Showing posts with label Fascism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fascism. Show all posts

4 June 2024

Dino Grandi - politician

Fascist who ultimately turned against Mussolini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also on this day:

1463: The death of historian and archaeologist Flavio Biondo

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

1966: The birth of opera singer Cecilia Bartoli

1970: The birth of Olympic skiing champion Deborah Compagnoni


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25 April 2024

Giacomo Boni - archaeologist and architect

Venetian best known for his discoveries at the Forum in Rome

Giacomo Boni was born in Venice but lived in Rome for much of his adult life
Giacomo Boni was born in Venice but
lived in Rome for much of his adult life
The archaeologist Giacomo Boni, who was director of excavations at the Forum in Rome for 27 years until his death in 1925, was born on this day in 1859 in Venice.

His work within the ancient Roman site led to significant discoveries, including the Iron Age necropolis, the Lapis Niger, the Regia and other monuments.

Boni had a particular interest in stratigraphy, the branch of geology concerning subterranean layers of rock and other materials, and was among the first to apply the principles of stratigraphic excavation in the field of archaeological research.

The methods he employed in his work at the Forum still serve as a reference point today.

Boni was also an architect. In that area of his work, his masterpiece is considered to be the restoration of the Villa Blanc, a prestigious house that represents a unique example of eclectic art, a harmonious blend of elements and styles of different ages and cultures.

He served as a soldier during World War I, after which he embraced fascism, which he saw as an opportunity for the revival of ancient Roman religion and paganism, in which he had a keen interest. He joined the National Fascist Party, having become enthusiastic about Mussolini’s vision of a Fascist Italy as a kind of continuation of the Roman Empire. Mussolini in turn appointed him a senator in 1923. 

Boni grew up in a strongly patriotic household, his father, a naval captain, having refused to swear allegiance to the Austrian Emperor at considerable cost to his status.

Boni photographed near the
Arch of Trajan in 1907
His interest in architecture grew from his work, as a 19-year-old labourer, on the restoration of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. He enrolled at the city’s Accademia di Belle Arti to study architecture before moving to Rome, where he quickly obtained a series of important appointments.

In 1888 he was appointed secretary of the Royal Chalcography and, in 1890, inspector of monuments of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Fine Arts.  He assisted in the Pantheon excavation in 1892 with Luca Beltrami and the architect, Giuseppe Sacconi, who would later be known as the designer of the Victor Emmanuel monument. 

In 1895 he became director of the Regional Office of Monuments of Rome and, three years later, was appointed to direct the excavations of the Foro Romano, the Roman Forum.

Documents show that Boni’s research in the Forum was responsible for the discovery of the Lapis niger, the Regia, the Lacus Curtius, the Caesarian tunnels in the subsoil of the square, the archaic necropolis near the temple of Antoninus and Faustina and the church of Santa Maria Antiqua.

He demolished the church of Santa Maria Liberatrice in order to expose the ruins of Santa Maria Antiqua. His other discoveries included portions of the Column of Trajan.

Boni also worked on the slope of the Palatine Hill where he discovered the Mundus (tholos-cistern), a complex of tunnels leading to the Casa dei Grifi, the Aula Isiac and the Baths of Tiberius.

During his work on the renovation of Villa Blanc, a noble property set in parkland on the edge of the Trieste quarter to the northeast of Rome’s city centre, he also carried out some excavations that revealed the existence of a Roman mausoleum.

Boni’s embrace of Mussolini’s regime was short-lived, in the event.  Two years after being made a senator, he became ill and died at the age of 66. His body was buried within the Orti Farnesiani sul Palatino, the botanical gardens on the Palatine Hill, overlooking the Forum. 

The ruins of ancient Rome's Foro Romano are  visited by 4.5 million people every year
The ruins of ancient Rome's Foro Romano are 
visited by 4.5 million people every year
Travel tip:

Rome's historic Forum, situated between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum, was at the heart both of the ancient city of Rome and the Roman Empire itself, the nucleus of political affairs and commercial business, a place where elections took place and great speeches were made.  The site fell into disrepair with the fall of the Empire and over time buildings were dismantled for the stone and marble, with much debris left behind.  Eventually it was abandoned and became overgrown and was used mainly for grazing cattle.  Attempts at uncovering and restoring buildings began in the early 19th century and the process of excavating areas long buried continues today.  The impressive and extensive ruins are now one of Rome's major tourist attractions, drawing some 4.5 million visitors each year.

The Fontana delle Rane in Piazza Mincio in the Quartiere Coppedè in Rome's Trieste neighbourhood
The Fontana delle Rane in Piazza Mincio in the
Quartiere Coppedè in Rome's Trieste neighbourhood
Travel tip:

The Trieste quarter is the 17th quarter of Rome, located in the north-central area of the city. It borders the Aniene river to the north and northeast and is a neighbour of other notable quarters, such as Monte Sacro, Nomentano, Salario, and Parioli. It is an area with a rich history, one of its attractions being the ancient catacomb of Priscilla, a former quarry used for Christian burials from the late second century until the fourth century.  The Trieste quarter houses the Quartiere Coppedè, an architectural complex known for its eclectic style, and Villa Albani, which holds a collection of classical art. The eastern part of Trieste is referred to as the African Quarter, its streets named after the colonies of the Kingdom of Italy. The quarter was once famous for the Piper Club, a 1960s bar and music venue that hosted the debut of the Italian pop star Patty Pravo and performances by Pink Floyd, Nirvana and the Beatles among others. Combining historical charm with a vibrant community feel, Trieste can offer a pleasant escape from the more tourist-dominated areas of Rome.

Also on this day:

1472: The death of Renaissance polymath Leon Battista Alberti

1815: The birth of inventor Giovanni Caselli

1973: The death of former World War I flying ace Ferruccio Ranza

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11 November 2023

Alessandro Mussolini - socialist activist

Father whose politics were Fascist leader’s early inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also on this day:

1696: The birth of violinist and composer Andrea Zani

1869: The birth of King Victor Emmanuel III

1932: The birth of Germano Mosconi, controversial sports presenter

1961: The birth of actor Luca Zingaretti


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15 January 2023

Giorgia Meloni - politician

Italy’s first female prime minister 

Giorgia Meloni, the first woman to be elected Italy's PM, on the day she was asked to form a government
Giorgia Meloni, the first woman to be elected Italy's
PM, on the day she was asked to form a government

Politician Giorgia Meloni, who was elected as Italy’s first female prime minister in October 2022, was born on this day in 1977 in Rome.

Meloni, head of the Fratelli d’Italia party of which she is a co-founder, is a controversial figure in that her political roots are in the Italian Social Movement (MSI), the party formed by supporters of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War Two. In the past, she has described Mussolini as a “good politician” but one who “made mistakes”. 

Yet she rejects accusations that Fratelli d’Italia - Brothers of Italy - is a far-right party, despite adopting the fascist slogan ‘God, family, fatherland’ and incorporating the tricolore flame from the MSI logo within FdI’s own branding.

Meloni came from a fractured family background. Her Sardinian father, Francesco, left her Sicilian mother, Anna, when she was a year old and she and her older sister, Arianna, were brought up largely by her mother in the working class Garbatella area of Rome.

She studied languages at the Istituto Amerigo Vespucci, a high school about 50 minutes across Rome from where she lived, and today describes herself as able to speak Spanish, English and French as well as her native tongue.

A teenaged Meloni unfurls a banner for the Youth Action movement
A teenaged Meloni unfurls a banner
for the Youth Action movement
It was while she was at high school that she became politically active, joining Azione Giovani, the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement, before switching to the once neo-fascist Alleanza Nazionale (AN), itself an MSI offshoot. 

As an AN candidate, she was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 2006, standing in the Lazio 1 constituency, the boundaries of which correspond to those of the Metropolitan City of Rome.

Re-elected in 2008 on the list of Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party, which brought together the AN and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Meloni became the youngest cabinet minister in the history of the Italian Republic when Berlusconi made her Minister for Youth at the age of 31.

Her membership of People of Freedom ended in 2012, however, after a disagreement over the party’s support for technocrat prime minister Mario Monti. With Ignazio LaRussa, Guido Crosetto and others, she formed Fratelli d’Italia, of which she became president in 2014.

Under Meloni’s leadership, Fdl grew from winning just four per cent of the vote at the 2018 general elections to 26 per cent in the snap election of 2022, which made Fratelli d’Italia the biggest single party in the Italian parliament.

Although both Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration Lega saw their share of the vote fall, they joined with Fratelli d’Italia in a coalition worth around 44 per cent of votes in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, enough to outvote the centre-left Democratic Party and the populist Five Star Movement even if they were to join forces.

The FdI's logo incorporates the tricolore flame of the MSI
The FdI's logo incorporates
the tricolore flame of the MSI
Meloni describes herself as mainstream conservative and a Christian, although her political position is less forgiving in many areas than other European politicians who would identify themselves similarly.

For example, she is opposed to abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and LGBT parenting, and supports a naval blockade to stop boats carrying immigrants across the Mediterranean. While committed to NATO, she was generally lukewarm about the European Union until the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, after which she distanced herself from previous comments on forging better relations with Vladimir Putin and pledged to keep sending Italian arms to Ukraine.

Meloni’s opponents frequently cite her approval for Mussolini and coalition with Salvini as a warning that Italy may lurch to the right under her premiership, yet Fratelli d’Italia have gone on record as condemning both the suppression of democracy and the introduction of the Italian racial laws by Mussolini’s regime. Meloni herself insists that there is no place for fascist nostalgia in her party and that her own links with it are in the past.

Although not married, Meloni shares a home with Andrea Giambruno, a journalist for TGcom24, a news channel within Berlusconi’s Mediaset group. They have a daughter, Ginevra, who was born in 2016.

The Art Nouveau design of the Teatro Palladio, a well-known feature of the Garbatella district
The Art Nouveau design of the Teatro Palladio,
a well-known feature of the Garbatella district
Travel tip:

Although traditionally working class, the Garbatella neighbourhood of Rome, where Giorgia Meloni grew up, is becoming increasingly trendy among young Romans, drawn to it having the feeling of a village within the metropolis.  Situated in Municipio VIII district south of the city centre near the Ostiense railway station, Garbatella was built in the 1920s, inspired by the English garden city, largely made up of single-family houses grouped around communal garden courtyards. It has some interesting architectural styles, including the Teatro Palladio in Piazza Bartolomeo Romano, an example of Art Nouveau style designed by Innocenzo Sabbatini in 1927. Garbatella today has a population of more than 45,000.

The Palazzo Monticitorio was chosen as the home of the Italian Chamber of Deputies in 1871
The Palazzo Monticitorio was chosen as the home
of the Italian Chamber of Deputies in 1871
Travel tip:

The Italian Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian parliament, sits at the Palazzo Montecitorio, which can be found between the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps. The Palazzo Chigi, official residence of Italian prime ministers, is nearby. Palazzo Montecitorio was originally designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Ludovico Ludovisi, the nephew of Pope Gregory XV. Following Italian unification, the palace was chosen as the seat of the Chamber of Deputies in 1871 but the building proved inadequate for their needs, with poor acoustics and a tendency to become overheated in summer and inhospitably cold in winter. After extensive renovations had been carried out, with many Stile Liberty touches introduced by the architect Ernesto Basile, the chamber returned to the palace in 1918.

Also on this day: 

1623: The death of writer and statesman Paolo Sarpi

1926: The death of songwriter and sculptor Giambattista De Curtis

1935: The birth of football coach Gigi Radice

1971: The birth of rugby player Paolo Vaccari


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23 August 2022

Giovanni Minzoni - priest

Devout Catholic murdered for opposing Fascists

Giovanni Minzoni objected to the Fascist youth movement in his town
Giovanni Minzoni objected to the
Fascist youth movement in his town
Don Giovanni Minzoni, a Catholic priest whose name is commemorated in many street names around Italy, was murdered by Fascist thugs in the small town of Argenta in Emilia-Romagna on this day in 1923.

A parish priest in the town, midway between the cities of  Ferrara and Ravenna, Don Minzoni was attacked at around 10.30pm as he returned to his rectory in the company of Enrico Bondanelli, a parishioner, when he was set upon by two men who were attached to a Fascist militia in Casumaro, almost 50km (31 miles) from Argenta on the other side of Ferrara.

He was pelted with stones and, when the blows made him fall to the ground, was beaten. What proved to be the fatal blow was struck with a heavy walking stick. He had a fractured skull and, despite being helped home by Bondanelli and neighbours, died a couple of hours later. His attackers were later named as Giorgio Molinari and Vittore Casoni, who were allegedly acting on the orders of Italo Balbo, a Blackshirt Commander who would later be seen as an heir to dictator Benito Mussolini.

Don Minzoni, a former military chaplain, had made no secret of his opposition to the Fascist regime. Shortly before he was attacked, he had set up a Catholic Scout group in Argenta in response to the introduction in the town of the Opera Nazionale Balilla, the Fascist youth movement.

He had been involved in a stand-off with the local militia when he invited Father Emilio Faggioli, a leading figure in the Catholic Scout organisation in Emilia-Romagna, to give a talk about the virtues of Catholicism and the scouts in the parish hall on Piazza d’Argenta, the town’s main square.

Blackshirt Italo Balbo (second right) was suspected of ordering the murder
Blackshirt Italo Balbo (second right)
was suspected of ordering the murder


The Fascists said local youths would be forbidden to attend but more than 70 defied them and gathered in the square.

A militia chief attempted to bring Don Minzoni over to his side by offering to make him the chaplain of their group.  Not surprisingly, the priest refused. He did not expect his decision to be well received and an entry in his diary chillingly anticipated his fate:

“With an open heart, with a prayer for my persecutors that will never disappear from my lips, I await the tempest, the persecution, maybe even death, for the cause of Christ to triumph.”

Born into a middle class family in Ravenna, Minzoni chose at an early age to dedicate his life to Christianity and was ordained a priest at the age of 24. He was made deputy pastor in Argenta, a position he held for three years before leaving to study in Bergamo, in Piedmont, where he graduate in 1914.

He was to have returned to Argenta in 1916 to become parish priest of San Nicoló, following the death of the incumbent, but instead was called by the army of the Kingdom of Italy, who asked him to serve as a military chaplain on the Italian north-eastern front. He was awarded the Silver Medal of Military Valour after showing great courage in the field during the Battle of the Piave River.

Don Minzoni is commemorated in the names of streets and squares in many Italian towns and cities
Don Minzoni is commemorated in the names of
streets and squares in many Italian towns and cities
On his return to Argenta at the end of the war, he became politically active, joining Partito Popolare Italiano, a forerunner of the Christian Democrats. His shock at the murder of a socialist union leader with whom he had become friends hardened his dislike of Fascism. He also favoured co-operation between political groups to tackle social problems, which put him at odds with the Fascists. 

His murder was covered extensively by two still relatively free newspapers, Il Popolo and La Voce Repubblicana, who named the perpetrators. When they came to trial, however, Molinari and Casoni along with Balbo were acquitted, the process effectively collapsing because intimidation of journalists and witnesses made a fair hearing impossible.

A re-trial did take place at the end of World War Two, in which Molinari and Casoni were found guilty of second degree murder. Balbo, who had been killed when the plane in which he was a passenger was shot down over Libya in 1940, was absolved of blame.

After the war, Don Minzoni became a symbol of the Italian Catholic Resistance, and many books were written about him. Pope John Paul II recalled his courage in a letter to the Bishop of Ravenna in 1983, on the 60th anniversary of his death, when his remains were moved from the monumental cemetery of Ravenna to the Cathedral of San Nicolò in Argenta.

The Cathedral of San Nicolò di Argenta, with the monument to Don Manzoni in the foreground
The Cathedral of San Nicolò di Argenta, with
the monument to Don Manzoni in the foreground
Travel tip:

Argenta, which is situated about 30 kilometres (19 miles) southeast of Ferrara and a little over 40km (25 miles) northwest of Ravenna, is a town of Roman origin in a flat agricultural region near the Valli di Comacchio lagoon wetlands, much of which is designated as a wildlife sanctuary with many facilities for ornithology.  Situated close to the German Gothic Line, it suffered damage in World War Two. In 1973, a monument to Don Giovanni Minzoni, sculpted in bronze by Angelo Biancini, was placed in front of the Cathedral of San Nicolò di Argenta, when celebrations of his life in the town were inaugurated by the President of the Republic, Giovanni Leone.

The Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna is famous for its beautiful Byzantine mosaics
The Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna is famous
for its beautiful Byzantine mosaics
Travel tip:

Ravenna, where Giovanni Minzoni was born, became the capital city of the western Roman empire in the fifth century. It is known for its well preserved late Roman and Byzantine architecture and has eight UNESCO world heritage sites. The Basilica of San Vitale is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe, famous for its superb Byzantine mosaics.  The poet Dante died while living in exile in Ravenna in about 1321. He was buried at the Church of San Pier Maggiore in Ravenna and a tomb was erected there for him in 1483.  Another tomb was built for Dante in the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence but despite repeated requests for the return of Dante’s remains to the city of his birth, Ravenna has always refused.

Also on this day:

1945: The birth of teenage pop star Rita Pavone

1943: The birth of guitarist and composer Pino Presti

1974: The death of eminent psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli


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29 September 2021

Giorgio Frassineti - politician

Mayor who proposed museum of Fascism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also on this day:

1901: The birth of nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi

1913: The birth of footballer Silvio Pioli

1936: The birth of politician and entrepreneur Silvio Berlusconi


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14 July 2021

Natalia Ginzburg - writer and politician

Sicilian raised in Turin became one of Italy’s great postwar novelists

Natalia Ginzburg (née Levi) with her husband, the  leading anti-Fascist figure, Leone Ginzburg
Natalia Ginzburg (née Levi) with her husband, the 
leading anti-Fascist figure, Leone Ginzburg
The writer and politician Natalia Ginzburg was born on this day in 1916 in the Sicilian capital, Palermo.

The author of 11 novels and short story collections, as well as numerous essays, Ginzburg came to be regarded as one of Italy’s great postwar writers, alongside Primo Levi, Carlo Levi, Alberto Moravia, Cesare Pavese, Elsa Morante and Giorgio Bassani among others.

Her most famous works include Tutti i nostri ieri - All Our Yesterdays - published in 1952, Lessico famigliare  - Family Sayings -  published in 1963, and La famiglia Manzoni - The Manzoni Family - published in 1983.

She was notable for writing about family relationships, politics during and after the Fascist years and World War II, and philosophy.

Ginzburg, who was married to a prominent figure in the Italian resistance movement in World War Two, was an active anti-Fascist and a member of the Italian Communist Party in the 1930s.  In later life, she was elected to the Chamber of Deputies as an independent.

Ginzburg became a leading light in postwar Italian literature
Ginzburg became a leading light
in postwar Italian literature
Although born in Palermo, Ginzburg spent her early life in Turin, where her father, Giuseppe Levi, was a professor of neuroanatomy at the University of Turin, presiding over a research laboratory that produced three winners of Nobel Prizes.

The family was well connected in social and intellectual circles in Turin. Her sister, Paola, married a future president of the business machines company, Olivetti, of which one of her brothers, Gino, became Olivetti’s technical director. Of her two other brothers, Mario was a journalist and Alberto a doctor. 

As a Jewish family - although her mother, Lidia, was a gentile - they were heavily involved in the city’s anti-Fascist movement and suffered for it. Natalia’s brothers were frequently arrested and sometimes jailed for their activities. Guiseppe Levi was in time stripped of his position at the university and moved to Belgium.

Natalia’s brothers were members of the anti-Fascist organization Giustizia e Libertà (Justice and Liberty), the leader of which was Leone Ginzburg, a professor of Russian Literature at the University of Turin, with whom she began a relationship. 

Like her father, Leone was dismissed from his university position. He was under constant surveillance from Mussolini’s secret police and eventually stopped visiting the Levi family home, worried that he was putting the family in danger. Nonetheless, he and Natalia continued to see one another and were married in 1938. They had three children, the eldest of whom, Carlo Ginzburg, is now an eminent historian.

A recent edition of one of Ginzburg's most acclaimed works, Family Lexicon
A recent edition of one of Ginzburg's
most acclaimed works, Family Lexicon
Despite her own Jewish roots and her marriage to Ginzburg, Natalia was allowed to bring up her children largely without harassment. For Leone, however, it was a different story. Placed under precautionary arrest every time an important politician or the King, Victor Emmanuel III, visited the city, in 1941 he was sentenced to internal exile in the remote, impoverished village of Pizzoli in Abruzzo.  He and Natalia and their young family lived there until 1943, when he secretly moved to Rome to edit an anti-Fascist underground newspaper.

Mussolini was deposed but it did not mean the Ginzburgs could rest easy. When Nazi Germany invaded the peninsula, Natalia was determined to be reunited with her husband and managed to persuade a German army unit to take her to Rome, claiming she and her children were refugees who had lost their papers.

They found Leone and went into hiding but it was not long before he was arrested. This time their separation was permanent. By the following February, Leone had died aged 34 after suffering a cardiac arrest in the Rome prison of Regina Coeli, having been subjected to brutal interrogation and torture.

At this time, Natalia Ginzburg’s career as a writer was in its infancy, although she was already the author of a novel published under a pseudonym in 1942 at a time when Mussolini’s race laws barred Jewish authors from seeing their work in print.

After the war, she worked at the Turin publishing house of Giulio Einaudi - of which Leone had been a founder - and became acquainted with some of the leading figures of postwar Italian literature, including Carlo Levi, Primo Levi, Pavese and Italo Calvino.  It was Pavese who is said to have given her the most encouragement to write more herself.

Her own output increased after she was married for a second time, in 1950, to Gabriele Baldini, an academic. They lived in Rome and for many years were at the centre of the city’s cultural life, Ginzburg’s novels, short stories, essays and plays attracting much critical acclaim. Having become friends with the director and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini, she even accepted a small part in his 1964 film, The Gospel According to St Matthew, in which he followed the neorealist tradition of using non-professional actors.

Ginzburg won some of Italy’s most prestigious literary awards, including the Strega Prize for Lessico famigliare and the Bagutta Prize for La famiglia Manzoni.  

She and Baldini had two children, although both were born with severe disabilities and the first died after only a year. Baldini himself died young, in 1969 at the age of only 49.

Ginzburg was never far from active politics. Like so many anti-Fascists from the wartime period, she was at times a member of the Italian Communist Party, although when she was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1983 it was as an independent.

Her literary output began to slow down in the 1980s. She died in Rome in 1991 at the age of 75.

Piazza San Carlo in Turin, looking towards the churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo
Piazza San Carlo in Turin, looking towards the
churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo
Travel tip:

The original offices of the Einaudi publishing company in Turin were in Via dell'Arcivescovado, a few steps from the beautiful Piazza San Carlo, one of the city's main squares. A stunning example of 16th and 17th century Baroque design, the large piazza is notable for the twin churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo at the southwest entrance to the square and for the monument to Emanuele Filiberto, a 16th century Duke of Savoy, in the centre. Spectacularly lit up in the evening, the square is home to two of Turin's most famous coffee houses, the Café San Carlo and Café Torino, as well as the Confetteria Stratta, renowned for the exquisite pastries it offers. 

Piazza Municipio is the main square of the  Abruzzo village of Pizzoli
Piazza Municipio is the main square of the 
Abruzzo village of Pizzoli
Travel tip:

Pizzoli was an impoverished village in is a remote, mountainous part of central Italy some 135km (84 miles) northeast of Rome at the time the Ginzburg family were exiled there in 1941. Nowadays it is a well-kept, lively small town popular with visitors to the area as a starting point for trekking holidays in the mountains of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. Situated 15km (9 miles) northwest of the city of L'Aquila, Pizzoli is typical of the region in that it has the feel of a different time when life was less frantic. Its local quisine features pork and mutton in abundance, with thin skewers of salted, flame-grilled mutton called Arrosticini among its specialities.

Also on this day:

1602: The birth of Cardinal Jules Mazarin, ruler of France

1614: The death of Saint Camillus de Lellis, a reformed gambler who devoted himself to caring for the sick

1902: The collapse of the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice

1948: The shooting in Rome of Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti 


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25 February 2021

Benedetto Croce – philosopher and historian

Prolific writer opposed the Fascists and supported democracy

Benedetto Croce influenced literature, philosophy and politics in his lifetime
Benedetto Croce influenced literature,
philosophy and politics in his lifetime
Benedetto Croce, one of the most important figures in Italian life and culture in the first half of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1866 in Pescasseroli in the region of Abruzzo.

Croce was an idealist philosopher, historian and erudite literary scholar whose approach to literature influenced future generations of writers and literary critics. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 16 times.

He became a Senator in 1910 and was Minister for Education from 1920 to 1921 in the last pre-Fascist government of the so-called Giolitti era. He is also remembered for his major contribution to the rebirth of Italian democracy after World War II.

Croce was born into a wealthy family and raised in a strict Catholic environment.  However, from the age of 16 he gave up Catholicism and developed a personal philosophy of spiritual life.

In 1883, while he was still a teenager, he was on holiday with his family on the island of Ischia when an earthquake struck the town of Casamicciola Terme and destroyed the house they were staying in. His mother, father and sister were all killed, but although he was buried for a long time, he managed to survive.

Croce inherited his family’s fortune and was able to live a life of leisure, devoting his time to philosophy and writing while living in a palazzo in Naples. His ideas began to be publicised at the University of Rome by Professor Antonio Labriola.

After his appointment to the Senate, Croce was a critic of Italy’s involvement in World War I. He left Government office about a year before Benito Mussolini assumed power.

Benedetto Croce (left), with the first president of the post-War Italian republic, Enrico De Nicola
Benedetto Croce (left), with the first president of
the post-War Italian republic, Enrico De Nicola
In 1923, Croce was instrumental in relocating the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III to the Palazzo Reale in Naples.

After Giacomo Matteotti was assassinated by the Fascists in 1924, Croce was one of the signatories to the manifesto of the anti-Fascist intellectuals and he provided financial support to anti-Fascist writers.

His home and library in Naples were ransacked by the Fascists in 1926 and he was put under surveillance. No mainstream newspaper or academic publication was allowed to refer to him.

Croce kept a diary during World War II entitled ‘Quando l’Italia era tagliato in due (When Italy was cut into two)’.

He made daily entries in this diary between July 1943 and June 1944. He had left his home in Naples, Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca, and gone to Sorrento to escape the Allied air raids.

He was staying in the Villa Tritone, a clifftop residence in Via Marina Grande overlooking the sea. The Germans entered and occupied Naples during September and on 12 September the Germans rescued Mussolini - who had been overthrown by the Fascist Grand Council and held captive - from his prison on Gran Sasso in the mountains of Abruzzo with a glider-borne team.

The entrance to Villa Tritone on Via Marina Grande
in Sorrento, where Croce moved during World War II
On 13 September, Croce writes that he has been receiving anonymous threats. The following day he reports that there were lots of Fascists roaming the streets of Sorrento.

He is advised to leave the Villa Tritone immediately to avoid being taken hostage by Fascists who would use him for propaganda purposes.

The next day’s entry was written by him on Capri. Croce reports that a floating mine was found in the sea below the villa and it was thought the retreating Germans might have been planning to come and take him as they had taken other prominent Italians in Salerno.

A motorboat was sent for him and his daughters from Capri, which was at the time firmly in Allied hands. The family were able to use the stairs that led from Villa Tritone down to the beach to get away. On board were a police commissioner from Capri and an English army officer who had been tasked with rescuing him. 

The boat returned to Sorrento later to collect Croce’s wife and another of his daughters who had stayed behind to pack up their possessions. On board were the same police commissioner and Major Munthe, the son of Axel Munthe, the Swedish doctor who was a Capri resident for a large part of his life and was famous for his best-selling memoir, The Story of San Michele. The Fascist and German radio stations broadcast that ‘Croce and others’ were to be severely punished, but the Allies were able to counter this by broadcasting that the philosopher was now safely on Capri.

When democracy was restored in Italy in 1944, Croce became a minister in the governments of Pietro Badoglio and Ivanoe Bonomi.

He voted for the Monarchy in the Constitutional referendum in 1946. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly that existed until 1948 but he declined to stand as provisional president of Italy.

Croce’s philosophical ideas were expressed in more than 80 books and 40 years worth of articles in his own literary magazine, La Critica. His theories were later debated by many Italian philosophers, including Umberto Eco.

Croce was President of PEN International, the worldwide writer’s association, from 1949 until his death in Naples in 1952.

His widow and daughters established the Fondazione Biblioteca Benedetto Croce in the Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca in 1955. The street on which the palazzo stands is now named Via Benedetto Croce.

The Palazzo Reale in Naples, which houses the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III
The Palazzo Reale in Naples, which houses the
Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III
Travel tip:

The Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III, a national library of Italy, now occupies the eastern wing of the 18th century Palazzo Reale in Naples as a result of efforts made on its behalf by Benedetto Croce in the 1920s. It houses nearly one and a half million printed volumes, as well as hundreds of thousands of pamphlets, manuscripts and periodicals. The library had been founded in the 18th century in the Palazzo degli Studi but after various collections were added to it, following the suggestion of Croce, the library was moved to Palazzo Reale and installed in accommodation granted to it by King Victor Emmanuel III.

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A plaque on the exterior wall of the Villa Tritone commemorates Croce's stay
A plaque on the exterior wall of the
Villa Tritone commemorates Croce's stay
Travel tip:

A plaque on the exterior wall of Villa Tritone in Sorrento records the residence there during World War II of Benedetto Croce ‘when Italy was cut in two’. A villa had been built on the site in the first century AD by Agrippa Postumus, grandson of Emperor Augustus, and Ovid was said to have been a frequent visitor. This became the site of a convent in the 13th century and then the land was purchased in the 19th century by Count Labonia and the present villa was built. At the beginning of the 20th century William Waldorf Astor bought the villa and designed the garden behind it with windows cut in the high wall on the seaward side to give views of the sea and Vesuvius across the bay.

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More reading:

How Mussolini's thugs kidnapped and murder brave politician Giacomo Matteotti

The controversial general who turned against Mussolini

Political philosopher who defined Right and Left in simple terms

Also on this day:

1626: The death of painter Enea Salmeggia

1683: The birth of pathological anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni

1707: The birth of playwright Carlo Goldoni

1873: The birth of opera singer Enrico Caruso

2003: The death of comic actor Alberto Sordi

(Picture credit: Palazzo Reale by Vitold Muratov via Wikimedia Commons)



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