Showing posts with label Cavour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cavour. Show all posts

23 February 2024

Manfredo Fanti - military general

Risorgimento hero who founded Royal Italian Army

Manfredo Fanti's battlefield skills were vital to the unification campaign
Manfredo Fanti's battlefield skills
were vital to the unification campaign
The Italian general Manfredo Fanti, a key figure in the Italian Wars of Independence in the mid-19th century and the founder of the Royal Italian Army, was born on this day in 1806 in Carpi, a town about 20km (13 miles) northwest of Modena in what is now Emilia-Romagna.

Although he ultimately had a disagreement with Giuseppe Garibaldi, the figurehead of the Italian Unification movement, Fanti is still regarded as one of the heroes of the Risorgimento, as a result of the military victories he engineered against the Austrians in the second war of independence, which liberated Lombardy from foreign control, and against the Papal States and the Bourbons in the final push for unification in 1860.

Between the second and third wars of independence, after he had been appointed Minister of War in the Cavour government, Fanti organised the absorption of the army of the League of Central Italy into the Royal Sardinian Army, which he was later able to decree would take the name of the Royal Italian Army.

He also played a key role in freeing Italy from foreign domination and completing unification. As Garibaldi was leading his Expedition of the Thousand in the conquest of Sicily, Fanti led the simultaneous campaign in central Italy, winning significant victories against the armies of the Papal States and in the northern territories of the Bourbon-controlled Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Fanti grew up as a citizen of the Duchy of Modena and, in 1825, was admitted into the Pioneer Corps of the army of Duke Francesco IV d'Este. He studied at the military college in Modena, where he obtained a degree in engineering.

The Battle of Castelfidardo saw Fanti lead one of several key victories
The Battle of Castelfidardo saw Fanti
lead one of several key victories
Already drawn towards the vision of revolutionaries such as Giuseppe Mazzini and the growing Risorgimento movement, he took part in the uprising of 1830-31 in Modena before it was put down by the Austrian army, who condemned Fanti to be hanged. He escaped to France and later assisted the exiled Mazzini in his failed attempt to invade and capture the territories of Savoy.

He then moved to Spain, where he served in the army during a battle for power between the regent, Maria Cristina of Bourbon, and the supporters of Don Carlos, who felt he was the legitimate heir to the late King Ferdinand VII, before returning to Italy in 1848 to fight against the Austrians, who controlled most of northern Italy at the time. 

Assisted by French troops, he commanded a Lombard brigade of the Sardinian-Piedmontese Army, distinguishing himself on the battlefield with courage and tactical astuteness to win key victories at Palestro, Magenta, and Solferino in the Second Italian War of Independence, which ended with the Armistice of Villafranca and the return of Lombardy to Italian rule, along with most of the northern Italian states, although the Austrians initially retained control of Venetia.

Fanti supported but later had a disagreement with Garibaldi
Fanti supported but later had a
disagreement with Garibaldi
Fanti then organised the army of the Central Italian League, which included Tuscany, Modena, Parma, and Romagna, and prepared it for the annexation by Piedmont, the leading state of the Italian unification movement. 

In January 1860 , Camillo Count of Cavour, who returned to his position as prime minister of Sardinia-Piedmont after resigning following the Villafranca armistice, made Fanti his Minister for War and the Navy.

When the Expedition of the Thousand began in May, Fanti was appointed head of the army corps in central Italy. He again was an important figure on the battlefield, playing a significant part in the Battle of Castelfidardo and in the conquest of Perugia, which led to the Piedmontese annexation of Papal State territories in Marche and Umbria. 

He then became general of the army and chief of staff of the army in southern Italy, defeating the Bourbons at Mola and organising the successful siege of the fortress at Gaeta. 

Fanti's opposition to the admission of  5,000 officers of Garibaldi's volunteers into the new Royal Italian Army, with no loss of rank, was one of the reasons for his resignation from the army and government in June 1861, although the death of Cavour was also a factor.

He agreed to return the following year, taking command of an army corps in Florence, but fell ill soon afterwards. He died in Florence in April 1865 at the age of 59. His body was returned to Carpi, where he is buried in the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta.  There is a monument to Fanti in Piazza San Marco in Florence by the sculptor Pio Fedi, erected in 1873.

The Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta in Carpi, where Manfredo Fandi is buried
The Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta
in Carpi, where Manfredo Fandi is buried 
Travel tip:

Carpi, which sits in the Padana plain, the area of flat and fertile land through which the Po river flows, became a wealthy town during the era of industrial development in Italy as a centre for textiles and mechanical engineering. Its historic centre, which features a town hall housed in a former castle, is based around the Renaissance square, the Piazza Martiri, the third largest square in Italy, which is surrounded by historical buildings such as the Palazzo Pio di Savoia, the Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, and the Teatro Comunale. The Palazzo Pio di Savoia houses the Museum of the Deportation, dedicated to the victims of the Nazi concentration camps, and the Museum of the City, which displays artworks and artefacts from Carpi’s past. Carpi was a major centre of the Italian Resistance movement in World War Two and there is a memorial at the site of the former Fossoli concentration camp, where thousands of Jews, political prisoners, and resistance fighters were detained and deported.

Stay in Carpi with

The monumental sculpture in Castelfidardo that commemorates the 1860 battle
The monumental sculpture in Castelfidardo
that commemorates the 1860 battle 
Travel tip:

Castelfidardo, which can be found about 21km (13 miles) south of the port of Ancona in the Marche region, is a charming hill town with a historical significance. It is renowned as the home of the accordion, which was actually patented in Austria in 1829 but underwent substantial redesign in Castelfidardo, where production of the instrument began in the late 19th century with the establishment of a factory opened by Paolo Soprani, who had bought one of the Austrian models after realising its potential. At one time 51,000 accordions were manufactured in the town in a single year, although production declined after World War Two as musical tastes changed. Nonetheless, it is still home to half of the accordion factories in the whole of Italy. There is inevitably an Accordion Museum, while the Monument of the Battle of Castelfidardo is commemorated with a dramatic monumental sculpture in the town’s Parco delle Rimembranze, by the Venetian sculptor Vito Pardo, which depicts in bronze a charge of infantrymen led by a figure on horseback descending from a mountain of white travertine boulders. 

Find accommodation in Castelfidardo with

More reading:

How the Battle of Solferino led to the founding of the Red Cross

Why Mazzini was the ideological inspiration for Italian unification

The Frenchman who called for Italians to unite as a single people

Also on this day:

1507: The death of Renaissance painter Gentile Bellini

1821: The death in Rome of English poet John Keats

1822: The birth of archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi

1834: The birth of ill-fated Sicilian banker Emanuele Notarbartolo 

1910: The birth of painter Corrado Cagli

(Picture credits: Carpi basilica by Attilios; Castelfidardo sculpture by Ermanon; via Wikimedia Commons)

(Painting of Battle of Castelfidardo by Giovanni Gallucci, Palazzo Comunale, Ancona)


27 October 2023

Giovanni Giolitti – Prime Minister

Long-lasting Liberal politician made important social reforms

Giovanni Giolitti was one of Europe's main liberal reformers
Giovanni Giolitti was one of
Europe's main liberal reformers
Giovanni Giolitti, who served as Prime Minister of Italy five times, was born on this day in 1842 in Mondovì in Piedmont.

A Liberal, he was the leading statesman in Italy between 1900 and 1914 and was responsible for the introduction of universal male suffrage in the country.

He was considered one of the main liberal reformers of late 19th and early 20th century Europe, along with George Clemenceau, who was twice prime minister of France, and David Lloyd George, who led the British government from 1916 to 1922.

Giolitti is the longest serving democratically-elected prime minister in Italian history and the second longest serving premier after Benito Mussolini. He is considered one of the most important politicians in Italian history.

As a master of the political art of trasformismo, by making a flexible, centrist coalition that isolated the extremes of Left and Right in Italian politics after unification, he developed the national economy, which he saw as essential for producing wealth.

The period between 1901 and 1914, when he was Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior with only brief interruptions, is often referred to as the Giolitti era.

He made progressive social reforms that improved the living standards of ordinary Italians and he nationalised the telephone and railway operators.

Giolitti’s father, Giovenale Giolitti, had worked in the avvocatura dei poveri, assisting poor people in both civil and criminal cases. He died in 1843, the year after his son, Giovanni, was born. The family moved to live in his mother’s family home in Turin, where she taught him to read and write.

Giolitti earned a degree in law from the University of Turin
Giolitti earned a degree in law
from the University of Turin
Giolitti was educated in Turin and went to the University of Turin at the age of 16, where he earned a law degree after three years.

His uncle was a friend of Michelangelo Castelli, the secretary of Camillo Benso di Cavour - the united Italy's first prime minister but Giolitti was not interested in the Risorgimento and did not fight in the Italian Second War of Independence, choosing instead to work in public administration.

At the 1882 Italian general election, Giolitti was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. In 1889 he was selected by Francesco Crispi as the new Minister of Treasury and Finance, but he later resigned because he did not agree with Crispi’s colonial policy.

After the fall of a new government led by Antonio Starabba di Rudini, Giolitti was asked by King Umberto I to form a new cabinet.

He resigned after a series of problems and scandals and was impeached for abuse of power, but this allegation was later quashed. He was once again appointed prime minister by King Victor Emmanuel III, but he had to resign in 1905 after losing the support of the Socialists.

When the next prime minister, Sidney Sonnino, lost his majority in 1906, Giolitti became prime minister again. He introduced laws to protect women and child workers and passed a law to provide workers with a weekly day of rest.

Giolitti was re-elected in 1909 but soon had to resign again, afterwards supporting the new head of government, Luigi Luzzatti, while remaining the real power behind the scenes.

In 1911, Luzzati resigned from office and Victor Emmanuel III again gave Giolitti the task of forming a new cabinet.

In 1912, Giolitti got Parliament to approve an electoral reform bill that expanded the electorate from three million to eight and a half million voters. This is thought to have hastened the end of the Giolitti era. The Radicals brought down Giolitti’s coalition in 1914 and he resigned.  

He became prime minister again in 1920, supported by Mussolini’s Fascist party, but he had to step down in 1921. By 1925 he had become completely opposed to the Fascist party and refused to join. He died in 1928 in Cavour in Piedmont and his last words to the priest were that he could not sing the official anthem of the Fascist regime.

A section of the Piazza Maggiore, with its frescoed Baroque architecture
A section of the Piazza Maggiore, with its
frescoed Baroque architecture
Travel tip: 

Mondovì is a beautiful town of some 22,000 inhabitants situated in Italy’s Piedmont region at the foot of the southern Alps, close to the border between Piedmont and Liguria.  Like much of the area in which it sits, the town is rich in mediaeval frescoes and Baroque architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries, many of the buildings designed by local architect Francesco Gallo.  The town is in two sections: the lower town called Breo, which grew up alongside the Ellero river, is linked to the upper town of Piazza by a funicular railway.  Mondovì Piazza, the old part of the city founded around 1198, has the two-level Piazza Maggiore at its heart, surrounded by beautiful porticoed buildings such as Palazzo dei Bressani and the Governor’s Palace.  Mondovì was one of the most important towns during the Savoy era, with an ancient university and a printing press that produced, in 1472, the first book printed in Piedmont with modern typography.  The town’s printing museum - the Museo della Stampa - can be found in the 17th century Palazzo delle Orfane. 

Cavour is dominated by the giant Rocca di  Cavour, which looms over the town
Cavour is dominated by the giant Rocca di 
Cavour, which looms over the town
Travel tip: 

Cavour is a small town of around 5,500 residents in Piedmont, situated about 40km (25 miles) southeast of Turin, built at the foot of the Rocca di Cavour, an isolated mass of granite rising from otherwise flat terrain. On top of the Rocca, once the site of a Roman village, are some mediaeval remains. The town gave its name to the Benso family of Chieri, of whom the most famous member was Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, the statesman who was a driving force in the Risorgimento and was appointed the first prime minister of the united Italy in 1861.  The Rocca di Cavour has been a protected natural park since 1995.

Also on this day:

1782: The birth of virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini

1952: The birth of Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni

1962: The death of entrepreneur industrialist Enrico Mattei

1967: The birth of mountaineer Simone Moro


12 August 2023

Francesco Crispi – Italian Prime Minister

The ‘great patriot’ was of Albanian heritage

A photographic portrait from the  1880s of Francesco Crispi
A photographic portrait from the 
1880s of Francesco Crispi 
The death at the age of  82 in Naples of the Italian statesman Francesco Crispi, who was a key figure during the Risorgimento, was announced on this day in 1901.

He was a close friend of Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi, and it was Crispi who persuaded Garibaldi to invade Sicily in 1860 with his band of volunteers known as The Thousand. Quickly conquering Sicily, Garibaldi proclaimed himself dictator and named Crispi as Minister of the Interior.

Crispi was born in Ribera in Sicily in 1818. His father’s family were originally from Palazzo Adriano in south western Sicily, which had been founded by Orthodox Christian Albanians. Crispi was brought up to speak Italian, along with Greek, Albanian and Sicilian.

By the time he was 11, Crispi was attending a seminary in Palermo. He then studied law and literature at the University of Palermo, receiving a law degree in 1837.

Crispi founded his own newspaper, L’Oreteo, which brought him into contact with political figures. He wrote about the need to educate poor people, the damage caused by the wealth of the Catholic Church and the need for all citizens, including women, to be considered equal.

In 1845 he became a judge in Naples, where he became well known for his liberal and revolutionary ideas.

Crispi travelled to Palermo in 1847 to prepare for the revolution against the Bourbon monarchy in Sicily. Afterwards, he was appointed a member of the provisional Sicilian parliament and supported the separatist movement that wanted to break ties with Naples.  But when the Bourbons took back control of Sicily by force in 1849, Crispi was forced to flee the island.

The uprising against the Bourbons in Sicily in 1848, which Crispi and others encouraged
The uprising against the Bourbons in Sicily in
1848, which Crispi and others encouraged
He took refuge first in France and then in 1849 he moved to Turin, where he worked as a journalist and met Mazzini, who was a Republican activist. Crispi was then arrested and sent to live in Malta by the Piedmontese.

From there he went to London, where he became a revolutionary conspirator and was involved in the Italian national movement.

After returning to Italy, Crispi travelled round Sicily in disguise, preparing for the conquering of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Crispi was appointed first secretary of state in the provisional government, where he found himself in opposition to Cavour, the prime minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia, who wanted to annex Sicily to Piedmont.

In the general election of 1861, before the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy, Crispi was elected a member of the Historical Left for the constituency of Castelvetrano, a seat he would hold for the rest of his life.

Crispi acquired the reputation for being aggressive and earned the nickname of Il Solitario, the Loner. In 1864 he deserted Mazzini and announced he was a monarchist. He told Mazzini in a letter: ‘The monarchy unites us, the republic would divide us.’ On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, he worked to impede a projected alliance with France.

The assassination attempt that Crispi survived in 1894
The assassination attempt that
Crispi survived in 1894
After the general election of 1976, Crispi was elected President of the Chamber of Deputies. He travelled to London and Berlin where he established friendly relationship with Gladstone and Bismarck. After the death of Victor Emmanuel II in 1878, Crispi secured a unitary monarchy with King Umberto taking the title of Umberto I of Italy, instead of Umberto IV of Savoy. He was then accused of bigamy and although his marriage to his third wife was ruled as valid, he was compelled to resign bringing the whole government down with him.

In 1881, Crispi was one of the main supporters of universal male suffrage and in 1887 he was appointed by the King as Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He abolished the death penalty, revoked anti strike laws, limited police powers, and reformed the penal code.

His government lost its majority after his Minister of Finance had to reveal a higher than planned deficit and Crispi resigned in 1891. He was asked to form a new government in 1893 and the following year had to declare a state of siege throughout Sicily.

In 1894, an anarchist tried to shoot Crispi but failed. Crispi introduced a series of anti-anarchist laws that strengthened his position.

During his second term, Crispi continued colonial expansion in East Africa, which led to the first Italo-Ethiopian war.

An attempt was made to prosecute Crispi for embezzlement, but a parliamentary commission refused to authorise it. He resigned his seat in parliament, but was re-elected in 1898 by his Palermo constituents.

After his health declined, Crispi died in Naples on the evening of Sunday, August 11, 1901, with his death announced the following morning. He is remembered as a colourful, patriotic politician. His fiery nature and turbulent personal and political life have been ascribed to his Albanian heritage. He was once saluted by Giuseppe Verdi as ‘the great patriot’ and streets in Italy are still named after him to this day.

One of the towers at Castello di Poggio Diana
One of the towers at
Castello di Poggio Diana
Travel tip:

Ribera, the birthplace of Francesco Crispi, is a town of almost 18,000 inhabitants situated about 50km (31 miles) from Agrigento on the southwest flank of the island of Sicily. Sometimes known as "the city of oranges" it sits on the Plain of San Nicola, between the valleys of the Verdura and Magazzolo rivers. The town's main sights include the 18th century Chiesa Madre, which remained closed for more than 30 years following an earthquake in 1968 but has been restored. Outside the town, on a gorge overlooking the Verdura river, is the Castello di Poggio Diana, built by Guglielmo Peralta in the 14th century. Agriculture is the town's main industry, involving the cultivation and marketing of the Washington navel orange - introduced by emigrants returned from the United States - and strawberries. 

The Via Francesco Crispi is in the heart of Rome's historic city centre
The Via Francesco Crispi is in the heart of
Rome's historic city centre
Travel tip:

Many streets in Italy take the name of Francesco Crispi. The Via Francesco Crispi in Rome bisects the historical centre of the city between Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Barberini, a few minutes' walk away from the Villa Borghese, Piazza del Popolo and the Trevi Fountain. The Volpetti family's gourmet food business, established in 1870, is located on Via Francesco Crispi, as is the historic Crispi 19 restaurant, opened in 1873, and the upmarket Marini shoe shop. The street is also home to the Galleria Comunale d'Arte Moderna, a former16th-century monastery now turned museum housing a large collection of works by late 19th and early 20th century artists including  Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carrà, Arturo Dazzi, Giorgio de Chirico, Renato Guttuso, Giacomo Manzù and Giorgio Morandi.

Also on this day: 

1612: The death of Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli

1861: The birth of anarchist Luigi Galleani

1943: The death of mountaineer and photographer Vittorio Sella

1990: The birth of football Mario Balotelli


27 January 2021

Italy elects its first parliament

1861 vote preceded proclamation of new Kingdom

Count Camillo Benso di Cavour was named Italy's first prime minister
Count Camillo Benso di Cavour was
named Italy's first prime minister
Italians went to the polls for the first time as a nation state on this day in 1861 to elect a parliament in anticipation of the peninsula becoming a unified country.

The vote was a major milestone in the Risorgimento - the movement to bring together the different states of the region as one country - enabling there to be a parliament in place the following month and for deputies to declare Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia as the first King of Italy in March.

The first parliament convened in Turin as Rome remained under the control of the Papal States until it was captured by the Italian army in 1870.

The body comprised 443 deputies representing 59 provinces. Some provinces, such as Benevento, near Naples, elected just one deputy, whereas the major cities elected many more. Turin, for example, chose 19 deputies, Milan and Naples 18 each.

The eligibility rules were so specific that of a population of around 22 million, only 418,696 people were entitled to vote.

In line with the procedures set down in the electoral laws of the Kingdom of Sardinia, only men could vote - women were not fully enfranchised in Italy until 1945 - and only men aged 25 and above who were literate and paid a certain amount of taxes, in most cases at least 40 lire per year. 

The new parliament proclaimed Victor Emmanuel II as king
The new parliament proclaimed
Victor Emmanuel II as king

The election was in two stages, the voting on 27 January being followed by, where necessary, a second ballot a week later on 3 February.  A second vote took place only when no candidate received more than 50 per cent of the vote or the equivalent of one-third of the registered voters in the constituency.

Of the 418,696 who could have voted, only 239,583 actually did and 10,000 votes were declared invalid, which meant that the first government was decided by barely one percent of the population.  The turnout was not helped by the Pope demanding that Catholics take no part.

In the absence of political parties as would be recognised today, the candidates representing blocs according to their values.

The group known as the Destra Storico - the Historical Right - comprised conservatives and monarchists and was led by Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, the former prime minister of Sardinia, an experienced statesman who had been an important figure in the drive to unification.

Against the Right, the Sinistra Storica - the Historical Left - was made up of liberals and centrists, led by Urbano Rattazzi.

The election was also contested by the Historical Far Left - also known as the Partito d’Azione - the radical grouping led by the revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini and with which Giuseppe Garibaldi also alligned himself.

Mazzini and Garibaldi were also key figures in the Risorgimento, but in a different way from Cavour.  Mazzini, often described as the movement's ideological inspiration, had been behind many uprisings from the 1830s onwards as Italians rebelled against the rule of oppressive foreign powers and Garibaldi led the military campaign to unite the peninsula. Mazzini, in particular, wanted the new country to be a republic.

Mazzini's party was not widely supported
Mazzini's party was not
widely supported
In the event, perhaps not surprisingly given the natural political alliances of those eligible to vote, Mazzini’s group polled a mere 2.3 percent of the popular vote, which swung heavily behind Cavour’s Historical Right, which received 46.1 percent against 20.4 percent for Rattazzi’s Historical Left.

Cavour was duly elected prime minister and parliament convened for the first time on 4 March in Turin, where 13 days later they proclaimed the new Kingdom of Italy and confirmed Victor Emmanuel as the first monarch.

As King of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel had appointed Cavour as prime minister of Sardinia-Piedmont. The new king’s insistence on ruling as Victor Emmanuel II - as he had called himself in Sardinia in respect of his ancestor Victor Emmanuel I - upset some factions, who felt it implied that Italy was actually ruled by the House of Savoy.

Cavour’s term in office proved to be brief, in the event, as the stress of the job, dominated by the question of how to bring Rome and Venice into the new kingdom to make it fully unified, took its toll. He succumbed to malaria and died after only 75 days in office, at the age of just 50.

Palazzo Carignano, birthplace of the King, where Italy's first parliament met in 1861
Palazzo Carignano, birthplace of the King, where
Italy's first parliament met in 1861
Travel tip:

The first Italian parliament met in Palazzo Carignano in Turin, the house in which Victor Emmanuel II was born. Designed by the Piedmontese architect Guarino Guarini, the Baroque palace in Via Accademia delle Scienze dates back to 1679. It now houses the National Museum of the Risorgimento, the biggest of 23 museums in Italy devoted to the movement.  The building has a lavish interior with many frescoes, some by Stefano Legnani, a painter of the Baroque period who was known in his native Milan as Legnanino.

The medieval Grinzane Castle was Cavour's home for 31 years until his death
The medieval Grinzane Castle was Cavour's
home for 31 years until his death
Travel tip:

Camillo Benso di Cavour, Italy’s first prime minister, hailed from a background in Turin nobility. He was the second son of the fourth Marquess of Cavour and for a large part of his life lived at the 13th century castle of Grinzane Cavour near Turin, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Born in 1810, Cavour lived there from 1830 until his death in 1861. During his stays there he restored the building and improved the cultivation of the vines in the area. Today, the castle has rooms dedicated to Cavour as well as the Cavour Regional Enoteca, which showcases the best wines produced in the region.

More reading:

How Giuseppe Mazzini was the ideological inspiration for the Risorgimento

Garibaldi's Expedition of the Thousand

How the capture of Rome completed Italian unification

Also on this day:

98: Trajan becomes Emperor of Rome

1881: The birth of mobster Frank Nitti

1901: The death of composer Giuseppe Verdi

1962: The birth of composer and film director Roberto Paci Dalò


Find out more:

A Concise History of Italy, by Christopher Duggan. Buy from

(Picture credit: Grinzane Castle by Sbisolo via Wikimedia Commons)


29 July 2019

Agostino Depretis – politician

Premier stayed in power by creating coalitions

Agostino Depretis served three terms as Italy's premier in the last 19th century
Agostino Depretis served three terms as
Italy's premier in the last 19th century
One of the longest serving Prime Ministers in the history of Italy, Agostino Depretis, died on this day in 1887 in Stradella in the Lombardy region.

He had been the founder and main proponent of trasformismo, a method of making a flexible centrist coalition that isolated the extremists on the right and the left.

Depretis served as Prime Minister three times between 1876 and his death.

He was born in 1813 in Mezzana Corti, a hamlet that is now part of Cava Manara, a comune in the province of Pavia.  After graduating from law school in Pavia, Depretis ran his family’s estate.

In 1848, the year of revolutions in Europe, he was elected as a member of the first parliament in Piedmont.  He consistently opposed Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, the Prime Minister of Piedmont Sardinia.

A disciple of the pro-unification activist Giuseppe Mazzini, Depretis was nearly captured by the Austrians while smuggling arms into Milan, but he did not take part in the 1853 uprising planned by Mazzini in Milan. It is thought he predicted it would fail.

Depretis briefly served as Governor of Brescia in Lombardy after Cavour’s resignation in 1859.

Depretis was a master at making coalitions from the Right and Left
Depretis was a master at making
coalitions from the Right and Left
After Italian unification, Depretis was elected to the country’s parliament and served successively as minister of public works, minister of the navy and minister of finance.

He became leader of the Left after the death of Urbano Rattazzi in 1873 and he was invited to become premier for the first time in 1876.

For the next 11 years he was the dominant force in Italian politics. A scandal in March 1878 brought down his first Government before he could introduce liberal reforms, but he returned to power later in 1878 and formed a Government that lasted for the next eight months.

In 1881 he formed another Government that lasted for more than six years. The main reform he achieved was the extension of suffrage from two per cent to seven per cent of the population of Italy.

Depretis managed to stay in office by perfecting the art of trasformismo, taking ministers from both the right and the left to form coalitions.

In 1882 Depretis signed the Triple Alliance, which allied Italy with Austria-Hungary and Germany. He was then persuaded to colonise Africa, but when 500 Italian soldiers were killed by Ethiopians at the Battle of Dogali in January 1887, his Government resigned.

Depretis was chosen as Prime Minister again in April but, because he was suffering badly from gout, he moved to live in Stradella, near Pavia. He died there while still in office on 29 July, making him the fourth longest-serving Prime Minister in Italian history after Benito Mussolini, Giovanni Giolitti and Silvio Berlusconi.

The church of San Lorenzo Martire
in Mezzana Corti
Travel tip:

Mezzana Corti, where Agostino Depretis was born, is a small village - a  frazione - that is now part of the municipality of Cava Manara in the province of Pavia. Cava Manara was originally known as Cava Taverna, but was renamed Cava Manara in 1863 in honour of Luciano Manara, an Italian patriot who was killed in battle at the age of 24.

The Monument to Agostino Depretis in Stradella
The Monument to Agostino
Depretis in Stradella
Travel tip:

Stradella, where Agostino Depretis died, is part of the Oltrepò Pavese in the province of Pavia, an area to the south of the River Pò and therefore oltre - beyond - the Pò. Stradella was once an important centre for the production of accordions and there is still a museum in the town dedicated to the instrument, Il Civico Museo della Fisarmonica Mariano Dallapè di Stradella.  There is a monument to Deprestis in Piazza Vittorio Veneto.

More reading:

Giuseppe Mazzini, the thinking man's revolutionary who is seen as a hero of the Risorgimento

How Cavour became the first Prime Minister of a united Italy

The Five Days of Milan

Also on this day:

1644: The death of Pope Urban VIII, whose extravagance led to disgrace

1883: The birth of Benito Mussolini

1900: The birth of Teresa Noce, the partisan who became a campaigner for the rights of working women


9 March 2019

Bettino Ricasoli - statesman and winemaker

Prime minister and inventor of modern Chianti wine

While not tending to his ancient vineyards, Bettino Ricasoli was twice prime minister
While not tending to his ancient vineyards,
Bettino Ricasoli was twice prime minister
The politician and winemaker Barone Bettino Ricasoli was born on this day in 1809 in Florence.

Ricasoli, who is considered one of the driving forces of the Risorgimento alongside Giuseppe MazziniCount Camillo Benso of Cavour, Giuseppe Garibaldi and others, succeeded Cavour as prime minister in 1861, the second person to hold the office in the new Kingdom of Italy.

After withdrawing from politics, he concentrated on the family vineyards around the Castello di Brolio in the Tuscan hills between Siena and Arezzo, seat of the Ricasoli family since the early 12th century.

It was there is 1872, seeking to create a wine with universal appeal, that he developed the formula for Chianti wine that is still used today, made up of 70 per cent Sangiovese grapes, 15 per cent Canaiolo and 15 per cent Malvasia bianca.

Today Barone Ricasoli - the oldest wine producer in Italy and the second oldest in the world - is the largest winery in the Chianti Classico area, with 235 hectares of vines and 26 hectares of olive groves in the area around Gaiole and Castelnuovo Berardenga.

Bettino was the son of Baron Luigi Ricasolo and Elisabetta Peruzzi, who came from a family of Tuscan bankers. He attended the Collegio Cicognini, the oldest school in Prato, and spent two years travelling around Europe with his personal tutor. He was orphaned by the age of 18 following the deaths of both his parents, inheriting the castle and the estate but finding it to be heavily in debt.

Vines fill most of the slopes surrounding the ancient Ricasoli family seat at Castello di Brolio in Tuscany
Vines fill most of the slopes surrounding the ancient Ricasoli
family seat at Castello di Brolio in Tuscany
Decreed to be of age by the Duke of Tuscany, and therefore the legal owner of the castle and its vineyards, he quickly enrolled at the Accademia dei Georgofili in Florence in order to acquire the agrarian and financial skills he needed to run the business successfully. He managed to save it from collapse, helped by his marriage to Anna Bonaccorsi, the daughter of a noble landowner from Tredozio in the Tuscan Romagna, who brought with her a considerable dowry.

A follower of patriotic political philosophers such as Cesare Balbo and Massimo d’Azeglio, Ricasoli he became politically active in 1846, urging Leopold II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, to make various liberal reforms. The following year, he founded a newspaper, La Patria, with a mission to define “the constitution of Italian nationality”.

In 1848 he was elected gonfalonier (mayor) of Florence after Leopold authorised the establishment of a Tuscan constitution. He encouraged support for Piedmont-Sardinia against Austria in the First Italian War of Independence.

Barone Ricasoli's chianti is renowned
Barone Ricasoli's
chianti is renowned
However, after Leopold was overthrown by the radical democrats Giuseppe Montanelli and Francesco Guerrazzi, who proclaimed a new republic, he reclaimed power only after turning to the Austrians for help, which so disgusted Ricasoli he abandoned his political career and exiled himself to Switzerland.

When he returned to the Castello di Brolio he took a circuitous route to avoid Florence, so that he would not have to set eyes on the occupying Austrian troops.

Ricasoli stayed out of politics until 1859, after the Second Italian War of Independence achieved its goal, when he was appointed minister of the interior in Cavour’s government of Tuscany, promoting the union of Tuscany with Piedmont, which took place in March 1860.

Elected to the Chamber of Deputies of the new Italian government in February 1861, he succeeded Cavour in the premiership in June.

As prime minister he admitted the Garibaldian volunteers to the regular army, revoked the 30-year exile of Mazzini for his membership of an illegal political group, and attempted - unsuccessfully - a reconciliation with the Vatican, with whom the new kingdom was still at odds.

He resigned in 1862 but returned to power in 1866. On this occasion he refused Napoleon III's offer to cede Venetia to Italy on condition that Italy gave up their Prussian alliance, and reached a compromise with the Vatican only for the Chamber to reject it, upon which he resigned again and withdrew from politics for good.

He died at the Castello di Brolio in October 1880.

The Ricasoli name was sold to a multinational conglomerate in the early 1970s but reacquired by the Barone’s grandson, also called Bettino. The business is now run by his great-grandson, Francesco.

Bettino Ricasoli turned the Castello di Brolio into a kind of English-style neo-Gothic manor house
Bettino Ricasoli turned the Castello di Brolio into a kind
of English-style neo-Gothic manor house
Travel tip:

The impressive Castello di Brolio, which sits on top of a hill 11km (7 miles) south of Gaiole in Chianti, dominates the surrounding countryside. Even though it is closer to Siena, just 20 km away and visible on a clear day, the castle has always been under the influence of Florence and was for many years used as a strategic outposts. As a result, it has been destroyed several times. The castle of today is partly the reconstruction ordered by Bettino Ricasoli in 1835, when he commissioned the architect Pietro Marchetti to modify the castle according to the taste of the Gothic revival, a romantic movement originating in England, transforming it from a fortress into something closer to an English manor house, with Tudor-style windows and crenellated turrets. Parts of the house, the Renaissance gardens and the English woods are open to the public. Inside the castle, it is possible to visit the Chapel of San Jacopo and the crypt with the family tombs and a small museum housing the Ricasoli collection.

Hotels in Gaiole in Chianti by

The Via Bettino Ricasole is a broad street, almost a  piazza, in the centre of Gaiole in Chianti
The Via Bettino Ricasole is a broad street, almost a
piazza, in the centre of Gaiole in Chianti
Travel tip:

The beautiful small town of Gaiole in Chianti, about 40km (25 miles) southeast of Florence, basks in the enviable accolade of being named at number one in a list of "Europe's Most Idyllic Places To Live" by Forbes magazine. The town is a perfect base for visiting the many castles in the area, such as the Castello di Meleto, the Castello di Spaltenna and the Badia Coltibuono, a fortified monastery. The town hosts many events connected with the wine industry plus, every March, a professional bicycle race is held, known as Strade Bianche.

17 October 2018

Giovanni Matteo Mario - operatic tenor

Disgraced nobleman became the toast of London and Paris

Giovanni Matteo Mario became a singer  after fleeing to France
Giovanni Matteo Mario became a singer
after fleeing to France
The operatic tenor Giovanni Matteo Mario, a Sardinian nobleman who deserted from the army and began singing only to earn a living after fleeing to Paris, was born on this day in 1810 in Cagliari.

He was baptised Giovanni Matteo de Candia, born into an aristocratic family belonging to Savoyard-Sardinian nobility. Some of his relatives were members of the Royal Court of Turin. His father, Don Stefano de Candia of Alghero, held the rank of general in the Royal Sardinian Army and was aide-de-camp to the Savoy king Charles Felix of Sardinia.

He became Giovanni Mario or Mario de Candia only after he had begun his stage career at the age of 28. He was entitled to call himself Cavaliere (Knight), Nobile (Nobleman) and Don (Sir) in accordance with his inherited titles, yet on his first professional contract, he signed himself simply ‘Mario’ out of respect for his father, who considered singing a lowly career.

Although he was one of the most celebrated tenors of the 18th century, Italy never heard Mario sing. Instead, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London and the Théâtre Italien in Paris witnessed most of his triumphs.

He often sang with his lifelong partner, the soprano Giulia Grisi, with whom he lived in Paris and London before Mario bought a villa just outside Florence in around 1849.

An illustration showing Giulia Grisi and
Giovanni Mario in Bellini's I puritani
The young De Candia was expected to have a military career. From the age of 12 he attended the Military College of Turin, where his fellow students included the future prime minister of Italy, Camillo Benso di Cavour When he was transferred to Genoa at the age of 19 with the rank of second lieutenant, however, he met the young revolutionaries Giuseppe Mazzini and Jacopo Ruffini and became sympathetic to the republican ideals.

It was not long before his military career abruptly ended. Some stories suggest De Candia was expelled from the army on suspicion of subversive activity, others that he deserted in fear of arrest. Either way, having left Genoa in a fishing boat, he landed in Marseille before moving on to Paris, where he found a growing community of Italian political refugees.

He was drawn towards the city’s musical and literary culture, meeting among others the composers Chopin, Liszt, Rossini and Bellini, as well as the writers Balzac, George Sand, and Dumas father and son.

Yet he was penniless and needed to make a living. He tried giving riding and fencing lessons and at one time attempted to join the British army.

Mario in the role of Don Giovanni in Mozart's opera of the same name
Mario in the role of Don Giovanni in
Mozart's opera of the same name
The chance to sing on stage came after the German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer heard him entertaining friends and persuaded him to take lessons. He made his debut at the Opéra in November 1838 as the hero of Meyerbeer's Robert le diable. He wrote to his mother to explain that he was calling himself Mario and promised he would never perform in Italy.

Mario quickly became a star in demand. In 1839 he made a triumphant debut in London as Gennaro in Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia opposite Grisi, and made his debut at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris as Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. For the next 30 years he sang all the important romantic leads in Paris and London, also appearing in St. Petersburg (Russia), New York City, and Madrid.

Nemorino and Gennaro were among his most admired roles, along with Ernesto in Donizetti's Don Pasquale - a part written for him. Later he was acclaimed for his Almaviva in Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia, which he sang more than 100 times in London.

In 1871 he gave his farewell performance as Fernando in Donizetti’s La favorita at Covent Garden in London.

Grisi and Mario married in the late 1840s and, after an amnesty was extended to many sentenced for political crimes, removing Mario’s fear he would be arrested, they returned to Italy to live at the Villa Salviati outside Florence, where they brought up six daughters and regularly entertained guests, including many of the central figures of the Italian Risorgimento, with whom Mario had formed lasting friendships.

The revolutionary activist Giuseppe Mazzini was a lifelong friend of Giovanni Mario
The revolutionary activist Giuseppe Mazzini
was a lifelong friend of Giovanni Mario
In fact, in 1850 Mario had organised a concert to help Italian political refugees following the failed 1848 uprisings. He and Grisi gave shelter to the Venetian patriot Daniele Manin during his exile to Paris and for a time Mazzini co-ordinated his revolutionary activities from Mulgrave House, their home in London. It was there that one of their daughters - Cecilia De Candia - later recalled her parents entertaining several hundred red-shirted English Garibaldians in their garden, giving their voices to patriotic songs.

Tragically, Grisi died in 1869 after the train on which she was travelling to St Petersburg suffered an accident passing through Germany. Mario sold Villa Salviati shortly afterwards.

Following his Covent Garden farewell, Mario embarked on a brief concert tour of the United States before retiring to Rome. A man of extravagant habits, he soon found his fortunes in decline. Friends organised a benefit concert for him in London, which raised enough money - about £4,000 - to provide him with a pension.

He died in Rome in 1883 and was buried in the family mortuary chapel that he had arranged to be built in the Bonaria cemetery in Cagliari. Later a street in Castello - the historic old quarter of the Sardinian capital - was named after him.

Cagliari's medieval old town, Castello
Cagliari's medieval old town, Castello
Travel tip:

Cagliari’s charming historic centre, known as Castello, where Mario bought a house for his mother, is notable for its limestone buildings, which prompted DH Lawrence, whose first view of the city was from the sea as ‘a confusion of domes, palaces and ornamental facades seemingly piled on top of one another’, to call it 'the white Jerusalem'.  This hilltop citadel, once home to the city's aristocracy, is Cagliari’s most iconic image. Inside its walls, the university, cathedral and several museums and palaces - plus many bars and restaurants - are squeezed into a network of narrow alleys.

The Villa Salviati, just outside Florence, was Mario's  home for more than 20 years
The Villa Salviati, just outside Florence, was Mario's
home for more than 20 years
Travel tip:

The Villa Salviati, Mario and Grisi’s spectacular home in Florence, was built on the site of the Castle of Montegonzi about 7km (4.5 miles) north of the centre of the city, by Cardinal Alamanno Salviati, who in turn gave it to Jacopo Salviati, the son-in-law of Lorenzo de’ Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent). It changed hands a number of times before being purchased by Mario from an Englishman, Arturo Vansittard.  In 2000 it was bought by the Italian government and now houses the historical archives of the European Union.

(Photo credits: Castello by Martin Kraft; Villa Salviati by Sailko)

More reading:

Giulia Grisi - the officer's daughter who became a star on three continents

Mazzini and the drive for Unification

How Donizetti grew up in a Bergamo basement

Also on this day:

1473: The birth of sculptor Bartolommeo Bandinelli

1797: Venice loses its independence


5 September 2018

Giacomo Zabarella – philosopher

Scholar devoted his life to explaining Aristotle’s ideas

Giacomo Zaberella: a portrait by an unknown artist kept at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford
Giacomo Zaberella: a portrait by an unknown
artist kept at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford
The leading representative of Renaissance Aristotelianism, Giacomo Zabarella, was born on this day in 1533 in Padua in the Veneto.

His ability to translate ancient Greek enabled him to understand the original texts written by Aristotle and he spent most of his life presenting what he considered to be the true meaning of the philosopher’s ideas.

He had been born into a noble Paduan family who arranged for him to receive a humanist education.

After entering the University of Padua he was taught by Francesco Robortello in the humanities, Bernardino Tomitano in logic, Marcantonio Genua in physics and metaphysics and Pietro Catena in mathematics. All were followers of Aristotle.

Zabarella obtained a Doctorate in Philosophy from the university in 1553 and was offered the Chair of Logic in 1564. He was promoted to the first extraordinary chair of natural philosophy in 1577.

Zabarella became well known for his writings on logic and methodology and spent his entire teaching career at the University of Padua.

The title page of Zabarella's book, Opera Logica, published in 1577
The title page of Zabarella's book,
Opera Logica, published in 1577
As an orthodox Aristotelian, he sought to defend the scientific status of theoretical natural philosophy against the pressures emanating from the practical disciplines such as the art of medicine and anatomy.

His knowledge of Greek enabled him to consult Greek commentators on Aristotle’s work as well as medieval writers.

Zabarella’s first published work was Opera Logica in 1577 and his commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics appeared in 1582.

He died in Padua at the age of 56 in 1589. His great work in natural philosophy, De rebus naturalibus, was published posthumously in 1590. It contained 30 treatises of Aristotelian natural philosophy and an introduction that he had written only weeks before his death. His two sons edited his incomplete commentaries on Aristotle’s texts and published them a few years later.

Zabarella’s works were reprinted in Germany early in the 17th century, where his brand of philosophy had a big following, especially among Protestant Aristolelians.

Palazzo del Bó is the main building of Padua University
Palazzo del Bò is the main building of Padua University
Travel tip:

The University of Padua was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna. The main university building, Palazzo del Bò in Via VIII Febbraio in the centre of Padua, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610.

The Caffè Pedrocchi is just a few yards along Via VIII Febbraio from Palazzo del Bò
The Caffè Pedrocchi is just a few yards along Via VIII
Febbraio from Palazzo del Bò 
Travel tip:

Via VIII Febbraio commemorates the date and location of the struggle between Austrian soldiers and students and citizens of Padua, when both the University and the Caffè Pedrocchi became battlegrounds. The Padua rebellion was one of a series of revolts in Italy during 1848. The Austrians were seen as arrogant and aggressive and the ideas of Mazzini and Cavour about a united Italy were becoming popular with progressive thinkers. Students and professors at Padua University had been meeting at the University and in Caffè Pedrocchi to discuss their discontent. You can still see a hole in the wall of the White Room inside Caffè Pedrocchi made by a bullet fired by an Austro-Hungarian soldier at the students. The café has been a meeting place for students, intellectuals and writers for nearly 200 years. Founded by coffee maker Antonio Pedrocchi in 1831, it quickly became a centre for the Risorgimento movement and was popular with students because it was near Palazzo del Bò, the main university building.

More reading:

The philosopher who wrote the 'Manifesto of the Renaissance'

Why a renowned Aristotelian philosopher refused to look through Galileo's telescope

The philosopher with a Utopian dream to banish poverty

Also on this day:

1568: The birth of philosopher Tommaso Campanella

1970: The birth of Paralympian Francesca Porcellato