10 to 15 minutes.

Sella had exploring and photography in his blood. He was born in 1859 in Biella, in the foothills of the Italian Alps. It was an important area for wool and textiles and his family ran a successful wool factory.

Sella’s father, Giuseppe, was fascinated with the new science of photography A few years before Vittorio’s birth, he published the first major treatise on photography in Italian.

Meanwhile, Sella’s uncle, Quintino Sella, led the first expedition to the top of Monte Viso (or Monviso), the highest mountain in the French-Italian Alps, and in 1863 founded the Club Alpino Italiano, which remains Italy’s principal mountaineering club.

Le Siniolchu (6895 m) and the glacier Zemu, in the
Himalayas, often seen as one of Sella's greatest pictures
Sella’s father died when he was 16 and he was placed in the care of his uncle, which only encouraged Vittorio’s interest in mountaineering. His uncle was a famous man in his day, one of Italy's foremost mountaineering experts, who also helped establish a royal museum of mineralogy in Turin. 

Quintino Sella was also well known as a politician, serving as Italy’s minister of finance in 1862, after Italy was unified.

Vittorio decided he wanted a career that combine his father's passion with his uncle's and he was a pioneer in mountaineering as well as photography. In 1882, he led the first group to successfully climb the Matterhorn - Monte Cervino to Italians - the largest mountain on the Italian–Swiss border, during the winter.

He also made the first winter ascent of Monte Rosa and the first winter traverse of Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco).

Further afield, he undertook three expeditions to the Caucasus (where a peak now bears his name) and also climbed Mount Saint Elias in Alaska and the Rwenzori in Africa. He was part of the 1909 expedition to K2 and the Karakoram. 

Vittorio Sella attempted to climb the Matterhorn at the age of 76
Vittorio Sella attempted to climb
the Matterhorn at the age of 76
The remarkable fact of Sella’s climbing career is that, where most mountaineers consider reaching distant summits and returning safely home as the limit of their ambitions, Sella often repeatedly climbed to the same summits in order to create still more stunning photographic images.

Age did not lessen Sella’s appetite for climbing. He attempted to scale the Matterhorn at 76 years old, the attempt failing not because of any weaknesses on his part but because one of his guides was injured.

The American photographer Ansel Adams, who saw Sella make a presentation in the United States, said his photographic work inspired "a definitely religious awe".

Sella died in Biella a few days before what would have been his 84th birthday.  He was buried at the Monumental Cemetery of Oropa, a little over 15km (9 miles) northwest of Biella in the Sacro Monte di Oropa nature reserve.

The Vittorio Sella Refuge, once a hunting lodge belonging to King Victor Emmanuel II, located at 2,588m (8,490ft) in the Gran Paradiso National Park on the Piedmont-Aosta border, is dedicated to him.  The refuge has beds for 150 people and a restaurant.

His collections of photographs is now managed by the Sella Foundation (Fondazione Sella) in Biella.

Biella's Roman baptistery, which dates back almost 1,000 years, is next to the town hall
Biella's Roman baptistery, which dates back almost 1,000
years, is next to the town hall
Travel tip:

Biella is a well-established town of almost 45,000 inhabitants in the foothill of the Alps, about 85km (53 miles) northeast of Turin and slightly more than 100m (62 miles) west of Milan. Its attractions include a Roman baptistery from early 1000s and the church and convent of San Sebastian. Wool and textiles have been associated with the town since the 13th century and although the best years of the industry have now passed, with many mills and factories closed, brands such as Cerruti 1881, Ermenegildo Zegna, Vitale Barberis Canonico and Fila still have a presence.

A classic view of the Matterhorn, showing the east and north faces
A classic view of the Matterhorn, showing
the east and north faces
Travel tip:

The Matterhorn, also known as Monte Cervino, which straddles the Swiss-Italian border about 60km (37 miles) northeast of Aosta, is an almost symmetrical natural pyramid, with four steep faces, whose peak is 4,478 metres (14,692ft) high, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps. The north face was not climbed until 1931 and the west face, which is the highest of the Matterhorn's four faces, was completely climbed only in 1962. More then 500 alpinists have died on the Matterhorn, including four on the first attempted ascent in 1865, making it one of the deadliest peaks in the world.

More reading:

How bitter rivalry marred the career of climber Walter Bonatti

War hero who was first to complete more than 100 climbs

Felice Beato - the world's first war photographer

Also on this day:

1612: The death of Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli

1990: The birth of controversial football star Mario Balotelli


17 March 2018

Innocenzo Manzetti - inventor

Made prototype telephone 33 years ahead of Bell

Innocenzo Manzetti was an inventor of such energy he could get by on minimal sleep
Innocenzo Manzetti was an inventor of such
energy he could get by on minimal sleep
The inventor Innocenzo Manzetti, credited by some scientific historians as having been the creator of a forerunner of the telephone many years ahead of his compatriot Antonio Meucci and the Scottish-American Alexander Graham Bell, was born on this day in 1826 in Aosta, in northwest Italy.

Manzetti's extraordinary catalogue of inventions included a steam-powered car, a hydraulic water pump, a pendulum watch that would keep going for a whole year and a robot that could play the flute.

But he was a man whose creative talents were not allied to business sense.  Like Meucci, a Florentine emigrant to New York who demonstrated a telephone-like device in 1860 - 16 years before Bell was granted the patent - Manzetti did not patent his device and therefore missed out on the fortune that came the way of Bell.

Research has found that Manzetti may have had the idea for a "vocal telegraph" as early as 1843, as a result of his success with his flute-playing automaton, which he constructed as a life-size model of a man sitting on a chair, inside which were concealed a system of levers, rods and compressed air tubes that enabled his lips and fingers to move on the flute.

This was linked to a program recorded on a cylinder much like those that would become the key component in the self-playing pianos, or pianolas, that were popular in the early part of the 20th century.

Manzetti's automaton
Manzetti's automaton
When Manzetti showed off his automaton in public, he went to great lengths to make it appear lifelike, programming it to stand and take a bow at the end of a performance.  He successfully devised a system of wires whereby he could transmit the sound of a piano being played out of view of the audience so that it would appear to come from his automaton.

The natural extension of this was to attempt to transmit his own remote voice, so that the automaton would seem to speak, and there are descriptions in newspapers of the time that spoke of a cornet-like device, containing a magnetized steel needle and a coil of silk-coated copper wire, into which Manzetti spoke.

However, he put the idea aside for two decades and concentrated on other projects.  It is thought that this was because there were imperfections in his system, which could transmit vowel sounds accurately but was not clear enough to make one consonant sound different from another, that he was unable to solve.

He revisited the idea in the 1860s and there were newspaper articles at the time proclaiming his invention of the télégraph parlant. But neither he nor Meucci could meet the high cost of patenting their devices and it was left to Bell to take the glory in 1876.

Nonetheless, there is no detracting from Manzetti's achievements as an inventor, the product of such enormous creative energy that he was said to exist during his most productive phases on only a couple of hours' sleep a night,

Manzetti's house in Aosta on Rue Xavier de Maistre
Manzetti's house in Aosta on Rue Xavier de Maistre
The hydraulic pump-like mechanism he devised in 1855 to remove water from the previously unworkable Ollomont copper mines of the Aosta Valley meant the mines were put back to use and remained in service until 1945.

The steam-powered car he built in 1864 came 27 years before Léon Serpollet built and demonstrated one in Paris.

Manzetti also built a wooden flying parrot for his daughter that could hover for two or three minutes before settling down again, created several instruments he used in his work as a land surveyor and invented a telescope based on three converging lenses that produced such magnification of images that the user could observe the movement of a small lizard, for example, at a distance of more than 7km (4 miles).

Nonetheless, he was not a wealthy man. Married to Rosa Sofia Anzola, he had two daughters, neither of whom survived beyond childhood, and himself died in impoverished circumstances in 1877, aged only 51.

The beautiful entrance facade to  the cathedral in Aosta
The beautiful entrance facade to
the cathedral in Aosta
Travel tip:

Aosta is the principal municipality in the Aosta Valley, an autonomous bilingual French-Italian region close to the Italian entrance to the Mont-Blanc Tunnel, about 110km (68 miles) northwest of Turin. Its position in relation to the Great and Little St Bernard passes made it a place of strategic importance and there are the remains of a Roman military camp and an amphitheatre as well as the Arch of Augustus.  The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and San Giovanni Battista boasts a beautiful Renaissance facade decorated with frescoes and high reliefs dedicated to the Life of the Virgin.

Hotels in Aosta by

The Centro Saint-Bénin in Via Jean-Boniface Festaz
Travel tip:

Since April 2012, there has been a permanent exhibition dedicated to Manzetti and his inventions in a hall of the Centro Saint-Bénin in Aosta, where his the automaton, which is still visited today by engineering scientists from all over the world, can be seen at close quarters.  The main square outside the town's railway station is named after Manzetti.