Showing posts with label Journalists. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Journalists. Show all posts

3 December 2023

Nino Martoglio - writer, theatre and film director

Journalist and playwright whose movies inspired post-war neorealism 

Nino Martoglio is considered by some as the founder of Sicilian theatre
Nino Martoglio is considered by some
as the founder of Sicilian theatre
The journalist, playwright and theatre and film director Nino Martoglio was born in Belpasso, a town in the foothills of volcanic Mount Etna in eastern Sicily, on this day in 1870.

Martoglio is widely considered to be Sicily’s finest dialect playwright and by some to be the founder of Sicilian theatre.  He was also an acclaimed poet, basing a good deal of his verse on the everyday conversations of working class Sicilians, written to amuse. His collection, Centona, is still sold today.

Later in a career that was ended abruptly by his death in an accident, Martoglio directed a number of silent films, the style of some of which prompted critics to describe them as forerunners of the post-war neorealism movement.

The son of a journalist and a school teacher, Martoglio studied sailing as a young man and obtained a captain’s licence. Yet he sought a career in journalism and joined the editorial staff of La Gazzetta di Catania, a daily newspaper founded by his father, Luigi.

In 1889, he launched a weekly magazine, D’Artagnan, a Sicilian language periodical devoted to art, literature and theatre, sharp political satire and the plight of the people of Civita, a poor neighbourhood in Catania which suffered particular deprivation. It also proved to be a useful vehicle for the poems that would eventually be gathered together in the Centona collection.

Theatre began to occupy most of Martoglio's attention from around the turn of the century. In 1901, he created the Sicilian Dramatic Company, which thanks to the talents of actors such as Angelo Musco, Giovanni Grasso, Virginia Balistrieri and others enjoyed success with Sicilian language productions even in Milan, where they performed at the Teatro Manzoni in 1903. The company’s productions of comedies written by a young Sicilian playwright, Pier Maria Rosso di San Secondo, were especially popular, among them San Giovanni Decapitato - Saint John the Beheaded - which he later turned into a film.

Martoglio staged the first theatrical works of Luigi Pirandello (above)
Martoglio staged the first theatrical
works of Luigi Pirandello (above)
Martoglio’s work became still more widely known after he moved to Rome in 1904, having become unhappy with the political climate in Sicily, where he had been elected a municipal councillor in Catania. In the capital, he met and married Elvira Schiavazzi, the sister of Piero Schiavazzi, a Sardinian tenor. They would go on to have four children. 

In 1910, he founded the first "Teatro Minimo" in Rome at the Teatro Metastasio. He staged one-act plays from the Italian and foreign repertoire, as well as bringing to the stage the first theatrical works of Luigi Pirandello, by then famous as a novelist and a future Nobel Prize winner. Their collaborations included A vilanza (la bilancia) and Cappidazzu pava tutu.

Martoglio’s venture into cinema spanned two years from 1913-14. He directed the actress Pina Menichelli, one of the so-called ‘three divas’ of Italian silent movies, in Il romanzo and followed it with Capitan Blanco, Sperduti nel buio, for which he wrote the screenplay and directed in collaboration with Roberto Danesi, and Teresa Raquin.  

All his screen work emphasised the gulf in Italian society between wealth and poverty and Sperduti nel buio - Lost in the Dark - which starred Grasso and Balistrieri - veterans of Martoglio’s original company in Catania - came to be regarded as a classic of the silent film era, representative of a small number of films that made up the realismo movement in Italian cinema. 

In the 1930s, the film critic and lecturer Umberto Barbaro enthusiastically showed Sperduti nel buio in his classes at Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, where his students included Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti, who would go on to become leading figures in the neorealism film movement after the Second World War.

The bust of Martoglio in the Bellini Gardens
The bust of Martoglio
in the Bellini Gardens
Martoglio’s death at the age of 50 remains something of a mystery.  After visiting the Vittorio Emanuele II Hospital in Catania on the evening of 15 September, 1921, to see one of his sons, who was being treated there, Martoglio’s body was found the following morning at the bottom of an elevator shaft in part of the hospital that was under construction.  Although there were no witnesses, the assumption was that he had suffered a tragic accident, perhaps after getting lost as he tried to find the way out. 

His body was laid to rest at the Campo Verano monumental cemetery in the Tiburtino quarter in Rome, not far from the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le mura. The cemetery is notable as the burial place of hundreds of illustrious figures from the artistic, historical, literary, musical and cinematographic world.  

Although his films were lost, presumably stolen or destroyed during World War Two, Martoglio’s nieces, Vincenza and Angela, took steps to preserve their uncle’s manuscripts.  There is a monumental bust of him in the Bellini Gardens in Catania, a short distance from the Teatro Metropolitan. 

The Teatro Comunale Nino Martoglio in Belpasso
The Teatro Comunale Nino
Martoglio in Belpasso
Travel tip:

The town of Belpasso, where Martoglio was born, has a population of 28,000. Located about 10km (six miles) northwest of the city of Catania, it has something of a chequered history, having twice been destroyed by the forces of nature and repositioned in consequence. In 1669, it was buried in lava following an eruption of the Mount Etna volcano which looms over Catania. Rebuilt in another location at a lower level, it was then badly damaged by an earthquake in 1693 and abandoned. The current settlement was founded two years later at a third site. Today, it is best known as the home of Condorelli, one of Sicily’s most famous brands of confectionary, biscuits and cakes. Nino Martoglio’s name is preserved in the Teatro Comunale Nino Martoglio, the town’s municipal theatre, in Via XII Traversa.

The port city of Catania, the second largest city in Sicily, with a snow-capped Etna in the distance
The port city of Catania, the second largest city
in Sicily, with a snow-capped Etna in the distance
Travel tip:

The city of Catania, which is located on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea, is one of the ten biggest cities in Italy, and the seventh largest metropolitan area in the country, with a population including the environs of 1.12 million. Twice destroyed by earthquakes, in 1169 and 1693, it can be compared in some respects with Naples, which sits in the shadow of Vesuvius, in that it lives with the constant threat of a natural catastrophe.  As such it has always been a city for living life to the full. In the Renaissance, it was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres and enjoys a rich cultural legacy today, with numerous museums and churches, theatres and parks and many restaurants.  It is also notable for many fine examples of the Sicilian Baroque style of architecture, including the beautiful Basilica della Collegiata, with its six stone columns and the concave curve of its façade.

Also on this day:

1596: The birth of violin maker Nicolò Amati 

1779: The birth of Tuscan painter Matilde Malenchini

1911: The birth of composer Nino Rota

1917: The death in WW1 of champion cyclist Carlo Oriani

1937: The birth of actress Angela Luce

1947: The birth of controversial politician Mario Borghezio


24 May 2023

Ilaria Alpi - investigative journalist

TV reporter murdered in Somalia ambush

Ilaria Alpi's reports from war zones in Africa and the Middle East were a feature of Tg3 news coverage
Ilaria Alpi's reports from war zones in Africa and
the Middle East were a feature of Tg3 news coverage
The TV journalist Ilaria Alpi, who with her Italian cameraman Miran Hrovatin was murdered while reporting from war-torn Somalia in the early 1990s, was born on this day in 1961 in Rome.

Alpi, who was in Somalia for Italy’s national broadcaster Rai as the United Nations attempted to end a three-year long civil war in the country, was killed near the Hotel Sahafi, which was the international media base in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

The pick-up in which she and Hrovatin were travelling was at a crossroads about 4.5km (2.8 miles) from the Sahafi when a Land Rover pulled across their path, forcing their vehicle to stop. At this point a gunman or several gunmen - as many as seven, some reports said - began shooting. Alpi and Hrovatin died at the scene, although their driver and three armed bodyguards escaped unhurt.

The murders shocked Italy, where viewers had been used to seeing Alpi’s reports on the Tg3 news programmes from Lebanon and Kuwait as well as Somalia. She had a deep knowledge of the area and was fluent in Arabic languages.

She had been in Somalia regularly to report on the United Nations’ attempts to bring order and peace to the country via Restore Hope, a peacekeeping mission launched in response to the civil war that had been ongoing for a number of years. 

What was to be her final, fateful visit had begun only two weeks earlier when she was sent to cover the effective abandonment of the mission with the withdrawal of the American contingent, ordered by President Clinton following an escalation in UN casualties. 

Alpi with her regular cameraman Miran Hrovatin, who also died in the attack
Alpi with her regular cameraman Miran
Hrovatin, who also died in the attack
A former Italian colony, Somalia became a fully independent country in 1960 but retained close ties with Italy afterwards, thanks to a number of Italian citizens living in the country, many with business interests there. 

Although the motive for the murders of Alpi and Hrovatin have never been established (and a Somali suspect convicted of the killings eventually released and compensated for wrongful imprisonment), it is thought that parallel to her coverage of the UN peace mission, Alpi had been investigating suspected illegal arms trafficking between Italy and Somalia as well as the dumping of toxic and even nuclear waste shipped from Italy.

In the days before the murders, she and Hrovatin had travelled almost 1,400 miles north to the port of Bosaso on the Gulf of Aden to interview Abdullah Moussa Bohor, a local so-called sultan.

Alpi had reportedly told the newsroom at Tg3 to expect to receive interviews she had conducted, the content of which was “too big and important” to discuss on the telephone.

On the afternoon of Sunday, March 20, 1994, witnesses who recall speaking to Alpi at the Hotel Sahafi said that she left hurriedly to see a contact at another hotel in the north of Mogadishu and that it was on her way back from this meeting that she was gunned down.

Alpi had been a student of Arabic and Islamic culture before she became a journalist
Alpi had been a student of Arabic and Islamic
culture before she became a journalist
Although extensive investigations followed the killing, in Somalia and involving the Italian government and the police forces of Rome, where Alpi was resident, and Hrovatin’s home town of Trieste, the circumstances and motives have never been established.

The most popular theory was that Bohor had told them about an Italian-Somalian fishing company whose vessels had been involved in shipping arms from factories in northern Italy to be sold illegally to Somali’s armed militia groups, as well as transferring toxic waste to be buried in the desert, and that they had even been shown one of the vessels.

The theory was reinforced by the presence at the murder scene soon after the shooting had taken place of an Italian entrepreneur based in Mogadishu with previous links to the arms trade in Somalia. The bodies of Alpi and Hrovatin were removed from the scene on one of his trucks prior to their return to Italy.  Notebooks and video cassettes that were among the possessions recovered at the scene had mysteriously disappeared by the time the bodies arrived in Rome.

The entrepreneur, who was never accused of any crime in relation to his presence, allegedly offered a view that the attack was unlikely to have been an attempt to steal their truck, as was reported at the time, but that the two journalists had “probably seen something they were not meant to see”.

Alpi’s parents, Giorgio and Luciana, both of whom are now dead, campaigned tirelessly to find the truth about what happened to their daughter.

Many parts of Mogadishu still bear the scars of  years of conflict in the Somalian region
Many parts of Mogadishu still bear the scars of 
years of conflict in the Somalian region
A Somali citizen, Hashi Omar Hassan, was convicted of the murders in Rome in 2000 and sentenced to 26 years in jail only for the conviction to be overturned 16 years later. Hassan was awarded compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

A further twist involved an Italian secret service operative, Vincenzo Li Causi, who had died in mysterious circumstances a few months earlier. Li Causi, a contact of Alpi, was a member of Gladio, the undercover operation set up by the Americans to remain in Italy after World War Two, primarily as a bulwark against the potential advance of communism in the country.

Alpi entered journalism after graduating from Rome’s Sapienza University, where she studied literature and languages and Islamic culture. Fluent in English, French and Arabic, she freelanced for various newspapers and radio stations before being appointed as a correspondent in Cairo for the newspapers Paese Sera and L’Unità.

She joined Rai in 1990, initially for the RaiSat international channel before being assigned to Tg3, the news arm of Rai Tre.

Ilaria Alpi’s memory lives on in a large number of streets, squares, gardens and buildings carrying her name and that of her cameraman Miran Hrovatin in towns and cities across Italy.

In popular culture, numerous books have been written and films made about her life, including the award-winning Ilaria Alpi - Il più crudele dei giorni (Ilaria Alpi - The Cruellest of Days), directed by Ferdinando Vicentini Orgnani and starring Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Ilaria.

An Ilaria Alpi Prize was established for the best Italian television investigations dedicated to the themes of peace and solidarity.

The University of Rome was given a modern new campus designed by Marcello Piacentini
The University of Rome was given a modern
new campus designed by Marcello Piacentini
Travel tip:

The University of Rome, where Ilaria Alpi studied, is often referred to as the Sapienza University of Rome or simply La Sapienza, meaning 'knowledge'. It was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII, as a place for  ecclesiastical studies over which he could exert greater control than the already established universities of Bologna and Padua. The first pontifical university, it expanded in the 15th century to include schools of Law, Medicine, Philosophy and Theology. Money raised from a new tax on wine enabled the University to buy a palace, which later housed the Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza church. The University was closed during the sack of Rome in 1527 but reopened by Pope Paul III in 1534. In 1870, La Sapienza ceased to be the papal university and as the university of the capital of Italy became recognised as the country's most prestigious seat of learning. A new modern campus was built in 1935 under the guidance of the architect Marcello Piacentini.

The headquarters building of Rai, Italy's national TV network, in Rome's Viale Mazzini
The headquarters building of Rai, Italy's national
TV network, in Rome's Viale Mazzini
Travel tip:

The Rome headquarters of Rai, Italy’s national television network, can be found in Viale Giuseppe Mazzini, where the company has been based since 1966. It is in the elegant neighbourhood called Della Vittoria, immediately north of the Prati neighbourhood, which contains the Stadio Olimpico. Originally called Milvio when it was established in 1921 and was given its present name only in 1935 to honour Italy’s victory in the First World War. Many of the area’s streets are named after heroes of the Risorgimento and the First World War. Piazza Mazzini, the area’s most important square, is just a few steps from the Rai building, in front of which is a striking bronze horse by the Sicilian sculptor Francesco Messina. The sculpture was meant to represent power and strength, yet is now commonly known as ‘the dying horse’ after a journalist wrongly thought the signs of deterioration were meant to be wounds, creating an alternative name that caught on.

Also on this day: 

1494: The birth of painter Jacopo Carucci di Pontormo

1671: The birth of Gian Gastone de’ Medici

1751: The birth of Charles Emmanuel IV, King of Sardinia

1847: The birth of inventor Alessandro Cruto

1949: The birth of film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis

1981: The birth of TV chef Simone Rugiati


19 April 2023

Lilli Gruber - groundbreaking TV journalist

Writer and broadcaster was first female to host prime time news bulletin

Lilli Gruber today conducts the current affairs talk show Otto e Mezzo on Italy's La7 channel
Lilli Gruber today conducts the current affairs
talk show Otto e Mezzo on Italy's La7 channel
The journalist Lilli Gruber, who in 1987 became the first woman to be appointed anchor of a prime time news show on Italian public television, was born on this day in 1957 in Bolzano.

In a distinguished career, as well as being the face of major news programmes for the national broadcaster Rai, Gruber has reported on many major international stories as a foreign correspondent, presented shows on German television, served as a Member of the European Parliament for five years, and written many books.

Since leaving politics in 2008, she has been the host of the long-running political talk show, Otto e Mezzo, on the Rome-based independent TV channel La7.

Nicknamed La Rossa both for her red hair and her political views, Gruber was born Dietlinde Gruber into a German-speaking family in Bolzano, the provincial capital of South Tyrol in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northeast Italy, which borders Austria and Switzerland.

It was her father, Alfred, an entrepreneur, who gave her the pet name Lilli, which stayed with her into adulthood.

Educated partly in Verona, where her father built up a business making machinery for the construction industry, and in the town of Egna, near Bolzano, where she attended a language school, Gruber graduated in foreign languages and literature from the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, before embarking on a journalistic career in her home region.

Alongside reporting for the regional newspapers L’Adige and Alto Adige, she gained some television experience with the local channel, Telebolzano, before landing a job on Rai Südtirol, also known as Sender Bozen, a German language channel for Trentino-Alto Adige, where despite being part of Italy, around a third of the population speak German.

Gruber made Italian TV history in 1987 as the first female journalist to host a prime time news show
Gruber made Italian TV history in 1987 as the first
female journalist to host a prime time news show
From there, she moved to the Bolzano office of TGR, the regional news arm of Rai, and in 1984 was recruited as a reporter for TG2, which was responsible for news programming on Rai Due.

Her career flourished under the guidance of Antonio Ghirelli, TG2’s editor and a major figure in Italian journalism. As a foreign correspondent, Gruber reported in 1989 on the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, an experience that would become the subject of her first book, Quei giorni a Berlin - Those Days in Berlin - which was published in 1990.

In the meantime, Ghirelli had enabled her to make history by handing her the job of anchoring TG2’s main evening news programme, which aired at 7.45pm each weekday evening. The move broke new ground, Gruber’s professionalism meaning that what had been a glass ceiling on the career progression of women in Italian TV news coverage was shattered.

Her career soon continued on its steep ascent with a move to Rai’s flagship channel, Rai Uno, where she again combined foreign assignments with hosting. She became anchor for TG1’s main eight o’clock evening news programme while also reporting on the conflicts in Yugoslavia and Iraq and the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in the United States.

It was while in Baghdad to report on the second Iraq war that she met Jacques Charmelot, a French journalist she would later marry.

Gruber was elected an MEP in the 2004 elections
Gruber was elected an MEP
in the 2004 elections
Gruber’s decision to pursue a career in politics was rooted in her opposition to the restrictions on freedom of information introduced by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi after his return to power in 2001.  By curbing their rights of access to information, Berlusconi made it more difficult for journalists to call out corruption and maladministration in government departments.

Gruber allied herself to the Uniti nell’Ulivo coalition, a centre-left alliance, and was elected as an MEP for central Italy in the July elections of 2004. She quickly became an effective politician, joining the parliamentary group of the European Socialist Party, becoming president of the delegation for relations with the Gulf States, a member of Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and of the delegation for relations with Iran. She also became a member of the EU’s Ethics Commission.

Yet she missed journalism and when an offer was made by the ambitious management of La7, which has become Italy’s largest TV company outside the auspices of Rai or Berlusconi’s Mediaset, to front their evening political debate, Otto e Mezzo, she felt she could not turn it down.

A versatile presenter fluent in four languages - Italian, German, French and English - she has also worked for a number of German TV companies and conducted an exclusive interview with the Italian actress, Sophia Loren, for the American network, CBS.

Famed for her dogged questioning in interviews with political figures, Gruber also became known as a stylish dresser, often presenting the news in tailored Armani suits. She became friends with Giorgio Armani, the designer who founded the brand in 1975 and who designed the honey-coloured gown she wore at her wedding to Charmelot in Montagna, a village near Bolzano, in 2000.

Gruber’s books have drawn on her experiences in journalism but also her passionate interest in women’s rights, particularly the rights of women in Islamic societies. Her book I miei giorni a Baghdad - My Days in Baghdad - sold more than 100,000 copies.

More recently, she has written a trilogy of novels about the history of her family and of South Tyrol between the 19th and 20th centuries, entitled Eredità (Inheritance), Inganno (Deceit) and Tempesta (Storm). 

The city of Bolzano sits in a wide valley in the
Alpine region of Trentino-Alto Adige (Südtirol)
Travel tip:

Gruber’s home city of Bolzano is the capital of the South Tyrol region of what is now northern Italy, also known as Alto Adige. Occupying a valley flanked by hills covered in lush vineyards, it has a population of 108,000, swelling to 250,000 with all the surrounding communities. One of the largest urban areas in the Alpine region, it has a medieval city centre famous for its wooden market stalls, selling among other things Alpine cheeses, hams and bread. Places of interest include the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, the imposing 13th-century Mareccio Castle, and the Duomo di Bolzano with its Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Three languages - Italian, German and a local language called Ladin - are spoken in the area, which consistently polls high among the Italian cities reckoned to have the best standard of living.  The nearest airport to Bolzano is at Verona, about 150km (93 miles) to the south and accessible in approximately an hour and a half by train, although some visitors arrive from Innsbruck in Austria, just over two hours by train in the opposite direction.

Verona is a beautiful city in northern Italy, flanking the Adige river
Verona is a beautiful city in northern Italy,
flanking the Adige river 
Travel tip:

Verona, where Gruber spent part of her upbringing, is the third largest city in the northeast of Italy, with a population across its whole urban area of more than 700,000. Among its wealth of tourist attractions is the Roman amphitheatre known as L’Arena di Verona, which dates back to AD30. With a seating capacity of 22,000, it is best known now as a venue for large-scale open air opera performances and other music concerts. Verona was chosen as the setting for three plays by William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew - although it is unknown whether the English playwright ever actually set foot in the city.  Each year, thousands of tourists visit a 13th century house in Verona where Juliet is said to have lived, even though there is no evidence that Juliet and Romeo actually existed and the balcony said to have inspired Shakespeare’s imagination was not added to the house until the early 20th century.

Also on this day:

1588: The death of Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese

1768: The death of painter Canaletto, known for views of Venice

1937: The birth of chef and restaurateur Antonio Carluccio

1953: The birth of Olympic high jumper Sara Simeoni


26 October 2022

Trilussa - poet and journalist

Writer used humour and irony in social commentary

Trilussa became known as  "the people's poet"
Trilussa became known as 
"the people's poet"
The Roman poet who went under the name Trilussa was born on this day in 1871.

The writer, best known for his works in Romanesco dialect, was actually christened Carlo Alberto Camillo Mariano Salustri. His pseudonym was an anagram of his last name.

He was inspired to take up poetry by his admiration for Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, who satirised life in 19th century Rome in his sonnets, which were also written in Roman dialect. 

Born in a house in Via del Babuino, near the Spanish Steps, Carlo was the son of a waiter originally from Albano Laziale in the Castelli Romani area around Lago Albano south of Rome. His mother, Carlotta, was a seamstress born in Bologna.

His early years were marred by tragedy. He lost both a sister and his father before he had reached four years old.  After living for a short time in Via Ripetta, close to the Tiber river, his family were offered accommodation in a palazzo in Piazza di Pietra, a square midway between the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain.

The palazzo was owned by Carlo’s Godfather, the Marquis Ermenegildo del Cinque, who had been introduced to the family by Professor Filippo Chiappini, a disciple of Belli who for a while was Trilussa’s tutor.  

Carlo was never a committed student. Twice he was required to repeat a year at high school and left formal education entirely at the age of 15, against the advice of both his mother and Professor Chiappini.

The monument to Trilussa in the square of the same name in Rome
The monument to Trilussa in the
square of the same name in Rome
Nonetheless, his flair for humorous, satirical poetry would serve him well. In 1887, a dialect magazine entitled Rugantino published some of his verses, which were well received by readers.

The following year, he brought together a collection of poems published in Rugantino as a book, called Stelle de Roma: Versi romaneschi (Stars of Rome: Romanesco verses), a series of about 30 madrigals written in appreciation of the most beautiful young women in the city. It sold well.

Soon, Trilussa became a well known name. His work appeared in popular newspapers such as il Mesaggero and il Resto del Carlino.

In 1891, he began a collaboration with Don Chisciotte della Mancia, a newspaper with national circulation, for whom in addition to his poetry he wrote articles commenting on national government as well as life in Rome, ultimately becoming a member of the editorial board. 

His second volume of collected verses, Quaranta sonetti romaneschi (Forty Roman Sonnets), which marked the start of a long-running relationship with the publishers, Voghera, included poems he had written for Don Chisciotte della Mancia.

Trilussa was a man of striking appearance who dressed elegantly
Trilussa was a man of striking
appearance who dressed elegantly
Even as his fame grew and more collections of poetry were published, bringing him a good income, he rejected the idea that he should move in more intellectual circles, much preferring to spend his time chatting to locals in neighbourhood bars.  He was aware that the division between the rich and poor in Rome was huge and would mock the style in which the rich lived and treated the “working” class. This led to him becoming known as the people’s poet.

He developed a talent for drawing as well as verse. Some of his published work was accompanied by his own illustrations.

Trilussa managed to avoid running into trouble with the Fascist regime, who generally looked suspiciously at writers and artists, by declaring himself to be not anti-Fascist but non-Fascist. Although he satirised politics even in the turbulent 1920s and ‘30s, his relationship with Mussolini’s government remained relatively uneventful.

A tall man, he always dressed elegantly and lived in an apartment furnished according to his supposedly eclectic tastes, where he entertained fellow artists and writers. He was said to have led a rather hedonistic lifestyle, interspersed with periods of financial difficulty. When he died in December 1950, he had little money.

He never married, yet had a long relationship with Giselda Lombardi - better known as the silent movie actress Leda Gys - who he described as the love of his life. It was Trilussa who launched her career by introducing her to friends in the film business, only for her to meet and marry a producer.

In declining health, he was made a senator for life by President Luigi Einuadi in 1950 but died less than three weeks later. His body is buried at the Verano Cemetery in Rome.

A square in Trastevere, formerly called Piazza Ponte Sisto, was renamed Piazza Trilussa after his death. The beautiful square, surrounded by bars and restaurants, was in an area in which the poet spent much of his time. Nowadays, it is a popular spot with young Romans.

The square features a quirky monument, featuring a bust in bronze leaning over a marble fragment of a Roman ruin, created by the sculptor Lorenzo Ferri in 1954.

The Spanish steps is one of Rome's best known sights
The Spanish steps is one of
Rome's best known sights
Travel tip:

Trilussa was born in a house not far from the Spanish Steps - known to Romans as the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, leading to the piazza and church of the same name at the top of the steps. At the bottom is the Piazza di Spagna, which gets its name from the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See which has been there since the 17th century. The square was popular with English aristocrats on the Grand Tour who stayed there while in Rome. In 1820, the English poet John Keats spent the last few months of his life in a small room overlooking the Spanish Steps and died there of consumption in February 1821, aged just 25. The house is now a museum and library dedicated to the Romantic poets.

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is one of the oldest churches in Rome
The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere is
one of the oldest churches in Rome
Travel tip:

Although formerly a working class neighbourhood, the Trastevere district, which sits alongside the Tiber, is regarded as one of Rome's most charming areas for tourists to visit. Full of winding, cobbled streets and well preserved mediaeval houses, it is fashionable with Rome's young professional class as a place to live, with an abundance of restaurants and bars and a lively student music scene.  It is also home to one of the oldest churches in Rome in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, the floor plan and wall structure of which date back to 340AD.

Also on this day:

1685: The birth of composer Domenico Scarlatti

1797: The birth of soprano Giuditta Pasta

1906: The birth of boxer Primo Carnera

1954: Trieste became part of the Italian Republic


18 August 2021

Beatrice Borromeo - journalist and model

Glamorous aristocrat who specialises in gritty real-life stories

Beatrice Borromeo built a career as a hard-hitting news journalist
Beatrice Borromeo built a career as a
hard-hitting news journalist
The journalist Beatrice Borromeo, a descendant of one of Italy’s oldest aristocratic families and married to a member of the Monegasque royal family, was born on this day in 1985 in Innichen in the German-speaking province of South Tyrol in northeast Italy.

Although born into wealthy high society, Borromeo was driven by her political and humanitarian beliefs from an early age, taking part in demonstrations in Milan against the government of Silvio Berlusconi in her teenage years and deciding to pursue a career in journalism, working full time for the Italian daily newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.

Since marrying long-time boyfriend Pierre Casiraghi - grandson of Prince Rainier III and the actress Grace Kellyand having two children, she has devoted much of her energy towards making documentary films, but always on hard-hitting topics such as climate refugees, the women of ‘Ndrangheta - the Calabrian mafia - and the slum children of Caivano, an impoverished area northeast of Naples.

Her looks and family connections have also helped her to have a parallel career in modelling, in her early days as a catwalk model for high-end fashion houses and more recently as the face of Italian jewellery house Buccellati and as the 2021 Dior ambassador.

Beatrice’s father is Carlo Ferdinando Borromeo, Count of Arona, through whom she is descended from the 16th century Archbishop of Milan, Charles (Carlo) Borromeo, a leading Catholic figure who led the movement to combat the spread of Protestantism and after his death in 1584 was made a saint.

Beatrice was in demand as a model for
Milan's top fashion houses
Her mother is Countess Donna Paola Marzotto, the daughter of fashion designer Marta Marzotto. Her uncle, Count Matteo Marzotto, is the former president and director of the Valentino fashion house.

A measure of the Borromeo family’s wealth is that they own most of the Borromean Islands in Lago Maggiore and many other estates in Lombardy and Piedmont.

Eligible and beautiful, Beatrice could have led the life of a socialite before settling into a suitable marriage but instead went on from high school to obtain a law degree at the Bocconi University in Milan before studying for a Masters in Journalism at Columbia University in New York, where she graduated in 2012.

By then she was already a working journalist, writing for Newsweek magazine and the American news website Daily Beast, contributing to TV shows including the Rai Due current affairs talk show Anno Zero and hosting her own weekly radio show.

Her journalistic scoops included an exclusive interview with Roberto Saviano, whose Mafia exposé Gomorrah had forced him to go into hiding, and, while working as a reporter for Il Fatto Quotidiano, and an interview with Marco dell’Utri, a co-founder of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, in which he admitted entering politics in the hope of obtaining immunity from arrest on various criminal charges.

She also wrote a story revealing that Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, the only son of Umberto II, the last King of Italy, had admitted in a recorded conversation that he was guilty of a murder of which he had been cleared in a Paris court.  The prince sued Borromeo’s newspaper but a court judgment ruled in favour of the newspaper.

Beatrice Borromeo with the Monaco royal Pierre Casiraghi at their wedding in 2015
Beatrice Borromeo with the Monaco royal
Pierre Casiraghi at their wedding in 2015
Her television documentary work has involved topics such as drug trafficking, underage prostitution, toxic waste dumping by the Camorra in the Naples area, and forced child marriage in the developing world.

In an interview with the magazine Glamour, Borromeo said that her interests had expanded from politics and corruption to numerous causes around the world, explaining that she was “afraid of wasting my life in doing things that help only myself.”

“I don't want to go away from this earth without having improved at least a couple of lives,” she said.

She admitted she spent much of her working life dressed in jeans and T-shirts, or a jacket and trousers if interviewing a politician face to face, yet her wedding to Casiraghi, the younger son of Caroline, Princess of Hanover, was anything but low key. 

After a civil ceremony in July, 2015, in the gardens of the Prince's Palace of Monaco, they were joined in a religious ceremony a few days later on Isola Bella, one of the Borromean Islands in Lago Maggiore.

The media coverage of the event made much of Beatrice having four bridal dresses - a pale pink, gold laced Valentino dress for the civil ceremony at the Prince’s Palace, a long-sleeved bohemian gown by Valentino at a rehearsal for the religious ceremony, an ivory-laced Armani Privé gown for the Isola Bella service itself, and an Armani Privé silk tulle gown in glistening white for the reception.

She and Casiraghi have two children - Stefano (born February 2017) and Francesco (born. May 2018).

The colossal Sancarlone statue outside Arona
The colossal Sancarlone
statue outside Arona
Travel tip:

Beatrice’s father inherited the title of Count of Arona, the town on Lago Maggiore that was the birthplace of Saint Charles Borromeo. Situated in the province of Novara on the Piedmont side of the lake, around 70km (43 miles) northwest of Milan, it is a popular destination for tourists. One of its main sights is the Sancarlone, a giant statue of Saint Charles Borromeo made from bronze. It is second in size only to the Statue of Liberty and is believed to have been looked at by the architects of the Statue of Liberty when they were producing their own design. Built on a hill overlooking the lake near the ancestral castle of the Borromeo family, it was designed by Giovan Battista Crespi and stands 23.5m (77ft) tall on a granite pedestal measuring 11.5m (38ft). A series of narrow stairs and ladders on the inside allows visitors to peer through the eyes and ears.

Isola Bella, with is elaborate palace and gardens, is an island in Lago Maggiore
Isola Bella, with is elaborate palace and
gardens, is an island in Lago Maggiore
Travel tip:

Until 1632, Isola Bella - 320m long by 400m wide - was a rocky outcrop in Lago Maggiore about 400m offshore from the town of Stresa, occupied only by a tiny fishing village. It was in that year that Carlo III of Borromeo decided it would be home to a palace dedicated to his wife, Isabella D'Adda, and commissioned the Milan architect Angelo Crivelli to build it. Carlo III did not live to see the palace finished after a devastating outbreak of the plague caused construction to be halted. It was completed instead by his sons, Gilberto III and Vitaliano VI, with the help of another Milanese architect, Carlo Fontana.  The palace, with its adjoining terraced gardens, became a place of sumptuous parties and theatrical events for the nobility of Europe.

Also on this day:

1497: The birth of lute player and composer Francesco Canova da Milano

1750: The birth of composer Antonio Salieri

1943: The birth of footballer and politician Gianni Rivera

1954: The birth of astronaut Umberto Guidoni