Showing posts with label December. Show all posts
Showing posts with label December. Show all posts

1 January 2016

Capodanno in Italy

Toasting the New Year the Italian way

New Year’s Day is called Capodanno in Italy, which literally means ‘head of the year’.

Rai Uno will be screening a New Year's Day concert from La Fenice
Teatro La Fenice in Venice

It is a public holiday, and schools, Government offices, post offices and banks are closed.

After a late start following the New Year’s Eve festivities, many families will enjoy another traditional feast together, either at home or in a restaurant.

Visitors and residents will attend church services throughout the country before sitting down to a festive meal and toasting 2016 with a glass of good Prosecco.

Rai Uno will be broadcasting a New Year’s Day concert live from La Fenice in Venice at 12.20 local time.

San Giuseppe Maria Tomasi

The Catholic Church remembers cardinal-priest Giuseppe Maria Tomasi di Lampedusa who died on this day in 1713.

He was the son of the Prince of Lampedusa in Sicily but he renounced his inheritance and joined a religious order.

Later in life he worked to reform the church and was created a cardinal-priest by Pope Clement XI who admired his sanctity.

He was buried in a church near his home after his death but his remains were later transferred to the Basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome and he was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1986.

Travel tip:

La Fenice (the Phoenix ) is Venice’s world famous opera house, originally built in 1790. The name reflects its role in permitting an opera company to rise from the ashes after their previous theatre burnt down.  La Fenice was itself destroyed by fire in 1836 and had to be rebuilt. It was severely damaged by fire again in 1996 and rebuilt at a cost of more than 90 million euros, reopening seven years later. La Fenice is in Campo San Fantin, a short walk from Piazza San Marco.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea
della Valle in Rome
Travel tip:

There is a shrine to San Giuseppe Maria Tomasi in the baroque Basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Corso Vittoria Emanuele II in Rome. The large church is also famous for being chosen by Puccini as the setting for the first act of his opera, Tosca.

Buon Anno e Tanti Auguri per 2016 (Happy New Year and best wishes for 2016) from all at Italy On This Day!


30 December 2015

Galeazzo Alessi – architect

Brilliant designer left legacy of beautiful palaces and churches

Italian architect Galeazzo Alessi, who designed some of the most impressive buildings in Genoa and Assisi, died on this day in 1572.
Galeazzo Alessi designed the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in 1568
The Basilica of Santa Maria degli
Angeli in Assisi, designed by Alessi
Photo: Lahiri Cappello (CC BY 2.0)

Born in Perugia in 1512, Alessi studied drawing for both civil and military architecture and developed great enthusiasm for ancient architecture, although he was also later influenced by Michelangelo.

He became known throughout Europe for his distinctive style and towards the end of his career was commissioned to design churches and palaces in France, Germany, Belgium and Spain.

A lot of his work can still be seen in Perugia and Assisi, where, in collaboration with another architect, Alessi designed the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in 1568.

In Genoa he designed some of the beautiful palaces with ornate decoration that have now been listed as Unesco world heritage sites and he was involved in planning the lay-out of the streets and the restoration of the city walls.

Alessi died at the age of 60 in Perugia before the designs that he had drawn up for El Escorial, the residence of the King of Spain, could be carried out.

Travel tip:

Perugia, Alessi’s home town, is the capital city of the region of Umbria and one of the main Etruscan cities of Italy. A stunning sight on a hilltop, Perugia is also home to two universities, the 14th century University of Perugia and another University that has been established for foreign students learning Italian.

Perugia's hilltop location affords stunning
views over the Umbrian countryside
Photo: Zorro2212 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Travel tip:

For Assisi, Alessi designed the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli in 1568 in collaboration with the architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola. It has an ornate and imposing façade and encloses a small ninth century church, the Porziuncola, a sacred place, where the young Francis of Assisi renounced the world to go and live among the poor and start the Franciscan movement.  


29 December 2015

Stefano Eranio – footballer

Fast forward made his mark in England’s Premier League

Italy international footballer Stefano Eranio was born on this day in 1966 in Genoa, the main city of Liguria.

Eranio played for Genoa, AC Milan and Derby County
Stefano Eranio

He represented his country 20 times between 1990 and 1997 but is most remembered for his playing career with AC Milan and Genoa.

A midfield player or wing-back, Eranio had brilliant technique, good pace and the ability to make attacking runs.

Towards the end of his career he played in the English Premier League for Derby County and was made an official ‘Derby Legend’ in 2006.

Eranio began his career with Genoa in 1984.  He played for them for eight seasons before moving to A C Milan in 1992.

At Milan he won three league titles, three Italian Super Cups and played in two Champions League finals.

Eranio’s first international goal was against the Netherlands in 1992 when Italy won the match 3-2. In 1997 he played his last game for Italy, helping them beat Moldova 3–0.

When he moved to Derby County in the Midlands of England, Eranio quickly became a favourite with the fans as part of an exciting team that included another Italian player, Francesco Baiano.

Eranio is credited with scoring the first goal in a competitive match at Derby's Pride Park Stadium after they moved from the Baseball Ground in 1997. But when the manager, Jim Smith, was fired in 2001, Eranio left too.

He retired in 2003 after spending a season as a player and assistant manager with Serie C2 side, Pro Sesto.

After giving up playing, he became part of the AC Milan youth coaching staff.

He is still regarded as one of the greatest players ever to play for Derby County .

Travel tip:

Liguria in northwest Italy is known as the Italian Riviera. It runs along a section of the Mediterranean coastline between France and Tuscany and is dotted with pretty seaside villages, with houses painted in different pastel colours.

The port city of Genoa is the sixth largest
city in Italy. Photo: Steven Lek (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Travel tip:

Genoa, the capital of Liguria, is the sixth largest city in Italy and has earned the nickname of La Superba because of its proud history as a major port. Part of the old town was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2006 because of the wealth of beautiful 16th century palaces.  


27 December 2015

Pope John Paul II’s prison visit

Pope came face to face with his would be killer

Pope John Paul II visited Rebibbia prison on the outskirts of Rome on this day in 1983 to forgive formally the man who had tried to assassinate him.
Pope John Paul II survived an assassination attempt in 1981
Pope John Paul II

Two years previously the Pope had been shot and critically wounded in St Peter’s Square by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish member of a fascist group known as Grey Wolves.

John Paul II had been rushed unconscious to hospital with bullet wounds to the abdomen, colon and small intestine and had to have five hours of surgery to repair the damage.

Agca was caught and restrained by bystanders until the police arrived. He was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.

John Paul II visited Agca on 27 December 1983 in prison in Rebibbia, a suburb on the north eastern edge of Rome.

They spoke privately for about 20 minutes and afterwards the Pope said he had pardoned his would be killer.

Agca had previously escaped from a Turkish prison where he had been serving a sentence for murdering a journalist. He was deported to Turkey at the end of his jail sentence in Italy and went on to serve another ten years in prison.

On 27 December 2014, 33 years after the shooting, Agca came to the Vatican in Rome to lay white roses on Pope John Paul II’s tomb.

Pope John Paul II had died in April 2005 at the age of 84 in his private rooms in the Vatican.  He had been taken ill in February of the same year and underwent a tracheotomy. He was released from hospital but in late March developed an infection that turned into septic shock, a severe condition from which he never recovered.

St Peter's was the scene of an attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in Rome
The scene of the attempted assassination of
John Paul II in St Peter's Square, Rome

Travel tip:

St Peter’s Square in front of the Basilica was designed by Bernini to provide a large space where the faithful, from all over the world, could gather together. It is filled with pilgrims and visitors to Rome on Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and other important occasions when the Pope appears to address the crowd.

Travel tip:

Pope John Paul II’s tomb is on the north side of an area called the Vatican Grottoes, less than 100 feet from the tomb of Saint Peter. The grottoes are beneath the floor of St Peter’s Basilica and house the tombs of many dead popes.


25 December 2015

Natale – Christmas Day

Celebrating Christmas the Italian way


Christmas Day in Italy is very much a family feast just as in other parts of the world.

After la Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve), when traditionally a fish meal is consumed and the adults go to midnight mass, Natale (Christmas Day) is a time for feasting.
Panettone, the traditional end to the
Christmas Day meal in Italy

While the children open their presents, the adults savour a glass of good Prosecco or uncork a special vintage bottle while they prepare the festive table.

Friends and relatives who drop in with presents or to exchange good wishes will be offered a glass of wine and nuts, biscuits or torrone (a type of nougat from Cremona).

Antipasti is likely to include Parma ham or Bresaola, served with preserved mushrooms, olives or pickled vegetables.

Stuffed pasta is usually served as a first course, either in the shape of ravioli or tortellini, which are said to have been offered as Christmas gifts to priests and monks during the 12th century. In the south a baked pasta dish is often served.

For the main course, turkey or capon is likely to be served in the north of Italy, with potatoes and vegetables as side dishes. Veal, beef and chicken can be served in the south.

The traditional end to the meal is almost always Panettone, served warm accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine or Prosecco. 

Salute e Buon Natale from Italy On This Day!

Travel tip:

Cremona in Lombardia is famous for producing confectionery. Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino specialises in the city’s famous torrone (nougat). The concoction of almonds, honey and egg whites was created in the city to mark the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza in 1441, when Cremona was given to the bride as part of her dowry.

Travel tip:

Milan, the main city in Lombardia, is believed to be where Panettone originated.  It is said to have been concoted by a Milanese baker, Antonio (Toni), to impress his girlfriend at Christmas time in the 15th century. The result was so successful that ‘Pane de Toni’ has become a regular feature of the Christmas season all over Italy and now even abroad.


23 December 2015

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – writer

Sicilian prince whose novel achieved recognition after his death

The Sicilian writer, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, was born on this day in 1896 in Palermo in Sicily.

Tomasi's only novel, The Leopard, became the best selling novel in the history of Italian literature
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
He became the last Prince of Lampedusa after the death of his father and his only novel, Il Gattopardo (The Leopard), was published in 1958 after his death, soon becoming recognised as a great work of Italian literature.

The novel, which is set in his native Sicily during the Risorgimento, won the Strega prize in 1959 for him posthumously.
After starting to study jurisprudence at university in Rome he was drafted into the army in 1915.

He fought in the battle of Caporetto and was taken prisoner by The Austro-Hungarian army. He was held in a prisoner of war camp for a while in Hungary but eventually managed to escape and return to Italy.

Giuseppe inherited his father’s title in 1934 and eventually settled down to write his novel. He completed Il Gattopardo in 1956, but it was rejected by the first two publishers he submitted it to.

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa died in Rome in 1957 at the age of 60. His novel was published a year after his death. It became the best selling novel in Italian history and was made into a film in 1963 by the director Lucchino Visconti.

The novel is celebrated at the Museo del Gattorpardo in the town of Santa Margherita di Belice, in the Sicilian province of Agrigento, where Tomasi had a palace.

Travel tip:

Palermo, the birthplace of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, is the capital city of Sicily, the biggest Italian island, which is situated at the toe of the peninsula of Italy out in the Mediterranean Sea.

Rabbit Beach has been described as among the best beaches in the world for the quality of its sand and its clear water.
Rabbit Beach in Lampedusa is said to be among
the finest beaches in the world
Photo: Figiu (CC BY 3.0)

Travel tip:

Lampedusa, home to about 6,000 people is an island situated 205 kilometres (127 miles) south-west of Sicily. The southernmost part of Italy, it is part of the Sicilian province of Agrigento but is actually just 113 kilometres (70 miles) off the cost of Tunisia.  Rabbit Beach, on the south side of the island, is renowned as one of the finest beaches in the world, combining soft white sand with crystal clear water.


22 December 2015

Giacomo Puccini – opera composer

Musical genius who took the baton from Verdi

Giacomo Puccini, one of the greatest composers of Italian opera, was born on this day in 1858 in Lucca in Tuscany.

This photograph of Puccini was taken in America in 1908
Giacomo Puccini, pictured in
New York in 1908
He had his first success with his opera, Manon Lescaut, just after the premiere of Verdi’s last opera, Falstaff. Manon Lescaut was a triumph with both the public and the critics, and he was hailed as a worthy successor to Verdi.
Puccini was born into a musical family who encouraged him to study music as a child while he was growing up in Lucca.

He moved to Milan to continue his studies at the Milan Conservatory, where he was able to study under the guidance of the composer, Amilcare Ponchielli.

He wrote an orchestral piece that impressed Ponchielli and his other teachers when it was first performed at a student concert. Ponchielli then suggested that Puccini’s next work might be an opera.

Watch Andrea Bocelli sing Puccini's Nessun Dorma in London in 2012

Puccini’s first attempt at opera was successful enough for it to be purchased by a firm of music publishers and after some revisions it was performed at La Scala in Milan.

But when his next opera, Edgar, was first performed at La Scala it was not so well received.

After some revisions it was performed again in Lucca where it was more popular.

But his next opera, Manon Lescaut, was a triumph when it was first performed in Turin in 1893.

His next three operas, La Boheme, Tosca and Madam Butterfly, were also big successes and are still regularly performed today.

His final opera, Turandot, was still not completed when he died, but Puccini was able to leave the world with the amazing aria, Nessun Dorma.

Puccini died in Brussels in 1924 after unsuccessful treatment for throat cancer. When news of his death reached Rome during a performance of La Boheme, the opera was immediately stopped and the orchestra played Chopin’s Funeral March to the saddened audience.

Puccini’s body was buried inside a mausoleum built after his death in his villa at Torre del Lago in Tuscany.

More opera -- Domenico Cimarosa, father of comic opera, born 17 December, 1749

Travel tip:

You can still visit Puccini’s birthplace in Corte San Lorenzo in Lucca . The house is now a museum containing many of the composer’s furniture, personal items and letters. For more information visit 

Puccini restored a house at Torre del Lago as a family home
The statue of Giacomo Puccini at Torre del Lago,
where he made his home
Photo: Sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Travel tip:

Puccini restored a house at Torre del Lago to live in after he became successful. He is buried along with members of his family in a mausoleum built at the house. For more information visit


21 December 2015

Masaccio – Renaissance artist

Innovative painter had brief but brilliant career 

The 15th century artist Masaccio was born on this day in 1401 in Tuscany.
The Trinity by Masaccio was one of the first paintings to convey perspective.
Masaccio's painting
The Trinity

He is now judged to have been the first truly great painter of the early Renaissance in Italy because of his skill at painting lifelike figures and his use of perspective.

Christened Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone, the artist came into the world in a small town near Arezzo, which is now known as San Giovanni Valdarno.

Little is known about his early life but it is likely he would have moved to Florence to be apprenticed to an established artist while still young.

The first evidence of him definitely being in the city was when he joined the painters’ guild in Florence in 1422.

The name Masaccio derives from Maso, a shortened form of his first name, Tommaso. Maso has become Masaccio, meaning ‘clumsy or messy Maso’. But it may just have been given to him to distinguish him from his contemporary, Masolino Da Panicale.

Massaccio’s earliest known work is the San Giovenale Triptych painted in 1422, which is now in a museum near Florence . He went on to produce a wealth of wonderful paintings over the next six years.

While in Florence, Masaccio studied the works of Giotto and became friends with Brunelleschi and Donatello. He also travelled to Rome with Masolino, where he became influenced by ancient Roman and Greek art.

One of his major works is The Trinity, a fresco produced for the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence in 1427 in which he conveys a depth of space, with the interior of a chapel cleverly painted behind the figure of Christ on the Cross.

Masaccio died in Rome in 1428 in mysterious circumstances. He was just 26 years of age. There was a story that he had been poisoned by a jealous artist but nothing certain is known about the cause of his death.

His fellow artists regarded it as a great loss because Masaccio had been the first to use techniques to translate into painting a sense of the three dimensions. He was to have a profound influence on other artists who came after him.

Travel tip:

Arezzo, near where Masaccio was born, is an interesting town in eastern Tuscany that has become famous because of another artist, Piero della Francesco. The 13th century church of San Francesco contains Piero della Francesco’s frescoes, The Legend of the True Cross, painted between 1452 and 1466 and now considered to be one of Italy’s greatest fresco cycles.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is home to Masaccio's fresco The Trinity
The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella

Travel tip:

The gothic Basilica of Santa Maria Novella in Piazza di Santa Maria Novella in the western part of Florence contains some of the most important works of art in the city. A highlight is Masaccio’s pioneering work, The Trinity, which is a masterpiece of perspective and portraiture.


20 December 2015

Francesco Bentivegna – military leader

Patriotic baron executed in what was to become mafia heartland

Baron Francesco Bentivegna, a Sicilian patriot, died on this day at Mezzojuso in Sicily in 1856.

Bentivegna led revolts against the Bourbon rulers of the island in the mid 19th century and became renowned for his bravery.
Corleone, made famous by The Godfather movies, is the birthplace of Sicilian patriot Francesco Bentivegna
Corleone, perched in the mountains above Palermo,
is the birthplace of Francesco Bentivegna
Photo: Michael Urso (CC BY-SA 2.0 DE)

He was born in Corleone near Palermo and it is believed his parents originally intended him for the church.

But after leading his first revolt against the Bourbons in 1848 in Palermo he was appointed military governor of the Corleone district as a reward.

Within 16 months the Bourbon soldiers had reoccupied Palermo and offered all the rebels an amnesty if they pledged loyalty to their French rulers.

Bentivegna refused and again attempted to launch a coup, which was unsuccessful. Afterwards he had to live as a wanted fugitive, while continuing to try to organise revolutionaries.

He was arrested in 1853 but released in 1856, after which he began to plan a full-scale uprising against the occupying forces.

The Baron was betrayed by one of his compatriots and arrested. He was sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad on 20 December 1856 . His body was thrown into a communal ossuary but later secretly removed.

After Sicily had been liberated by Garibaldi, Bentivegna’s body was taken to Corleone. It was wrapped in the Italian flag and entombed in his local church.
Hill towns are typical of Sicily's rugged landscape
Sicily's rugged landscape is dotted with hill towns,
such as Ragusa (pictured here) in the south-east

Travel tip:

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, just off the toe of Italy’s boot. The ancient ruins, diverse architecture and distinctive cuisine enjoyed by visitors are all testament to the island’s colourful history. Watching over the island is Mount Etna, a volcano that is still active.

Travel tip:

Corleone, the town of Francesco Bentivegna’s birth, is a commune of Palermo, Sicily’s capital city. Several real life Mafia bosses have come from Corleone and it is also the fictional birthplace of some of the characters in Mario Puzo’s novel about the mafia, The Godfather. There is now a street named Via Francesco Bentivegna in Corleone.

19 December 2015

Italo Svevo – writer

Author who became the main character in someone else’s novel

The novelist Italo Svevo was born Aron Ettore Schmitz on this day in 1861 in Trieste, which was then part of the Austrian Empire.
The Italian coastal town was home to James Joyce and Italo Svevo
The harbour at Trieste

Schmitz took on the pseudonym, Italo Svevo, after writing his novel La Coscienza di Zeno, Zeno’s Concience.

The novelist himself then became the inspiration for a fictional protagonist in a book by someone else. James Joyce, who was working in Trieste at the time, modelled the main character in Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, on his friend Svevo.

Svevo’s own novel, which revealed his deep interest in the theories of Sigmund Freud, received little interest at the time and might have sunk without trace if it had not been for the encouragement of Joyce, who regarded him as a neglected writer. Joyce helped Svevo get the novel translated into French and, after the translated version was highly praised, the Italian critics discovered it.

Svevo always spoke Italian as a second language because he usually spoke the dialect of Trieste where his novel is set and the story never looks outside the narrow confines of Trieste.

In the novel the main character seeks psychoanalysis to discover why he is addicted to nicotine and each time he declares he has smoked the ‘ultima sigaretta’  he starts to smoke again.

Svevo, like his character, smoked all his life. After being involved in a serious car accident in 1928 he was taken to hospital. As he neared death he asked for a cigarette. When it was refused, Svevo said: “That really would have been the last cigarette.” He died later that afternoon, at the age of 66.

Travel tip:

Trieste is the main city of the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia and lies close to the Slovenian border.

It was once the main seaport of the Austro-Hungarian empire and is a fascinating mix of styles, with the seafront, canals and imposing squares reminiscent of Venice, and the coffee houses and architecture showing the Austrian influence dating from the era of Hapsburg domination.
The museum commemorates two writers who helped put Trieste on the map.
The Joyce e Svevo museum in Trieste

Travel tip:

Find out why the Irish writer James Joyce enjoyed living in Trieste for so many years by visiting the Museo Joyce e Svevo in Via Madonna del Mare at number 13.

Created in 1997 by Italo Svevo’s daughter, the museum provides the opportunity to study the work of both writers through their manuscripts, photographs, books and letters.


17 December 2015

Domenico Cimarosa – opera composer

Musician who developed the model for ‘comic opera’

A prolific composer of operas, Domenico Cimarosa was born on this day in 1749 in Aversa, between Naples and Caserta in Campania.
Cimarosa wrote more than 80 operas during his lifetime
Domenico Cimarosa's work is recognised with a
monument in his home town of Aversa in Campania
Photo: Dinamo86 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Cimarosa wrote more than 80 operas during his lifetime, including Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage), which is considered to be his finest work.

Other composers judge it to be among the greatest examples of opera buffa, the Italian term for comic opera and Verdi considered it to be the model for the genre.

Cimarosa attended a free school connected to a monastery in Naples where the organist taught him music and as a result obtained a scholarship to attend a musical institute in the city for 11 years.

He wrote his first opera at the age of 23 and, after several successes in theatres in Naples, he was invited to Rome where he produced another comic opera, L’Italiano in Londra.

He travelled throughout Italy, writing operas for theatres in Naples, Rome and Florence until he was invited to St Petersburg by Empress Catherine II. He remained at her court for four years composing music for important occasions.

He then went to Vienna at the invitation of Leopold II where he produced his masterpiece, Il Matrimonio Segreto.

After he returned to Italy, he found that Naples was occupied by troops of the French Republic and he was imprisoned for a while for political reasons.

He left Naples in poor health and died in Venice in 1801.

Travel tip:

Many of Domenico Cimarosa’s early works were staged at Teatro Nuovo in Naples, a theatre built in 1723 in Via Montecalvario in the Spanish Quarter of the city. Although it was damaged by two fires over the years and had to be rebuilt, the theatre is still thriving and hosting a variety of plays and concerts. Visit for details of the 2015-2016 programme.
Caserta is close to Cimarosa's home town of Aversa
The Royal Palace at Caserta

Travel tip:

Domenico Cimarosa was born at Aversa in Campania, which is north of Naples and south of Caserta, a town famous for its Royal Palace. The Palace, originally built for King Charles VII, is thought to be the largest royal residence in the world. The architect, Luigi Vanvitelli, also designed its magnificent park and huge waterfall. 


16 December 2015

Giovanni Agnelli – entrepreneur

Founder of Fiat had keen eye for a good investment

Giovanni Agnelli, the businessman who founded the Fiat car manufacturing company, died on this day in 1945 in Turin.
Agnelli founded FIAT in 1899
A monument to Giovanni Agnelli in
his home town of Villar Perosa

As soon as Agnelli heard about the idea of a ‘horseless carriage’, he recognised it as a business opportunity and in 1898 met up with an inventor looking for investors for his project.

In 1899 he became part of a group who founded the Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino. Within a year he had become managing director of the company and by 1903 the business was making a small profit.

Giovanni had been born in Villar Perosa, a small town near Pinerolo in Piemonte, in 1866.

He embarked on a military career after finishing his studies but returned to his home town to follow in his father’s footsteps and become Mayor.

Fiat continued to grow and went public before the start of the First World War. After the war the first Fiat car dealership was established in the United States and the company continued to expand internationally.

Although Giovanni Agnelli had many other business interests he remained actively involved with Fiat until his death on 16 December 1945 at the age of 79.

Giovanni’s son Edoardo had become a principal shareholder in Fiat but unexpectedly died in 1935 in an accident involving a sea plane, ten years before his father.

But Edoardo’s son Gianni was the head of Fiat from 1966 until his death in 2003 and made the company the most important in Italy and one of the top European car builders.

Travel tip:

Villar Perosa, where Giovanni Agnelli was born, is a small town about 40 km southwest of Turin. Members of the Agnelli family have lived in a country house there since 1811.
Turin was the headquarters of Fiat, founded by Giovanni Agnelli
Turin, pictured from Monte dei Cappuccini

Travel tip:

Turin is known as the ‘royal’ capital of Italy as it has many palaces and residences built by members of the House of Savoy, the family the Kings of the new united Italy came from. Turin lies in the centre of the region of Piemonte and is now a major industrial and cultural city. 


15 December 2015

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Spaghetti western has steadily gained critical acclaim

Clint Eastwood became a star as a result of his role in the film
Clint Eastwood became a star as a
result of his role in the film
The film, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, was released on this day in Italy in 1966.

It was the third and final instalment in the Dollars Trilogy, following 'A Fistful of Dollars' and 'For A Few Dollars More'.

Despite mixed reviews to begin with, it was a financial success, grossing more then $25 million at the box office.

The film has gained respect over the years and is now seen as a highly influential example of the Western film genre and has been acclaimed as one of the greatest films of all time.

Directed by Sergio Leone, the film, known in Italian as Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo, was made partly at the Cinecittà studio in Rome and partly on location.

It became categorised as a 'spaghetti western' and was distinctive because of Leone’s film–making style, which involved juxtaposing close-ups with lengthy long shots. Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach star in the title roles. They are three gunslingers out to find buried gold against the backdrop of the violence of the American Civil War.

The score for the film was composed by Ennio Morricone and the iconic main theme for the film became a popular hit in 1968, with the full soundtrack staying in the album charts for more than a year.

Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome, the hub of the Italian film industry, is a large studio complex to the south of the city, built during the fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio. The studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben-Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there and it has its own dedicated Metro stop.
Cinecittà is the hub of the Italian film industry
Photo JRibax (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Travel tip:

A movie-themed amusement park, Cinecittà World, was opened in 2014 in Via di Castel Romano, to the south of Fiumicino Airport and to the south east of Ostia  There are two roller coaster rides and several film sets to explore. The Sergio Leone-inspired western set has music composed by Ennio Morricone playing as you look round. Visit for more details.


14 December 2015

Princess Maria Antonia of Naples and Sicily

Sad, short life of a Neapolitan princess

The youngest daughter of Ferdinand, King of Naples and Sicily, Princess Maria Antonia, was born on this day in 1784 at the Royal Palace in Caserta.

Princess Maria Antonia was named after her aunt, Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, who was executed by guillotine in Paris in 1793.

The Royal Palace in Naples

Marie Antoinette was the favourite sister of the Princess’s mother, Maria Carolina of Austria, who became opposed to the military expansion of the new French republic as a result of her sister’s horrific death.

Princess Maria Antonia’s own fate was sealed when she became engaged to Infante Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias, who later became King Ferdinand VII of Spain. 

She married him in Barcelona in 1802.

When she failed to provide Ferdinand with an heir, suffering two miscarriages, there were rumours that Maria Antonia, whose title was now Princess of Asturias, was plotting to poison both her mother in law, the Queen of Spain, and the Spanish Prime Minister. This was allegedly to avenge her aunt, Marie Antoinette, because Spain was becoming increasingly dominated by Napoleon.

The Queen of Spain encouraged the rumours and had the princess’s books and clothes searched.

Then, at the age of 21, Princess Maria Antonia suddenly died, supposedly of tuberculosis. There were rumours that she herself had been the victim of poisoning, but there was no real evidence.

The Princess was buried at El Escorial in Spain and her husband went on to marry three more times. His last wife was Maria Antonia’s own niece, Princess Maria Cristina of Naples and Sicily, who had been born a month before her death in 1806.

Travel tip:

The Royal Palace, where Princess Maria Antonia was born, was built in Caserta for King Charles VII. Work began in 1752 on what was to become the largest royal residence in the world. The architect, Luigi Vanvitelli, also designed a magnificent park with a huge waterfall for the palace, which is situated about 35 kilometres from Naples.

Travel tip:

The Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale) in Naples is another of the magnificent residences of the Kings of Naples. The palace is at the eastern end of Piazza del Plebiscito and dates back to 1600. It now houses a 30-room museum and the largest library in southern Italy, which are both open to the public.


13 December 2015

Donatello – Renaissance sculptor

Work by prolific artist still on display for all to see

Early Renaissance sculptor Donatello died on this day in Florence in 1466.

Generally acknowledged as the greatest sculptor of the 15th century, Donatello left a legacy of wonderful statues in marble and bronze, some still out in the open and delighting visitors to Italy free of charge today.

The statue is of the military leader Erasmus da Narni, known as Gattamelata
Donatello's bronze equestrian statue in front of
the Basilica di Sant' Antonio in Padua

He was born Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi in Florence in about 1386. He studied classical sculpture, which later influenced his style, and then worked in a goldsmith’s workshop and in the studio of artist Lorenzo Ghiberti.

One of his most famous early works is a statue of David, originally intended for the Cathedral, but which stood instead for many years in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

Donatello’s work also shows influences of the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, a friend with whom he often travelled to Rome.

Brunelleschi’s style can be seen in Donatello’s statues of St Mark and St George, executed for the exterior of the Church of Orsanmichele in Florence, which represent the first translation into sculpture of the architect’s laws on perspective.

Donatello was invited to Padua in 1443, where he was to produce one of his greatest works, the bronze equestrian statue of Gattamelata.

The statue was completed in about 1450 and portrays the military leader Erasmus da Narni, who was known as Gattamelata (honeyed cat).

It is believed to be the earliest Renaissance equestrian statue that still survives and was a precedent for later sculptures honouring military heroes.

The soldier and his horse are both portrayed in life size by Donatello, instead of being larger than life as with classical equestrian statues.

Donatello returned to Florence and for his last commission produced reliefs for the bronze pulpits in the Basilica of San Lorenzo. He was still working on them in 1466 when he died. Donatello is buried in the Basilica of San Lorenzo.

Travel tip:

The Statue of Gattamelata still stands in the open air for all to see to the left of the Basilica di Sant’Antonio as you approach from the direction of Via del Santo. Donatello was commissioned by the military leader’s family to create a monument in memory of the great Commander of the Venetian Republic. The statue is mounted on a pedestal that resembles a sepulchre. Gattamelata appears in the style of a Roman emperor astride his horse. His head is uncovered and there is a decisive expression on his face.

Travel tip:

The Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence was the parish church of the Medici family. Donatello was about 74 when he began work on the bronze pulpits in the nave, which depict Christ’s passion and resurrection, and they were not quite finished when he died. His tomb can be found in the north transept of the church.


12 December 2015

Guglielmo Marconi – inventor and electrical engineer

Message received meant a scientific breakthrough

Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal using equipment he had invented himself on this day in 1901 in Newfoundland.

Marconi was credited with the invention of radio as a result and shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909 with another scientist, Karl Ferdinand Braun.
Bologna where Marconi was born and went to University

The message Marconi received, which was regarded as a great scientific advance, was the letter ‘S’ in Morse Code. It had been sent from a transmission station Marconi had set up in Cornwall, 2,200 miles away.

The inventor was born in Bologna in 1874. His father, Giuseppe Marconi, was a nobleman and landowner from Porretta Terme and his mother was of Scottish and Irish descent.

Marconi was brought up in Bedford in England as a young child but after moving back to Italy he was educated privately and then went to study at the University of Bologna.

While living in the Villa Griffone at Pontecchio near Bologna he began to conduct experiments to create wireless telegraphy.

He went to England to continue his work and by 1897 had transmitted a Morse code signal over a distance of six kilometres. He then sent the world’s first wireless communication over open sea.

Marconi was born in Italy but raised in England
Guglielmo Marconi

But it was the message he received in 1901 in Newfoundland that is now known to have laid the foundations for modern communications.
Marconi died in Rome in 1937 at the age of 63 and was given a state funeral.

All BBC and Post Office transmitters in Britain observed a two minute silence at the start of his funeral.

Travel tip:

Villa Griffone at Pontecchio, where Marconi conducted his experiments, is about 15 kilometres from Bologna. It is now the seat of the Guglielmo Marconi Foundation and the Marconi Musum dedicated to the origins and development of radio communications. Marconi’s remains lie there in a mausoleum designed by Marcello Piacentini. Visit for more details.

Travel tip:

Porretta Terme, where Marconi’s father, Giuseppe, owned land, is a spa town south of Bologna in Emilia Romagna near the region's border with Tuscany, known since Roman times for the therapeutic quality of its thermal springs.