Showing posts with label La Spezia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label La Spezia. Show all posts

8 February 2019

Italo Santelli - fencer

Olympic medallist famous for real ‘duel’

Italo Santelli set new standards for sabre fencing with his own technique
Italo Santelli set new standards for
sabre fencing with his own technique
The Olympic fencer Italo Santelli, who famously fought a duel with his former team captain over a matter of honour, died on this day in 1945 in Livorno, Tuscany.

Santelli won a silver medal at the 1900 Olympics in Paris with a new style of sabre fencing of his own invention. Originally from Carrodano in Liguria, he fought for Italy but spent a large part of his career coaching Hungary, who he helped become a formidable power in fencing.

It was this conflict of interests that sparked an incident at the 1924 Olympics, also in Paris, that led to Santelli and Adolfo Cotronei, who was Italy’s team captain, engaging in the infamous duel.

It happened during a match between the Italians and the host nation France in the team foil event when Italy’s Aldo Boni was facing off against Lucien Gaudin. With the match tied at four touches each, the Hungarian judge György Kovacs awarded the winning fifth touch to Gaudin, a decision that sparked immediate consternation in the Italian ranks.

Boni rounded on Kovacs, delivering a verbal tirade. But it was in Italian - beyond the official’s comprehension. It just happened that Santelli, in his capacity as Hungary’s coach, witnessed the whole dispute and was asked to step in as interpreter.

Santelli’s translation did not reflect well on Boni, who was asked to apologise for insulting Kovacs. When he refused, Italy were disqualified and the event ended with France winning the gold, with Belgium taking silver and Hungary the bronze.

Italo Santelli, left, in action at the Paris Olympics of 1900, in which he won a silver medal in the sabre event
Italo Santelli, left, in action at the Paris Olympics of 1900,
in which he won a silver medal in the sabre event
That seemed to be the end of the matter until, on the team’s return to Italy, the captain Cotronei, who was also a journalist, wrote an article in which he alleged that Santelli had deliberately portrayed Boni as the villain on the basis that if the Italians were eliminated, his own Hungary team would have a better chance of finishing in a medal position.

Santelli was outraged but the bullish Cotronei stood by his article and, although accounts vary as to who challenged whom, it was somehow agreed that the two would engage in a duel, a dispute-settling method that had been outlawed in many other parts of the western world but was still part of Italian culture even in the early part of the 20th century. Legislation was being drawn up to ban the practice in Italy - driven by Benito Mussolini, then still Prime Minister rather than dictator - but special dispensation was obtained to allow this one to go ahead.

Thus the the stage was set for a date in August for the two to face each other with sabres in the town of Abbazia, a town about 70km (43 miles) southeast of Trieste that later became Opatija in Croatia but was then on Italian soil.

In the event, Cotronei had to take on not Italo Santelli but his son, Giorgio, another fencer, who had invoked a rule under the 18th century Code Duello that allowed him to substitute for his father, who was keen to defend his honour but was by then in his 61st year.

It was at the 1924 Olympics, again in Paris, that Santelli became embroiled in a dispute between the Italian team and an official
It was at the 1924 Olympics, again in Paris, that Santelli became
embroiled in a dispute between the Italian team and an official
It was not a fight to the death, thankfully, but blood needed to be drawn for a winner to be declared.  Within only a couple of minutes, the nimbler and more agile Santelli junior had inflicted a cut to Cotronei’s face and the duel was over.

Italo Santelli had been educated at the Scuola Magistrale Militare, a military school in Rome, but in 1896 decided to move to Budapest together with brother Otello, also a fencer, and his wife. Their son, Giorgio, was born in Hungary in 1897, although he kept his Italian citizenship and ultimately emigrated to the United States,

It was while working in Hungary that he developed the new style of sabre fencing, involving a much quicker defence than the classical style. It became known as the "modern style" or the “Santelli style” and historians of the sport sometimes refer to Santelli as “the father of modern sabre fencing.”

Although Cotronei was known for his temper - he fought at least six duels in his lifetime - he and Santelli were said to have been reconciled when they met again at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and subsequently became friends.

The Abbey Church of Santa Maria Assunta, built from Carrara marble, is one of La Spezia's attractions
The Abbey Church of Santa Maria Assunta, built from
Carrara marble, is one of La Spezia's attractions
Travel tip:

Santelli’s home village of Carrodano is in the province of La Spezia, a port city of 94,000 inhabitants and Liguria’s second city after Genoa. The home of Italy’s largest naval base and a major commercial port, tucked away in a sheltered gulf, La Spezia is so close to the ruggedly beautiful stretch of coastline known as the Cinque Terre, not to mention the picturesque fishing village of Portovenere, that it tends not to be regarded as a tourist attraction. Yet La Spezia has an atmospheric historic centre of narrow streets, not to mention the recently restored 17th century castle and the impressive black and white Carrara marble of the Abbey Church of Santa Maria Assunta.

One of the canals in Livorno's Venetian quarter
Travel tip:

Santelli spent his final days in another of Italy’s northern Mediterranean port cities, Livorno. The second population area in Tuscany after Florence, Livorno has a population of almost 160,000. Although it is a large commercial port with much related industry, it has many attractions, including an elegant sea front – the Terrazza Mascagni - and an historic centre – the Venetian quarter – with canals, and a tradition of serving excellent seafood.  The Terrazza Mascagni is named after the composer Pietro Mascagni, famous for the opera Cavalleria Rusticana, who was born in Livorno.

More reading:

Valentina Vezzali, the fencer who is Italy's most successful athlete

How Luigi Baccali brought home Italy's first Olympic track gold

Ottavio Missoni: From Olympic hurdler to fashion designer

Also on this day:

1591: The birth of Baroque master Guercino

1751: The death of Trevi Fountain architect Nicola Salvi

1848: Padua revolts against the Austrians

(Picture credits: La Spezia church by Davide Papalini; Livorno canal by Daniel Ventura; via Wikimedia Commons)


29 December 2017

Luigi Olivari – flying ace

First World War pilot claimed 19 victories

Luigi Olivari was only 25 when he was killed in a crash near Udine
Luigi Olivari was only 25 when he was killed
in a crash near Udine
Lieutenant Luigi Olivari, a pilot in the military aviation corps of the Royal Italian Army who was decorated with a string of awards for valour in action, was born on this day in 1891 in La Spezia, the maritime city on the coast of what is now Liguria.

Olivari became a proficient aerial duellist, claiming to have downed 19 enemy aircraft as Italian planes took on Austro-Hungarian opponents after Italy had joined the war on the side of the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia.

Only eight of these were confirmed, yet Olivari was awarded four silver and two bronze medals for valour by the Italian government, as well as the French Croix de guerre and the Serbian Order of the Star of Karadorde.

The last of his silver medals was awarded posthumously after he was killed on October 13, 1917 when his Spad VII aircraft stalled and crashed during take-off at the Santa Caterina airfield just outside Udine in northwest Italy.

Born to middle-class parents in La Spezia, as a boy he moved with his family to Turin.

A Spad VII similar to the one flown by Luigi Olivari
A Spad VII similar to the one flown by Luigi Olivari
A good all-round sportsman and an accomplished motorcyclist, Olivari entered the school for civil pilots at Mirafiori, just outside Turin, and obtained his Aero Club’s pilots licence on November 27, 1914.

In May 1915, the week before Italy entered the war, Olivari applied for military pilot's training. He qualified in June and in January 2016 was assigned to fly in the 1a Squadriglia (later redesignated as 70a Squadriglia). 

He scored his first confirmed aerial victory on April 7 - only the second success in the air for Italy – having claimed an earlier success that went unconfirmed.

In September 1916, Olivari was commissioned as a Sottotenente - sub-lieutenant. By April 1917, he was specifically assigned two aircraft—a Spad VII and a Nieuport 17 ser. no. 3127.

In May 1917, he was transferred to the newly formed fighter squadron 91a Squadriglia and than loaned to 77a Squadriglia for about a month. He was subsequently promoted to Tenente and assigned as an Ansaldo SVA.5 test pilot for the Technical Directorate.

Olivari won many awards for valour and claimed to have shot down 19 enemy aircraft
Olivari won many awards for valour and claimed to have
shot down 19 enemy aircraft
In February 1919, some 16 months after his death, the Bongiovanni military intelligence commission issued its final determination of Italian aerial victories during the First World War. Olivari's score was cut to eight confirmed victories. Notable for their exclusion were some victories that were noted in Olivari's award citations.

The Ghedi Air Force base, near Brescia, home of the Regia Aeronautica 6th Stormo (6th Wing) was named in his memory after the war.

There are streets named after Luigi Olivari in San Maurizio Canavese, near Turin’s airport, and in the Ligurian city of Genoa.

Piazza Garibaldi in La Spezia
Piazza Garibaldi in La Spezia
Travel tip:

Overshadowed by its chic neighbours in the Cinque Terre, the port town of La Spezia, home to Italy's largest naval base, tends to be overlooked as a travel destination but offers an affordable alternative base for touring the area, although it is worth inclusion anyway. Nowadays, it is one of Italy’s busiest ports, yet the narrow streets of the old city are deeply atmospheric and have plenty to interest visitors, with a wealth of good restaurants showing off the best Ligurian cuisine.

Travel tip:

Santa Caterina near Udine is best known as the original site of one of the oldest fairs in Italy, which began in 1380 to honour Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who was supposedly beheaded by the Romans for not sacrificing animals to the gods.  Since 1485 the fair has been held within the city walls, in Piazza I Maggio in the municipality of Pasian di Prato.  It is held every year from around November 25 with an array of stalls, although the fairground rides that accompanied it from the mid-1980s have now been moved to the Friuli stadium.

22 March 2016

'La Castiglione' – model and secret agent

Beautiful woman helped the cause of Italian unification

This portrait of Virginia Oldoini was painted in 1862 by Michele Gordigiani
Virginia Oldoini, captured in a
portrait painted in 1862
Virginia Oldoini, who became known as La Castiglione, was born on this day in 1837 in Florence.

She became the mistress of the Emperor Napoleon III of France and also made an important contribution to the early development of photography.

She was born Virginia Oldoini to parents who were part of the Tuscan nobility, but originally came from La Spezia in Liguria. At the age of 17 she married the Count of Castiglione, who was 12 years older than her, and they had one son, Giorgio.

Her cousin was Camillo, Count of Cavour, who was the prime minister to Victor Emmanuel II, the King of Sardinia, later to become the first King of a united Italy.

When the Countess travelled with her husband to Paris in 1855, Cavour asked her to plead the cause of Italian unity with Napoleon III.

Considered to be the most beautiful woman of her day, she became Napoleon III’s mistress and her husband demanded a separation. During her relationship with Napoleon III she influenced Franco-Italian political relations, mingled with European nobility and met Otto von Bismarck.

She became known both for her beauty and elaborate clothes, such as a Queen of Hearts costume she wore and was later photographed in.

When she returned to Italy she lived with her son at the Villa Gloria in Turin for a while, rejecting her husband’s appeals to her to resume their life together.

Virginia Oldoini was Napoleon III's mistress
Napoleon III of France: Oldoini became
his mistress after they met in Paris
But even though her relationship with Napoleon III was over she eventually chose to return to France, where she lived for the rest of her life, forming liaisons with aristocrats, financiers and politicians while cultivating the image of a mysterious femme fatale. In 1871 she met Bismarck and explained to him how the German occupation of Paris wouldn’t be in his interests. She must have been persuasive because Paris was spared

She began sitting as a model for photographers and later directed Pierre–Louis Pierson to take hundreds of photographs of important moments of her life, wearing elaborate outfits such as the Queen of Hearts dress.

Some of the photographs showed her in risqué poses for the time, for example with her legs bare.

It was the Countess who decided on the expressive content of the images and chose the camera angles

She died in Paris in 1899 at the age of 62. Her biography, La Divine Comtesse, was written after her death by Robert de Montesquiou. It was published in 1913 with a preface by Gabriele d’Annunzio.

Her life featured in a 1942 Italian film, The Countess of Castiglione and a 1954 Italian-French film, La Contessa di Castiglione.

Travel tip:

The Castello san Giorgio has recently been restored
The restored Castello San Giorgio is
among the attrractions of La Spezia
La Spezia, where the Countess of Castiglione’s family were originally from, is an important city in Ligura, second only to Genoa. It is a point of departure for visiting Lerici, Portovenere and the Cinque Terre by boat. The recently-restored Castle of San Giorgio, the 13th century Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and a number of Art Nouveau villas are all worth visiting.

Travel tip:

Turin, where the Countess lived for a while on her return to Italy, has many buildings with royal connections to see. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of royal Turin.