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

15 August 2023


A chance to enjoy quieter cities while Italians take a holiday

Ferragosto is a traditional festival that dates back to Roman times and has religious significance too
Ferragosto is a traditional festival that dates back
to Roman times and has religious significance too
Italy, San Marino and the Italian speaking region of Switzerland all celebrate Ferragosto on this day every year with a public holiday.

This day of celebration originated during Roman times, when Feriae Augusti, the festival of the Roman Emperor Augustus, took place on 1 August. It was a day of rest for working people to signal the culmination of weeks of hard work by labourers on the land.

The month of August itself is named after Augustus. Its original name was sextilis, as it was the sixth month in the Roman calendar. Just as Julius Caesar had previously renamed quintilis - the fifth month - Iulius after himself, it was only natural for Augustus, as Julius Caesar’s chosen heir, to follow suit.

Over the centuries, it became traditional for workers to wish their employers ‘Buon Ferragosto, and to receive a bonus of extra money from their bosses in return. During the Renaissance, this tradition actually became law throughout the Papal States.

The Catholic Church moved the date for Ferragosto to 15 August to coincide with the celebrations for the Feast of the Assumption, a day of worship to mark the ascendance of the Virgin Mary into Heaven.

Many Italians head for the nation's famous beaches when the Ferragosto holiday begins
Many Italians head for the nation's famous
beaches when the Ferragosto holiday begins
In the 20th century, Mussolini gave Italian workers the chance to visit cultural cities, or to go to the seaside between 14 and 16 August, with special ‘holiday trains’ offering people rail tickets at discounted prices.

Horses, donkeys and mules were also released from their work for this period in August and it therefore became traditional for their owners to decorate them with flowers to celebrate their holidays. As a result, horse races, such as the Palio dell’Assunta in Siena became established and the first of the two annual runnings of the famous Palio still takes place on 16 August.

The name Palio is thought to derive from the Latin word pallium, which refers to the piece of precious fabric that was given to the winners of horse races in Roman times. The 19th century opera, Pagliacci, by Ruggero Leoncavallo was named because the action in the story is meant to have taken place on the day of Ferragosto.

Nowadays, many businesses close for two weeks in the middle of August and their employees take a mandatory holiday during this period. Ferragosto gives Italians the chance to escape from the heat of the cities by taking a trip to the seaside, lakes or mountains. News bulletins are often dominated by reports of huge traffic jams on the autostrade as Italians leave the cities en masse.

The history of the Palio di Siena is closely linked with the traditions of Ferragosto
The history of the Palio di Siena is closely
linked with the traditions of Ferragosto
This also gives tourists the chance to enjoy the big cities when they are quieter than usual. Although banks, post offices and some businesses are closed for Ferragosto, the museums, palaces and cultural sites remain open for Italian people and tourists to visit.

In many parts of Italy, there are special church services, religious processions and fireworks displays to enjoy on 15 August. It is traditional for families to get together to celebrate Ferragosto and therefore restaurants are open and many even offer special festive menus.

Public transport operates on a reduced ‘festivi’ timetable, so it is a good idea to check the times of buses and trains as they may be different from usual.

Buon Ferragosto!

Ferragosto is a good time to visit attractions such as the Colosseum
Ferragosto is a good time to visit
attractions such as the Colosseum

Travel tip:

It is well worth visiting Rome at Ferragosto as the city will be quieter than usual, but the main cultural sites, such as the Pantheon, the Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo are all open. Most restaurants will remain open and many will be serving Pollo alla Romana, the traditional Roman Ferragosto dish of chicken cooked in a sauce of red and orange peppers and tomatoes.

Ferragosto on Lake Garda is famous for many spectacular fireworks displays
Ferragosto on Lake Garda is famous for many
spectacular fireworks displays
Travel tip:

Lake Garda in Lombardy is a lively place to visit for Ferragosto as there are often fireworks displays, live music and other events taking place at the side of the lake in many of the resorts.  The town of Garda is famous for its Palio delle Contrade, a rowing race staged in celebration of the fishing community that has been repeated annually for over 50 years. It takes place as dusk falls on the stretch of water between the port and the town hall, contested by the flat-based gondolas representing the nine contrade - neighbourhoods - of the town. Each boat is crewed by four oarsmen in full traditional costume, with the winners receiving a wooden statue of Our Lady Of Assumption.

Also on this day:

1702: The birth of landscape painter Francesco Zuccarelli 

1922: The birth of economic historian Carlo Cipolla

1944: The birth of fashion designer Gianfranco Ferré


19 April 2018

Sara Simeoni - high jumper

Held world record and won Olympic gold

Sara Simeoni won the Olympic gold medal in 1980 in Moscow
Sara Simeoni won the Olympic gold
medal in 1980 in Moscow
The high jumper Sara Simeoni, who is regarded as one of Italy’s greatest female athletes, was born on this day in 1953 in Rivoli Veronese, a village about 20km (12 miles) northwest of Verona.

Only the second woman to clear two metres, she won the gold medal in her event at the Moscow Olympics of 1980, setting a Games record in the process.

The Moscow Games was boycotted by 66 countries in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, yet Simeoni, who competed under the Olympic flag after Italy left the issue of participation up to individual athletes, still deserved applause as the only winner in the women’s track and field programme not from an Eastern Bloc country.

She confessed later that she suffered a panic attack just before the final in the Lenin Stadium and was physically sick, but then reminded herself that she was the world record holder and eventually beat the Polish jumper Urszula Kielan with a leap of 1.97m, an Olympic record.

A great friend of the late Pietro Mennea, another 1980 Olympic champion from whom she drew inspiration, she had won the silver medal in Montreal in 1976 and did so again in Los Angeles in 1984.

Simeoni won nine other major international championships, including the European indoor title four times, and after clearing 2.01m in Brescia in 1978 held the Italian high jump record for 29 years.

Simeoni wanted to be a dancer but was told she was too tall
Simeoni wanted to be a dancer but was
told she was too tall
An advocate for the Fosbury Flop style of high jumping, in which the jumper approaches the bar on a curving run and jumps head first and legs last, with the back facing downwards, Simeoni took up athletics first of all as a way to spend time with her friends outside school.

She had wanted to be a dancer, but at 1.78m (5ft 10ins) and with size 41 shoes (UK equivalent size 8), she was physically better suited to other pursuits. When she began to practise the high jump aged 13, it was clear she had talent. She won the Italian national championships for the first time in 1970 and defended the title successfully for 10 years in a row before being beaten by Sandra Dini in 1981. Simeoni regained her crown in 1982 and had won it 14 times when she retired in 1986. She was also 10 times Italian indoor champion, as well as the national pentathlon champion in 1972.

Her first major international competition was the European outdoor championships in 1971 and she was sixth at the Munich Olympics in 1972 before winning her first medal, the bronze, at the Universiade in Moscow the following year.

Simeoni’s first gold medal at a major games came at the 1975 Mediterranean Games in Algiers, which she followed with Olympic silver in 1976, when she was beaten by the East German Rosie Ackermann, who would become one of her fiercest rivals.

In 1977, she began an extraordinary run of successes that brought her nine gold medals in the space of five seasons and established her as one of Italy’s greatest athletes, male or female.

Simeoni in 2013 at the funeral of her friend, the Italian sprint champion Pietro Mennea
Simeoni in 2013 at the funeral of her friend, the
Italian sprint champion Pietro Mennea
In that period, Simeoni was European indoor champion four times, won gold at the Universiade twice and took the Mediterranean title for a second time as well as becoming European outdoor champion in 1978 and fulfilling her Olympic dream in 1980.

Winning the European title in Prague in August 1978, she matched the world record mark of 2.01m she had set in Brescia only a few weeks earlier.

He silver medal at the 1984 Olympics was considered a personal triumph, even though she was beaten by West Germany’s Ulrike Meyfarth in the final.  Simeoni had struggled with tendon injuries over the preceding two years and was not expected to do particularly well.  The Italian Olympic Committee, recognising her career achievements, asked her to carry the Italian flag at the opening ceremony.

Once she began competing, however, the instincts that had enabled her to win so many medals kicked in and she pushed Meyfarth all the way, clearing two metres for the first time in six years.

Simeoni married her coach, Ermino Azzaro, and they have a son, Roberto, who is also a high jumper.

After giving up competition, Simeoni became a teacher at a middle school in Garda, on the lake of the same name, as well as an ambassador for young people and women’s rights. In 2020 she was lecturing in motor sciences at the University of Chieti in the Abruzzo region of central Italy.

A view over Rivoli Veronese
A view over Rivoli Veronese
Travel tip:

Rivoli Veronese, a village on a hill on the banks of the Adige river, is famous as the scene of the Battle of Rivoli in January 1797, in which Napoleon inflicted a decisive defeat upon the Austrians. The famous Paris street Rue de Rivoli, which extends from Place de la Concorde almost to Place de la Bastille, 3.8km (2.4 miles) to the southeast, passing the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre.   In military history, the area has always been seen as a formidable obstacle.

The waterfront at Garda on Lake Garda
The waterfront at Garda on Lake Garda
Travel tip:

The popular resort of Garda is one of the main resorts on the southern end of the lake that bears its name. Garda shows traces of habitation over many centuries, from the Venetian merchants' villas to rock etchings in the hills above the town.  Santa Maria Assunta, the parish church, originally dates from the 6th-7th century but was not completed until 1764. A rebuilding project in 1530 was abandoned due to lack of funds.

More reading:

Pietro Mennea - the Italian won became one of the world's best sprinters

The long-distance feats of Alberto Cova

How Raimondo d'Inzeo competed in eight consecutive Olympics

Also on this day:

1798: The death of the brilliant Venetian painter Canaletto

1937: The birth of chef Antonio Carluccio



10 October 2016

Daniele Comboni – Saint

Missionary who worked miracles after his death

Daniele Comboni
Daniele Comboni
The Feast Day - festa - of Saint Daniel Comboni - San Daniele - is held on this day every year in Italy.

Saint Daniel, who was a Roman Catholic missionary to Africa, died on this day at the age of 50 in 1881 in Khartoum in the Sudan. He was canonised in 2003 by Pope John Paul II in recognition of two miracle cures claimed to have been brought about by his intercession.

Comboni was born in 1831 at Limone sul Garda in the province of Brescia in Lombardy in northern Italy.

His parents were poor and he was the only one of their eight children to live to become an adult.

Comboni was sent away to school in Verona and after completing his studies prepared to become a priest.

He met and was profoundly influenced by missionaries who had come back from Central Africa and three years after his ordination set off with five other priests to continue their work.

After they reached Khartoum some of his fellow missionaries became ill and died because of the climate, sickness and poverty they encountered, but Comboni remained determined to continue with his mission.

On his return to Italy, while praying for guidance at the tomb of Saint Peter in Rome, Comboni came up with the idea of a missionary project to save Africa.

A statue of Daniele Comboni in Verona, where
he was educated before training to be a priest
He wanted the Church and society to be more concerned about Africa and so he launched appeals throughout Europe for aid for Africa.

He established missionary institutes for men and for women, becoming the first person to bring women into missionary work in central Africa.

In 1877 he was named Vicar Apostolic of Central Africa and ordained a bishop. In 1880 he travelled to Africa again to speak out against the slave trade, but the following year, after falling ill with disease, he died. His last words were believed to have been: ‘I am dying, but my work will not die.’

His work was continued by the Comboni missionaries, whose numbers grew to nearly 2000 members spread all over the world.

More than 100 years later it was believed that an Afro-Brazilian girl and a Muslim mother from the Sudan were both cured of illness by a miracle worked through Comboni’s intercession.

This led to Comboni being canonised by Pope John Paul II in St Peter’s in Rome in 2003.

The stairway to the church of San Rocco in Limone sul Garda
The stairway to the church of San
Rocco in Limone sul Garda
Travel tip:

Limone sul Garda where Comboni was born is one of the most popular resorts on Lake Garda and the only tourist attraction on the north west side of the lake. It can be reached from Riva del Garda along a narrow road that travels through tunnels inside the cliffs. In the centre of the town is the 15th century church of San Rocco, built by residents of Limone who had survived the plague. It is accessed by a picturesque stairway decorated with flowers and plants and is one of the most photographed sights in Limone.

Travel tip:

Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake, with soft hills at the southern end and steep rugged cliffs at the northern end where Limone is situated. The beauty of Lake Garda has been praised by Catullus, Dante and Goethe over the centuries and nowadays it is a popular holiday destination in Italy visited by tourists from all over the world.

(Photo of Comboni statue by Giacomo Augusto 2 CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of San Rocco stairway from

More reading:

Pope John Paul II forgives the man who tried to assassinate him

Celebrating the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi 

From Naples to New York, Italians celebrate the Festival of San Gennaro


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)

More reading

Germans free Mussolini in daring Gran Sasso raid

Partisans capture and execute dictator Mussolini


24 June 2016

Battle of Solferino

Suffering of soldiers led to the founding of the Red Cross

Painting by Carlo Bossoli of the Battle of Solferino
A scene from the Battle of Solferino painted by the
Swiss-born Italian artist Carlo Bossoli
The Battle of Solferino took place on this day in 1859 south of Lake Garda between Milan and Verona.

It was the last battle in world history where all the armies were under the personal command of their monarchs.

The French army under Napoleon III was allied with the Sardinian army commanded by Victor Emmanuel II. Together, they were victorious against the Austrian army led by Emperor Franz Joseph I.

The battle lasted more than nine hours and resulted in thousands of deaths on both sides.

The Austrians were forced to retreat and it was a crucial step towards the eventual unification of Italy under an Italian King.

Jean-Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman, toured the battlefield afterwards and was horrified by what he saw, joining in with the efforts of local people to care for the injured.

Greatly moved by the suffering of the thousands of wounded and dying soldiers, he wrote a book about what he had seen and set about establishing the International Red Cross.

This battle is also referred to as the Battle of Solferino and San Martino as there was fighting near both of the towns.

Travel tip:

Solferino is in the province of Mantua about ten kilometres south of Lake Garda. A chapel, the Cappella Ossuaria, behind the Church of San Pietro in Solferino, contains the remains of about 7000 soldiers. There is also a museum with weapons and memorabilia from the battle.

Photo of the harbour at Desenzano del Garda
The harbour at Desenzano del Garda
Travel tip:

San Martino della Battaglia, where the Austrians took a pounding from Victor Emanuel II’s troops, is close to the lovely resort of Desenzano del Garda, at the foot of Lake Garda. Desenzano is a good base for a holiday as a boat service links it with other pretty resorts on the lake, such as Sirmione, Bardolino and Peschiera.


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.

More reading:

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