Showing posts with label March on Rome. Show all posts
Showing posts with label March on Rome. Show all posts

4 June 2024

Dino Grandi - politician

Fascist who ultimately turned against Mussolini

Dino Grandi was a member of the Fascist Grand Council
Dino Grandi was a member
of the Fascist Grand Council
The Fascist politician Dino Grandi was born on this day in 1895 in Mordano, a small town near Imola in Emilia-Romagna.

Although Grandi was an active member of Benito Mussolini’s Blackshirts and a staunch advocate of using violence to suppress opponents of Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, he ultimately became central to the Italian dictator’s downfall.

During his time as the Italian Ambassador in London, Grandi tried to forge a pact between Italy and Britain that would have prevented Italy entering World War Two.  Under pressure from the German leader Adolf Hitler, Mussolini removed him from the post of ambassador and appointed him Minister of Justice.

Grandi had also opposed the antisemitic Italian racial laws of 1938. He enjoyed a good relationship with the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III, who gave him the title Count of Mordano.

His increasing criticism of Italy’s war effort saw him dropped from his position in Mussolini's cabinet in February 1943 but he remained chairman of the Fascist Grand Council. In this role, he colluded with others, such as Giuseppe Bottai and Mussolini’s own son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, to remove Mussolini as leader.

They could see Italy’s war was being lost, with the country suffering more and more following the Allied invasion of Sicily. Grandi and other members of the Fascist Grand Council met on July 24, 1943. When Mussolini said that the Germans were thinking of pulling out of the south, effectively abandoning the country to the enemy, Grandi stood up and subjected the self-proclaimed Il Duce to a blistering verbal attack. 

Grandi served as Italy's Ambassador in London, where he sought a deal to keep Italy out of WW2
Grandi served as Italy's Ambassador in London,
where he sought a deal to keep Italy out of WW2
He proposed a motion to the Grand Council asking Victor Emmanuel III to resume his full constitutional authority. When the motion was put to a vote, at 2am on 25 July, it was carried by 19 votes to eight.

This effectively stood down Mussolini from office, although it took his arrest later in the day, after he had been to see the King as if it was business as usual, to enforce his removal. 

Grandi, a law graduate from the University of Bologna who hailed from a wealthy background in Mordano, had met Mussolini for the first time in 1914. Like Mussolini, he had initially been attracted to the political left, but swung in behind the future leader’s nationalist brand of socialism. He joined the Blackshirts - the Fascist party’s paramilitary wing - at the age of 25.

After the March on Rome in October 1922, after which the Fascists took power in Italy, Grandi became part of Mussolini’s government, first as the undersecretary of the interior, then as Minister of Foreign Affairs and later as  Italy's ambassador to the United Kingdom, a position he held from 1932 to 1939. 

He maintained his links with the most radical and violent groups in the party. He surrounded himself with members of the Blackshirts, whom he used as bodyguards.

Despite his role in the fall of the Fascist government, Grandi found himself unwanted by the new regime under interim prime minister Pietro Badoglio and left Italy under a false name, taking his family first to Spain and then Portugal.  In 1944 he was sentenced to death in absentia by a court in the Italian Social Republic, where Mussolini, having been freed from house arrest by German paratroopers, had been installed by Hitler as the head of a puppet Nazi state. 

After seven years in exile, when life at times was hard for his family because of a lack of income, Grandi’s luck changed in the 1950s. He held representative positions for the Italian car maker Fiat and worked as a consultant to the American authorities, often serving as an intermediary in political and industrial operations between Italy and the United States. 

He then moved to Brazil, becoming the owner of an agricultural estate, before returning to Italy in the 1960s. He had a farm in the countryside of Modena before moving to Bologna. He died in Bologna in 1988 shortly before his 93rd birthday, three years after the publication of his political autobiography Il mio paese.

He is buried in the monumental cemetery of the Certosa di Bologna.

Imola's duomo, the Cattedrale di San Cassiano, in the city centre
Imola's duomo, the Cattedrale di
San Cassiano, in the city centre 
Travel tip:

The city of Imola, like Mordano, is today part of the greater metropolitan area of Bologna, in the Emilia-Romagna region. It has a well-preserved castle, the Rocca Sforzesca, which is nowadays the home of an internationally respected piano academy and the Cinema d’Este, which shows films in July and August. Imola also has a duomo, dedicated to San Cassiano. Erected from 1187 to 1271, it was repeatedly restored in the following centuries, until a large renovation was held in 1765–1781. The façade dates to 1850.The city is best known today for its motor racing circuit, the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, which hosts the Formula One Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix and formerly hosted the San Marino Grand Prix, on behalf of the nearby independent republic.

The Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna's Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the city
The Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna's
Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the city
Travel tip:

Bologna, where Grandi died, is one of Italy's oldest cities, dating back to 1,000BC or possibly earlier.  The University of Bologna, the oldest in the world, was founded in 1088.  Bologna's city centre, which has undergone substantial restoration since the 1970s, is one of the largest and best preserved historical centres in Italy, characterised by 38km (24 miles) of walkways protected by porticoes.  At the heart of the city is the beautiful Piazza Maggiore, dominated by the Gothic Basilica of San Petronio, which at 132m long, 66m wide and with a facade that touches 51m at its tallest, is the 10th largest church in the world and the largest built in brick. The Certosa di Bologna, where Grandi is buried, is a former Carthusian monastery founded in 1334 and suppressed in 1797, located just outside the walls of the city. In 1801 it became the city’s monumental cemetery.

Also on this day:

1463: The death of historian and archaeologist Flavio Biondo

1604: The birth of Claudia de’ Medici, Archduchess of Tyrol

1966: The birth of opera singer Cecilia Bartoli

1970: The birth of Olympic skiing champion Deborah Compagnoni


28 October 2022

The March on Rome

The insurrection that put Fascists in power

Mussolini (second left) walked alongside Cesare Maria de Vecchi during part of the March on Rome
Mussolini (second left) walked alongside Cesare
Maria de Vecchi during part of the March on Rome
The March on Rome that resulted in Benito Mussolini’s Fascist party taking control of the Italian government took place on this day 100 years ago in 1922.

A mob comprising thousands of members of Mussolini’s Blackshirt militia and other party supporters converged on the city, intent on seizing power. At the same time, other Blackshirt groups were capturing strategic locations throughout Italy.

Italy’s Liberal prime minister, Luigi Facta, wanted to deploy the army to put down the insurrection and hastened to the Palazzo del Quirinale to see the king, Victor Emmanuel III, and ask him to sign a decree of martial law so that he could put Rome in a state of siege.

At first, the monarch was prepared to grant his request, but after giving it more thought he changed his mind, much to Facta’s consternation. 

Instead, the Blackshirt mob, headed by four Mussolini henchmen - Italo Balbo, Cesare Maria De Vecchi, Michele Bianchi and Emilio De Bono - were allowed to enter Rome unchallenged. By the  following day, what had been effectively a bloodless coup d’état was completed when Victor Emmanuel III invited Mussolini to form a government and at the age of 39 become what was then Italy’s youngest prime minister.

Victor Emmanuel III handed power to Mussolini
Victor Emmanuel III handed
power to Mussolini  
Quite why the king decided to side with a man with a history of building power through violence and intimidation was not entirely clear. Cynics believed he did it purely out of self-interest, reasoning that the Fascist leader’s rise was irresistible and fearing that his cousin, Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, a known Fascist sympathiser, would be handed the throne if he did not acquiesce.

In fact, he had probably over-estimated the strength of Mussolini’s insurgents, who numbered nowhere near the 50,000 that the Fascist hierarchy had hoped to assemble, possibly as few as 10,000, many of whom were rural workers armed with little more than pitchforks.

A slightly more noble explanation is that Victor Emmanuel feared that Italy was on the verge of civil war and saw handing power to Mussolini as an expedient way to avert it.

Certainly, over the preceding two or three years, there had been considerable discontent over wages and prices among Italian workers, with waves of strikes taking place. The Italian Socialist Party had made gains in local elections and in 1919 - the year that Mussolini formed his Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, which would evolve into the National Fascist Party - had their most successful result in a general election, winning 156 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

Dissatisfied with the reluctance of the Rome government to act against the workers, many landowners and business bosses increasingly turned to Mussolini’s fledgling Blackshirt militias to quell industrial action, supported by establishment figures worried by the rise of the socialists.

In August 1922, the Fascists took it upon themselves to suppress a general strike, claiming they were the party of law and order as opposed to an ineffectual official government. They did so by violent means, torching buildings they believed to be used by socialists. 

Members of Mussolini's Blackshirt militia en route to Rome in 1922
Members of Mussolini's Blackshirt militia
en route to Rome in 1922
Street fighting broke out in Milan to which the Fascists responded by destroying the printing presses of the left-wing newspaper Avanti! and storming the local government headquarters, expelling the elected socialist administration.

All the time, the government in Rome sat back and watched, which emboldened Mussolini, by now supported and sponsored by business owners and most on the political right, to make his grab for absolute power.

Within a little over two years of the king’s capitulation, Mussolini had turned his premiership into a dictatorship, after which Italy had to endure two decades of brutality and suppression that ended only when the occupying forces of Nazi Germany had been defeated by the Allies.

After the war, Victor Emmanuel III was sent into exile along with all members of the Italian Royal Family, his siding with Mussolini never forgiven as Italians voted to become a republic.

Yet 100 years after his rise to power, the self-proclaimed Duce still has sympathisers in the country and reminders of his regime are not difficult to find in many parts of Italy, such as the obelisk inscribed with the words Mussolini Dux that still stands near the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

The giant fashion house Fendi has its headquarters in the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, an imposing six-story marble structure in the Mussolini-built EUR district of the capital, on which is engraved a phrase from a speech made by the dictator announcing his invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

Indeed, with somewhat chilling timing, the anniversary of Mussolini’s ascent to power has coincided with the installing as prime minister of Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, herself a former member of both the Italian Social Movement, founded in 1946 by Mussolini supporters, and the post-fascist National Alliance.

The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the official residence of popes, kings and presidents
The Palazzo del Quirinale has been the official
residence of popes, kings and presidents
Travel tips:

The Palazzo del Quirinale, which until 1946 was the official residence of Italy’s reigning monarch, was built in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII as a summer residence. It also served as the offices of the civil government of the Papal States until 1870. When, in 1871, Rome became the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy, the palace became the official residence of the kings of Italy, although some monarchs, notably Victor Emmanuel III (1900–1946), lived in a private residence elsewhere. When the monarchy was abolished in 1946, the Palazzo del Quirinale became the official residence and workplace for the presidents of the Italian Republic. So far, it has housed 30 popes, four kings and 12 presidents.

The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is one of the most striking buildings in Rome's EUR district
The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is one of the
most striking buildings in Rome's EUR district
Travel tip:

The EUR complex, to the south of the centre of Rome, was originally developed to host the 1942 World's Fair - the Esposizione Universale Roma - which was cancelled because of the Second World War.  Mussolini’s modern city within a city was designed by a team of prominent architects, headed by Marcello Piacentini and including Giovanni Michelucci. The designs combined classical Roman elements with Italian Rationalism in a simplified neoclassicism that came to be known as Fascist architecture.  The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, which has become known as the “square colosseum”, is regarded as the building which is the most symbolic of EUR. Designed by Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto La Padula, and Mario Romano, it draws inspiration from the Colosseum with its rows of arches, while its square shape and stark whiteness are reminiscent of metaphysical art.

Also on this day:

312: The Battle of the Ponte Milvio

1639: The death of composer Stefano Landi

1963: The birth of singer-songwriter Eros Ramazzotti

1973: The death of comic actor and illustrator Sergio Tòfano


6 June 2019

Italo Balbo - Fascist commander

Blackshirt thug turned air commander was Mussolini’s ‘heir apparent’

Italo Balbo was the commander of Italy's air force in the 1930s
Italo Balbo was the commander of
Italy's air force in the 1930s
Italo Balbo, who rose to such a position of seniority in the hierarchy of the Italian Fascists that he was considered the man most likely to succeed Benito Mussolini as leader, was born on this day in 1896 in Quartesana, a village on the outskirts of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna.

After active service in the First World War, Balbo became the leading Fascist organizer in his home region of Ferrara, leading a gang of Blackshirt thugs who became notorious for their attacks on rival political groups and for carrying out vicious reprisals against striking rural workers on behalf of wealthy landlords.

Later, he was one of the leaders of the March on Rome that brought Mussolini and the Fascists to power in 1922.

As Maresciallo dell'Aria - Marshal of the Air Force - he rebuilt Italy’s aerial warfare capability. At the height of his influence, however, he was sent by Mussolini to be Governor of Italian Libya.

Many believed that Mussolini saw Balbo as a threat and when, early in the Second World War, Balbo was killed when the plane in which he was travelling was shot down - seemingly accidentally - by Italian anti-aircraft guns over Tobruk, there were immediately those among Balbo’s supporters who believed the incident was not an accident.

Balbo (second right), with Mussolini and other Blackshirt leaders of the March on Rome in 1922
Balbo (second right), with Mussolini and other Blackshirt
leaders of the March on Rome in 1922
Balbo had been at odds with Mussolini over the dictator’s race laws, which he deeply opposed. He was also the only leading Fascist to speak out against the alliance with Nazi Germany, on the basis that Italy, he felt, would merely be Hitler’s lackeys in the partnership.  He advocated that Italy should side with the British.

Balbo was politically active from a young age. After Italy initially declared itself as neutral in the First World War, Balbo joined in several pro-war rallies. Once Italy entered the war in 1915, he served with the Italian Royal Army.

He enlisted in the Alpini mountain infantry and won two silver medals for military valour, rising to the rank of captain. Later, after obtaining a degree in Social Sciences in Florence, Balbo went back to Ferrara and joined the Fascist Party, quitting his job as a bank clerk to be branch secretary.

Party members increasingly formed gangs and would behave aggressively towards opponents.  Balbo proved himself as an adept gang commander. For several years, he led a unit called the Celibanisti, named after the squad’s ritual of ordering a specific cherry brandy in the afternoons at Caffè Mozzi in Piazza del Duomo.

An illustration from an American newspaper showing Balbo's squadron
An illustration from an American
newspaper showing Balbo's squadron 
The Celibanisti directed their violence towards Socialist, Communist, and Democratic party members. Balbo was implicated in the murder of a parish priest in Argenta, another town in the Ferrara province, and left the area to move to Rome.

Balbo held a number of senior positions in the Fascist hierarchy under Mussolini, including Commander in Chief of the Militia (1922), Secretary of State for National Economy (1925), Undersecretary of the Air Force (1926), General of the Air Fleet (1928) and Air Minister (1929).

As commander of the air forces, he organised many spectacular displays of air power, often involving formation flying.  His prestige soared after a visit to America in 1933 when, having made it his business to learn to fly, he commanded a squadron of sea planes that flew to Chicago to take part in the Century of Progress Fair.  He was welcomed as a hero and President Roosevelt awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Just as his popularity was growing at home, however, Balbo was ordered to Libya as Governor-General of the Italian colony.

The appointment was an effective exile from politics in Rome, however. Mussolini was wary of Balbo’s close relationship with the suspected anti-Fascist Prince Umberto, the king’s son. Mussolini became so paranoid that he ordered that Italian newspapers could not mention Balbo's name more than once a month.

The site of the crash, including a makeshift grave, in which Balbo died when his place was shot down over Libya
The site of the crash, including a makeshift grave, in which
Balbo died when his place was shot down over Libya
He was an effective leader in Libya. He bolstered the economy by improving railways and roads, including the Litoranea Libica coastal highway which stretched across the Libyan coast.  He was a major supporter of colonising Libya with Italian peasants.  By 1940, approximately 110,000 Italians were living in Libya. Ultimately, 12 per cent of the Libyan population was of Italian origin.

Balbo died on June 28, 1940. He was a passenger on a plane that attempted to land at Tobruk airfield shortly after an attack by British aircraft. Italian anti-aircraft batteries defending the airfield misidentified his aircraft as a British fighter and opened fire. 

His remains were buried outside Tripoli and later moved to the cemetery at Orbetello in Tuscany, close to the airfield from which he flew his sea plane squadron to the United States in 1933, by Balbo's family.  He is buried with many other airmen associated with the base.

The Este Castle at Ferrara in winter snow
The Este Castle at Ferrara in winter snow
Travel tip:

Apart from the impressively well preserved Castello Estense right at the heart of the city, Ferrara - situated midway between Bologna and Venice in Emilia-Romagna - has many notable architectural gems, including many palaces from the 14th and 15th centuries.  Among them is the striking Palazzo dei Diamanti, so-called because the stone blocks of its facade are cut into the shape of diamonds. The palace holds the National Picture Gallery, which houses many works from the  masters of the 16th-century School of Ferrara, including Lorenzo Costa, Dosso Dossi, Girolamo da Carpi and Benvenuto Tisi. Ferrara was ruled by the Este family between 1240 and 1598 and it was they who built the magnificent castle, work on which began in 1385.

The entrance to what remains of the  seaplane base at Orbetello
The entrance to what remains of the
seaplane base at Orbetello
Travel tip:

The remains of the Orbetello seaplane base, the military structure built at the beginning of the century and best known for its links to the squadrons commanded by Italo Balbo, are still visible in the town of Orbetello, which occupies a narrow peninsula surrounded by a natural lagoon on the coast of Tuscany, about 44km (27 miles) south of Grosseto.  The field was used by the German Luftwaffe during the Second World War and the town was therefore hit by frequent air attacks. By the end of the war it was being used as an American base.  Nowadays, it is in a state of semi-abandonment. The western area that was in charge of housing the officers' families is now called Parco delle Crociere and is used as a playground. Some structures are still standing, including the entrance, which bears the name of Agostino Brunetta, a seaplane pilot.


6 July 2017

Cesare Mori - Mafia buster

'Iron Prefect' who 'eliminated' the Cosa Nostra

Cesare Mori was well known for his hard-line methods
Cesare Mori was well known for
his hard-line methods
Cesare Mori, the prefect of police credited with crushing the Sicilian Mafia during the inter-War years, died on this day in 1942 at the age of 70.

At the time of his death he was living in retirement in Udine, in some respects a forgotten figure in a country in the grip of the Second World War.

Yet during his police career his reputation as a hard-line law enforcer was such that the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini personally appointed him as prefect of Palermo, charged with breaking the Mafia’s hold over Sicily and re-establishing the authority of the State by any means necessary.

Mori was born in Pavia in Lombardy, by then part of the new Kingdom of Italy, in 1871.  His upbringing was difficult.  His first years were spent living in an orphanage, although his parents were not dead and looked after him after he had turned seven.

He attended the Military Academy in Turin and was set on a career in the army but after marrying Angelina Salvi in 1897 he quit and joined the police, taking up a posting in Ravenna.

His first experience of Sicily came with a brief posting to Castelvetrano, near Trapani, where he captured a notorious bandit, Paolo Grisalfi, before moving to Florence in 1915.

Mori was sent back to Sicily after the First World War, at which time the island was becoming virtually lawless, with gangs of bandits able to operate almost with impunity. He was placed in charge of a special force created to tackle brigandage.

Mori was uneasy about the Fascists but agreed to become a blackshirt to carry out his job
Mori was uneasy about the Fascists but agreed
to become a blackshirt to carry out his job
He soon became known for taking a somewhat radical approach to the job, pushing acceptable policing methods to their limits and sometimes beyond. But they worked. In Caltabellotta, a town in rugged, mountainous territory between Agrigento and Palermo, he arrested more than 300 suspected bandits in just one night.

The press hailed the arrests as a "lethal blow to the Mafia", but Mori was aware that these gangs of brigands were not the Mafia, whose presence in Sicilian society was much less visible but far more dangerous, with a sphere of influence that extended into business and local government and even the local police forces.

Mori was actually uneasy about the rise of Fascism.  Back on the mainland, as prefect of Bologna he was one of the few policemen who opposed the suppression of opponents by thuggery that was becoming part of the Fascist culture.  This led him to be posted to Bari, well away from the major centres of Fascist activity. After Mussolini took power following the 1922 March on Rome, Mori took it as his cue to retire, moving with his wife to Florence.

Yet the prospect of eliminating the so-called Cosa Nostra in Sicily continued to interest him and when Mussolini’s Minister of the Interior, Luigi Federzoni, approached him to return to policing in 1924, he accepted the requirement to join the Fascist party as a condition of the job and took up the post of prefect of Trapani.

Just over a year later, having determined that eliminating the Mafia would bring him huge public support, Mussolini made contact with Mori in person, asking him to become prefect of Palermo with 'carte blanche' to re-establish the authority of the Italian government, promising to draw up any new laws he required to carry out the task.

In a four-year campaign, Mori became known as ‘the Iron Prefect’, employing methods that included violence and intimidation on a scale almost the equal of the tactics used by the Mafia themselves.

Joseph Bonanno left Sicily to escape Mori's purge
Joseph Bonanno left Sicily
to escape Mori's purge
His men laid siege to entire towns, humiliating Mafia bosses by dragging them out of their beds in the early hours, and countering the code of silence – omertà – that all members were supposed to follow by using torture to obtain information, even threatening harm to their families if they refused to co-operate.

More than 11,000 arrests were made during his time in charge. Mussolini rewarded him by making him a Senator and retiring him in 1929, his propaganda machine announcing to Italy that the Mafia had been eradicated.

Whether that was true has been the subject of many arguments.  The murder rate on the island dropped sharply in the 1930s as some Mafiosi chose to give evidence to police in return for their own lives and others, such as Joseph Bonanno, relocated to the United States and built crime empires there.

But, according to some historians, too many of Mori’s arrests were of minor figures and a substantial number of bosses simply went to ground, content to lie low in the expectation that the Fascists would eventually fall from power.

This was to come about, of course, with the Allied invasion of 1943, which began in Sicily.  Mafia figures still on the island and in the US took the opportunity to offer their help, both in encouraging Sicilians to turn against the Fascists and in passing on their knowledge of the difficult terrain and often treacherous coastline.

As cities and towns fell and new local administrations were appointed, Mafia figures manoeuvred themselves into key positions and, slowly but surely, their power was restored.

Mori’s story has been the subject of several books and films, notably the 1977 movie, Il prefetto di ferro – the Iron Prefect – directed by Pasquale Squitieri and starring Giuliano Gemma and Claudia Cardinale, with music by Ennio Morricone.

The old part of Trapani sits on a promontory
The old part of Trapani sits on a promontory 
Travel tip:

Situated on the western coast of Sicily, Trapani is a fishing and ferry port notable for a curving harbour, where Peter of Aragon landed in 1282 to begin the Spanish occupation of Sicily. Well placed strategically to trade with Africa as well as the Italian mainland, Trapani was once the hub of a commercial network that stretched from Carthage in what is now Tunisia to Venice. Nowadays, the port is used by ferries serving Tunisia and the smaller islands, as well as other Italian ports.  The older part of the town, on a promontory with the sea on either side, has some crumbling palaces and others that have been well restored, as well as a number of military fortifications and notable churches.

The Certosa di Pavia is notable for its lavish Gothic and Renaissance architecture
The Certosa di Pavia is notable for its lavish
Gothic and Renaissance architecture
Travel tip:

Once a Roman military garrison, Pavia has a well preserved historic centre and, 8km (5 miles) to the north side if the city, the impressive Certosa di Pavia, a monastery complex built between 1396 and 1495. It is the largest monastery in Italian and is renowned for its extravagant Gothic and Renaissance style, a contrast to the plain, austere architecture normally associated with Carthusian religious buildings. Pavia is also home to one of Italy’s best universities, the alumni of which include explorer Christopher Columbus, physicist Alessandro Volta and poet and revolutionary Ugo Foscolo.