Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

15 July 2024

Pietro Ruggeri da Stabello – poet

Talented writer kept record of 1848 rebellions and produced verses in local dialect

Enrico Scuri's portrait of Pietro Ruggeri is kept at Bergamo's Accademia Carrara
Enrico Scuri's 1838 portrait of Pietro Ruggeri
da Stabello (Accademia Carrara, Bergamo)
Prolific writer Pietro Ruggeri da Stabello, who became famous after his death for the poetry he had written in his local dialect, was born on this day in 1797 in a hamlet near Zogno, a short distance from the city of Bergamo in Lombardy.

Ruggeri da Stabello wrote a valuable account of events that occurred in the north of Italy during revolts against the Austrian occupying army, which were later collected in a volume entitled Bergamo Revolution of the Year 1848.

He was the second son of a Bergamo couple, Santo Ruggeri and Diana Stella Ceribelli, who had moved to the Brembana valley to escape the riots that followed the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797.

When Pietro Ruggeri became an adult, he added the words da Stabello to his name, to honour the small village where he had grown up, which is less than one kilometre from the municipality of Zogno in Val Brembana, to which it belongs.

After Pietro Ruggeri moved to live in Bergamo to study for a diploma in accountancy, he began to compose verses, inspired by his contact with local people and what he had witnessed of how they lived their daily lives in the city.

He wrote his 1816 work, Letter of Pietro Ruggeri da Stabello Against the Widespread Misery, in the Italian language, more for his own pleasure than as a literary exercise. He went on to write four more works in Italian between 1820 and 1822 that were never published.

Ruggeri da Stabello started to write poetry in the Bergamo dialect from about 1822. As his fame spread, he was portrayed in a painting by Enrico Scuri and invited to social gatherings to meet other learned people from the area, while he continued to do a variety of jobs to earn his living.

He founded and became president of The Philharmonic Academy in Bergamo and he was painted on the occasion by Luigi Deleidi, a Bergamo artist, who was also known as Nebbia.

Ruggeri da Stabello wrote sonnets dedicated to his friends and some well-known people, such as the painter Francesco Coghetti, and he started to compile, but never finished, a Bergamo-Italian vocabulary.

Ruggeri da Stabello is commemorated with a statue in Bergamo's Piazza Pontida
Ruggeri da Stabello is commemorated with
a mounted bust in Bergamo's Piazza Pontida 
During 1848, he wrote his volume about the revolts against the Austrians while he was being forced to take refuge in the safer territory of Zogno, because of verses he had written in honour of Pope Pius IX and of Italy, after the Austrians returned to occupy the country.

Pietro Ruggeri da Stabello died in Bergamo in 1878. He was buried in the cemetery of San Maurizio in the Città Bassa, but his tomb was lost after the cemetery was closed.

However, his writing was evaluated after his death and he was recognised as the greatest writer in the Bergamo dialect ever known. In appreciation of his talent, his native city named a street after him and erected a mounted bust of him in Piazza Pontida, one of the historic squares in the Città Bassa, Bergamo’s lower town. 

In 1933, another Bergamo citizen, Bortolo Belotti, published some of his poetry in the volume, Pietro Ruggeri, Poet from Bergamo.

Modern Italian is now the most widely spoken language in Bergamo, but the Bergamo dialect - dialetto Bergamasco - is still seen on menus, street signs and often reproduced in popular Bergamo sayings. Linguistically it is closer to French and Catalan, than to Italian. It is still spoken in some of the small villages out in the province of Bergamo and the area around Crema, another city in Lombardy.

Because of migration in the 19th and 20th centuries, Bergamo dialect is still spoken in some communities in southern Brazil.

The town of Zogno nestles in Val Brembana, 
a beautiful valley north of Bergamo
Travel tip:

The municipality of Zogno, where Pietro Ruggeri da Stabello was born, is about 11km (7 miles) north of Bergamo in the Brembana Valley. Set in beautiful countryside, Zogno has a 17th century church, San Lorenzo Martire, as well as a modern church, the Santuario di Maria Santissima Regina. The village of Stabello now has a population of fewer than 500 people. The Val Brembana is an area rich in history and traditions, about which much can be learned by visiting the San Lorenzo Museum and the Valley Museum. Zogno also attracts many visitors to the Terme di Bracca spa facility.

Piazza Pontida, in Bergamo's Città Bassa, was once a hub of commercial activity in the city
Piazza Pontida, in Bergamo's Città Bassa, was
once a hub of commercial activity in the city
Travel tip:

Pietro Ruggeri da Stabello’s statue stands in Bergamo's Piazza Pontida in the Città Bassa, the Lombardy city's lower town. It is near the junction of Via Sant’Alessandro and Via XX Settembre, which would have been the hub of the lower town in the 15th century. The piazza is close to a point known for centuries as Cinque Vie (five roads), where traffic from Milan, Lecco, Treviglio and Crema would converge. It was the place where goods arriving in Bergamo would be unloaded before being sent up to the Città Alta (upper town). Some of the portici (porticos) date back to the 15th century, when farmers and merchants would shelter from the sun under them, while negotiating over the goods. It would have been a lively scene, with storytellers and poets roaming from one inn to the next, entertaining the crowds who had come to trade in the square. There are now modern shops doing business behind the porticos, but the square is still a popular meeting place with plenty of bars and restaurants.

Also on this day:

1823: Fire damages Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls

1850: The birth in Italy of Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American saint

1933: The birth of cartoonist Guido Crepax


11 July 2024

Antoninus Pius - Roman Emperor

Hadrian’s adopted son presided over 23 years of peace

History has judged Antoninus Pius to be a benevolent leader
History has judged Antoninus
Pius to be a benevolent leader
Antoninus Pius, the fourth of the so-called Five Good Emperors who ruled the Roman Empire between 96 and 180AD, assumed power on this day in 138 following the death of Hadrian at his villa outside Naples the previous day.

As well as being notable for peace and stability, his reign was one of well-run administration, support for education and public works projects including expanded free access to drinking water in all parts of the empire.

He was seen as a wise and benevolent ruler who made the well-being of his subjects a priority, an example being the attention he gave to ensuring freed slaves were given the full rights of citizenship.

Antoninus instigated legal reforms, built temples and theatres, was an active promoter of the arts and sciences, and rewarded the teachers of rhetoric and philosophy in particular with honours and financial incentives.

Despite a number of disturbances in different parts of the empire during his time, he was reluctant to commit to any aggressive military action. Revolts in Mauretania, Germany, Dacia and Egypt were successfully contained by his armies with no recourse to escalation.

Only in response to an uprising of the Brigantes, who controlled large parts of northern Britain, did Antoninus take a more aggressive approach.

He appointed a new governor, Quintus Lollius Urbicus, who had previously governed Germania Inferior. Antoninus ordered Lollius to invade southern Scotland, driving the Brigantes back and constructing a new wall, the Antonine Wall across the Scottish territory 100 miles (62km) north of Hadrian’s Wall, from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde. 

The map of the Roman Empire as it looked during the 23-year reign of Antoninus Pius
The map of the Roman Empire as it looked during
the 23-year reign of Antoninus Pius
Unlike Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall was not maintained and had been abandoned by the time Antoninus died in 161.

Antoninus Pius was born Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Antoninus near Lanuvium, on the site of modern-day Lanuvio, about 38km (24 miles) south of Rome. His father, Titus Aurelius Fulvus, was a consul, whose father had been a senator of the same name. 

Titus Aurelius Fulvus died when Antoninus was a child and he was raised instead by his maternal grandfather, Gnaeus Arrius Antoninus, who was a friend of Pliny the Younger and had a reputation as a man of integrity. 

Antoninus held a number of official roles during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, including consul and proconsul, impressing Hadrian with his performance in these roles in Etruria and Asia. He married Hadrian's niece, Faustina, and following the death of Hadrian's first adopted son, Lucius Aelius Caesar, was adopted as Hadrian’s son and successor.

His own adoption by Hadrian was conditional on adopting future emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus as his own successors. 

On taking over from Hadrian, Antoninus persuaded the senate to convey divine honours on his predecessor. They in turn gave Antoninus the surname Pius.

A coin from the reign of Antoninus Pius. The head on the reverse is that of his son, Marcus Aurelius
A coin from the reign of Antoninus Pius. The head
on the reverse is that of his son, Marcus Aurelius 
When Faustina died in 141, Antoninus asked the senate to deify her as a goddess. He authorised the construction of a temple to be built in the Roman Forum in her name and in her memory founded the Puellae Faustinianae, a charitable institution for the daughters of the poor.

Much of Antoninus’s popularity stemmed from his skill as an administrator and his generosity.

Free access for Roman citizens to drinking water was expanded with the construction of aqueducts, not only in Rome but throughout the Empire. He also built bridges and roads, yet still managed to reach the end of his reign with a substantial treasury surplus. 

He suspended the collection of taxes from multiple cities affected by natural disasters such as the fires and floods and offered large financial grants for rebuilding and recovery of Greek cities after two serious earthquakes.

The health of Antoninus declined as he approached 70 years of age. He found it difficult to stand and often fell asleep during official meetings. Anticipating his death after contracting a fever at his ancestral estate at Lorium, about 19 km (12 miles) west of Rome, he summoned the imperial council and passed the state to Marcus Aurelius.

Antoninus's body was buried in Hadrian's mausoleum. Marcus and Lucius nominated their father for deification, a request granted readily by the senate.  A column dedicated to Antoninus on the Campus Martius and the temple he had built in the Forum in 141 to his deified wife Faustina was rededicated to Faustina and Antoninus.

The term Good Emperors was coined by the political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, who noted that while most emperors to succeed to the throne by birth were “bad” in his view, there was a run of five - Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, all of whom succeeded by adoption - who enjoyed the reputation as benevolent dictators, governing by earning the good will of their subjects.

The Torre Medievale was built in the ninth century to protect Lanuvio against Saracen attacks
The Torre Medievale was built in the ninth century
to protect Lanuvio against Saracen attacks
Travel tip:

The ancient Lanuvium, over which the present day town of Lanuvio is built, was a prosperous town under the Roman Empire but was destroyed by the Barbarians. Rebuilt in the 11th century, it was enriched by noble families such as the Cesarini and the Colonna. Situated in the Castelli Romani area south of Rome, Lanuvio has among its main visitor attractions the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, which has a rich history dating back to the 13th century and contains the Colonna family tombs. Lanuvio’s civic museum contains more than 2,000 artefacts from prehistoric, pre-Roman, Roman, and Mediaeval periods. Look out also for the Torre Medievale, a cylindrical tower in two graduated sections with an encircling walkway, thought to have been erected in the ninth century to protect against Saracen attacks. Today the tower is home to the Consortium Vini Colli Lanuvini, with a tasting room and information on the vintages.  Lanuvio is host to an annual Festa della Musica every June, and the Festa del Vino in September.

The Pantheon is the most notable survivor of the buildings that covered the Campus Martius
The Pantheon is the most notable survivor of the
buildings that covered the Campus Martius
Travel tip:

Campus Martius in Roman times was a floodplain of the Tiber river, covering the land to the east of the curve in the river that begins south of Piazza del Popolo and loops round to the Isola Tiberina. It was the site of the altar of Mars and the temple of Apollo in the 5th century BC, later being drained and used as a military exercise. From the first century BC, it became covered with large public buildings, including baths, an amphitheatre, theatres, a gymnasium, crematorium and many temples, of which The Pantheon is the most notable surviving structure. The district of Rome called Campo Marzio covers part of the area. Like many of the structures of ancient Rome, the Column of Antoninus Pius ultimately collapsed and became buried. The remains were discovered in 1703, when some buildings were demolished in the area of Montecitorio. The marble base was restored between 1706 and 1708 and erected in the centre of Piazza di Montecitorio in 1741, before being taken to the Vatican Museums in 1787. Today it occupies a space in the courtyard outside the entrance to the Vatican Pinacoteca.

Also on this day: 

1576: The murder of noblewoman Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo

1593: The death of artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo

1934: The birth of fashion designer Giorgio Armani


7 July 2024

Michele Amari – politician, historian, and writer

Scholarly revolutionary became a leading translator of mediaeval Arabic

Michele Amari embraced the  cause of Italian unification
Michele Amari embraced the 
cause of Italian unification
Patriotic Sicilian revolutionary Michele Amari was born on this day in 1806 in Palermo.

Amari published a history in 1842 of the War of the Sicilian Vespers, was a minister in the Sicilian revolutionary government in 1848, and was part of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s revolutionary cabinet in Sicily in 1860.

He embraced the cause of Italian unification and helped prepare Sicilians for the annexation of Sicily by the Kingdom of Sardinia. During his later years, he served as a Senator of the new Kingdom of Italy.

A grandson of the third Count Amari of Sant’Adriano, he grew up in an aristocratic household. The title had been acquired in 1772 by one of his ancestors, who had held the hereditary office of the administrator of the royal tobacco monopoly.

Michele Amari lived with his grandfather in the centre of Palermo after his father, Ferdinando, had financial problems caused by his gambling. Armari was educated in Palermo and one of his teachers was a leading Sicilian historian.

Amari’s father later introduced him to Francophile democratic circles in Palermo and secured him a position at the Ministry of the Interior in 1820.

After his grandfather died, Amari returned to live in his father’s house and he was involved, along with his father, in the uprising of the Carbonari in Palermo. The rebels were demanding Sicilian independence and a liberal constitution.

Amari served in the governments of Sicily and the unified Italy
Amari served in the governments
of Sicily and the unified Italy
Ferdinando Amari was initially sentenced to death in 1822 for his participation in the rebellion, but he was kept in prison instead until he was released in 1834. During those years, Michele Amari read widely about politics and published translations of English authors, at one point receiving a letter of thanks from Sir Walter Scott for his work.

By 1837, Amari had prepared an outline for his book investigating the War of the Sicilian Vespers between 1282 and 1302. The work was interpreted by many people as being a call to overthrow the Bourbon rule in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Amari was involved in health administration during an outbreak of cholera in 1837 and he was transferred to Naples in 1838, but the book was eventually released in 1842.

The title was deliberately understated to bypass censorship, but it rapidly won an audience in Sicily and on the mainland in Italy. This caused concern to the Neapolitan Government and Amari had to go into exile in Paris, where he moved in French liberal elite circles.

During the 1848 Sicilian revolution, Amari returned to the island to take up the Chair of Law at the University in Palermo. He was elected as a deputy in the Sicilian parliament and became Minister of Finance in the revolutionary government.

After lobbying for the recognition of the Sicilian state in Paris and London, he accepted an academic position at the University of Pisa.

The Villa Amari in Via Traversa was the family's home in Palermo
The Villa Amari in Via Traversa
was the family's home in Palermo
Amari returned to Sicily in 1860 after Garibaldi’s Expedition of The Thousand and campaigned among Sicilians for approval of the annexation of the island. Amari was appointed a senator of the Kingdom of Sicily in 1861, two months before the proclamation of the new Kingdom of Italy.

He served as Minister of Education in the Italian Government from 1862 until 1864 and lived at times in Florence, Rome, and Pisa. He died in Florence in 1889 and was later buried in Palermo, at the church of San Domenico.

Having mastered Arabic while living in Paris, Amari was a forerunner for Oriental studies in Italy and became recognised as one of the finest translators of mediaeval Arabic in Europe.

Pasta alla Norma, served in a sauce made from tomatoes and aubergine, is a typical Sicilian dish
Pasta alla Norma, served in a sauce made from
tomatoes and aubergine, is a typical Sicilian dish
Travel tip:

With an area of 10,000 square miles (26,000 sq km), and 620 miles of coastline, Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, just off the toe of Italy’s boot. The ancient ruins, diverse architecture and wonderful cuisine enjoyed by visitors are all testament to the island’s colourful history. It's two biggest cities are Palermo and Catania, while the among the biggest draws for tourists are the cities of the southeast of the island, such as Siracusa (Syracuse), Noto and Ragusa, famous for their stunning Sicilian Baroque architecture, the upmarket resort of Taormina, and the Greek temples at Agrigento. Watching over the east of the island is Mount Etna, a volcano that is still active today. 

Palermo's magnificent cathedral relects the diversity of architectural style on the island
Palermo's magnificent cathedral relects the
diversity of architectural style on the island
Travel tip:

Sicily’s capital city, Palermo, where Michele Amari was born and is buried, has a wealth of beautiful architecture, plenty of shops and markets, and is home to the largest opera house in Italy, the Teatro Massimo. Amari’s family residence, the baroque Villa Amari, was built in 1720 by the first Count of Armari in Via Traversa in the Piano dei Colli in Palermo. Palermo's architectural styles bear testament to a history of northern European and Arabian influences.  The church of San Cataldo on Piazza Bellini is a good example of the fusion of Norman and Arabic architectural styles, having a bell tower typical of those common in northern France but with three spherical red domes on the roof, while the city’s majestic Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary includes Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical elements. 

Also on this day:

1573: The death of architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola

1903: The birth of film director Vittorio De Sica

1911: The death of composer and librettist Gian Carlo Menotti

1990: Italy finished third in Italia '90 World Cup






30 June 2024

Latina - Fascist architectural showcase

First stone laid in city that rose from a swamp

Crowds gather in front of the Torre Civica for the inauguration of the new city
Crowds gather in front of the Torre Civica
for the inauguration of the new city
The project to build the new city of Latina in Lazio began with the laying of the first foundation stone on this day in 1932.

Originally called Littoria, a name derived from the fascio littorio, an ancient Roman symbol of power adopted by Benito Mussolini, Latina was built on land that was previously part of the virtually uninhabitable Pontine Marshes, south of Rome.

The Pontine Marshes was a vast swampland that had covered an area of more than 180 square miles (446 sq km) between the Volscian Mountains, the Alban Hills and the Tyrrhenian Sea for more than two thousand years. 

The area was totally infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes, whose presence made the disease so rife that anyone who visited the area was almost certain to catch it.

The northern extremities of the Marshes were little more than 70km (42 miles) from the capital and frequent outbreaks of malaria in Rome in the early 1930s forced the Fascist government to take action and implement a plan to drain the area, reclaim it as productive agricultural land and build new cities.

An aerial view of the city during the early stages of construction, with Piazza del Popolo the centrepiece
An aerial view of the city during the early stages of
construction, with Piazza del Popolo the centrepiece
They recruited an army of workers to clear scrubland, build canals, dykes and pumping stations, and build new cities, with Latina the showpiece. Conditions were grim for the workers involved in the project, and many quit soon after starting, yet others were brought in to take their place and the project was completed remarkably quickly.

Latina was built to a design commissioned from the Roman architect Oriolo Frezzotti. Architects and urban designers such as Marcello Piacentini, Angiolo Mazzoni and Duilio Cambellotti contributed to the creation of a modern city with broad thoroughfares, wide squares, and monumental buildings, mainly built along rationalist, neo-classical lines.

The city’s inauguration took place in December, 1932. Notable buildings constructed in the 1930s include the Cattedrale di San Marco, the Palazzo del Municipio with its 32m (105ft) Torre Civico overlooking the Piazza del Popolo, the Palazzo M in Corso della Republic - built in the shape of the letter ‘M’ after Mussolini - and the fountain in Piazza Libertà.

The first inhabitants were farmers from the north of Italy, mainly from Veneto and Friuli, who were promised land, houses and livestock in return for agreeing to relocate. Some 2,000 families had settled in Littoria by the time building work was completed in 1935.

Latina's duomo, the Cattedrale di San Marco, which was built in 1932
Latina's duomo, the Cattedrale di
San Marco, which was built in 1932
Given that the surrounding area was transformed from a inhospitable boggy wasteland to one of the most productive areas of agricultural territory in Italy, and its mosquito population vastly reduced, the project was undeniably a success, which Mussolini’s propaganda machine was only too keen to exploit.

Nonetheless, after World War Two and the fall of Fascism, Littoria was renamed Latina. Although the fascio littorio - an axe enclosed within a  bundle of wooden sticks tied together with leather strips - had its roots in ancient Rome, its adoption by Mussolini somewhat tarnished its history.

The word fascio became part of the language of Italian politics in the late 19th century, when it was normally applied to radical, social-revolutionary groups, the bundle symbolising unity. Mussolini’s Fasci italiani di combattimento evolved into the National Fascist Party.

Nowadays, Latina is a city of more than 120,000 inhabitants, making it the second largest city in Lazio after Rome itself.

It has a modern economy based on pharmaceutical, chemical and cheese exports. Yet the town's Fascist past is still perfectly preserved and the fascio littorio is displayed in many architectural features.

The Opera Nazionale Combattenti building, which now houses a museum of the area's history
The Opera Nazionale Combattenti building, which
now houses a museum of the area's history
Travel tip:

The historic headquarters of the Opera Nazionale Combattenti, the body that was responsible for the reclamation of the Pontine countryside,  located in Piazza del Quadrato in Latina, now houses a museum, the Museo della Terra Pontina. The museum traces the history of the Agro Pontino - the Pontine Plain - in the 20th century and displays around 1,000 artefacts. The building, built in 1932 in common with the rest of ​​the piazza, was one of the first creations in Littoria by the architect Oriolo Frezzotti. Some of the rooms in the museum are set out as they would have been in a typical farmhouse occupied by the settlers from northern Italy who helped to turn the reclaimed land into a thriving agricultural area.

The Fontana del Grano in Piazza della Libertà
The Fontana del Grano in
Piazza della Libertà
Travel tip:

Latina’s Piazza della Libertà is a good example of the wide squares characteristic of the look Mussolini's architects were trying to achieve in the new city. It features a fountain in the centre of the square, characterized by a double system of basins, surmounted by a bundle of ears of corn, which serves as a symbol of the redemption of the Agro Pontino and the victory of the reclamation of the marshlands.  Around the square are Carabinieri Barracks, built in 1932 and remodelled in the 1970s and 1980s, and various office buildings in the rationalist style, housing branches of the Compagnia Assicuratrice Milano and of the Riunione Adriatica Sicurtà, complete with Venetian lion, plus the Istituto Nazionales delle Assicurazione (INA) building and the former seat of the Bank of Italy.

Also on this day:

First Martyrs’ Day

1916: The birth of actor Mario Carotenuto

1961: The birth of novelist Gianrico Carofiglio

1986: The birth of heiress Allegra Versace


10 June 2024

Mercurino Arborio di Gattinara – politician and cardinal

Lawyer and strategist dreamt of a united Europe ruled by the Emperor

As adviser to Emperor Charles V, Gattinara wielded huge influence
As adviser to future Emperor Charles V,
Gattinara wielded huge influence
Influential statesman and political adviser Mercurino Arborio di Gattinara was born on this day in 1465 in Gattinara in Piedmont.

Gattinara became Grand Chancellor to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and, despite being a layman who had never been ordained as a priest, he was created a cardinal.

He was one of the most important men active in politics of his time and he set out to centralise power in Germany and make the Holy Roman Empire a moral and political arbiter for all the kingdoms and principalities in Europe.

Born in his family’s home in Gattinara, he was the eldest son of Paolo Arborio di Gattinara and Felicità Ranzo, who was from an important family in Vercelli.

After his father’s death, Gattinara had to interrupt his studies for financial reasons and went to Vercelli to practise with his father’s cousin, who was a notary.

He was able to resume his law studies at the University of Turin after marrying Andreetta Avogadro and using her dowry to pay for his studies. After obtaining his doctorate, he practised law in Turin.

In 1501, he became adviser to Duchess Margherita of Hapsburg, the daughter of Emperor Maximilian 1 of Hapsburg. Margherita was married to Duke Philibert II of Savoy and the work he did for her enabled her to obtain for the rest of her life the administration of Romont, Villars and Bresse. The Duchess appointed Gattinara as tax lawyer and president of Bresse.

Charles V was crowned Emperor in 1530
Charles V was crowned
Emperor in 1530
When King Philip of Castile died, he left six young children, among whom was the future Emperor Charles V. Margherita, who was their aunt, asked Gattinara to organise their education on behalf of their grandfather, the Emperor Maximilian. 

Margherita was also given the task of governing Burgundy by Emperor Maximilian and on her behalf, Gattinara began negotiations that would lead to the formation of the League of Cambrai.

He also wrote an operetta dedicated to the young Charles, in which he presented his theories on universal monarchy.

After Charles became King of Castile and Aragon, he appointed Gattinara as his adviser. When the Emperor Maximilian I died, Gattinara ensured Charles had support from the prince electors for his accession to the imperial throne.

Gattinara was the adviser to Charles V during the Italian Wars between 1521 and 1526 and he reorganised the imperial army and its finances. He wrote a treatise on good government and was created a cardinal in 1529, despite having no background in the church. 

After Charles V was crowned emperor in the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna in 1530, Gattinara left Italy to attend the Diet of Augsburg, which was convened on the emperor’s behalf to quell growing religious tensions in Europe.

Gattinara died in Innsbruck while he was on the way to Augsburg on June 5, 1530.  His remains were taken to Gattinara and buried in the parish church of San Pietro.

He had worked up to 18 hours a day to fulfil his vision of a united Europe and he could express himself in Italian, Spanish, French, German and Dutch, skills which were particularly appreciated at the court of the Emperor Charles V. 

The Torre delle Castelle overlooks Gattinara
The Torre delle Castelle
overlooks Gattinara
Travel tip:

Gattinara is a small town in the province of Vercelli in Piedmont, about 35km (22 miles) northwest of the city of Novara, whose province it borders. Situated in the lower part of the picturesque Valsesia, it has an historic centre where the Church of San Pietro, the last resting place of Mercurino di Gattinara, is situated. The church dates back to 1147. The town is known for its prestigious red wine, Gattinara, which has been given the status of DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). The town is overlooked by the massive Torre delle Castelle, all that remains of an ancient mediaeval fortified complex built around the 11th century, which tops a hill to the northwest of the town. The tower has become a symbol of the town.

The Mole Antonelliana is an unmissable feature of the skyline of Piedmont's capital, Turin
The Mole Antonelliana is an unmissable feature
of the skyline of Piedmont's capital, Turin
Travel tip:

The University of Turin, where Mercurino di Gattinara studied for his degree, is one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1406 by Prince Ludovico di Savoia. The main university buildings are in Via Giuseppe Verdi, close to Turin’s famous Mole Antonelliana, an architectural landmark first conceived as a synagogue, before being bought by the city and declared a monument to national unity. Designed and started by architect Alessandro Antonelli in 1863, but not completed until 1889, it rises to a height of 167.5m (550ft). A lift, which was originally installed in 1961 during celebrations to mark the centenary of the Italian Unification and renovated in 1999, allows visitors to reach a panoramic terrace 85m (279ft) above the ground to take in extraordinary views of the city and the surrounding Alps.

Also on this day: 

1918: The death of writer and composer Arrigo Boito

1940: Italy enters World War Two

1959: The birth of football coach Carlo Ancelotti



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


2 June 2024

Battle of Marino

Bloody fight that entrenched rival factions in Catholic Church

Robert of Geneva, rival pope to Urban VI
Robert of Geneva, rival
pope to Urban VI
Giacomo Orsini, a member of the Orsini family of Rome that produced five popes between the eighth and 18th centuries, stormed the Castle of Marino - in the area south of Rome known as the Castelli Romani - on this day in 1379, bringing a decisive conclusion to a military battle that would end any hopes that the 1378 split in the Catholic Church might be quickly resolved.

The Battle of Marino was fought between armies loyal to Pope Urban VI, the former Archbishop of Bari who had been elected as successor to Pope Gregory XI, and the antipope Clement VII, who had set up rival courts a year earlier following the split that became known as the Great Schism or Western Schism.

The papacy had only just been returned to Rome by Gregory XI from Avignon in France following a fragmentation that had occurred 70 years earlier but the election of Bartolomeo Prignano to rule as Urban VI reignited the division.

Urban VI was hostile toward the French cardinals who had gained significant power during the Avignon years and wanted the papal court to remain in the city in southeastern France.

Those cardinals, fearing that they would become marginalised, responded by declaring that Urban VI’s election was invalid due to having taken place in a climate of fear and instead elected Robert of Geneva to lead the church as Pope Clement VII.

The two rival factions assembled armies. The troops backing Urban VI were mainly Italian mercenaries under the command of Alberico da Barbiano, while the anti-papal army consisted of French mercenaries led by the Count of Montjoie.

The scene of the Battle of Marino, fought to the  south of Rome, as it looks in the present day
The site of the Battle of Marino, fought to the 
south of Rome, as it looks in the present day
They faced each other in the Battle of Marino, fought in the valley east of the town that is now known as the Valley of the Dead, perhaps on account of the bloody battle fought there.

Victory went to the Italians, the battle concluded when the Castle of Marino - on the site of  which the Palazzo Colonna now stands - was besieged by papal troops. The fact that the castle was commanded by Giordano Orsini, a supporter of the antipope, yet the papal soldiers who took it on June 2, 1379 were led by Giordano's son Giacomo, illustrates how the split in the church also divided families. 

Following the defeat of his army, Clement VII, who had based himself in Anagni, 72km (45 miles) southeast of Rome, felt vulnerable and fled Anagni first for Sperlonga, then Gaeta, finally landing in  Naples.

He was received well by Queen Joanna I of Naples, who afforded him great respect, but in the streets he found himself confronted by angry mobs declaring their support for “Papa Urbano". He returned to Gaeta, where he boarded a ship that would ultimately take him to Avignon.

The Western Schism, also known as the Great Schism, would last from 1378 to 1417, a tumultuous period in which there were two - later three - rival popes, each claiming to be the legitimate pontiff.

The division was finally ended by The Council of Constance, which met over a period of four years between 1414 and 1418, eventually finding a mutually acceptable pope in Oddone Colonna, a Roman, who was elected as Pope Martin V. 

Via Roma in Marino, looking  towards Palazzo Colonna
Via Roma in Marino, looking
 towards Palazzo Colonna
Travel tip:

Marino today is a town in Lazio, set among the Alban Hills, 21 km (13 miles) southeast of Rome, with a population of 37,684. It is bounded by the towns of Castel Gandolfo, Albano Laziale, Rocca di Papa, Grottaferrata, and Ciampino.  Marino is famous for its white wine, and for its Grape Festival, which has been celebrated since 1924.  Marino suffered extensive damage during World War Two. In 1944 it was heavily bombed by aircraft from the United States Air Force and in the spring of 1945 it was the scene of heavy fighting between troops of the British Indian Army and Axis troops which caused much of the city to be destroyed.  As well as the Palazzo Colonna, built on the site of the former castle, Marino's  main sights include the Basilica of San Barnaba, built in Baroque style, with an imposing façade dating to 1653. Among other works of art, it houses the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew by Guercino and a bust of St. Anthony Abbot by Ercole Ferrata.

The former palace of Boniface VIII in the town of Anagni, which has produced four popes
The former palace of Boniface VIII in the
town of Anagni, which has produced four popes
Travel tip:

Anagni is an ancient town in the province of Frosinone in Lazio, built on a hillI above the Sacco Valley, southeast of Rome. It is in an area known as Ciociaria, named after the primitive footwear - ciocie - favoured for many years by people living in the area. It was a papal residence in the Middle Ages and the birthplace of no fewer than four popes: Innocent III, Gregory IX, Alexander IV, and Boniface VIII. With the death of Boniface VIII, the power of the town declined. The mediaeval Palace of Boniface VIII is near the Cathedral. Among sights worth seeking out is the majestic cathedral of Santa Maria Annunziata, built with a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles and completed in 1104, which stands out as a city’s symbol and seat of the local diocese, with a steeple about 30m (98ft) high. The crypt of San Magno is sometimes called the 'Sistine Chapel of the Middle Age', owing to its  fresco cycle with images telling about the genesis of the world, the creation of humans and their salvation, as well as the lives and miracles of the Saint and other martyrs.

Also on this day: 

1882: The death of unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi

1957: The birth of cycle racer Roberto Visentini

Festa della Repubblica 


10 May 2024

William II - Sicily’s last Norman king

Young monarch who enjoyed prosperous reign

Images of William II of Sicily, such as the above, can be found in the mosaics at Monreale cathedral
Images of William II of Sicily, such as the above,
can be found in the mosaics at Monreale cathedral 
William II, the last Norman king of Sicily, succeeded his father, William I, as the island’s monarch on this day in 1166.

The succession was brought about by the death of his father. William II was only 12 years old at the time and was placed under the regency of his mother before ruling in person from his 18th birthday in 1171.

History does not remember him as a particularly effective ruler, certainly not able to arrest the decline of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, but he became known posthumously as William the Good on account of the peace and prosperity that the kingdom enjoyed during his 23-year reign.

This was largely a result of his policy of clemency and justice toward the towns and the barons, in contrast with his father’s time, when the rebellious barons across Sicily grew more powerful and demanded greater autonomy from the crown.

The new king spent much of his time in seclusion, enjoying the pleasures of  palace life at Palermo, where his court became a centre of culture and learning, attracting scholars, poets, and artists from across Europe and the Arab world.  

His own contributions to the cultural and architectural heritage of the island include commissioning the magnificent cathedral at Monreale, just outside Palermo, which is considered one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture in the world. One of the chapels contains a statute of William II dedicating the church to the Virgin Mary.

In contrast with his domestic policies, which seemed mainly to be focussed on keeping the barons happy, William II's foreign policy was ambitious. 

He maintained his father’s friendship with Pope Alexander III and with the Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenus. However, in 1172, when the proposed marriage of William to Manuel’s daughter, Maria, was vetoed by the emperor, William immediately turned against the Byzantines.

William II's dedication statue in
a chapel in Monreale cathedral
In 1177 he concluded a truce with his father’s old enemy, the German king Frederick I Barbarossa, who had been defeated by the Lombard League at Legnano in 1176 and no longer seemed dangerous to Sicily.

In June 1185, William commenced a military campaign against the Byzantines. His forces crossed Macedonia and captured Thessalonica (modern Salonika), but when his fleet was in sight of Constantinople (now Istanbul), his army was ambushed and defeated. 

William attempted to strengthen ties with other states through marriage and alliances, notably his own marriage in February 1177 to Joan, daughter of King Henry II of England and Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine. This underpinned his status as a major player in European politics.

He also showed his diplomatic skills by negotiating treaties with Genoa and Venice in 1174 and 1175, strengthening Sicily’s importance in the Mediterranean political landscape.

William II died in November 1189 at the age of 36. He had no heir, which led to a succession crisis. He had previously appointed his aunt Constance as his heir, but this decision paved the way for the eventual rise of the Hohenstaufen dynasty through her marriage to Henry VI, son of Frederick Barbarossa.

After William’s death, Norman officials supported his cousin Tancred to succeed him, instead of Constance.

Under the Normans, the Kingdom of Sicily, which included the bottom third of the Italian peninsula as well as the island of Sicily itself, had reached its cultural, economic, and military zenith under the rule of Roger II, William II’s grandfather, but by the time Tancred came to power its decline had set in.

The kingdom's administration suffered economic challenges, not least because of the costs of William’s foreign escapades, while discontent among the powerful barons continued to fester, leading to internal strife and weakening the central authority of the kingdom.

In 1191, Henry VI, King of Germany and newly anointed Holy Roman Emperor,invaded on behalf of his wife. He had to retreat after his attack failed with the siege of Naples, but Tancred died in 1194 and the kingdom fell in 1194 to the House of Hohenstaufen. 

William III of Sicily, the young son of Tancred, was deposed, and Henry and Constance were crowned as king and queen. 

Monreale's Cattedrale di Santa Maria Nuova is considered a masterpiece of Norman architecture
Monreale's Cattedrale di Santa Maria Nuova is
considered a masterpiece of Norman architecture
Travel tip:

The town of Monreale is located on the slope of Monte Caputo, overlooking a valley known as La Conca d'oro (the Golden Shell), which produces and exports orange, olive and almond trees. It can be found approximately 10km (six miles) inland from Palermo, to the southwest. The town is famous for its cathedral, which is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture anywhere in the world and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The cathedral combines Norman, Byzantine, Italian, and Saracen architectural styles, making it one of the most beautiful churches in Italy.  It is particularly famous for its stunning mosaics. Monreale became an important ecclesiastical center after the Norman conquest in 1072.  William II chose the area as a hunting resort. Today, the town itself serves as a market centre for the agricultural produce of the surrounding valley.

One face of the Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo
One face of the Palazzo dei
Normanni in Palermo
Travel tip:

Palermo’s Palazzo dei Normanni (Norman Palace) is also called the Royal Palace of Palermo. It was the seat of the Kings of Sicily and served afterwards as the main seat of power for the subsequent rulers of Sicily. Today, the Sicilian Regional Assembly has its home there.  The building, originally built as a castle, is the oldest royal residence in Europe; it was the private residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Sicily and the imperial seat of Frederick II and Conrad IV.  After the Normans invaded Sicily in 1072 (just six years after they conquered England) and established Palermo as the capital of the new County of Sicily, the palace was chosen as the main residence of the kings. In 1132 King Roger II added the famous Cappella Palatina to the complex.

Also on this day:

1548: The birth of Doge of Venice Antonio Priuli

1784: The birth of military general Carlo Filangieri

1922: The birth of journalist Antonio Ghirelli

1931: The birth of screenwriter and director Ettore Scola

1949: The birth of fashion designer Miuccia Prada


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

Festa della Liberazione

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