Showing posts with label Sorrento. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sorrento. Show all posts

25 February 2021

Benedetto Croce – philosopher and historian

Prolific writer opposed the Fascists and supported democracy

Benedetto Croce influenced literature, philosophy and politics in his lifetime
Benedetto Croce influenced literature,
philosophy and politics in his lifetime
Benedetto Croce, one of the most important figures in Italian life and culture in the first half of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1866 in Pescasseroli in the region of Abruzzo.

Croce was an idealist philosopher, historian and erudite literary scholar whose approach to literature influenced future generations of writers and literary critics. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 16 times.

He became a Senator in 1910 and was Minister for Education from 1920 to 1921 in the last pre-Fascist government of the so-called Giolitti era. He is also remembered for his major contribution to the rebirth of Italian democracy after World War II.

Croce was born into a wealthy family and raised in a strict Catholic environment.  However, from the age of 16 he gave up Catholicism and developed a personal philosophy of spiritual life.

In 1883, while he was still a teenager, he was on holiday with his family on the island of Ischia when an earthquake struck the town of Casamicciola Terme and destroyed the house they were staying in. His mother, father and sister were all killed, but although he was buried for a long time, he managed to survive.

Croce inherited his family’s fortune and was able to live a life of leisure, devoting his time to philosophy and writing while living in a palazzo in Naples. His ideas began to be publicised at the University of Rome by Professor Antonio Labriola.

After his appointment to the Senate, Croce was a critic of Italy’s involvement in World War I. He left Government office about a year before Benito Mussolini assumed power.

Benedetto Croce (left), with the first president of the post-War Italian republic, Enrico De Nicola
Benedetto Croce (left), with the first president of
the post-War Italian republic, Enrico De Nicola
In 1923, Croce was instrumental in relocating the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III to the Palazzo Reale in Naples.

After Giacomo Matteotti was assassinated by the Fascists in 1924, Croce was one of the signatories to the manifesto of the anti-Fascist intellectuals and he provided financial support to anti-Fascist writers.

His home and library in Naples were ransacked by the Fascists in 1926 and he was put under surveillance. No mainstream newspaper or academic publication was allowed to refer to him.

Croce kept a diary during World War II entitled ‘Quando l’Italia era tagliato in due (When Italy was cut into two)’.

He made daily entries in this diary between July 1943 and June 1944. He had left his home in Naples, Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca, and gone to Sorrento to escape the Allied air raids.

He was staying in the Villa Tritone, a clifftop residence in Via Marina Grande overlooking the sea. The Germans entered and occupied Naples during September and on 12 September the Germans rescued Mussolini - who had been overthrown by the Fascist Grand Council and held captive - from his prison on Gran Sasso in the mountains of Abruzzo with a glider-borne team.

The entrance to Villa Tritone on Via Marina Grande
in Sorrento, where Croce moved during World War II
On 13 September, Croce writes that he has been receiving anonymous threats. The following day he reports that there were lots of Fascists roaming the streets of Sorrento.

He is advised to leave the Villa Tritone immediately to avoid being taken hostage by Fascists who would use him for propaganda purposes.

The next day’s entry was written by him on Capri. Croce reports that a floating mine was found in the sea below the villa and it was thought the retreating Germans might have been planning to come and take him as they had taken other prominent Italians in Salerno.

A motorboat was sent for him and his daughters from Capri, which was at the time firmly in Allied hands. The family were able to use the stairs that led from Villa Tritone down to the beach to get away. On board were a police commissioner from Capri and an English army officer who had been tasked with rescuing him. 

The boat returned to Sorrento later to collect Croce’s wife and another of his daughters who had stayed behind to pack up their possessions. On board were the same police commissioner and Major Munthe, the son of Axel Munthe, the Swedish doctor who was a Capri resident for a large part of his life and was famous for his best-selling memoir, The Story of San Michele. The Fascist and German radio stations broadcast that ‘Croce and others’ were to be severely punished, but the Allies were able to counter this by broadcasting that the philosopher was now safely on Capri.

When democracy was restored in Italy in 1944, Croce became a minister in the governments of Pietro Badoglio and Ivanoe Bonomi.

He voted for the Monarchy in the Constitutional referendum in 1946. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly that existed until 1948 but he declined to stand as provisional president of Italy.

Croce’s philosophical ideas were expressed in more than 80 books and 40 years worth of articles in his own literary magazine, La Critica. His theories were later debated by many Italian philosophers, including Umberto Eco.

Croce was President of PEN International, the worldwide writer’s association, from 1949 until his death in Naples in 1952.

His widow and daughters established the Fondazione Biblioteca Benedetto Croce in the Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca in 1955. The street on which the palazzo stands is now named Via Benedetto Croce.

The Palazzo Reale in Naples, which houses the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III
The Palazzo Reale in Naples, which houses the
Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III
Travel tip:

The Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio Emanuele III, a national library of Italy, now occupies the eastern wing of the 18th century Palazzo Reale in Naples as a result of efforts made on its behalf by Benedetto Croce in the 1920s. It houses nearly one and a half million printed volumes, as well as hundreds of thousands of pamphlets, manuscripts and periodicals. The library had been founded in the 18th century in the Palazzo degli Studi but after various collections were added to it, following the suggestion of Croce, the library was moved to Palazzo Reale and installed in accommodation granted to it by King Victor Emmanuel III.

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A plaque on the exterior wall of the Villa Tritone commemorates Croce's stay
A plaque on the exterior wall of the
Villa Tritone commemorates Croce's stay
Travel tip:

A plaque on the exterior wall of Villa Tritone in Sorrento records the residence there during World War II of Benedetto Croce ‘when Italy was cut in two’. A villa had been built on the site in the first century AD by Agrippa Postumus, grandson of Emperor Augustus, and Ovid was said to have been a frequent visitor. This became the site of a convent in the 13th century and then the land was purchased in the 19th century by Count Labonia and the present villa was built. At the beginning of the 20th century William Waldorf Astor bought the villa and designed the garden behind it with windows cut in the high wall on the seaward side to give views of the sea and Vesuvius across the bay.

Book your stay in Sorrento with

More reading:

How Mussolini's thugs kidnapped and murder brave politician Giacomo Matteotti

The controversial general who turned against Mussolini

Political philosopher who defined Right and Left in simple terms

Also on this day:

1626: The death of painter Enea Salmeggia

1683: The birth of pathological anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni

1707: The birth of playwright Carlo Goldoni

1873: The birth of opera singer Enrico Caruso

2003: The death of comic actor Alberto Sordi

(Picture credit: Palazzo Reale by Vitold Muratov via Wikimedia Commons)


29 March 2020

Edoardo De Martino – painter

Naval officer who painted battle scenes was a favourite of British royal family

Edoardo de Martino, photographed at work in around 1906
Edoardo De Martino, photographed at
work in around 1906
Edoardo Federico De Martino, an artist who became famous for his paintings of warships and naval battles, was born on this day in 1838 in Meta, just outside Sorrento.

At the height of his success, De Martino worked in London, where his paintings of ships and famous British naval victories were held in high regard by Queen Victoria.

He went on to work as a painter for Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward VII, and he often accompanied the King on naval tours.

De Martino was born in the small town of Meta, to the northeast of Sorrento, which had a long history of boat building.  He served as an officer in the Italian Navy but by the time he was 30 his main interest was painting.

He became associated with the School of Resina, a group of artists who painted landscapes and contemporary scenes that gathered in Resina, a seaside resort south of Naples, now incorporated into the towns of Herculaneum and Portici. Influenced by his fellow artists, De Martino eventually went to live and work in Naples.

He found fame after moving to London, where he painted scenes from the battles of Trafalgar, the Nile and Cape San Vincenzo.

A naval scene, thought to be depicting a battle in 1826, painted by De Martino in 1888
A naval scene, thought to be depicting a battle in
1826, painted by De Martino in 1888
For his service as Marine painter in Ordinary to King Edward VII, De Martino was appointed an Honorary Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in the 1902 Birthday Honours. He received the decoration from King Edward VII at Sandringham House on 9 November 1902.

From 1905 onwards, De Martino travelled widely, completing paintings of Italian naval ships and views of the Brazilian coast.  He died in Richmond-upon-Thames in London in 1912 at the age of 76.

In 2013, many of De Martino’s sketches and paintings were put on display in an exhibition organised by the Association of Commercianti del Casale di Meta.

The Basilica of Santa Maria del Lauro is one of the finest churches on the Sorrentine peninsula
The Basilica of Santa Maria del Lauro is one of the finest
churches on the Sorrentine peninsula
Travel tip:

Meta, where Edoardo De Martino was born, lies between Piano di Sorrento and Vico Equense on the main coastal road going from Sorrento in the direction of Naples. The town has a long history of boat building and by the time of his birth its shipyards were producing hundreds of boats, with the local women sewing the sails for them in the courtyards of their houses. Although steamships eventually replaced sailing boats, the shipyards continued to produce the Sorrentine Gozzo, a small sailing and rowing boat that enables the occupant to fish and row at the same time. Meta has a magnificent church, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Lauro, in the centre of the town, just off the main road. The church was built in medieval times on the site of an ancient temple after a local deaf and dumb woman was said to have found a statue of the Virgin Mary under a laurel tree and then miraculously had her hearing and speech restored. It was rebuilt in the 16th century and restored and modified in the 18th and 19th centuries. The wooden door is from the 16th century building and the Chapel of the Madonna del Lauro has frescoes from the 18th century. Meta celebrates the Festa of Santa Maria del Lauro every year on 12 September.

The Castel Nuovo in Naples, with the port, one of the  largest in the Mediterranean, in the background
The Castel Nuovo in Naples, with the port, one of the
largest in the Mediterranean, in the background
Travel tip:

Naples, the Italian city where Edoardo De Martino lived after becoming a full-time painter, has one of the largest ports in Italy and one of the largest on the Mediterranean, which would have been a constant source of inspiration to him. Nowadays the port has a huge capacity for cargo traffic and receives many cruise ships. There are also ferry services to the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida out in the bay and regular services to Sicily, Sardinia, the Aeolian islands and Ponza.

Also on this day: 

1281: The birth of condottiero Castruccio Castracani

1825: The birth of compassionate priest Francesco Faà di Bruno

1888: The birth of aviation pioneer Enea Bossi

1939: The birth of actor Terence Hill 


27 June 2019

Gianluigi Aponte - shipping magnate

Billionaire started with one cargo vessel

Gianluigi Aponti launched his MSC company in 1970 with one ship
Gianluigi Aponti launched his MSC
company in 1970 with one ship
Gianluigi Aponte, the billionaire founder of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which owns the second largest container fleet in the world and a string of luxury cruise liners, was born on this day in 1940 in Sant’Agnello, the seaside resort that neighbours Sorrento in Campania.

He and his wife, Rafaela, a partner in the business, have an estimated net worth of $11.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

The Mediterranean Shipping Company has more than 510 container ships, making it the second largest such business in the world. Only the Danish company Maersk is bigger.

MSC Cruises, meanwhile, has grown into the fourth largest cruise company in the world and the largest in entirely private ownership. With offices in 45 countries, it employs 23,500 people, with a fleet of 17 luxury cruise liners.

Overall, the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which Aponte began in 1970 with one cargo vessel, has more than 60,000 staff in 150 countries.

Aponte has been able to trace his seafaring ancestry back to the 17th century. His family’s roots are on the Sorrentine Peninsula and there are records of his family’s boats ferrying goods between Naples and Castellammare di Stabia, just along the coast.

His own involvement after the death of his father, who had left Italy to open a hotel in Somalia. Gianlugi returned to his homeland and enrolled at the nautical institute in Naples. He joined the company of the Naples shipping entrepreneur, Achille Lauro, and was employed on the Naples-to-Capri ferry fleet. Eventually, he became a captain.

The MSC logo can be seen on all of the company's cruise ships
The MSC logo can be seen on all
of the company's cruise ships
He met his wife, Swiss-born Rafaela Diamant Pinas, when she was a passenger on one of his boats and the couple moved to Geneva.

Aponte for a while worked in banking but craved a return to the maritime industry. He raised $280,000 to buy Patricia, a German freighter, and in 1970 established the Mediterranean Shipping Company. Another cargo ship, which he named Rafaela after his wife, followed a year later.

Operating largely between Europe and Africa, Aponte's fleet had expanded to 20 cargo ships by the 1980s, which the billionaire sold to move into container shipping.

He diversified into cruise lines after buying his mentor Achille Lauro's cruise fleet in 1987, initially under the name Starlauro. The company was renamed MSC Cruises in 1995.

Among the company’s first ships was the ill-fated passenger ship named Achille Lauro, which in 1985 was hijacked by members of the Palestine Liberation Front off the coast of Egypt and in 1994 caught fire and sank off Somalia in the Indian Ocean.

The MSC Opera, one of the Lirica class vessels that marked the start of the company's investment in modern ships
The MSC Opera, one of the Lirica class vessels that marked
the start of the company's investment in modern ships
MSC Cruises became a serious player in the cruise market in the early 2000s, when a €5.5 billion investment programme was launched to build the world’s most modern cruise fleet.

This began with the purchase or commission of four Lirica class vessels, each with the capacity to carry more than 2,000 passengers. Each subsequent generation of cruise ships bearing the company’s distinctive star logo has been bigger than the previous one.

The latest is the Meraviglia class, which comprises two enormous boats, each with 15 passenger decks and which can carry 4,500 guests in addition to more than 1,500 crew. The Meraviglia is the fourth largest cruise ship in service anywhere in the world.

Another massive investment programme was launched in 2014, which included refurbishment of the original Lirica vessels in addition to plans for new boats. Between 2014 and 2026, this investment is expected to total $11.6 million, with an even bigger Meraviglia on the horizon, with capacity for 6,334 guests and powered by Liquefied Natural Gas.

MSC Cruises already has the honour of being the first cruise company in the world to be awarded the coveted ‘6 Golden Pearls’ for its outstanding standards in environmental protection, health and safety.

Aponte has been decorated with many awards, including in 2009 a prize for "Neapolitan Excellence in the World". Alongside the footballer Fabio Cannavaro, who captained the Italy team that won the World Cup in 2006, and the ballerina Ambra Vallo, he was presented with the award at a ceremony at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples by the then Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Something of a recluse, Aponte makes few public appearances, largely limited to the christenings of new MSC cruise ships. He lives with his wife in Geneva. His children, Diego and Alexa, both work at MSC, as chief executive and chief financial officer respectively.

A clifftop hotel in Sant'Agnello with Vesuvius in the  background, across of the Gulf of Naples
A clifftop hotel in Sant'Agnello with Vesuvius in the
background, across of the Gulf of Naples
Travel tip:

Aponte’s birthplace of Sant’Agnello is a small town of just over 9,000 inhabitants which neighbours Sorrento and Piano di Sorrento, which along with another small town, Meta di Sorrento, enjoy a clifftop location overlooking the Gulf of Sorrento, a picturesque bay that forms part of the larger Gulf of Naples.  Like the bigger and better-known Sorrento, Sant’Agnello’s economy relies heavily on the tourist industry and has plenty of hotels and restaurants.

The medieval castle from which the resort of Castellammare di Stabia, built above a buried Roman city, takes its name
The medieval castle from which the resort of Castellammare
di Stabia, built above a buried Roman city, takes its name
Travel tip:

Castellammare di Stabia, a one-time thriving resort now more often associated with shipyards, was built over the ruins of the ancient Stabiae, a Roman village destroyed in 79 AD by the violent eruption of the Vesuvius volcano, which buried Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Some of the ruins are being excavated.  The name of the town is said to derive from the medieval castle that overlooks the Gulf of Naples, which can be found alongside the road from Castellammare to Sorrento, Castello a Mare meaning Castle on the Sea.  The town was the birthplace of Pliny the Elder, who was a philosopher and author as well as a military commander of the early Roman empire.

More reading:

Sophia Loren, Neapolitan siren of the silver screen

Achille Vianelli, the artist who captured the character of Naples

How Cannavaro led Italy to a fourth World Cup

Also on this day:

1574: The death of Giorgio Vasari, painter and architect who was art's first historian

1914: The birth of politician Giorgio Almirante

1980: The plane crash known as the Ustica Massacre


9 December 2018

Teofilo Folengo – poet

Style of writer’s verses took its name from the dumpling

A portrait of Teofilo Folengo by Girolamo Romanino, owned by the Uffizi museum in Florence
A portrait of Teofilo Folengo by Girolamo Romanino,
owned by the Uffizi museum in Florence
Teofilo Folengo, who is remembered as one of the principal Italian ‘macaronic’ poets, died on this day in 1544 in the monastery of Santa Croce in Campese, a district of Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto.

Folengo published, under the pseudonym Merlin Cocaio, a macaronic narrative poem entitled Baldo, which was a humorous send up of ancient epic and Renaissance chivalric romance.

Writing in verse that mixed vernacular language with Latin became known as macaronic verse, the word deriving from the Latin macaronicus and the Italian maccarone, which meant dumpling, fare mixed crudely from different ingredients that at the time was regarded as a coarse, peasant food. It is presumed to be the origin of the modern Italian word maccheroni.

Folengo was a runaway Benedictine monk who satirised the monastic life using an invented, comic language that blended Latin with various Italian dialects.

Born Girolamo Folengo in 1491 in Cipada, a village near Mantua, he entered the Benedictine order as a young man taking the name Teofilo. He lived in monasteries in Brescia, Mantua and Padua, where he produced Latin verse written in the Virgilian style.

The cover of a book of macaronic verse by Folengo under his pseudonym
The cover of a book of macaronic verse
by Folengo under his pseudonym 
But he left the order to travel around the country with a young woman, Girolama Dieda. They often experienced great poverty as Folengo had no money apart from what he earned through writing.

For a few years he lived as a hermit near Sorrento, but he was readmitted to the Benedictine order in 1534 and remained in it, continuing to write, until his death.

Out of all his poetry, Baldo is considered to be his masterpiece and it has been republished five times. Full of satire and humour it describes the adventures of Baldo, who is supposed to be a descendant of the cousin of the medieval epic hero Roland. Baldo suffers imprisonment, battles with authority, pirates, witches and demons, and goes on a journey to the underworld.

The poem blended Latin with various Italian dialects in hexameter verse. The first English version, translated by Ann Mullaney, was published in 2007.

The term macaronic is still used to describe literature where the mixing of languages has a humorous or satirical effect. It is believed to have originated in Padua in the late 15th century, after the comic poem, Macaronea, by Tifi Odasi was published in about 1488, satirising the broken Latin used by doctors and officials to communicate with ordinary people.

Folengo once described his own verses as ‘a gross, rude and rustic mixture of flour, cheese and butter.’

Many modern Italian authors, including Umberto Eco and Dario Fo, have continued to use macaronic text.

The Palazzo Ducale in Mantua was the seat of the Gonzagas
The Palazzo Ducale in Mantua was the seat of the Gonzagas
Travel tip:

Cipada near Mantua, where Teofilo Folengo was born, was a village on the banks of a lake, but it no longer exists, having become part of the industrial area of Mantua. A main street, Strada Cipata, is the only reference to it that remains. On the other side of the lake is the historic area of Mantua, where the Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707, can be found.

The former monastery of Santa Croce in Campese, where Folengo died
The former monastery of Santa Croce
in Campese, where Folengo died
Travel tip:

The monastery of Santa Croce, where Teofilo Folengo died, is in Via IV Novembre in Campese, a district of Bassano del Grappa on the banks of the Brenta Canal. The monastery dates back to 1124 and for centuries was the most important religious centre in the area around the Brenta. There is a monument to Teofilo Folengo in the monastery, which is now used as a church. Close by is a square named after the poet, Piazza Teofilo Folengo.

More reading:

Giosuè Carducci - the poet who became the first Italian to win a Nobel Prize in literature

Why Torquato Tasso is known as Italy's greatest Renaissance poet

How Dario Fo's work denounced crime, corruption and racism

Also on this day:

1920: The birth of politician Carlo Azeglio Ciampi

1920: The birth of Bruno Ruffo, Italy's first motorcycling world champion

1946: The birth - near Vicenza - of Indian politician Sonia Gandhi


22 October 2017

Valeria Golino - actress

Neapolitan starred with Hoffman and Cruise in Rain Man

Valeria Golino has won multiple awards for films made for the Italian market
Valeria Golino has won multiple awards
for films made for the Italian market
The actress Valeria Golino, who found international fame when she played opposite Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in the hugely successful movie Rain Man, was born on this day in 1965 in Naples.

Golino was cast as the girlfriend of Tom Cruise’s character, Charlie Babbitt, in Barry Levinson’s comedy, in which Babbitt’s estranged father dies and leaves most of his multi-million dollar estate to another son, an autistic savant named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) whose existence Charlie knew nothing about.

The 1988 movie won four Oscars and grossed more than $350 dollars. Although Golino was not nominated for her performance in Rain Man, she has won a string of other awards over a career so far spanning almost 35 years.

She is one of only three stars to win Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival on two occasions, for the 1986 drama Storia d’amore (“A Tale of Love”), directed by Francesco Maselli, and for Giuseppe M Gaudino’s 2015 drama Per amor vostro (“For Your Love”).

Golino was close to being selected to star opposite Richard Gere in another massive US hit, Pretty Woman, making it to the final audition stage for the 1990 romantic comedy but eventually losing out to Julia Roberts.

In the same year, Roberts also pipped her to the lead female role in the science-fiction horror film Flatliners.

Golina has been acting for the big screen since making her debut in 1983
Golina has been acting for the big screen
since making her debut in 1983
Golino did have other success in America, again in the comedy field, with Big Top Pee-Wee, Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux.

Back home in Italy, she was cast in meatier, dramatic roles, bringing her great respect. The winner of several Nastro d’Argento awards from Italian film journalists, she landed her first David di Donatello for Best Actress for La guerra di Mario (“Mario’s War”), Antonio Capuano’s film about the relationship between a mother, played by Golino, and her rebellious adopted son, a boy taken away from an abusive real mother.

Mario’s War also won her an Italian Golden Globe.  Her second David di Donatello was for Best Supporting Actress in Paolo Virzi’s 2013 film Il capitale umano (“Human Capital”).

Golino has revealed a talent for directing, too. Her first short film, Armandino e il Madre, for which she also wrote the script, received a favourable reaction and her first feature film as director, Miele (“Honey”), was screened at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and won a commendation.

Miele, the story of a woman who works with an Italian hospital doctor in the illegal facilitating of assisted suicides, earned her a Nastro d’Argento as Best New Director as well as an Italian Golden Globe for Best First Feature.

Valeria Golino receives her award at the 2015 Venice Film Festival
Valeria Golino receives her award at the
2015 Venice Film Festival
Born in Naples into a middle-class background – her father was an academic specialising in German studies, her mother a Greek-born artist – her formative years were spent alternating between Athens and Sorrento after her parents split up.

Although her mother instilled in her a love of the cinema, she had no great ambition to act as she grew up.  In fact, after undergoing surgery to correct a curvature of the spine, she set her sights on the medical profession, dreaming of becoming a cardiologist.

For one reason or another, the opportunity to pursue a career in medicine never came about.  She took some modelling assignments, which she found unfulfilling.  Life changed for her at 17 years old when her uncle, the L’Espresso journalist Enzo Golino, recommended her to Lina Wertmüller, a film director whom he knew socially, for a part in her upcoming movie, Scherzo del destino (“A Joke of Destiny”), alongside the renowned Commedia all’italiana actor, Ugo Tognazzi.

Despite being hospitalised for five months after a car crash disturbed the metal rod implanted in her back to correct the weakness in her spine, her acting career took off at the age of 20 after she played a life-loving cleaning lady in Maselli’s Storia d’amore.

Although she tries to keep her private life out of the public eye, Golino has been a regular in Italian gossip magazines following a series of relationships with other well-known figures in the movie business, the most recent with Riccardo Scamarcio, an actor and director 14 years her junior whom she was with for 10 years.  Nowadays, she largely lives in Rome.

Beautiful views abound in Sorrento
Beautiful views abound in Sorrento
Travel tip:

From the age of five years, Golino’s Italian home was in Sorrento, the popular resort town that occupies a cliff-top position overlooking the Bay of Naples, about 48km (30 miles) along the coast from the city of Naples, heading south.  The journey takes about an hour using the Circumvesuviana railway or hydrofoil across the bay, but considerably longer by road because of the almost constant traffic.  Sorrento, which has Greek origins but was developed by the Romans, is a lively place to stay but with much charm and stunning views from numerous vantage points.

Pictures of Piazza del Plebiscito accompanied the  opening credits for Marriage, Italian Style
Pictures of Piazza del Plebiscito accompanied the
opening credits for Marriage, Italian Style
Travel tips:

Naples has a connection with the film industry going back to the early years of the 20th century, when movie makers had already seen its potential for offering a spectacular or atmospheric backdrop.  In later years, Roberto Rossellini, Eduardo de Filippo, Vittorio de Sica and Francesco Rosi set many of their great films in the city.  The actress Sophia Loren, whose Neapolitan movies included Marriage, Italian Style and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, in both of which she co-starred with Marcello Mastroianni, was born in Rome but grew up in Naples and nearby Pozzuoli and regards herself as a Neapolitan.


4 March 2017

Lucio Dalla - musician

Cantautore inspired by the great Caruso

Lucio Dalla was inspired by stay in Sorrento
Lucio Dalla was inspired by stay in Sorrento
The singer/songwriter Lucio Dalla was born on this day in 1943 in Bologna.

Dalla is most famous for composing the song, Caruso, in 1986 after staying in the suite the great tenor used to occupy overlooking the sea at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento.

Dalla started playing the clarinet when he was young and joined the Rheno Dixieland Band in Bologna along with the future film director, Pupi Avati.

Avati was later to say that his film Ma quando arrivano le ragazze? was inspired by his friendship with Dalla.

In the 1960s the band won first prize in the traditional jazz band category at a festival in Antibes. After hearing Dalla’s voice, his fellow cantautore - the Italian word for singer/songwriter - Gino Paoli suggested he try for a solo career as a soul singer, but his first single was a failure.

Dalla had a hit with 4 Marzo 1943, originally entitled Gesu Bambino, but the title was changed to the singer’s birth date so as not to cause offence.

In the 1970s Dalla started a collaboration with the Bolognese poet Roberto Roversi, who wrote the lyrics for three of his albums.

Watch Pavarotti and Lucio Dalla on stage at Modena in 1992

When the association ended, Dalla decided to write the lyrics for his songs himself and his subsequent Banana Republic album was a success in 1979.

The song, Caruso, released in 1986, was his most famous composition. It has been covered by many other artists since, including Luciano Pavarotti and Julio Iglesias.

Dalla played various instruments,  including saxaphone, as well as singing
Dalla played various instruments,
including saxaphone, as well as singing
In the book Caruso the Song - Lucio Dalla e Sorrento, Raffaele Lauro, a writer from Sorrento, recalls that Dalla booked the very suite at the Excelsior Vittoria that Caruso had occupied during the final weeks of his life in 1921. While staying there Dalla composed the song, inspired by his love for Sorrento, his respect for the great tenor and his fondness for classic Neapolitan songs. The Fiorentino family, who owned the Excelsior Vittoria, were later to dedicate a suite to Dalla.

The version of Caruso sung by Pavarotti sold more than nine million copies and Dalla was invited to sing Caruso in a duet with Pavarotti in a 'Pavarotti and Friends' concert in Modena in 1992.

Andrea Bocelli included his version of the song on his first international album, Romanza, which sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.

Dalla was made a Commander and subsequently a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic and was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Bologna.

The singer songwriter died three days before his 69th birthday in 2012, after suffering a heart attack in a hotel in Montreux in Switzerland, where he had been performing the night before.

About 50,000 people attended his funeral in Bologna and his hit song, Caruso, entered the Italian singles chart after his death, peaking at number two for two consecutive weeks.

The single was also certified platinum by the Federation of the Italian Music Industry.

The bronze sculpture on Lucio Dalla near his home in Bologna
The bronze sculpture on Lucio Dalla near his home in Bologna
Travel tip:

Dalla was awarded an honorary degree by the University in his home town of Bologna, which had been the first in the world when it was established in 1088. The University attracted popes and kings, as well as students of the calibre of Dante, Copernicus and Boccaccio. You can visit the university’s former anatomy theatre in the oldest surviving building, the Archiginnasio, in Piazza Galvani, which is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 1pm, admission free. A short distance from the Archiginnasio, in Piazza dei Celestini, a bronze sculpture of Dalla sitting on a bench was unveiled in 2016 close to the house where he lived.

Hotels in Bologna from

The Excelsior Vittoria is one of  Sorrento's oldest and most  famous hotels and was a favourite of Caruso
The Excelsior Vittoria is one of  Sorrento's oldest and most
famous hotels and was a favourite of Caruso
Travel tip:

The Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria is a familiar landmark for visitors who approach Sorrento by sea. The three 19th century buildings that comprise the hotel sit high on the cliff above the port of Marina Piccola, where boats arrive from Naples and the islands. The Excelsior Vittoria is probably Sorrento’s most famous hotel and it has now achieved global recognition as part of the Leading Hotels of the World group. From the imposing wrought-iron entrance gates in Piazza Tasso, a long driveway lined with orange trees leads to the entrance and reception area. At the back of the hotel, the terrace has panoramic views over the bay of Naples and of Vesuvius across the water. Tenor Enrico Caruso was famously photographed in front of those views during his final stay in 1921. The Excelsior Vittoria had been opened as a hotel by the Fiorentino family in 1834 and is still, to this day, run by their descendants.

10 February 2017

Raffaele Lauro – author and politician

Sorrentine's talents include writing, film directing and song

Raffaele Lauro
Raffaele Lauro
Italian Senator and journalist Raffaele Lauro was born on this day in 1944 in the resort of Sorrento in Campania.

A prolific writer, Lauro has also been an important political figure for more than 30 years.

He was born in Sorrento and as a young man worked as a receptionist at a number of hotels along the Sorrento peninsula.

After finishing school he went to the University of Naples where he was awarded degrees in Political Science, Law and Economics.

Lauro then won a scholarship from Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and studied first at their diplomatic institute and later in Paris.

He later studied for a degree in journalism in Rome and became director of a scientific magazine, moving from there to become a commentator on new technology for Il Tempo in Rome and Il Mattino in Naples. He also studied film directing while living in Rome and taught Law of Mass Communications at Rome University.

Lucio Dalla, the songwriter about whom Lauro has written three books
Lucio Dalla, the songwriter about whom
Lauro has written three books
His political career began when he was elected as a Councillor for Sorrento in 1980. He went on to become Deputy Mayor and Councillor for finance, personnel and culture, in which role he opened the Public Library of Sorrento and established a theatre school. He moved to Rome in 1984 and held a number of Government posts.

In the general election of 2008, Lauro was appointed a Senator for Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party, representing Campania.

He was made a member of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into the Mafia and other criminal organisations and later became political advisor to the Minister of Economic Development, Claudio Scajola. In 2015 Lauro joined the Democratic Party of Lazio.

For more than 40 years, Lauro has worked as a freelance journalist, essayist, screenwriter, author and director. He has written about foreign affairs and politics, brought out works of fiction under the pseudonym Ralph Lorbeer and composed music.

In January 2017, Lauro published a song, Uno straccione, un clown, dedicated to the songwriter Lucio Dalla, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his death. Lauro had previously written three books about Dalla, who was a popular singer-songwriter from Bologna.

Piazza Sant'Antonino is an elegant square in Sorrento
Piazza Sant'Antonino is an elegant square in Sorrento
Travel tip:

Sorrento in Campania, where Raffaele Lauro was born, is a beautiful town in the south of Italy, perched on a cliff high above the bay of Naples. It has good views of the volcano Vesuvius and the islands of Procida, Ischia and Capri across the water. A popular holiday resort, Sorrento is famous for producing colourful ceramics, objects made from inlaid wood and the lemon-flavoured liqueur, Limoncello.

Find accommodation in Sorrento with

Marina di Puolo is one of several charming fishing villages on the Sorrentine Peninsula
Marina di Puolo is one of several charming fishing villages
on the Sorrentine Peninsula
Travel tip:

The Sorrentine Peninsula, where Raffaele Lauro worked in hotels as a student, is a finger of land with the bay of Naples to the north and the bay of Salerno to the south. On the northern side, the main towns are Castellammare di Stabia, Vico Equense, Sorrento and Massa Lubrense, with Punta della Campanella at the tip of the peninsula. On the southern side are Marina del Cantone, Positano, Amalfi and Salerno. The Lattari mountains form the geographical backbone of the peninsula and there are many picturesque small towns inland. Orange and lemon trees, olive trees and vines grow on the fertile land sloping down towards the sea.

More reading:

Witty observations that set writer Beppe Severgnini apart

What made journalist Enzo Biagi a giant of his trade

The American novelist inspired by Sorrento

Also on this day:

13 October 2016

Execution of former King of Naples

Joachim Murat, key aide of Napoleon, shot by firing squad

Joachim Murat, King of Naples, depicted by Francois Gerard
Joachim Murat, King of Naples,
depicted by Francois Gerard
Joachim Murat, the French cavalry leader who was a key military strategist in Napoleon's rise to power in France and his subsequent creation of an empire in continental Europe, was executed on this day in 1815 in Pizzo in Calabria.

The charismatic Marshal was captured by Bourbon forces in the coastal town in Italy's deep south as he tried to gather support for an attempt to regain control of Naples, where he had been King until the fall of Napoleon saw the throne returned to the Bourbon king Ferdinand IV in May 1815.

Murat was held prisoner in the Castello di Pizzo before a tribunal found him guilty of insurrection and sentenced him to death by firing squad.

The 48-year-old soldier from Lot in south-west France had been an important figure in the French Revolutionary Wars and gained recognition from Napoleon as one of his best generals, his influence vital in the success of Napoleon's campaigns in Egypt and Italy and in victories against the numerically superior Prussians and Russians.

He was a flamboyant dresser, going into battle with his uniform bedecked in medals, gold tassels, feathers and shiny buttons.  Yet for all his peacock tendencies, he was renowned as a bold, brave and decisive leader, often securing victory through daring cavalry charges.  In all he is thought to have fought around 200 battles.

A defiant Murat faces his executioners
A defiant Murat faces his executioners
Napoleon rewarded him with the hand of his sister, Caroline, and promotion to the rank of Marshal and Admiral of France. He made him King of Naples in 1808, although it was something of a consolation prize to Murat, who had hoped to be given the throne of Spain, which went instead to Napoleon's brother, Joseph.

Murat moved into the Royal Palace and indulged himself in a life of luxury, entertaining lavishly and surrounding himself with expensive acquisitions.  He had portraits of himself, his wife and other family members commissioned by celebrated artists as well as numerous scenes depicting his victories on the battlefield.

Nonetheless, he was an effective ruler of Naples, where he broke up the large landed estates, introduced workable laws and established the Napoleonic Code, under which class privilege and hereditary nobility were abolished and all male citizens deemed as equal. He also cracked down on the many gangs who made their living through robbery and pillage.

He foresaw and supported the potential unification of Italy, attempting to position himself to take control beyond Naples by encouraging the secret societies that eventually were central to the Risorgimento.

When it became clear, however, that Napoleon's grip on Europe was weakening, Murat's thoughts became focussed on self-preservation.

A room at the Murat museum in Pizzo imagines the scene as Murat appears before the Bourbon tribunal
A room at the Murat museum in Pizzo imagines the scene
as Murat appears before the Bourbon tribunal
Desperate to retain power in Naples and the lifestyle that went with it, he entered into an alliance with Austria after France’s defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in October of 1813. However, the summit of European powers that met at the Congress of Vienna after Napoleon's defeat had other ideas, planning to return Naples to the Bourbons.

Murat fled, declared himself in support of Italian independence and fought the Austrians in northern Italy. He was defeated, then attempted to regain favour with Napoleon, who had escaped his exile on Elba, only to be turned away without even speaking to him. The emperor would later regret shunning his former trusted aide, claiming that with Murat at his side he would have won the Battle of Waterloo,

In a last throw of the dice, Murat then assembled an expedition force on Corsica and set out to recapture Naples himself. With only 250 men, however, he was never likely to succeed. In the event, bad weather blew his three ships of course and his landed in Pizzo, more than 350km south of Naples, almost at the toe of the boot, where he was soon arrested.

He faced death in the same way as he had gone into battle, extravagantly dressed and fearless. Having been granted his last wish for a perfumed bath and the opportunity to write to his wife and children, he refused the offer of a blindfold and a stool to sit on, and instead stood before the firing squad, eyes wide open.  His final words, or so the story goes, were: “Soldiers, do your duty. Aim for my heart, but spare my face. Fire!”

Travel tip:

Pizzo has made the most of its connection with Joachim Murat, who was buried in the town's Baroque Church of St George. The Aragonese castle has been renamed Castello Murat and contains a Murat museum.  Each year celebrations take place on the anniversary of his death, sometimes with historical re-enactments.  Pizzo is also notable for tuna fishing and for its speciality tartufo ice cream, which features a ball of ice cream encasing molten chocolate.

The plaque on the wall of Murat's villa at Santa Maria Annunziata
The plaque on the wall of Murat's
villa at Santa Maria Annunziata
Travel tip:

As well as his home at the Royal Palace in Naples, Joachim Murat kept a villa on the Sorrentine peninsula, just outside the small town of Massa Lubrense at the village of Santa Maria Annunziata. The building, identifiable by a plaque on the wall, has a clear view of the island of Capri and was used as a vantage point by Murat from which, early in his reign as King of Naples, he was able to oversee an operation to recapture the island, which had been garrisoned by a combined force of English and Corsican soldiers in 1806.

Capri as seen from Murat's villa on the Sorrentine peninsula
Capri as seen from Murat's villa on the Sorrentine peninsula

More reading:

How the defeat of Austria at the Battle of Marengo helped Napoleon secure power

Napoleon crowns himself King of Italy


2 August 2016

Francis Marion Crawford – author

Novelist found inspiration while living in Sorrento

A picture of Francis Marion Crawford in Sorrento
Francis Marion Crawford
The American writer Francis Marion Crawford was born on this day in 1854 in Bagni di Lucca in Tuscany.

A prolific novelist, Crawford became known for the vividness of his characterisations and the realism of his settings, many of which were places he had visited in Italy.

He chose to settle in later life in the coastal resort of Sorrento in Campania where he even had a street named after him, Corso Marion Crawford.

Crawford was the only son of the American sculptor, Thomas Crawford. He spent his childhood going backwards and forwards between Italy and America and studied at various American and European Universities.

He spent some time in India where he found the inspiration for his first successful novel, Mr Isaacs, which was published in 1882.

In 1883 he returned to Italy to settle there permanently. He lived at the Hotel Cocumella in the village of Sant’Agnello just outside Sorrento to begin with. He then bought a nearby farmhouse, from which he developed the Villa Crawford, an impressive clifftop residence easily identifiable from the sea by the tall buttresses Crawford added as a safeguard against erosion.

The Villa Crawford, now a guesthouse, has a prime  position overlooking the Bay of Naples
The Villa Crawford, now a guesthouse, has a prime
position overlooking the Bay of Naples
He was married to Elizabeth Christophers Berdan, daughter of the American Civil War General, Hiram Berdan. They had two sons and two daughters, one of whom became a nun and lived at the Villa Crawford when it became a convent after her father's death.

The Villa, which was donated to the order of the Daughters of Maria Ausiliatrice, has recently been refurbished as a guesthouse.

Many of his later novels have Italian settings, such as Don Orsino, published in 1892, which is about the effects of social change on an Italian family.

His novels sold in thousands in the United States, gaining him fame and prestige as a writer.  He would often return to America to deliver lectures on Italian history, about which he wrote several books.

He died at the Villa Crawford after suffering a heart attack in 1909.  He was buried in the cemetery of Sant'Agnello.

Travel tip:

Bagni di Lucca, where Crawford was born, is a small town in Tuscany that became popular during the 19th century because of its thermal springs. For a while the town was the summer resort of Napoleon and his court and a casino and dance hall were built there. Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her husband, Robert Browning, spent their summers in Bagni di Lucca during their time in Italy in the 1840s and 1850s.

The entrance to the Grand Hotel Cocumella in Sant'Agnello, where Crawford lived before buying his clifftop villa nearby
The entrance to the Grand Hotel Cocumella in Sant'Agnello,
where Crawford lived before buying his clifftop villa nearby
Travel tip:

The Corso Marion Crawford in the seaside resort of Sant’Agnello leads down to the sea from Corso Italia, the main road connecting Sant’Agnello with the resort of Sorrento. The historic Hotel Cocumella, where Crawford stayed during the 1880s, is in Via Cocumella, just off Corso Marion Crawford.

More reading:

Lady Blessington's Neapolitan Journals

Torquato Tasso - Sorrento's Renaissance poet


18 March 2016

Mount Vesuvius – the 1944 eruption

The last time the volcano was seen to blow its top

The volcano is being circled by American B-25 bombers
A dramatic picture of American B-25 Mitchell bombers
circling Vesuvius during the 1944 eruption
Mount Vesuvius, the huge volcano looming over the bay of Naples, last erupted on this day in 1944.

Vesuvius is the only volcano on mainland Europe to have erupted during the last 100 years and is regarded as a constant worry because of its history of explosive eruptions and the large number of people living close by.

It is most famous for its eruption in AD 79, which buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and is believed to have killed thousands of people.

An eyewitness account of the eruption, in which tons of stones, ash and fumes were ejected from the cone, has been left behind for posterity by Pliny the Younger in his letters to the historian, Tacitus.

There were at least three larger eruptions of Vesuvius before AD 79 and there have been many since. In 1631 a major eruption buried villages under lava flows and killed about 300 people and the volcano then continued to erupt every few years.

Smoke billows from Vesuvius in this picture taken from San Sebastiano al Vesuvio, a village destroyed by lava
Smoke billows from Vesuvius in this picture taken from
San Sebastiano al Vesuvio, a village destroyed by lava
The eruption which started on 18 March 1944 and went on for several days destroyed three villages nearby and about 80 planes belonging to the US Army Air Forces, which were based at an airfield close to Pompeii. Some of the American military personnel took photographs of the eruption, which have been useful for today’s experts to analyse.

Since 1944 Vesuvius has been uncharacteristically quiet although it is constantly monitored for activity and an evacuation plan is in place. Experts believe seismic activity would give them between 14 and 20 days' notice of an impending eruption. 

The area was officially declared a national park in 1955. The crater is now open to visitors and there is access by road to within 200 metres of it, but after that the ascent is on foot only.

The crater is about 200 metres deep and has a maximum diameter of about 600 metres. The climb is said to be well worth it because the view from up there takes in the entire coastline from the Gulf of Gaeta to the Sorrento peninsula.

Travel tip:

The excavated ruins of Pompeii, gli scavi, are among the most popular tourist attractions in Italy and many important artefacts have been dug up. When Vesuvius started rumbling in August AD 79 and a sinister cloud began to form above it, some people left the area immediately. It is believed those who stayed died from the effects of the heat and their bodies were buried under the stones and ash for hundreds of years. Engineers rediscovered them while digging an acqueduct. The first organised excavations began in 1748 and the site soon became an attraction for wealthy Europeans on the Grand Tour.  Trains from the Circumvesuviana railway station in Naples run to Sorrento every half an hour, stopping at Pompei Scavi station. From the station it is a short walk to the main entrance to the archaeological site in Piazza Porta Marina. The ruins are open daily from 8.30 to 19.30 during the summer and from 8.30 to 17.00 between November and April.

Pompei hotels by

The ruins of the forum at Pompei with a now dormant Vesuvius visible in the distance
The ruins of the forum at Pompeii with a now
dormant Vesuvius visible in the distance
Travel tip:

Highlights of the excavations at Pompeii include Casa dei Vettii, where there are well preserved wall paintings, Via dell’Abbon- danza, where you will see the remains of shops, a tavern and a brothel, the main amphitheatre and the Villa dei Misteri, which is outside the walls of the city and has some colourful wall paintings depicting the myth of Dionysis.