Showing posts with label Camorra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Camorra. Show all posts

8 January 2019

Manuela Arcuri - actress and model

TV drama star who portrayed woman who killed Mafia boss

The glamorous Manuela Arcuri has evolved from model to popular TV actress
The glamorous Manuela Arcuri has evolved
from model to popular TV actress
The actress and former model Manuela Arcuri, who received accolades for playing the lead role in a truth-inspired drama about a grieving widow who shot dead a gang boss, was born on this day in 1977 in Anagni, an ancient town in southern Lazio.

Arcuri portrayed a character based on Assunta ‘Pupetta’ Maresca, who made headlines in 1955 when she walked into a bar in Naples and shot dead the Camorra boss who had ordered the killing of her husband, just three months after they were married.

The four-episode drama, aired in 2013 on the Italian commercial TV channel Canale 5, was called Pupetta: Il coraggio e la passione (Pupetta: Courage and Passion). Directed by Luciano Odorisio and also starring Tony Musante, Eva Grimaldi and Barbara De Rossi, the series confirmed Arcuri’s standing as a television actress of note, winning her the award of best actress at the 2013 Rome Fiction Fest.

She had appeared by then in leading roles in a number of TV dramas and mini-series, including Io non dimentico (I Don’t Forget), Il peccato e la vergogna (The Sin and the Shame) and Sangue caldo (Hot Blood).

Manuela Arcuri met the real 'Pupetta' during the making of the 2013 series
Manuela Arcuri met the real 'Pupetta'
during the making of the 2013 series
Arcuri’s ambition from an early age was to forge a career in show business. She attended art school in Latina, where she grew up, before moving to Rome to enrol at the Pietro Scharoff Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she graduated in 1997.

A girl of classic Italian beauty, she took her first modelling assignments at the age of 15 and her career as a glamour model evolved more quickly than her acting career, although she was steadily building up film credits for minor roles.  Her magazine shoots led rapidly to her being projected as a sex symbol, which quickly opened doors into television, where glamorous female presenters remain a ratings winner.

In 2002, still a relative newcomer, she was given huge exposure when she was chosen to co-host the Sanremo Music Festival alongside the veteran male presenter, Pippo Baudo.

Now, bigger and better TV parts began to be offered. She participated in the popular TV drama series Carabinieri and in 2005 played the title role in Imperia, la grande cortigiana, a TV film about the 16th century Roman courtesan and celebrity, Imperia Cognati.

In 2008, she met the challenge of appearing at the Teatro Parioli in Rome in a six-week run of the comedy Il primo che mi capita, then landed her biggest TV role to that point as the female lead in Io non dimentico, a drama set in Naples in the 1930s.

The statue in Porto Cesareo that caused such controversy
The statue in Porto Cesareo
that caused such controversy
Arcuri has a large following of fans, some of whom have expressed their admiration for her in unusual ways, such as the statue that was erected in 2002 by the local tourist board to celebrate the beauty and prosperity of the fishing port and resort of Porto Cesareo in Puglia, about 30km (19 miles) from the city of Lecce.

Carved by the sculptor Salvatino De Matteis, it depicts a female figure carrying a hollow shell brimming over with fish but with the hair, facial features - and cleavage - of Ms Arcuri, beneath which is an inscription that hailed the actress as a symbol of beauty and prosperity, a perfect match for Porto Cesareo itself.

Not surprisingly, the choice of an actress and glamour model over a more traditional symbol, such as a goddess or saint, or even a mermaid, divided opinion, with outspoken protests in particular by the wives of local fishermen, who had begun a daily ritual of touching the statue’s buttocks to bring them luck before they set out to sea.

For a while the statue was removed, only to later be reinstated after an equally voluble outcry from those who approved of it.  Ms Arcuri, who attended the original unveiling, returned to see it reborn.

Romantically linked with a series of high-profile men, including the footballer Francesco Coco, Arcuri has had a long-term relationship with the entrepreneur Giovanni Di Gianfrancesco, with whom she had a four-year-old son, Mattia.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata
in Anagni dates back to the 11th century
Travel tip:

Anagni, where Manuela Arcuri was born, is an ancient town in the province of Frosinone in Lazio, 70km (43 miles) southeast of Rome in an area known as Ciociaria, named after the primitive footwear, ciocie, a type of sandal, worn by people living in the area. The town produced four popes, the last one being Boniface VIII, who was hiding out there in 1303 when he received the famous Anagni slap, delivered by an angry member of the fiercely antipapal Colonna family after he refused to abdicate. After his death the power of the town declined and the papal court was transferred to Avignon. The medieval Palace of Boniface VIII, is near the Cathedral in the centre of the town.

Search for a hotel in Anagni with tripadvisor

The Cathedral of San Marco, in the 'ideal' Fascist town of Latina in Lazio, was built in 1932
The Cathedral of San Marco, in the 'ideal' Fascist town of
Latina in Lazio, was built in 1932
Travel tip:

Latina, a town built in the middle of what used to be the Pontine Marshes, south of Rome, has been described as a living monument to Fascism - not in the sense of celebrating the horrors of the darker side of Mussolini’s grip on power, but as an example of the dictator’s utopian dreams of efficient modern cities for the Italian people.  Mussolini drained the malaria-ridden Pontine swamps and gave the reclaimed land to peasants and settlers, building them houses in exchange for their labour and sweat. The centre of Latina - inaugurated in 1932 as Littoria - has been preserved almost as it was. The Fascist buildings remain in place, their rationalist architecture decorated with pagan statues as well as military and rural bas-reliefs. The Cattedrale di San Marco, designed by Oriolo Frezzotti and built in 1932, is a good example of the fusion of classical and modern, linear styles that was typical of Fascist architecture.

More reading:

The true story of Assunta Maresca - the 'little doll' who shot dead a Mafia boss 

Pippo Baudo - the record-breaking host of Sanremo

Mara Carfagna - from glamour model to politician

Also on this day:

1337: The death of the brilliant painter Giotto

1921: The birth of Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia

2016: The death of Maria Teresa de Filippis, the first woman to drive in Formula One


22 September 2018

Roberto Saviano - writer and journalist

Author of ‘Gomorrah’ who lives under police protection

Roberto Saviano has lived under police guard since writing his groundbreaking Mafia exposé, Gomorrah
Roberto Saviano has lived under police guard since
writing his groundbreaking Mafia exposé, Gomorrah
The author and journalist Roberto Saviano, whose 2006 book Gomorrah exposed the inner workings of the Camorra organised crime syndicate in his home city of Naples, was born on this day in 1979.

Gomorrah was an international bestseller that was turned into a film and inspired a TV series, bringing Saviano fame and wealth.

However, within six months of the book’s publication, Saviano had received so many threats to his life from within the Camorra that the decision was taken on the advice of former prime minister Giuliano Amato to place him under police protection.

Some 12 years later, he remains under 24-hour police guard.  He travels only in one of two bullet-proof cars, lives either in police barracks or obscure hotels and is encouraged never to remain in the same place for more than a few days. His protection team includes seven bodyguards.

Saviano has written three more books including a collection of his essays and Zero, Zero, Zero - an exposé of the cocaine trade. His latest, published this week, is called The Piranhas. Whereas Gomorrah and Zero, Zero, Zero were non-fiction, The Piranhas is a novel, though one set in Naples with the Camorra at the centre of the story.

Yet Saviano has complained that, although he has so far avoided being killed, he has no real life. In an interview with an English newspaper, he said that since he was placed under guard he has not boarded a train, ridden a Vespa, taken a stroll or gone out for a beer.  He has admitted that if he had known the consequences, he probably would not have written Gomorrah.

Born the son of a Naples doctor and a mother originally from Liguria, Saviano attended the University of Naples Federico II, where he obtained a degree in psychology.  He began his career in journalism in 2002, writing for numerous magazines and daily papers, including the Camorra monitoring unit of the Corriere del Mezzogiorno.

His inspiration for writing Gomorrah came from his own experiences in the province of Caserta, where he grew up, which witnessed a gang war as rival Camorra groups battled for control of territory.  Violence on the streets became an almost daily occurrence in full view of ordinary citizens, some of whom became victims themselves when, occasionally, an innocent person was mistaken for a target.

Saviano’s journalism meant that he became acquainted with workers in businesses run by the Camorra, and in time with messengers and look-outs who worked for the clan. He pored over court records, news reports and trial transcripts, eventually pulling together all his knowledge to write Gomorrah.

Roberto Saviano signing a copy of  one of his books
Roberto Saviano signing a copy of
one of his books
Its focus is city of Naples and the towns of Casal di Principe, San Cipriano d'Aversa, and the territory around Aversa known as the agro aversano.  It describes how criminal bosses lived in sumptuous villas while burying toxic waste in the surrounding countryside with no regard for the health of the local population, many of whom were protective of Camorra activities not only out of fear but of distrust of legitimate authorities.

Saviano revealed details of the System - as the Camorra refer to themselves - never before brought to the public domain. It is written in the style of dramatic fiction but describes events that, Saviano says, actually happened.

This is supported by the reaction of the Camorra, who felt the book revealed details that compromised their activities. The last straw was probably an anti-Mafia demonstration in Casal di Principe in September 2006, when Saviano publicly denounced the bosses of the Casalese clan, Francesco Bidognetti and Francesco Schiavone, both of whom were in prison, as well as the the two ruling bosses at the time, Antonio Iovine and Michele Zagaria, insulting them and calling on them to leave Italy.

After threats to Saviano and members of his family were investigated by the Naples police, Amato, then Minister for Interior Affairs, assigned Saviano a personal bodyguard and moved him from Naples to a secret location.

Saviano makes speaking engagements around the world,  campaigning against organised crime
Saviano makes speaking engagements around the world,
campaigning against organised crime
Two years later, after the informant Carmine Schiavone, cousin of Francesco Schiavone, revealed to the authorities that the clan had planned to eliminate Saviano and his police escort with a bomb under the motorway between Rome and Naples, Saviano announced his intention to leave Italy.

For obvious reasons, no one outside his immediate circle knows where he now lives. However, he makes public appearances at speaking engagements and is still writing regularly for many newspapers and magazines at home and abroad, including l'Espresso, la Repubblica in Italy, The Washington Post and The New York Times in the United States, Die Zeit and Der Spiegel in Germany, and The Times and The Guardian in the United Kingdom.

In 2008, six Nobel Prize winners  - Dario Fo, Mikhail Gorbachev, Günter Grass, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Orhan Pamuk and Desmond Tutu - launched a joint appeal to the Italian government to do more to defeat the Camorra and to support citizens such as Saviano in speaking out against them.

The incredible sloping watercourse is one of the features of the Royal Palace in Caserta
The incredible sloping watercourse is one of the features
of the Royal Palace in Caserta
Travel tip:

The biggest attraction for visitors to Caserta is the former Royal Palace - Reggia di Caserta - which is one of the largest palaces in Europe, built to rival the palace of Versailles outside Paris, which was the principal residence of the French royal family until the French Revolution of 1789. Constructed for the Bourbon kings of Naples, it was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century and has been described as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque”.

A typical street scene in the Quartieri Spagnoli in the heart of Naples
A typical street scene in the Quartieri
Spagnoli in the heart of Naples
Travel tip:

The area that used to be seen as a notorious Camorra stronghold, the Quartieri Spagnoli - Spanish Quarters - to the north of Via Toledo, is now much less threatening. The area consists of a grid of around narrow 18 streets running south to north by 12 going east to west towards the harbour. It represents a flavour of old Naples, with lines of washing strung across the narrow streets and lively neighbourhood shops catering for the residents, who number about 14,000. Although it is a poor area blighted by high unemployment, the Camorra are less visible here now than in some of the city’s run-down suburbs. The area takes its name from its original purpose in the 16th century, which was to house Spanish garrisons, whose role was to quell revolts from the Neapolitan population.

More reading:

How the capture of Camorra boss Paolo di Lauro struck at the heart of crime in Naples

The Camorra bride who became a mob chieftain after avenging the death of her husband

Dario Fo - the playright who sought out corruption in high places

Also on this day:

1929: The birth of motorcycle world champion Carlo Ubbiati

1958: The birth of singer Andrea Bocelli


20 June 2018

Luigi de Magistris - politician

Popular and progressive Mayor of Naples

Luigi de Magistris has been Mayor  of Naples since 2011
Luigi de Magistris has been Mayor
of Naples since 2011
Luigi de Magistris, who was Mayor of Naples for 10 years following a shock win in the 2011 local elections, was born on this day in 1967.

A former public prosecutor with a reputation for standing up against corruption and organised crime, De Magistris was the Member of the European Parliament for Southern Italy between 2009 and 2011, when he ran for Italy of Values, the centre-left party founded by another former magistrate, Antonio di Pietro.

He stood in the 2011 mayoral elections in Naples with the support of minor parties on the left and the right and won in the second round of voting with 65 per cent of the vote, defeating Gianni Lettieri, the candidate for a centre right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party.

In office, De Magistris faced difficult times because of the city’s precarious financial situation, which at times saw local transport suspended because fuel bills were not paid and rubbish piling up in the streets because of continuing problems with the disposal of domestic refuse that had reached a peak in 2008.

A strong advocate of public ownership of essential services and the managing of natural and cultural resources for collective benefit rather than profit, De Magistris claims year-on-year improvements in refuse collection as one of his success stories.

Others include the taking into public ownership of the previously privately-owned Naples Water Company, the purchase of new vehicles for the city transport network, including 10 new Metro trains, the pedestrianisation of the waterfront and the reopening of suspended restoration projects on a number of monuments and historic buildings.

De Magistris is an advocate of bringing essential services and resources into public ownership
De Magistris is an advocate of bringing essential
services and resources into public ownership
By cracking down on tax evasion, De Magistris was able to introduce a minimum monthly income of approximately €600 for residents of Naples of working age with an income below the poverty threshold, provided that they agree to work or take part in socially useful activities.

He has also campaigned for powers to be granted to city mayors to direct the police force, following the model adopted by many cities in the United States, believing it to be the best way to reduce crime. Naples, of course, is the home of the Mafia-style Camorra organisation.

One commentator wrote about De Magistris, who won a second mayoral election in 2016, as a figure seen by many citizens as a last chance “to save whatever is left of the glorious capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies”, adding that “Neapolitan disenchantment with politics and total distrust of politicians started with the unification of Italy and has basically persisted to this day.”

Born in Naples, De Magistris attended the Adolfo Pansini High School in the Vomero district of Naples before going on to study law at the University of Naples. In 1993 he began a career as a magistrate, following in the footsteps of his father, his grandfather and great-grandfather.

From 1998 to 2002 he worked at the Public Prosecutor's Office of Naples and then moved to be Deputy Public Prosecutor to the Court of Catanzaro.

He presided over a number of high-profile corruption investigations involving business and politics, although he was controversially removed from a couple of cases over “procedural irregularities” after the names of top politicians began to emerge.

De Magistris has clashed with the Rome government over immigration and refugees
De Magistris has clashed with the Rome
government over immigration and refugees
De Magistris had a period of suspension imposed on him during his office as mayor, although he resisted calls for him to resign and the suspension was subsequently annulled and he was acquitted. He has since written about “obstacles placed in my way and attacks on me and my profession” by his political opponents.

A fiercely outspoken advocate of Italy giving refuge to immigrants from Africa and the Middle East fleeing war and persecution, he clashed with Matteo Salvini, the anti-immigration politician who was Italy’s Minister of the Interior, over his refusal to allow the Aquarius, carrying 600 refugees, to dock at an Italian port.

In 2017, De Magistris was given the Valarioti-Impastato Award for "having fought crime and corruption for more than 20 years as magistrate and politician, for breaking the relationship between the mafia and politics in the political-administrative management of the city of Naples and for having contributed to the moral redemption of Naples and removed the Camorra breaking the system of waste and eco-mafia".

A fervent fan of SSC Napoli, the city's Serie A football club, De Magistris is also the author of several books, the most recent of which is La città ribelle: il caso di Napoli (Naples: Rebel City).

(This article was updated in June 2022)

Vomero's lofty position offers spectacular views over Naples
Vomero's lofty position offers spectacular views over Naples
Travel tip:

Close to centre of Naples, Vomero is a hilly residential area popular with the wealthy middle class. It has grown rapidly since the beginning of the 20th century with numerous houses and apartment built around Villa Floridiana, Castel Sant'Elmo and San Martino, including villas in the late Art Nouveau style and large apartment houses. The oldest and most popular neighbourhood in Vomero is Antignano, in which can be found some historic buildings as well as plush apartments and gated villas, such as the Villa del Pontano and an old building of the Bourbon customs office.

The City Hall of Naples overlooks Piazza Municipio
The City Hall of Naples overlooks Piazza Municipio
Travel tip:

Naples City Hall, where Luigi de Magistris has his office, is located on Piazza Municipio, not far from the medieval Castel Nuovo, a 13th-century castle known to locals as the Maschio Angioino (Angevin Keep). The castle is home to fragments of frescoes by Giotto and Roman ruins under the glass-floored Sala dell'Armeria (Armoury Hall). The castle's upper floors house a collection of mostly 17th- to early-20th-century Neapolitan paintings.

More reading:

Antonio di Pietro - former policeman who led mani pulite corruption probe

How the fiery Lega Nord leader Umberto Bossi laid foundations to move right-wing politics into Italy's mainstream

Why Veneto politician Luca Zaia is tipped as a future prime minister

Also on this day:

1891: The birth of Neapolitan opera soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi


19 January 2018

Assunta ‘Pupetta’ Maresca – camorrista

Ex-beauty queen who avenged death of husband

Assunta Maresca's good looks concealed a ruthless, violent streak
Assunta Maresca's good looks concealed
a ruthless, violent streak
Assunta Maresca, the mobster’s wife who made headlines around the world when she walked into a bar in Naples in broad daylight and shot dead the man she suspected of ordering the murder of her husband, was born on this day in 1935 in the coastal town of Castellammare di Stabia.

Better known as ‘Pupetta’ – the little doll – on account of her small stature and stunning good looks, Maresca took the law into her own hands after her husband – a young and ambitious camorrista and the father of her unborn child - was assassinated on the orders of a rival.

Her extraordinary act brought her an 18-year prison sentence, of which she served about a third, yet made her a figure of such public fascination that several movies and TV series were made about her life.

She went on to become the lover of another mobster and was alleged to have participated in Camorra activity herself, serving another jail term after she was found guilty of abetting the murder of a forensic scientist, which she denied.

Assunta Maresca was born into a world of crime.  Her father, Alberto, was a smuggler specialising in trafficking cigarettes; her uncle, Vincenzo, a Camorra boss who had served a prison sentence for killing his own brother.

Her family were known as i Lampatielli, from the word ‘lampo’, meaning lightning, for the speed at which they wielded a knife. Assunta had a violent streak and was once arrested for seriously wounding a fellow pupil, although she escaped conviction after her victim, on leaving hospital, withdrew her complaint.

Maresca on the day of her wedding to Pasquale Simonetti, who would be dead within a matter of weeks
Maresca on the day of her wedding to Pasquale Simonetti,
who would be dead within a matter of weeks
At the age of 19 she entered and won a beauty pageant at Rovigliano, a few kilometres along the Bay of Naples coast from Castellammare.  It was not long after that when she caught the eye of Pasquale Simonetti, ostensibly a worker in the Naples fruit and vegetable market but also a contraband cigarette dealer and the enforcer for a Camorra cartel that fixed the prices of produce, controlled supply and selected the buyers, often through violent coercion.

With the family’s blessing they were married at the Pontifical Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary of Pompei – the cathedral in the modern town of Pompei, a short distance from the celebrated Roman ruins – in April 1955.

Pasquale, a big, broad man from Palma Campania, a village about 25km (15 miles) from Naples on the other side of Mount Vesuvius, promised to change his life for Assunta but did not have the chance. Ambitious enough to be seen as a threat by other gang bosses, just three months after the wedding, on July 16, he was killed by Gaetano Orlando, a hitman hired by gang boss Antonio Esposito.

Heavily pregnant, a devastated Assunta soon discovered who was responsible.  She believed that the police knew as well but, for one reason or another, chose not to make an arrest. With her younger brother, Ciro, she travelled to San Giovanni in Rotondo, some 230km (143 miles) away in Puglia, in order to plan her next move well away from Esposito’s sphere of influence.

Maresca believed family honour dictated that she avenged her husband's death
Maresca believed family honour dictated
that she avenged her husband's death
It was from there that she drove back to Naples a little under three weeks later and arranged to meet Esposito in a bar on Corso Novara, a few steps from the city’s main railway station at Piazza Garibaldi.  In her handbag was the Smith and Wesson revolver Pasquale had handed to her on their wedding day in a symbolic gesture as he pledged to reform his life.

As soon as Esposito identified himself she drew it, gripping it in both hands as she pulled the trigger. Esposito fell to the floor and once satisfied he was dead Assunta and Ciro left horrified customers to contemplate what they had just seen.

She was arrested a couple of months later and detained in the prison at Poggioreale, not far from the city’s Capodichino airport, where she gave birth to her son, Pasquale Jnr.

It was four years before the case came to trial.  The New York Times and Time magazine were among a swathe of news organisations that covered the trial and crowds gathered every day outside the courtroom in such numbers that the court decided to set up microphones and speakers so that proceedings could be followed outside.  There were factions, who called themselves Pupettisti – those vocally supporting Pupetta – and Antipupettisti, who were against her.

Assunta argued that she acted out of passion and self-defence, fearing she would also be killed.  But the prosecuting magistrate argued successfully that the killing was part of a wider gang war. Orlando was jailed for 30 years for murdering Simonetti, Assunta received an 18-year sentence for killing Esposito and her brother, Ciro, 12 years for his role in facilitating Assunta’s crime.

The sentence for Assunta was reduced to 13 years and four months on appeal, with Ciro acquitted altogether. Assunta, who became a leader among her fellow female inmates in jail, was pardoned in 1965.

Maresca (right) with the actress Manuela Arcuri, who portrayed her in a 2013 TV drama
Maresca (right) with the actress Manuela Arcuri, who
portrayed her in a 2013 TV drama
She admitted later that the killing, although driven by grief, was also a matter of honour. She planned to take over Pasquale’s criminal activity and knew that to do so she would have to command respect, which in the Camorra world meant being seen to avenge her husband’s murder personally.

On her release, she took advantage of her celebrity, actually playing herself in a 1967 movie based on her life, and trading on her glamorous notoriety by opening two fashion shops in Naples.

She took up with another mobster, Umberto Ammaturo, with whom she had twins, Roberto and Antonella, although they never married.

The relationship survived despite the death in 1974 of Pasquale Jnr, who was determined to be a worthy son to his late father by becoming a significant figure in the Camorra.  He was killed in an ambush and Pupetta suspected her partner, who had been a rival of her husband and always felt uneasy with Pasquale Jnr’s ambitions.

In time, though, they drifted apart and separated in 1982, when Pupetta was jailed following the murder of Aldo Semerari, a corruptible psychiatrist, criminologist and forensic scientist who had previously offered ‘helpful’ diagnoses on behalf of the Nuova Famiglia, the arm of the divided Camorra to which Pupetta and Ammaturo were affiliated, but had jumped ship to keep rival boss Raffaele Cutolo, head of the Nuova Camorra Organizzata, out of jail by testifying that he was insane.

She was eventually released for lack of evidence but, on suspicion of Camorra association, all her assets were seized. Nowadays, in her 80s, Pupetta has become a reclusive figure, reportedly dividing her time between apartments in Castellammare and the resort of Sorrento, some 20km (12 miles) further along the bay.

The celebrated director Francesco Rosi made a film, La sfida, about her life in 1958 and she was the subject of a mini-series on TV as recently as 2013, when the producers were accused by some anti-Mafia campaigners of glamourising crime.

Castellammare di Stabia's bandstand - the cassa armonica -  is a famous landmark in the resort
Castellammare di Stabia's bandstand - the cassa armonica -
is a famous landmark in the resort
Travel tip:

Much of Castellammare di Stabia, a resort about 30km (19 miles) from Naples that became a major centre for shipbuilding on the Bay of Naples, was built over the Roman city of Stabiae, which was destroyed along with Pompeii and other Roman towns in the Vesuvius eruption of 79AD.  Pliny the Elder, the philosopher and naval and army commander of the early Roman empire, is said to have died in the eruption.  Once a bustling resort, it is famous for the ornate cast-iron and glass bandstand on the seafront, constructed originally in 1900 and restored in 1911.

The cathedral at Pompei, where Maresca was married in 1955
The cathedral at Pompei, where Maresca was married in 1955
Travel tip:

The impressive Pontifical Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary of Pompei, the cathedral of the new Pompei in Campania, a town of around 25,000 people about 25km (15 miles) south of Naples close to the ruins of the former Roman city that attract millions of visitors every year, was built from a dilapidated former church by Bartolo Longo, a lawyer who had returned to the Christian faith after a period following alternative beliefs, over a 28-year period between 1873 and 1901. The statue of the Virgin of the Rosary that sits atop the façade was carved from a single block of Carrara marble by Gaetano Chiaromonte.

24 November 2016

Lucky Luciano - Mafia boss

Sicilian who brought order among warring clans

Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, pictured in Italy in 1948, after he had been deported by the American authorities
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, pictured in Italy in 1948, after
he had been deported by the American authorities
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, the mobster best known for shaping the structure of Italian-dominated organized crime in the United States, was born Salvatore Lucania on this day in 1897 in Lercara Friddi, a town about 70km (44 miles) south-east of the Sicilian capital, Palermo.

Raised in New York's Lower East Side after his family emigrated in 1906, it was Luciano who famously put the New York underworld into the control of the so-called Five Families and also set up The Commission, which served as a governing body for organized crime nationwide.

After he was jailed in 1936 on extortion and prostitution charges, Luciano is said to have struck a deal with the American authorities to use his criminal connections to help the Allies in their invasion of Sicily, a vital first step in driving the German forces and their supporters out of the Italian peninsula.

In return he was given parole and allowed to return to Sicily at the end of the Second World War.

Luciano, whose father, Antonio, had worked in a sulphur mine in Lercara Friddi, began his life in crime as a teenager, when he set up his own gang and became friends with Jewish gang members Meyer Lansky and his associate Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, who would become two of his most important allies.

He grew powerful during the prohibition era of the 1920s, which created opportunities for criminals to make a lot of money. By 1925, he was grossing $12 million dollars a year and had met many of New York's future Mafia leaders, including Vito Genovese and Frank Costello.  He had also begun working for another big hitter, the Lower Manhattan gang boss Joe Masseria.

Vito Genovese, an ally of Luciano
Vito Genovese, an ally of Luciano
Caught up in the Castellammarese war - so-called because it involved Mafia bosses from the Castellammare del Golfo area of Sicily - he assumed control of one of the Five Families by eliminating both main protagonists, Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, after both tried to have him killed.

In doing so he took his place alongside such infamous figures as Joseph Bonanno, Joseph Profaci, Tommy Gagliano and Vincent Mangano - but it was Luciano whose 'family', later known as the Genovese family, had the greater reach.

Yet rather than seeking to make himself still more powerful, he was keen that the gangs stopped fighting among themselves and concentrated on maximising profits. To that end, Luciano sought to create a national organized-crime network to settle disputes and establish demarcation lines between the different operations.

He forged links with crime bosses in other cities, including Chicago's Al Capone, in what became known as The Commission.

Luciano's wealth enabled him to live at New York's luxurious Waldorf Towers, part of the Waldorf Astoria hotel, under the name Charles Ross.

But his luck ran out in 1936 when he was convicted on extortion and prostitution charges, sentenced to 30 to 50 years in jail and sent to a correctional facility in New York State which was known as "Siberia" because of its remote location near the Canadian border.

His appeals against conviction were rejected and it seemed he was destined to spend the rest of his life behind bars, but then came the opportunity to use his influence in New York and Sicily to help the Allied war effort in Europe.

He was contacted by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, who used Meyer Lansky as an intermediary, for help in stopping German and Italian agents entering the United States through the New York waterfront, which the mobs controlled.

Then, as the Allies prepared for the 1943 invasion of Sicily, Luciano is also said to have provided the Americans with Sicilian Mafia contacts.  In return, he was given parole and deported back to Sicily.

Carlo Gambino, the gang boss who delivered the eulogy at Luciano's funeral in New York
Carlo Gambino, the gang boss who delivered
the eulogy at Luciano's funeral in New York
It was not the end of his career in crime.  Although he remained in Sicily in the immediate post-war months, he secretly moved to Havana in Cuba in 1946, meeting up again with Lansky and Siegel in the hope that he could resume control of his operations in New York from a base closer to the United States.

By 1947, however, his presence in Cuba had been discovered by U.S. agents, who alerted the Cuban government, after which he was sent back to Italy.

He was thereafter kept under close surveillance, although still maintaining his criminal activities in New York via his lieutenant, Frank Costello, eventually helping Carlo Gambino, a fellow Sicilian and a longtime friend, to become the most powerful gang boss in New York.

Luciano died in January 1962 at Naples Airport, suffering a heart attack shortly after meeting an American producer to discuss a film about his life.

After a relatively small funeral in Naples, Luciano's body was returned to the United States. After a second funeral, attended by 2,000 mourners, at which Gambino delivered the eulogy, he was buried in the family's vault at St. John's Cemetery in Queens, New York, under his birth name of Salvatore Lucania.

Travel tip:

Lercara Friddi, which features some remains of a Greek colony dating back to the eighth century BC, was once notable for its sulphur mine, the only one in the province of Palermo.  As well as being the home town of Salvatore Lucania, it was the birthplace five years earlier of Saverio Antonio Martino Sinatra, who emigrated to the United States in 1903 and married Natalie Garaventa, from Liguria.  They settled in New Jersey where, in 1915, Natalie gave birth to their only child, Francis Albert Sinatra.

Hotels in Palermo by

The harbour at Castellamare del Golfo
The harbour at Castellammare del Golfo
Travel tip:

Castellammare del Golfo is a fishing town and tourist resort in the province of Trapani on the northern coast of Sicily, west of Palermo.  It is also noted for having been the birthplace of many American Mafia figures, including Salvatore Maranzano, Stefano Magaddino, Vito Bonventre, John Tartamella, and Joseph Bonanno.

More reading:

Carlo Gambino, the Sicilian mob boss thought to be the model for 'The Godfather' Vito Corleone in Mario Puzo's novel

Paolo di Lauro - Camorra boss captured in Carabinieri swoop

Joe Petrosino - Calabrian who became crime-fighting New York cop

Also on this day:

1826: Birth of Carlo Collodi, creator of Pinocchio


16 September 2016

Paolo Di Lauro - Camorra boss

Capture of mobster struck at heart of Naples underworld

Paolo di Lauro's prison mug shot.  Before his arrest, the Camorra boss was rarely seen in public
Paolo di Lauro's prison mug shot.  Before his arrest, the
Camorra boss was rarely seen in public
Italy's war against organised crime achieved one of its biggest victories on this day in 2005 when the powerful Camorra boss Paolo Di Lauro was arrested. 

In a 6am raid, Carabinieri officers surrounded a building in the notorious Secondigliano district of Naples and entered the modest apartment in which Di Lauro was living with a female companion.  The 52-year-old gang boss did not resist arrest, possibly believing any charges against him would not be made to stick.

However, at a subsequent trial he was convicted and sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment for drug trafficking and other crimes and remains in jail.

Di Lauro's conviction was significant because it removed the man who had been at the head of one of the most lucrative criminal networks in all of Italy for more than 20 years and yet managed to maintain such a low profile that police at times suspected he was dead.

At its peak, the Di Lauro clan presided over an organisation that imported and distributed cocaine and heroin said to be worth around €200 million per year.  The clan essentially controlled the run-down northern suburbs of Naples, making money also from real estate, counterfeit high-end fashion and prostitution.

Police raids are a regular feature of life in the run-down Secondigliano district of Naples
Police raids are a regular feature of life in the
run-down Secondigliano district of Naples
Although born and brought up in the depressingly poor neighbourhood in which he was ultimately located and seized, there are few clues in Di Lauro's early life that he would become such a powerful figure.

An orphan adopted by a labourer and his wife, he dropped out of school when barely into his teens and worked as a shop assistant before moving to northern Italy, where he sold bed sheets and underwear to poor migrants from the south.

By the time he returned to Naples, where he settled and married a local girl, he had become more interested in making money from gambling than crime, having become adept at card games.  However, his success did not escape the notice of the Camorra, in particular the boss who then controlled Secondigliano and the surrounding neighbourhoods, Aniello La Monica.

La Monica noted Di Lauro's sharp, mathematical brain and in 1975 invited him to work for his organisation as book-keeper.

Di Lauro began to appreciate the money that bosses such as La Monica were making from organised crime but soon realised he could be making more. An old-fashioned Camorrista, La Monica was happy to reap the proceeds of black market cigarettes, the corrupt construction industry and protection rackets but shied away from the growing drugs market.

A narrow street in the Spanish quarter of Naples
A narrow street in the Spanish
quarter of Naples
From time to time, Di Lauro would urge his boss to move into heroin and cocaine, where he could make much bigger profits.  Eventually his patience ran out and, in 1982, with La Monica still refusing to be persuaded, he set about removing him from power.

Not a man inclined to employ violent tactics as a first resort, Di Lauro hoped he could turn La Motta's supporters against him by spreading stories among clan members that he had been cheating them out of their rightful share of profits.

But La Monica learned about his treachery and hired two professional killers to track him down.  Di Lauro escaped and his retaliation revealed his own cold, ruthless side.  He lured La Monica into an ambush by arranging for him to step out on to the street outside his house, supposedly to meet an associate with some stolen diamonds.  There was no associate, but before La Monica realised it was a trap a car drew up from which four men emerged, firing pistols.  He was left face down in the street, dying from his wounds.

Di Lauro joined a large gathering of mourners at La Monica's funeral, although it was revealed later that he had probably been one of the gunmen in the car.

Thereafter, Di Lauro took control, impressing upon prominent clan members that they should at all times follow his code and remain as inconspicuous as possible, living modestly, dressing modestly, driving an ordinary car, never using drugs themselves and, if they wanted to do anything ostentatious, doing it only on faraway holidays.

Vesuvius looms above the sprawling port city with its beautiful bay and panoramic views
Vesuvius looms above the sprawling port city with
its beautiful bay and panoramic views
He disappeared from public view himself so effectively that the police lost track of him completely in about 1997, at which point they assumed he was dead.  However, in 2004 he returned to Secondigliano in the hope of stamping out a feud developing between rival groups within the Di Lauro clan.

He was not successful and in the ensuing months a breakaway group tried to seize control.  The so-called Scampia Feud claimed more than 60 lives, with shootings often taking place in busy public areas.  It led to demonstrations on the streets and calls for a police crackdown.

It was this that brought so many Carabinieri into the area, many working undercover.  Di Paulo was tracked down after intelligence officers made a connection between the mobster and a woman they noticed making daily visits to a fish stall in the area they suspected he was living. Di Paulo was known to be partial to sea bream and salmon, which were the two fish the woman always bought.  It was by following her movements that they identified Di Paulo's apartment.

Travel tip:

Naples has some wonderful historic buildings, such as the Duomo di San Gennaro, the lavish Royal Palace and the 13th-century Castel Nuovo. But it is also rewarding just to wander the streets of the historic centre, particularly the chaotic Spanish Quarter and the ancient street known as Spaccanapoli, a narrow, straight thoroughfare largely closed to traffic that bisects the old party of the city.

The ancient Roman city of Herculaneum is much  better preserved than its neighbour Pompei
The ancient Roman city of Herculaneum is much
better preserved than its neighbour Pompeii
Travel tip:

Tourists flock to the ruins of Pompeii to appreciate the damage wreaked by Vesuvius but a better preserved example of a Roman town or city can be found at Ercolano, a settlement built over the ruins of Herculaneum, that like Pompeii was completely buried by the 79AD eruption.  Unlike Pompeii, Herculaneum did not suffer catastrophic fires and many of the buildings remain intact.