Showing posts with label Benito Mussolini. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Benito Mussolini. Show all posts

18 June 2024

Franco Modigliani – economist

Writer and professor developed theories about spending and saving

Franco Modigliani studied in Rome before emigrating to America
Franco Modigliani studied in Rome
before emigrating to America
Nobel prize winner Franco Modigliani, who was an originator of the economic life-cycle hypothesis that attempts to explain the level of spending in the economy, was born on this day in 1918 in Rome.

He wrote several books outlining his economic theories, became a professor at three American universities, and received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1985. 

Modigliani also formulated the Modigliani-Miller theorem for corporate finances, which is based on the idea that the value of a private firm is not affected by whether it is financed by equity or by debt.

Born and brought up in a Jewish family, Modigliani enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the Sapienza University of Rome at the age of 17. In his second year at Sapienza, his entry in a national economics contest won first prize and he was presented with it by the Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.

Modigliani went on to write essays for the Fascist magazine Lo Stato, displaying an inclination for the fascist ideals that were critical of liberalism at the time.

He argued the case for socialism in an article for the magazine about the organisation and management of production in a socialist economy.

But after racial laws were passed in Italy in 1938, he left Rome, with his girlfriend, Serena Calabi, whose father was a prominent opponent of Mussolini, to join her parents in Paris.

The neoclassical main building of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology - Modigliani's base for many years
He returned to Rome to discuss his thesis and obtain his diploma in 1939, but afterwards went back to Paris.

Later that year, Modigliani emigrated with his girlfriend’s family to the United States, where he enrolled  at the New School for Social Research in New York. The PhD dissertation he submitted there was judged to be ‘ground breaking’.

Modigliani taught at Columbia University and Bard College in New York between 1942 and 1944 and became a naturalised citizen of the US in 1946. He later taught at the University of Illinois and Carnegie Mellon University before becoming an Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He developed the hypothesis that consumers aim for a stable level of consumption during their lifetime by saving during their working years and spending during their retirement. Economists believe this was an original theory when he introduced it in a paper written in 1954. 

Modigliani also introduced the concept of the NIRU, the non-inflationary rate of unemployment, which referred to the level of unemployment, below which inflation rises, which he believed should influence policy decisions.

Modigliani in 2000: he continued to teach well into his 80s
Modigliani in 2000: he continued
to teach well into his 80s
Modigliani married Serena Calabi in 1939 in Paris and they had two children, Andre and Sergio. 

With Leah Modigliani, his granddaughter, who followed him in becoming an economist, he developed the Modigliani Risk-Adjusted Performance, a measure of the risk-adjusted returns of an investment portfolio.

His Nobel prize was awarded to him for his pioneering analyses of saving and financial markets and in the same year he received MIT’s James R Killian Faculty Achievement award. 

In 1997, he received an honoris causa degree in Management Engineering from the University of Naples Federico II.

Modigliani became a trustee of the Economists for Peace and Security organisation and was an influential adviser to the Federal Reserve, designing a tool to guide monetary policy in Washington.

A collection of Modigliani’s economic papers is now housed in the Duke University’s Rubenstein Library in Durham, North Carolina.

Modigliani died in 2003 at the age of 85 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he taught until the last six months of his life.  Two years before his death he had written about his life as an economist in his autobiography, Adventures of an Economist.

Marcello Piacentini's modern campus at the Sapienza University of Rome
Marcello Piacentini's modern campus at the
Sapienza University of Rome
Travel tip:

The university Franco Modigliani attended in Rome is often known simply as La Sapienza, which means ‘the wisdom.’  It can trace its origins back to 1303, when it was opened by Pope Boniface VIII as the first pontifical university. In the 19th century the University broadened its outlook and a new campus, designed by Urban theorist and architect, Marcello Piacentini, was built near the Termini railway station in 1935. Rome University now caters for more than 112,000 students.

The Via della Conciliazione, also designed by Marcello Piacentini, frames St Peter's Basilica
The Via della Conciliazione, also designed by
Marcello Piacentini, frames St Peter's Basilica
Travel tip:

Architect Marcello Piacentini studied arts and engineering in Rome and afterwards worked for the Fascist Government. He developed a simplified neoclassicism which became the mainstay of Fascist architecture and as well as designing the new campus for  La Sapienza, he was responsible for the redesign of the road approaching St Peter’s in Rome, Via della Conciliazione. Roughly 500m long, Via della Conciliazione connects St Peter's Square to the Castel Sant'Angelo on the western bank of the Tevere (Tiber) river. A great many buildings, many of them residential, had to be requisitioned and demolished to create space for the road, which was constructed between 1936 and 1950 as the primary access route to St Peter's Square.

Also on this day:

1466: The birth of music printer Ottaviano dei Petrucci

1511: The birth of sculptor and architect Bartolomeo Ammannati

1943: The birth of actress, singer and TV presenter Raffaella Carrà

1946: The birth of football manager Fabio Capello

1952: The birth of actress Isabella Rossellini


4 June 2024

Dino Grandi - politician

Fascist who ultimately turned against Mussolini

Dino Grandi was a member of the Fascist Grand Council
Dino Grandi was a member
of the Fascist Grand Council
The Fascist politician Dino Grandi was born on this day in 1895 in Mordano, a small town near Imola in Emilia-Romagna.

Although Grandi was an active member of Benito Mussolini’s Blackshirts and a staunch advocate of using violence to suppress opponents of Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, he ultimately became central to the Italian dictator’s downfall.

During his time as the Italian Ambassador in London, Grandi tried to forge a pact between Italy and Britain that would have prevented Italy entering World War Two.  Under pressure from the German leader Adolf Hitler, Mussolini removed him from the post of ambassador and appointed him Minister of Justice.

Grandi had also opposed the antisemitic Italian racial laws of 1938. He enjoyed a good relationship with the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III, who gave him the title Count of Mordano.

His increasing criticism of Italy’s war effort saw him dropped from his position in Mussolini's cabinet in February 1943 but he remained chairman of the Fascist Grand Council. In this role, he colluded with others, such as Giuseppe Bottai and Mussolini’s own son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, to remove Mussolini as leader.

They could see Italy’s war was being lost, with the country suffering more and more following the Allied invasion of Sicily. Grandi and other members of the Fascist Grand Council met on July 24, 1943. When Mussolini said that the Germans were thinking of pulling out of the south, effectively abandoning the country to the enemy, Grandi stood up and subjected the self-proclaimed Il Duce to a blistering verbal attack. 

Grandi served as Italy's Ambassador in London, where he sought a deal to keep Italy out of WW2
Grandi served as Italy's Ambassador in London,
where he sought a deal to keep Italy out of WW2
He proposed a motion to the Grand Council asking Victor Emmanuel III to resume his full constitutional authority. When the motion was put to a vote, at 2am on 25 July, it was carried by 19 votes to eight.

This effectively stood down Mussolini from office, although it took his arrest later in the day, after he had been to see the King as if it was business as usual, to enforce his removal. 

Grandi, a law graduate from the University of Bologna who hailed from a wealthy background in Mordano, had met Mussolini for the first time in 1914. Like Mussolini, he had initially been attracted to the political left, but swung in behind the future leader’s nationalist brand of socialism. He joined the Blackshirts - the Fascist party’s paramilitary wing - at the age of 25.

After the March on Rome in October 1922, after which the Fascists took power in Italy, Grandi became part of Mussolini’s government, first as the undersecretary of the interior, then as Minister of Foreign Affairs and later as  Italy's ambassador to the United Kingdom, a position he held from 1932 to 1939. 

He maintained his links with the most radical and violent groups in the party. He surrounded himself with members of the Blackshirts, whom he used as bodyguards.

Despite his role in the fall of the Fascist government, Grandi found himself unwanted by the new regime under interim prime minister Pietro Badoglio and left Italy under a false name, taking his family first to Spain and then Portugal.  In 1944 he was sentenced to death in absentia by a court in the Italian Social Republic, where Mussolini, having been freed from house arrest by German paratroopers, had been installed by Hitler as the head of a puppet Nazi state. 

After seven years in exile, when life at times was hard for his family because of a lack of income, Grandi’s luck changed in the 1950s. He held representative positions for the Italian car maker Fiat and worked as a consultant to the American authorities, often serving as an intermediary in political and industrial operations between Italy and the United States. 

He then moved to Brazil, becoming the owner of an agricultural estate, before returning to Italy in the 1960s. He had a farm in the countryside of Modena before moving to Bologna. He died in Bologna in 1988 shortly before his 93rd birthday, three years after the publication of his political autobiography Il mio paese.

He is buried in the monumental cemetery of the Certosa di Bologna.

Imola's duomo, the Cattedrale di San Cassiano, in the city centre
Imola's duomo, the Cattedrale di
San Cassiano, in the city centre 
Travel tip:

The city of Imola, like Mordano, is today part of the greater metropolitan area of Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region. It has a well-preserved castle, the Rocca Sforzesca, which is nowadays the home of an internationally respected piano academy and the Cinema d’Este, which shows films in July and August. Imola also has a duomo, dedicated to San Cassiano. Erected from 1187 to 1271, it was repeatedly restored in the following centuries, until a large renovation was held in 1765–1781. The façade dates to 1850.The city is best known today for its motor racing circuit, the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, which hosts the Formula One Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix and formerly hosted the San Marino Grand Prix, on behalf of the nearby independent republic.

The Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna's Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the city
The Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna's
Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the city
Travel tip:

Bologna, where Grandi died, is one of Italy's oldest cities, dating back to 1,000BC or possibly earlier.  The University of Bologna, the oldest in the world, was founded in 1088.  Bologna's city centre, which has undergone substantial restoration since the 1970s, is one of the largest and best preserved historical centres in Italy, characterised by 38km (24 miles) of walkways protected by porticoes.  At the heart of the city is the beautiful Piazza Maggiore, dominated by the Gothic Basilica of San Petronio, which at 132m long, 66m wide and with a facade that touches 51m at its tallest, is the 10th largest church in the world and the largest built in brick. The Certosa di Bologna, where Grandi is buried, is a former Carthusian monastery founded in 1334 and suppressed in 1797, located just outside the walls of the city. In 1801 it became the city’s monumental cemetery.

Also on this day:

1463: The death of historian and archaeologist Flavio Biondo

1604: The birth of Claudia de’ Medici, Archduchess of Tyrol

1966: The birth of opera singer Cecilia Bartoli

1970: The birth of Olympic skiing champion Deborah Compagnoni


11 November 2023

Alessandro Mussolini - socialist activist

Father whose politics were Fascist leader’s early inspiration

Mussolini's father, Alessandro, by trade a blacksmith, was an active socialist militant
Mussolini's father, Alessandro, by trade a
blacksmith, was an active socialist militant
Alessandro Mussolini, the father of Italian Fascist founder and leader Benito Mussolini, was born on this day in 1854, in Montemaggiore di Predappio, a hamlet in Emilia-Romagna, then still part of the Papal States in pre-unification Italy.

A blacksmith by profession, he was a revolutionary socialist activist who had a profound influence on his son’s early political leanings.  Although his embrace of nationalism was not as full as that of his son, Mussolini senior nonetheless greatly admired Italian nationalist figures such as Carlo Pisacane, Giuseppe Mazzini, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, whom he perceived as having socialist or humanist tendencies.

Regularly in trouble with the police for acts of criminal damage and sometimes violence against opponents, Alessandro was eventually held under house arrest and granted his release only when he announced he wished to marry his girlfriend, a local schoolteacher who was a devout Catholic.

Alessandro was born in a house in Montemaggiore di Predappio that once hosted Giuseppe and Anita Garibaldi as they made their way towards Venice from San Marino.  Anita, carrying their fifth child, became ill soon after leaving Montemaggiore and died outside Ravenna.

Although Alessandro had distant noble roots on his father’s side, his own politics were firmly on the left. He declared himself to be a socialist revolutionary at the age of 19 and the following year took part in riots in nearby Predappio.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was one of Alessandro Mussolini's heroes
Giuseppe Garibaldi was one of
Alessandro Mussolini's heroes
He acquired a reputation for violence and intimidation against political adversaries and for destroying property, regularly testing the patience of the local authorities. Detained in 1878 after defying police warnings to stop threatening opponents and causing wilful damage to property, he was placed under house arrest.

At the heart of his political philosophy was the belief that the means of production should belong to the State and not be privately owned and that society should be governed by committees of workers. He combined his socialist principles with nationalism, driven by his pride at being Italian. His idealistic vision combined Garibaldi-style militarism with Mazzinian nationalist sentiment and humanitarian socialism.

His notoriety as an activist had an impact on his life in many ways. His in-laws, for example, would not grant their approval to his marriage to Rosa Maltoni after he was released from house arrest in 1882, their view of Alessandro not helped by his undisguised contempt for the Catholic church to which his bride, by contrast, was devoted.

He suffered regular periods out of work, too, because prospective employers, aware of his reputation, feared he would be a disruptive influence who might encourage his fellow workers to stage strikes.  These periods of idleness led him to drink heavily and he would eventually become an alcoholic.

Nonetheless, his marriage to Rosa produced three children, of whom Benito - named Benito Amilcare Andrea in honour of the Mexican politician Benito Juárez and two Italian revolutionaries, Amilcare Cipriani and Andrea Costa - was their first born, in 1893. Subsequently, Benito acquired a brother, Arnaldo, and a sister, Edvige.

Rachele Guidi, who was to become Benito's wife
Rachele Guidi, who was to
become Benito's wife
Meanwhile, Alessandro’s political activity continued. He participated in a successful campaign to have Costa elected to the Chamber as Italy’s first socialist deputy, and was himself elected to serve on the council in Predappio, where he organised the first local cooperative among labourers.

His involvement in local government ended, however, when he was wrongly arrested on suspicion of inciting riots in Predappio at the time of the local elections in 1902. Despite pleading his innocence, he was kept in custody for six months before a court in Forlì finally acquitted him.

The spell in prison damaged his health, and after Rosa died in 1905 he drifted into relative obscurity. He opened a small tavern on the outskirts of Forlì and became reacquainted with Anna Lombardi, whom he had courted many years earlier, before meeting Rosa. Anna was by now a widow with five daughters. One of them, Rachele Guidi, became enamoured with Benito, by then a young man in his 20s, and would later become his long-suffering wife. 

Benito, who had helped his father in the smithy as a boy, listening to Alessandro speak about Karl Marx as well as Pisacane, Mazzini and Garibaldi, at first worked with him too in the inn when his own commitments allowed it. In time, though, Benito was at home less and less and as the work took its toll on Alessandro, who turned increasingly back to the bottle.

He died in 1910, just eight days after his 56th birthday. Almost half a century later, in 1957, members of the Mussolini family arranged for his remains to be moved from their resting place in Forlì to the family mausoleum that Benito had built in 1928 in Predappio, the town of his own birth.

There, Alessandro was reunited with Rosa and Benito himself, who was also buried there in 1957, some 12 years after he was killed by partisans on the shore of Lake Como, when it was agreed the family could hold a funeral. Rachele was interred next to her husband at Predappio following her death in 1979.

The parish church at Montemaggiore was rebuilt on Benito Mussolini's orders
The parish church at Montemaggiore was
rebuilt on Benito Mussolini's orders
Travel tip:

Alessandro’s birthplace, Montemaggiore di Predappio, a hamlet which had 100 residents at the last count, is situated about 10km (six miles) from the town of Predappio in Emilia-Romagna, accessed by a road of many hairpin bends that climbs into the Apennines to the west of Predappio.  It was once the home of a castle built in the 12th century, the last remains of which disappeared in the 1960s. Nowadays, the only building of note is its parish church, dedicated to Santo Cristofero, that Benito Mussolini had rebuilt in 1939. A well-preserved castle can be seen at Predappio Alta, one of the villages on the road to Montemaggiore. The Rocca di Predappio dates back to the early 10th century and was enlarged in the 15th century, when the addition of formidable walls made it almost impregnable. Thanks to its use largely as a garrison rather than a defensive bulwark, its structure remains almost intact.

The Mussolini crypt attracts thousands of visitors
The Mussolini crypt attracts
thousands of visitors
Travel tip:

Predappio, where Benito Mussolini was born in 1883, is a small town situated around 18km (11 miles) south of Forlì.  After a landslide hit the town in the winter of 1923-24, many people were left homeless, prompting the Italian government to build a bigger, more prestigious township to celebrate the birthplace of Mussolini, following the architectural styles favoured by the emerging Fascist regime. Along with the nearby town of Forlì, Predappio was given the title of La Città del Duce. The Mussolini family mausoleum in a cemetery just outside the town has become one of several attractions in the town for the neofascists who visit in their thousands each year. Visitors may be disturbed by the number of businesses in Predappio openly selling memorabilia celebrating the Fascist regime, although plans by a local mayor to open a Museum of Fascism in the town did not reach fruition. 

Also on this day:

1696: The birth of violinist and composer Andrea Zani

1869: The birth of King Victor Emmanuel III

1932: The birth of Germano Mosconi, controversial sports presenter

1961: The birth of actor Luca Zingaretti


27 September 2023

Vittorio Vidali - communist revolutionary

One-time Russian agent ultimately elected Italian deputy and senator

Vittorio Vidali became an agent of the Russian Communist Party
Vittorio Vidali became an agent of
the Russian Communist Party
The revolutionary Vittorio Vidali, who operated as a secret agent of the Russian communists in the United States, Mexico and Spain, was born on this day in 1900 in the coastal town of Muggia, near Trieste.

Known at various times by at least five different names, he was implicated in the murder of a fellow agent and in an attempt to assassinate Leon Trotsky, although in neither case could his involvement be proved. After returning to Italy at the end of World War Two, he served as a deputy and then a senator in the Italian parliament.

Vidali was politically active from an early age, joining the Socialist Youth movement in Trieste at the age of 16. At 20 he was one of the founders of the youth federation of the Italian Communist Party. In the same year - 1921 - he was arrested for his part in rioting at the San Marco shipyards where his father worked.

He became a target for Mussolini’s Blackshirts after organising, with others, an anti-fascist paramilitary group, and fled Italy in 1922, to Germany and then New York, where he met the Italian anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

From New York he travelled to Russia, becoming involved with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and their international wing, known as Comintern, which had agents operating around the world in their attempt to spread the communist doctrine.

Vidali became romantically involved with Tina Modotti, a glamorous former actress
Vidali became romantically involved with
Tina Modotti, a glamorous former actress
Comintern sent Vidali to Mexico on a mission to bring discipline to the Mexican Communist Party. There he is thought to have become infatuated with Tina Modotti, a former model and silent movie actress originally from Udine in Italy, who had been living in San Francisco and moved to Mexico to work as a photographer. She too was a communist activist.

When Modotti’s lover, Julio Antonio Mella , one of the founders of the Communist Party of Cuba, was shot dead at point blank range while walking with her, some witnesses claimed that Vidali was with the couple and even that it was he who carried out the killing. 

He had plausible motives, both personal and political, given his own interest in Modotti and Mella’s association with Trotskyists, to whom the Stalinist Comintern was hostile. Yet, although they questioned and released Modotti, the Mexican authorities charged another man, José Agustín López, a criminal with no political associations, with the murder. The accepted version of events, in Cuban history in any event, is that Mella’s death was ordered by the Cuban president, Gerardo Machado.

Vidali left Mexico for Spain.  Working under the name Carlos Contreras, he teamed up with Enrique Castro Delgado to create the so-called "Fifth Regiment" responsible for the defence of Madrid against Francisco Franco’s Nationalists, and organised the production of a daily newspaper to provide information for those fighting for the Spanish Democratic Republic.  At the same time, in a more sinister side to his activities on behalf of Comintern, he is said to have arranged for a number of pro-Trotsky operatives on the republican side to be eliminated.

He returned to Mexico in 1940, not long before Trotsky was killed. He was suspected of being involved in a failed assassination attempt at Trotsky’s residence in Mexico City. He was also thought to have facilitated the infiltration into Trotsky’s inner circle of the Stalinist operative Ramón Mercader, who entered Trotsky’s study and killed him with an ice axe later in the same year.  

Vidali served for 10 years in the Italian parliament
Vidali served for 10 years in
the Italian parliament
Modotti, who was expelled from Mexico in 1930, rejoined Vidali in Spain and returned with him to Mexico under a false name. She herself died suddenly in 1942, suffering a cardiac arrest while returning home from a social engagement in a taxi. There were rumours that Vidali, despite the intimate nature of their relationship, had her killed simply because she knew too much about his activities in Spain.

By 1947, Vidali was back in his home country, returning to Trieste. After the postwar settlement saw the long-disputed city established as the Free Territory of Trieste, Vidali became one of the most powerful members of the Communist Party there, conducting a purge of Titoists within the organisation following Stalin’s split with the Yugoslav leader. 

After Trieste became part of Italy again in 1954, Vidali had ambitions to serve as a Communist in the Italian Parliament from the area. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1958 and to the Senate in 1963, sitting until 1968.  He died in Trieste at the age of 83.

The harbour at the quaint seaside town of Muggia, the only Istrian town to remain part of Italy
The harbour at the quaint seaside town of Muggia,
the only Istrian town to remain part of Italy
Travel tip:

At the time of Vidali’s birth, the coastal town of Muggia - situated 12km (7 miles) by road from Trieste - belonged to the part of the Austria-Hungary empire known as the Istrian peninsula, which includes a number of beautiful towns and cities such as Pula, Rovinj, Perec and Vrsar. It was partitioned to Italy in the Treaty of Rapallo in 1920 following the First World War. In the Second World War it became a battleground for rival ethnic groups and political groups. It was occupied by Germany but with their withdrawal in 1945  Yugoslav partisans gained the upper hand and Istria was eventually ceded to Yugoslavia. It was divided between Croatia and Slovenia following the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991. Nowadays, Muggia remains the only former Istrian town that is part of Italy. A charmingly quaint fishing port, Muggia’s main attractions are its Duomo, dedicated to the saints John and Paul, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta and its 14th century castle, which stood abandoned for 200 years but has been restored by the sculptor, Villi Bossi. 

The sea-facing Piazza Unita d'Italia is the oldest and most elegant square in Trieste
The sea-facing Piazza Unita d'Italia is the oldest
and most elegant square in Trieste
Travel tip:

The seaport of Trieste, capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, officially became part of the Italian Republic in 1954. Trieste had been disputed territory for thousands of years and after it was granted to Italy in 1920, thousands of the resident Slovenians left. The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. The area today is one of the most prosperous in Italy and Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building.  The city has a coffee house culture that dates back to the Hapsburg era.  Caffè Tommaseo, in Piazza Nicolò Tommaseo, near the grand open space of the Piazza Unità d’Italia, is the oldest in the city, dating back to 1830.

Also on this day:

1552: The birth of writer and actor Flaminio Scala

1871: The birth of Nobel Prize winner Grazia Deledda

1966: The birth of musician Jovanotti

1979: The death of actress and writer Gracie Fields

September 27 was the chosen birthday of Cosimo de’ Medici, born in 1389


12 November 2022

Piero Terracina - death camp survivor

Roman lived to be 91 after being freed from Auschwitz

After initial reluctance, Terracini told his harrowing story many times over
After initial reluctance, Terracini told
his harrowing story many times over
Piero Terracina, the man thought to be the longest survivor among the Jews rounded up for deportation in Rome after Nazi occupation during World War Two, was born on this day in 1928 in the Italian capital.

Terracina was taken to the notorious Auschwitz death camp in Poland, where almost one million Jewish prisoners were killed, but was spared death and eventually liberated in 1945.

After a long and difficult recovery he returned to Rome and lived to be 91.

For the last almost 30 years of his life, so long as his health allowed, he devoted himself to maintaining awareness of the Holocaust in the hope that such horrors would never be repeated.

Terracina enjoyed a relatively uneventful early childhood. Although many of Rome’s Jews still lived in the area of Rione Sant’Angelo to which they had been originally confined by papal decree in the 16th century, the Jewish community in the early part of the 20th century enjoyed the same status as any other Italians in the city.

Piero was the youngest of four children born to Giovanni Terracina and Lidia Ascoli. His father was a fabric merchant.

Things began to change in the autumn of 1938 when Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship introduced laws to enforce racial discrimination and segregation in Italian society, aimed mainly at the Jewish population of mainland Italy and the native Africans in the Italian colonies.

The entrance to the preserved Auschwitz complex,  where Terracina accompanied many visitors
The entrance to the preserved Auschwitz complex, 
where Terracina accompanied many visitors
Mussolini had originally been comfortable with Jews being part of Italy. Indeed, one of his mistresses - a propaganda advisor to his Fascist party - was from a middle class Jewish family. But his attitude changed as he became more influenced by Nazi ideology in Germany.

Terracina’s family had their assets seized. Piero was expelled from his mainstream Italian school and had to continue his education in a school for Jews only. The family’s circumstances were much reduced, but they were able to live in a restricted way.

However, that all changed in 1943. By then, Mussolini had been overthrown by the Fascist Grand Council, placed under house arrest but then rescued by German paratroops and given a safe haven in northern Italy. Rome and the rest of central and northern Italy was occupied by Nazi troops.

The Germans began to round up Jews as they had in the rest of occupied Europe. When Nazi squads entered the Roman ghetto in October 1943, Terracina and his family managed to escape, avoiding the fate of more than 1,000 of their neighbours.

They went into hiding but in April of the following year their whereabouts were revealed to the Germans by an informer and Piero and his family - his parents, a sister and two brothers, an uncle and his grandfather - were all arrested.

Terracina, already in his 80s, surrounded by teachers and students on a school visit
Terracina, already in his 80s, surrounded by
teachers and students on a school visit
Imprisoned initially in Rome, they were moved to a prison camp near Modena but after a few days were crowded into railway wagons and taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex in Poland. Piero was spared the gas chambers only because he was considered strong enough physically to be given labouring jobs; the rest of his family died within hours of their arrival.

Despite his weight dropping to just 38 kilos (just under six stones), Piero survived and escaped in January 1945. With the area under attack from the advancing Russian army, he and his fellow captives were moved from the Auschwitz camp and were being marched towards another location when the approach of a Russian platoon caused their Nazi guards to flee.

In the face of biting cold, Terracina and his comrades returned to the Auschwitz complex, now abandoned, to shelter until they were found by the Russians.  Recovery was long and painful, involving stays in a hospital in Lviv, in the west of Ukraine, and in a sanatorium by the Black Sea. After a year, he returned to Rome.

For the next three and a half decades, Terracina quietly rebuilt his life, completing his education and developing a career in management. He was reluctant to speak about what had happened to him but was eventually persuaded of the importance of telling his story.

Thereafter, he devoted himself to keeping alive the dreadful memory of the hell he and millions of others had endured, speaking to politicians, historians, journalists, members of sports teams and in particular students, whom he often accompanied on trips to Auschwitz. The older he became, the more powerful was his presence on these trips.

Terracina died in Rome in December 2019. His funeral included a procession from the Tempio Maggiore, Rome’s main synagogue, which overlooks the Tiber near the Isola Tiberina, to the Campo Verano memorial cemetery.

The imposing Tempio Maggiore, 
Rome's main synagogue
Travel tip:

Rome’s Jewish quarter is beautiful but, given its close proximity to some of the city’s major tourist attractions, often overlooked by visitors. Situated in the Sant’Angelo Rione, east of Campo de’ Fiori and southwest of Piazza Venezia, the former ghetto occupies an area adjoining the Tiber river, next to the bend where the water flows either side of the Isola Tiberina. The centrepiece is the Tempio Maggiore, completed in 1904 and built in an eclectic style with influences of Assyrian-Babylonian, Egyptian and Greco-Roman architecture. There are Roman ruins including the Portico d'Ottavia and Teatro Marcello. The streets nearby are packed with restaurants, many serving traditional Jewish cuisine.

The Isola Tiberina in Romeis said to be the smallest inhabited island in the world
The Isola Tiberina in Rome is said to be the
smallest inhabited island in the world
Travel Tip

The Isola Tiberina, situated in the bend in the Tiber that wraps around the Trastevere district, to which it is connected by the Ponte Cestio, is said to be the smallest inhabited island in the world. A footbridge, the Ponte Fabrico, allows access from the other bank of the river.  The island was once the location of an ancient temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine and healing, and in modern times the Fatebenefratelli Hospital, founded in the 16th century. The 10th century Basilica of St. Bartholomew is also located on the island, which is just 270m (890ft) long and 67m (220ft) wide. During the Nazi occupation, Jews hid in the wards of the hospital after the head of the institution deterred SS officers from searching it by putting out the story that he was struggling to contain an outbreak of a deadly and contagious disease.

Also on this day:

1892: The birth of World War One flying ace Giulio Lega

1905: The Giro di Lombardia cycle race is contested for the first time

1920: The Treaty of Rapallo is signed

1948: The death of composer Umberto Giordano

2011: Silvio Berlusconi resigns as prime minister


28 October 2022

The March on Rome

The insurrection that put Fascists in power

Mussolini (second left) walked alongside Cesare Maria de Vecchi during part of the March on Rome
Mussolini (second left) walked alongside Cesare
Maria de Vecchi during part of the March on Rome
The March on Rome that resulted in Benito Mussolini’s Fascist party taking control of the Italian government took place on this day 100 years ago in 1922.

A mob comprising thousands of members of Mussolini’s Blackshirt militia and other party supporters converged on the city, intent on seizing power. At the same time, other Blackshirt groups were capturing strategic locations throughout Italy.

Italy’s Liberal prime minister, Luigi Facta, wanted to deploy the army to put down the insurrection and hastened to the Palazzo del Quirinale to see the king, Victor Emmanuel III, and ask him to sign a decree of martial law so that he could put Rome in a state of siege.

At first, the monarch was prepared to grant his request, but after giving it more thought he changed his mind, much to Facta’s consternation. 

Instead, the Blackshirt mob, headed by four Mussolini henchmen - Italo Balbo, Cesare Maria De Vecchi, Michele Bianchi and Emilio De Bono - were allowed to enter Rome unchallenged. By the  following day, what had been effectively a bloodless coup d’état was completed when Victor Emmanuel III invited Mussolini to form a government and at the age of 39 become what was then Italy’s youngest prime minister.

Victor Emmanuel III handed power to Mussolini
Victor Emmanuel III handed
power to Mussolini  
Quite why the king decided to side with a man with a history of building power through violence and intimidation was not entirely clear. Cynics believed he did it purely out of self-interest, reasoning that the Fascist leader’s rise was irresistible and fearing that his cousin, Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, a known Fascist sympathiser, would be handed the throne if he did not acquiesce.

In fact, he had probably over-estimated the strength of Mussolini’s insurgents, who numbered nowhere near the 50,000 that the Fascist hierarchy had hoped to assemble, possibly as few as 10,000, many of whom were rural workers armed with little more than pitchforks.

A slightly more noble explanation is that Victor Emmanuel feared that Italy was on the verge of civil war and saw handing power to Mussolini as an expedient way to avert it.

Certainly, over the preceding two or three years, there had been considerable discontent over wages and prices among Italian workers, with waves of strikes taking place. The Italian Socialist Party had made gains in local elections and in 1919 - the year that Mussolini formed his Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, which would evolve into the National Fascist Party - had their most successful result in a general election, winning 156 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

Dissatisfied with the reluctance of the Rome government to act against the workers, many landowners and business bosses increasingly turned to Mussolini’s fledgling Blackshirt militias to quell industrial action, supported by establishment figures worried by the rise of the socialists.

In August 1922, the Fascists took it upon themselves to suppress a general strike, claiming they were the party of law and order as opposed to an ineffectual official government. They did so by violent means, torching buildings they believed to be used by socialists. 

Members of Mussolini's Blackshirt militia en route to Rome in 1922
Members of Mussolini's Blackshirt militia
en route to Rome in 1922
Street fighting broke out in Milan to which the Fascists responded by destroying the printing presses of the left-wing newspaper Avanti! and storming the local government headquarters, expelling the elected socialist administration.

All the time, the government in Rome sat back and watched, which emboldened Mussolini, by now supported and sponsored by business owners and most on the political right, to make his grab for absolute power.

Within a little over two years of the king’s capitulation, Mussolini had turned his premiership into a dictatorship, after which Italy had to endure two decades of brutality and suppression that ended only when the occupying forces of Nazi Germany had been defeated by the Allies.

After the war, Victor Emmanuel III was sent into exile along with all members of the Italian Royal Family, his siding with Mussolini never forgiven as Italians voted to become a republic.

Yet 100 years after his rise to power, the self-proclaimed Duce still has sympathisers in the country and reminders of his regime are not difficult to find in many parts of Italy, such as the obelisk inscribed with the words Mussolini Dux that still stands near the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

The giant fashion house Fendi has its headquarters in the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, an imposing six-story marble structure in the Mussolini-built EUR district of the capital, on which is engraved a phrase from a speech made by the dictator announcing his invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

Indeed, with somewhat chilling timing, the anniversary of Mussolini’s ascent to power has coincided with the installing as prime minister of Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, herself a former member of both the Italian Social Movement, founded in 1946 by Mussolini supporters, and the post-fascist National Alliance.

The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the official residence of popes, kings and presidents
The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the official
residence of popes, kings and presidents
Travel tips:

The Palazzo del Quirinale, which until 1946 was the official residence of Italy’s reigning monarch, was built in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII as a summer residence. It also served as the offices of the civil government of the Papal States until 1870. When, in 1871, Rome became the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy, the palace became the official residence of the kings of Italy, although some monarchs, notably Victor Emmanuel III (1900–1946), lived in a private residence elsewhere. When the monarchy was abolished in 1946, the Palazzo del Quirinale became the official residence and workplace for the presidents of the Italian Republic. So far, it has housed 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents.

The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is one of the most striking buildings in Rome's EUR district
The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is one of the
most striking buildings in Rome's EUR district
Travel tip:

The EUR complex, to the south of the centre of Rome, was originally developed to host the 1942 World's Fair - the Esposizione Universale Roma - which was cancelled because of the Second World War.  Mussolini’s modern city within a city was designed by a team of prominent architects, headed by Marcello Piacentini and including Giovanni Michelucci. The designs combined classical Roman elements with Italian Rationalism in a simplified neoclassicism that came to be known as Fascist architecture.  The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, which has become known as the “square colosseum”, is regarded as the building which is the most symbolic of EUR. Designed by Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto La Padula, and Mario Romano, it draws inspiration from the Colosseum with its rows of arches, while its square shape and stark whiteness are reminiscent of metaphysical art.

Also on this day:

312: The Battle of the Ponte Milvio

1639: The death of composer Stefano Landi

1963: The birth of singer-songwriter Eros Ramazzotti

1973: The death of comic actor and illustrator Sergio Tòfano


29 September 2021

Giorgio Frassineti - politician

Mayor who proposed museum of Fascism

Giorgio Frassineti was mayor of Predappio for 10 years, from 2009 to 2019
Giorgio Frassineti was mayor of Predappio
for 10 years, from 2009 to 2019
Giorgio Frassineti, the politician famous for proposing a museum dedicated to Fascism in Predappio, the birthplace of Benito Mussolini, was born on this day in 1964 in Forlì in Emilia-Romagna.

A member of the centre-left Partito Democratico, Frassineti served as mayor of Predappio from 2009 to 2019.

Predappio, around 18km (11 miles) south of Forlì, has a population of less than 6,500 and is not on the tourist trail.  Apart from by private car, it is accessible only by bus from Forlì, which is a pleasant small city but one that tourists mainly pass through on the way to Rimini and the Adriatic coast.

Yet 50,000 visitors a year descend on Predappio, mainly to visit the house where Mussolini was born in 1883, or the family mausoleum where his body was laid to rest following his execution by Italian partisans in 1945.

Despite his World War Two alliance with the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, Mussolini is still admired by some Italians and Predappio’s main street has shops that openly sell Fascist memorabilia, in part a cynical exploitation of the village’s evolution as a place of pilgrimage for Mussolini supporters, but in part also a reflection of the country’s more ambivalent attitude towards his memory.

Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing Lega party that won 17.4 per cent of the vote in the 2018 election, has spoken of Mussolini as someone who “built so many things”.

Giorgio Frassineti inside the building that was to house his museum
Giorgio Frassineti inside the building
that was to house his museum

Yet Frassineti was concerned that Il Duce’s reign was rather too fondly remembered in Predappio and in the year he was elected mayor the sale of Fascist souvenirs in the village was banned.

But it was his proposal, raised for the first time in 2014, to open a museum in Predappio dedicated to the history of Fascism that attracted national - and international - attention.

His plan was to house the museum on Predappio’s main square, renovating a former municipal building built in 1937 that had become known as the House of Fascism, a classic example of the stark, rationalist architecture that Mussolini wanted to be symbolic of the Fascist movement.

Given his concern that Predappio had become a place where the era of the Italian Fascists was celebrated, it seemed a counter-intuitive idea.  Critics immediately argued that such a museum would attract even more right-wing fanatics to the area.

But Frassineti, who wanted to preserve rather than destroy the buildings Mussolini had built in the village, said that the museum would be a place of reflection rather than celebration, where visitors could learn about the political and economic circumstances in which Fascism gained popularity, in the hope that future generations would never be drawn along the same path.

Predappio already owned the building that would house the museum, and Frassineti secured €3.5 million ($4m; £3m) in private and state funding for the plan. He assembled a team of historians, claiming that serious study of Mussolini’s dictatorship and racial laws would serve as an antidote to a rising tide of Fascist nostalgia.

Frassineti raised €3.5 million to convert Predappio's 'House of Fascism'
Frassineti raised €3.5 million to convert
Predappio's 'House of Fascism'
However, before the project could begin on the date proposed - in 2019 - Frassineti was defeated in the mayoral election of that year by Roberto Canali, a politician from the ultra-conservative Brothers of Italy party, which was backed by Salvini’s Lega party, and the project was cancelled.

Canali, the first right-wing mayor of Predappio for 70 years, stopped the centre on the grounds that architectural heritage inspectors objected to plans to demolish a staircase and add a floor in the building.

He also argued that the concept of historians trying to understand how Italy fell for fascism was not something to be encouraged because it would “exacerbate polemics and arguments”. 

However, Canali subsequently argued that Mussolini’s tomb should be open to the public all year round to “increase tourism” rather than limited to the anniversaries of his birth, death and the 1922 March on Rome, as it had been previously.

The entrance to the crypt that houses Mussolini's body
The entrance to the crypt
that houses Mussolini's body
Travel tip:

Predappio, where Mussolini was born in 1883, is a small town in Emilia-Romagna situated around 18km (11 miles) south of Forlì.  After a landslide hit the town in the winter of 1923-24, many people were left homeless, prompting the Italian government to build a bigger, more prestigious township to celebrate the birthplace of Mussolini, following the architectural styles favoured by the emerging Fascist regime. Along with the nearby town of Forlì, Predappio was given the title of La Città del Duce. After his death at the hands of partisans in 1945, the former dictator was buried in a family mausoleum in a cemetery just outside the town, which has become one of several attractions in the town for the neofascists who visit in their thousands each year.

Piazza Saffi stands at the heart of the city of Forlì in Emilia-Romagna
Piazza Saffi stands at the heart of the
city of Forlì in Emilia-Romagna
Travel tip:

With a population of almost 120,000, Forlì is a prosperous agricultural and industrial city with a beautiful central square, Piazza Saffi, which is named after Aurelio Saffi, a radical republican who was a prominent figure in the Risorgimento. Its major attractions include the Abbey of San Mercuriale and the Rocca di Ravaldino, the strategic fortress built by Girolamo Riario and sometimes known as the Rocca di Caterina Sforza.  The Abbey and the Church of San Domenico, which overlook Piazza Saffi, are both well preserved medieval buildings.

Also on this day:

1901: The birth of nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi

1913: The birth of footballer Silvio Pioli

1936: The birth of politician and entrepreneur Silvio Berlusconi


15 June 2021

Carlo Scorza - politician and journalist

Blackshirt who was last party secretary of Mussolini’s Fascists 

Carlo Scorza was a prominent figure in Mussolini's notorious Blackshirts
Carlo Scorza was a prominent figure
in Mussolini's notorious Blackshirts
Carlo Scorza, who rose to prominence with the Fascist paramilitary group known as the Blackshirts and was the last party secretary of Benito Mussolini’s regime, was born on this day in 1897 in Paolo, a seaside town in Calabria.

Scorza fought with the Italian Army’s Bersaglieri corps during World War One. After the war he became a member of Mussolini’s fasci italiani di combattimento, the organisation that was the forerunner of the National Fascist Party.

Such was his loyalty to Mussolini even as the course of the Second World War turned against Italy that the dictator appointed him secretary of the party in April 1943, although the position ceased to exist when the party was dissolved in July of that year after Mussolini was deposed as leader and arrested.

After growing up on his father’s small farm in Calabria, Scorza moved with his family to Lucca in Tuscany, where ultimately he studied to be an accountant. He supported Italy’s involvement in the First World War and after joining the Bersaglieri, a highly mobile infantry corps, he rose to the rank of tenente (Lieutenant).

When the conflict ended, Scorza returned to the Lucca area. He joined Mussolini’s party and became involved in acts of violence against communists and socialists in Lucca even before the notorious Voluntary Militia for National Security, commonly known as the Blackshirts, was officially formed in 1923.

After taking part in Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922, when Blackshirt paramilitaries entered Rome and effectively forced the king, Victor Emmanuel III, to remove the Liberal prime minister Luigi Facta and appoint Mussolini in his place, Scorza worked as a journalist for a while before being made a chief provincial party officer for Lucca and its province. 

Scorza's loyalty to Mussolini helped land him the job as Fascist part secretary
Scorza's loyalty to Mussolini helped land
him the job as Fascist part secretary
In 1930, Scorza was put in charge of the Fascist youth organisation Gruppo Universitario Fascista and appointed the first editor of Gioventù Fascista, the Fascist Youth magazine. He also founded the Fascist newspaper Il popolo Toscano. The following year he was named as a member of the National Fascist Party’s governing body, the direttorio.

Differences with other members about the direction of the party led to him being dismissed. He left Italy to participate in the Second Italo-Abyssinian War and went to Spain to fight on the side of General Franco’s Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. 

But he returned to Italy in 1940 and remained fiercely loyal to Mussolini and Italy’s participation on the side of Germany in World War Two. In April 1943, with Italy’s continued involvement in the war beginning to be questioned, Mussolini saw Scorza as the hardliner he needed to galvanise support and made him party secretary, replacing Aldo Vidussoni, who was regarded as a weak figure.

Scorza could not turn the party’s fortunes round, however, and by the summer, with parts of the country reeling from repeated Allied bombing raids, many figures in Mussolini’s government wanted to see the end of Italy’s participation in the conflict rather than suffer the consequences of a full-scale invasion.

When Mussolini convened a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council on July 24 to discuss how to respond to Allied landings on Sicily, he was instead confronted with a vote to hand back full constitutional powers to the king, which was carried by 19 to eight. Mussolini was arrested the following day.

Marshal Pietro Badoglio, the former ally who helped depose Mussolini
Marshal Pietro Badoglio, the former
ally who helped depose Mussolini
Scorza, who had been one of the eight to oppose the motion, was himself arrested but released soon afterwards. He wrote to Marshal Pietro Badoglio, the former Fascist and ex-Chief of Staff of Mussolini’s army who had been appointed interim prime minister, seeking to become part of the new administration. His offer was not taken up and, fearing he would be re-arrested, Scorza sought refuge for a while in the Monastery of San Francesco in Assisi. 

Eventually, he made his way north, only to be arrested again in Verona, this time by the police of the newly-formed Italian Social Republic, the Fascist state established by the Germans in northern Italy, of which Hitler placed Mussolini in charge following the daring Gran Sasso raid that freed the deposed dictator from his captivity in the mountains of Abruzzo.

He was charged with treason on account of his letter to Badoglio and spared the death penalty only on the intervention of Mussolini himself, who remembered his loyalty, and commuted the sentence to house arrest at Scorza’s home in Cortina d’Ampezzo, in mountainous northern Veneto.

What happened to him subsequently is unclear. It was thought at one point that he had been among the group shot dead by partisans along with Mussolini in 1945 after the former dictator’s attempt to flee to Switzerland was intercepted on the shore of Lake Como.

Later it emerged that Scorza had himself fled to Argentina, where he assumed a different name and worked as a journalist. In his absence, he was tried for his role in a Fascist gang's murder of the socialist politician Giovanni Amendola in 1926 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

He was granted an amnesty in 1955 and subsequently returned to Italy, living a low-profile existence near Florence, where he died in 1988 at the age of 91.

The waterfront at Paolo, captured in a photo taken on a summer's evening
The waterfront at Paolo, captured in a photo
taken on a summer's evening
Travel tip:

The coastal town of Paola, where Carlo Scorza was born, is about 36km (22 miles) west of the city of Cozenza in Calabria, linked by the spectacularly mountainous Strada Statale 107. Paolo combines a modern seaside resort with a medieval centre. It is the birthplace of San Francesco di Paola, the 15th century founder of the Minims, the strictest order of the Franciscans. The Santuario di San Francesco, a monastery with an adjacent basilica, sits above the town.  Paola was the target of air raids in World War Two, largely because of its connection with Scorza, and many citizens sought refuge in the sanctuary. One night, a 80 kg (176 lb) bomb smashed through the roof but did not explode, which was widely regarded as a miracle.

The Corso Italia in Cortina d'Ampezzo, looking towards  the bell tower of Santi Filippo e Giacomo Apostoli
The Corso Italia in Cortina d'Ampezzo, looking towards
 the bell tower of Santi Filippo e Giacomo Apostoli
Travel tip:

Cortina d'Ampezzo, often called simply Cortina, is a town in the southern Dolomites in the Veneto region. Situated in the valley of the Boite river, it was once known as the Queen of the Dolomites. It is a winter sport resort known for its skiing trails, scenery, accommodation, shops and après-ski scene and remains popular with celebrities and European aristocracy. In its heyday in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Sophia Loren, Clark Gable, David Niven, Ingrid Bergman, Brigitte Bardot, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton and Alberto Sordi were regular visitors.  Austrian territory until 1918, it was traditionally a regional craft centre, making handmade products appreciated by early British and German holidaymakers as tourism emerged in the late 19th century. Today, the local economy thrives on tourism, particularly during the winter season, when the population of the town typically increases from about 7,000 to 40,000.  

Also on this day:

1479: The birth of Lisa del Giocondo, the subject of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

1801: The birth of philosopher and political writer Carlo Cattaneo

1927: The birth of comic strip cartoonist Hugo Pratt

(Picture credits: Paola by Alfonso Minervino; Cortina d'Ampezzo by Tiia Monto via Wikimedia commons)