Showing posts with label Nobel Prize. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nobel Prize. Show all posts

18 June 2024

Franco Modigliani – economist

Writer and professor developed theories about spending and saving

Franco Modigliani studied in Rome before emigrating to America
Franco Modigliani studied in Rome
before emigrating to America
Nobel prize winner Franco Modigliani, who was an originator of the economic life-cycle hypothesis that attempts to explain the level of spending in the economy, was born on this day in 1918 in Rome.

He wrote several books outlining his economic theories, became a professor at three American universities, and received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1985. 

Modigliani also formulated the Modigliani-Miller theorem for corporate finances, which is based on the idea that the value of a private firm is not affected by whether it is financed by equity or by debt.

Born and brought up in a Jewish family, Modigliani enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the Sapienza University of Rome at the age of 17. In his second year at Sapienza, his entry in a national economics contest won first prize and he was presented with it by the Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.

Modigliani went on to write essays for the Fascist magazine Lo Stato, displaying an inclination for the fascist ideals that were critical of liberalism at the time.

He argued the case for socialism in an article for the magazine about the organisation and management of production in a socialist economy.

But after racial laws were passed in Italy in 1938, he left Rome, with his girlfriend, Serena Calabi, whose father was a prominent opponent of Mussolini, to join her parents in Paris.

The neoclassical main building of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology - Modigliani's base for many years
He returned to Rome to discuss his thesis and obtain his diploma in 1939, but afterwards went back to Paris.

Later that year, Modigliani emigrated with his girlfriend’s family to the United States, where he enrolled  at the New School for Social Research in New York. The PhD dissertation he submitted there was judged to be ‘ground breaking’.

Modigliani taught at Columbia University and Bard College in New York between 1942 and 1944 and became a naturalised citizen of the US in 1946. He later taught at the University of Illinois and Carnegie Mellon University before becoming an Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

He developed the hypothesis that consumers aim for a stable level of consumption during their lifetime by saving during their working years and spending during their retirement. Economists believe this was an original theory when he introduced it in a paper written in 1954. 

Modigliani also introduced the concept of the NIRU, the non-inflationary rate of unemployment, which referred to the level of unemployment, below which inflation rises, which he believed should influence policy decisions.

Modigliani in 2000: he continued to teach well into his 80s
Modigliani in 2000: he continued
to teach well into his 80s
Modigliani married Serena Calabi in 1939 in Paris and they had two children, Andre and Sergio. 

With Leah Modigliani, his granddaughter, who followed him in becoming an economist, he developed the Modigliani Risk-Adjusted Performance, a measure of the risk-adjusted returns of an investment portfolio.

His Nobel prize was awarded to him for his pioneering analyses of saving and financial markets and in the same year he received MIT’s James R Killian Faculty Achievement award. 

In 1997, he received an honoris causa degree in Management Engineering from the University of Naples Federico II.

Modigliani became a trustee of the Economists for Peace and Security organisation and was an influential adviser to the Federal Reserve, designing a tool to guide monetary policy in Washington.

A collection of Modigliani’s economic papers is now housed in the Duke University’s Rubenstein Library in Durham, North Carolina.

Modigliani died in 2003 at the age of 85 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he taught until the last six months of his life.  Two years before his death he had written about his life as an economist in his autobiography, Adventures of an Economist.

Marcello Piacentini's modern campus at the Sapienza University of Rome
Marcello Piacentini's modern campus at the
Sapienza University of Rome
Travel tip:

The university Franco Modigliani attended in Rome is often known simply as La Sapienza, which means ‘the wisdom.’  It can trace its origins back to 1303, when it was opened by Pope Boniface VIII as the first pontifical university. In the 19th century the University broadened its outlook and a new campus, designed by Urban theorist and architect, Marcello Piacentini, was built near the Termini railway station in 1935. Rome University now caters for more than 112,000 students.

The Via della Conciliazione, also designed by Marcello Piacentini, frames St Peter's Basilica
The Via della Conciliazione, also designed by
Marcello Piacentini, frames St Peter's Basilica
Travel tip:

Architect Marcello Piacentini studied arts and engineering in Rome and afterwards worked for the Fascist Government. He developed a simplified neoclassicism which became the mainstay of Fascist architecture and as well as designing the new campus for  La Sapienza, he was responsible for the redesign of the road approaching St Peter’s in Rome, Via della Conciliazione. Roughly 500m long, Via della Conciliazione connects St Peter's Square to the Castel Sant'Angelo on the western bank of the Tevere (Tiber) river. A great many buildings, many of them residential, had to be requisitioned and demolished to create space for the road, which was constructed between 1936 and 1950 as the primary access route to St Peter's Square.

Also on this day:

1466: The birth of music printer Ottaviano dei Petrucci

1511: The birth of sculptor and architect Bartolomeo Ammannati

1943: The birth of actress, singer and TV presenter Raffaella Carrà

1946: The birth of football manager Fabio Capello

1952: The birth of actress Isabella Rossellini


22 February 2019

Renato Dulbecco - Nobel Prize-winning physiologist

Research led to major breakthrough in knowledge of cancer

Renato Dulbecco emigrated to the United States 1946 after studying at the University of Turin
Renato Dulbecco emigrated to the United States
1946 after studying at the University of Turin
Renato Dulbecco, a physiologist who shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his role in drawing a link between genetic mutations and cancer, was born on this day in 1914 in Catanzaro in Calabria.

Through a series of experiments that began in the late 1950s after he had emigrated to the United States, Dulbecco and two colleagues showed that certain viruses could insert their own genes into infected cells and trigger uncontrolled cell growth, a hallmark of cancer.

Their findings transformed the course of cancer research, laying the groundwork for the linking of several viruses to human cancers, including the human papilloma virus, which is responsible for most cervical cancers.

The discovery also provided the first tangible evidence that cancer was caused by genetic mutations, a breakthrough that changed the way scientists thought about cancer and the effects of carcinogens such as tobacco smoke.

Dulbecco, who shared the Nobel Prize with California Institute of Technology (Caltech) colleagues Howard Temin and David Baltimore, then examined how viruses use DNA to store their genetic information and, in his studies of breast cancer, pioneered a technique for identifying cancer cells by the proteins present on their surface.

Dulbecco found that viruses such as the human papilloma virus could cause cell mutations
Dulbecco found that viruses such as the human
papilloma virus could cause cell mutations
His proposal in 1986 to catalogue all human genes can be seen as the beginnings of the Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003.

The son of a civil engineer, Dulbecco grew up in Liguria after his family moved from Catanzaro to the coastal city of Imperia. He graduated from high school at 16 and went on to the University of Turin, receiving his medical degree in 1936. He became friends there with two other future Nobel prizewinners, Rita Levi-Montalcini and Salvador Luria, who were fellow students.

Immediately upon graduating, he was required to do two years’ military service. He was discharged in 1938 but soon afterwards called up again as Italy entered the Second World War, joining the Italian Army as a medical officer.

His role eventually took him to the Russian front, where he suffered an injury to his shoulder that meant he was sent back to Italy to recuperate. Disillusioned with Mussolini and horrified at learning of the fate of Jews under Hitler, he decided not to return to the Army, joining the resistance instead. He stationed himself in a remote village outside Turin, tending to injured partisans.

After the war, he was briefly involved with politics, firstly on the Committee for National Liberation in Turin and then on the city council, but soon returned to Turin University to study physics and conduct biological research.

Dulbecco's fellow Turin University graduate Salvador Duria also moved to America
Dulbecco's fellow Turin University graduate
Salvador Duria also moved to America
With the encouragement of Levi-Montalcini, who would win a Nobel Prize in 1986 for her work in neurobiology, in 1946, he moved to United States, rejoining Luria, who shared a Nobel in 1969 for discoveries about the genetics of bacteria, at Indiana University, where they studied viruses. In the summer of 1949 he moved to Caltech, where he began his work on animal oncoviruses.

Dulbecco worked with Dr. Marguerite Vogt on a method of determining the amount of polio virus present in cell culture, a step that was vital in the development of polio vaccine, before becoming intrigued by a thesis written by Howard Temin on the connection between viruses and cancer.

He left Caltech in 1962 to move to the Salk Institute, a polio research facility in San Diego, and then in 1972 to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now Cancer Research UK) in London.

There was a mixed reaction in Italy when it was learned that ‘their’ Nobel Prize winner had become an American citizen. In fact, his Italian citizenship was revoked, although when he moved back to Italy in 1993 to spend four years as president of the Institute of Biomedical Technologies at National Council of Research in Milan he was made an honorary citizen.

Married twice, with three children, Dulbecco died in La Jolla, California, in 2012, three days before what would have been his 98th birthday.

From its elevated position, Catanzaro has views towards the Ionian Sea and the resort of Catanzaro Lido
From its elevated position, Catanzaro has views towards
the Ionian Sea and the resort of Catanzaro Lido
Travel tip:

Occupying a position 300m (980ft) above the Gulf of Squillace, Catanzaro is known as the City of the Two Seas because, from some vantage points, it is possible to see the Tyrrhenian Sea to the north of the long peninsula occupied by Calabria as well as the Ionian Sea to the south.  The historic centre, which sits at the highest point of the city, includes a 16th century cathedral built on the site of a 12th century Norman cathedral which, despite being virtually destroyed by bombing in 1943, has been impressively restored.  The city is about 15km (9 miles) from Catanzaro Lido, which has a long white beach typical of the Gulf of Squillace.

The waterfront of the Ligurian port city of Imperia, with the Basilica of San Maurizio on top of the hill
The waterfront of the Ligurian port city of Imperia, with
the Basilica of San Maurizio on top of the hill
Travel tip:

The beautiful city of Imperia, on Liguria's Riviera Poniente about 120km (75 miles) west of Genoa and 60km (37 miles) from the border with France, came into being in 1923 when the neighbouring ports of Porto Maurizio and Oneglia, either side of the Impero river, were merged along with several surrounding villages to form one conurbation.  Oneglia, once the property of the Doria family in the 13th century, has become well known for cultivating flowers and olives. Porto Maurizio, originally a Roman settlement called Portus Maurici, has a classical cathedral dedicated to San Maurizio, which was built by Gaetano Cantoni and completed in the early 19th century.

26 November 2018

Enrico Bombieri – Mathematician

Brilliant professor who won top award in his field at just 34

Enrico Bombieri is one of the world's leading mathematicians
Enrico Bombieri is one of the
world's leading mathematicians
The mathematician Enrico Bombieri, one of the world’s leading authorities on number theory and analysis, which has practical application in the world of encryption and data transmission, was born on this day in 1940 in Milan.

Bombieri, who is also an accomplished painter, won the Fields Medal, an international award for outstanding discoveries in mathematics regarded in the field of mathematical sciences as equivalent to a Nobel Prize, when he was a 34-year-old professor at the University of Pisa in 1974.

As well as analytic number theory, he has become renowned for his expertise in other areas of highly advanced mathematics including algebraic geometry, univalent functions, theory of several complex variables, partial differential equations of minimal surfaces, and the theory of finite groups.

Mathematics textbooks now refer to several discoveries named after him in his own right or with fellow researchers, including the Bombieri-Lang conjecture, the Bombieri norm and the Bombieri–Vinogradov theorem.

Enrico Bombieri read his first book of algebra when he was eight and wrote his first scholarly article when he was 17
Enrico Bombieri read his first book of algebra when he was
eight and wrote his first scholarly article when he was 17
He has been described as a "problem-oriented" scholar - one who tries to solve deep problems rather than to build theories.

According to colleagues, his analytical ability, combined with great powers of innovation, enable him to recognize elements of a solution that may already be present and to apply techniques and results from other fields to reach a final conclusion.

The fourth child and only son of a banker in Milan, Bombieri is said to have read his first algebra book at the age of eight.

He became more seriously interested in maths began at high school when, as a 15-year-old student, he picked up a book on number theory that introduced him to the great 19th century German mathematician Bernhard Riemann. He developed a fascination with numbers that never left him.

He published his first scholarly article in 1957, while still only 16 years old. In 1963, aged 22, he graduated in mathematics at the University of Milan and then studied at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Enrico Bombieri emigrated to the United States in 1977
Enrico Bombieri emigrated to the
United States in 1977
Between 1963 and 1966, Bombieri was an assistant professor and then a full professor at the University of Cagliari, holding the same position at the University of Pisa until 1974 and then at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa from 1974 to 1977.

From Pisa he emigrated in 1977 to the United States, where he became a professor at the School of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. In 2011 he became professor emeritus.

Bombieri has always been keen to disprove the notion that mathematicians are by nature single-focused nerds with no interests beyond their own field.

As a young man, he was a student of Alpine botany, in particular wild orchids, and has become an accomplished painter.

He experimented with pencil drawings and water colours at a young age and throughout his academic life has always carried paints and brushes with him on his travels.

He began to take his art more seriously after moving to the United States, enrolling to study study painting and printmaking at Mercer County Community College at West Windsor, New Jersey.

Bombieri paints people, animals and landscapes. His paintings are described as often surreal or intentionally ambiguous, although he also accepts commissions for portraits.

One work he is said to have been particularly proud of depicts a giant chessboard by a lake, with pieces placed to represent a critical point in the historic match between world champion Garry Kasparov and the chess-playing computer, Deep Blue.

Bombieri himself was a member of the Cambridge University chess team during his time at Trinity College.

The cloister at the main building of the University of Milan, founded in 1924 after the merger of other institutions
The cloister at the main building of the University of Milan,
founded in 1924 after the merger of other institutions 
Travel tip:

The University of Milan was founded in 1924 from the merger of the Accademia Scientifico-Letteraria (Scientific-Literary Academy)and the Istituti Clinici di Perfezionamento (Clinical Specialisation Institutes), established in 1906. By 1928, the University already had the fourth-highest number of enrolled students in Italy, after Naples, Rome and Padua. Its premises are located primarily in Città Studi, the university district which was developed from 1915 onwards to the northeast of the city centre, although there are other buildings around the city that are now part of the University.  The streets of the Città Studi area are notable for bars, pizza restaurants and ice cream shops.

There is much more to historic Pisa than the Campo dei Miracoli and the Leaning Tower
There is much more to historic Pisa than the
Campo dei Miracoli and the Leaning Tower
Travel tip:

Many visitors to Pisa confine themselves to the Campo dei Miracoli, where the attractions are the famous Leaning Tower, the handsome Romanesque cathedral and its impressive baptistry. But there is much more to Pisa. The University of Pisa, founded in 1343, now has elite status, rivalling Rome’s Sapienza University as the best in Italy, and a student population of around 50,000 makes for a vibrant cafe and bar scene. There is also much to see in the way of Romanesque buildings, Gothic churches and Renaissance piazzas.

More reading:

Einstein's favourite mathematician

Salvador Luria - Nobel Prize-winning microbiologist

Grazia Deledda - the first Italian woman to win a Nobel Prize

Also on this day:

1908: The birth of businessman and hotelier Charles Forte

1949: The birth of politician and businesswoman Letizia Moratti

1963: The death of opera singer Amelita Galli-Curci


27 September 2018

Grazia Deledda - Nobel Prize winner

First Italian woman to be honoured

Grazia Deledda was the first Italian woman to win a Nobel Prize
Grazia Deledda was the first Italian
woman to win a Nobel Prize
The novelist Grazia Deledda, who was the first of only two Italian women to be made a Nobel laureate when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926, was born on this day in 1871 in the city of Nuoro in Sardinia.

A prolific writer from the age of 13, she published around 50 novels or story collections over the course of her career, most of them drawing on her own experience of life in the rugged Sardinian countryside.

The Nobel prize was awarded "for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general."

Deledda’s success came at the 11th time of asking, having been first nominated in 1913. The successful nomination came from Henrik Schuck, a literature historian at the Swedish Academy.

Born into a middle-class family - her father, Giovanni, was in her own words a “well-to-do landowner” - Deledda drew inspiration for her characters from the stream of friends and business acquaintances her father insisted must stay at their home whenever they were in Nuoro.

The cover of an early edition of Elias Portolu, Deledda's first big success
The cover of an early edition of Elias
Portolú, Deledda's first big success
She was not allowed to attend school beyond the age of 11 apart from private tuition in Italian, which was not at the time the first language of many Sardinians, who tended to converse in their own dialect, sardo logudorese. Beyond that, she continued her education by reading as much quality literature as she could get hold of.

Her parents did not encourage her writing but she persevered and, on the advice of her English teacher, submitted a story to a magazine when she was 13 and was delighted when they decided to publish it.

Even at that early stage in her career, her stories tended to be starkly realistic in their reflection of the hard life many Sardinians endured at the time and she often used the sometimes brutally challenging landscape of the island as a metaphor for the difficulties in her characters’ lives.

Yet she would more often blame societal factors and flawed morals for the difficult circumstances in which her characters found themselves, which reflected her own optimistic view of human nature.

However, she was chastised by her father for the way her stories questioned the patriarchal structure of Sardinian society and they were not received well generally in Nuoro, where some people expressed their displeasure by burning copies of the magazine that published her work.

There is a commemorative bust of Grazia Deledda on Pincio hill in Rome
There is a commemorative bust of
Grazia Deledda on Pincio hill in Rome
Deledda completed her first novel, Fior di Sardegna (Flower of Sardinia) in 1892, when she was not quite 21. She sent to a publisher in Rome, who accepted. Again it was shunned in Nuoro, but it was successful enough elsewhere for her to set about writing more and she submitted at least one every year, sometimes using a pseudonym.

In 1900, she visited Cagliari, the Sardinian capital on a rare holiday. She had never been far from Nuoro before but it proved a momentous occasion. She met Palmiro Madesani, a civil servant who would become her husband.  After they were married, they moved to Rome, where Deledda would live for the remainder of her life.

It was there that she tasted her first real success with Elias Portolú (1903), a novel that was published in Italian first but which was translated into French and subsequently all the major European languages, bringing her international recognition for the first time.

The period between 1903 and 1920 was her most productive phase for her, in which she wrote some of her best work. Her 1904 novel Cenere (Ashes) was turned into a film starring the celebrated actress Eleonora Duse.

Deledda preferred a quiet life with her family to any celebrity despite the attention the prize brought her
Deledda preferred a quiet life with her family to any
celebrity despite the attention the prize brought her
Life in Sardinia continued to be her favourite theme. Nostalgie (Nostalgia, 1905), I giuochi della vita (The Gambles of Life, 1905), L’ombra del passato (Shadow of the Past, 1907) and L’edera (The Ivy, 1908) brought her more success.

This brought her a comfortable living and she was happy in Rome, even if she preferred a quiet life at home to celebrity. If she was bitter at the way her family had reacted to her writing, she did not let it stand in the way of her humanity and she supported her brothers, Andrea and Santus, after her father died.

Deledda died in Rome in 1936 at the age of just 64, having suffered with breast cancer. Her last years were painful but she never lost her optimistic view of life, which she believed was beautiful and serene and gave her the strength to overcome physical and spiritual hardships. Her later works reflected her strong religious faith.

Italy's only other female Nobel Prize-winner is Rita Levi-Montalcini, who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

The house in Nuoro where the novelist was born is now a museum
The house in Nuoro where the novelist
was born is now a museum
Travel tip:

Deledda's birthplace and childhood home in Nuoro has been preserved as a museum in her honour. Called the Museo Deleddiano, it consists of 10 rooms where the stages of the writer's life are reconstructed.  The building is located in Santu Pedru, one of the city's oldest quarters. The house was sold in 1913 but remains mostly unaltered. It was acquired by the Municipality of Nuoro in 1968 and, thanks to the generosity of the Madesani-Deledda family,  a large number of manuscripts, photographs, documents and personal belongings of the novelist are on display.  The museum, in Via Grazia Deledda, is open from 10am to 1pm and from 3pm to 7pm (8pm in summer), every day except Mondays.

Nuoro is situated in a ruggedly mountainous area
Nuoro is situated in a ruggedly mountainous area
Travel tip:

Nuoro, situated on the slopes of the Monte Ortobene in central eastern Sardinia, has grown to be the sixth largest city in Sardinia with a population of more than 36,000.  The birthplace of several renowned artists, including the poet Sebastiano Satta, the novelist Salvatore Satta - a cousin - the architect and car designer Flavio Manzoni and the award-winning sculptor Francesco Ciusa, it is considered an important cultural centre.  It is also home of one of reputedly the world’s rarest pasta - su filindeu, which in the Sardinian language means "the threads of God" - which is made exclusively by the women of a single family to a recipe passed down through generations.

More reading:

Giosuè Carducci - the first Italian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature

How Nobel Prize-winner Dario Fo put the spotlight on corruption

The groundbreaking talent of actress Eleonora Duse

Also on this day:

1966: The birth of rapper Jovanotti

1979: The death on Capri of actress and singer Gracie Fields 


14 June 2018

Salvatore Quasimodo - Nobel Prize winner

Civil engineer wrote poetry in his spare time

Salvatore Quasimodo is one of six Italians to win the Nobel Prize in Literature
Salvatore Quasimodo is one of six Italians to win
the Nobel Prize in Literature
Salvatore Quasimodo, who was one of six Italians to have won a Nobel Prize in Literature, died on this day in 1968 in Naples.

The former civil engineer, who was working for the Italian government in Reggio Calabria when he published his first collection of poems and won the coveted and historic Nobel Prize in 1959, suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in Amalfi, in Campania, where he had gone to preside over a poetry prize.

He was taken by car to Naples but died in hospital a few hours later, at the age of 66.  He had suffered a heart attack previously during a visit to the Soviet Union.

The committee of the Swedish Academy, who meet to decide each year’s Nobel laureates, cited Quasimodo’s “lyrical poetics, which with ardent classicism expresses the tragic experiences of the life of our times".

The formative experiences that shaped his literary life began when he was a child when his father, a station master in Modica, the small city in the province of Ragusa in Sicily, where Salvatore was born in 1901, was transferred in January 1909 to Messina, at the tip of the island closest to the mainland, to supervise the reorganisation of train services in the wake of the devastating earthquake of December 1908.

Much of the city had been destroyed in the quake, as had Reggio Calabria, just across the Straits of Messina, and Quasimodo’s family lived in a freight wagon in an abandoned station. The physical devastation all around them had a profound effect on Salvatore, as did his daily contact with survivors in their struggle to come to terms with the destruction of their surroundings and the catastrophic loss of human lives, with perhaps as many as 120,000 killed in the areas worst hit.

Quasimodo worked as a civil engineer before turning to writing full time
Quasimodo worked as a civil engineer before
turning to writing full time
Quasimodo attended college in Palermo and, later, the rebuilt Messina, where he was able to publish his poetry for the first time in a journal he founded with a couple of fellow students.

He graduated in maths and physics and moved to Rome, hoping to continue his studies with a view to becoming an engineer.  But he had little money and had to abandon his studies in order to earn a living, taking a number of short-term jobs. In time he moved to Florence, where he got to know a number of poets and developed an interest in the hermetic movement, a form of poetry in which the sounds of the words are as important as their meaning.

Eventually in 1926 he handed a position with the Ministry of Public Works in Reggio Calabria, working with civil engineers as a surveyor.  He continued to write and to study Greek and Latin, making friends both in literary and political circles, including an anti-fascist group in the city. He also married for the first time. His published his first collection of poetry, called Acque e terre (Waters and Lands) in 1930.

He was transferred a number of times with his job, to Imperia, Genoa and Milan, before he quit to write full time from 1938.  In 1941 he was appointed professor of Italian literature at the "Giuseppe Verdi" Conservatory of Music in Milan, a position he held until his death.

After the Second World War, in which he was an outspoken critic of Mussolini but did not join the Italian resistance movement, his poetry shifted from the hermetic movement to a style that reflected his increasing engagement with social criticism.

The area of the Sicilian town of Modica in which  Salvatore Quasimodo was born in 1901
The area of the Sicilian town of Modica in which
Salvatore Quasimodo was born in 1901
Among his best-known volumes were Giorno dopo giorno (Day After Day), La vita non è sogno (Life Is Not a Dream), Il falso e il vero verde (The False and True Green) and La terra impareggiabile (The Incomparable Land).

He won numerous prizes in addition to the Nobel Prize, in which he joined Giosuè Carducci (1906), Grazia Deledda (1926) and Luigi Pirandello (1934) as Italian winners of the Literature award. Eugenio Montale (1975) and Dario Fo (1997) followed him.

After his first wife had died in 1948, he was married for a second time to the film actress and dancer, Maria Cumani, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship that produced a son, Alessandro, before they were legally separated in 1960.

After his death in Naples, he was buried in the Monumental Cemetery in Milan in the Famedio - a place reserved for the tombs of famous people - alongside another great writer, novelist, poet and playwright, Alessando Manzoni.

Modica's spectacular cathedral of San Giorgio
Modica's spectacular cathedral of San Giorgio
Travel tip:

Built amid the dramatic landscape of the Monti Iblei, with its hills and deep valleys, the steep streets and stairways of the medieval centre combined with many examples of more recent Baroque architecture, including a spectacular cathedral, make UNESCO-listed Modica is one of southern Sicily's most atmospheric towns, with numerous things to see in its two parts, Modica Alta, the older, upper town, and Modica Bassa, which is the more modern but still historic lower town. Famous in Sicily for its chocolate, it has the reputation of a warm and welcoming city with an authentic Sicilian character.

Part of the dramatic cityscape of Ragusa
Part of the dramatic cityscape of Ragusa
Travel tip:

Nearby Ragusa, the principal city of the province and just 15km (9 miles) from Modica, is arguably even more picturesque. Set in the same rugged landscape with a similar mix of medieval and Baroque architecture. again it has two parts - Ragusa Ibla, a town on top of a hill rebuilt on the site of the original settlement destroyed in a major earthquake in 1693, and Ragusa Superiore, which was built on flatter ground nearby in the wake of the earthquake.  A spectacular sight in its own right and affording wonderful views as well, Ragusa Ibla may seem familiar to viewers of the TV detective series Inspector Montalbano as the dramatic hillside city in the title sequence. The city streets also feature regular in location filming for the series, based on the books of Andrea Camilleri.

More reading:

Giosuè Carducci - Italy's first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Dario Fo - the outspoken genius whose work put spotlight on corruption

The playwright born in a village called Chaos

Also on this day:

1800: Napoleon defeats the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo

1837: The death of the poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi


27 July 2017

Giosuè Carducci – poet and Nobel Prize winner

Writer used his poetry as a vehicle for his political views 

Giosuè Carducci in a photograph  taken in about 1870
Giosuè Carducci in a photograph
 taken in about 1870
Giosuè Carducci, the first Italian to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, was born on this day in 1835 in Tuscany.

Christened Giosuè Alessandro Giuseppe Carducci, he lived with his parents in the small village of Valdicastello in the province of Lucca.

His father, a doctor, was an advocate of the unification of Italy and was involved with the Carbonari, a network of secret revolutionary groups. Because of his politics, the family was forced to move several times during Carducci’s childhood, eventually settling in Florence.

During his time in college, Carducci became fascinated with the restrained style of Greek and Roman literature and his work as an adult often used the classical meters of such Latin poets as Horace and Virgil. He published his first collection of poems, Rime, in 1857.

He married Elvira Menicucci in 1859 and they had four children.

Carducci in around 1900
Carducci in around 1900
Carducci taught Greek at a high school in Pistoia and was then appointed as an Italian professor at the University of Bologna.

Carducci was a popular lecturer and a fierce critic of literature and society. He was an atheist, whose political views were vehemently hostile to Christianity generally and the Catholic Church in particular.

These opinions were voiced in a deliberately blasphemous and provocative poem, Inno a Satana - Hymn to Satan. This poem was published in Bologna’s radical newspaper, Il Popolo, at a time when feelings against the Vatican were running high and the public were pressing for an end to the Vatican’s domination over the papal states.

In 1890 Carducci met Annie Vivanti, a writer and poet with whom he had a love affair.

His greatest works have been judged to be his collections of poems, Rime Nuove (New Rhymes) and Odi Barbare (Barbarian Odes).

A bust of Carducci stands proud in Castagneto Carducci
A bust of Carducci stands proud
in Castagneto Carducci
Carducci received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1906 and was also made a Senator of Italy.

In the words of the citation, the award was made to Carducci "not only in consideration of his deep learning and critical research, but above all as a tribute to the creative energy, freshness of style, and lyrical force which characterize his poetic masterpieces"

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded subsequently to five other Italians - Grazia Deledda, Luigi Pirandello, Salvatore Quasimodo, Eugenio Montale and Dario Fo.

During his life, Carducci wrote 20 volumes of literary criticism, biographies, speeches and essays.

He died in 1907 at the age of 71 in Casa Carducci, his home in Bologna and was buried in the Certosa di Bologna monumental cemetery.  His achievement is commemorated with busts and statues in public places in several Italian towns, including Castagneto Carducci, a hill town in the province of Livorno where he spent some years as a child.

Marina di Pietrasanta's beach is considered  to be in among the best in Italy
Marina di Pietrasanta's beach is considered
to be in among the best in Italy
Travel tip:

Valdicastello, where Carducci was born, is part of Pietrasanta, a small town in the province of Lucca in the north-west corner of Tuscany. The town has Roman origins and part of the Roman wall still exists. The town is three kilometres (two miles) inland from the coastal resort of Marina di Pietrasanta. The Marina, with its golden sand, is considered to have one of the best beaches in Italy.

The Casa Carducci in Bologna houses the  Civic Museum of the Risorgimento
The Casa Carducci in Bologna houses the
Civic Museum of the Risorgimento

Travel tip:

Casa Carducci, where the poet lived until his death in 1907, is a 16th century villa in Piazza Giosuè Carducci in Bologna. The ground floor now houses the Civic Museum of the Risorgimento, which tells the story of the unification of Italy from a cultural, social and economic perspective. Visitors can also see Carducci’s bedroom, with the small granite washbasin he used, and the family dining room, which has a large clock with the hands stopped at the exact moment of the poet’s death. In his office there is a framed fragment of a tunic belonging to Petrarch and an armchair, where Garibaldi is said to have sat while he was recovering from an injury. The library contains about 40,000 books, pamphlets and documents, meticulously catalogued by Carducci himself.

13 August 2016

Salvador Luria – microbiologist

Award winning scientist who advanced medical research

Salvardor Luria, pictured at his desk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at around the time of his Nobel Prize
Salvador Luria, pictured at his desk at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology at around the time of his Nobel Prize
Nobel prize winner Salvador Luria was born on this day as Salvatore Edoardo Luria in 1912 in Turin.

The microbiologist became famous for showing that bacterial resistance to viruses is genetically inherited and he was awarded a Nobel prize in 1969.

He studied in the medical school of the University of Turin and from 1936 to 1937 Luria served in the Italian army as a medical officer. He took classes in radiology at the University of Rome and began to formulate methods of testing genetic theory.

When Mussolini’s regime banned Jews from academic research fellowships, Luria moved to Paris but was forced to move again when the Nazis invaded France in 1940. Fearing for his life, he fled the capital on a bicycle, eventually reaching Marseille, where he received an immigration visa to the United States.

In America he met other scientists with whom he collaborated on experiments.  In 1943 Luria carried out an experiment with the scientist Max Delbruck that demonstrated that mutant bacteria can still bestow viral resistance without the virus being present.

Luria pictured with his American wife, Zella, at Cold Spring Harbour, on the north shore of Long Island
Luria pictured with his American wife, Zella, at Cold
Spring Harbour, on the north shore of Long Island
He became chair of Microbiology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received a number of awards and recognitions in addition to the Nobel prize.

Throughout his career, Luria was an outspoken political advocate. He protested against nuclear weapon testing, was an opponent of the Vietnam War and a supporter of organized labour.

Luria, an American citizen since 1947, died in Lexington, Massachusetts after a heart attack in 1991.

Travel tip:

Turin, the birth place of Luria, is the capital city of the region of Piedmont in the north of Italy. It is an important business centre, particularly for the car industry, and has a rich history linked with the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of royal Turin.

The imposing main entrance to the Sapienza University of Rome, built in the neoclassical style popular in the 1930s
The imposing main entrance to the Sapienza University
of Rome, built in the neoclassical style popular in the 1930s
Travel tip:

The University of Rome, where Luria studied, was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII.  Now known as the Sapienza University of Rome, it is one of the largest in Europe. The main campus, which was designed by Marcello Piacentini, is near Rome’s Termini railway station.

More reading:

Ernesto Teodoro Moneta - soldier who became a Nobel Peace Prize winner 

Dario Fo - critic of corruption who won Nobel Prize for Literature

(Photo of Rome University by Gongora CC BY-SA 4.0)


24 March 2016

Dario Fo – writer and actor

Prolific playwright put the spotlight on corruption

Playwright and all round entertainer Dario Fo celebrates his 90th birthday today. He was born in Leggiuno Sangiano in the Province of Varese in Lombardy on this day in 1926.

His plays have been widely performed and translated into many different languages. He is perhaps most well known for Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1997.

Dario Fo pictured in 1985 at the Venice Film Festival
Dario Fo
(Photo: Gorupdebesanez CC BY-SA 3.0)

Fo’s early work is peppered with criticisms of the corruption, crime, and racism that affected life in Italy at the time. He later moved on to ridicule Forza Italia and Silvio Berlusconi and more recently his targets have included the banks and big business.

He was brought up near the shores of Lago Maggiore but moved to Milan to study. During the war he served with several branches of the forces before deserting. He returned to Milan to study architecture but gave it up to paint and work in small theatres presenting improvised monologues.

In the 1950s Fo worked in radio and on stage performing his own work. He met and later married actress Franca Rame and they had a son, Jacopo, who also became a writer.

They moved to Rome, where Fo worked as a screenwriter, and for a while they lived next door to Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman.

When Fo and Rame returned to Milan they formed a theatre company and performed Fo’s plays at the Teatro Odeon in the city. His play Archangels Don’t Play Pinball was the first to bring them national and international fame.

Fo wrote and directed a popular television variety show, Canzonissima, but after one episode referenced the dangerous conditions faced by workers on building sites, it was censored. Fo and Rame walked out and were banned from Italian television for 14 years.

The writer has performed his most celebrated solo piece, Mistero Buffo, all over the world since he first introduced it in 1969, presenting it as though he is a travelling player in medieval times. The material he included relating to the life and times of Christ has been denounced as blasphemous by the Vatican.

Fo and Rame formed a theatre company operating outside the state system for which Fo wrote Accidental Death of an Anarchist, a play first performed in 1970 about the so-called 'accidental' fall from the window of a Milan police station of a man being questioned about a bomb attack on a bank.

Rame was subjected to a savage physical attack by fascists believed to be working on the orders of high-ranking Carabinieri officials, but she returned to the stage after two months to perform new anti-fascist monologues.

In 1974 Fo’s comedy Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay, about a consumer backlash against high prices, was first performed. Fo and Rame were later blocked from appearing in a festival of Italian Theatre in America. Fo’s play The First Miracle of the Infant Jesus was performed on television in 1987 but was condemned as blasphemous by the Vatican.

In the 1990s his plays addressed themes such as AIDS, the Gulf War and the economic scandal, Tangentopoli. More recently he ran, unsuccessfully, to be Mayor of Milan.

Fo continues to write and campaign about political and social issues and has also produced five novels. His wife, Franca Rame, died in Milan in 2013 at the age of 83.

UPDATE: Sadly, Dario Fo died a few months after this article was originally published. He contracted a serious respiratory illness and passed away in Milan in October, 2016, aged 90.
The Hermitage is at Dario Fo's home town of Leggiuno
The Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso at Leggiuno
(Photo: Mattana CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Leggiuno Sangiano, where Dario Fo was born, is close to the shores of Lago Maggiore in the province of Varese in Lombardy. The area is famous for the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso, a Roman Catholic monastery perched on a rocky ridge overlooking the lake, which dates back to the 14th century. It can be reached by boat or on foot by climbing down a winding stairway and was declared a national monument in 1914. The hermitage is a short distance from Reno di Leggiuno, which has a marina and a number of hotels.

Travel tip:

Milan, where Dario Fo lived for many years, has a wealth of theatres with a long tradition of staging a variety of entertainment. In north west Milan, Teatro Dal Verme in San Giovanni sul Muro opened in 1872, the Piccolo Teatro in Via Rivoli opened in 1947, the Teatro dell’Arte in Viale Alemagna was redesigned in 1960 and Teatro Litta next to Palazzo Litta in Corso Magenta is believed to be the oldest theatre in the city. The famous La Scala has a fascinating museum that displays costumes and memorabilia from the history of the theatre. The entrance is in Largo Ghiringhelli, just off Piazza Scala. It is open every day except the Italian Bank Holidays and a few days in December. Opening hours are from 9.00 to 12.30 and 1.30 to 5.30 pm.

10 February 2016

Ernesto Teodoro Moneta – Nobel Prize winner

Supporter of Garibaldi was also an ‘apostle for peace’

Moneta was a supporter of Garibaldi but also a pacifist
Ernesto Teodoro Moneta
Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, who was at times both a soldier and a pacifist, died on this day in 1918.

Moneta was only 15 when he was involved in the Five Days of Milan uprising against the Austrians in 1848, but in later life he became a peace activist.

He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1907, but publicly supported Italy’s entry into the First World War in 1915. On the Nobel Prize official website he is described as ‘a militant pacifist’.

Moneta was born in 1833 to aristocratic parents in Milan. He fought next to his father to defend his family home during the revolt against the Austrians and then went on to attend the military academy in Ivrea.

In 1859 Moneta joined Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand and fought in the Italian army against the Austrians in 1866.

He then seemed to become disillusioned with the struggle for Italian unification and cut short what had been a promising military career.

For nearly 30 years Moneta was editor of the Milan democratic newspaper, Il Secolo. Through the columns of his newspaper he campaigned vigorously for reforms to the army which would strengthen it and reduce waste and inefficiency.

During this time Moneta also wrote his work Wars, Insurrection and Peace in the 19th Century, in which he describes the development of the international peace movement.

He wrote articles for pamphlets and periodicals and gave lectures campaigning for peace. In 1887 he founded the Lombard Association for Peace and Arbitration, which called for disarmament.

Alongside Louis Renault, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1907.

But Moneta’s Italian patriotism led him to support the Italian conquest of Libya in 1912 and later publicly express his agreement with Italy’s entry into the First World War.

Travel tip:

There is a monument to Moneta in the Porta Venezia Gardens in Milan. The inscription reads: ‘Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, garibaldine, thinker, journalist, apostle of peace among free people.’  The gardens are the largest public park in the city and a rare area of greenery in Milan. They are next to the Bastioni di Porta Venezia, part of the walls built to defend Milan in the 16th century.

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The Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea is a carnival tradition
The Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea, in which fighting
can be particularly intense. 
Travel tip:

Ivrea, where Moneta attended a military academy, is a town in the province of Turin in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. It has a 14th century castle and the ruins of a first century Roman theatre that would have been able to hold 10,000 spectators. During the annual carnival before Easter, Ivrea stages the Battle of the Oranges, where teams of locals on foot throw oranges at teams riding in carts.