Showing posts with label Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Show all posts

9 January 2019

Norberto Bobbio - political philosopher

Intellectual regarded as foremost 20th century commentator


Norberto Bobbio was a university professor and a forthright political commentator
Norberto Bobbio was a university professor
and a forthright political commentator
Norberto Bobbio, a philosopher of law and political sciences who came to be seen as one of Italy’s most respected political commentators in the 20th century, died on this day in 2004 in Turin, the city of his birth.

He was 94 and had been in hospital suffering from respiratory problems. His funeral was attended by political and cultural leaders including the then-president of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.  He had been writing essays well into his 90s, despite for much of his life suffering from bouts of what was described as “fatigue and melancholy”.

His extensive catalogue of work spanned almost seven decades of Italian political life and societal change from the rise of Fascism in the 1930s to the second premiership of Silvio Berlusconi, of whom he was an outspoken critic.

For much of his career, Bobbio was a professor at the University of Turin, where he was chair of philosophy of law from 1948 and, from 1972, of the faculties of legal and political philosophy and political science.

He was made a Life Senator in 1984, although he stayed away from playing an active role in Italian politics after failing to gain election to the parliament of the new Republic in 1946, standing on a liberal-socialist ticket.  Later he confessed that he was much relieved when a move to make him President in the 1990s did not succeed.

Bobbio was part of a famous group of Turin  intellectuals who opposed Fascism in the 1930s
Bobbio was part of a famous group of Turin
intellectuals who opposed Fascism in the 1930s
Many of his books and collections of essays are regarded as seminal works, but among them The Future of Democracy: A Defence Of The Rules Of The Game (1984), State, Government and Society (1985), The Age of Rights (1990) and Right and Left (1994) are considered to have particular importance.

Right and Left was an analysis of left-right political distinctions, in which he argued that the incompatibility of the two poles boiled down to the Left's belief in attempting to eradicate social inequality, set against the Right regarding most social inequality to be the result of inherent natural inequalities, and seeing attempts to enforce social equality as utopian or authoritarian.

Bobbio was born into a middle-class Turin family, the son of a doctor  whose attitude to Fascism was that, set against Bolshevism, which was gathering pace in Italy at the time, it was the lesser of two evils.

His own political thinking was influenced by the group of friends he made at the Liceo Classico Massimo d'Azeglio in Turin, where he became part of the intellectual movement that included the novelists Cesare Pavese and Carlo Levi, his future publisher Giulio Einaudi, the critic Leone Ginsburg and the radical politician Vittorio Foa. 

Bobbio argued in favour of the Historic Compromise between the Communists and the Christian Democrats in the 1970s
Bobbio argued in favour of the 'historic compromise' between
the Communists and the Christian Democrats in the 1970s
They were all involved with the anti-Fascist magazine Riforma Sociale - Social Reform - published by Einaudi’s father, Luigi, a future President of Italy - that Mussolini had closed down and spent several weeks in jail as a result.

He was imprisoned again in 1943, this time by the Germans, after the illegal political party of which he was a member, the Partito d’Azione - the Action Party - became involved in resistance activity. Arrested in Padua, he was released after three months.

The party - for a while the main non-Communist opposition group - lacked popular support, however, and Bobbio failed in his bid for election to the assembly of the new Republic in 1946, after which he devoted himself to his academic life, taking positions at various universities teaching the philosophy of law.

Throughout his intellectual life, he was a strong advocate of the rule of law, and although by nature a socialist, he was opposed to what he perceived as the anti-democratic, authoritarian elements in most of Marxism. He was a strong supporter of the so-called 'historic compromise' - the proposed coalition of the Italian Communist Party and the Christian Democrats in the strife-torn 1970s - and a fierce critic of Silvio Berlusconi, whom he accused of presiding over a moribund political system that lacked idealism and hope.

Turin is famous for its beautiful royal palaces
Travel tip:

Turin was once the capital of Italy. It has a wealth of elegant streets and beautiful architecture, yet over the years has tended to be promoted less as a tourist attraction than cities such as Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice, possibly because of its long association with the Savoy family and subsequently the Italian royal family, who were expelled from Italy in disgrace when Italy became a republic at the end of the Second World War, their long-term unpopularity with some sections of Italian society compounded by their collaboration with Mussolini’s Fascists. Yet there is much to like about a stay in Turin. Aside from the splendour of the royal palaces, it has an historic café culture, 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in northern Italy.


Rivalta di Torino, looking towards the castle
Rivalta di Torino, looking towards the castle
Travel tip:

Norberto Bobbio was laid to rest at the cemetery in Rivalta di Torino, a small town in Piedmont, located about 14km (9 miles) southwest of Turin in the Sangone valley.  It is home to a medieval castle, which formed the heart of what was then a village in the 11th century. The castle and the village were owned by the Orsini family - long-standing Italian nobility dating back to medieval times - until 1823. In 1836, the French writer Honoré de Balzac was guest at the castle of its new owner, Count Cesare Benevello, as is recorded in an inscription on the wall.


More reading:

How Cesare Pavese introduced Italian readers to the great American novelists

Why the murder of Aldo Moro ended hopes for a 'historic compromise'

Giulio Einaudi - the publisher who defied Mussolini

Also on this day:

1878: The death of King Victor Emmanuel II

1878: Umberto I succeeds Victor Emmanuel II

1944: The birth of architect Massimiliano Fuksas


Home

15 October 2018

Roberto Vittori – astronaut

High-flying Colonel contributed to space research


Roberto Vittori has taken part in three space flights including the last by Space Shuttle Endeavour
Roberto Vittori has taken part in three space flights,
including the last by Space Shuttle Endeavour
Roberto Vittori, the last non-American to fly on board the US Space Shuttle, was born on this day in 1964 in Viterbo.

An Italian air force officer, Vittori was selected by the European Space Agency to be part of their Astronaut Corps and has participated in three space flights.

In 2011 Vittori was on board the Space Shuttle that travelled to the International Space Station to install the AMS-02 cosmic ray detector to examine dark matter and the origin of the Universe.

Vittori had to grapple the six-tonne AMS-02 with the Space Shuttle’s robotic arm and move it to the station for installation. This was to be the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour.

He is one of five Italians to have visited the International Space Station. The others are Umberto Guidoni, who was the first European to set foot on board when he flew on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2001, Paolo Nespoli, who visited as recently as 2017 and at 61 is the European Space Agency’s oldest active astronaut, Luca Parmitano and Samantha Cristoforetti, the first Italian woman in space.

Vittori, right, met up with fellow Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli
after arriving at the International Space Station in 2011
Nespoli, who has participated in three International Space Station missions, was coming to the end of a 159-day stay when Vittori visited.

Vittori graduated from the Italian Air Force Academy in 1989 with a degree in Aeronautical Science and afterwards flew with the Italian air force from a base in Piacenza.

After completing his basic training with the US Air Force in 1990, Vittori graduated from the US Navy Test Pilot School in 1995. He also graduated from the Nato Defence College Senior Course in 2006 and completed a Masters degree in Physics in 2007.

Vittori, left, with some of his fellow crew members after the Endeavour arrived at the International Space Station
Vittori, left, with some of his fellow crew members after
the Endeavour arrived at the International Space Station
In 2002, he flew to the International Space Station on board a Russian Soyuz craft and worked alongside the resident crew overseeing scientific experiments. The mission successfully delivered a new lifeboat for use in the event of an on board emergency.

In 2005, again part of a Soyuz mission, he became the first European to visit the Space Station twice when he went to conduct experiments in upper limb fatigue and the germination of herbaceous plant seeds for possible space nutrition.

After Space Shuttle Columbia was lost in 2003, Vittori served on the accident investigation team.

Now a Colonel in the Italian Air Force, Vittori has logged nearly 2000 miles in more than 40 different aircraft. He is married to Valeria Nardi, who comes from Città di Castello in the province of Perugia, and they have three children.

He was made Commendatore della Repubblica by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the then President of the Italian Republic, in 2005.

The impressive Palazzo dei Papi is among many  well-preserved medieval buildings in Viterbo
The impressive Palazzo dei Papi is among many
well-preserved medieval buildings in Viterbo
Travel tip:

Viterbo, where Roberto Vittori was born, is the largest town in northern Lazio, situated about 80km (50 miles) north of Rome. It is regarded as one of the best preserved medieval towns in Italy, with many buildings in the San Pellegrino quarter featuring external staircases. The town’s impressive Palazzo dei Papi, was used as the papal palace for about 20 years during the 13th century. Completed in about 1266, the palace has a large audience hall, which connects with a loggia raised above street level by a barrel vault.

The Piazza Cavalli in Piacenza is so called because of its two bronze equestrian statues by Francesco Mochi
The Piazza Cavalli in Piacenza is so called because of
its two bronze equestrian statues by Francesco Mochi
Travel tip:

Piacenza, where Roberto Vittori was based with the Italian air force after qualifying as a pilot, is a city in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. The main square in Piacenza is named Piazza Cavalli because of its two bronze equestrian monuments featuring Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma and his son Ranuccio I Farnese, Duke of Parma, who succeeded him. The statues are masterpieces by the sculptor Francesco Mochi.

More reading:

Samantha Cristoforetti - Italy's record-breaking first woman in space

How astronaut Umberto Guidoni launched a career in politics

Giovanni Schiaparelli and 'canals on the moon'

Also on this day:

1764: Edward Gibbon's moment of inspiration

1905: The birth of footballer Angelo Schiavio, whose goal won Italy's first World Cup


Home

18 August 2018

Umberto Guidoni - astronaut

First European to step on to the International Space Station


Guidoni flew two Space Shuttle missions during his time at NASA in Texas
Guidoni flew two Space Shuttle missions
during his time at NASA in Texas
The astronaut Umberto Guidoni, who spent almost 28 days in space on two NASA space shuttle missions, was born on this day in 1954 in Rome.

In April 2001, on the second of those missions, he became the first European astronaut to go on board the International Space Station (SSI).

After retiring as an active astronaut in 2004, Guidoni began a career in politics and was elected to the European Parliament as a member for Central Italy.

Although born in Rome, Guidoni’s family roots are in Acuto, a small hilltown about 80km (50 miles) southeast of the capital, in the area near Frosinone in Lazio known as Ciociaria.

Interested in science and space from a young age, Guidoni attended the Gaio Lucilio lyceum in the San Lorenzo district before graduating with honours in physics specializing in astrophysics at the Sapienza University of Rome in 1978, obtaining a scholarship from the National Committee for Nuclear Energy, based outside Rome in Frascati.

He worked in the Italian Space Agency as well as in the European Space Agency. One of his research projects was the Tethered Satellite System, which was part of the payload of the STS-46 space shuttle mission.

Guidoni moved to Houston, Texas and trained for a year as an alternate payload specialist for that mission, for which he was part of the group of scientists coordinating the scientific operations of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from the ground.

Guidoni displays the symbol of the Presidency of the Italian Republic during his 2001 mission
Guidoni displays the symbol of the Presidency of the Italian
Republic during his 2001 mission
He made his first spaceflight aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1996, which included the second flight of the TSS system (TSS-1R). Columbia launched on February 22, returning to the Kennedy Space Center on March 9, having completed 252 orbits, covering 10 million kilometers in 377 hours and 40 minutes .

His work in space focused on the control of the TSS’s electrodynamic experiments, which demonstrated, for the first time, the possibility of generating electrical power from space.

Guidoni’s second experience in space came on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour, on a Space Station assembly flight in 2001, a mission that included the inaugural flight of the Raffaello module, one of the three Italian pressurized logistics modules, which enabled four tons of supplies and scientific experiments to be transferred to the SSI.

Launched on April 19, it landed at the Edwards Air Force Base in California on May 1, having completed 186 orbits, covering approximately 8 million kilometers in 285 hours and 30 minutes.

Umberto Guidoni addresses supporters of the Sinistra e Libertà party during a rally in Rome
Umberto Guidoni addresses supporters of the Sinistra e
Libertà party during a rally in Rome
When Guidoni entered the SSI as the first European astronaut on board, he carried with him the Italian flag and the banner of the Presidency of the Italian Republic, delivered to him by the president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Passionate about ecological issues, Guidoni entered politics immediately after he retired from active space travel, standing as an independent on the list of Italian Communists for the 2004 European elections and became an elected MEP.

He served until 2009 as a member of the parliamentary group comprising the European Left and the Nordic Green Left.

As an MEP, he served on various committees and working groups in the area of industry, research and energy, climate change, environmental health and food safety. He was a member of the budget control committee and was involved in working towards better relationships with the United States and Japan.

He lost his seat in 2009, standing as part of a list entitled Sinistra e Libertà - Left and Liberty. His involvement with politics continued for four years until 2013, when he had disagreements with the leadership group in his party and decided to quit.

Nowadays, married with one son, he works to popularise scientific subjects through writing an broadcasting.

In 2009 he presented a radio programme entitled From the Sputnik to the Shuttle, in which he retraced the main steps of the space era, and in 2009 narrated the epic history of the Apollo lunar missions for another radio broadcast.

A book based on that show - From the Earth to the Moon - was published in 2011. Guidoni has also written numerous newspaper and magazine articles and written books for children about space and space travel.

The town of Acuto sits on a ridge in the Ernici mountains
The town of Acuto sits on a ridge in the Ernici mountains
Travel tip:

The town of Acuto, which sits on a ridge in the Ernici mountains about 40km (25 miles) northwest of Frosinone in Lazio and about 80km (50 miles) southeast of Rome, suffers harsh winters with regular snowfall but is a popular place for city dwellers looking for an escape from the summer heat because its position exposes it to cooling breezes.  The town developed in the fifth century when many residents of nearby Anagni fled there in the face of a barbarian invasion. The town has many churches, going back to the days when Agnani and Acuto were important towns in the Papal States.

Piazza Cavour in the centre of Agnani
Piazza Cavour in the centre of Agnani
Travel tip:

Anagni is about 15km (9 miles) by road from Acuto. During medieval times many popes chose to reside in Anagni, considering it safer and healthier than Rome. 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. Close by there is a restaurant named Lo Schiaffo - The Slap.

More reading:

How Samantha Cristoforetti set records for women in space

The scientist from Rome who created the world's first nuclear reactor

The kidnapping of Pope Boniface VIII

Also on this day:

1750: A composer at the heart of a murder mystery: the birth of Antonio Salieri

1943: The birth of the football great Gianni Rivera


Home



29 June 2018

Giorgio Napolitano – 11th President of Italy

Neapolitan was concerned about the development of southern Italy


Giorgio Napolitano became president of the Italian republic in 2006
Giorgio Napolitano became president
of the Italian republic in 2006
Giorgio Napolitano, who served as the 11th President of the Republic of Italy, celebrates his 93rd birthday today.

Napolitano, who was born on this day in 1925 in Naples, was the longest serving president in the history of the republic and the only Italian president to have been re-elected.

He graduated in law from Naples University in 1947, having joined a group of young anti-fascists while he was an undergraduate.

At the age of 20, Napolitano joined the Italian Communist Party. He was a militant and then became one of the leaders, staying with the party until 1991 when it was dissolved. He then joined the Democratic Party of the Left.

Napolitano was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 1953 and continued to be re-elected by the Naples constituency until 1996.

His parliamentary activity focused on the issue of southern Italy’s development and on national economic policy.

Napolitano in 1953
Napolitano in 1953
As a member of the European parliament between 1989 and 1992, he regularly travelled abroad giving lectures.

In 2005 he was appointed life Senator by the President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

The following year he was elected as President of the Republic and he served until 2015.

As head of state of Italy, his role was to represent national unity and to guarantee that Italian politics complied with the Constitution.

He was present at the 2006 FIFA World Cup final, when the Italian team defeated France and won their fourth World Cup and he joined in with the players’ celebrations afterwards.

Giorgio Napolitano with Italy's captain Fabio Cannavaro and the World Cup trophy after the final in 2006
Giorgio Napolitano with Italy's captain Fabio Cannavaro
and the World Cup trophy after the final in 2006
Among the many awards he received was the 2010 Dan David prize in Tel Aviv, for his contribution to strengthening the values and democratic institutions in Italy and Europe.

Napolitano frequently wrote about southern Italian issues for journals and published many books on the subject.

He is married to Clio Bittoni and has two sons, Giovanni and Giulio.

Napolitano retired as Italian president at the age of 89 in January 2015.

The main building at the University of Naples Federico II
The main building at the University of Naples Federico II
Travel tip:

The University of Naples Federico II, where Napolitano was a student, was founded in 1224 by the Emperor Frederick II. One of its most famous students was the theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas who went on to lecture there in the 13th century. A former college built in the 16th century in Via Paladino, in the area of Spaccanapoli, has been the main university building since 1777.

The Villa Rosebery overlooks the Bay of Naples at Posillipo
Travel tip:

As president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano lived in Palazzo Quirinale in Rome, which looks out over the Piazza del Quirinale. This was the summer palace of the popes until 1870 when it became the palace of the Kings of the newly unified Italy. Following the abdication of the last King, it became the official residence of the President of the Republic in 1947. Napolitano also had a residence in Naples at his disposal, the Villa Rosebery, which takes its name from the time it was owned by a British Prime Minister, the fifth Earl of Rosebery. Lord Rosebery gave the villa to the British Government for the use of their ambassador to Italy. The British Government then gave it to Italy and it was the residence of King Victor Emmanuel III from 1944 to 1946. It was then used by the Academia Aeronautica until it became an official residence of the President of the Italian Republic in 1957.

Home


7 February 2018

Amedeo Guillet – army officer

Superb horseman helped keep the British at bay


Amedeo Guillet, pictured in his military dress uniform, was a brilliant horseman
Amedeo Guillet, pictured in his military dress
uniform, was a brilliant horseman

Amedeo Guillet, the last man to lead a cavalry charge against the British Army, was born on this day in 1909 in Piacenza.

His daring actions in Eritrea in 1941 were remembered by some British soldiers as ‘the most frightening and extraordinary’ episode of the Second World War.

It had seemed as though the British invasion of Mussolini’s East African empire was going like clockwork. But at daybreak on January 21, 250 horsemen erupted through the morning mist at Keru, galloping straight towards British headquarters and the artillery of the Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry.

Red Italian grenades that looked like cricket balls exploded among the defenders and the guns that had been pointing towards Italian fortifications had to be quickly turned to face a new enemy.

The horsemen later disappeared into the network of wadis - ravines - that crisscrossed the Sudan-Eritrean lowlands.

Guillet’s actions at Keru helped the Italian army regroup and go on to launch their best actions in the entire war. Guillet was to live on until the age of 101 and become one of the most decorated people in Italian history.

Guillet was born into a Savoyard-Piedmontese family, who were minor aristocracy that had, for generations, served the Dukes of Savoy and later the Kings of Italy.

Guillet in action on the battlefield in 1940
Guillet in action on the battlefield in 1940
He spent most of his childhood in the south and said he remembered the Austrian biplane bombing of Bari during the First World War. He followed family tradition by joining the army and, after attending the military academy at Modena, went into the cavalry.

Guillet excelled as a horseman and was selected for the Italian eventing team to go to the Berlin Olympics in 1936. But Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia interrupted his career as a competition rider.

He had himself transferred to a cavalry division and fought repeated actions with them. He witnessed the aerial gas attacks on Emperor Haile Selassie’s lightly-armed warriors, which appalled the world.

In Guillet’s opinion, gas was largely ineffectual against an enemy that could flee. He fought with horse, sword and pistol. He suffered a painful wound to his left hand and was later decorated for his actions.

He was flattered to be chosen by General Luigi Frusci as an aide de camp, in the division sent to support Franco in the Spanish Civil War, where he suffered shrapnel wounds, but helped to capture three Russian armoured cars and crews.

Guillet disapproved of  the pro- Nazi alliance and anti-semitism
Guillet disapproved of  the pro-
Nazi alliance and anti-semitism
But he disapproved of the pro-Nazi alliance and the anti-Semitic race laws adopted by Italy and asked for a posting to East Africa, where a family friend, Amedeo Duke of Aosta, had been appointed viceroy.

Mussolini’s decision to enter the war on the side of Germany in 1940 cut off Italian East Africa, which was surrounded by the territories of its enemies. Aosta gave Guillet command of 2,500 men, both cavalry and infantry. With almost no armour, Guillet’s horsemen were used to delay the British advance.

His actions at Keru and in subsequent battles won time for the Italian army, but eventually the British broke through. Most of the Italian army surrendered but Guillet refused to do so.

Aosta ordered his men to fight on to keep as many British soldiers as possible in East Africa.

For nine months Guillet launched a series of guerrilla actions against British troops with his mistress, Khadija, an Ethiopian Muslim, at his side. He believed he would never see Italy, or the woman he had planned to marry there, ever again.

Two British intelligence officers pursued him. One of them, Major Max Harrari, would later become an art dealer and one of his close friends. But Guillet managed to escape across the sea to neutral Yemen where he became a friend of the ruler Imam Ahmed. He sneaked back to Eritrea in 1943 in disguise, from where he returned to Italy on the Red Cross ship, Giulio Cesare.

He married his Neapolitan cousin, Beatrice Gandolfo, in 1944 and spent the rest of the war as an intelligence officer.

At the end of the war, after the decision to abolish the monarchy in Italy, Guillet told Umberto II he intended to leave the country for good, but the deposed King asked him to keep serving Italy, whatever sort of Government was installed.

Despite being wounded many times, Guillet not only survived his wartime experiences but lived to be 101 years old
Despite being wounded many times, Guillet not only survived
his wartime experiences but lived to be 101 years old
Guillet joined the diplomatic service and because his Arabic was fluent he served in the Middle East. He was later ambassador in Jordan, Morocco and India.

In 1975 he retired and went live in County Meath in Ireland to enjoy the fox hunting.

According to his biographer, Sebastian O’Kelly, Guillet was ‘a kind, generous man who thought himself lucky to have survived many bullet and grenade wounds, sword injuries and bone fractures.’ Guillet’s wife, Beatrice, died in 1990.

In 2000, Guillet was presented with the Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of Italy, the highest military decoration, by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Guillet’s life story was the subject of a film made by Elisabetta Castana for the national TV channel RAI in 2007.

In 2009 he was still well enough to be able to celebrate his 100th birthday at the army officers’ club in Palazzo Barberini in Rome.

When Guillet died in June 2010 in Rome he was widely respected as one of the last men to have commanded cavalry in a war.

One of Francesco Mochi's statues in Piacenza
One of Francesco Mochi's
 statues in Piacenza
Travel tip:

Piacenza, where Guillet was born, is a city in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. The main square in Piacenza is named Piazza Cavalli because of its two bronze equestrian monuments featuring Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma and his son Ranuccio I Farnese, Duke of Parma, who succeeded him. The statues are masterpieces by the sculptor Francesco Mochi.

The Palazzo Barberini in Rome
The Palazzo Barberini in Rome
Travel tip:

Palazzo Barberini, where Guillet celebrated his 100th birthday, is just off Piazza Barberini in the centre of Rome. The palace was completed in 1633 for Pope Urban VIII to the design of three great architects, Carlo Maderno, Francesco Borromini and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.


20 December 2017

Giuliana Sgrena – journalist

War reporter who survived kidnapping in Iraq


The journalist Giuliana Sgrena pictured at a book signing in Rome
The journalist Giuliana Sgrena pictured
at a book signing in Rome
The journalist Giuliana Sgrena, a war correspondent for an Italian newspaper who was kidnapped by insurgents while reporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was born on this day in 1948 in Masera, a village in Piedmont.

Sgrena, who was covering the conflict for the Rome daily Il Manifesto and the weekly German news magazine Die Welt, was seized outside Baghdad University on February 4, 2005.

During her 28 days in captivity, she was forced to appear in a video pleading that the demands of her abductors – the withdrawal of the 2,400 Italian troops from the multi-national force in Iraq – be met.

Those demands were rejected but the Italian authorities allegedly negotiated a $6 million payment to secure Sgrena’s release.

She was rescued by two Italian intelligence officers on March 4 only then to come under fire from United States forces en route to Baghdad International Airport.

In one of the most controversial incidents of the conflict, Major General Nicola Calipari, from the Italian military intelligence corps, was shot dead. Sgrena and the other intelligence officer were wounded.

The US authorities apologised for the incident but claimed that the soldiers involved, whose detail was to protect an American diplomat who was travelling to the airport at the same time, were responding to reports of a bomb planted on Sgrena’s vehicle by Al-Qaeda terrorists and gave a warning before they opened fire.

Sgrena was an opponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq
Sgrena was an opponent of the 2003
invasion of Iraq
However, Sgrena testified that the US forces had given no warning and that of 58 bullets fired at the car only one was aimed at the engine, which suggested that the primary objective was to kill the occupants of the vehicle rather than to disable it.

The incident led to a period of difficult relations between Italy and the US and led to criticism of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi for giving his support to the invasion, the impetus for which came primarily from US president George W Bush and the British prime minister, Tony Blair.

Sgrena herself had been a steadfast opponent of the invasion and her reporting of the conflict was critical of the ferocity of US bombing, in particular of Baghdad and during the second Battle of Fallujah, where she claimed the invasion force used the flammable gel napalm that was deployed to such deadly effect in Vietnam.

She insisted that working away from the embedded correspondents enabled her to report events more honestly, giving full detail of the level of destruction.

Sgrena’s background shaped her politics and her attitude to conflict. Masera, an Alpine village in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, had seen intense fighting during the Second World War between Italian partisans and German soldiers. Her father, Franco Sgrena, a noted partisan, was a communist and an activist in railway union.

Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi visited Sgrena in hospital as she recovered from gunshot wounds
Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi visited Sgrena in
hospital as she recovered from gunshot wounds
At university in Milan, Sgrena herself was involved with left-wing political causes and became a pacifist. From 1980 she wrote for the weekly magazine Guerra e Pace.

In 1988, she joined the left-leaning Il Manifesto, where she became a war correspondent, covering conflicts in Algeria, Somalia and Afghanistan. She also reported from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and the Middle East.

A campaigner for women's rights who has also been critical of the treatment of women under Islam, her coverage of the bombing of Baghdad earned her the title of Cavaliere del Lavoro on her return to Italy. In 2005 she was awarded the Stuttgart Peace Prize.

Masera sits in the shadow of the Alps close to the Swiss border
Masera sits in the shadow of the Alps close to the Swiss border
Travel tip:

Masera, located almost on the Swiss border some 130km (81 miles) northeast of Turin, is an Alpine village of almost 1,500 inhabitants in which the economy is driven as much by agriculture as tourism and which is notable for staging a annual Grape Festival in the second week of September, which celebrates the harvest with numerous cultural events, including folk music events that attract performers from all over Piedmont.

Verbania is a large town on the shore of Lake Maggiore
Verbania is a large town on the shore of Lake Maggiore
Travel tip:

The nearest sizeable community to Masera is Verbania, situated on the shores of Lake Maggiore about 30km (19 miles) to the southeast.   A town of more than 30,000 population, it faces the city of Stresa across the lake. A small island a few metres from the shore, known as the Isolino di San Giovanni, is famous for having been the home of Arturo Toscanini, between 1927 and 1952.  Verbania is also the home town of the military general Luigi Cadorna, who was Chief of Staff of the Italian Army in the early part of the First World War.





22 January 2017

Carlo Orelli – soldier

The last trench infantryman


Carlo Orelli with President Ciampi, at the  awards ceremony on his 109th birthday
Carlo Orelli with President Ciampi, at the
 awards ceremony on his 109th birthday
Carlo Orelli, the last surviving Italian soldier to have served at the start of Italy's involvement in the First World War, died on this day in 2005 at the age of 110.

Orelli had signed up for active duty at the age of 21 and joined the Austro-Hungarian front after Italy joined in the war on the side of Britain, France and Russia in May 1915.

He took part in combat operations near Trieste, experiencing the brutality of trench warfare and seeing many of his friends die violent deaths, but after receiving injuries to his leg and ear he spent the rest of the war in hospital.

Orelli was born in Perugia in 1894, but his family moved to Rome, where he was to spend most of the rest of his life living in the Garbatella district.

He came from a military background and had a grandfather who had helped to defend Perugia against Austrian mercenaries in 1849. His father had served in the Italian Abyssinian campaign in the 1880s and his elder brother had fought in Libya during the war between Italy and Turkey in 1911.

Orelli pictured in his Italian military  uniform in the First World War
Orelli pictured in his Italian military
uniform in the First World War
The wounds Orelli suffered during a confrontation with Austrian soldiers ended his military career and he spent the rest of the war recovering from an infection in hospital.

When the war was over he resumed his occupation as a mechanic and got married and had six children.

Despite his opposition to Fascism, he was sent to Gaeta to direct artillery during World War II, but he returned to his job as a mechanic afterwards and continued to live in Garbatella.

In later life he often talked about his experiences in the First World War and implored people not to forget the sacrifice his fellow soldiers had made.

In 2003, on the occasion of his 109th birthday, he was made a Grand Officer in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by the President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Carlo Orelli in a TV documentary about his  life and wartime experiences
Carlo Orelli in a TV documentary about his
life and wartime experiences
He became known as ‘The Last Infantrymen’, which was chosen as the title for his wartime memoirs when they were published.

After his death in 2005, he was talked about as ‘the last Italian World War I veteran,’ which was incorrect.

He was, in fact, Italy’s oldest survivor of the First World War, the last trench infantryman and the last survivor from the time Italy entered the war in 1915.

Travel tip:

Perugia, where Orelli was born, and which was defended by his grandfather against the Austrians, is the capital city of the region of Umbria. It has a history that goes back to Etruscan times, when it was one of the most powerful cities in the area. A stunning sight on a hilltop, Perugia is also home to two universities, the 14th century University of Perugia and another University for foreign students learning Italian.


The Centrale Montemartini museum is in the Garbatella district of Rome, where Orelli spent most of his life
The Centrale Montemartini museum is in the Garbatella
district of Rome, where Orelli spent most of his life
Travel tip:

The Garbatella district, where Orelli lived for most of his life, is to the south of the centre of Rome. It is now a lively area with an unusual museum, the Centrale Montemartini in Via Ostiense, a former electricity power plant that now houses hundreds of pieces of Roman sculpture. Nearby, in Piazzale San Paolo, is the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, one of Rome’s four ancient churches, which was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over the burial place of St Paul. The site had been marked with a memorial by some of the apostle’s followers after his execution.


More reading:


Francesco Chiarello - combatant in both world wars who lived until 2008

How General Armando Diaz masterminded Italy's victory at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto

The Villa Giusti armistice and the end of the First World War in Italy


Also on this day:


1506: The founding of the Papal Swiss Guard


(Picture credit: Centrale Montemartini by Lalupa via Wikimedia Commons)

Home

9 December 2016

Bruno Ruffo - motorcycle racer

Italy's first world champion on two wheels


Bruno Ruffo in action on the track
Bruno Ruffo in action on the track
Motorcycle racer Bruno Ruffo, winner of the inaugural 250cc World Champion- ship in 1949, was born on this day in 1920 in Colognola ai Colli, a village in the province of Verona.

He shares with Nello Pagani the distinction of being Italy's first world champion motorcyclist, Pagani having won the first world title in the 125cc class in the same year.

Ruffo wanted to race from the age of eight, having become fascinated with the motorcycles and cars that his rather repaired in his workshop.

He was able to drive a car at the age of 10 and was given his first motorcycle by his father as a 16th birthday present.  He entered a race for the first time the following year at Montagnana near Padua and won. The minimum age for participants was 18 and it later transpired he had falsified his identity papers to take part.

The Second World War interrupted his progress.  Drafted into the Italian Army, Ruffo served for 20 months on the Russian front.

After the war, he bought a Moto Guzzi 250, which he raced privately, enjoying considerable success in 1946, when he won nine of the 11 races he entered in the cadet class.

He was Italian champion in the senior 250cc class in both 1947 and 1948, his victory in the Grand Prix of Nations at Faenza in the second of those years earning an invitation to join Moto Guzzi's official team when the Grand Prix World Championship was launched in 1949.

Giacomo Agostini
Giacomo Agostini
Ruffo won the very first race in the 250cc category in Switzerland.  A second place in the Ulster GP and fourth in the GP of Nations at Monza gave him enough points from the six eligible events to finish top of the points classification.

Moto Guzzi dropped out of the 1950 championship in the 250cc class but gave Ruffo permission to race for Mondial in the 125cc class, in which he claimed his second world title.

Victories in the French and Ulster GPs in a championship expanded to eight races in 1951 enabled him to clinch his second 250cc world title and he was hot favourite to land a third in 1952 only for a crash in Stuttgart in July to rule him out of the last three events.

Injuries sustained in another crash in 1953 persuaded him to retire from racing on two wheels but he continued his career in motorsport, switching to cars.  Driving for Alfa Romeo and Maserati, he had several podium finishes.

He quit racing for good in 1958 after a miraculous escape when his Maserati overturned at 200kph in an uphill time trial. He had to be cut from the wreckage but recovered from his injuries and decided not to push his luck any further.

Cars remained central to his life after his racing career ended with the establishment of a successful vehicle rental business in Verona.

The bronze monument to Bruno Ruffo in Verona
The bronze monument to Bruno Ruffo in Verona
Already honoured in 1955 when he was made a Knight of Merit of the Italian Republic, in 2003 the title of Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic was conferred upon him by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

The award put him in the company of Giacomo Agostini, Pier Paolo Bianchi, Eugenio Lazzarini and Carlo Ubbiali as recipients of the award for their success in motorcycle racing.

Ruffo died in 2007, aged 86.  His life is commemorated in Verona with a monument in bronze depicting a human figure crouched over a speeding motorcycle, and in Colognola ai Colli with a sports hall named in his honour.

Travel tip:

The monument to Bruno Ruffo, created by the artist Marco da Ronco, can be found a short distance from Verona's central Piazza Bra, in a small garden at the junction of Via Roma and Via Morette.  Piazza Bra adjoins the Arena di Verona, the Roman amphitheatre nowadays used as a venue for music concerts and in particular opera, for which it is among the most famous outdoor settings in the world.


Montagnana's medieval city walls are still intact
Montagnana's medieval city walls are still intact
Travel tip:

Montagnana, where Ruffo won his first race on a dirt track, is best known for having one of the best preserved medieval city walls in Europe, as well as two castles, the Rocca degli Alberi and the Castle of San Zeno.  Andrea Palladio's Villa Pisani is another nearby tourist attraction.







More reading:

Giacomo Agostini, Italy's 15 times World Motorcycling Champion

Enrico Piaggio - creator of Italy's iconic Vespa scooter

Luigi Fagioli - Formula One's oldest winning driver

Also on this day:

1920: The birth of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the minister who took Italy into the Euro

(Picture credits: Montagana walls by Zavijavah; Giacomo Agostini by Gede; both via Wikimedia Commons)



Home

9 December 2015

Carlo Azeglio Ciampi - prime minister and president

The politician who took Italy into the euro


The politician and banker, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, was born on this day in 1920 in Livorno.
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Photo: Presidency of the Italian Republic


He was the 49th Prime Minister of Italy between 1993 and 1994 and the tenth president, in office from 1999 to 2006.

Ciampi studied ancient Greek literature in Pisa, before being called up to do military duty, but in 1943 he refused to stay with the Fascists and took refuge in Abruzzo.

He managed to get to Bari, where he joined the Italian resistance movement.

After the war, he gained a doctorate in law from Pisa University and began working at the Banca d’Italia. He went on to become Governor of the bank and then President of the National Bureau de Change.

Ciampi was the first-non parliamentarian prime minister of Italy for more than 100 years, appointed by the President, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, to oversee a technical government.

Later, as the treasury minister under Romano Prodi and Massimo d’Alema, Ciampi, a staunch supporter of the EU, adopted the euro currency for Italy.

When he was elected president, he had a broad majority and was only the second president ever to be elected at the first ballot. He was held in high regard by all the political groups in parliament.
Rome's Palazzo Quirinale, official residence of
the Italian President


He was succeeded by Giorgio Napoletano and is currently a senator for life in the Italian senate.

Travel tip:

Livorno is a port on the western coast of Tuscany, which deals with thousands of cruise ship passengers. The city used to be known as Leghorn in English and there is an English cemetery in Via Giuseppe Verdi, with the graves of many former British residents, including the novelist. Tobias Smollett.

Travel tip:

Abruzzo is a region on the Adriatic coast, bordered by Marche to the north, Lazio to the west and Molise to the south. One third of its territory is made up of national parks and nature reserves that are home to protected species, such as the brown bear.

Home