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

15 April 2023

Italy’s first nuclear reactor opens

Facility based on pioneer Enrico Fermi’s historic Chicago-Pile series

The Ispra-1 reactor was the first nuclear reactor to be built on Italian soil
The Ispra-1 reactor was the first nuclear
reactor to be built on Italian soil
The first nuclear reactor to be built on Italian soil was inaugurated on this day in 1959 at Ispra, a small town on the eastern shore of Lago Maggiore.

The facility, which preceded the first generation of nuclear power plants serving the need for clean, reliable and plentiful electricity sources for industrial and domestic use, was built purely for research purposes.

It was opened four years ahead of the country’s first commercial nuclear plant, at Latina in Lazio.

The 5 megawatt Ispra-1 research reactor, as it was titled, was modelled on the latest version of the Chicago-Pile 5 series developed by Enrico Fermi, the Rome-born nuclear physicist who created the world’s first nuclear reactor, the Chicago-Pile 1, following his discovery that if uranium neutrons were emitted into fissioning uranium, they could split other uranium atoms, setting off a chain reaction that would release enormous amounts of energy.

The Ispra-1 reactor was built by Italy’s National Nuclear Research Council. It was officially transferred to the European Community in March 1961, becoming a Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission. 

It was used for studies and research on core physics, new materials for the construction of nuclear power reactors, as well as neutron fluxes and their interaction with living matter.

Until the 1960s, much of Italy’s electricity had been generated from renewable sources. Although the first power plant in continental Europe, opened in Milan in 1883, was carbon-fuelled, the country’s abundance of mountains and lakes enabled it to develop a huge hydroelectric power sector.

The Trino Vercellese nuclear plant was named after the Italian nuclear pioneer Enrico Fermi
The Trino Vercellese nuclear plant was named
after the Italian nuclear pioneer Enrico Fermi
Fossil fuels began to take over in the 1960s to meet the needs of a growing population but there was a common belief that nuclear energy could provide, within only a few years, safely and economically, all the power that Italy needed. 

By 1964, three nuclear power plants had been built, all approximately 50km (31 miles) from major cities. They were at Trino Vercellese, north of Turin, at Sessa Aurunca in Campania, north of Naples, and at Latina, south of Rome.

Yet after the electricity sector in Italy was nationalised in 1962, investment in nuclear stalled. It was not until 1978 that a fourth nuclear power station, at Caorso in Emilia-Romagna, was completed.  The 1973 world oil crisis had prompted another round of enthusiastic plans for the nuclear sector, but again they were ultimately downgraded.

The most significant setback of all followed the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, fallout from which affected parts of northern Italy and was blamed for a decline in birth rate in 1987. The Italian government organised a referendum to gauge public feeling about the future of nuclear power, the results of which led to a decision to close two plants and terminate work on another.

Another referendum in 2011 following a nuclear accident in Japan confirmed that public opinion had not shifted and a new company was created to take charge of decommissioning all nuclear sites in Italy, including the research facility at Ispra.

The Cattedrale di San Marco is an example of Latina's architecture
The Cattedrale di San Marco is an
example of Latina's architecture
Travel tip:

Latina, where one of Italy’s now-decommissioned nuclear power stations was opened in 1963, is a city built during the Fascist era of the 1920s and 1930s when Mussolini’s government fulfilled a pledge to drain the inhospitable, mosquito-ridden Pontine Marshes, visitors to which frequently became infected with malaria. Built on that reclaimed land, and originally called Littoria when it was established in 1932, its stands as a monument to the architectural style that typified the era, which combined some elements of classicism, with its preponderance of columns and arches, with the stark lines of 1920s and 30s rationalism. It has a large number of monuments and edifices, including a town hall with a tall clock tower and a cathedral, designed by architects such as Marcello Piacentini and Angiolo Mazzoni. Renamed Latina in 1946, it has grown into a substantial city with a population of 126,000, making it the second largest city in Lazio after Rome.

Ispra's coastal pathways are popular with visitors to the Lago Maggiore town
Ispra's coastal pathways are popular with
visitors to the Lago Maggiore town
Travel tip:

Ispra, which sits on the eastern shore of Lago Maggiore about 25km (16 miles) west of its provincial capital, Varese, is an area popular with walkers for its lakeside footpaths, including the poetically named passeggiata dell’amore, and with golfers for the Parco del Golfo della Quassa. The Joint Research Centre still exists, despite the decommissioning of the nuclear plant. It comprises the Institute for the Protection and the Security of the Citizen (IPSC), the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) and the Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP). The site itself is an area of natural preservation, covering an area of 157 hectares (390 acres) of pine, birch, oak and chestnut trees.

Also on this day:

1446: The death of architect Filippo Brunelleschi

1452: The birth of Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci

1754: The death of mathematician Jacopo Riccati

1882: The birth of anti-Fascist politician Giovanni Amendola


6 January 2019

Baldassare Verazzi - painter

Piedmontese artist famous for image of uprising in Milan

Verazzi's Episodio delle Cinque Giornate
 (Combattimento a Palazzo Litta)
The painter Baldassare Verazzi, whose most famous work depicts a scene from the anti-Austrian uprising known as The Five Days of Milan, was born on this day in 1819 in Caprezzo, a tiny village in Piedmont, 120km (75 miles) from Turin in the hills above Lake Maggiore.

Something of a revolutionary in that he was an active supporter of the Risorgimento, it is supposed that he was in Milan in 1848 when citizens rose up against the ruling forces of the Austrian Empire, which controlled much of northern Italy.

The Cinque Giornate di Milano, in March of that year, comprised five days of street fighting that eventually resulted in the Austrian garrison being expelled from the city, marking the start of the First Italian War of Independence.

Verazzi’s painting, which is today on display at the Museum of the Risorgimento in the Castello Sforza in Milan, is entitled Episodio delle Cinque Giornate (Combattimento a Palazzo Litta), and shows three figures sheltering behind a barricade while another aims a rifle over the barricade, presumably in the direction of Austrian troops.

Born into a family of humble origins, Verazzi studied at the Brera Academy in Milan from 1833 to 1842 under the guidance of the Venetian painter Francesco Hayez. He participated in numerous art exhibitions in Milan and Turin.

In 1851 he won the prestigious Canonica Prize with The Parable of the Samaritan and in 1854 the Mylius Prize with his portrait of Raphael, which was presented to Pope Julius II.

Verazzi's Portrait of a Gentleman and Girls, in the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires
Verazzi's Portrait of a Gentleman and Girls, in the
National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires
He became sought after for his frescoes, depicting historical scenes, such as his work on the dome of the enclosed annex to the Fatebenesorelle Hospital in Milan.

Although he had no shortage of work in Lombardy and Piedmont - his paintings can be found in many churches across the two regions - Verazzi took the bold decision in 1856 to move to South America.

Settling first in Buenos Aires, he became known for his historical and allegorical compositions, and for portraits, as well as the decorations at the Teatro Colón.

In Buenos Aires an intense rivalry developed between him and another Italian painter, Ignazio Manzoni, while he also had a dispute with General Justo José de Urquiza, an influential politician and military leader, which led him to move on to Montevideo in Uruguay, where he became a sought-after portraitist and decorated the frescoes of the Rotonda of the city cemetery.

Between Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, he spent 12 fruitful years of his artistic career in South America, where he became one of the most appreciated and well-known painters.

He returned to Italy in 1868 but decided not to reopen his former studio in Milan in favour of taking up residence again in Caprezzo, although he ultimately decided that the wealth he had accumulated in South America deserved something grander.

Eventually, he took a fancy to the small town of Lesa, on the shores of Lake Maggiore and a favourite of the novelist Alessandro Manzoni.

He bought a extensive property in the hamlet of Villa Lesa, where he spent the last 16 years of his life, 1870 to 1886, and where his son Serafino, who also became a noted painter, was born in 1875.

The town of Lesa on the shores of Lake Maggiore, which was once the home of novelist Alessandro Manzoni
The town of Lesa on the shores of Lake Maggiore, which
was once the home of novelist Alessandro Manzoni
Travel tip:

Lesa is a pretty town on the shores of Lake Maggiore, halfway between Stresa and Arona, known for its calm atmosphere and beautiful views. The town and surrounding area is notable for its many extravagant villas and palaces, with gardens and distinctive architecture, a legacy of its one-time popularity with noble families. It remains a sought-after area for the wealthy, such as the businessman and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who owns the Villa Campari, built by Gaspare Campari, inventor of the famous aperitif liqueur.  On the lakeshore are the ruins of a castle that once guarded the town.

The Cascata del Toce waterfall is one of the attractions of the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in Piedmont
The Cascata del Toce waterfall is one of the attractions
of the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in Piedmont
Travel tip:

Caprezzo is part of the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, an area of unspoiled nature that encompasses many beautiful valleys such as Val d’Ossola, through which flows the Toce River and the dramatic Cascata del Toce waterfall. The area includes the picturesque Lake Mergozzo, the northern bank of Lake Orta and the town of Omegna, which in the early part of the 20th century was famous for the production of small domestic appliances, including the first coffee makers and pressure cookers. The province includes the western bank of Lake Maggiore that hosts renowned resorts of Cannobio, Cannero Riviera, Verbania, Baveno and Stresa, as well as the Borromean Islands, lying in the middle of Lake Maggiore, including the Baroque palace and gardens of Isola Bella.

More reading:

What happened in the Five Days of Milan

Why Alessandro Manzoni is considered to have written the greatest novel in Italian history

Garibaldi and the Expedition of the Thousand

Also on this day:

Befana - the Italian tradition on January 6

1907: Educationalist Maria Montessori opens her first school

1938: The birth of Italy's biggest-selling recording artist Adriano Celentano


24 February 2018

Cesare “Caesar” Cardini – restaurateur

Italian emigrant who invented Caesar salad

Cesare 'Caesar' Cardini with the ingredients for his famous salad
Cesare 'Caesar' Cardini with the
ingredients for his famous salad
The restaurateur who history credits with inventing the Caesar salad was born on this day in 1896 in Baveno, a small town on the shore of Lake Maggiore.

Cesare Cardini was one of a large family, with four brothers and two sisters.  In common with many Italians in the early part of the 20th century, his brothers Nereo, Alessandro and Gaudenzio emigrated to the United States, hoping there would be more opportunities to make a living.

Nereo is said to have opened a small hotel in Santa Cruz, California, south of San Francisco, while Alessandro and Guadenzio went to Mexico City.

Cesare left Italy for America in 1913. Records indicate he disembarked at Ellis Island, New York on May 1, having endured the transatlantic voyage as a steerage passenger, sleeping in a cargo hold equipped with dozens of bunk beds, which was the cheapest way to travel but came with few comforts.

He is thought then to have returned to Italy for a few years, working in restaurants in Milan, but ventured back to the United States in 1919.  This time he settled, first in Sacramento, then in San Diego, on the Pacific Ocean and close to the border with Mexico.

During the Prohibition Era, from 1920 to 1933, when alcoholic drinks were illegal in the US, many restaurateurs in San Diego crossed the border in Tijuana, where there were no restrictions, and attracted streams of American diners.

Cardini had many thriving restaurants in California and, for a while, in Tijuana, just over the Mexican border
Cardini had many thriving restaurants in California and, for
a while, in Tijuana, just over the Mexican border
The story is that Cesare – by now known as Caesar – opened a business in Tijuana, probably with his brother, Alessandro, who was calling himself Alex.  They were always busy on the major public holidays and Cesare’s daughter, Rosa, claimed that Caesar salad came into being on Independence Day, 1924. With a packed restaurant, her father suddenly found himself running short of ingredients.

Whenever a diner found his choice of dish was no longer available, Cesare is said to have offered to make them a special salad, made with such a mouthwatering combination of ingredients they would be delighted they opted to try it.

In fact, the only salad ingredient he had left was some romaine lettuces. Yet with great theatre, he is said to have arrived at the table with a bowl of lettuce leaves, into which he tossed raw eggs, olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese and Worcestershire sauce, mixed them all together and invited diners to savour the flavour by eating the coated leaves by holding the stem with their fingers.

Needless to say, the combination of sweet lettuce and the creamy, tangy dressing proved a big hit. The restaurant became even more popular and over the next few years the recipe rapidly spread across America.

The Cardini brand is still on sale today
The Cardini brand is still on sale today
Wallis Simpson, the Socialite for whom the English king, Edward VIII, so controversially gave up the throne in 1936, is said to have introduced the salad to Europe by insisting that her French chef learned how to make it.

Meanwhile, back in Mexico, a change in the gambling laws caused tourism to Tijuana to go into decline, and Cesare Cardini, with wife, Camille, and daughter Rosa, moved back to the United States, first to San Diego in 1935, and then to Los Angeles in 1938.

Demand for the salad dressing continued, and friends began asking for bottles and jars to be filled with it so they might enjoy it at home.  In time, Rosa began to sell bottles of the dressing on a market stall and was so successful her father decided it was worth producing on a commercial scale.

In 1948, he patented the recipe and established Caesar Cardini Foods, which gradually expanded its range of dressings and became an established name on tables across America and beyond.

Cardini died in 1956 after suffering a stroke at his Los Angeles home but Rosa took over the running of the company and developed the business to the extent that, at its peak, one in every four bottles of dressing on US tables had Cardini’s name on it.

She retired in 1988, although the name lives on. The licence to use the brand name is currently held by T Marzetti and Company, a business also founded by Italian emigrants, Teresa and Giuseppe Marzetti.

Rosa Cardini’s version of the origins of Caesar salad is not universally accepted.  Paul Maggiora, a partner of the Cardinis, claimed to have tossed the first Caesar salad in 1927 for American airmen from San Diego and called it Aviator's Salad.

Alessandro Cardini also claimed ownership of the recipe, which he also called Aviator's Salad, while Livio Santini, who worked in the kitchen at Cesare’s Tijuana restaurant, said that he made the salad from a recipe of his mother, and that Cesare borrowed the recipe from him.

The waterfront at Baveno, Cardini's home town on the western shore of Lake Maggiore
The waterfront at Baveno, Cardini's home town on the
western shore of Lake Maggiore
Travel tip:

The lakeside town of Baveno, where Cesare Cardini was born, lies on the western shore of Lake Maggiore, just a few kilometres from its better known neighbour, Stresa. Both look out over the Borromean Islands, famous for their beautiful cultivated gardens.  The attractions of Baveno include its mineral water springs, the pink granite that is quarried nearby and a series of opulent villas dotted along the nearby coastline, including the Villa Henfrey-Branca, noticeable for its castle-like turrets, where Queen Victoria was a regular visitor from Britain as a guest of the engineer Charles Henfrey.

The island of Isola Bella is a major tourist attraction
The island of Isola Bella is a major tourist attraction
Travel tip:

Although smaller in area than Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore is the longest of the Italian lakes, stretching for 65km (40 miles) from Arona in Lombardy to its northern extreme in Locarno in Switzerland.  It is also extremely deep, plunging 179m (587ft) at its deepest.  Because of its length, it has a different character at the Swiss end, where the scenery has an alpine feel, compared with the southern tip, which is at the edge of the Lombardy plain. The Borromean islands are the lake's biggest draw for tourists, with three of them - Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori are accessible to the public.

More reading:

Also on this day: 


8 December 2017

Johann Maria Farina - perfumier

Emigrant to Germany who invented Eau de Cologne

Johann Maria Farina gave his new  fragrance the name Eau di Cologne
Johann Maria Farina gave his new
fragrance the name Eau de Cologne
Johann Maria Farina, the Italian perfumier said to have created the world’s first Eau de Cologne, was born on this day in 1685 in the small town of Santa Maria Maggiore in Piedmont.

Farina’s family were masters in the art of distilling alcohol to carry fragrances, which involves different techniques to those used to distil alcohol to drink.

The method was developed in northern Africa, exported to Sicily and then on to the Italian mainland.  Farina’s antecedents brought it with them to Piedmont, where his grandmother established the family workshop in Santa Maria Maggiore, which is located about 130km (81 miles) northeast of Turin, not far from the border with Switzerland.

In his early 20s, Farina emigrated to Germany. Taking the name Johann Maria Farina - his given Italian name was Giovanni - he initially worked for an uncle who had moved to Cologne (Köln) some years earlier.

Feeling homesick, Farina began to dabble in experiments using the distilling techniques he had inherited. 

One day in 1708 he excitedly wrote a letter to his brother, Giovanni Battista Farina, exclaiming that he had produced a scent so pleasing to his nostrils that it was almost dreamlike in its qualities.

He wrote: “I have made a perfume reminiscent of an Italian spring morning, accompanied by a gentle freshness, where the scents of wild narcissus combine with sweet orange blossoms. The fragrance is refreshing and stimulative for my senses and imagination.”

Giovanni Paolo Feminis asked Farina to market his Aqua Mirabilis
Giovanni Paolo Feminis asked Farina to
market his Aqua Mirabilis
There have been suggestions that the recipe was not actually his but belonged to another product, Aqua Mirabilis, a medicinal mix that was the creation of Giovanni Paolo Feminis, a friend of the Farina family from Santa Maria Maggiore, which Farina had offered to market in Cologne.

Whatever the true story – and it is possible Farina used his distilling skills to give the formula his own twist - Farina was taken with the fragrance and gave it the name “Eau de Cologne” in honour of his adopted city.

In the summer of 1709, Giovanni Battista Farina arrived in Cologne, registered as a new resident at Cologne town hall, under the name of Johann Baptist Farina, and in August 1 of the same year signed a 12-year contract to rent a building opposite the Julichplatz in the street now known as Unter Goldschmeid.

With his brother-in-law, Franz Balthasar Borgnis, he founded Farina & Compagnie, which evolved into Gebrüder Farina & Compagnie - Farina Brothers and Co – after Johann Maria and another brother, Carlo Girolamo, joined the board.

The company is still operating more than 300 years later, from the same premises at the corner of Obenmarspforten, with the red tulip logo that was adopted at the very start.  It is the world’s oldest perfume factory. The current owners are the eighth generation of Giovanni’s family.

The perfume was originally sold in long, slender bottles called rosali
The perfume was originally sold in long,
slender bottles called rosali
The business initially sold a wide range of luxury items, such as lace, handkerchiefs, silk stockings, wigs, feathers, tobacco boxes, sealing wax and face powder.  After some wobbles at the start, resulting in the departures of Carlo Girolamo and Giovanni Battista’s brother-in-law and a renaming of the company to Fratelli Farina (Farina Brothers), business began to grow.

It was after the death of Giovanni Battista in 1924 that Johann Maria’s perfume became its focus.

In those days, when personal hygiene standards were a long way removed from those of today, it was normal for women and men to douse themselves liberally in scent and, once word of it spread, Farina’s fragrance became a sensation.

The exact recipe was a closely-guarded secret, naturally, and remains so. It contained a blend of the oils of many citrus fruits and flower essences, but most noticeable was the scent of Bergamot, the exotic citrus the size and shape of an orange with the colour of lime, grown in particular areas of southern Italy, Turkey and southern France.

The company was renamed again, this time simply as Johann Maria Farina, which has remained unchanged since.

From a small start – the first delivery of Eau de Cologne was for just 12 bottles in 1716 – Farina’s list of customers expanded rapidly. Between 1730 and 1739, around 3,700 of its distinctive long, slender bottles – named rosali - were delivered.

The company's Eau di Cologne - Acqua di Colonia - as packaged today
The company's Eau di Cologne - Acqua di
Colonia - as packaged today
Vitally, the fragrance soon became a royal and imperial favourite.  Frederick William I of Prussia, Clemens August of Bavaria, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, Maria Theresa of Austria and Louis XV of France were all taken with the unique scent and by 1740 it was being sold in cities all over Europe.

It was the favoured perfume of royal families through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Diana, Princess of Wales, enjoyed its delicate notes and deliveries were regularly made to her home in London. 

Other fans over the centuries included the composers Mozart and Beethoven, British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, the writers Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde, the Indian prime minister Indira Gandi and the actresses Marlene Dietrich and Romy Schneider.

Other manufacturers attempted to copy Farina’s formula, some with greater success than others.  The most famous imitation is undoubtedly 4711, named after its location at Glockengasse No. 4711.

The French fragrance manufacturer Roger & Gallet produces a fragrance called Johann Maria Farina, having bought the rights to Eau de Cologne extra vieille when Jean Marie Joseph Farina, a grand grand nephew of Johann, sold the company’s Paris store in 1806.

Johann Maria Farina died in Cologne in 1766.

A wall plaque identifies Farina's birthplace in Santa Maria Maggiore
A wall plaque identifies Farina's
birthplace in Santa Maria Maggiore 
Travel tip:

Visitors to Santa Maria Maggiore, a small town of around 1,200 residents 25km (16 miles) north of Verbania, can look round the Casa del Profumo in Piazza Risorgimento, a new museum set up to celebrate the lives of both Giovanni Paolo Feminis and Johann Maria Farina. The museum has developed a relationship with the perfume museum at the original Farina headquarters in Cologne.

Verbania is the largest town on Lake Maggiore
Verbania is the largest town on Lake Maggiore
Travel tip:

Verbania is the largest town on Lake Maggiore, with a population of a little more than 30,000.  It was formed in 1939 by the merger of three smaller towns – Intra, Pallanza and Suna.  Pallanza, the middle of the three, has a pretty harbour. Attractions include the Villa Taranto, which has a magnificent botanical garden, and the Isolino di San Giovanni, a small islet separated from the mainland by a stretch of water no more than 15 metres wide, which was for many years the home of the great conductor and musical director, Arturo Toscanini.

30 April 2017

Luigi Russolo – painter and composer

Futurist artist who invented 'noise music'

Luigi Russolo, pictured at the time he published his manifesto, in 1916
Luigi Russolo, pictured at the time he
published his manifesto, in 1916
Luigi Russolo, who is regarded as the first ‘noise music’ composer, was born on this day in 1885 in Portogruaro in the Veneto.

Russolo originally chose to become a painter and went to live in Milan where he met and was influenced by other artists in the Futurist movement.

Along with other leading figures in the movement, such as Carlo Carrà, he signed both the Manifesto of Futurist Painters and the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting as the artists set out how they saw Futurism being represented on canvas, and afterwards participated in Futurist art exhibitions.

Russolo issued his own manifesto, L’arte dei rumori, - The Art of Noises - in 1913, which he expanded into book form in 1916.

He stated that the industrial revolution had given modern man a greater capacity to appreciate more complex sounds. He found traditional, melodic music confining and envisioned noise music replacing it in the future.

Russolo invented intonarumori - noise-emitting machines - and conducted concerts using these machines. The audiences reacted with either enthusiasm or hostility to the style of music he produced.

Luigi Russolo (left), his fellow Futurist Ugo Piatti, and a  collection of the intonarumori machines he used for his music
Luigi Russolo (left), his fellow Futurist Ugo Piatti, and a
collection of the intonarumori machines he used for his music
None of these machines survived although they have since been reconstructed for use in performances.

The Art of Noises classified noise-sound into six groups, which included roars and thunderings, whistling and hissing, whispers and murmurs, beating different surfaces to make noises, voices of animals and people, and screeching, creaking, rustling, buzzing, crackling and scraping.

When Italy entered the First World War, Russolo volunteered to fight but was seriously wounded in 1917 and had to spend 18 months in hospital.

After he recovered, Russolo held three Futurist concerts in Paris during 1921 that were acclaimed by Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Ravel.

Russolo invented a series of musical instruments, rumorarmoni, which appeared in Futurist films for which he composed the music. These films have since been lost.

Russolo (left) with other Futursts in Paris in 1912
Russolo (left) with other Futursts in Paris in 1912
He held his last concert in 1929 at the opening of a Futurist show in Paris and then went to live in Spain for a while and studied occult philosophy.

When Russolo returned to Italy in 1933, he settled in Cerro on Lake Maggiore and took up painting again in a realist style that he called classic-modern. He died at Cerro in 1947.

Antonio Russolo, Luigi’s brother and another Futurist composer, produced a recording of two works featuring the original intonarumori. The phonograph recording made in 1921 included works entitled Corale and Serenata, which combined conventional orchestral music set against the sound produced by the noise machines. It is the only surviving contemporaneous recording of Luigi Russolo’s noise music.

The church of the Abbey of Summaga at Portogruaro
The church of the Abbey of Summaga at Portogruaro
Travel tip:

Portogruaro, where Russolo was born, was officially founded in 1140 when the local Archbishop gave a group of fishermen the right to settle there and build a river port. It was the medieval successor to the Roman town of Concordia Saggitaria and many Roman remains found there are now displayed in the Museo Concordiese. In 1420 Portogruaro’s citizens requested membership of the Republic of Venice. Portogruaro was then under Austrian control from 1815 until 1866 when it became part of the newly-unified Kingdom of Italy. It is now in the Veneto region on the main road linking Venice with Trieste. Among the many historic sights is the 11th century Abbey of Summaga, which has 11th and 12th century frescoes.

The harbour of Leveno-Mombello, of which Cerro is a hamlet
The harbour of Leveno-Mombello, of which Cerro is a hamlet
Travel tip:

Cerro, where Luigi Russolo died, is a hamlet of Laveno-Mombello on Lake Maggiore in the province of Varese. Laveno-Mombello is a port town that connects Verbania and the Borromean Islands with Varese and has beautiful views of the lake and islands.

More reading:

How Futurist painter Carlo Carrà captured violence at the funeral of an anarchist

Canaletto's images of Venice were sought after by wealthy travellers 

The strange sounds of avant-garde composer Luigi Nono

Also on this day:

7 November 2016

Luigi Riva - an Azzurri great

Italy's record goalscorer and hero of Cagliari

Striker Luigi 'Gigi' Riva pictured during Cagliari's victorious 1969-70 season
Striker Luigi 'Gigi' Riva pictured during
Cagliari's victorious 1969-70 season
Luigi 'Gigi' Riva, who was born on this day in 1944, is widely regarded as one of the finest strikers in the history of Italian football.   

Despite playing in an era when football in Italy was notoriously defensive, he scored more than 200 goals in a 16-year club career, 156 of them in Serie A for Cagliari, with whom he won the Scudetto (shield) as Italian League champions in 1970.

Nicknamed 'Rombo di tuono' - thunderclap - by the football writer Gianni Brera, Riva is also the all-time leading goalscorer for the Italian national team with 35 goals, his record having stood since 1974.

After his playing career, Riva spent 23 years as part of the management team for the Azzurri and was a key member of the backroom staff when Italy won the World Cup for a fourth time in 2006.

Born in Lombardia, not far from Lake Maggiore, Riva spent virtually his whole football career with Cagliari and made his home in Sardinia.  The 1969-70 title is the only championship in the club's history and Riva, who scored 21 goals in the title-winning season, is as revered on the island as Diego Maradona is in Naples.

Although he came from a loving home in the small town of Leggiuno, just a few kilometres inland from the shores of Lake Maggiore, Riva had a tough upbringing.

His father, Ugo, died when he was just eight years old, killed in an accident at the foundry where he worked, after which his mother, Edis, decided to send Luigi to a religious boarding school, where the regime was hard.

Luigi Riva in his Italy shirt
Luigi Riva in the Italy shirt in which his
goals tally is still the highest.
He did not blame his mother, who had no choice in her circumstances but to work long hours for low pay, but Riva would later confess to suffering loneliness and depression.   One of his regrets was that his mother did not live long enough for him to provide her with a comfortable retirement.

Release from the deprivations of school came when he was 15 and went to live with his sister, taking a job as a motor mechanic with dreams of becoming a racing driver.  But it was his skill as a footballer, and in particular what he could do with his powerful left foot, that began to get him noticed.  After scoring 63 goals in two seasons for a local amateur team, he earned a trial with Internazionale in Milan.  That came to nothing but he was offered a contract to play in Serie C for Legnano, based about 50km from Leggiuno.

He stayed there only one season.  His talent attracted numerous scouts and when Cagliari offered him the chance to play in Serie B he took it.

Sardinia was still a somewhat primitive island in 1963 and Riva was not sure what to make of it. His first impression was of a place 'where they sent people to punish them'.

Yet he grew to love the island and the Sardinians took him to their hearts.  Previously regarded as a perennial Serie B club, they were promoted to Serie A in his first season and, on the back of his goals, began to climb steadily.

Leading Serie A scorer in 1966-67, when Cagliari finished sixth, he was capocannoneri again in 1968-69 with 21 goals as Cagliari achieved the highest league position in their history as runners-up to Fiorentina.

But the crowning glory of his career was the 1969-70 season as Cagliari lost only two matches and conceded just 11 goals in winning their one and only Scudetto.

Riva scored 21 goals of all kinds - tap-ins, long-range shots, powerful headers. Although some critics complained he was too reliant on his left foot, many players effective with both feet could not match his versatility.  An overhead kick with which he scored against Vicenza is still regarded as one of the best Serie A goals of all time.

Although they had other good players, Cagliari supporters hailed Riva as the one who made it possible and his place in the island's folklore was established for all time.

A short film from RAI about Riva and the 1969-70 season

It might not have happened had Riva not felt so at home on the island. In 1967, when Juventus offered him a fortune to go to Turin, he had turned them down.

“I would have earned triple,” he said later. "But Sardinia had made me a man. It was my land. In those days, they called us shepherds and bandits around Italy. I was 23 and the great Juve wanted to cover me in money. I wanted the Scudetto for my land. We did it, the bandits and shepherds.”

With Italy, for whom he won 42 caps, he was a European champion in 1968 but the ultimate title of World Cup winner eluded him, essentially because the great Italian team of 1970 met an even better one in Brazil in the finals in Mexico.

Riva scored twice in the 4-1 quarter-final win over the hosts and Italy's third goal in the so-called 'Game of the Century', the 4-3 extra-time semi-final victory against West Germany, but Italy were overwhelmed as the brilliant Brazilians won 4-1 in the final.

Bedevilled by injuries for most of his career - he suffered a broken leg twice while playing for the national team - he retired in 1978, two years after rupturing a tendon in his right thigh. Cagliari retired his No 11 shirt in his honour in 2005.

The Castello district of Cagliari is especially beautiful at night
The Castello district of Cagliari is
especially beautiful at night
For all that he regarded himself as an adopted Sardinian, Riva never forgot his roots.  In retirement, he returned to Leggiuno, where he knocked down the house where his parents had lived and built a new one in its place, staying there periodically to chat with local people, some of whom he had known when he was a child, and to reflect on the course his life had taken him.

Travel tip:

Although it is Sardinia's main port and industrial centre, Cagliari has become a popular tourist destination for the tree-lined boulevards and elegant arcades of the marina area and the charm of its historical centre, known as Castello, with limestone buildings that prompted DH Lawrence to call it 'the white Jerusalem', which take on beautiful pastel hues at sunset.

Stay in Cagliari

The Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso
The Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso
Travel tip:

Leggiuno, situated in an elevated position just inland from Lake Maggiore, is close to the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso, an extraordinary structure that appears to rise from the waters of Lake Maggiore, clinging to a sheer rock cliff face.  A Roman Catholic monastery dating from the 14th century, it used to be accessible only by boat or by a steep flight of steps descending from the top of the cliff.  Since 2010, visitors have been able to reach it via a lift built into an old well.

Stay in nearby Reno Leggiuno

More reading:

Italy's historic fourth World Cup victory

Paolo Rossi's 1982 World Cup hat-trick

Dino Zoff - captain of the 1982 Azzurri

Also on this day:


2 October 2016

Saint Charles Borromeo

Great reformer earned appreciation after his death

This painting of Charles Borromeo is in the St. Hermes Church in Ronse, Belgium
This painting of Charles Borromeo is in the St.
Hermes Church in Ronse, Belgium
Charles (Carlo) Borromeo, a leading Catholic figure who led the movement to combat the spread of Protestantism, was born on this day in Milan in 1538. 

Part of the noble Borromeo family, he became a Cardinal and brought in many reforms to benefit the Church, which made him unpopular at the time.

But he was held in high regard after his death and was quickly made a saint by Pope Paul V.

Borromeo was born at the Castle of Arona on Lake Maggiore, near Milan. His father was Count of Arona and his mother was part of the Medici family.

He was educated in civil and canon law at the University of Pavia.

When his uncle, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Medici became Pope Pius IV in 1559, Borromeo was brought to Rome and given a post in the Vatican.

The following year the Pope made him a Cardinal and asked him to supervise the Franciscans, Carmelites and Knights of Malta and organise the last session of the Council of Trent, which was being held in Trento to reform the Church and counter the spread of Protestantism.  The Council issued a long list of decrees covering disputed aspects of the Catholic religion as well as denouncing what it considered to be heresies committed in the name of Protestantism.

When Borromeo’s older brother died, the family wanted him to leave the Church and marry and have children to continue the family name, but he would not give up his calling.

However, the death of his brother and also his contact with the Jesuits encouraged him to lead a stricter, more Christian life.

Borromeo was made a bishop in the Sistine Chapel in 1563 and became Archbishop of Milan in 1565.

The colossal statue of Charles Borromeo in his home town of Arona on Lake Maggiore
The colossal statue of Charles Borromeo
in his home town of Arona on Lake Maggiore
Before he left Rome, where he had personally overseen church reforms, a nobleman remarked that the city was ‘no longer a place to enjoy oneself or make a fortune’.

Borromeo also reformed Milan after he arrived, simplifying church interiors, clearing away ornaments and banners and separating the sexes during worship.

He believed that many abuses in the church were caused by the ignorance of the clergymen and he established seminaries for the education of candidates for holy orders.

His reforms met with some opposition and a shot was once fired at him when he was in his own chapel. His survival was later considered to be miraculous.

When famine and plague struck Milan, Borromeo used all his own money and then got himself into debt in order to feed the hungry.

He faced increasing opposition while trying to implement the reforms to the Church dictated by the Council of Trent, but in 1584 he became ill with fever and died soon afterwards at the age of just 46.

Even a biographer who admired him described him as an ‘austere, humourless and uncompromising personality.’

But after Borromeo’s death his popularity increased and he was canonised in 1610 and eventually became venerated as a Saint of Learning and the Arts all over the world.

His nephew, Federico Borromeo, furthered his uncle’s support for learning by founding the Ambrosian Library in Milan.

Many churches, colleges, seminaries and even cities throughout the world have been named after Charles Borromeo.  The city of Saint Charles in Louisiana, for example, is named after him, as is the Brazilian city of São Carlos.

Travel tip:

Arona, where Charles Borromeo was born, is a town on Lake Maggiore in the province of Novara. 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.

The Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan
The Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan
Travel tip:

The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Piazza Pio XI in Milan was established in 1618 to house paintings, drawing and statues donated to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, a library founded in the same building by Cardinal Federico Borromeo a few years before. In addition to works of art, the museum keeps curiosities such as the gloves Napoleon wore at Waterloo and a lock of Lucrezia Borgia’s hair, in front of which famous poets such as Lord Byron and Gabriele D’Annunzio spent a lot of time drawing inspiration. Visit for more information.


15 August 2016

Gianfranco Ferré - fashion designer

Sought to create clothes for real women 

The Italian fashion designer Gianfranco Ferré
Gianfranco Ferré
Gianfranco Ferré, who became one of the biggest names in Italian fashion during the 1980s and 1990s, was born on this day in 1944 in Legnano, a town in Lombardy north-west of Milan, between the city and Lake Maggiore, where in adult life he made his home.

Ferré was regarded as groundbreaking in fashion design in the same way as Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent in that his clothes were created with real people rather than catwalk models in mind, yet without compromise in terms of aesthetic appeal.

At the peak of his popularity, his clients included Sharon Stone, Elizabeth Taylor, the Queen of Jordan, Paloma Picasso, Sophia Loren and the late Diana, Princess of Wales. 

Ferré first trained to be an architect, placing emphasis on the structure of his garments in which strong seams were often a prominent feature. He was once dubbed the Frank Lloyd Wright of fashion, which was taken to be a reference to the powerful horizontals in his designs.  His staff addressed him as "the architect".

He was also well known for inevitably including variations of white dress shirts in his collections, adorned with theatrical cuffs or multiple collars.  At one point, Ferré blouses were an essential in the wardrobe of high-flying career women.

Ferré won the Italian fashion industry's 'Oscar' - the Occhio D'Oro Award - six times and became the first designer from outside France to be made artistic director of Christian Dior in Paris, for whom he worked between 1989 and 1997.

From high school in Legnano, Ferré moved to the Politecnico di Milano University, where he graduated with a degree in architecture.  His first job was in the design studio of a furniture company but amused himself by designing accessories for a girl friend that were noticed by the owners of a boutique in Portofino, who asked him to design for them.

The Basilica of San Magno in Legnano, where the funeral of Gianfranco Ferré took place in 2007
The Basilica of San Magno in Legnano, where the funeral
of Gianfranco Ferré took place in 2007
After a period working for a rainwear company, he founded his own company, Baila, in 1974, and four years later in 1978 founded his own fashion house in the Brera district of Milan with his friend and business partner, Franco Mattioli.  He launched his first collection of pret-a-portér (ready-to-wear) clothing for women, which was followed the same year by a more sporty line, Oaks by Ferré. His first man's collection was released in 1982 and added a perfume range in 1984.

On leaving Dior, he returned to full-time to working on the Ferré clothing and accessory lines, which by now had substantial export sales in the United States.  But he and Mattioli fell out over the direction of the company and in 2000 they sold 90 per cent of Gianfranco Ferré SpA, although Ferré stayed on as creative director. 

Ferré died in 2007 at the age of 62, a few days after being admitted to hospital in Milan, having suffered a massive brain hemorrhage.  A big, bear-like figure, nonetheless always beautifully dressed in one of his trademark three-piece suits, he had always struggled to control his weight and had had at least one stroke previously. 

He was buried in his home town of Legnano after a funeral attended by giants of the fashion world, including Giorgio Armani, Valentino Garavani and Donatella Versace.

Travel tip:

Legnano is famous for being the only town, apart from Rome, to which reference is made in the Italian national anthem, thanks to the historic Battle of Legnano, in which the Lombard League inflicted a heavy defeat on the forces of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa in 1176.  Almost 700 years later, Garibaldi referred to the battle as an inspiration in the struggle for unification of Italy.  The 16th century Basilica of San Magno, where Gianfranco Ferré's funeral took place, is the town's most important building.

Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore
Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore
Travel tip:

Lake Maggiore is the largest lake in Italy at some 34 miles (64km) long, its most northerly extremity extending into Switzerland.  While the upper end is of alpine character, the lake in general enjoys a mild climate all year round and is famous for the greenery of its surrounding terrain and for its gardens, many growing rare and exotic plants, in particular those located on the Borromean Islands and Isola Bella.

(Photo of Basilica of San Magno by Heimdall CC BY-SA 2.5)
(Photo of Isola Bella by MbDortmund GFDL 1.2)