Showing posts with label Lake Como. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lake Como. Show all posts

19 December 2018

Giulio Ricordi - music publisher

Entrepreneur who ‘discovered’ the great Giacomo Puccini 

Giulio Ricordi took over Casa Ricordi from his father in 1888
Giulio Ricordi took over Casa Ricordi
from his father in 1888
Giulio Ricordi, who ran the Casa Ricordi publishing house during its peak years in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and launched the career of the brilliant opera composer Giacomo Puccini, was born on this day in 1840 in Milan.

Casa Ricordi was founded by Giulio’s grandfather Giovanni in 1808 and remained in the family when Giovanni died in 1853 and his son, Tito - Giulio's father - took the helm.

Giulio became involved in 1863 after a distinguished military career in the special infantry corps known as the Bersaglieri. He had enrolled as a volunteer with the outbreak of the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859. He took part in the Siege of Gaeta and, after receiving a medal for military valour, was promoted to lieutenant.

During breaks in military activity, Giulio, a keen composer from an early age under the pseudonym of Jules Burgmein, wrote pieces of music, one of which was intended as a national anthem dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, but which was instead adopted as the anthem of the Bersaglieri.

Ricordi fostered the career of the great composer Puccini
Ricordi fostered the career of
the great composer Puccini
He left military service after his father, who had nurtured the career of the composer Giuseppe Verdi as he became the dominant figure in Italian opera in the 19th century, asked him to help run the expanding Casa Ricordi business.

With Giulio alongside Tito, the firm added branches in Naples, Florence, Rome, Palermo, London and Paris to the headquarters in Milan, which were in a building next door to the city’s famous theatre, Teatro alla Scala.

When Tito died in 1888, Giulio became the head of Casa Ricordi.

Giulio increased the prestige of the company by publishing a number of respected music magazines in addition to the core business of publishing music, and it was down to his encouragement that Verdi came out of retirement in his late 70s, culminating in his two late masterpieces, Otello and Falstaff.

He also enthusiastically promoted younger composers he felt had the potential to make an impact. These included Amilcare Ponchielli, Alfredo Catalani, Carlos Gomes and Umberto Giordano as well as Puccini.

Ricordi had a noted career in the army as a young man
Ricordi had a noted career
in the army as a young man
To Puccini, Giulio became something of a father-figure, the person who would come down hard on the composer, who had a taste for high living, to put in the work necessary to ensure his talent was not wasted, but who became someone he respected and trusted.

Under his stewardship, Casa Ricordi flourished and Giulio invested his wealth in a handsome mansion, the Villa Margherita Ricordi, which he had built on the shore of Lake Como at Cadenabbia di Griante, with a beautiful garden plentifully stocked with rhododendrons and azaleas. Verdi was a regular visitor.

Giulio, who was was appointed Commander of the Order of the Crown of Italy by Umberto I, died in 1912,  handing control of the company to his son, Tito II.

In 2016, a statue of Giulio Ricordi by Luigi Secchi, paid for from a subscription fund started by Puccini and another composer, Arrigo Boito, shortly before his death, and which originally stood in the courtyard of Casa Ricordi’s headquarters, the Casino Ricordi, in Via Berchet, was placed in front of the building in Largo Ghiringhelli.

The shoreline at Cadenabbia di Griante, a village on the western side of the picturesque Lake Como
The shoreline at Cadenabbia di Griante, a village on the
western side of the picturesque Lake Como
Travel tip:

Griante, where Ricordi built his sumptuous villa, is a village on the western shore of Lake Como about 25km (16 miles) northeast of the town of Como between Tremezzo and Menaggio. Situated at the widest part of the lake, just above the point at which it divides into two legs, the other one being Lago di Lecco, Griante is linked by ferry with Bellagio and Varenna on the other side of the lake. Griante sits about 50m (165ft) above lake level, on a wide plateau. The portion of the village at water level is known as Cadenabbia di Griante.

The Casino Ricordi, as it was known, is the building that adjoins Teatro alla Scala in Milan
The Casino Ricordi, as it was known, is the
building that adjoins Teatro alla Scala in Milan
Travel tip:

The Casino Ricordi, as it became known, was originally a venue for receptions and dances associated with the Teatro alla Scala, built by the same architect, Giuseppe Piermarini, who was commissioned to design the theatre in 1776. The building was rented from 1850 by Casa Ricordi and remained the company’s headquarters until 1913. Nowadays it houses La Scala’s museum.

More reading:

Puccini, the musical genius who took the baton from Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi - how Italy mourned the loss of a national symbol

How La Gioconda put Amilcare Ponchielli on the map

Also on this day:

1861: The birth of writer Italo Svevo

1966: The birth of skier Alberto Tomba

1922: The death of journalist Gianni Brera


23 June 2018

Giuseppina Tuissi - partisan

Key figure in capture and execution of Mussolini

Giuseppina Tuissa came from a strong anti-fascist background near Milan
Giuseppina Tuissi came from a strong
anti-fascist background near Milan
Giuseppina Tuissi, who was among a group of partisans who captured the deposed Fascist leader Benito Mussolini as he tried to escape to Switzerland in 1945, was born on this day in 1923 in Abbiategrasso, near Milan.

Tuissi and her comrades seized Mussolini at Dongo, a small town on the shores of Lake Como, on April 27, 1945, along with his mistress Claretta Petacci.  Having heard that Hitler was preparing to surrender to the Allies, Mussolini was trying to reach Switzerland before flying on to Spain in the hope of finding refuge under Franco’s nationalist dictatorship.

He and Petacci and their entourage were executed at the village of Giulino di Mezzegra the following day before the partisan group took their bodies to be put on public display in Milan.

Tuissi, however, would herself be killed less than a couple of months later, probably at the hands of fellow partisans who suspected her of betraying comrades during a period earlier in the year in which she had been held captive and tortured by Fascist militia and handed over to the Nazis but was then released.

Although she was born Abbiategrasso, about 30km (19 miles) southwest of Milan, Tuissi lived and worked in Baggio, a suburb of Milan. Her father Umberto, a blacksmith, her brother Cesare and boyfriend Gianni were active anti-fascist militants and members of the resistance movement.

In 1943, Tuissi became active in the movement, operating as a courier under the pseudonym Gianna.  Despite being small in stature and slight in build, she became known for her courage.

Luigi Canali, otherwise known as Captain Neri, with whom Tuissa had a close bond
Luigi Canali, otherwise known as Captain Neri,
with whom Tuissi had a close bond
Her attitude towards the Fascists, who remained in control of the puppet Republic of Salò (also known as the Italian Social Republic) even after the Allied invasion, hardened after her boyfriend was captured and murdered by Fascist thugs.

She teamed up with the partisan Garibaldi Brigades, becoming a close associate of Luigi Canali, who operated under the pseudonym Captain Neri, and began plotting attacks on Fascist and German forces.

But they came under the surveillance of Mussolini’s secret police and were seized in the village of Lezzano by Fascist militia in January 1945, taken to a prison in Como and subjected to torture. Soon after being transferred to the German SS headquarters in Monza, where she was further tortured, she was released.

There has been speculation about why she was allowed to leave, ranging from a gestapo officer deciding to spare her after being struck by her bravery, to being allowed to leave so that she could be followed by SS officers and would lead them to Canali, who had managed to escape from prison.

It is said that she was offered the chance to flee to Switzerland but declined, preferring to remain in Italy to continue the work of the resistance.

However, the suspicion that she and Canali had betrayed their fellow resistance fighters while in captivity remained, even resulting in a death sentence being handed down by a “People’s Tribunal” , although their closest comrades in the 52nd Garibaldi Brigade ignored it, welcoming them back. Their leader appointed Canali to the rank of captain.

A small cross on a wall in Giulino di Mezzegra marks the spot  at which Mussolini was killed by Tuissa and her comrades
A small cross on a wall in Giulino di Mezzegra marks the spot
 at which Mussolini was killed by Tuissi and her comrades 
The day after the Mussolini execution, however, Tuissi was arrested in Baggio and held until May 9, during which time she was interrogated by Pietro Vergani, regional commander of the Garibaldi Brigades and a member of the Italian Communist Party. She was told that Canali had been executed.

Disillusioned and saddened by the death of her close colleague, she and Canali’s sister went to Milan to confront Vergani, demanding to know the circumstances of his death. Despite threats, Tuissi continued to ask questions and arranged to meet the editor of a daily newspaper in Milan.

She disappeared on April 23, 1945, her 22nd birthday. What happened to her has never been established but the suspicion is that her body was thrown into Lake Como at Cernobbio. This was backed up by the evidence of witnesses who saw two men and a girl arrive on a motorcycle at the lakeside in the town at around 9pm, heard shots and the sound of something hitting the water, then saw the motorcycle leave with the two men but no girl.

Four men were arrested, including Vergani and Dante Gorreri, the Communist Party secretary for Como, but all were released because of procedural irregularities.

The Visconti castle at Abbiategrosso in Lombardy
The Visconti castle at Abbiategrosso in Lombardy
Travel tip:

Tuissi’s town of birth, Abbiategrosso, has a fine 14th century castle built by Gian Galeazzo Visconti and a basilica dedicated to Santa Maria Nuova that was built to celebrate the birth of Gian Galeazzo’s son, but its more recent claim to fame is as a prominent member of the Cittaslow movement, an offshoot of the Slow Food movement, which promotes a calm way of life and a spirit of neighbourliness. It has attracted many Milanese to buy property there to escapes the pressures associated with city life.

The sumptuous Villa d'Este on Lake Como at Cernobbio
The sumptuous Villa d'Este on Lake Como at Cernobbio
Travel tip:

Cernobbio is known because of the presence of the Villa d’Este, the vast complex built as a 16th century summer residence for the Cardinal of Como, but it is only one of many fine villas fronting the water. The town once attracted large crowds hoping to catch a sight of movie star George Clooney, who had a house at nearby Laglio and would occasionally be spotted at a cafe in Cernobbio. Scenes from the movie Ocean’s 12, in which Clooney starred, were filmed locally. The place still has a neighborhood feel to it, especially on summer evenings and weekends when the main piazza is full of families and couples.


13 November 2017

Alberto Lattuada – film director

Versatility and eye for talent made him leading figure

Alberto Lattuada helped launch many careers in Italian cinema
Alberto Lattuada helped launch many
careers in Italian cinema
A leading figure in the Italian cinema, Alberto Lattuada was born on this day in 1914 in Vaprio d’Adda in Lombardy.

Lattuada was the son of the composer Felice Lattuada, who made him complete his studies as an architect before allowing him to enter the film business.

As a student, Lattuada was a member of the editorial staff of the antifascist publication Camminare and also of Corrente di Vita, an independent newspaper. Corrente di Vita was closed by the Fascist regime just before Italy entered the Second World War.

Lattuada, who is said to have detested fascism, helped to organise a screening of a banned anti-war film at about this time, which got him into trouble with the police.

In 1940 Lattuada started his cinema career as a screenwriter and assistant director on Mario Soldati’s Piccolo mondo antico (Old-Fashioned World).

He directed his own first movie, Giacomo l’idealista (Giacomo the Idealist) in 1942.

Lattuada with Federico Fellini (left) on the set of the latter's first movie in 1950
Lattuada with Federico Fellini (left) on the set of the
latter's first movie in 1950
In 1950 he co-directed Luci del Varietà with Federico Fellini. This was the first film directed by Fellini.

In the 1960s his best film is considered to be Il Mafioso, in which he helped Alberto Sordi give one of his best performances as a miserable desk clerk who in return for a family favour finds himself obliged to become a hit man for a mafia killing in New York.

Lattuada’s film La Steppa, made in 1962, was entered at the 12th Berlin International Film Festival. And in 1970 he was a member of the jury at the 20th Berlin International Film Festival.

His work as a director spanned almost every genre and he helped launch the careers of many film stars, whose talent he had recognised.

Lattuada married the actress Carla del Poggio in 1945 and they had two sons, Francesco and Alessandro. The couple were still together when he died in 2005 at the age of 90. He is buried in the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan.

The ferry boast designed by Leonardo da Vinci
The ferry boast designed by Leonardo da Vinci
Travel tip:

Vaprio d’Adda, where Alberto Lattuada was born is about 30km (18 miles) northeast of Milan in Lombardy. One of the main sights is the Villa Melzi, where Leonardo da Vinci stayed when studying channelling of waters in the area. The villa has a fresco of the Madonna with Child that has been attributed to him or his school. A ferry boat designed by Da Vinci still operates on the river, linking Villa d'Adda with Imbersago.

Lake Como was formed by the waters of the Adda
Lake Como was formed by the waters of the Adda
Travel tip:

The Adda river, which rises in the Alps close to the Swiss border, initially flows from east to west, which is unusual for a river in Italy, before turning south to join the Po river just upstream from Cremona.  Some 313km (194 miles) in length, it passes through several important towns and cities such as Bormio, Sondrio, Lecco and Lodi, as well as some smaller historic towns such as Trezzo, Crespina and Cassano.  The waters from the Adda were responsible for forming Lake Como.

15 October 2017

Angelo Schiavio - footballer

Scored goal that won Italy's first World Cup

Angelo Schiavio played all his club football with Bologna
Angelo Schiavio played all his club
football with Bologna
Angelo Schiavio, the hero of the Italian football team’s first World Cup victory in 1934, was born on this day in 1905 in Bologna.

The centre forward, a prolific goalscorer for his home-town club in Serie A, scored the winning goal in the final against Czechoslovakia to hand victory to the Azzurri in the 16-team tournament, of which the Italians were hosts.

In the final at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome, the Azzurri had gone behind to a goal by the Czech winger Antonin Puc with 19 minutes remaining, but equalised 10 minutes later through Raimundo Orsi, the Argentina-born forward from Juventus, taking the match into extra time.

Schiavio struck the decisive goal, driven home with his right foot from a pass by Enrique Guaita, another Argentine – one of 12 to represent Italy and Argentina in the days before playing for more than one nation was outlawed.

It was his fourth goal of the tournament, sparking massive celebrations in Rome and across Italy, albeit in a mood of triumph hijacked by Benito Mussolini and his Fascist regime.

Rumours circulated, almost inevitably, that match officials had been bribed to make decisions favouring the Italians, much to the frustration of coach Vittorio Pozzo, although he was able to validate the victory four years later when the Azzurri retained the trophy in France.

Schiavio hailed from a large family – he was the eighth child – who had originated in Gorla, a tiny hamlet in the hills above Lake Como, close to the villages of Zelbio, Valeso and Erno.

Schiavio's goal beats the Czech 'keeper in the 1934 final
Schiavio's goal beats the Czech 'keeper in the 1934 final
They had run a silk mill before moving to Bologna a year before Angelo was born to start a business selling clothing and underwear made from wool, under the name of Schiavio-Stoppani.

Their first store, opened in 1919, was located on the corner of Via Clavature and Via dei Toschi, right in the historic centre of the city.  The business would grow, expanding into sports equipment, and continued to trade as a family enterprise until the early part of the 20th century.

Angelo Schiavio played an active part in the business himself once his career was over.

As a player, renowned for his power and pace as a centre forward, with excellent dribbling skills and a fierce shot, he made 348 appearances for Bologna between 1922 and 1938, scoring 242 goals, having made his debut against Juventus in January 1923, at the age of just 17. By the end of his first half-season he had scored six goals.

He helped Bologna win the scudetto – the Italian Serie A title – for the first time in their history in 1924-25, winning three more championships in the rossoblu shirt.

Schiavio’s career goals tally remains the highest by any Bologna player and the fourth highest among all Italians. Only Silvio Piola, Giuseppe Meazza and, from the modern era, Francesco Totti have scored more goals over their careers.

Schiavio in the
national colours
For the Azzurri, he struck 15 goals in 21 appearances, scoring twice on his debut against Yugoslavia in Padua in 1925. He twice scored hat-tricks for the national team, the first time in an incredible 11-3 victory over Egypt in the third-place match at the 1928 Olympics in the Netherlands, the second in the opening match of the 1934 World Cup, when Italy thrashed the United States 7-1.

The final was his last international appearance, although he would play on in club football until 1938.

As a coach, he was twice part of a technical committee at Bologna and served the national team in a similar capacity between 1953 and 1958, before leaving football and devoting himself to the family business.

He died in 1990 at the age of 84 and is buried in the Monumental Cemetery of Certosa in Bologna.

Lake Como has an abundance of picturesque lakeside towns and villages
Lake Como has an abundance of picturesque lakeside
towns and villages
Travel tip:

Zelbio, Valeso and Erno are picturesque small villages nestling in the tree-lined hills that descend gently towards the shore of the western branch of Lake Como, about 50km (31 miles) north of Milan, about 25km (16 miles) from Como itself and a similar distance from Bellagio.  The best way to appreciate the beauty of the area is to take one of the ferry services that link the lakeside towns.

Piazza Maggiore in the centre of Bologna
Piazza Maggiore in the centre of Bologna
Travel tip:

The Schiavo-Stoppani store, on the corner of Via Clavature and Via dei Toschi, was in a prime location in the centre of Bologna, only a few metres from the historic heart of the city in Piazza Maggiore.  Via Clavature is an interesting, narrow street lined with fruit and vegetable stores and has several bars and restaurants.

30 June 2017

Allegra Versace – heiress

‘Favourite niece’ who inherited Gianni fortune

Allegra Versace at a show in Milan with her mother, Donatella
Allegra Versace at a show in Milan
with her mother, Donatella
The heiress Allegra Versace, owner of half the Versace fashion empire, was born on this day in 1986 in Milan.

The daughter of Donatella Versace, the company’s chief designer and vice-president, she was the favourite niece of Gianni Versace, who founded the fashion house in 1978.

When Gianni was shot dead outside his mansion in Miami in July 1997, Allegra was just 11 years old but could look forward to becoming immensely rich after it was announced that her uncle had willed his share of the business, amounting to 50 per cent, when she reached her 18th birthday.

By the most recent valuation of the Versace group, this means Allegra – now 30 – has a personal fortune worth $800 million. The remainder of the empire is owned by her mother, who has 20 per cent, and Gianni’s older brother, Santo Versace, who has 30 per cent.

Yet the promise of wealth and privilege did not bring her happiness as a young woman.  The daughter of Paul Beck, a former Versace model to whom Donatella was briefly married, Allegra enjoyed a contented childhood in which she read books and played the piano given to her as a gift by Sir Elton John, a family friend, but her world was shattered when her uncle was killed.

A regular visitor to his home in Miami, she reportedly found out about his death watching a television news bulletin before her mother had a chance to break the news to her.  She is said to have been inconsolable at the funeral and though her mother sought counselling for her it did not stop Allegra sliding towards depression.

Donatella Versace 
By the time she reached adulthood and the riches she had been promised became real, she had become almost reclusive, rejecting the family name and, after studying French and art history at the University of California in Los Angeles, attempting to live in anonymity in New York, where she worked as a theatre dresser.

She developed anorexia nervosa, telling friends that she wished she were not a Versace, that she wanted to be no one, but that she could not escape.

It took until 2011 for Donatella to persuade her daughter to return to Italy and take up the role her uncle wanted her to fulfil, as a Versace director, although she still shuns the spotlight and has spent time working with a designer friend from outside the company, helping to organise shows and publicity without ever taking centre stage herself.

The Villa Fontanelle on Lake Como
Travel tip:

Gianni Versace’s homes included the Villa Le Fontanelle, a stunning waterfront property on Lake Como, where Allegra often visited him while he was in Italy. The grounds were designed by the art historian and landscape architect Sir Roy Strong and inside were a collection of 18th century paintings, red marble baths and a crystal chandelier that once hung in the Russian imperial palace in St Petersburg.  As well as 50 per cent of the company, the house was bequeathed to Allegra in Gianni’s will.

Travel tip:

The headquarters of the Versace empire in Milan is the Palazzo Versace in Via Gesù, which adjoins the five-star Four Seasons Hotel and stretches from the main entrance at No 10 towards Via della Spiga.  Via Gesù is off Via Montenapoleone, which is generally recognised as the centre of the Italian high fashion district of Milan, with virtually every top name having a presence there.  The Versace shop is at No 11.

26 June 2017

Alberto Rabagliati - singer and actor

Performer found fame through radio

Alberto Rabagliati won a contest as  a Rudolph Valentino lookalike
Alberto Rabagliati won a contest as
a Rudolph Valentino lookalike
The singer and movie actor Alberto Rabagliati, who became one of the stars of Italian radio in the 1930s and 40s, was born on this day in 1906 in Milan.

His movie career reached a peak in the post-War years, when he had roles in the Humphrey Bogart-Ava Gardner hit Barefoot Contessa and in Montecarlo, starring Marlene Dietrich.

The son of parents who had moved to Milan from the village of Casorzo, near Asti, in Piedmont, Rabagliati’s career in the entertainment business began when he entered a competition in 1927 to find a Rudolph Valentino lookalike.

To his astonishment he won.  The prize was to be taken to Hollywood to audition, so his life changed overnight.  Later he recalled his own wide-eyed incredulity as he sailed across the Atlantic, bound for a new life.  "For someone like me, who had never been beyond Lake Como or Monza Cathedral, finding myself on board a luxury steamer with three cases full of clothes, a few rolls of dollars, gran-duchesses and countesses flirting with me was something extraordinary".

He lived in America for the next four years but never achieved more than modest success and decided to return to Italy. During his time in America, however, he took the opportunity to get to know some new musical genres such as jazz, swing, and ‘scat’ singing, in which the vocalist uses his or her voice to make sounds rather than words, such as the ‘doo wah, doo wah, doo wah, doo wah’ lines repeated in It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing.

On coming home he was determined he would make a success as a singer and he realised his ambition in some style.

Rabagliati recording one of his radio shows in the 1940s
Rabagliati recording one of his radio shows in the 1940s
After joining a popular band called the Lecuona Cuban Boys, in which he performed with his face painted black, he met the songwriter Giovanni D'Anzi who arranged for him to have an audition with the Italian state radio station, EIAR, in Rome.

Rabagliati soon became a star and by 1941 had his own show, Canta Rabagliati ("Rabagliati sings"). It spurned a string of hits, including Ma l'amore no, Mattinata fiorentina, and Bambina innamorata.  He developed a huge following, mainly among women, and when he appeared on stage he would have hundreds of roses thrown at his feet.

He owned a large American car, which the Italian authorities at one time threatened to confiscate, because the Fascist regime banned all manifestations of foreign culture.

The Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, however, sensed he could use Rabagliati’s popularity to his own advantage and personally intervened to ensure the singer kept his car.  Mussolini persuaded Rabagliati to lend one of his songs to the government’s campaign to persuade Italians to buy into his vision of Fascist family life, adopting Sposi (c'è una casetta piccina) as an anthem for the campaign, celebrating newlyweds in their own "little house".

Rabagliati was lined up to work alongside Raffaella Carrà in a new TV show
Rabagliati was lined up to work alongside
Raffaella Carrà in a new TV show
It is said that Mussolini privately despised Rabagliati’s music, with its heavy American influences, and reputedly flew into a rage one day when he discovered his mistress, Clara Petacci, listening to one of his records, dragging it off the turntable and smashing it.

Rabagliati used his fame as a singer to kick-start his film career and appeared in more than 20 films between 1940 and the mid-1960s, including Barefoot Contessa, Montecarlo, Il vedova (The Widow) and The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t, in which he played Santa Claus.

He began to act on stage too, landing many parts in musical revues and comedies.  It seemed he was about to break into television in a big way, too, making a guest appearance on a new show Milleluci, presented by Mina Mazzini and Rafaella Carrà.

He was so impressive that Mina wanted him to be on the show regularly and he was about to agree a deal on becoming a co-host in March 1974 when he collapsed and died from a cerebral haemorrhage. He was 67.

Rabagliati, who had married Maria Antonietta Tonnini in 1954, was buried at the Cimitero Flaminio in Rome, next to his mother.

The impressive Baroque cathedral at Asti
The impressive Baroque cathedral at Asti
Travel tip:

Asti is one of the most important cities in Piedmont in terms of art and literature, notably as the birthplace of Vittorio Alfieri, the famous 18th century poet and dramatist. The town's historic centre, is charmingly quaint, the highlight of which is the triangular Piazza Alfieri, where the town’s famous Palio horse race is staged.   It has a wealth of palaces, towers and ancient churches, and a magnificent Gothic cathedral.

Travel tip:

The Cimitero Flaminio is in the Rome suburb of Prima Porta, which is so called because of an arch under an aqueduct carrying water across the Via Flaminia, which was considered a gateway into Rome from the north.  The Via Flaminia, which effectively begins at Piazza del Popolo in the centre of Rome, stretches all the way across the Apennines to what is now Rimini on the Adriatic coast.


1 December 2016

Alberto Cova - Olympic champion

Los Angeles gold completed 10k hat-trick

Alberto Cova in his moment of triumph at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles
Alberto Cova in his moment of triumph
at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles
Alberto Cova, the athlete who won the 10,000 metres gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, was born on this day in 1958 in Inverigo, a small town not far from Lake Como and a little under 40km north of Milan.

Cova's triumph at the 1984 Los Angeles Games completed a golden hat-trick of 10,000m titles, following on from his gold medals over the distance at the 1982 European Championships in Athens and the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki.

He was not able to maintain that form, however.  He was run out of the gold on the final lap of the 10,000m by fellow Italian Stefano Mai at the European Championships in Stuttgart in 1986 and failed to qualify for the final at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, which proved to be his last international competition.

Cova's chief asset was his devastating sprint finish, which could be nullified in a race run at a strong pace throughout but often was not.

He was an outsider when he sprang a surprise in Athens in 1982, when his finishing speed enabled him to charge through to beat the favourite, Werner Schildhauer from East Germany, to win his first international championship title.

His disciplined running style enabled him to triumph again in Helsinki the following year, when the pace was slow and 13 runners were still in a leading pack at the bell. With only 30m left, Cova was in fifth place, but then found the energy to sprint for the line, passing all four runners in front of him and relegating Schildhauer into second place again.

Cova found the field playing into his hands again in Los Angeles.  The final began at an even slower pace than at Helsinki.  With 4km to go, Finland's Martti Vainio began to accelerate but Cova stayed with him and Vainio could not maintain the quicker pace and Cova swept past him after the bell.  Vainio was subsequently stripped of his silver medal after traces of an anabolic steroid were found in a urine sample.

A qualified accountant, Cova combined his athletics with his office job.  He was nicknamed 'the accountant' in part because of his profession but also because of the meticulous way he kept to his racing plans and stayed faithful to his tactics.

Alberto Cova, pictured in 1987
Alberto Cova, pictured in 1987
Cova won 14 Italian titles, including five cross-country championships, four over 5,000m and two at 10,000m, and attributes his success to his work with the top Italian coach, Giorgio Rondelli, at the Pro Patria athletics club in Milan.

His successes were tarnished somewhat when, in the wake of revelations of organised blood doping by the Italian federation, Cova confessed he had used the process by which the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is increased by the withdrawal and re-infusion of red blood cells.

Blood doping, or blood boosting, can improve performances by 5 per cent.  Yet Cova was never punished.

After his athletics career, Cova became involved in politics and was elected to the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament in 1994 after winning the Olgiate Comasco seat in Lombardy for Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.

Two years later he ran again for the town of Erba but was defeated this time by the Northern League candidate, Cesare Rizzi.

Nowadays, Cova works as a commentator on athletics events for Italian television.

The Villa La Rotonda outside Inverigo
The Villa La Rotonda outside Inverigo
Travel tip:

Inverigo falls into the area of Lombardy known as Brianza, which extends from Monza, just north of Milan, to the triangle of mountainous land that sits between the forks at the southern end of Lake Como.  Brianza is best defined as a cultural, geographical and cultural region, first settled in the second millenium BC.  Inverigo's most interesting building is the Villa Rotonda, a castle built in the early part of the 19th century to a design by Luigi Cagnola inspired by Andrea Palladio's Villa Capra near Vicenza, also commonly known as La Rotonda.

Travel tip:

Erba, the town for which Alberto Cova stood and lost during his career as a politician representing the Forza Italia party, is situated about 10km (six miles) east of Como at the foot of the mountainous area known as the Lombard Prealps.  Its Romanesque church of Sant' Eufemia has an eye-catching 11th century bell tower and there are the remains of a medieval castle.

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Also on this day:

1964: The birth of Italy's 1990 goals hero Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci


23 September 2016

Mussolini's last stand

Deposed dictator proclaims Republic of Salò 

A Luftwaffe general inspects soldiers of the Italian Social Republic in Rome in 1943
A Luftwaffe general inspects soldiers of the Italian Social
Republic in Rome in 1943
In what would prove the final chapter of his political career - and his life - Benito Mussolini proclaimed the creation of the Italian Social Republic on this day in 1943.

The establishment of this new state with the Fascist dictator as its leader was announced just 11 days after German special forces freed Mussolini from house arrest in the Apennine mountains.

Although Mussolini was said to be in failing health and had hoped to slip quietly into the shadows after his escape, Hitler's compassion for his Italian ally - whose rescue had been on the direct orders of the Fuhrer - did not extend to giving him an easy route into retirement.

Faced with an Allied advance along the Italian peninsula that was gathering momentum, he put Mussolini in charge of the area of northern and central Italy of which the German army had taken control following the Grand Fascist Council's overthrow of the dictator.

Although the area was renamed the Italian Social Republic - also known as the Republic of Salò after the town on the shores of Lake Garda where Mussolini's new government was headquartered - it was essentially a puppet German state.  Only Germany and its other ally, Japan, recognised it as legitimate.

Mussolini and Hitler in Munich with Ciano second left in the picture
Mussolini and Hitler in Munich with
Ciano second left in the picture
Reluctant though he was now to continue what he knew was a losing fight against the Allies, Mussolini did take advantage of his restored powers by taking revenge against those Fascists he perceived to have betrayed him by voting for his removal.

These included his son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano, his former Foreign Minister, who had fled to Germany after Mussolini's reinstatement only to be sent back on Hitler's orders.  Mussolini's daughter, Edda, pleaded with her father for Ciano to be spared but she was ignored. Ciano and five others were executed by firing squad.

Although Mussolini was theoretically head of his own Italian army, which numbered about 150,000 personnel, decisions were taken in Germany, among them an order to carry out mass executions of Italian citizens in revenge for attacks on German soldiers by the Italian resistance.  One such attack in March 1944 triggered the slaughter of 335 Italians in retaliation for a bomb attack that killed 33 German soldiers. Mussolini was powerless to prevent the massacre of his own citizens, which hardly helped his popularity.

Meanwhile, the Allied advanced steadily forced the German army into retreat and by April 1945 the end for Mussolini and his Italian Social Republic was becoming inevitable.  In his public speeches, Mussolini was defiant, urging his people to ‘fight to the last Italian’. Secretly, however, he was plotting his escape.

On April 25, accompanied by a few fellow Fascists who still supported him, he and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, fled Salò, hoping to reach neutral Switzerland. His wife, Rachele, was left behind in Salò.  He had been on the run for only a day, however, when he was recognised at a checkpoint set up by Italian partisans on the shores of Lake Como and captured.

Two days later, Mussolini, Petacci and the rest of his entourage were executed, after which their bodies were taken to Milan and suspended for public display from a beam above a petrol station.

Travel tip:

For all its regrettable association with such a despised figure as Mussolini, Salò has recovered to become a pleasant resort on the shore of Lake Garda, visited by many tourists each year. Its promenade is the longest of any of the lakeside towns and it has a Duomo rebuilt in Gothic style in the 15th century as well as a museum commemorating, among other things, the resistance against Fascism.

Piazzale Loreto in Milan today, a square bearing little resemblance to how it looked in 1945
Piazzale Loreto in Milan today, a square bearing little
resemblance to how it looked in 1945
Travel tip:

Visitors to Milan hoping to find the scene of Mussolini's final humiliation, when his body and those of his mistress and accomplices were hung upside down from a beam across an Esso petrol station, will find little evidence that the event took place.  Piazzale Loreto, the location of the Esso station, was renamed Piazza Quindici Martiri in honour of 15 Italian partisans murdered by Fascist militia in the same square in 1944. Nowadays a busy intersection of the SP11 highway north-west of the city centre at the end of the Corso Buenos Aires, it has changed in appearance so much as to be unrecognisable in comparison with archive pictures showing how it was in the 1940s.

(Wartime photos from German archives)
(Photo of Piazzale Loreto by Arbalete CC BY-SA 3.0)

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28 April 2016

The death of Benito Mussolini

Fascist dictator captured and killed on shores of Lake Como

Photo of cross marking place Mussolini was killed
A small cross bearing Mussolini's name marks the spot in
Giulino di Mezzegra where his execution was carried out
Benito Mussolini, the dictator who ruled Italy for 21 years until he was deposed in 1943, was killed by Italian partisans on this day in 1945, at the village of Giulino di Mezzegra on the shore of Lake Como.

The 61-year-old leader of the National Fascist Party had been captured the previous day in the town of Dongo, further up the lake, as he attempted to reach Switzerland along with his mistress, Claretta Petacci, and a number of Fascist officials.  With Nazi Germany on the brink of defeat, Mussolini had been planning to board a plane in Switzerland in order to fly to Spain.

Mussolini was said to have donned a Luftwaffe helmet and overcoat in the hope that he would not be recognised but the disguise did not work.

Fearing that the Germans would try to free him, as they had two years earlier when Italy's King Victor Emmanuel III placed him under house arrest in mountainous Abruzzo, the partisans hid Mussolini and the others in a remote farmhouse.

The following morning, along the coast of the lake at Mezzegra, their captives were stood against a wall and shot dead. The executions were said to have been carried out by a partisan who went under the name of Colonnello Valerio.  A communist politician, Walter Audisio, later claimed he was Colonnello Valerio.

From Mezzegra the bodies were taken in a van to Milan, where they were dumped in what used to be called Piazzale Loreto, a square with symbolic significance.  Later renamed Piazza Quindici Martiri, it had been the place at which Fascist militia had displayed the bodies of 15 murdered Italian partisans a year earlier.

Photo of bodies of Mussolini, Petacci and others
The bodies of Mussolini, his mistress and others were
hung upside down in a square in Milan
Famously, after being kicked, beaten and spat upon by a mob of angry Milanese citizens, the bodies of Mussolini, Petacci and others were hung upside down from the roof of an Esso petrol station.

American troops removed the bodies later in the day and they were transferred to the city mortuary. Mussolini's corpse was buried in an unmarked grave in a Milan cemetery only to be stolen by fanatics claiming allegiance to the Fascist cause.

Once the authorities recovered the body, its location was kept secret for more than a decade. Eventually, in 1957, prime minister Adone Zoli arranged for it to be returned to Mussolini's birthplace in Predappio, just outside Forlì in Emilia-Romagna, where it remains today, buried in the family crypt at a cemetery just outside the town.

Mussolini's attempted escape to Switzerland was his last desperate act. After he was liberated by the Germans in 1943, he had been placed in charge of an area of northern Italy that became known as the Republic of Salò, with its administrative base in the town on Lake Garda of that name. He decided to flee when it became clear that the Allied invasion of the Italian peninsula from the south would not be halted.

He had been told that the Germans were preparing to surrender. Indeed, two days after Mussolini was killed, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin.

Photo of the town of Dongo in Northern Italy
The town of Dongo is situated in a picturesque
location on the shore of Lake Como
Travel tip:

Dongo is one of many picturesque towns along the shore of Lake Como, with a number of hotels, restaurants and shops.  It is very popular during the summer months and also attracts walkers, who can explore nearby mountain villages on foot. Dongo has a small harbour adjoining the town's main square, where one can find the Palazzo Manzi, built in 1803 and now Dongo's town hall.  The ground floor houses the Museum of the End of the War, refurbished in 2014, dedicated to the partisans and in particular to the capture of Mussolini.

Travel tip:

Predappio, a modest rural town about 18 kilometres south of Forlì, has become a site of pilgrimage for neo-Fascists from Italy and other parts of Europe.  Although some residents would prefer not to be reminded of its association with such a dark period in Italian history, there are echoes of the Fascist era in a number of buildings constructed in characteristic style after a landslide in 1924, when the national government wanted Predappio to be celebrated as Il Duce's birthplace.  Tacky Fascist souvenirs are still sold in some shops despite previous moves to ban them.  In 2014, the local mayor announced plans for a museum dedicated to the history of Fascism, not to celebrate the Mussolini era but as a place of reflection.

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(Photo of Dongo by BKLuis CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of cross in Mezzegra by Johnnyb11 CC BY-SA 3.0)