Showing posts with label Giacomo Matteotti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Giacomo Matteotti. Show all posts

15 April 2020

Giovanni Amendola - journalist and politician

Liberal writer died following attack by Mussolini’s thugs


Giovanni Amendola was a committed anti-Fascist who accused Mussolini of murdering a fellow politician
Giovanni Amendola was a committed anti-Fascist who
accused Mussolini of murdering a fellow politician
Giovanni Amendola, a dedicated opponent of Fascism, was born on this day in 1882 in Naples in southern Italy.

As a critic of the right wing extremists in Italy, Amendola had to suffer a series of attacks by hired thugs. He endured a particularly brutal beating in 1925 by 15 Blackshirts armed with clubs near Montecatini Terme in Tuscany and he later died as a result of his injuries, becoming one of the earliest victims of the Fascist regime.

Amendola had obtained a degree in philosophy and contributed to the newspapers, Il Leonardo and La Voce, expressing his philosophical and ideological views. He was given the chair of theoretical philosophy at the University of Pisa but, attracted by politics, he stood for parliament and was elected to the Chamber of Deputies three times to represent Salerno.

He began contributing to Il Resto di Carlino and Corriere della Sera, urging Italy’s entry into World War I in 1915. He then fought as a volunteer, reaching the rank of captain and winning a medal for valour.

Amendola supported the Italian Liberal movement but was completely against the ideology of prime minister Giovanni Giolitti. During the war he adopted a position of democratic irredentism and at the end of hostilities was nominated as a minister by prime minister Francesco Saverio Nitti.

Socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti was murdered on the orders of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini
Socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti was murdered
on the orders of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini
In 1924 Amendola refused to adhere to the ‘Listone Mussolini’ and attempted to become prime minister himself at the head of a liberal coalition. He was defeated in the election but continued his battle for democracy, writing for Il Mondo, a new daily newspaper, which he had founded together with other intellectuals.

Amendola is famous for publishing the Rossi Testimony in December 1924. The document directly implicated the prime minister, Mussolini, in the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, the leader of the Socialist PSU party as well as declaring that Mussolini was behind the reign of terror that had led up to the 1924 elections.

Amendola was one of the deputies who withdrew from the Chamber in protest against the result afterwards. In spite of the threats against his life that had been made during the election campaign, he declared the Fascist government to be unconstitutional.

He was resented by Mussolini for his prominent opposition and as a result suffered an horrific attack in July 1925. He managed to get out of the country and into the south of France but, still suffering from his severe injuries, he died in April 1926 in Cannes.

Amendola left a wife and four children. His eldest son, Giorgio Amendola, became an important political writer and politician.

The statue of Giovanni Amendola in front of Salerno's Palazzo di Giustizia
The statue of Giovanni Amendola in
front of Salerno's Palazzo di Giustizia
Travel tip:

Salerno, the city represented in parliament by Giovanni Amendola, is in Campania in southern Italy on the Gulf of Salerno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It has a Greek and Roman heritage and was an important Lombard principality in the middle ages, when the first medical school in the world was founded there. King Victor Emmanuel III moved there in 1943, making it a provisional seat of Government for six months and it was the scene of Allied landings during the invasion of Italy in World War II.  There is a statue of Giovanni Amendola in front of the Palazzo di Giustizia in Salerno.

The Terme Tettuccio is one of the most famous of  Montecatini Terme's famed spas
The Terme Tettuccio is one of the most famous of
Montecatini Terme's famed spas
Travel tip:

Montecatini Terme in Tuscany, where Amendola suffered the attack that caused his death, is an elegant spa town in the province of Pistoia. Its heyday was in the early part of the 20th century, when restaurants, theatres, nightclubs and a casino were built there and many celebrities visited. The town welcomed the famous composers, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Giuseppe Verdi and Pietro Mascagni, and the tenor, Beniamino Gigli.

Also on this day:

1446: The death of architect Filippo Brunelleschi

1452: The birth of Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci

1754: The death of Venetian mathematician Jacopo Riccati


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9 February 2020

Pietro Nenni - politician

Pietro Nenni led the Italian Socialist Party for 22 years in total
Pietro Nenni led the Italian Socialist
Party for 22 years in total

Orphan who became influential leader of Italian Socialist Party


The politician Pietro Sandro Nenni, who was a major figure of the Italian left for five decades, was born on this day in 1891 in Faenza in Emilia-Romagna.

Nenni was general secretary of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) on three occasions and rose to high office in the Italian government, twice serving as foreign affairs minister and several times as deputy prime minister, notably under the progressive Christian Democrat Aldo Moro in the centre-left coalitions of the 1960s.

He was a recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize in 1951 but returned the $25,000 that came with the honour in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

Born into a peasant family, Nenni lost both his parents before he was five years old and grew up in an orphanage, having been placed there by the aristocratic landowners for whom his father had worked.

His experiences there seemed to stir in him a desire to rebel against authority.  He was only nine years old when, on learning of the assassination of King Umberto I by the anarchist Gaetano Bresci, he is said to have written ‘Viva Bresci’ on a wall in the orphanage.

Nenni volunteered to fight for his country in the First World War
Nenni volunteered to fight for his country
in the First World War
As soon as he was old enough to make his own way in the world he became involved in protest movements. By the age of 16 he was editing a Republican party newspaper in nearby Forlì, where the local Socialist newspaper was edited by Benito Mussolini.  He and Mussolini would become linked when both were arrested and briefly jailed after taking part in a strike against the Italo-Turkish War in Libya.

Both he and Mussolini supported Italy’s entry in the First World War, however. After the conflict, in which Nenni volunteered, was wounded, and returned to frontline service again, their paths diverged.

Both formed fascii - the Italian word in use at the time for political groups - but where Mussolini’s evolved into what would become the National Fascist Party, Nenni’s was soon dissolved. In the same year - 1921 - as Mussolini’s Fascists came into being, Nenni left the Italian Republican Party and joined the PSI, from which a breakaway group had recently left to form the Italian Communist Party (PCI).

Their opposition could not have been more clear when Mussolini was appointed prime minister in 1922 and Nenni, by now editor of the PSI newspaper Avanti!, attacked Mussolini’s ideology on a regular basis.

Mussolini looked for a way to silence Nenni, as he did with most of his political opponents, and he found one in 1925 when Nenni published a booklet whipping up anti-Fascist sentiment following the murder of Socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti.  Mussolini had Nenni arrested for anti-Fascist activity, and though he was soon released it was not long before Avanti!’s offices were damaged in an arson attack and a law brought in to ban its publication.

Nenni served as deputy prime minister in three governments led by the Christian Democrat Aldo Moro
Nenni served as deputy prime minister in three
governments led by the Christian Democrat Aldo Moro
Nenni fled the country and spent the next 17 years in exile, first in France and then Spain, where he fought on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War as co-founder of the Garibaldi Brigade.  He returned to France in 1943, by then under Nazi occupation, and was arrested by the Germans. He was held first in Vichy but then returned to Italy to continue his imprisonment on the island of Ponza.

After Italy was liberated later in 1943, he was able to resume his political career, his determination to bring about change hardening after learning of the death of his daughter, Vittoria, who had been taken prisoner by the Nazi regime earlier in the Second World War.

He became leader of the PSI and after the surrender of Italy to the Allies became a member of the National Liberation Committee, the political element of the Italian Partisans.  He was deputy prime minister in the interim government of Ferruccio Parri and the first government of Alcide De Gasperi. He became minister for foreign affairs in  the second De Gasperi government, the first administration after Italians voted to make their country a republic in 1946, for which Nenni had been a prominent campaigner.

For several years, the PSI worked closely with the Communists but Nenni broke with them again after Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary, which was an embarrassment to Nenni not only as a recipient of the Stalin Prize but also because he had returned from a meeting with the Russian leader before the invasion and proclaimed Stalin as a man of peace.

As a consequence, Nenni gradually shifted his party’s support away from the Soviet Union in favour of NATO, of which he advocated membership.

After the overwhelming victory of De Gaspari’s Christian Democrats in the divisive 1948 elections, it was not until the 1960s that Nenni’s Socialists were part of government again.  Now a veteran political figure in his 70s, he served as deputy leader under Aldo Moro in three centre-left coalitions that he had helped to broker.

Following poor results in the 1968 elections, Nenni began to release his grip on the PSI and resigned as leader the following year. He was made a senator for life in 1970 but his bid to become President of the Republic in 1971 was unsuccessful. He died in 1980, aged 88.

Faenza's cathedral still has a simple brick facade, and as  such is regarded as an unfinished project
Faenza's cathedral still has a simple brick facade, and as
such is regarded as an unfinished project
Travel tip:

Faenza is in the Emilia-Romagna region, about 50km (31 miles) southeast of Bologna and 35km (22 miles) southwest of Ravenna. The city is famous for the manufacture of a type of decorative majolica-ware known as faience. It is also home to the International Museum of Ceramics, which has examples of ceramics from ancient times, the Middle Ages and the 18th and 19th centuries as well as displaying work by important contemporary artists. The museum is in Viale Baccarini.  Although the origins of the city go back further, Faenza preserves traces of its Roman rectangular plan, surrounded by 15th-century walls. Notable landmarks include the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, where the city’s cathedral, begun in 1474 by Giuliano da Maiano, can be found. Construction finished in 1515 but was never completed, inasmuch as the front of the building is plain brick, with no stone or marble facade.

Faenza hotels by Booking.com

A Linea A metro train crosses the Ponte Pietro Nenni, which carries trains over the River Tiber in Rome
A Linea A metro train crosses the Ponte Pietro Nenni,
which carries trains over the River Tiber in Rome
Travel tip:

Not all architecture in Rome is classical. One example is the Ponte Pietro Nenni, which spans the Tiber as a link between the Flaminio and Prati districts and is known by many as the Metro Bridge, on account of its primary purpose, which was to carry Linea A of the Rome metro from one side of the river to the other in the only section of the line that is above ground.  It carries vehicular traffic on both sides of the metro tracks. The bridge, a concrete cantilever structure with two supporting V-shaped piles, was designed by the architect Luigi Moretti and the engineer Silvano Zorzi and built between 1969 and 1972. It was inaugurated in 1980 and dedicated to Nenni, who died a month before the inauguration.


(Picture credits: Top portrait by senato.it; Faenza cathedral by Tecsis; metro train by Lucaf1; via Wikimedia Commons)

10 October 2018

Andrea Zanzotto - poet

Writer drew inspiration from landscapes of Veneto


Andrea Zanzotto wrote 15 volumes of poetry during his active career, while also teaching
Andrea Zanzotto wrote 15 volumes of poetry
during his active career, while also teaching
Andrea Zanzotto, who was regarded as one of Italy’s greatest 20th century poets, was born on this day in 1921 in Pieve di Soligo, the village near Treviso where he lived almost all of his life. 

Zanzotto, who spent 40 years as a secondary school teacher, wrote 15 books of poetry, two prose works, two volumes of critical articles and translations of French philosophers such as Michaux, Leiris and Bataille.

His first book of poetry, Dietro il paesaggio (1951), won a literary award judged by several noteworthy Italian poets. Critics reserved their greatest acclaim for his sixth volume, La beltà (1968), in which he questioned the ability of words to reflect truth.

Zanzotto, whose verse was consistently erudite and creative, was known for his innovative engagement with language and his fascination with the rugged landscapes of the Veneto, from which he drew inspiration and provided him with much symbolism.

His upbringing was difficult at times because his father, Giovanni Zanzotto, a painter who has trained at the Bologna Academy of Fine Arts, was a committed supporter of the Socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti, who was murdered by Fascist thugs in 1924 a few days after accusing Mussolini’s party of electoral fraud.

Zanzotto had a difficult upbringing in the  Fascist Italy of the 1920s and 1930s
Zanzotto had a difficult upbringing in the
Fascist Italy of the 1920s and 1930s
Fearing for his own safety, Giovanni fled to France in 1925. He returned to the Veneto, taking a job as a teacher in Santo Stefano di Cadore, about 100km (62 miles) north of Pieve di Soligo, not far from the border with Austria, in 1927 and the family reunited there in 1928.

Giovanni, in fact, painted some frescoes in a church in nearby Costalissoio but his campaigning against the Fascists and the collapse of a co-operative that was providing financial support for his family, forced him into exile again in 1931.

Andrea, who had been deeply affected by the death of his younger sister, Marina, became close to his maternal grandmother and an aunt, and began to develop his love of writing. They helped him to see his first work published in 1936.

After completing school, Zanzotto began to focus on a career in teaching but suffered another loss in 1937 when his other sister, Angela, died of typhus. The grief, combined with the fatigue of commuting to college in Treviso, took a toll on his health, yet he obtained his teaching credentials.

Zanzotto enrolled at the University of Padua, where he received his diploma in literature in 1942, with a thesis on the work of the Italian Nobel Prize winner Grazia Deledda, after which he began teaching in Valdobbiadene and then Treviso.

Andrea Zanzotto spent the majority of his 90-year life in Pieve di Solito
Andrea Zanzotto spent the majority of
his 90-year life in Pieve di Solito
In the meantime, having avoided conscription because of severe asthma, he participated in the Italian Resistance, working largely on propaganda publications, and after the war spent some time travelling in Switzerland, France and Spain before returning to Pieve di Soligo where he resumed his work as a teacher.

Zanzotto’s poetry was influenced by his study of European intellectual thought and became notable for his of divergent language, from the lofty lingua aulica of the great poets of the past, notably Petrarch and Dante, to the language of pop songs and advertising slogans.

Dialect was one of Zanzotto’s favourite linguistic registers. Section one of Filò (1976) was written in a pseudo-archaic Venetian dialect. It was composed at the request of Federico Fellini for his film Casanova. Section two, in fact, included a diatribe against the film industry.

Dialectal words and phrases reoccurred in Il Galateo in bosco (1978), the first book of a trilogy completed by Fosfeni (1983) and Idioma (1986), which are regarded among his finest works.

Although a lot of his writing suggested nostalgia for disappearing landscapes, languages and cultures, Zanzotto never lost sight of the present and its possible effects on the future. His later works were increasingly engaged with topical issues such as the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the war in Bosnia, and local environmental changes.

He died in October 2011 at the age of 90, survived by his wife, Marisa, to whom he had been married for 52 years, and their children.

The neighbourhood of Cal Santa in Pieve di Solito, where Zanzotto lived for many years in his childhood
The neighbourhood of Cal Santa in Pieve di Solito, where
Zanzotto lived for many years in his childhood
Travel tip:

Pieve di Soligo is a town of some 12,000 inhabitants a little more than 30km (19 miles) north of Treviso, in a plain bordered to the north by the Belluno Prealps. At the heart of the town is the cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, a neo-Romanesque monument built in the early 20th century by the architect Domenico Rupolo, who is well known for having designed the fish market by the Rialto bridge in Venice. Along the banks of the Soligo river are two of the oldest parts of the town, including Cal Santa, where Zanzotto spent much of his formative years.

The vine-clad hills around Valdobbiadene, home of Italy's finest Prosecco wines
The vine-clad hills around Valdobbiadene, home of Italy's
finest Prosecco wines
Travel tip:

The picturesque hills around Valdobbiadene, where Zanzotto briefly worked as a supply teacher, are famous for the production of what is generally regarded as the best Prosecco in Italy. It is largely made from Glera grapes and though the name comes from that of the village of Prosecco near Trieste, where the grape and wine originated, the only Prosecco granted DOCG status - the classification granted to superior Italian wines - is produced from grapes grown on the hills between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, or from a smaller area around the town of Asolo, a few kilometres south of Valdobbiadene.

More reading:

How Grazia Deledda became the first Italian woman to win a Nobel Prize

The tragic brilliance of Giacomo Leopardi

What the Italian language owes to Petrarch

Also on this day:

1881: The death of missionary Saint Daniele Comboni

1891: The birth of Mafia boss Stefano Magaddino


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31 August 2018

Altiero Spinelli - political visionary

Drafted plan for European Union while in Fascist jail



Spinelli and two fellow prisoners were the first to propose a united Europe
Spinelli and two fellow prisoners were
the first to propose a united Europe
Altiero Spinelli, a politician who is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the European Union, was born on this day in 1907 in Rome.

A lifelong Communist who was jailed for his opposition to the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, he spent much of the Second World War in confinement on the island of Ventotene in the Tyrrhenian Sea, one of an archipelago known as the Pontine Islands.

It was there that he and two prisoners, Ernesto Rossi and Eugenio Colorni, agreed that if the forces of Fascism in Italy and Germany were defeated, the only way to avoid future European wars was for the sovereign nations of the continent to join together in a federation of states.

The document they drew up, which became known as the Ventotene Manifesto, was the first document to argue for a European constitution and formed the basis for the Movimento Federalista Europeo, which Spinelli, Rossi and some 20 others launched at a secret meeting in Milan as soon as they were able to leave their internment camp.

An official mugshot of Spinelli taken during his confinement on Ventotene
An official mugshot of Spinelli taken
during his confinement on Ventotene
In a nutshell, the Ventotene Manifesto put forward proposals for creating a European federation of states so closely joined together they would no longer be able to go to war with one another. It argued that if all of the European countries retained their complete national sovereignty in the post-war landscape then the possibility of a Third World War would still exist even if the Nazi attempt to establish the domination of the German race in Europe was defeated.

Throughout the 40s and 50s, Spinelli’s MFE was in the vanguard of the drive for European integration and Spinelli himself, who was elected as a Communist MEP in 1979, its most powerful voice.

By stages, he persuaded the Italian government and then the European Parliament of the wisdom of his proposals and his draft document, known as the Spinelli Plan, became the basis for the Single European Act of 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which formally agreed the establishment of a European Union.

Spinelli himself lived to see none of these developments. His health declined in his late 70s and he died in a Rome clinic in May 1986 at the age of 78.

However, his legacy was recognised when the main building of the European Parliament in Brussels was named after him in 1999.

Spinelli was buried on the island of  Ventotene, where his memory is preserved
Spinelli was buried on the island of
Ventotene, where his memory is preserved
Although born in Rome, Spinelli spent his early years in Brazil, where his father was the Italian Vice-Consul. On returning home he joined the Italian Communist Party at the age of 17 in 1924, the year of the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, with Fascism now in power and Communists forced underground.

He was arrested in Milan in June 1927, when the Fascists introduced legislation outlawing political opponents. He was convicted and sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison.

After a decade, he was transferred to Rome and was led to believe he would be released, only to be told he was instead being transferred to confinement status, first on the island of Ponza, later on Ventotene, a smaller island midway between Ponza and Ischia, off the coast of Naples.

His release eventually came in 1943, after Mussolini had been expelled by the Fascist Grand Council and arrested on the orders of the king, Victor Emmanuel III. 

Ponza has some beautiful coastline and was once a haunt for movie stars and other celebrities
Ponza has some beautiful coastline and was once a haunt
for movie stars and other celebrities
Travel tip:

The island of Ponza has had a chequered history. Inhabited from neolithic to Roman times, it was abandoned during the middle ages due to frequent attacks by Saracens and pirates and not recolonised until the 18th century. Due to its remoteness, it was used as penal colony by several regimes in addition to the Fascists. Mussolini himself was confined there for a brief period after his arrest in 1943. In more recent years, it was developed for tourism and became a fashionable resort for celebrities, including Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. It has become less attractive since the death of several tourists due to falling rocks led to the permanent closure of the main beach, Chiaia di Luna, although there are many other smaller beaches and several picturesque bays.

The picturesque harbour on the island of Ventotene
The picturesque harbour on the island of Ventotene
Travel tip:

Closer to the mainland than Ponza and therefore more easy to reach, Ventotene attracts many tourists during the summer months but remains in some ways a permanent monument to Spinelli, who was returned to the island following his death and interred in the churchyard of the Parrocchia Santa Candida Vergine e Martire. The former prison has been converted into colorful summer homes and visitors can even sleep in Spinelli’s old apartment.  In 2016, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi met with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande on the island, where they laid a wreath at the Spinelli’s tomb and staged a mini-summit meeting to discuss the future of the EU following the referendum staged in Britain.

More reading:

Victor Emmanuel III appoints Mussolini as prime minister

The murder of Giacomo Matteotti

How Alcide de Gasperi rebuilt Italy


Also on this day:

1834: The birth of opera composer Amilcare Ponchielli

1900: The birth of Gino Lucetti, anarchist famous for botched attempt to kill Mussolini


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19 May 2018

Vittorio Orlando - politician

Prime minister humiliated at First World War peace talks


Vittorio Orlando's reputation lay in
tatters following Paris peace talks
Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, the Italian prime minister best known for being humiliated by his supposed allies at the Paris peace talks following the First World War, was born on this day in 1860 in Palermo.

Elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 1897, Orlando had held a number of positions in government and became prime minister in 1917 following Italy’s disastrous defeat to the Austro-Hungarian army at Caporetto, which saw 40,000 Italian soldiers killed or wounded and 265,000 captured. The government of Orlando’s predecessor, Paolo Boselli, collapsed as a result.

Orlando, who had been a supporter of Italy’s entry into the war on the side of the Allies, rebuilt shattered Italian morale and the military victory at Vittorio Veneto, which ended the war on the Italian front and contributed to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire, saw him hailed as Italy’s ‘premier of victory’.

However, his reputation was left in tatters when he and Sidney Sonnino, his half-Welsh foreign secretary, when to Paris to participate in peace talks but left humiliated after the territorial gains they were promised in return for entering the war on the side of Britain, France and the United States were not delivered.

Orlando’s ability to negotiate was not helped by his complete lack of English, while his bargaining position was undermined also by disagreements with Sonnino over what they wanted. As a result, Orlando was no match for US president Woodrow Wilson, British premier David Lloyd George and French prime minister Georges Clemenceau.

Orlando, second left, with Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Woodrow Wilson at the Paris peace talks
Orlando, second left, with Lloyd George, Clemenceau,
and Woodrow Wilson at the Paris peace talks
He failed to secure either of Italy’s main objectives at the peace talks, namely control of the Dalmatian peninsula and the annexation of the coastal city of Rijeka, known in Italian as Fiume, suffered a nervous collapse, for which he was mocked by Clemenceau in particular, and stormed out of the talks before their conclusion.

Orlando resigned as prime minister just days before the Treaty of Versailles to which he was supposed to have been a signatory.  Years later he spoke of his pride at having nothing to do with what was finally agreed but at the time he was seen as a failure.

The damage to national morale and pride was considerable.  Some historians believe Orlando’s humiliation was a key factor in Mussolini being able to harness so much public support and sweep to power.

Orlando’s backing for Mussolini - at the start of the Fascist regime, at least - enabled him to cling to his political career and in 1919 he was elected president of the Chamber of Deputies.  But he could not countenance the murder by the Fascists of the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti in 1924 and quit politics in 1925.

He returned in 1944 after the fall of Mussolini and became speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. But he failed in his bid to be elected president of the Italian Republic in 1948, defeated in the vote by Luigi Einaudi.  He died four years later.

Sidney Sonnino disagreed with Orlando's approach to the talks
Sidney Sonnino disagreed with
Orlando's approach to the talks
The son of a Sicilian gentleman landowner, Orlando was a controversial figure even before the debacle of Paris.  Highly intelligent - he wrote extensively on legal and judicial issues - he was dogged throughout his career by accusations that had connections with the Sicilian Mafia.

His association with the mobster Frank Coppola, who was deported back to Sicily in 1948 after a criminal career in the United States, did not help, nor did a speech he made in the Italian senate in 1925 in response to rumours doing the rounds, in which he teased his audience by speaking about the Sicilian origins of the word mafia to mean a person of loyalty, honour, compassion and generosity of spirit and declaring himself “a proud mafioso”.

The Mafia pentito - state witness - Tommaso Buscetta once claimed in court that Orlando genuinely was a member of the Sicilian Mafia, although he was never investigated.

Looking across Partinico towards the Gulf of Castellammare
Looking across Partinico towards the Gulf of Castellammare
Travel tip:

Partinico, the town which Orlando represented when he was elected to the Italian parliament in 1897, is situated about 37km (23 miles) west of Palermo, on the way to Castellammare del Golfo. Home to almost 32,000 people today, it has long held political significance and was a stopover for Giuseppe Garibaldi during his march on Palermo.

The Duomo of Serravalle at Vittorio Veneto
The Duomo of Serravalle at Vittorio Veneto
Travel tip:

Vittorio Veneto is a town of some 28,000 people in the Province of Treviso, in Veneto, situated between the Piave and Livenza rivers at the foot of the mountain region known as the Prealpi.  It was formed from the joining of the communities of Serravalle and Ceneda in 1866 and named Vittorio in honour of Victor Emmanuel II.  The Veneto suffix was added in 1923 to commemorate the decisive battle.

Also on this day:

1946: The birth of actor Michele Placido

1979: The birth of Italian football great Andrea Pirlo

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29 October 2017

King appoints Mussolini Prime Minister

Victor Emmanuel turned to Fascist leader after fearing civil war


Victor Emmanuel III
Victor Emmanuel III
Victor Emmanuel III, the king of Italy, invited Benito Mussolini to become Prime Minister on this day in 1922, ushering in the era of Fascist rule in Italy.

History has largely perceived the decision as a moment of weakness on the part of the king, a man of small physical stature who had never been particularly comfortable in his role.

Yet at the time, with violent clashes between socialist supporters and Mussolini’s Blackshirts occurring almost daily with both sides bent on revolution, Victor Emmanuel feared that Italy was on the brink of civil war.

The First World War had been financially crippling for Italy, even though they had emerged with a victory of sorts in that the Austro-Hungarians were finally pushed out of northern Italy.

In the poverty that followed, the country shifted sharply to the left and in the 1919 general election the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) gained 32 per cent of the vote, amounting to 156 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the largest representation in their history.

But for all the support for the PSI, particularly among factory workers in urban areas, there were just as many Italians who felt uncomfortable about their advance, and not only those who belonged to the moneyed elite.  The PSI had aligned themselves with the Russian Bolsheviks and were determined to pursue a strong ultra-left agenda that included the overthrow of bourgeois capitalism, but also threatened, through state seizure of agricultural land, to deny rural workers any prospect of fulfilling their aspiration to own land themselves.

The king with Mussolini in Rome in 1923
The king with Mussolini in Rome in 1923
Ironically, Mussolini had been the leader of this Bolshevik faction of the PSI before the First World War, his own politics having been founded in socialist values.

But he was expelled from the party after going against their opposition to the war and moving towards national syndicalism, which embraced the principle of workers’ collectives owning the means of production but which favoured tight state control and only limited democracy, combined with military expansion to further national growth.

Many similarly displaced former PSI members joined Mussolini in forming the Fascist Revolutionary Party, which evolved into the National Fascist Party.  And though Mussolini’s party differed from the socialists in several areas, it still portrayed itself as being on the side of the people.

Both sides promised to take power away from the ruling classes and politicians by whom many ordinary Italians felt betrayed and though, as a character, he lacked decisiveness, Victor Emmanuel knew he could not allow the social unrest to continue and would have to come down on one side or the other if order were to be restored.

Matters came to a head when he became aware that Mussolini, who had already acquired a considerable following and effective control in parts of northern Italy, was planning an insurrection in which he would lead his Blackshirts in a symbolic March on Rome.  Luigi Facta, the Liberal prime minister, drafted a decree of martial law, having been advised by General Pietro Badoglio to tell Victor Emmanuel his troops could repel the uprising. But after initially indicating he would sign the decree, the king then changed his mind.

Victor Emmanuel overestimated the threat of the Fascists to Rome
Victor Emmanuel overestimated the
threat of the Fascists to Rome
This was partly because he overestimated the number of men likely to take part in the march and the degree to which they would be armed, and partly because he did not trust the army not to take the opportunity to stage a coup. Largely, though, it was because he considered allowing Italy to fall into the hands of the Marxists in the PSI to be unthinkable.

As it happens, having been told that the army would remain loyal to the king, and knowing that the 300,000-strong force he would later claim to have taken part actually amounted a the start to fewer than 10,000, Mussolini was on the point of abandoning the insurrection.

Instead, a few minutes before midnight on October 29, he received a telegram from the king inviting him to Palazzo del Quirinale, the official Rome residence of the monarch and the seat of power. 

By noon the following day, aged only 39, with no previous experience of office and only 35 Fascists deputies in the Chamber, he had been sworn in as President of the Council of Ministers – the Prime Minister.  Rather than marching into Rome to seize power, Mussolini actually travelled to the capital by train.  The march did take place, but as a celebration.

The decision allowed Mussolini to crush the opposition, his thugs continuing to employ the violent methods that had allowed him to dominate northern and central areas of the country before his accession to power to reinforce his rule across the whole of the country.

Mussolini joined the March on Rome, although by then his objective of taking power had been achieved
Mussolini joined the March on Rome, although by then
his objective of taking power had been achieved
Victor Emmanuel’s real crime was to stand aside while all this was taking place, failing to act even when Giacomo Matteotti, a socialist deputy who outspokenly claimed the 1923 election was rigged, was assassinated, with clear evidence that Fascists close to Mussolini were involved.

He allowed Mussolini free rein to abuse his power, to the extent that he had dropped all pretence of democracy within three years, passing a law that decreed that he was no longer answerable to parliament, only to the king.

By the time, in 1943, with Italy again sinking into civil war, Victor Emmanuel ordered Mussolini’s arrest following a Fascist Grand Council vote to remove him as leader, the Italian royal family by their association with Fascism were irreversibly discredited.

The Palazzo del Quirinale used to be the royal residence in Rome
The Palazzo del Quirinale used to be the royal residence in Rome
Travel tip:

The Palazzo del Quirinale, a vast complex 20 times larger than the White House and a seat of power in Italy since it was built in 1583, sits on the top of Quirinal Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome.  It has been the official residence of 30 popes – it was built originally as a summer residence for Pope Gregory XIII – four kings of Italy and 12 presidents of the Italian republic. It became a royal palace after the unification of Italy in 1871, although Victor Emmanuel III preferred to live elsewhere, in the Villa Savoia, a house set in parkland in the northern part of the city.

The church of San Sepolcro in the square of the same name in central Milan, where Mussolini launched his Fascist party
The church of San Sepolcro in the square of the same name
in central Milan, where Mussolini launched his Fascist party
Travel tip:

The roots of the Mussolini’s National Fascist Party can be traced back to a rally that took place in Milan’s Piazza San Sepolcro on March 23, 1919, when the expelled former official of the Italian Socialist Party launched a fascio – the word in use it Italy in the late 19th and early 20th century to describe any political group.  His Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (roughly translated: Italian League of Combatants) was initially meant to represent combatants from the First World War angered at the failure of the king and state to secure the appropriate rewards for Italy after the sacrifices made by Italian soldiers in achieving a victory.  The Piazza san Sepolcro is in the centre of Milan, a few streets away from the Duomo, just behind the Ambrosian Library.







24 March 2017

Luigi Einaudi - politician and winemaker

Composer's grandfather was President of the Republic


Luigi Einaudi was President of the Italian Republic from 1948 to 1955
Luigi Einaudi was President of the Italian
Republic from 1948 to 1955
The politician, economist, journalist and winemaker Luigi Einaudi was born on this day in 1874 in Carrù, in the province of Cuneo in what is now Piedmont.

Einaudi, who is the grandfather of the musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi and the father of publisher Giulio Einaudi, was elected President of the new Italian Republic between 1948 and 1955, the second person to occupy the post.

He was actively involved with politics from his university days, when he supported socialist movements.  For a decade he edited a socialist magazine but later took a more conservative position.

After being appointed to the Senate of the Kingdom of Italy in 1919, in the days when the upper house of the Italian parliament was a non-elected body, he was one of the signatories in forming the Italian Liberal Party (PLI).

The PLI initially joined forces with the Italian Fascists and it was through their support that Mussolini was able to win the 1924 general election with an absolute majority.

Einaudi had been both a journalist and an academic since graduating in law from Turin University in 1895.

The musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi
The musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi
He became a professor at Turin University as well as the Polytechnic of Turin and the Bocconi University in Milan. He wrote on economic matters for the Turin daily La Stampa before moving to Corriere della Sera in Milan in 1903.

At first broadly supportive of some elements of Fascist policy, he became distrustful of Mussolini's plans for constitutional reform and when the socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti was murdered in 1924, with suspicion falling on gangsters recruited to Mussolini's secret police, he distanced himself from the Fascists.

In 1925, he was among the signatories of the Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals, written by the writer and philosopher Benedetto Croce. In the same year he resigned from Corriere della Sera after the Fascists removed the editor, Luigi Albertini.  His positions at the Bocconi University and Turin Polytechnic were taken from him but he retained his professorship at Turin University's law school, signing an oath of allegiance to Fascism rather that let the chair be occupied by a Fascist.

In the Senate, he voted against Mussolini's war in Ethiopia in 1935 and against proposed racial laws in 1938.  When Mussolini was deposed and arrested in 1943, he was appointed Rector of Turin University but when the Germans freed the dictator from house arrest and installed him as head of a new Italian Socialist Republic he fled Italy to Switzerland, where he was granted asylum.

Alcide de Gasperi, in whose governments Einaudi occupied several offices
Alcide de Gasperi
On his return he was made Governer of the Bank of Italy and became part of Italy's governing National Council prior to the formation of the Republic, in which he served its first prime minister, Alcide de Gasperi, in several ministerial positions, including deputy premier, before his election as President.  He was the first to hold that office to reside at the Palazzo Quirinale.

Einaudi entered the winemaking business in 1897 at the age of 23 when he acquired an 18th century farmhouse called San Giacomo outside Dogliani, his mother's home town, about 10km (six miles) from Carrù, which came with a ruined chapel and about 15 hectares of vines.

The farm began bottling Dolcetto di Dogliani under the label Poderi Einaudi (Einaudi Estates), with Luigi attending the harvest every year, despite his numerous commitments.

Although Luigi died in 1961 at the age of 87, the business remained in the family and now extends across 145 hectares, mainly in Dogliani but with some in Barolo.  The current owner is Matteo Sardagna, Luigi's great grandson and Ludovico's cousin.

The University of Turin now has an Einaudi Campus named in his honour.

Dogliani's church of Santi Quirico e Paolo
Dogliani's church of
Santi Quirico e Paolo
Travel tip:

Dogliani, where there has been a settlement since pre-Roman times, is a town of some 4,500 inhabitants about 60km (37 miles) southeast of Turin. As well as being the home of the red wine Dolcetto di Dogliani, it is famous for the annual tradition of Presepio Vivente, in which around 350 people take part in a living nativity scene in the medieval streets.  The town is also notable for the magnificent parish church of Santi Quirico and Paolo, designed by Giovanni Battista Schellino.

Dogliani hotels by Booking.com


A typical hamlet in the picturesque Langhe area of  Piedmont
A typical hamlet in the picturesque Langhe area of  Piedmont
Travel tip:

Like Dogliani, the similarly sized Carrù is one of the towns of the Langhe, a picturesque area of hills to the south and east of the Tanaro river famous for wines, cheeses and truffles, in particular the white truffles of Alba.  The wines produced in the region include Barbera, Barbaresco, Barolo, Dolcetto and the Langhe Nebbiolo.  Carrù hosts the Sagra dell'Uva (fair of the grape) each year.  The town's castle, now a bank, is said to be haunted by La dama blu (the blue lady), the wife of one of the counts of Carrù, who was killed by an arrow fired by a murderer who was never caught.


More reading:


Alcide de Gasperi - the prime minister who rebuilt Italy

The distinctive and beautiful music of Ludovico Einaudi

Why Giaocomo Matteotti was called a 'martyr of freedom'

Also on this day:


1926: The birth of actor and writer Dario Fo

(Picture credits: Ludovico Einaudi by Joergens; Church in Dogliani by Luigi.tuby; Langhe hamlet by M^3)


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24 February 2017

Sandro Pertini - popular president

Man of the people who fought Fascism


Sandro Pertini (right) congratulates coach Enzo Bearzot after Italy won the World Cup in Spain in 1982
Sandro Pertini (right) congratulates coach Enzo Bearzot
after Italy won the World Cup in Spain in 1982
Sandro Pertini, the respected and well-liked socialist politician who served as Italy's President between 1978 and 1985, died on this day in 1990, aged 93.

Pertini, a staunch opponent of Fascism who was twice imprisoned by Mussolini and again by the Nazis, passed away at the apartment near the Trevi Fountain in Rome that he shared with his wife, Carla.

After his death was announced, a large crowd gathered in the street near his apartment, with some of his supporters in tears.  Francesco Cossiga, who had succeeded him as President, visited the apartment to offer condolences to Pertini's widow, 30 years his junior.  They had met towards the end of the Second World War, when they were both fighting with the Italian resistance movement.

Pertini's popularity stemmed both from his strong sense of morality and his unwavering good humour.  He had the charm and wit to win over most people he met and was blessed with the common touch.

Sandro Pertini with his customary pipe
Sandro Pertini with his
customary pipe
He would make a point whenever it was possible of appearing in person to greet parties of schoolchildren visiting the presidential palace, sometimes joined the staff for lunch and endeared himself to the nation with his passionate support for Italy's football team at the 1982 World Cup final in Spain.

Pertini's life story was extraordinary.  Born in Stella, in Liguria, in the province of Savona, he was the son of a wealthy landowner and was given an expensive education, culminating in a Law degree from the University of Genoa.

He was patriotic inasmuch as he enlisted to fight in the Italian army in the First World War even though he opposed Italy's involvement, but his politics leaned towards the left.  After the war he joined the Unitary Socialist Party (PSU) and settled in Florence.

Already openly opposed to the Fascists, whose squads of paramilitary thugs beat him up more than once, his attitude hardened considerably when Giacomo Matteotti, the PSU leader, was murdered soon after accusing Mussolini's party of using violence and fraud to influence the 1924 elections.

He was arrested for the first time in 1925 for 'inciting hatred' after attacking the Fascists in print for their "barbarous domination" and sentenced to eight months' jail.  He managed to escape and fled to France.

Sandro Pertini made a point whenever possible of meeting children in person when they visited the presidential palace
Sandro Pertini made a point whenever possible of meeting
children in person when they visited the presidential palace
Pertini kept his head down at first, working as a taxi driver in Paris, but after moving to Nice to work as a bricklayer he was twice prosecuted for his role in political disturbances.  Back in Italy, where he felt compelled to return to join the anti-Fascist underground, he was arrested in connection with a failed plot assassinate Mussolini.

Exiled to Santo Stefano, an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, he was released with the arrest of Mussolini in 1943. Recaptured by the occupying Nazi forces and sentenced to death, he was freed by partisans and joined the anti-Nazi resistance movement.

By then the PSU had rejoined the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) from which it had broken away previously, and after being part of the Constituent Assembly charged with designing the constitution for the new Italian Republic, Pertini was elected to the Chamber of Deputies under the PSI flag.

In 1968 he became president of the Chamber of Deputies and in 1978 President of the Republic, elected as a compromise candidate respected by politicians of the left and right.

Although by then he was 72, the pipe-smoking Pertini did much to restore the credibility of the political system in Italy at a time when the country was demoralised by internal terrorism, corruption scandals and a weak economy. He denounced the violence of the Red Brigades, spoke out against organized crime and expressed his disgust with South African apartheid, the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and other dictatorial regimes. He also criticised the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Pertini was pictured playing cards with Dino Zoff, Franco  Causio, and Enzo Bearzot on the plane home from Spain
Pertini was pictured playing cards with Dino Zoff, Franco
 Causio, and Enzo Bearzot on the plane home from Spain
By the time he left office in 1985, corruption was still a problem but the Anni di piombo - the Years of Lead - had been left behind, the economy was recovering well... and Italy had won the World Cup.

Always his own man, Pertini declined the opportunity to live in the Quirinale Palace, preferring his own apartment, and rather than be ferried around in state-owned limousines he had his wife drive him around Rome in a red Fiat 500.  Despite being an atheist, he had a close friendship with Pope John Paul II. He rushed to the Gemelli Hospital in Rome as soon as news reached him of the assassination attempt against John Paul II in 1981 and refused to go home until doctors assured him the pontiff was out of danger.

After Italy's World Cup victory, he invited the team to a reception at the Quirinale, telling striker Paolo Rossi, whose goals had been vital to the Azzurri triumph, that the chance to congratulate the players made it his "best day as President."

Stella San Giovanni nestles on a hillside overlooking the coast of Liguria, not far from the port of Savona
Stella San Giovanni nestles on a hillside overlooking
the coast of Liguria, not far from the port of Savona
Travel tip:

Sandro Pertini was born in Stella San Giovanni, one of five frazioni that make up an area collectively known as Stella, situated about 15 minutes inland from the Ligurian coastline not far from the sea port of Savona, which is notable for having been a major centre in the Italian iron industry and also as the one-time home of the explorer Christopher Columbus.  Its medieval centre is interesting for the Cathedral of Assunta and the adjoining Cistine Chapel and for the Priamar Fortress, built in 1542 after the Genoese had captured Savona. It later became a prison, where the revolutionary politician Giuseppe Mazzini was once held for being a member of a banned political organisation.

Hotels in Savona from Booking.com

The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque  fountain in Rome
The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque
 fountain in Rome 
Travel tip:

The Trevi Fountain, which takes its name from the Trevi district in Rome, was commissioned by Pope Clement XII and designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi in slightly controversial circumstances. The Pope had organised a contest for the best design, which Salvi lost to Alessandro Galilei, but awarding the commission to a Florentine caused a public outcry in Rome and to curb unrest it was eventually given to Salvi by default. Standing 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world, playing a starring role in Federico Fellini's film, La Dolce Vita.  Work began in 1732 and the fountain was completed in 1762, long after Salvi's death, with Pietro Bracci - who was responsible for setting Oceanus - the god of all water - in the central niche, taking over.





(Picture credits: all Pertini pictures from Quirinale.it; Stella San Giovanni panorama by Davide Papalini; Trevi Fountain by Paul Vlaar; all via Wikemedia Commons)