Showing posts with label Lecco. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lecco. Show all posts

6 September 2023

Nino Castelnuovo - actor

Starred in sumptuous French musical and TV adaptation of literary classic

Nino Castelnuovo worked with some of Italy's  most famous 'golden age' directors
Nino Castelnuovo worked with some of Italy's
 most famous 'golden age' directors
The actor Nino Castelnuovo, best known for playing opposite a young Catherine Deneuve in a Palme d’Or-winning French musical and as the star of a celebrated TV adaptation of Alessandro Manzoni’s classic novel I promessi sposi (The Betrothed), died on this day in 2021 at the age of 84.

Castelnuovo’s talent came to the fore during a golden age of Italian cinema, working with leading directors such as Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, Pietro Germi, Luigi Comencini and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and starring opposite such luminaries as Alberto Sordi, Monica Vitti and Claudia Cardinale.

Yet it was the visually beautiful, deeply sentimental French musical, Le parapluies de Cherbourg - The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - that catapulted him to fame in 1964, five years after his screen debut.

Directed by Jacques Demy, the musical, in which the dialogue is entirely sung (although by voice dubbers rather than the actors appearing on screen), Castelnuovo played the handsome Guy, a mechanic, who is in love with Deneuve’s character, Geneviève, who works in her mother’s umbrella shop.

Their romance is interrupted when Guy is called up to serve in the Algerian War. Geneviève gives birth to their child while Guy is away but they lose touch. When they meet again, six years later, they are both married to other people, their lives having taken very different courses. An affecting tale, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for five Academy Awards.

Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo arrive at a promotional event for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo arrive at a
promotional event for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Born in the lakeside town of Lecco, in Lombardy, Castelnuovo was christened as Francesco. His mother, Emilia Paola, a maid, was married to Camillo Castelnuovo, who worked in a button factory. 

Nino worked at different times as a mechanic and a painter. An enthusiastic cinema-goer, he idolised Fred Astaire, which prompted him to take lessons in gymnastics and dancing.  After moving to Milan at the age of 19, he studied drama at the Piccolo Teatro, presided over by the director Giorgio Strehler.

His first screen appearance came via a bit part in a film titled The Virtuous Bigamist in 1956, but his first credited role was in the 1959 thriller Un maledetto imbroglio, directed by Germi, based on Carlo Emilio Gadda’s crime novel, which was titled in English as That Awful Mess on Via Merulana. The film was shown in America as The Facts of Murder.

The following year he starred with Alain Delon in Visconti’s acclaimed drama Rocco and His Brothers and alongside the actor-director Pasolini in The Hunchback of Rome. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg won him gushing reviews, yet where Deneuve’s career took off internationally after the film’s release, Castelnuovo fared less well.  He was never short of parts, going on to make more than 50 films, yet Italian cinema audiences in particular were slow to warm to him.

Castelnuovo with Claudia Cardinale in a scene from his first credited movie, Un maledetto imbroglio
Castelnuovo with Claudia Cardinale in a scene from
his first credited movie, Un maledetto imbroglio
In the event, it was the small screen that provided him with his second, career-defining part, as Renzo, the principal male character in a television adaptation of Manzoni’s epic I promessi sposi, first published in three volumes in 1827.

The revised, definitive version published in 1842 has become the most widely-read novel in the Italian language, studied by virtually every Italian secondary school student and regarded by Italian scholars as a literary masterpiece on a par with Dante’s Divine Comedy.

By coincidence, Manzoni places Renzo and Lucia, the couple at the centre of the novel’s storyline, in a village just outside Lecco, where their story begins.  The novel is notable for its description of 17th century Milan during a major outbreak of plague. Rai’s adaptation won much praise from critics and Castelnuovo enjoyed a surge of popularity that won him an audience with Pope Paul VI, among other things.

Thereafter, Castelnuovo became a familiar face in TV dramas both in Italy and in other European countries, although he continued to make films and was keen to work in theatre, too. He performed in several stage productions of the works of Carlo Goldoni, the 18th century Venetian playwright, and returned to the cinema in 1996 when director Anthony Minghella cast him as an archaeologist in the Oscar-winning The English Patient.

Despite suffering problems with his eyesight due to glaucoma, Castelnuovo continued working, mainly on television, into his late 70s.  He suffered two personal tragedies, losing both his brothers. In 1976, Pierantonio died after being beaten up by a group of revellers at a festival, while Clemente was killed in a car accident in 1994.

Nino himself died in hospital in Rome after a long period of ill health. He was survived by his wife, the actress Maria Cristina Di Nicola, and a son, Lorenzo, from a previous relationship.

Piazza XX Settembre in the Lombardy town of Lecco, looking towards the Basilica di San Nicolò
Piazza XX Settembre in the Lombardy town of
Lecco, looking towards the Basilica di San Nicolò
Travel tip:

Lecco, where Nino Castelnuovo was born, lies at the end of the south eastern branch of Lago di Como, which is known as Lago di Lecco. The town is surrounded by mountains including Monte Resegone, which has cable-car access to the Piani d’Erna lookout point, and Monte Barro, a regional park area that contains the remains of a fifth-century settlement and the Costa Perla birdwatching station. In the centre of Lecco, the Basilica di San Nicolò, with its neo-Gothic bell tower, is a notable attraction, while the town makes much of it being the childhood home of Alessandro Manzoni, who chose it as the home of his betrothed lovers, Renzo and Lucia, in I promessi sposi. The historic fishermen’s quarter of Pescarenico, which features in the book, has a number of restaurants that make it well worth a visit.

Bellagio is one of many pretty towns dotted around the shores of Lago di Como
Bellagio is one of many pretty towns dotted
around the shores of Lago di Como
Travel tip:

Lago di Como - Lake Como - the third largest lake in Italy after Garda and Maggiore, has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and the wealthy since Roman times, and remains a popular tourist destination. Its many lakeside villas include the Villa Carlotta, overlooking the lake at Tremezzo, built in the late 18th century as a holiday home for the Clerici family, successful silk merchants, the Villa Olmo in Como, built for the marquis Innocenzo Odescalchi, and  Villa d'Este, in Cernobbio, now a luxury hotel and, between 1816 and 1817, home to Caroline of Brunswick, estranged wife of the Prince of Wales and later Queen Consort of King George IV of the United Kingdom.  Numerous pretty towns along the shores of the lake, which covers an area of 146 sq km (56 sq miles), include Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna. 

Also on this day:

1610: The birth of Francesco I d’Este, Duke of Modena

1620: The birth of composer Isabella Leonarda

1825: The birth of painter Giovanni Fattori

1925: The birth of novelist and screenwriter Andrea Camilleri


27 October 2018

Simone Moro - mountaineer

Bergamo climber with unique record

Simone Moro has been climbing since he was 13 years old
Simone Moro has been climbing
since he was 13 years old
The mountaineer Simone Moro, who is the only climber whose list of achievements includes the first winter ascent of four of the so-called eight-thousanders, was born on this day in 1967 in the city of Bergamo in Lombardy.

The eight-thousanders are the 14 peaks on Earth that rise to more than 8,000m (26,247ft) above sea level. All are located in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges in Asia.

A veteran of 15 winter expeditions, he completed the winter ascent of Shisha Pangma (8,027m) in 2005, Makalu (8,485m) in 2009, Gasherbrum II (8,035m) in 2011 and Nanga Parbat (8,126m) in 2016.

He has scaled Everest (8,848m) four times, including the first solo south-north traverse in 2006. In total he has completed more than 50 expeditions, conquering peaks in Tien Shan, Pamir, Andes, Patagonia and Antarctica as well as the Himalayas and Karakoram.

Moro is also renowned for his courage and bravery. During his 2001 attempt on the Everest-Lhotse traverse, he abandoned his ascent at 8,000m and battled through the most dangerous conditions in darkness to save the life of British climber Tom Moores.

In recognition of his bravery, Moro was awarded a Civilian Gold Medal by the Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.   He was also awarded the Pierre de Coubertin International Fair Play Trophy by UNESCO and the David A. Sowles Memorial Award from the American Alpine Club.

Makalu in the Himalayas - the highest of the four eight-thousanders Moro climbed in winter
Makalu in the Himalayas - the highest of the four
eight-thousanders Moro climbed in winter
An experienced helicopter pilot - the first European qualified to fly in Nepal - in 2013, Moro and two other rescue experts carried out the world's highest long-line rescue operation on a helicopter, on Lhotse, at 7800m.

In 2015, he set a new flight altitude world record in an ES 101 Raven, turboshaft powered helicopter reaching 6,705m.

Born into a middle-class family, Moro grew up in the borough of Valtesse, a suburb of Bergamo in a valley to the northeast of the Città Alta, between the elevated medieval part of the city and the Maresana Hill.

He had the enthusiastic support of his father, who was also a climber and a high-altitude biker, in his passion for the mountains and tackled the 2,521m (8,271ft) Presolana and other massifs of the Alpi Bergamasche when he was only 13.  There is a strong climbing tradition in the Bergamo area, which produced another famous mountaineer, Walter Bonatti.

Once had had graduated from university, he took on climbs in the Grigna - a massif in the province of Lecco, northwest of Bergamo, before attempting more ambitious climbs in the Dolomites.

Moro often makes public appearances to share his expertise and experiences
Moro often makes public appearances
to share his expertise and experiences
He did his military service at the Alpine Military School of Aosta, finishing his 15-month stint as a sub-lieutenant of the Alpini, the mountain troops of the Italian Army.

He participated in his first Himalayan expedition to Mount Everest in 1992 and the following year achieved the first winter ascent of Aconcagua in Argentina, at 6,960.8m (22,837 ft) the highest mountain in both the Southern and Western Hemispheres.

Moro has also used his own money to help various charitable projects, including the financing of a school for 396 Sherpa children in the isolated Nepalese village of Syadul.  Near the Nanga Parbat base camp, he built a small masonry building for the shepherds and a small hospital in the village of Ser.

He performs free rescue missions in the Nepalese area using a helicopter he bought with his own money in 2009.

Moro raises the funds for his missions by making frequent public appearances and providing motivational speeches. He has also written a number of books, including an autobiography entitled Devo perché posso - I Must Because I Can.

He is married to Barbara Zwerger and has two children, 19-year-old Martina and eight-year-old Jonas.  He still has a home in Bergamo.

The walled Città Alta is one of the two centres of Bergamo
The walled Città Alta is one of the two centres of Bergamo
Travel tip:

Bergamo, where Moro was born and grew up, is a fascinating, historic city with two distinct centres. The Città Alta, upper town, is a beautiful, walled city with buildings that date back to medieval times. The elegant Città Bassa, lower town, still has some buildings that date back to the 15th century, but more imposing and elaborate architecture was added in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Grigna massif in the province of Lecco
The Grigna massif in the province of Lecco
Travel tip:

The Grigna is a mountain massif in the province of Lecco, with an elevation of 2,410m (7,907ft). It is part of the Bergamo Alps, and it has two peaks, Grignone or Grigna settentrionale, the higher, and the lower Grignetta or Grigna meridionale (2,177m).  To the southwest, the Grigna massif descends precipitously towards an arm of Lake Como known as Ramo di Lecco (The Branch of Lecco). To the east, the mountain rises gently through fields and forested land into Valsassina. The northern side of the mountain, which is known for its many caves and crevices, leads to Passo del Cainallo and the town of Esino Lario.

More reading:

The Bergamo climber whose career was marred by a 50-year row

The climber from the Dolomites who conquered Everest

Riccardo Cassin - mountaineer and resistance fighter

Also on this day:

1952: The birth of Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni

1962: The death of controversial industrialist Enrico Mattei


7 December 2017

Azzone Visconti - ruler of Milan

Nobleman who used family power to bring prosperity to the city

Azzone Visconti's rule saw Milan prosper and expand in the early 14th century
Azzone Visconti's rule saw Milan prosper and
expand in the early 14th century
Azzone Visconti, a nobleman sometimes described as the founder of the state of Milan and who brought prosperity to the city in the 14th century, was born on this day in 1302 in Ferrara.

The Visconti family ruled Lombardy and Milan from 1277 to 1457 before the family line ended and, after a brief period as a republic, the Sforza family took control.

Azzone was the son of Galeazzo I Visconti and Beatrice d’Este, the daughter of the Marquis of Ferrara.

Galeazzo was descendant from Ottone Visconti, who had first taken control of Milan for the family in 1277, when he was made Archbishop of Milan by Pope Urban IV but found himself opposed by the Della Torre family, who had expected Martino della Torre to be given the title.

Ottone was barred from entering the city until he defeated Napoleone della Torre in a battle and, apart from a brief period in which forces loyal to Guido della Torre drove out Galeazzo’s father, Matteo, the Visconti family held power for the next 170 years.

Ambrogio Ficino's 1590 painting of the apparition  of St Ambrose at the Battle of Parabiago
Ambrogio Ficino's 1590 painting of the apparition
 of St Ambrose at the Battle of Parabiago
A crisis faced the Visconti rule in 1328 when Louis IV, the Holy Roman Emperor – known in Italian as Ludovico il Bavaro – had Galeazzo and other members of the family arrested following the death of Galeazzo’s younger brother, Stefano, in a suspected assassination.  Azzone’s uncle, Marco, was said to have betrayed Galeazzo by passing on information that implicated his brother at the heart of the plot.

Ludovico confiscated the Visconti territories, handing control of the smaller cities in Lombardy to local families. It proved the end of Galeazzo, who died later in the year.  On their release, Azzone was involved in a power struggle with Marco for control of Milan.

Azzone gained the upper hand when, with the help of another uncle, he raised the sum of 60,000 florins which he paid Ludovico for the title of Imperial Vicar of Milan, which effectively made him the ruler of the city.  When Marco was killed soon afterwards, Azzone was named as the chief suspect, although he was never prosecuted.

This development angered Pope John XXII, who excommunicated Azzone. As a solution, Azzone was forced to submit to the Pope and renounce his Imperial Vicariate, reaching a compromise under which he retained political power under the title of Lord of Milan.

Azzone’s rule lasted only nine years until his death in 1339 from gout, but during that time he enhanced the wealth and power of the city.

By joining the League of Castelbaldo, he brought the Lombardy cities of Bergamo, Novara, Cremona, Como, Lodi, Piacenza and Brescia back under the rule of Milan, establishing the city’s predominance in the region.

The bell tower of the church of San Gottardo in Corte in Milan
The bell tower of the church of San
Gottardo in Corte in Milan
He also defeated a plot to unseat him by his uncle, Lodrisio, who escaped a crackdown that saw several accomplices arrested and locked up in prison in the Castle of Monza but suffered defeat in the Battle of Parabiago, where a Milanese army led by another uncle, Luchino, was said to have been facing defeat but was saved by the divine intervention in the form of an apparition of St Ambrose on horseback, which caused the enemy army to flee.

Away from the battlefield, Azzone Visconti is credited with beginning an artistic renewal of Milan.

He rebuilt the Palazzo del Broletto Vecchio, opposite the Duomo, formerly the municipal seat, as Visconti palace - later the Royal Palace - and moved the town hall to the Palazzo della Ragione.

Azzone commissioned the Cremonese architect Francesco Pecorari to construct the church of San Gottardo in Corte, with an octagonal bell tower, which remains today, that was probably inspired by the drawings Giotto made for the bell tower of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.

He hired Giotto himself to execute a number of frescoes in the Visconti palace, although none remain today.  His commitment to the architectural embellishment of Milan continued under his successors, notably with work beginning on the magnificent Duomo in 1386 under the rule of Gian Galeazzo Visconti.

Azzone was also credited with rebuilding the city of Lecco, at the southern end of the eastern fork of Lago di Como, known as Lago di Lecco. The city had been destroyed by his grandfather, Matteo, in 1296.

The monumental tomb of Azzone Visconti
The monumental tomb of Azzone Visconti
Travel tip:

The church of San Gottardo in Corte can be found in Via Francesco Pecorari, just a few yards from the Duomo. Built as a ducal chapel, it was originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin but Azzone, who had gout, later changed the dedication to St. Gotthard of Hildesheim, patron of those with gout. The interior has been partially restored but in the original church part of the a fresco of the Crucifixion, thought to have been painted by a pupil of Giotto remains, along with the monumental tomb sculpted for Azzone by the Pisan sculptor Giovanni di Balduccio.

The Palazzo della Ragione in Piazza Mercanti
The Palazzo della Ragione in Piazza Mercanti
Travel tip:

The Palazzo della Ragione (Palace of Reason), which Azzone established as Milan’s town hall, is located in Piazza Mercanti, just off Piazza del Duomo, facing the Loggia degli Osii. It also served as a judicial seat. Built between 1228 and 1233 for the podestà (chief magistrate) of Milan, Oldrado da Tresseno. It maintained a central role in the administrative and public life of the city Milan until 1773, when it was enlarged to accommodate legal archives.  Between 1866 and 1870, the building hosted the headquarters of the Banca Popolare di Milano, a major Milanese bank, but returned to its function as house of legal archives until 1970.

7 March 2016

Alessandro Manzoni – novelist

Writer who produced the greatest novel in Italian literature

Alessandro Manzoni wrote the first novel to be written in the Italian language rather than regional dialect
A lithograph of the writer Alessandro Manzoni
Italy’s most famous novelist, Alessandro Manzoni, was born on this day in 1785 in Milan.

Manzoni was the author of I promessi sposi (The Betrothed), the first novel to be written in modern Italian, a language that could be understood by everyone.

The novel caused a sensation when it was first published in 1825. It looked at Italian history through the eyes of the ordinary citizen and sparked pro-unification feelings in many Italians who read it, becoming a symbol of the Risorgimento movement.

I promessi sposi is now considered to be the most important novel in Italian literature and is still required reading for many Italian schoolchildren.

Manzoni spent a lot of his childhood in Lecco, on Lago di Lecco, where his father’s family originated, and he chose to set his great work there.

Lago di Lecco is an arm of Lago di Como and is surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery that is so stunning it is said to have inspired Leonardo da Vinci for settings for his paintings.

More than two centuries later, fans of Manzoni’s novel continue to visit Lecco to see the places he described and the buildings featured in the book that remain.

The excellent Trattoria Vecchia Pescarenico
in the fisherman's quarter in Lecco that
featured in Manzoni's I promessi sposi
When visiting Lecco it is well worth taking the time to visit the historic fishermen’s quarter of Pescarenico, which was immortalised in I promessi sposi. It was the setting for Padre Cristoforo’s convent in the book and it was also from Pescarenico’s shore that one of the main characters, Lucia, set off in a boat to escape the clutches of the evil Don Rodrigo.

The village grew from a cluster of fishermen’s homes at the side of Lago di Lecco and an inn became established there in the 19th century.

Now named Trattoria Vecchia Pescarenico, the inn is at number eight in Via Pescarenico, a small street leading down to the side of the lake. Today it is an excellent restaurant specialising in seafood.

I promessi sposi created expressions and sayings that are still commonly used in Italian today, the most famous being: “Questo matrimonio non s’ha da fare…” (This marriage is not to be performed.)

This famous quote from the novel is still regularly used by Italians, in an ironic manner, when they are talking about weddings.

Manzoni died at the age of 88 after having had a fall on the steps of the church of San Fedele in Milan. There is now a statue of Manzoni in Piazza San Fedele.

Travel tip:

When you arrive in Lecco, it is a short walk from the railway station to the side of the lake. If you visit the Ufficio Informazione Turistiche (Tourist Information Office) in Via Sauro, just before you reach the lake, the staff will give you a free map of Lecco with places mentioned in the novel marked on it, such as Lucia’s house, Don Rodrigo’s castle and the famous marriage church. For more information about Lecco visit

Casa Manzoni was Manzoni's home in Milan until his death in 1873
The Casa Manzoni in Milan, where the author
lived until his death in 1873
Travel tip:

You can visit Casa Manzoni in Via Morone in Milan, where the author lived until his death in 1873 after his fall on the steps of the San Fedele church. The house is now used as the Centre for Manzoni Studies. The novelist’s tomb is in the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan. 

Also on this day: