Showing posts with label Reggio di Calabria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Reggio di Calabria. Show all posts

28 December 2016

Italy's worst earthquake

Catastrophic tremor of 1908 may have killed up to 200,000

A devastated street in Messina with the remains of the Chiesa delle Anime del Purgatorio in the distance
A devastated street in Messina with the remains of the Chiesa
delle Anime del Purgatorio in the distance
The most destructive earthquake ever to strike Europe brought devastation to the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria on this day in 1908.

With its epicentre beneath the Strait of Messina, which separates Sicily from the Italian mainland, the quake had a magnitude of 7.1 and caused the ground to shake for between 30 and 40 seconds.

It was enough to cause such catastrophic damage that Messina, on the Sicilian side, and Reggio Calabria, on the mainland side, were almost completely destroyed.

The loss of life was huge because the earthquake happened at 5.21am, when most residents were still in bed.

An unknown number were swept away by the tsunami that struck both cities 10 minutes after the major tremor had stopped, when the sea on both sides of the Strait receded up to 70 metres and then rushed back towards the land, generating three massive waves, each taller than the one that preceded it, up to a height of 12 metres (39 feet).

At least 75,000 people were killed in Messina alone, where 91 per cent of buildings were either destroyed or damaged beyond repair.  The Norman cathedral, which had withstood a series of five quakes in 1783, was reduced this time to a partial shell.

Ruined buildings on the waterfront at Reggio Calabria
Ruined buildings on the waterfront at Reggio Calabria
The death toll amounted to half the population of the city.  Among the dead were the American consul Arthur S Cheney and his wife, Laura.  The French consul and his children were killed, as was Ethel Ogston, the wife of the British Consul, Alfred, who survived.

Notable Italian casualties included both the chief of police and the attorney general of Messina and the operatic tenor Angelo Gamba, who had been in the city to perform in the Giuseppe Verdi opera, Aida, and perished with his family when his hotel collapsed.

In Reggio Calabria almost the whole of the historic centre was destroyed, wiping out much of the city's Greek heritage.  Initial estimates were that around 25,000 people lost their lives, around a quarter of the population, but many more probably died.

The tsunami destroyed the waterfront in both cities, drowning thousands of residents who had sought refuge close to the beach, away from buildings.

Once calm had returned, there were virtually no doctors or hospital facilities to tend the injured, while the bodies of victims buried beneath the rubble were often not recovered until months later, or in some cases not at all.  The final death toll is unknown, with the estimate of 200,000 based on comparing the numbers of residents recorded in census documents before and after the disaster.

Even based on the more conservative estimates, the loss of life was the largest in a single earthquake in Italian history, eclipsing even the Naples earthquake in 1626, which was said to have killed 70,000 people.

In the aftermath of the 1908 event, Europe witnessed one of the first major international rescue operations as Russia and the United States joined European nations in providing assistance.

All lines of communication from the area were cut off and news of the disaster did not reach the rest of Italy until the end of the day, when an Italian naval vessel docked at Nicotera, 80km up the coast from Reggio Calabria, and the captain sent a message via telegraph lines to Giovanni Giolitti, the Italian prime minister.

Rescuers dig through the rubble in Messina
Rescuers dig through the rubble in Messina 
The Italian navy and army responded and began searching, treating the injured, providing food and water, and evacuating refugees.  The rescue effort was then joined by a fleet of Russian warships on the morning of December 29 and the following day British ships started arriving from Malta.

French and German ships followed suit. When news of the disaster reached the United States, where many emigrants from southern Italy had already settled, President Roosevelt offered to help and four ships were dispatched immediately to provide humanitarian aid and provisions.

In the meantime, Giolitti imposed martial law, ordering that all looters be shot. King Victor Emmanuel III and Queen Elena arrived two days after the earthquake to assist the victims and survivors, many of whom had to be relocated to other parts of Sicily or Italy, or took the option of starting a new life in America.

Both cities were rebuilt along the lines of modern urban areas, architect Luigi Borzi designing the new Messina, with the reconstruction of Reggio Calabria placed in the hands of the engineer Pietro De Nava, although as late as the 1950s, some families were still living in the wooden barracks that were erected as temporary housing.

Travel tip:

Messina's cathedral, which still contains the remains of King Conrad, ruler of Germany and Sicily in the 13th century, had to be almost entirely rebuilt following the earthquake, and again in 1943, after a fire triggered by Allied bombings. The original Norman structure can be recognised in the apsidal area and the façade has three late Gothic portals, dating back to the early 15th century. The tympanum dates back to 1468.

Hotels in Messina by Expedia

The Palazzo Spinelli is an example of the Liberty style buildings characteristic of the rebuilt Reggio Calabria
The Palazzo Spinelli is an example of the Liberty style
buildings characteristic of the rebuilt Reggio Calabria
Travel tip:

Reggio Calabria is the oldest city in Calabria, the most important in what became known as Magna Graecia - Great Greece - after settlers began to arrive in the eighth century BC.  Much of its heritage was destroyed in the earthquake and the rebuilt city is notable now for its fine Liberty buildings and its linear plan.  The best of what could be salvaged of the Greek remains can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum of Magna Graecia, housed in Palazzo Piacentini.

Hotels in Reggio Calabria by

More reading:

The devastating Naples earthquake of 1626

How the wrath of Vesuvius wiped Pompei from the map

The Vajont dam - a man-made disaster

Also on this day:


16 December 2016

Santo Versace - businessman and politician

Entrepreneurial brain behind Versace fashion empire

Santo Versace's business skills lay behind the brand's success
Santo Versace's business skills lay
behind the brand's success
Santo Versace, sometime politician and the business brain behind Italy's world famous luxury fashion label, was born on this day in 1944 in Reggio Calabria.

Along with his brother and sister, Gianni and Donatella, Santo grew up in Italy's southernmost major city, which is situated right on the "toe" of the Italian peninsula and separated from the island of Sicily by barely 10km of the Strait of Messina.

Unlike his younger siblings, who were inspired by their mother, Francesca, a dressmaker who owned a small clothes shop, to become designers, Santo took after their father, Antonio, a coal merchant who in time became an interior decorator, in wishing to become a business entrepreneur.

He helped his father hump sacks of coal while still a child and learned the basics of running a business as a teenager before attending the University of Messina, from which he graduated in 1968 with a degree in economics.

At first, Santo worked in banking for Credito Italiano in Reggio Calabria before switching to teaching economics and geography to high school students. In 1972, after completing his military service, he set up as an accountant and management consultant in Reggio Calabria.

By this time, Gianni and Donatella were beginning to attract attention in the fashion world and when Gianni was invited to work in Milan in the mid-70s, Santo decided to follow him and base himself in the northern city.

Versace's current flagship Milan store is in the prestigious Via Monte Napoleone
Versace's current flagship Milan store is in the
prestigious Via Monte Napoleone
It was he who encouraged Gianni to turn his talent into a business and the company Gianna Versace Donna was launched in 1977, opening their first Milan boutique in Via della Spiga the following year.

Santo was chief executive officer from the outset, a position he retained until 2004.  While his siblings concentrated on design, he brought his business skills to bear in the areas of communication, organization, productivity, and quality. He oversaw sales, distribution, production and finance and gained a reputation as one of the fashion industry's most able and well-respected business people.

His first involvement in politics was at a fashion industry level. In 1992, he co-founded the Association of Italian High-Quality Enterprises and from 1998 to 1999 was president of the National Chamber for Italian Fashion, which aims to support and the develop Italian fashion.  Even beyond his own business, he would always support initiatives to promote Italian brands.

Santo's personality and skill as a speaker did not go unnoticed and he was invited by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to run for office in 2008 as a member of Berlusconi's new party, Il Popolo della Libertà - The People of Freedom.  He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies as member for Calabria and Berlusconi won a second term in office after forming a coalition with the Lega Nord and the Sicilian Movement for Autonomy.

However, it was an uneasy alliance. Friends considered Santo too left of centre to sit comfortably in a Berlusconi government and he quit the party in 2011 over the coalition's decision to back a mafia-tainted cabinet minister, describing his decision as "my present for Berlusconi” in a reference to the media tycoon's upcoming 75th birthday.

Donatella and Gianni Versace pictured in around 1990
Donatella and Gianni Versace pictured
in around 1990
He initially joined the Allianza per la Libertà Nationale and subsequently aligned himself with Stop the Decline, a small party formed by a group of economists with the aim of cutting Italy's national debt by 20 per cent within five years.  Since 2012, he has been part of the Gruppo Misto, a group that comprises politicians of no party affiliation.

Divorced from his first wife, Cristiana, Santo is now married to Francesca De Stefano, a lawyer.  Francesca Versace, one of his children from his first marriage, is a fashion designer herself, based in London.

Santo, of course, has known tragedy in his private life.  The murder of Gianni Versace in Miami Beach in 1997 left him with only one surviving sibling from a family of four children, his older sister, known as Tina, having died when he was a child from complications relating to a tetanus infection.

Away from fashion and politics, he has been a financial supporter of Viola Reggio Calabria Basketball, and has been chairman of Operation Smile Italy Onlus, an association of doctors and volunteers which deals with children with facial deformities in 70 countries around the world.

A sweeping waterfront is a feature of modern day Reggio  Calabria, which had to be rebuilt after the 1908 earthquake
A sweeping waterfront is a feature of modern day Reggio
 Calabria, which had to be rebuilt after the 1908 earthquake
Travel tip:

For a port city with a population of 200,000 people in a metropolitan area of more than half a million residents, Reggio Calabria is a surprisingly elegant and pleasant place to visit, its attractiveness owing much to the careful rebuilding programme undergone after a devastating earthquake in 1908, which destroyed most of its historical centre and inflicted similarly catastrophic damage on Messina, across the water in Sicily. Such remains as were salvageable, including many of Greek origin, are preserved in some impressive museums. The rebuilt city featured many Liberty style buildings and the seafront is particularly panoramic.

Hotels in Reggio Calabria from

Travel tip:

The Via della Spiga, where the first Versace shop opened in 1977, is one of Milan's top shopping streets, forming the north-east boundary of the city's fashion quarter, of which Via Manzoni, Via Monte Napoleone and Corso Venezia form the other borders.  It is one of Milan city centre's few streets restricted to pedestrians only.  Details of the stores with premises on Via della Spiga can be found at the Amici Di Via della Spiga website.

Hotels in Milan from Expedia

More reading:

How former army medic Giorgio Armani became a fashion icon

Short life and tragic death of Gianni Versace

How horses inspired the world's most coveted shoes and handbags

Also on this day:

1945: The death of Fiat founder Giovanni Agnelli

(Picture credits: Versace shop by Bahar via Wikimedia Commons)


5 September 2016

Tommaso Campanella – poet and philosopher

Friar had utopian dream to banish poverty

Tommaso Campanella, as depicted by the  Italian painter Francesco Cozza
Tommaso Campanella, as depicted by the
Italian painter Francesco Cozza
Writer Tommaso Campanella was born on this day in 1568 in Stilo in Reggio Calabria and was baptised Giovanni Domenico Campanella.

As a friar who was also a philosopher, Campanella tried to reconcile humanism with Roman Catholicism. He is best remembered for his work, La città del sole (The city of the sun), written in 1602 which was about a utopian commonwealth where every man’s work contributed to the good of the community and there was no poverty.

The son of a poor cobbler, Campanella was an infant prodigy who joined the Dominican order before he was 15, taking the name Fra Tommaso.

He was influenced by the work of philosopher Bernardino Telesio, who opposed Aristotle’s ideas, and he became interested in astrology, which constantly featured in his writing.

After Campanella published his own work, Philosophy Demonstrated by the Senses, which stressed the need for human experience as a basis for philosophy, he was arrested, tried and imprisoned briefly for heresy.

Campanella then became interested in pragmatism and the idea of political reform, moved deeply by the poverty of the people living in his native Stilo.

Campanella's house in Stilo in Calabria
Campanella's house in Stilo in Calabria
He became involved in a plot to overthrow Spanish rule in Calabria but the plot was discovered and he was arrested and taken to Naples.

He confessed under torture and, after feigning madness to escape death, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

During his 27 years in prison he wrote poetry, which is now considered to be the most original of the period, and books about religion and philosophy.

One month after his release from prison he was arrested again for heresy in Rome but because of his reputation as an astrologer he was freed after the intervention of Pope Urban VIII.

When he was again accused of plotting against the Spanish he fled to France and the protection of King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu.

He spent the rest of his life in a convent in Paris and died in 1639 at the age of 70.

Travel tip:

Reggio di Calabria, often referred to simply as Reggio Calabria, or just Reggio, is the biggest city in the region of Calabria in southern Italy near the ‘toe’ of the Italian peninsula. Its seafront promenade facing Messina in Sicily across the Straits, has been described as ‘the most beautiful kilometre of Italy’.

The Cattolica di Stilo has survived from the ninth century
The Cattolica di Stilo has survived from the ninth century
Travel tip:

Stilo, where Tommaso Campanella was born, is a town in the province of Reggio Calabria, where his house is marked with a plaque.  It still has a ninth century church, the Cattolica di Stilo, which was built in the Byzantine style. In 1940, the Italian navy fought the British navy in the Battle of Punta Stilo, just off the promontory of Cape Stilo, which is about six kilometres from the town.  It was known by the British navy as the Battle of Calabria.

(Photo of Campanella's house by Marcuscalabresus CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Cattolica di Stilo by Salli CC BY-SA 3.0)


23 July 2016

Francesco Cilea – opera composer

Calabrian remembered for beautiful aria Lamento di Federico 

The composer Francesco Cilea
Francesco Cilea
Composer Francesco Cilea was born on this day in 1866 in Palmi near Reggio di Calabria.

He is particularly admired for two of his operas, L’Arlesiana and Adriana Lecouvreur.

Cilea loved music from an early age. It is said that when he was just four years old he heard music from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera, Norma, and was moved by it.

When he became old enough, he was sent to study music in Naples and at the end of his course of study there he submitted an opera he had written, Gina, as part of his final examination. When this was performed for the first time it attracted the attention of a music publisher who arranged for it to be performed again.

Cilea was then commissioned to produce a three-act opera, meant to be along the lines of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, by the same publisher.

The resulting work, La Tilda, was performed in several Italian theatres, but the orchestral score has been lost, which has prevented it from enjoying a modern revival.

In 1897, Cilea’s third opera, L’Arlesiana was premiered at the Teatro Lirico in Milan.

In the cast was the young Enrico Caruso, who performed, to great acclaim, the famous Lamento di Federico. This beautiful aria - often known by its opening line, È la solita storia del pastore, has kept the name of the opera alive until present day and it has been performed and recorded by many famous tenors over the years, including Luciano Pavarotti.

Enjoy Pavarotti singing Lamento di Federico

In 1902, Cilea’s opera, Adriana Lecouvreur was received enthusiastically at the Teatro Lirico in Milan, again starring Enrico Caruso. Around the same time, Cilea accompanied Caruso on the piano when he made one of his early recordings for the gramophone.

Cilea’s last opera, Gloria, was premiered at La Scala in Milan in 1907 under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, but it was a failure and was withdrawn after only two performances.

After this Cilea turned his attention to teaching and became director of the Conservatorio Vincenzo Bellini in Palermo, although he continued to compose chamber and orchestral music.

The Cilea Mausoleum in Palmi
The Cilea Mausoleum in Palmi
He supported the career of the Italian soprano, Magda Olivero, whose performances, in the title role of Adriana Lecouvreur, he particularly admired.

Cilea spent the last years of his life living in Varazze, near Savona in Liguria, and he died there in 1950.

Travel tip:

Palmi, where Francesco Cilea was born, is a small commune in the province of Reggio di Calabria in southern Iraly. A seaside resort, Palmi has been referred to as ‘the terrace on the strait of Messina.’ A mausoleum decorated with scenes from the myth of Orpheus, was built there in memory of Cilea.

The Teatro Cilea in Reggio di Calabria
The Teatro Cilea in Reggio di Calabria
Travel tip:

Reggio di Calabria, often referred to as Reggio Calabria, or simply Reggio, is the biggest city in the region of Calabria in southern Italy. The theatre in the city was renamed Teatro Comunale Francesco Cilea in the composer’s memory.

More reading:

The genius of Puccini

The dominance of Giuseppe Verdi

Lasting appeal of Enrico Caruso

(Photo of Cilea Mausoleum by Palminellafede CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Teatro Cilea by Franc rc CC BY-SA 3.0)