Showing posts with label Lazio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lazio. Show all posts

4 February 2024

Saint Maria De Mattias - educator

Woman trapped by wealth who set up religious order

Maria De Mattias left behind a life of relative prosperity
Maria De Mattias left behind a
life of relative prosperity
Maria De Mattias, whose ambition to serve Christ and to see women given the chance to receive a formal education led her to set up a religious order, was born on this day in 1805 in Vallecorsa, a village in a mountainous region of southern Lazio.

De Mattias, who died in Rome in 1866, was beatified in 1950 by Pope Pius XII and made a saint in 2003 by Pope John Paul II. 

The Sisters Adorers of the Blood of Christ, which she established in 1834, now has a membership of more than 2,000, with communities in South America, the United States, Southeast Asia and Africa as well as Italy.

During more than 30 years travelling throughout Italy to help establish communities of her Sisters, De Mattias founded nearly 70 schools, often in remote towns and rural areas of Italy.

The young Maria had an upbringing said to have been happy for the most part but subject to constraints that children and adolescents in the modern world would find difficult to tolerate.

This had less to do with any restrictions imposed on her by her parents, though they had a strong faith that her father, Giovanni, passed on to her through his reading of the scriptures, than the political and social climate at the time.

About 30km (19 miles) south of the small city of Frosinone, and approximately 115km (71 miles) south of Rome, Vallecorsa sat close to the border of the Papal States and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, on the edge of a geographical region known as Ciociaria.

Territorial disputes across the area gave rise to frequent outbreaks of violence between competing factions. Gangs representing one side or another would often establish strategic bases in mountainous areas and terrorise local people, stealing food and demanding money.

Vallecorsa is built on a hillside in the rugged terrain of mountainous southern Lazio
Vallecorsa is built on a hillside in the rugged
terrain of mountainous southern Lazio
Since Maria’s family was moderately wealthy - her father was for a time Mayor of Vallecorsa - they were targets for kidnap, a favoured method of raising funds for the bandit gangs. As a result, she and her siblings were not allowed to play outside, where they would be especially vulnerable.

Although she was a restless and lively child, who enjoyed playing with her brothers, Maria spent much of her time inside the house, often in her room with the curtains closed so that no one outside could see her.  

Despite her confinement, she was said to have been somewhat vain, fond of brushing her long, blonde hair and admiring herself in the mirror.  It was while doing this one day, at the age of 16 or 17, that she is said to have undergone a dramatic change.  Struck by the emptiness of her life - her father did not believe in girls receiving a formal education - she was suddenly repulsed by her own face in the mirror and looked away, her eyes falling instead on the painting of the Madonna above her bed, to which she had never previously paid much attention.

Drawing herself closer to the painting, she said that she sensed the Madonna was speaking to her and soon decided that if there was to be a purpose to her life, it would be one dedicated to God.  

She somehow taught herself to read, poring for hours over the contents of the many spiritual books on shelves around the family home. In 1822, she listened to a sermon delivered by Gaspar del Bufalo, founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, who was visiting Vallecorsa.

Del Bufalo’s words on devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus inspired Maria to see Christ's life as a model for self-sacrifice. The following year, one of Del Bufalo’s close followers, Giovanni Merlini, returned to the village to assist in the founding of a House of Mission. 

The Order continues to help build new schools, such as this one in the city of Mysura in southern India
The Order continues to help build new schools, such
as this one in the city of Mysura in southern India 
Merlini was a handsome young man and the shy Maria found it hard to approach him at first, but eventually they began to have conversations and what would prove an enduring friendship developed. Maria became more and more involved in the work of the Missionaries, particularly working with women and girls.

In 1834, with Merlini’s help, she founded the Congregation of the Sisters Adorers of the Blood of Christ to bring a focal point to this work. 

The religious order was founded as an apostolic order, an active teaching order, rather than a monastic one. After establishing a first school in Acuto, another town in the Ciociaria area of Lazio, the new order received papal approval in 1855. 

De Mattias was tireless in her travelling throughout Italy establishing communities of her Sisters, often walking long distances or making treacherous journeys on donkeys, and preaching in towns as she came across them. 

The women drawn to her communities were often poor but by the time De Mattias died in Rome in August 1866, at the age of 61, the community had created more than 70 schools in Italy, with some in Austria, Germany, and England.

Her followers wanted her to be buried in the church of Santa Maria in Trivio, a few steps from the Trevi Fountain, which was the mother church of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, but such burials at the time were not allowed on the grounds of hygiene.

Instead, she was buried in Rome's Campo Verano Cemetery, her tomb donated by Pope Pius IX.

Although it is customary for a saint’s feast day to be held on the anniversary of his or her death, there are exceptions to this rule. Maria De Mattias is one, her feast being celebrated on her birthday, February 4. 

The statue of Maria De Mattias in Vallecorsa
The statue of Maria De
Mattias in Vallecorsa
Travel tip:

Vallecorsa, the home village of Maria De Mattias, occupies a hillside location at the foot of Monte Calvilli, at 3,661ft (1,116m) the highest peak of the Monti Ausoni, which themselves are part of the Volsci range of the Lazio Apennines.  Sometimes known as la città dell'olio - the city of the oil - it is notable for the growing of olive trees on terraces cut into the hillside and kept intact with stone walls. The area is popular for trekking and mountain biking. The town itself is characterised by steep, winding streets which on the perimeters often emerge into small squares offering sweeping views over the surrounding countryside. Street names such as the Via Santa Maria De Mattias and the Via San Gaspare del Bufalo acknowledge the history of the village. There is a statue of Maria De Mattias in Piazza Plebiscito at one end of the Via Santa Maria De Mattias; at the other is a museum housed in what was the family’s home.

The Stadio Benito Stirpe, home of Frosinone Calcio, is one of the city's more modern buildings
The Stadio Benito Stirpe, home of Frosinone
Calcio, is one of the city's more modern buildings
Travel tip:

The ancient city of Frosinone, which was Gens Fursina in Etruscan times and Frusino under the Romans, is located on a hill overlooking the valley of the Sacco about 75km (47 miles) southeast of Rome, with the wider city spreading out across the surrounding plains. The Roman writer Cicero had a villa in Frusino. The city is part of a wider area known as Ciociaria, a name derived from the word ciocie, the footwear worn by the inhabitants in years gone by. Ciociaria hosts food fairs, events and music festivals as well as celebrating traditional feasts, when the local people wear the regional costume and the typical footwear.  Visitors can see the remains of a Roman amphitheatre from Viale Roma, while churches of interest include the Baroque Chiesa di San Benedetto in Via Cavour Camillo Benso, which also contains a small art gallery.  A much more modern edifice in the city is the Stadio Benito Stirpe, the 16,000-capacity home of Frosinone Calcio, which was built between 2015 and 2017 at a cost of around €20 million after the football club was promoted to Serie A for the first time in its history.

Also on this day:

1667: The birth of painter Alessandro Magnasco

1676: The birth of composer Giacomo Facco

1875: The birth of patriot and irredentist Cesare Battista 

1892: The birth of playwright Ugo Betti

2014: The death of soldier and writer Eugenio Corti


7 December 2023

Marcus Tullius Cicero – statesman, scholar and writer

The brutal beheading of a great Roman politician and orator

A late 19th century book illustration showing the imagined scene of the murder of Cicero
A late 19th century book illustration showing the
imagined scene of the murder of Cicero
Cicero, the last defender of the Roman Republic, was assassinated on this day in 43BC in Formia in southern Italy.

Marcus Tullius Cicero had been a lawyer, philosopher and orator who had written extensively during the turbulent political times that led to the establishment of the Roman Empire.

In the months following Julius Caesar's assassination in 44BC, Cicero had delivered several speeches urging the Roman Senate to support Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son, in his struggle against Mark Antony.

Cicero attacked Antony in a series of powerful addresses and urged the Roman senate to name Antony as an enemy of the state. Antony responded by issuing an order for Cicero to be hunted down and killed.

He was the most doggedly pursued of all the enemies of Antony whose deaths had been ordered. Cicero was finally caught on 7 December 43BC leaving his villa in Formia in a litter - a kind of Sedan chair - heading to the seaside.

The portrait bust of Cicero at Rome's Capitoline Museum
The portrait bust of Cicero at
Rome's Capitoline Museum
Cicero is reported to have said: “I can go no further: approach, veteran soldier, and, if you can do at least do so much properly, sever this neck.” 

He leaned his head out of the litter and bowed to his captors who cut off his head. On Antony’s instructions, Cicero’s hands, which had written so much against Antony, were cut off as well and they were later nailed along with his head on the Rostra in the Forum Romanum.

Cicero has gone down in history as one of Rome’s greatest orators and writers. He also had immense influence on the development of the Latin language.

Born in 106BC into a wealthy family in what is now Arpino in Lazio, Cicero served briefly in the military before turning to a career in law, where he developed a reputation as a formidable advocate.

As a politician, he went on to be elected to each of Rome’s principal offices, in 63BC becoming the youngest citizen to attain the highest rank of consul without coming from a political family.

He is perceived to have been one of the most versatile minds of ancient Rome, introducing Romans to Greek philosophy and distinguishing himself as a linguist, translator, and philosopher.

A fresco showing Cicero denouncing Catiline in a speech to the Roman senate
A fresco showing Cicero denouncing Catiline
in a speech to the Roman senate
However, his career as a statesman was marked by inconsistencies and a tendency to shift his position in response to changes in the political climate. Expert analysts believe his indecision could be attributed to a sensitive and impressionable personality. 

Nonetheless, he is remembered as a staunch defender in his speeches and writings of the Roman Republic and its values, which he believed was the best form of government and worth defending at all costs. He was a strong advocate of the rule of law, which he felt was essential for maintaining a stable and just society.

One of his great successes was to expose a plot by the senator Catiline to overthrow the Roman Republic and establish himself as dictator. He convinced the Senate to take action against Catiline, and the plot was foiled.

The Cisternone Romano is one of Formia's attractions
The Cisternone Romano is
one of Formia's attractions

Travel tip:

The Formia of today is a bustling coastal town on the coast of Lazio, about 150km (93 miles) south of Rome and roughly 90km (56 miles) north of Naples. During the age of the Roman Empire it was a popular resort, renowned for a favourable climate, and many other prominent Romans had villas there in addition to Cicero. His burial place - the Tomba di Cicerone, a Roman mausoleum just outside the town - remains a tourist destination. The city was also the scene of the martyrdom of Saint Erasmus during the persecutions of Diocletian.  Heavily damaged during World War Two, the town was rebuilt and now serves as a commercial centre for the region. Tourists tend to favour the picturesque resort of Gaeta, which sits at the head of a promontory a few kilometres away, but Formia has pleasant beaches of its own and plenty of shops and restaurants. The Cisternone Romano, an enormous underground reservoir in which the Romans collected water to supply the area, is another visitor attraction. 

The dramatic hilltop setting of Arpino, the town in Lazio that was Cicero's birthplace
The dramatic hilltop setting of Arpino, the town
in Lazio that was Cicero's birthplace
Travel tip:

Arpino, the birthplace of Cicero, is a charming hilltop town situated some 130km (81 miles) southeast of Rome often overlooked by tourists despite its mix of Roman ruins, narrow mediaeval streets and picturesque squares. Attractions include the church of Santa Maria di Civita, perched on top of a rocky hill offering breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, and the Arpino Museum, in the Palazzo del Popolo, which has a collection of archaeological artefacts and mediaeval art.  Arpino has a tradition of simple but delicious food, such as porchetta (roast pork stuffed with herbs) and pecorino cheese, a hard cheese matured for many months that is the area’s equivalent of parmigiano.  Outside Arpino, in the Liri valley, a little north of the Isola del Liri, lies the church of San. Domenico, which marks the site of the villa in which Cicero was born.

Also on this day:

1302: The birth of Azzone Visconti, ruler of Milan

1598: The birth of architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini

1643: The birth of engraver and printmaker Giovanni Battista Falda

Feast of St Ambrose, patron saint of Milan


9 July 2022

Paolo Di Canio - footballer

Sublime talent overshadowed by fiery temperament

Paolo Di Canio had four successful years at West Ham
Paolo Di Canio had four
successful years at West Ham
The brilliant but controversial footballer Paolo Di Canio was born on this day in 1968 in the Quarticciolo neighbourhood of Rome.

Di Canio, an attacking player with a reputation for scoring spectacular goals, played for several of Italy’s top clubs but also forged a career in Britain, joining Glasgow Celtic in Scotland and representing Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham United and Charlton Athletic during a seven-year stay in England.

After finishing his playing career back in Italy, he returned to England to become manager of Swindon Town and then Sunderland, although it was a brief stay.

Di Canio scored almost 150 goals in his career but his fiery temper landed him in trouble on the field while his political views - he was openly a supporter of fascism - attracted negative headlines off it.

Despite growing up in a working-class area of Rome which was a stronghold of AS Roma fans, Di Canio supported their city rivals SS Lazio from an early age.

As a child, he was overweight, but his love for football drove him to beat his addiction to junk food and high-calorie fizzy drinks and become supremely physically fit. 

He signed his first professional contract with Lazio in 1985 at the age of 17, having impressed with the club’s Under-19 team, spending a season on loan at the lower division club Ternana before making his senior debut in Lazio colours in October 1988.

Di Canio began his career with the club he supported as a boy, Lazio
Di Canio began his career with the
club he supported as a boy, Lazio
Lazio had won promotion to Serie A the previous season and Di Canio became an instant hero with Lazio fans when he scored the only goal in the first Rome derby of the season.

It soon became clear that Di Canio was a highly-talented player and it was not long before he earned a move to Juventus in 1990. However, he found himself competing for a place against such stars as Roberto Baggio, Salvatore Schillaci, Pierluigi Casiraghi, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Gianluca Vialli, and Andreas Möller and his displeasure at not being given more game time led to a falling-out with coach Giovanni Trapattoni.

He moved to Napoli and, after one season, to AC Milan, with whom he won a Serie A medal in 1996 but again could not hold down a permanent role in the side and departed after a row with their coach, Fabio Capello.

His next move was to Scotland, joining Celtic, where he scored 15 goals in 37 games in the 1996-97 season, easily the best return of his career. He was the Scottish Professional Footballers Association player of the year but after his demand for a substantial pay rise was knocked back he refused to travel on the club’s pre-season tour to the Netherlands and was swiftly offloaded.

Di Canio’s next club was in England, where manager David Pleat made the inspired decision to team him up with another Italian forward, Benito Carbone, at Sheffield Wednesday. As the two became a brilliant double act, scoring 25 goals between them in the 1997-98 Premier League season, Pleat’s gamble in paying £4.2 million for Di Canio looked to have paid off.

It all turned sour, however, in September of the following season in one of the most notorious incidents in the history of the Premier League when Di Canio was so incensed at being shown the red card by referee Paul Alcock in a match against Arsenal that he pushed the official to the ground. Banned for 11 matches and fined £10,000, Di Canio never played for Wednesday again.

Di Canio signing autographs on a return visit to Upton Park in 2010. He had been hugely popular there
Di Canio signing autographs on a return visit to Upton
Park in 2010. He had been hugely popular there
Yet by the following January, he was lighting up the Premier League again, this time with West Ham United, who had signed him for a bargain price of £1.5 million. His four years there were arguably the best of his career, bringing him 47 goals in 118 Premier League games. He might have stayed longer had they not been relegated in 2003, the club releasing him on a free transfer.

A year with another London club, Charlton Athletic, proved less successful and in 2004 he returned to Italy, rejoining his first club, Lazio. It was there that his political views came to the fore. Having revealed in his autobiography in 2001 that he was an admirer of Italy’s Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, he would sometimes celebrate a goal with a fascist salute, much to the delight of the far-right political factions among the Lazio fans.

Their adoption of Di Canio as a figurehead did not sit well with the club’s hierarchy, who felt the club’s reputation was being damaged. In 2006 his contract was not renewed. He signed instead for a lower league club, Cisco Roma, where he had two seasons before announcing his retirement in 2008.

Three years later, he returned to England to begin a career in management. In his first job, at Swindon Town, he won promotion to from League Two to League One in his first season and might have gone on to enjoy more success had the club not hit the rocks financially. He moved next to Sunderland, but his time on Wearside ended after only six months, despite him supervising a stunning 3-0 win away to arch rivals Newcastle United in only his second match.

Sunderland had lost their vice-chairman, the Labour politician David Miliband, and the patronage of the Durham Miners’ Association because of Di Canio’s political views, but it was after complaints from the players about his treatment of them that he was sacked in September, 2013.

Despite applying for several jobs subsequently, Di Canio has not worked in management again, although in an interview in 2021 he expressed a continuing desire to return to England should an opportunity arise.

The former police headquarters in Quarticciolo is an example of the area's stark architecture
The former police headquarters in Quarticciolo
is an example of the area's stark architecture
Travel tip:

Quarticciolo, which can be found about 10km (six miles) east of Rome’s city centre, is part of the Alessandrino district and is a predominantly working class neighbourhood. It was built by the Fascist regime in the late 1930s and bears many of the characteristics of the architectural styles favoured at the time, combining stark urban lines with occasional echoes of classicism. At its centre was the Casa del Fascio, which served as the municipal offices and the headquarters of the party. Residential apartments were strictly assigned depending on size of family or societal status, with some set aside for war widows, some for active soldiers, others to members of the Fascist militia. Ironically, as German troops occupied Rome after the fall of Mussolini in 1943, the area became a stronghold for partisans and resistance fighters and the operational base for Giuseppe Albano, a famous partisan known as Il Gobbo di Quarticciolo - the Hunchback of Quarticciolo - and his Gobbo Gang.

The Palazzo Spada, which dates back to the mid-16th century, is one of Terni's older buildings
The Palazzo Spada, which dates back to the
mid-16th century, is one of Terni's older buildings
Travel tip:

Before he made his Serie A debut for Lazio, Paolo di Canio spent a period on loan with Ternana, a smaller club based in the city of Terni, in Umbria, which is situated about 95km (59 miles) north of Rome, near the border with Lazio. Terni was left in need of substantial renewal after the Second World War and therefore combines historical buildings with more modern ones. For example, in the central Piazza della Repubblica, which stands where the forum of the Roman city of Interamna was located, is the Palazzo Spada, which was designed by Antonio da Sangallo, who died in Terni in 1546. By contrast, the Corso del Popolo, the central thoroughfare behind Palazzo Spada, was built in the post-War period, while the Lancia di Luce, a 30m high steel artwork by Arnaldo Pomodoro, was added as recently as 1993.

Also on this day:

1879: The birth of musician Ottorino Respighi

1897: The birth of politician Manlio Brosio

1950: The birth of tennis star Adriano Panatta

1964: The birth of footballer Gianluca Vialli


16 February 2020

Angelo Peruzzi - footballer

Italy international who was twice world's costliest goalkeeper

Angelo Peruzzi won every major prize in club football during his years with Juventus
Angelo Peruzzi won every major prize in club
football during his years with Juventus
The footballer Angelo Peruzzi, who made 31 appearances for Italy’s national team and was a member of Marcello Lippi’s victorious squad at the 2006 World Cup, was born on this day in 1970 in Blera, a hilltop town in the province of Viterbo, north of Rome.

Peruzzi defied his relatively short and stocky physique to become one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, renowned not only for his physical strength but also for his positional sense, anticipation and explosive reactions.

These qualities enabled him to compensate for his lack of height and earned him a reputation for efficiency rather than spectacular stops yet he was much coveted by clubs in Italy’s Serie A. 

Twice he moved clubs for what was at the time a world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper.  In 1999 he joined Internazionale of Milan (Inter Milan) from Juventus for €14.461 million but stayed at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza for only a year before switching to Lazio in a deal worth €20.658 million.

That record stood for 11 years until Manchester United bought David de Gea from Atletico Madrid for €22 million in 2011.

His value was based on his outstanding record over eight seasons with Juventus, with whom he won every major medal on offer to a club footballer in Italy, including three Serie A titles, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa (twice), as well as the Champions League, the UEFA Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.

Peruzzi was twice the most expensive  goalkeeper in football history
Peruzzi was twice the most expensive
goalkeeper in football history
Yet before he joined Juventus in 1991 his career had been in danger of suffering a premature and ignominious end.

Even as a young player in the Roma youth system, Peruzzi struggled with his weight.  Former teammates recalled him keeping salami, sandwiches and sweets hidden in his locker to satisfy an enormous appetite.

Nonetheless, his qualities as a goalkeeper stood out. He made his Serie A debut in 1987 at the age of 17 and when Roma sent him on loan to Hellas Verona for the 1989-90 he returned with glowing reports.

However, his weight remained an issue and his decision to take an appetite suppressant in the hope of shedding some pounds quickly backfired on him spectacularly when a doping test produced a positive result for the banned substance Phentermine.

He was banned for a year and Roma were happy to let him go when Juventus offered him a contract. It proved to be the Turin club’s gain as Peruzzi soon replaced Stefano Tacconi as the club’s No 1 goalkeeper and became one of their most reliable performers, never more so than in the Champions League final of 1996 against Ajax, when his two saves in the penalty shoot-out ensured that the trophy went to Juventus.

Head coach Marcello Lippi picked Peruzzi as his No 2 'keeper for the 2006 World Cup
Head coach Marcello Lippi picked Peruzzi
as his No 2 'keeper for the 2006 World Cup
Peruzzi never lost his stocky build, but where he was criticised for it as a young player, as an established player associated with success it became part of his persona, earning him a number of affectionate nicknames, including Tyson, after the heavyweight world boxing champion, il chingialone (“the boar”) and il orsone (“the big bear”).

Although his two big-money transfers were lucrative for Peruzzi personally in signing-on fees and contracts, he did not enjoy the success with Inter or Lazio that he had tasted with Juventus.  He made more than 200 appearances for Lazio over seven seasons but a Supercoppa Italiano medal in his first season and a Coppa Italia in 2004 were his only tangible honours.

Peruzzi earned his first call-up to the Italy national team under coach Arrigo Sacchi in 1995, having been a member of the Italy squad at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He was the first-choice stopper at Euro ‘96 in England, where Italy did not progress beyond the group stages, and would have gone to the World Cup in France in 1998 as number one goalkeeper had he not suffered an injury before the tournament.

By the time the next World Cup came around, Peruzzi had fallen behind Gianluigi Buffon and Francesco Toldo in the pecking order and was not considered for the 2002 finals.

It was only when Marcello Lippi, one of his former coaches at Juventus, took charge of the national team in 2004 that he came back into favour. He kept goal for two of the qualifying matches ahead of the 2006 World Cup in Germany and went to the finals as number two behind Buffon.  He never made it off the bench but nonetheless received a medal as a member of the winning squad after the azzurri defeated France on penalties in the final.

Three times awarded the Goalkeeper of the Year title in Serie A, Peruzzi retired as a player in 2008 and embarked on a career in coaching.  He immediately found a position among the technical staff at Italy’s national coaching centre at Coverciano before becoming assistant to Under-21 head coaches Ciro Ferrara and Pierluigi Casiraghi.

Ferrara gave him his first club job as assistant head coach at Sampdoria and he is now back in Rome as team co-ordinator with Lazio.

The town of Blera sits on top of a rocky ridge in northern Lazio, some 78km (48 miles) north of Rome
The town of Blera sits on top of a rocky ridge in northern
Lazio, some 78km (48 miles) north of Rome
Travel tip:

Angelo Peruzzi’s hometown of Blera, situated some 24km (15 miles) southwest of the city of Viterbo in northern Lazio and around 78km (48 miles) northwest of Rome, sits on a narrow tongue of rock between two deep gorges.  Its origins go back to Etruscan times, although its history suggests it was of little importance except for a stopping-off point on the Via Clodia, which linked the more important towns of Pitigliano and Sorano.  Some of the Etruscan settlement’s walls still remain intact.

Stay in Blera with

The Stadio Olimpico in Rome is home to both Lazio and Roma and hosts many important football matches
The Stadio Olimpico in Rome is home to both Lazio and
Roma and hosts many important football matches
Travel tip:

Although the Stadio Olimpico, where both Lazio and Roma play their home games, was opened in 1937, it did not become the Olympic Stadium until Italy had won the right to stage the Games in 1960.  Originally, as part of Mussolini’s ambitious Foro Mussolini (later Foro Italico) complex, it was called the Stadio dei Cipressi.  When its capacity was increased to 100,000 in the 1950s, it became the Stadio dei Centomila.  Nowadays it has seats for 70,634 spectators and is owned by the Italian National Olympic Committee but is used primarily as a venue for football matches, having been refurbished for the 1990 World Cup finals.  It has been the venue for the European Cup and Champions League finals on four occasions.

More reading

(Picture credits: Blera by Robin Iversen Rönnlund; Stadio Olimpico by Andrew; via Wikimedia Commons)

11 December 2018

Fabrizio Ravanelli - footballer

Juventus star who became a favourite at Middlesbrough

Fabrizio Ravanelli won five trophies in four years with Juventus
Fabrizio Ravanelli won five trophies
in four years with Juventus
The footballer Fabrizio Ravanelli, who won five trophies with Juventus between 1992 and 1996 before stunning the football world by joining unfashionable Middlesbrough in the English Premier League, was born on this day in 1968 in Perugia.

Playing alongside Gianluca Vialli and Alessandro Del Piero in the Juventus forward line, Ravanelli scored in the 1996 Champions League final as the Turin side beat Ajax in Rome before signing for Middlesbrough just six weeks later.

The ambitious club from the northeast of England paid £7 million (€8.5m) for Ravanelli, a club record fee and at the time the third largest sum paid for any player by an English club.

It was part of a huge spending spree by Middlesbrough, managed by former England captain Bryan Robson, that brought a string of high-profile signings to the club's Riverside Stadium including the Brazilian playmaker Juninho and England international Nick Barmby and another Italian, the Inter defender Gianluca Festa.

Ravanelli made an immediate impact, scoring a hat-trick on his Premier League debut against Liverpool, and ended the season with 31 goals in league and cup matches.

He also helped Middlesbrough reach both domestic cup finals, although it was a disappointing season for the club, who were runners-up on both occasions and were relegated from the Premier League.

Fabrizio Ravanelli, back row, second from right, lines up with the Juventus team before the 1996 Champions League final
Fabrizio Ravanelli, back row, second from right, lines up with
the Juventus team before the 1996 Champions League final
Ravanelli, whose position as a fans’ favourite was somewhat diminished by his outspoken comments about the club’s facilities and the town of Middlesbrough itself, had a further season in England when he joined Derby County for the 2001-02 campaign, but also suffered relegation there.

Although he finished second in the French Ligue 1 with Marseille, Ravanelli’s successes were all won it his native Italy.

A prolific scorer for his hometown club Perugia in Serie C and Serie B football at the start of his career, he had spells with Avellino, Casertana and Reggiana before joining Juventus in 1992, where he had to compete for a place in the forward line with not only Vialli and Del Piero but Roberto Baggio, Paolo Di Canio, Pierluigi Casiraghi and Andreas Möller.

After initially struggling to obtain a starting spot under coach Giovanni Trapattoni, due to this fierce competition, he worked hard to improve his skill level and eventually managed to hold down a place.

Ravanelli was a club record £7 million signing when he joined Middlesbrough in July 1996
Ravanelli was a club record £7 million signing
when he joined Middlesbrough in July 1996
During the 1994–95 season, under Marcello Lippi, he played a key role as the club claimed a domestic double of Serie A and Coppa Italia, playing in a three-man attack alongside Vialli, and either Baggio or Del Piero.

The Supercoppa Italia and the Champions League came the following season, to go with the medal he had won in 1993 as part of Trapattoni’s UEFA Cup-winning team.

Returning to Italy after his time with Middlesbrough and Marseille, Ravanelli was a double-winner again as Sven-Göran Eriksson’s Lazio team took the Serie A and Coppa Italia titles in 2000-01, adding his second Supercoppa Italia medal the following year.

A dynamic, physically strong left-footed striker known for his strong work ethic and determined temperament, as well as his eye for goal, Ravanelli earned the nickname 'The White Feather' because of his prematurely grey hair. In addition to his club success, he won 22 caps for the Italian national team, scoring eight goals.

He finished his playing career where it began, with Perugia, in 2005, before starting a coaching career that has not yet brought him success.  After two years as a youth coach at Juventus, he was appointed head coach of French Ligue 1 club AJ Ajaccio in the summer of 2013, but was sacked after just five months with only one win from 12 games.

A regular football pundit for Sky Italia, Fox Sports, and Mediaset, Ravanelli signed a contract in June this year to coach the Ukrainian Premier League club Arsenal Kyiv but resigned in September after only three months in charge.

A plaque placed in Piazza della Libertà to commemorate the 100th anniversary in 2000 of the founding of SS Lazio
A plaque placed in Piazza della Libertà to commemorate
the 100th anniversary in 2000 of the founding of SS Lazio
Travel tip:

Although they have played their home games at the Stadio Olimpico, the ground in the north of Rome that they share with city rivals AS Roma, the SS Lazio football club used to play in the Prati district, now a chic neighbourhood known for its wide, sweeping avenues, elegant architecture and affluent residents. SS Lazio was formed in 1900 by a group of young men at a meeting near the Piazza della Libertà on the banks of the Tiber.  Prati is also the home of the vast Palazzo di Giustizia in Piazza Cavour that houses the Supreme Court.

Hotels in Rome from TripAdvisor

Perugia's Piazza IV Novembre is one of the city's main squares, home to the city's cathedral
Perugia's Piazza IV Novembre is one of the city's main
squares, home to the city's cathedral
Travel tip:

Perugia, where Fabrizio Ravanelli was born, is a city of around 170,000 inhabitants built on a hill in Umbria, of which it is the regional capital.  Established in the Etruscan period, it remained an important city, always a target for invading armies because of its strategic value.  Nowadays, it is home to some 34,000 students at the University of Perugia and is a notable centre for culture and the arts, hosting the world-renowned Umbria Jazz Festival each July. It also hosts a chocolate festival – Perugia being the home of the Perugina chocolate company, famous for Baci.  The artist Pietro Vannucci, commonly known as Perugino, lived in nearby Città della Pieve and was the teacher of Raphael.

More reading:

Marcello Lippi, Italy's third World Cup-winning coach

How Roberto Baggio became a football icon

The seven titles that put Giuseppe Trapattoni out on his own

Also on this day:

1475: The birth of Pope Leo X

1912: The birth of movie producer Carlo Ponti

1944: The birth of singing star Gianni Morandi


29 September 2018

Silvio Piola - footballer

Modest star who remains Italy’s great goalscorer

Piola played for five clubs in a career spanning 24 years
Piola played for five clubs in a
career spanning 24 years. 
Silvio Piola, a forward whose career tally of 364 goals between 1930 and 1954 remains the most scored by any professional player in the history of football in Italy, was born on this day in 1913 in Robbio Lomellina, a small town about 50km (31 miles) southwest of Milan.

Of those goals, 274 were scored in Serie A and 30 for the Italian national team, with whom he was a World Cup winner in 1938, scoring twice in the final against Hungary.

No other player has scored so many goals in the top flight of Italian football and only two others - Gigi Riva and Giuseppe Meazza - have scored more while wearing the azzurri shirt.

Other records still held by Piola include all-time highest Serie A goalscorer for three different clubs - his hometown club Pro Vercelli, Lazio, and Novara - and one of only two players to have scored six goals in a single match.

Until recently, Piola held a unique double record of being both the youngest player to score two goals in a Serie A match and the oldest, having scored twice for Pro Vercelli in a 5-4 win away to Alessandria in 1931 when he was 17 years and 104 days and twice for Novara against Lazio in a match in 1953, at the age of 39 years and 127 days.

The Lazio team for the 1940-41 season. Piola, who spent nine years at the Rome club, is fourth from the left on the back row.
The Lazio team for the 1940-41 season. Piola, who spent nine
years at the Rome club, is fourth from the left on the back row.
The latter was overtaken by Roma’s Francesco Totti, who was 39 years and 210 days when he came off the bench to score twice against Torino in April 2016, while the former record fell in September last year, when Pietro Pellegri of Genoa scored twice in a 3-2 defeat to Lazio at the age of 16 and 184 days.

Totti is one of only eight players in Italian football history to have scored more than 300 career goals and one of only a few in recent times to come anywhere near Piola’s tally. The next closest to Piola’s 364 is Alessandro Del Piero, who finished on 346, ahead of Meazza (338) and Luca Toni (322). Totti, who retired in 2017, hung up his boots on 316, two behind Roberto Baggio.

Piolo’s father, Giuseppe, was a textile merchant but there was football in the family. His older brother, Serafino, might have played professionally had a vision defect not forced him to abandon his ambitions. His mother, Emilia, was the brother of the Pro Vercelli goalkeeper, Giuseppe Cavana, and he had a cousin, Paolino, who played for Novara and Pro Patria.

Piola pictured in his days playing for Juventus after the war.
Piola pictured in his days playing
for Juventus after the war.
Silvio was born in Robbio Lomellina only because his parents had temporarily moved there for business reasons. They returned to Vercelli in 1914.

He made his debut for Pro Vercelli in 1930 at the age of 17 and scored 13 goals in his first Serie A season, his first coming against Lazio, the club he would join in 1934, having scored 51 in 127 games for his home-town club.

Piola did not particularly want to leave his family in the north of Italy but Lazio, who had the support of two very prominent Fascists in Giovanni Marinelli, the party secretary, and General Giorgio Vaccaro, were very persuasive, offering the club 300,000 lire and Piola himself a salary of 6,000 lire per month, rising after a year to an eye-watering 38,000 lire per month, as well as the chance to meet his national service obligation with an office job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Their end game, apart from bringing success to Lazio, was to groom Piola as Italy’s main striker for the 1938 World Cup in France.

It was all head-spinning stuff for Piola, a modest man who preferred to spend his leisure time hunting and fishing in the company of his dog and had no interest in the temptations offered by living in Rome.  He used to travel to Pro Vercelli games by bus but suddenly had a luxury home in the Flaminio district with the services of a driver to take him to training.

Nonetheless, his professional focus remained intact. In nine seasons at Lazio, he scored 143 Serie A goals in just 227 appearances.

The stadium where Pro Vercelli play their home games in the
Italian football championship is now the Stadio Silvio Piola
After leaving Lazio, he spent 1944 at Torino, where he scored 27 goals in just 23 games in the wartime football league. From 1945 to 1947, Piola played for Juventus, before moving to Novara, where he stayed for seven more seasons.

He and his girlfriend Alda were married in July 1948 and had two children, Dario, who played in goal for Pro Vercelli before becoming a lawyer and politician, and Paola, a psychologist. A great-grandson, Alonso - born in 1979, of Brazilian nationality - played as a striker in Italy, Switzerland and South America.

Piola’s international career began with a goalscoring debut against Austria in March 1935. He went on to play 34 games for Italy and score 30 goals between 1935–1952, a tally that would surely have been greater if not for the interruption caused by the Second World War. He captained the national side from 1940 until 1947. His last international appearance was in 1952, when Italy drew 1–1 with England.

After his retirement as a player in 1954, Piola had a brief career as a coach before taking a job with the Italian Football Federation, where he stayed for 10 years before returning to Vercelli.  He died in a nursing home in 1996 at the age of 83, after being affected by Alzheimer's disease. His body was laid to rest in the family chapel in the monumental cemetery of Billiemme, in Vercelli.

The Romanesque church of San Pietro in Robbio
The Romanesque church of San Pietro in Robbio
Travel tip:

The small town of Robbio Lomellina, where Silvio Piola was born, has been a settlement since Neolithic times. Its features include a castle restored in the 18th century, having originally been constructed in the 14th century on the site of a fortress that was probably built in the 11th century. The structure is in a park open to the public. Look out also for the 13th century Romanesque church of San Pietro, which contains 16th-century frescoes attributed to Tommasino da Mortara.

Piazza Cavour is the main square in Vercelli
Piazza Cavour is the main square in Vercelli
Travel tip:

Vercelli is a city of around 46,500 inhabitants some 85km (53 miles) west of Milan and about 75km (46 miles) northeast of Turin. It is reckoned to be built on the site of one of the oldest settlements in Italy, dating back to 600BC, and was home to the world's first publicly-funded university, which was opened in 1228 but folded in 1372. The Basilica of Sant'Andrea is regarded as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved Romanesque buildings in Italy.  Since the 15th century, Vercelli has been at the centre of Italy’s rice production industry, with many of the surrounding fields in the vast Po plain submerged under water during the summer months.

More reading:

Alessandro del Piero, Juventus's record goalscorer

How Giuseppe Meazza became Italy's first football superstar

Was Roberto Baggio Italy's greatest player?

Also on this day:

1901: The birth of nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi, 'father of the atomic bomb'

1936: The birth of Silvio Berlusconi


1 April 2018

Alberto Zaccheroni - football coach

First Italian coach to lead a foreign nation to success

Alberto Zaccheroni achieved success at many levels in Italian football
Alberto Zaccheroni achieved success at many
levels in Italian football
The football coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who won the Serie A title with AC Milan and steered the Japan national team to success in the Asia Cup, was born on this day in 1953 in Meldola, a town in Emilia-Romagna.

In a long coaching career, Zaccheroni has taken charge of 13 teams in Italy, a club side in China and two international teams, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

In common with many coaches in Italy, Zaccheroni began at semi-professional level and worked his way up through the professional leagues.  Before winning the Scudetto with Milan in 1999, he had twice won titles at Serie D (fourth tier) level and twice in Serie C.

Zaccheroni played as a fullback, with the youth team at Bologna and the Serie D team Cesenatico in Emilia-Romagna, but his career was hampered by a lung disease he contracted at the age of 17, which meant he could not train or play for two years.

He quit playing in his mid-20s and began to coach Cesenatico’s youth teams.  His coaching talents began to attract attention when, in two consecutive seasons, he was asked to take over on the bench for Cesenatico’s first team following the sacking of the head coach and on each occasion saved them from relegation.

This brought him a head coach’s position in his own right at Riccione, near Rimini, where he won promotion to Serie C2, and then at Baracca Lugo, the team near Ravenna that takes its name from Francesco Baracca, the First World War flying ace who was born in the town.

The German striker Oliver Bierhoff served  Zaccheroni at Udinese and AC Milan
The German striker Oliver Bierhoff served
Zaccheroni at Udinese and AC Milan
He achieved promotion in consecutive seasons with Baracca Lugo, taking them into Serie C2 and then C1, before continuing his rapid rise with Venezia, where he won the Serie C1 play-off to take the club of La Serenissima into Serie B for the first time in 24 years.

After Venezia, Zaccheroni spent a season with Bologna before taking up his first post outside northern Italy at Cosenza in Calabria, where he had a remarkable Serie B season, taking over a team that had began the campaign with a nine-point penalty yet not only avoided relegation but at one point were in contention for promotion to Serie A.

As a result, he landed his first Serie A post with Udinese, where he became known as the father of 3-4-3, the tactical formation he favoured and which became the stock system for other coaches, such as Antonio Conte, who employed it with great success at Juventus and Chelsea at club level, and with the Italian national team.

Bringing together an Italian (Paolo Poggi), a German (Oliver Bierhoff) and a Brazilian (Marcio Amoroso) in his forward line, Zaccheroni steered Udinese to 10th place, fifth and third in consecutive seasons.  The fifth place in 1997 meant the Friulian club qualified for the UEFA Cup for the first time in its history.

This opened the door to even bigger challenges, this time with AC Milan, one of the giants of Italian football.  Zaccheroni was successful immediately, delivering the club’s 16th Scudetto in their centenary season, with his former Lazio star Oliver Bierhoff the leading goalscorer.

Zaccheroni took charge of the Japan national team in 2011
Zaccheroni took charge of the Japan
national team in 2011
Only then did Zaccheroni’s almost continuous record of success come to a halt. He could not replicate his domestic success in the Champions League and when Milan finished sixth in 2000-01, his third season in charge, and therefore qualified only for a UEFA Cup place, he was dismissed by president Silvio Berlusconi.

Faced with much higher demands, he subsequently spent only one season at Lazio, qualifying for the UEFA Cup, and one season with Internazionale, where he finished fourth and thereby clinched a Champions League place, but on each occasion he was replaced as head coach with Roberto Mancini.  

From Inter, Zaccheroni went to Torino and then Juventus, again without success, before the chance arose to take charge of the Japan national team in 2011.

Despite language problems - Zaccheroni struggled to learn any Japanese and had to communicate with his players either via an interpreter or, as one of his players later explained, with only gestures when no interpreter was available - he led the Japan to the Asia Cup in his first season in charge, the first Italian coach to be successful with an international team other than Italy.

Subsequently, Zaccheroni’s Japan won the East Asia Cup in 2013 and qualified for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.

He left after the 2014 World Cup, when Japan finished bottom of their group. Following an unsuccessful stint in the up-and-coming Chinese professional league as coach of of Beijing Guoan, Zaccheroni accepted his second international posting as head coach of the United Arab Emirates, with whom he reached the final of the Gulf Nations Cup in January this year.

The castle at Zaccheroni's home town of Meldola
The castle at Zaccheroni's home town of Meldola
Travel tip:

Zaccheroni’s home town of Meldola, situated some 14km (9 miles) south of Forli in the foothills of the Apennines, with a population of just over 10,000, was once notable for the production of silk.  The site of a large Roman aqueduct, now submerged, it has a well-preserved medieval castle. The Rocca della Caminate fortress was a former holiday home of the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

The canal-port at Cesenatico was built to designs by Leonardo da Vinci
The canal-port at Cesenatico was built to designs
by Leonardo da Vinci
Travel tip:

The Adriatic resort of Cesenatico, where Zaccheroni began his coaching career, is 16km (10 miles) from the city of Cesena, on the stretch of coast between Rimini and Ravenna, has a number of distinctions, including an 118-metre office and apartment building that was once the tallest building in Italy and a port and canal built from designs commissioned of Leonardo da Vinci. It also has a handsome, Liberty-style Grand Hotel and a museum dedicated to the former cycling champion Marco Pantani.

More reading:

Massimiliano Allegri, the former Milan coach who broke records at Juventus

Roberto Mancini - the Italian who led Manchester City to their first title for 44 years

Why Milan great Franco Baresi was called the player of the century

Also on this day:

April Fools' Day - Italian style

1946: The birth of former AC Milan and Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi


7 July 2017

Vittorio De Sica - film director

Oscar-winning maestro behind 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves

Vittorio De Sica was one of the major figures of Italian neorealism
Vittorio De Sica was one of the major figures
of Italian neorealism
Vittorio De Sica, the director whose 1948 film Bicycle Thieves is regarded still as one of the greatest movies of all time, was born on this day in 1901 in Sora in Lazio.

Bicycle Thieves, a story set in the poverty of post-War Rome, was a masterpiece of Italian neorealism, the genre of which the major figures, in addition to De Sica, were Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini and Giuseppe de Santis and, to a smaller degree, Federico Fellini.

The movie was one of four that landed Academy Awards for De Sica. Another of his great neo-realist movies, Shoeshine (1948), won an honorary Oscar, while Bicycle Thieves won a special award as an outstanding foreign language film in the days before the Best Foreign Language Film category was introduced.

De Sica would later win Oscars in that section for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) – a comedy starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni – and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1970). 

His Marriage Italian Style (1964), also starring Loren and Mastroianni, also earned a nomination as Best Foreign Language Film and for Loren as Best Actress. Loren did win Best Actress for her role in his 1961 movie La Ciociara, which was released outside Italy as Two Women.

Lamberto Maggiorani (left) and Enzo Staiola played
father and son in De Sica's acclaimed Bicycle Thieves
Born in Sora, which lies between Rome and Naples in the area known as Ciociaria, De Sica essentially grew up in Naples, to which his father, Umberto, who worked as a bank clerk with Banca d’Italia, was transferred in 1905.

During the First World War, De Sica had his first taste of the entertainment business when he joined a musical group that performed in military hospitals in Naples. He is said to have had an excellent singing voice.

He began acting in the 1920s and became something of a matinee idol on the stage. This was to lead to movie roles, mainly in light comedies. De Sica was box office for a while, chosen to star opposite female headliners such as Loren and Gina Lollobrigida.

When he turned to directing, he began with movies in a similarly frothy vein. So he took audiences and the critics by surprise with his fourth film, The Children Are Watching Us, released in 1944. An extraordinarily sensitive story about a child whose mother elopes with another man, leaving his father distraught, the film was the first product of De Sica’s collaboration with the screenwriter Cesare Zavattini.

Zavattini, a former law student, began to write screenplays when his employer, Angelo Rizzoli, moved from publishing books and magazines into producing films.  He and De Sica would work together on Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan (1951), which won a Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and Umberto D (1952).

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow won the  third of De Sica's four Academy Awards
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow won the
third of De Sica's four Academy Awards
Umberto D, a bleak study of the problems of old age, was a box-office flop, so much so that film historians saw it as the beginning of the end for neo-realism. Indeed, it prompted De Sica to return to lighter work.

Nonetheless, he continued to collect awards and after some commentators had written him off as past his peak he sprang another surprise with The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, based on a novel by Giorgio Bassani about the plight of Jews in Italy under Fascism, which won him another Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

A compulsive gambler, De Sica often lost large sums of money and accepted work he might otherwise have turned down in order to settle debts.  He was married twice, first to the actress Giuditta Rissone, who bore him a daughter, and later to the Spanish actress Maria Mercader, with whom he had two sons.

His personal life was complicated, however. He made a pact with his first wife to maintain the pretence of marriage while their daughter was growing up and at Christmas would turn the clocks back two hours in his second wife’s house so he could celebrate with both families, one after the other.

De Sica was a member of the Italian Communist Party, and it was the cause of some discomfort to him that his relationship with Maria Mercader created an unwelcome link with Ramon Mercader, her brother, who was a Spanish communist but at the same time an agent for the Soviet secret police, on whose behalf he carried out the assassination of the Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940.

Sora sits alongside the Liri river against the backdrop of the Apennine mountains
Sora sits alongside the Liri river against the backdrop
of the Apennine mountains
Travel tip:

Built on a plain alongside the Liri river, in the shadow of the Monti Ernici range in the Apennines, the town of Sora can be found about 25km east of Frosinone in Lazio, about 120m  south-east of Rome and 140km north of Naples, close to the border with Abruzzo. A settlement since the fourth century BC, when it was occupied by the Volsci tribe, it has been at various times under the rule of Rome and Naples.  It lies at the heart of the Ciociaria, an area renowned for its cuisine and colourful and elaborate peasant costumes. Today its economy is a mix of industry and agriculture. It is a pleasant town with some pretty squares, including Piazza Santa Restituta, which sits in front of the church of the same name, just off Lungoliri Mazzini. On rocks above the town there are the remains of a walled fortification that dates back to the Volsci period.

The Toledo Metro station in Naples
The Toledo Metro station in Naples
Travel tip:

The Banca d’Italia building in Naples is in a fairly nondescript street linking Via Medina with Via Toledo, not on the tourist trail. Yet within a few metres is one of the city’s more unlikely must-see places, the Metro station Toledo. It is one of a number of so-called ‘art stations’ on the line linking Piazza Garibaldi and Piscinola. Toledo is famous for its breathtaking escalator descent through a vast mosaic by the Spanish architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca known as the Crater de Luz – the crater of light – which creates the impression of daylight streaming into a volcanic crater.