Showing posts with label Sapienza University. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sapienza University. Show all posts

29 October 2019

Carlo Emanuele Ruspoli – Duke of Morignano

Noble architect is now a prolific writer

Carlo Emanuele Ruspoli became Duke of Morignano in 2003
Carlo Emanuele Ruspoli became
Duke of Morignano in 2003
Carlo Emanuele Maria Ruspoli was born on this day in 1949 in Rome.

He became the third Duke of Morignano in 2003, succeeding his father, Prince Galeazzo Ruspoli.

Carlo had previously graduated as a Doctor of Architecture from the Sapienza University of Rome and he now works as a researcher and writer.

He is a prolific author of works on history and anthropology as well as historical novels, drawing on his own family heritage and his fascination with the East.

The House of Ruspoli is one of the great aristocratic families of Rome and all members hold the title of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire.

The family’s origins can be traced back to their ancestor, Marius Scotus, in the eighth century, the Ruspoli family of Florence in the 13th century, and the Marescotti family of Bologna.

A branch of the Ruspoli family moved to Rome in the 17th century. Their last descendant, Vittoria Ruspoli, Marchioness of Cerveteri, married Sforza Marescotti, Count of Vignanello, a descendant of the Farnese family, but to make sure the House of Ruspoli continued, one of Vittoria’s sons, Francesco Maria Marescotti Ruspoli, took on the name and coat of arms of the House of Ruspoli.

In 1721 Pope Benedict XIII conferred on Francesco Maria the title of Principe Romano for himself and his descendants ad infinitum.

Emanuele Ruspoli, the great grandfather of Carlo Emanuele Ruspoli
Emanuele Ruspoli, the great grandfather
of Carlo Emanuele Ruspoli
One of Francesco’s descendants, Francesco, the third Prince of Cerveteri, was created Prince of the Holy Roman Empire by the Emperor Francis II in 1792, a title for himself and all his male descendants.

His son, Bartolomeo Ruspoli, was a colonel in the Piedmontese army and fought in the battles leading up to Italian unification. He was paralysed from the waist down after a blast from a hand grenade, but continued to participate in the fighting in a wheelchair pushed by his assistant.

His son, Emanuele Ruspoli, also fought for Italian unification and became a Senator and twice served as Mayor of Rome.

Emanuele’s eldest son by his third marriage was Francesco Alvaro Ruspoli, who was educated at Eton College in England for five years. He became the first Duke of Morignano in 1907. His son, Galeazzo Ruspoli, the second Duke of Morignano, was Carlo Emanuele Ruspoli’s father.

In 1975, Carlo Emanuele Ruspoli married Dona Maria de Gracia de Solis-Beaumont y Tellez-Giron. They had a daughter, Donna Maria de Gracia Giacinta Ruspoli, who married Don Javier Isidro Gonzalez de Gregorio y Molina in 2009. Carlo now has a granddaughter, Donna Maria de Gracia Gonzalez de Gregorio y Ruspoli.

Carlo Emanuele Maria Ruspoli, the third Duke of Morignano, celebrates his 70th birthday today.

An 18th century engraving of the Palazzo Ruspoli by the Italian engraver Giuseppe Vasi
An 18th century engraving of the Palazzo Ruspoli by
the Italian engraver Giuseppe Vasi
Travel tip:

Palazzo Ruspoli in Via del Corso in Rome is still owned by the Ruspoli family today. It is a large Renaissance-style palace, situated where the Corso intersects with Largo Carlo Goldoni and Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina in the Campo Marzio area. It was renovated by the architect Bartolomeo Ammanatti in the 16th century and then by the architect Martino Longhi the Younger in the 17th century. The palace was acquired by the Ruspoli family in 1776 and in the 19th century it sheltered the exiled Napoleon III. The palace’s main feature is its great staircase, which has four flights, each made up of 30 marble steps, and is considered one of the four marvels of Rome.

The modern campus of the Sapienza University of Rome was designed in the 1930s by Marcello Piacentini
The modern campus of the Sapienza University of Rome
was designed in the 1930s by Marcello Piacentini
Travel tip:

The Sapienza University of Rome, where Carlo Emanuele Ruspoli studied architecture, was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII and is now one of the largest universities in Europe. The main campus is in what is now called Piazzale Aldo Moro near Rome’s Termini Railway station. The buildings were designed by the architect Marcello Piacentini in the 1930s. Aldo Moro, who was twice Prime Minister of Italy and was kidnapped and killed by the Red Brigades in 1978, was professor of the Institutions of Law and Criminal Procedure at the University in the 1960s.

Also on this day:

1922: Mussolini is appointed Prime Minister

1960: The birth of particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti

2003: The death of the 'Prince of Tenors' Franco Corelli


18 August 2018

Umberto Guidoni - astronaut

First European to step on to the International Space Station

Guidoni flew two Space Shuttle missions during his time at NASA in Texas
Guidoni flew two Space Shuttle missions
during his time at NASA in Texas
The astronaut Umberto Guidoni, who spent almost 28 days in space on two NASA space shuttle missions, was born on this day in 1954 in Rome.

In April 2001, on the second of those missions, he became the first European astronaut to go on board the International Space Station (SSI).

After retiring as an active astronaut in 2004, Guidoni began a career in politics and was elected to the European Parliament as a member for Central Italy.

Although born in Rome, Guidoni’s family roots are in Acuto, a small hilltown about 80km (50 miles) southeast of the capital, in the area near Frosinone in Lazio known as Ciociaria.

Interested in science and space from a young age, Guidoni attended the Gaio Lucilio lyceum in the San Lorenzo district before graduating with honours in physics specializing in astrophysics at the Sapienza University of Rome in 1978, obtaining a scholarship from the National Committee for Nuclear Energy, based outside Rome in Frascati.

He worked in the Italian Space Agency as well as in the European Space Agency. One of his research projects was the Tethered Satellite System, which was part of the payload of the STS-46 space shuttle mission.

Guidoni moved to Houston, Texas and trained for a year as an alternate payload specialist for that mission, for which he was part of the group of scientists coordinating the scientific operations of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from the ground.

Guidoni displays the symbol of the Presidency of the Italian Republic during his 2001 mission
Guidoni displays the symbol of the Presidency of the Italian
Republic during his 2001 mission
He made his first spaceflight aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1996, which included the second flight of the TSS system (TSS-1R). Columbia launched on February 22, returning to the Kennedy Space Center on March 9, having completed 252 orbits, covering 10 million kilometers in 377 hours and 40 minutes .

His work in space focused on the control of the TSS’s electrodynamic experiments, which demonstrated, for the first time, the possibility of generating electrical power from space.

Guidoni’s second experience in space came on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour, on a Space Station assembly flight in 2001, a mission that included the inaugural flight of the Raffaello module, one of the three Italian pressurized logistics modules, which enabled four tons of supplies and scientific experiments to be transferred to the SSI.

Launched on April 19, it landed at the Edwards Air Force Base in California on May 1, having completed 186 orbits, covering approximately 8 million kilometers in 285 hours and 30 minutes.

Umberto Guidoni addresses supporters of the Sinistra e Libertà party during a rally in Rome
Umberto Guidoni addresses supporters of the Sinistra e
Libertà party during a rally in Rome
When Guidoni entered the SSI as the first European astronaut on board, he carried with him the Italian flag and the banner of the Presidency of the Italian Republic, delivered to him by the president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Passionate about ecological issues, Guidoni entered politics immediately after he retired from active space travel, standing as an independent on the list of Italian Communists for the 2004 European elections and became an elected MEP.

He served until 2009 as a member of the parliamentary group comprising the European Left and the Nordic Green Left.

As an MEP, he served on various committees and working groups in the area of industry, research and energy, climate change, environmental health and food safety. He was a member of the budget control committee and was involved in working towards better relationships with the United States and Japan.

He lost his seat in 2009, standing as part of a list entitled Sinistra e Libertà - Left and Liberty. His involvement with politics continued for four years until 2013, when he had disagreements with the leadership group in his party and decided to quit.

Nowadays, married with one son, he works to popularise scientific subjects through writing an broadcasting.

In 2009 he presented a radio programme entitled From the Sputnik to the Shuttle, in which he retraced the main steps of the space era, and in 2009 narrated the epic history of the Apollo lunar missions for another radio broadcast.

A book based on that show - From the Earth to the Moon - was published in 2011. Guidoni has also written numerous newspaper and magazine articles and written books for children about space and space travel.

The town of Acuto sits on a ridge in the Ernici mountains
The town of Acuto sits on a ridge in the Ernici mountains
Travel tip:

The town of Acuto, which sits on a ridge in the Ernici mountains about 40km (25 miles) northwest of Frosinone in Lazio and about 80km (50 miles) southeast of Rome, suffers harsh winters with regular snowfall but is a popular place for city dwellers looking for an escape from the summer heat because its position exposes it to cooling breezes.  The town developed in the fifth century when many residents of nearby Anagni fled there in the face of a barbarian invasion. The town has many churches, going back to the days when Agnani and Acuto were important towns in the Papal States.

Piazza Cavour in the centre of Agnani
Piazza Cavour in the centre of Agnani
Travel tip:

Anagni is about 15km (9 miles) by road from Acuto. During medieval times many popes chose to reside in Anagni, considering it safer and healthier than Rome. The town produced four popes, the last one being Boniface VIII, who was hiding out there in 1303 when he received the famous Anagni slap, delivered by an angry member of the fiercely antipapal Colonna family after he refused to abdicate. After his death the power of the town declined and the papal court was transferred to Avignon. The medieval Palace of Boniface VIII, is near the Cathedral in the centre of the town. Close by there is a restaurant named Lo Schiaffo - The Slap.

More reading:

How Samantha Cristoforetti set records for women in space

The scientist from Rome who created the world's first nuclear reactor

The kidnapping of Pope Boniface VIII

Also on this day:

1750: A composer at the heart of a murder mystery: the birth of Antonio Salieri

1943: The birth of the football great Gianni Rivera


28 October 2017

Sergio Tòfano – actor and illustrator

The many talents of stage and screen star

Sergio Tofano as Professor Toti, in Luigi  Pirandello's comic play Pensaci, Giacomino!
Sergio Tòfano as Professor Toti, in Luigi
 Pirandello's comic play Pensaci, Giacomino!
Comic actor, director, writer and illustrator Sergio Tòfano died on this day in 1973 in Rome.

He is remembered as an intelligent and versatile theatre and film actor and also as the creator of the much-loved cartoon character Signor Bonaventura, who entertained Italians for more than 40 years.

Tòfano was born in Rome in 1886, the son of a magistrate, and studied at the University of Rome and the Academy of Santa Cecilia. He made his first appearance on stage in 1909.

He soon specialised as a comic actor and worked with a string of famous directors including Luigi Almirante and Vittorio de Sica.
He became famous after his performance as Professor Toti in Luigi Pirandello’s comic play, Pensaci, Giacomino! 

Also a talented artist and writer, Tòfano invented his cartoon character Signor Bonaventura for the children’s magazine, Il Corriere dei Piccoli, signing himself as Sto.

Signor Bonaventura made his first appearance in 1917. The character wore a red frock coat and a hat and his fans interpret him as showing how good people, despite making mistakes, can avoid the bad outcome they seem fated to experience, even in complicated situations, because there is always hope.

Tofano's invention, the cartoon character Signor Bonaventura
Tòfano's invention, the cartoon
character Signor Bonaventura
After the Second World War Tòfano continued to act, working with important directors such as Luchino Visconti and Giorgio Strehler at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan performing in plays by Ibsen and Shakespeare. He also took parts in plays by Molière and Goldoni at the Teatro dei Satiri in Rome.

Tòfano has a string of film and television credits to his name, his most successful films including Goffredo Alessandrini’s 1934 comedy Seconda B, the Raffaello Matarazzo drama Giù il Sipario (1940) and Partner (1968), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and based on the on the novel The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

He continued to act until his death at the age of 87, having survived his wife, Rosetta, a costume designer he married in 1923, by 13 years.

Before 1935, Rome University's base was in the Palazzo della Sapienza, near Piazza Navona
Before 1935, Rome University's base was in
the Palazzo della Sapienza, near Piazza Navona
Travel tip:

Rome University, where Tòfano studied, 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 started to offer more than just ecclesiastical studies. Today’s campus was built near the Termini railway station in 1935. Rome University now caters for more than 112,000 students.

Travel tip:

The Piccolo Teatro della Città di Milano, where Tòfano performed regularly after it was founded in 1947, was Italy’s first permanent repertory company. It now operates from three venues in Milan, the Teatro Grassi, the Teatro Studio and the Teatro Strehler.

7 September 2017

Kidnapping of Pope Boniface VIII

When the Pope was slapped down by a disgruntled landowner

Boniface VIII had a long-running conflict with Philip IV of France
Boniface VIII had a long-running
conflict with Philip IV of France
An army, representing King Philip IV of France and the anti-papal Colonna family, entered Anagni in Lazio and captured Pope Boniface VIII inside his own palace on this day in 1303.

The Pope was kept in custody for three days and was physically ill-treated by his captors until the local people rose up against the invaders and rescued him.

Boniface VIII returned to Rome, but he was physically and mentally broken after his ordeal and died a month later.

The Pope had been born Benedetto Caetani in Anagni in 1230. He became Pope Boniface VIII in 1294 after his predecessor abdicated. He organised the first Catholic Jubilee Year to take place in Rome in 1300 and founded Sapienza University in the city in 1303, the year of his death.

But Boniface VIII is mainly remembered for his conflicts with Philip IV of France. In 1296 Boniface VIII issued the bull Clericis Laicos which forbade under the sanction of automatic excommunication any imposition of taxes on the clergy without express licence by the Pope. Then in 1302 he issued a bull proclaiming the primacy of the Pope and insisting on the submission of the temporal to the spiritual power.

The 'Anagni slap' as depicted by French  artist Alphonse de Neuville
The 'Anagni slap' as depicted by French
 artist Alphonse de Neuville
Philip IV countered this with an order forbidding all exports of money and valuables from France to the Papal States along with the expulsion of foreign merchants.

The squabble escalated until Boniface VIII excommunicated the King of France and released a decree stating that every human creature was subject to the Roman pontiff.

He sent mercenaries to destroy other people’s castles and declared the anti-papal Colonna family’s property forfeited. He then shared their land out among his own family members.

An army representing the powerful Colonna family and accompanied by Guillaume de Nogaret, Philip IV’s minister, marched into Anagni where the Pope was spending the summer at his palace. They kidnapped the Pope and demanded that he abdicate.

When he refused he was allegedly slapped by Sciarra Colonna, which famously became known as the 'Anagni slap' - lo schiaffo di Anagni. The Colonna family wanted to kill the Pope but de Nogaret wanted to take him to France to try him for his crimes in front of a General Council.

According to many accounts Boniface VIII was subjected to ill-treatment over a period of three days until he was rescued by local people. He survived the attack only to die a month later after he had returned to Rome.

The writer Dante Alighieri had been personally exiled by the Pope for supporting the limitation of papal powers, so when he wrote his Divine Comedy he had his revenge by placing Boniface VIII in hell.

Boniface's papal palace in Anagni
Boniface's papal palace in Anagni
Travel tip:

Anagni is an ancient town in the province of Frosinone in Lazio. It is south east of Rome in an area known as Ciociaria, named after the primitive footwear, named ciocie, favoured for many years by people living in the area. Boniface VIII was the fourth Pope produced by Anagni but after his death the power of the town declined and the papal court was transferred to Avignon. The medieval Palace of Boniface VIII, where he received the Anagni slap, is near the Cathedral.  Close by there is a restaurant named Lo Schiaffo.

Part of the Giotto fresco commemorating the Jubilee
Part of the Giotto fresco
 commemorating the Jubilee
Travel tip:

The Papal Archbasilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome houses a small portion of a fresco cycle painted by Giotto for the Jubilee of 1300, called by Pope Boniface VIII after he was elected to the Papacy.

30 July 2017

Vittorio Erspamer - chemist

Professor who first identified the neurotransmitter serotonin

Dr Vittorio Erspamer
Dr Vittorio Erspamer
Vittorio Erspamer, the pharmacologist and chemist who first identified the neurotransmitter serotonin, was born on this day in 1909 in in the small village of Val di Non in Malosco, a municipality of Trentino.

Serotonin, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), is found in the gastrointestinal tract, blood platelets and central nervous system of animals, including humans.

It is popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness. A generation of anti-depressant drugs, including Prozac, Seroxat, Zoloft and Celexa, have been developed with the aim of interfering with the action of serotonin in the body in a way that boosts such feelings.

The name serotonin was coined in the United States in 1948 after research doctors at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio discovered a vasoconstrictor substance - one that narrows blood vessels - in blood serum. Since it was a serum agent affecting vascular tone, they named it serotonin.

However, in 1952 it was shown that a substance identified by Dr Erspamer in 1935, which he named enteramine, was the same as serotonin.

Dr Erspamer made his discovery when he was working as assistant professor in anatomy and physiology at the University of Pavia, having graduated there in medicine and surgery in 1935.

His speciality was pharmacognosy - the study of drugs from natural sources. In particular, he was interested in the extraction of pharmacologically active substances from animals, which was the focus of much of his life’s work.

An illustration of how scientists believe the dopamine and  serotonin neurotransmitters affect brain function
An illustration of how scientists believe the dopamine and
serotonin neurotransmitters affect brain function
Dr Erspamer’s early research in the Institute of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology at Pavia focussed on the smooth muscle constricting or contracting properties of various compounds – known as amine - found in the skins and intestinal tracts of a number of species, including rabbits, mollusks, and frogs.

One substance which interested him was found in certain cells of the gut. An acetone isolate of the cells caused smooth muscle contraction, especially in the uterus of the female rat.

He carried out tests to prove that the substance was not another neurotransmitter, epinephrine - also known as adrenaline – and named the new substance enteramine.

During his career, Dr Erspamer held positions at the universities of Rome, Bari and Parma and also studied in Berlin.

The Ghislieri College at the University of Pavia, where Vittorio Erspamer graduated and worked for several years
The Ghislieri College at the University of Pavia, where
Vittorio Erspamer graduated and worked for several years
He was one of the first Italian pharmacologists to realize that strong relationships with the chemical and pharmaceutical industries could yield vital funds for research.

In the late 1950s, he established a long-term collaboration with chemists at the Farmitalia company, thanks to whose funding he collected more than 500 species of marine organisms from all around the world, including amphibians, shellfish, sea anemones and other species.

During more than 60 years he was able to conclude the isolation, identification, synthesis and pharmacological study of more than 60 new chemical compounds, most of which were isolated from animals, predominantly amphibians.

His other major discovery was octopamine, a substance similar in function to epinephrine in that it mobilises the body and the nervous system for action. He found this in the salivary glands of the octopus.

Twice nominated for a Nobel Prize, he was obliged to retire from official academic positions in 1984 on the grounds of age but continued to work at the Sapienza University of Rome, alongside his wife Giuliana Falconieri, a long-time colleague he married in the early 1960s, up until the time of his death in 1999 at the age of 90.

Malosco Castle, restored in the 16th century
Malosco Castle, restored in the 16th century
Travel tip:

Vittorio Erspamer’s birthplace, Malosco, is a small village in the upper Val di Non valley situated on a high plateau about 54km (34 miles) north of Trento in an area of forests and meadows. The discovery of coins in the vicinity points to Roman origins. More recently, it belonged to the family of count Gerolamo Guarienti, who rebuilt Malosco Castle in the 16th century. Today it is a popular centre for cross-country skiing and there is a network of trails for walkers to enjoy.

Travel tip:

Although not established until 1361 – almost 300 years after the University of Bologna, which is recognised as the oldest in Europe – the University of Pavia can claim to have its roots in an educational institution in the Lombardy city of which the first known mention was in 825, in an edict issued by the Frankish king of Italy, Lothar I. That would make it older even than Al Quaraouyine University, in Morocco, which was founded in 859 and is officially the oldest continually operating educational institution in the world.

8 March 2017

Antonello Venditti - enduring music star

Roman singer-songwriter's career spans almost 50 years

Antonello Venditti has sold more than 30 million discs in a long career
Antonello Venditti has sold more than
30 million discs in a long career
Singer-songwriter Antonello Venditti, one of Italy's most popular and enduring stars of contemporary music, will celebrate his 68th birthday today with a live performance in his home city of Rome.

Venditti will perform at the PalaLottomatica arena - formerly known as Palazzo dello Sport - in a concert entitled 'Viva le Donne' to mark International Women's Day.

Famous in the 1970s for the strong political and social content of many of his songs, Venditti can look back on a career spanning almost 50 years, in which he has sold more than 30 million records.

Taking into account singles, studio and live albums and compilations, Venditti has released more than 100 recordings.

His biggest success came with the 1988 album In questo mondo di ladri - In this world of thieves - which sold 1.5 million copies, making it jointly the eighth best-selling album in Italian music history.

Venditti's music ranges from folk to soft rock, often with classical overtones. He enjoyed sustained success in the 1980s and 90s, when Cuore - Heart - Benvenuti in Paradiso - Welcome to Paradise - and Prendilo tu questo frutto amaro - Take this bitter fruit - all sold well.  His versatility as a singer was demonstrated with the 1979 album Buona Domenica, which contained several ballads including one, Modena, which regarded as among his finest songs.

Antonello Venditti (right) with Giorgio Lo Cascio and Francesco De Gregori at Folkstudio in 1975
Antonello Venditti (right) with Giorgio Lo Cascio and
Francesco De Gregori at Folkstudio in 1975
For some fans, however, he was at his peak during his politicised phase with Lilly (1975) and Ullalà (1976), which featured several tracks bearing powerful social messages, against drugs and corruption among other things.  Ullalà included the song Canzone per Seveso, which was specifically about the accident at a chemical factory in the Lombardy town of Seveso that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths among farm animals and pets exposed to dioxins.

Venditti was born Antonio Venditti on March 8, 1949, in the Trieste quarter of Rome, about 8km (5 miles) to the north-east of the city centre. He was the only child of a middle-class couple. His father was a government official and future deputy-prefect of Rome, his mother a teacher specialising in Latin and Greek.  He was educated to a high standard himself, attending the Giulio Cesare High School and Sapienza University in Rome, where he graduated in law in 1973 before obtaining a further degree in the philosophy of law.

This qualified him, naturally, to build a career in the legal profession.  Yet Venditti was already writing songs and, having been taught to play the piano as a boy, wanted to perform.

Antonello Venditti in 2008
Antonello Venditti in 2008
In the late 1960s he began to frequent the famous Roman club Folkstudio, in the Trastevere quarter, where Bob Dylan had performed in 1962.  He made friends with other young musicians and sang some of his own compositions, accompanying himself on a jazz piano, and made such an impression he was offered a recording contract with a new company.

His first album Theorius Campus, which he recorded with another Folkstudio regular, Francesco De Gregori, contained two of the songs he played at that first impromptu gig - Sora Rosa and Roma Capoccia - that would become lasting favourites with his fans.  He wrote both, in Romanesco dialect, when he was 14.

Influenced by the militancy among the student population at the time, Venditti's politics were firmly on the left and his subsequent albums reflected that.  It was the powerful social messages in many of his songs that helped him acquire such a devoted following.  One of his compositions, A cristo - 'Hey, Christ' in Roman dialect - which he performed in Rome in 1974, resulted in his arrest for blasphemy, although he was ultimately acquitted.

However, in time he became less political, particularly after terrorism became such a problem for Italy during the late 1970s, when blame for a number of attacks tended to be laid at the door of left-wing groups.  His friend, De Gregori, was booed at one concert.

Venditti also said that he began to have problems reconciling his strong religious faith with left-wing ideology and felt that while the left offered social changes that he saw as good it did not suggest a path towards happiness and contentment.

The stage at the Arena di Verona, where Venditti performed at the Wind Music Awards in 2016
The stage at the Arena di Verona, where Venditti performed
at the Wind Music Awards in 2016
Nonetheless, he would return to political themes from time to time.  Benvenuti in Paradiso (1991) contained a song Dolce Enrico, which was a tribute to the former leader of Italy's communists, Enrico Berlinguer, while Che fantastica storia è la vita (2003) included a song satirising Silvio Berlusconi.  His 2015 release Tortuga was his 20th studio album.

A fanatical supporter of AS Roma, he has written a number of songs celebrating the team and gave a free open air concert in Circus Maximus when Roma won the scudetto - the Italian championship - in 2001.

Married briefly in the 1970s to Italian screenwriter and director Simona Izzo, Venditti has a son Francesco Saverio.

He is also the author of two books,  L'importante è che tu sia infelice - The important thing is that you be unhappy - an autobiographical work in which he focussed on his difficult relationship with his mother, and Nella notte di Roma - On Roman nights - a discourse on what he considers good and bad about the city of his birth.

The arch of the Palazzi degli Ambasciatori is one of the features of the Piazza Mincio in the Trieste quarter
The arch of the Palazzi degli Ambasciatori is one of the
features of the Piazza Mincio in the Trieste quarter
Travel tip:

Antonello Venditti's childhood home was in Via Zara in the Trieste quarter of Rome, a stone's throw from the picturesque Villa Torlonia park, a feature of which is the 18th century Casino Nobile, a house that was once the Rome residence of Benito Mussolini.  Trieste nowadays is a popular district with young professionals and students, with a bustling market, artisan shops and plenty of stylish bars and restaurants, as well as lots of green space within walking distance.  The Villa Ada, Villa Paganini and Villa Borghese parks are all close by. Trieste is also the home of the so-called Coppedè Quarter, an area of beautiful and distinctive buildings designed by the architect Gino Coppedè, fanning out from Piazza Mincio.

Hotels in Rome from

The Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, with its obelisk, is typical of the bold architecture of the EUR district
The Piazza Guglielmo Marconi, with its obelisk, is typical
of the bold architecture of the EUR district
Travel tip:

The PalaLottomatica, formerly known as Palazzo dello Sport, was designed by the architect Marcello Piacentini and built by Pier Luigi Nervi for the 1960 Olympics, in which it hosted the basketball tournament.  It forms part of the EUR complex, to the south of the centre of Rome, originally developed to host the 1942 World's Fair, which was cancelled because of the Second World War.  A team of prominent architects, headed by Piacentini and including Giovanni Michelucci, contributed to the project, which featured the neoclassical designs that came to be known as Fascist architecture.

More reading:

Singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla's tribute to Enrico Caruso

65 million sales and rising - Eros Ramazotti's lasting appeal

How Laura Pausini keeps turning out hit after hit

Also on this day:

Italy's own Festa della Donna

1566: The birth of composer Carlo Gesualdo

(Picture credits: top picture; Venditti in 2008 by Elena Torre; Verona Arena by Raphael Mair; arch of the Palazzi degli Ambasciatori by LPLT; EUR piazza by Blackcat; via Wikimedia Commons)


6 January 2017

First Montessori school opens in Rome

Educationalist Maria Montessori launches Casa dei Bambini

Maria Montessori in Rome in 1913
Maria Montessori in Rome in 1913
The first of what would become recognised across the world as Montessori schools opened its doors in Rome on this day in 1907.

The Casa dei Bambini, in the working class neighbourhood of San Lorenzo, was launched by the physician and educationalist Maria Montessori.

Montessori - the first woman in Italy to qualify as a physician - had enjoyed success with her teaching methods while working with children as a volunteer at Rome University's psychiatric clinic.

She was convinced that the techniques she had used to help children with learning difficulties and more serious mental health issues could be adapted for the benefit of all children.

The Casa dei Bambini came into being after Montessori had been invited to work on a housing project in San Lorenzo, where her responsibility was to oversee the care and education of the project's children while their parents were at work.

Situated in Via dei Marsi, it catered for between 50 and 60 children aged between two and seven.  The methods Montessori employed, which included many practical activities as well as more conventional lessons and revolved around allowing children to follow the direction in which their own interests led them, were essentially the same as those that would become the hallmarks of her philosophy.

Maria Montessori's image featured on Italy's  1000 lire banknotes prior to the switch to the Euro
Maria Montessori's image featured on Italy's
1000 lire banknotes prior to the switch to the Euro
Children developed self-discipline and self-motivation in the environment she created for them, while their intellectual attainments outstripped those of children in conventional education. Word of the method's success quickly spread.  A second Casa dei Bambini was opened later the same year, followed by three more in 1908.  By 1915, schools in every major European country were using the Montessori method, which was being taken up with enthusiasm in parts of Australia, Asia, South America and the Middle East.

It became popular in the United States from about 1911 onwards and by 1913 there were about 100 Montessori schools.  Maria Montessori embarked on a number of lecture tours, although the popularity of her methods went into decline from about 1925, largely because of opposition from the educational establishment.  It did not gain momentum again until the 1950s.

Nonetheless, at their peak, Montessori schools in the United States numbered around 4,000 out of approximately 7,000 across the world.

Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in the town of Chiaravalle in the province of Ancona in Le Marche. Her parents were well educated middle-class people but were traditional and conservative in their outlook, especially when it came to the role of women in society.

They moved to Florence and then Rome because of her father's work with the Ministry of Finance.  This afforded her better educational opportunities, yet she was not encouraged to aim higher than teaching as a career.  It was somewhat in defiance of what she perceived as restrictions on her ambition that she first set out to study engineering and then switched to medicine, enrolling at the University of Rome.

It was unheard of for a woman to study medicine at the time and she met with hostility from both professors and fellow students.  She had to perform her dissection of cadavers alone in her own time because it was deemed inappropriate for her to attend classes with men in the presence of a naked body, even one preserved in formaldehyde.

Maria Montessori's name still adorns the wall of the Casa dei Bambini in Rome, which is no longer a Montessori school
Maria Montessori's name still adorns the wall of the Casa
dei Bambini in Rome, which is no longer a Montessori school 
Yet she persevered and became a trailblazer for women in medicine when she obtained her degree in 1896.

Afterwards, she remained at Rome University to research into so-called 'phrenasthenic' children - those deemed to be mentally retarded.  It was her observation of the behaviour of these children that led her to discover ways of teasing out the intrinsic intelligence she believed existed in all children.

During that time, she had a son, Mario, as a result of an affair with a fellow doctor.  Convention at the time dictated that were she to have married the father she would have been expected to abandon her career.  She refused to contemplate such a sacrifice and Mario was placed in foster care, although they would be reunited in his teenage years and he would go on to continue his mother's work after her death.

The growth of the Montessori method suffered a setback during the 1930s when Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Italian Fascist government, who had initially embraced Maria Montessori's ideas, began closing Montessori schools if their teachers did not swear loyalty to the state.  In Germany, Hitler's Nazi party took a similarly hard line, banning the Montessori method and even burning copies of her books.

Maria fled with her son to India, where she knew her methods were growing in popularity, but once Italy signed a formal alliance with Germany they were both arrested as aliens.  Although Maria was spared any restriction on her movement, Mario was incarcerated in a prison camp.

At the end of the war they returned to Europe and Maria based herself in Amsterdam.  Nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, she died in the Netherlands in 1952 at the age of 81.

Piazza Mazzini in Chiaravalle, where Maria  Montessori was born in 1870
Piazza Mazzini in Chiaravalle, where Maria
Montessori was born in 1870
Travel tip:

Maria Montessori's birthplace in Chiaravalle in Piazza Mazzini is open to the public.  It houses a museum containing a collection of the educational materials developed by Montessori and used in the original Casa dei Bambini.  It is also the head office of the Montessori Foundation.

Travel tip:

The San Lorenzo district adjoins the campus of Rome's Sapienza University and sits just to the north of the main Roma Termini station.  Dominated by Via Tiburtina, it is a gritty, somewhat down at heel neighbourhood that has suffered through the decline of industry in the city yet is home to a vibrant youth culture thanks to a large student population.

More reading:

The 17th century philosophy student thought to be the first woman in the world to receive an academic degree

How 18th century scientist Laura Bassi broke new ground for female academics

Tullio Levi-Civita - the mathematician Einstein admired

Also on this day:

Befana - the post-Christmas gift bonus for Italy's children

(Picture credits: Banknotes by Flanker via Wikimedia Commons)


3 January 2017

Gianfranco Fini – politician

Party leader who moved away from Fascism

Gianfranco Fini
Gianfranco Fini
Gianfranco Fini, former leader of the Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), the post-Fascist political party in Italy, was born on this day in 1952 in Bologna.

Fini has been President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in Silvio Berlusconi’s Government from 2001 to 2006.

His father, Argenio ‘Sergio’ Fini, was a volunteer with the Italian Social Republic, a fascist state in Northern Italy allied with Germany between 1943 and 1945.

His maternal grandfather, Antonio Marani, took part in the march on Rome, which signalled the beginning of Italian Fascism in 1922.

Fini’s first name, Gianfranco, was chosen in memory of his cousin, who was killed at the age of 20 by partisans after the liberation of northern Italy on 25 April, 1945.

Fini became interested in politics at the age of 16, after he was involved in a clash with communist activists and he went on to join the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neo-fascist political party.

After graduating from La Sapienza University in Rome he became involved with the party’s newspaper, Il Secolo d’Italia.

Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
He became MSI party secretary in 1988 and confirmed the MSI’s role as inheritors of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist legacy.

In 1993 Fini ran for Mayor of Rome, and although Francesco Rutelli won, it was the first time an MSI candidate had received significant support in a major election.

In the 1990s, Fini began to move MSI away from its neo-fascist ideology to a more conservative political agenda.

In 1995 the MSI merged with the conservative elements of the disbanded Christian Democrats to form the Alleanza Nazionale. Fini became president of the new party, which distanced itself from fascism.

Fini and his party were part of Berlusconi’s right wing coalition, which won the 1994 and 2001 parliamentary elections. Fini became Deputy Prime Minister in 2001 and Foreign Minister in 2004.

He agreed with Berlusconi that they would present their two parties under the same symbol, the People of Freedom, in the 2008 election.

By then, Fini's attitude towards Mussolini's Fascism had shifted so markedly that, having described the former dictator in 1994 as "the greatest Italian statesman of the 20th century", on a visit to Israel in 2003 he told an audience that Mussolini's time in power had been "a shameful chapter in the history of our people."

Fini and Silvio Berlusconi (right) meet the Italian  president Giorgio Napolitano (left) after the 2001 elections
Fini and Silvio Berlusconi (right) meeting the future Italian
president Giorgio Napolitano (left) after the 2001 elections
After he and Berlusconi were victorious he was elected President (Speaker) of the Chamber of Deputies.

In this role he criticised the Government for their extensive use of confidence votes and for the practice of voting on behalf of absentees,

In the 2013 election, his party, now named Future and Freedom for Italy, were awarded no seats, ending Fini’s 30-year parliamentary career. He has since been criticised by right wing politicians for moving away from traditional policies.

Fini married Daniela di Sotto in 1988 and they had a daughter, Giuliana. After the couple separated in 2007, he met Elisabetta Tulliani, a lawyer, with whom he has since had another two daughters.

Travel tip:

Bologna, where Gianfranco Fini was born, is the largest city and the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. It is famous for having the oldest University in the world, established in 1088, and a rich cuisine, which has earned the city the nickname of ‘la grassa’. Its most famous dish is tagliatelle al ragù, strips of pasta with a rich meat sauce, which has been adopted the world over as spaghetti alla bolognese.

Bologna's signature dish, tagliatelle al ragù
Bologna's signature dish, tagliatelle al ragù
Travel tip:

Gianfranco Fini graduated from Rome University, 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 was built near the Termini railway station in 1935. Rome University now caters for more than 112,000 students.

More reading:

Benito Mussolini and the founding of the Italian Fascists

Mussolini is captured and executed

Silvio Berlusconi - four times Italian premier

Also on this day:

(Picture credits: Gianfranco Fini by Regola21; tagliatelle by Sergiozif; via Wikimedia Commons)


29 December 2016

Tullio Levi-Civita – mathematician

Professor from Padua who was admired by Einstein

Tullio Levi-Civita
Tullio Levi-Civita
Tullio Levi-Civita, the mathematician renowned for his work in differential calculus and relativity theory, died on this day in 1941 in Rome.

With the collaboration of Gregorio Ricci-Curbastro, his professor at the University of Padua, Levi-Civita wrote a pioneering work on the calculus of tensors. Albert Einstein is said to have used this work as a resource in the development of the theory of general relativity.

Levi-Civita corresponded with Einstein about his theory of relativity between 1915 and 1917 and the letters he received from Einstein, carefully kept by Levi-Civita, show how much the two men respected each other.

Years later, when asked what he liked best about Italy, Einstein is reputed to have said ‘spaghetti and Levi-Civita.’

The mathematician, who was born into an Italian Jewish family in Padua in 1873, became an instructor at the University of Padua in 1898 after completing his own studies.

He became a professor of rational mechanics there in 1902 and married one of his own students, Libera Trevisani, in 1914.

Albert Einstein: the German physicist held Levi-Civita in high regard
Albert Einstein: the German physicist
held Levi-Civita in high regard
In 1917, having been inspired by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Levi-Civita made his most important contribution to this branch of mathematics, the introduction of the concept of parallel displacement in general curved spaces.

This concept immediately found many applications and in relativity is the basis of the unified representation of electromagnetic and gravitational fields. In pure mathematics his concept was instrumental in the development of modern differential geometry.

Levi-Civita also worked in the fields of hydrodynamics and engineering. He made great advances in the study of collisions in the three-body problem, which involves the motion of three bodies as they revolve around each other.

His books on these subjects became standard works for mathematicians and his collected works were published in four volumes in 1954.

Levi-Civita was invited by Einstein to visit him in Princeton in America and he lived there for a while in 1936, returning to Italy with war looming.

He was removed from his post at the University of Rome in 1938 by the Fascist regime because of his Jewish origins, having taught there since 1918.

Deprived of his professorship and his membership of all academic societies by the Fascists, Levi-Civita became isolated from the scientific world and in 1941 he died at his apartment in Rome, aged 68.

Travel tip:

The University of Padua, where Levi-Civita studied and later taught, was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna. The main university building, Palazzo del Bò in Via VIII Febbraio in the centre of Padua, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610.

The Caffè  Pedrocchi is an historic meeting place for students and intellectuals in Padua
The Caffè  Pedrocchi is an historic meeting place
for students and intellectuals in Padua
Travel tip:

Right in the centre of Padua, the Caffè Pedrocchi has been a meeting place for business people, students, intellectuals and writers for nearly 200 years. Founded by coffee maker Antonio Pedrocchi in 1831, the caffè was designed in neoclassical style and each side is edged with Corinthian columns. It quickly became a centre for the Risorgimento movement and was popular with students and artists because of its location close to Palazzo del Bò, the main university building. It became known as the caffè without doors, as it was open day and night for people to read, play cards and debate. Caffè Pedrocchi is now a Padua institution and a must-see sight for visitors, who can enjoy coffee, drinks and snacks all day in the elegant surroundings.

More reading:

Also on this day

1966: The birth of footballer Stefano Eranio


8 December 2016

Marcello Piacentini – architect

Designer whose buildings symbolised Fascist ideals

Marcello Piacentini in the uniform of the Royal Academy of Italy
Marcello Piacentini in the uniform of the
Royal Academy of Italy
Urban theorist and architect Marcello Piacentini was born on this day in 1881 in Rome.

The son of architect Pio Piacentini, he studied arts and engineering in Rome before going on to become one of the main proponents of the stark, linear designs characteristic of the Fascist era.

When he was just 26, he was commissioned with redesigning the centre of the Lombardy city Bergamo’s lower town, the Città Bassa, where Piacentini's buildings remain notable landmarks today.  The project marked Piacentini as an architect of considerable vision and talent.

He then went on to work throughout Italy, and in particular in Rome, for the Fascist government.

He designed a new campus for the University of Rome, La Sapienza, the road approaching St Peter’s in Rome that was named Via della Conciliazione, and much of the EUR district of the capital, of which he was not only the architect but, by appointment to the Fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, the High Commissar.

Piacentini's majestic Via della Conciliazione in Rome, with the Basilica of St Peter in the background
Piacentini's majestic Via della Conciliazione in Rome, with
the Basilica of St Peter in the background
Characteristic of all these projects was Piacentini's simplified neoclassicism, which became the mainstay of Fascist architecture.

Both Mussolini and Adolf Hitler believed that a style of architecture identifiable as belonging to their culture was a way of unifying citizens and underlining the tenets of their ideology, namely strength and stability and the authority of the government.

Subsequently, Piacentini went on to become an important colonial architect, particularly in Eastern Libya, where the style of his buildings was characteristic of the Neo-Moorish period in Libya in the 1920s.

After the collapse of Fascism, Piacentini fell out of favour and did not work as an architect for several years.  He died in Rome in 1960.

Travel tip:

One of the most impressive buildings to be seen in Bergamo’s Città Bassa - the city's lower town - is the Banca d’Italia in Viale Roma. Built of brown stone, in keeping with the other public buildings erected at the beginning of the 20th century in the Città Bassa, the bank has a decorative façade. It was built in 1924 to a neo-Renaissance design and has since become a symbol of Bergamo’s strong commercial and banking tradition.

Hotels in Bergamo by

The Torre dei Caduti was part of  Piacentini's urban redevlopment of Bergamo
The Torre dei Caduti was part of  Piacentini's
urban redevelopment of Bergamo
Travel tip:

Another example of Piacentini’s work in Bergamo is the Torre dei Caduti in the centre of the Città Bassa. The early 20th century war memorial towers over Piazza Vittorio Veneto and Via Sentierone but was carefully positioned so that despite being 45 metres tall it does not spoil the skyline of the Città Alta, Bergamo's upper town. The Torre dei Caduti (tower of the fallen) was built to honour the citizens of Bergamo who were killed in the First World War and was part of Piacentini’s new layout for the centre of the Città Bassa in the 1920s, which recalled the buildings of the Città Alta, such as the Torre di Gombito, in the choice of design and materials.

More reading:

The ground-breaking brilliance of architect Pier Luigi Nervi

The Liberty and Art Deco lines of Milan's huge Stazione Centrale

Andrea Palladio - the world's favourite architect

Also on this day:

Feast of the Immaculate Conception marks start of Christmas