Showing posts with label Turin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Turin. Show all posts

10 June 2024

Mercurino Arborio di Gattinara – politician and cardinal

Lawyer and strategist dreamt of a united Europe ruled by the Emperor

As adviser to Emperor Charles V, Gattinara wielded huge influence
As adviser to future Emperor Charles V,
Gattinara wielded huge influence
Influential statesman and political adviser Mercurino Arborio di Gattinara was born on this day in 1465 in Gattinara in Piedmont.

Gattinara became Grand Chancellor to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and, despite being a layman who had never been ordained as a priest, he was created a cardinal.

He was one of the most important men active in politics of his time and he set out to centralise power in Germany and make the Holy Roman Empire a moral and political arbiter for all the kingdoms and principalities in Europe.

Born in his family’s home in Gattinara, he was the eldest son of Paolo Arborio di Gattinara and Felicità Ranzo, who was from an important family in Vercelli.

After his father’s death, Gattinara had to interrupt his studies for financial reasons and went to Vercelli to practise with his father’s cousin, who was a notary.

He was able to resume his law studies at the University of Turin after marrying Andreetta Avogadro and using her dowry to pay for his studies. After obtaining his doctorate, he practised law in Turin.

In 1501, he became adviser to Duchess Margherita of Hapsburg, the daughter of Emperor Maximilian 1 of Hapsburg. Margherita was married to Duke Philibert II of Savoy and the work he did for her enabled her to obtain for the rest of her life the administration of Romont, Villars and Bresse. The Duchess appointed Gattinara as tax lawyer and president of Bresse.

Charles V was crowned Emperor in 1530
Charles V was crowned
Emperor in 1530
When King Philip of Castile died, he left six young children, among whom was the future Emperor Charles V. Margherita, who was their aunt, asked Gattinara to organise their education on behalf of their grandfather, the Emperor Maximilian. 

Margherita was also given the task of governing Burgundy by Emperor Maximilian and on her behalf, Gattinara began negotiations that would lead to the formation of the League of Cambrai.

He also wrote an operetta dedicated to the young Charles, in which he presented his theories on universal monarchy.

After Charles became King of Castile and Aragon, he appointed Gattinara as his adviser. When the Emperor Maximilian I died, Gattinara ensured Charles had support from the prince electors for his accession to the imperial throne.

Gattinara was the adviser to Charles V during the Italian Wars between 1521 and 1526 and he reorganised the imperial army and its finances. He wrote a treatise on good government and was created a cardinal in 1529, despite having no background in the church. 

After Charles V was crowned emperor in the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna in 1530, Gattinara left Italy to attend the Diet of Augsburg, which was convened on the emperor’s behalf to quell growing religious tensions in Europe.

Gattinara died in Innsbruck while he was on the way to Augsburg on June 5, 1530.  His remains were taken to Gattinara and buried in the parish church of San Pietro.

He had worked up to 18 hours a day to fulfil his vision of a united Europe and he could express himself in Italian, Spanish, French, German and Dutch, skills which were particularly appreciated at the court of the Emperor Charles V. 

The Torre delle Castelle overlooks Gattinara
The Torre delle Castelle
overlooks Gattinara
Travel tip:

Gattinara is a small town in the province of Vercelli in Piedmont, about 35km (22 miles) northwest of the city of Novara, whose province it borders. Situated in the lower part of the picturesque Valsesia, it has an historic centre where the Church of San Pietro, the last resting place of Mercurino di Gattinara, is situated. The church dates back to 1147. The town is known for its prestigious red wine, Gattinara, which has been given the status of DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). The town is overlooked by the massive Torre delle Castelle, all that remains of an ancient mediaeval fortified complex built around the 11th century, which tops a hill to the northwest of the town. The tower has become a symbol of the town.

The Mole Antonelliana is an unmissable feature of the skyline of Piedmont's capital, Turin
The Mole Antonelliana is an unmissable feature
of the skyline of Piedmont's capital, Turin
Travel tip:

The University of Turin, where Mercurino di Gattinara studied for his degree, is one of the oldest universities in Europe, founded in 1406 by Prince Ludovico di Savoia. The main university buildings are in Via Giuseppe Verdi, close to Turin’s famous Mole Antonelliana, an architectural landmark first conceived as a synagogue, before being bought by the city and declared a monument to national unity. Designed and started by architect Alessandro Antonelli in 1863, but not completed until 1889, it rises to a height of 167.5m (550ft). A lift, which was originally installed in 1961 during celebrations to mark the centenary of the Italian Unification and renovated in 1999, allows visitors to reach a panoramic terrace 85m (279ft) above the ground to take in extraordinary views of the city and the surrounding Alps.

Also on this day: 

1918: The death of writer and composer Arrigo Boito

1940: Italy enters World War Two

1959: The birth of football coach Carlo Ancelotti



15 February 2024

Carlo Maria Martini – Cardinal

Liberal leanings prevented scholar’s elevation to the papacy

Carlo Maria Martini, a liberal within the Catholic Church, lost out to papal rival Joseph Ratzinger
Carlo Maria Martini, a liberal within the Catholic
Church, lost out to papal rival Joseph Ratzinger 
Carlo Maria Martini, who was once a candidate to become pope, was born on this day in 1927 in Orbassano in the province of Turin.

As Cardinal Martini, he was known to be tolerant in areas of sexuality and strong on ecumenism, and he was the leader of the liberal opposition to Pope John Paul II. He published more than 50 books, which sold millions of copies worldwide.

Martini, who expressed views in his lifetime on the need for the Catholic Church to update itself, was a contender for the papacy in the 2005 conclave and, according to Vatican sources at the time, he received more votes than Joseph Ratzinger in the first round. 

But Ratzinger, who was considered the more conservative of the candidates, ended up with a higher number of votes in subsequent rounds and was elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Martini had entered the Jesuit order in 1944 when he was 17 and he was ordained at the age of 25, which was considered unusually early.

His doctoral theses, in theology at the Gregorian University and in scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, were thought to be so brilliant that they were immediately published.

After completing his studies, Martini had a successful academic career. He edited scholarly works and became active in the scientific field, publishing articles and books. He had the honour of being the only Catholic member of the ecumenical committee that prepared the new Greek edition of the New Testament. He became dean of the faculty of scripture at the Biblical Institute, was rector from 1969 to 1978, and then rector of the Gregorian University. 

In his later years, suffering from Parkinson's disease, Martini moved to Jerusalem
In his later years, suffering from Parkinson's
disease, Martini moved to Jerusalem
In 1979, he was appointed Archbishop of Milan, which was considered unusual, as Jesuits are not normally named bishops. He was made a cardinal in 1983. 

He started the so-called ‘cathedra of non-believers’ in 1987, an idea he conceived with philosopher Massimo Cacciari. He held a series of public dialogues in Milan with agnostic, or atheist, scientists, and intellectuals about the reasons to believe in God.

He was presented with an honorary doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1996 and an award for Social Sciences in 2000. In the same year, Martini was admitted as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI was considering retirement, but was being urged against it by some of his confidants. By then, Martini was himself suffering from Parkinson’s disease and he encouraged the Pope to go ahead with his decision to retire.

After his own retirement, Martini moved to Jerusalem to continue his work as a biblical scholar. 

He died in Gallarate in the province of Varese in 2012. More than 150,000 people passed before his casket in the Duomo di Milano. The Italian Government was represented by Prime Minister Mario Monti and his wife. Martini was buried in a tomb on the left side of the cathedral facing the main altar.

Piazza Umberto I in Orbassano, overlooked by the parish church of San Giovanni Battista
Piazza Umberto I in Orbassano, overlooked by
the parish church of San Giovanni Battista
Travel tip:

Orbassano, the comune (municipality) where Martini was born, is about 13km (8 miles) southwest of Turin, falling within the Piedmont capital's municipal area. It can trace its history back to the Roman conquest of Cisalpine Gaul because two imperial era tombstones were found there in the 19th century. The Indian politician, Sonia Gandi, was brought up in Orbassano, although she was born near Vicenza. While studying at Cambridge, Sonia met Rajiv Gandi, who she married in 1968. The couple settled in India and had a family but he was assassinated in his home country in 1991.  Orbassano has a pleasant central square, the Piazza Umberto I, the site of the town's two main churches, the parish church of San Giovanni Battista and the Baroque church of the Confraternita dello Spirito Santo, in which the artworks include a Pentecost by Giovanni Andrea Casella from 1647 and a Madonna and saints by Michele Antonio Milocco from 1754.

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Liberty-style villas built by architect Carlo Moroni and his partner, Filippo Tenconi, abound in Gallarate
Liberty-style villas built by architect Carlo Moroni
and his partner, Filippo Tenconi, abound in Gallarate 
Travel tip:

Gallarate, where Martini died after he spent his final years living in a Jesuit house, is a small city in the province of Varese, about 42km (26 miles) northwest of Milan. It has a Romanesque church, San Pietro, which dates from the 11th century. In Piazza Garibaldi, where there is a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, there is an historic pharmacy, Dahò, where members of the Carbonari used to hide out during the 19th century.  Founded by the Gauls and later conquered by the Romans, Gallarate enjoyed prosperity under Visconti control in the 14th and 15th centuries, when the area's textile industry began to develop and grow. By the 19th and 20th centuries, it was an important industrial city, where thousands of workers were employed in Liberty-style factory buildings. The heavy industry has largely gone now, with high-tech businesses a features of the city's modern economy, but the architectural echoes remain. Piazza Garibaldi also features Casa Bellora, a Stile Liberty mansion commissioned by the local captain of industry, Carlo Bellora, who had factories in Gallarate, Somma, Albizzate, and in the Bergamo area, who hired the architect Carlo Moroni to build a house for his family.  Moroni and the engineer Filippo Tenconi combined to build numerous villas in what is known as the 'Liberty district' between Corso Sempione and the railway. 

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More reading:

How the first railway line in northern Italy sparked 19th century boom

Karol Wojtyla - the first non-Italian pope for 455 years

Carlo Maria Viganò, the controversial archbishop who shocked Catholic Church

Also on this day:

1564: The birth of astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei

1898: The birth of comic actor Totò

1910: The birth of circus clown Charlie Cairoli

1944: Monte Cassino Abbey destroyed in WW2 bombing raid

(Picture credits: Main picture by Mafon1959; older Carlo Martini by RaminusFalcon; Piazza Umberto I by Simoneislanda; via Wikimedia Commons)



12 February 2024

Vittorio Emanuele - Prince of Naples

Heir to the last King of Italy spent his life in exile

Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples, the only son of Italy's last monarch, died at the age of 86
Vittorio Emanuele, Prince of Naples, the only
son of Italy's last monarch, died at the age of 86
Prince Vittorio Emanuele of Savoy, the only son of Umberto II, the last King of Italy, was born on this day in 1937 in Naples.

He had to leave Italy when he was nine years old following the constitutional referendum held in Italy after World War II. The referendum affirmed the abolition of the monarchy and the creation of the Italian republic in 1946.

Umberto II had been King of Italy for just over a month and was afterwards nicknamed the May King. He had been de facto head of state since 1944, after his father, King Victor Emmanuel III, had transferred most of his powers to him.

Umberto lived for 37 years in exile in Cascais on the Portuguese Riviera. He never set foot in his native Italy again as he, and all his male heirs, were banned from Italian soil.

His only son, Vittorio Emanuele, spent most of his life exiled from Italy and living in Switzerland. He married a Swiss heiress and world-ranked water skier, Marina Doria, in 1971.  They had one son, Prince Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, Prince of Venice, who was born in 1972.

Umberto II was King of Italy for just over a month before being exiled
Umberto II was King of Italy for just
over a month before being exiled
Vittorio Emanuele also used the title Duke of Savoy and claimed to be head of the House of Savoy, although this claim was disputed by supporters of his third cousin, Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, and his son, Almone. 

During his exile from Italy, Vittorio Emanuele was tried for murder in France after an incident on his yacht while it was in French waters. He claimed he had fired his gun at a burglar, but the shot accidentally killed someone on another yacht. He was cleared of unlawful killing but convicted of a firearms offence. 

Vittorio Emanuele was also once arrested on charges of criminal association, racketeering, conspiracy, corruption, and exploitation of prostitution, but was acquitted on all charges after a trial started in Potenza.

He was finally able to return to Italy in 2002 after the law barring members of the royal family from entering Italy was repealed. Along with his wife and son, he had a 20-minute audience with Pope John-Paul II at the Vatican.

Vittorio Emanuele died in Geneva on 3 February 2024 at the age of 86. His funeral was held on 10 February at Turin Cathedral and was attended by representatives of other European royal families, including Queen Sofia of Spain and Prince Albert of Monaco.

His ashes were interred in the royal crypt at the Basilica of Superga, the traditional burial place of the House of Savoy.

His heir is Emanuele Filiberto, Prince of Venice, who announced last year that he intends to renounce his claim to the throne of Italy in favour of his eldest daughter, Princess Vittoria of Savoy.

Palazzo Madama, once home of the Turin senate, is one of the palaces at the heart of 'royal' Turin
Palazzo Madama, once home of the Turin senate,
is one of the palaces at the heart of 'royal' Turin
Travel tip:

Turin, the capital city of the region of Piedmont, has some fine architecture, which illustrates its rich history as the home of the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library, and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, are at the heart of ‘royal’ Turin.  Turin’s Duomo - the Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista - was built between 1491 and 1498 in Piazza San Giovanni, on the site of an old Roman theatre. Some members of the House of Savoy are buried in the Duomo, which is most famous as the home of the Turin Shroud - believed by many to be the actual burial shroud of Christ - which is kept in the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, added in 1668. 

Book your stay in Turin with

Filippo Juvarra's magnificent Basilica di Superga looks down on Turin from the top of a hill
Filippo Juvarra's magnificent Basilica di Superga
looks down on Turin from the top of a hill 
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Superga, where Vittorio Emanuele’s ashes are interred, was designed by Filippo Juvarra, the Baroque architect from Sicily who built or contributed to many churches in Turin. Construction at Superga began in 1717 and the basilica, commissioned by Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, the future king of Sardinia, was consecrated in 1731, fulfilling a pledge Victor Amadeus had made to mark his victory over the French in the Battle of Turin, during the War of the Spanish Succession. The basilica’s elevated position on top of Superga hill, with a colossal dome rising to 75m (246 feet), means that it often sits serenely in sunlight while mist shrouds the city below. It can be reached by a steep railway line, the journey taking about 20 minutes.  Superga, sadly, has a modern association with tragedy for the people of Turin after a plane carrying virtually the entire Torino football team, who were champions of Italy at the time, crashed into a wall at the back of the basilica in May 1949, killing all 31 people on board.

More reading:

Valentino Mazzola, an Italian great who perished at Superga

The 16th century Duke who made Turin the capital of Savoy

Filippo Juvarra, the Baroque designer who influenced the look of 'royal' Turin

Also on this day: 

1602: The birth of painter Michelangelo Cerquozzi

1799: The death of scientist Lazzaro Spallanzani

1923: The birth of film and opera director Franco Zeffirelli

1944: The birth of actress and singer Claudia Mori

(Picture credits: Palazzo Madama by Lurens; Basilica di Superga by M Klueber; via Wikimedia Commons)


24 May 2022

Alessandro Cruto - inventor

Produced light bulb hailed as better than Edison’s

Alessandro Cruto was always fascinated by science
Alessandro Cruto was always
fascinated by science
The inventor Alessandro Cruto, whose attempts to create artificial diamonds instead led him to develop a light bulb that outperformed that of his contemporary, Thomas Edison, was born on this day in 1847 in Piossasco, a village near Turin.

Younger than his American counterpart by just three months, Cruto hit upon his idea after attending a conference held by Galileo Ferraris, the pioneer of alternating current, where Edison’s attempts to find a suitable filament for incandescent light bulbs were discussed.

Cruto eventually opened a factory that eventually made up to 1,000 light bulbs per day but quit the company after seven years to return to his first love, inventing.

The son of a construction foreman, Cruto enrolled at the University of Turin to study architecture but was more interested in attending physics and chemistry lectures, eager to advance his knowledge. It was after attending one of these lectures that he hit upon the idea that he could produce artificial diamonds by crystallising carbon.

In 1872, he opened a small workshop in his home village. In the September of the following year, his experiments resulted in him creating a dense carbon material that was hard enough to scratch glass. But it did not resemble anything that could be recognised as a synthetic diamond.

An example of the light bulbs created by Cruto
An example of the light
bulbs created by Cruto
He continued to study this material for many years. In 1879, on his 32nd birthday, he attended the conference hosted by Ferraris and realised the graphite he had created might be a suitable material for an effective filament for an electric light bulb.

Cruto's process resulted in the deposition of graphite on thin platinum filaments in the presence of gaseous hydrocarbons. Subjected to high temperatures, this created thin filaments of super-pure graphite. 

In 1882, he attended the Electricity Expo at Munich, where his graphite filaments, which produced a strong, white light, outperformed Edison’s carbon-coated bamboo filaments, which gave off a rather less effective yellow light and burnt out more quickly. 

The following year, Cruto’s bulbs illuminated the centre of Piossasco, enabling his home village to claim to be the first in Italy to be illuminated by electricity, rather than by the dim gas lamps that until then were the sole source of light in Italy’s towns and cities once the sun had gone down.

After exhibiting again at the Turin Expo in 1884, he generated sufficient interest that he decided to produce bulbs on a commercial scale.

Cruto established a manufacturing plant in order to make light bulbs on a commercial scale
Cruto established a manufacturing plant in order
to make light bulbs on a commercial scale
A year later, having found a suitable site for a production facility a short distance from Piossasco at Alpignano, he opened his factory under the name of A Cruto and Company.

With limited financial backing, the odds against his company becoming the dominant player in the light bulb market even in Italy were long. With much more financial muscle, the Italian Edison Company was too big a competitor. Edison installed a thermo-electric power station in Milan and supplied the bulbs for all the properties it served.

Cruto remained at the helm of his business until 1889 and only when its output hit 1,000 light bulbs a day did he take a step back. In 1893, after some major disagreements with managers he had appointed in his place, he resigned in order to return to his workshop to focus on new inventions.

The factory was sold a number of times, went bankrupt and was eventually acquired by Philips in 1927.  The Cruto name remained in use for some years after Alessandro had ceased to be involved, with examples in existence that were manufactured as late as 1902.

Cruto spent the rest of his days dividing his time between his family and his workshop. He died in 1908, his important contribution to the development of artificial light largely forgotten.

The Church of San Vito dominates the parish of the same name in Piossasco
The Church of San Vito dominates the parish
of the same name in Piossasco
Travel tip:

Piossasco, where Alessandro Cruto was born and opened his first workshop, is a town not far from Turin, halfway between Turin and the beautiful and elegant town of Pinerolo, famous for being the ‘home’ of panettone and other enriched breads. A village when Cruto was growing up, it has expanded into a town of more than 18,000 people. Situated about 20km (12 miles) southwest of the Piedmont capital, Piossasco overlooks the beautiful Parco Naturale del Monte San Giorgio, and has some notable historic buildings such as the Castello Ai Nove Merli di Piossasco, which has medieval origins and occupies a panoramic position commanding sweeping views of the Pinerolese and Valsusa areas. The San Vito parish of Piossasco is notable for the church of the same name, which evolved from a former monastery and was largely built at the end of the 16th century with a Baroque facade added in the 19th century.

Turin is famous for its Savoy palaces,  including the 16th century Palazzo Reale
Turin is famous for its Savoy palaces, 
including the 16th century Palazzo Reale
Travel tip:

The city of Turin, once the capital of Italy and traditionally seat of the Savoy dynasty, is best known for its royal palaces but tends to be overlooked by visitors to Italy, especially new ones, who flock first to Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan. Yet as an elegant, stylish and sophisticated city, Turin has much to commend it, from its many historic cafés to 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in Piedmont. To enjoy Turin’s café culture, head for Via Po, Turin’s famous promenade linking Piazza Vittorio Veneto with Piazza Castello, or nearby Piazza San Carlo, one of the city’s main squares. In the 19th century, these cafès were popular with writers, artists, philosophers, musicians and politicians among others, who would meet to discuss the affairs of the day.

Also on this day:

1494: The birth of painter Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo

1671: The birth of Gian Gastone de' Medici, the seventh and last Grand Duke of Tuscany

1796: The birth of Charles Emmanuel IV, King of Sardinia

1949: The birth of film producer and football club owner Aurelio De Laurentiis

1981: The birth of celebrity chef Simone Rugiati


6 May 2022

Carlo Mollino - architect and polymath

A Renaissance man of the mid-20th century

Carlo Mollino's talent was nurtured by his engineer father
Carlo Mollino's talent was
nurtured by his engineer father
The multi-talented architect Carlo Mollino, who designed buildings, interiors and furniture but whose talents also ran to writing and photography, racing car design, aerobatic flying and downhill skiing, was born on this day in 1905 in Turin.

Mollino, whose style has been described as an eclectic fusion of the modern and the surreal, was responsible for several notable public buildings, including the Turin Chamber of Commerce and the headquarters of the Horse Riding Club of Turin, as well as several striking private residences and apartment buildings.

He also designed the extraordinary Lago Nero Sled Station, at Sauze d'Oulx, the winter resort 50km (31 miles) north of Turin, and rebuilt the interior of the Teatro Regio opera house in Turin 40 years after a catastrophic fire left little behind the the 18th century facade intact.

Never married in his 68 years, Mollino also had a deeply secretive side, which manifested itself in a number of apartments he kept, the whereabouts of which he disclosed to no one, not even his closest friends and acquaintances.

One of these, in a 19th century villa overlooking the Po river in the centre of Turin, which he preserved as a kind of idealistic shrine, filled with his favourite objects but where it is thought he never actually lived, is now a museum, the Casa Mollino.

Mollino was raised in comfortable surroundings in a 19th-century neo-Gothic villa in Rivoli, about 20km (12 miles) west of Turin. His father, Eugenio, was an important civil engineer who, over the course of his career, built more than 300 buildings in Turin.  His father’s work was evidently something that captured the imagination of the young boy, who astonished his teachers at the age of just six by drawing a detailed cross section of a car engine and an illustration of an imaginary town drawn with accurate perspective.

Mollino's Lago Nero Sled Station, which he called a "flying chalet"
Mollino's Lago Nero Sled Station,
which he called a "flying chalet"
An only child, Mollino grew up in an environment populated mainly by women, the house being home to three great aunts and two female housekeepers as well as his mother, Jolanda. After high school, he studied engineering at the Polytechnic of Turin he attended the Royal Superior School of Architecture, making friends with students at the Academy of Fine Arts, to which it was attached.

After graduating, he worked in Eugenio’s studio, from which he pursued his own projects as well as helping his father. The first major work to bear his own stamp was the offices of the Farmers’ Federation in Cuneo, a city about 100km (62 miles) south of Turin, the commission for which was a prize in a competition. The building, which had influences of metaphysical art, immediately identified Mollino as an architect eager to challenge conventions.

At the same time, Mollino was devoting much of his energy to writing. His novel, the Life of Oberon, in which the main character was an architect called Oberon, was published in several instalments in the architecture magazine, Casabella. The novel, seen to be ahead of its time in its protagonist’s description of nature and history as the environments in which architects work, and of the capacity of designs to tell a story, has been interpreted as a personal manifesto.

Mollino's foyer of the Teatro Regio opera house in Turin
Mollino's foyer of the Teatro Regio
opera house in Turin
Mollino’s first acknowledged architectural masterpiece was the headquarters of the Società Ippica Torinese - the Horse Riding Club of Turin - which he completed in 1940. The building combines elements of surrealism and metaphysical art with modernism in an innovative design.

War interrupted Mollino’s architectural career. He escaped being sent away to fight after a friend gave him a job as a technician at an aeronautical construction company.  

Mollino was by then living in an apartment in Turin but left the city because of Allied bombing and returned to live in the family villa in Rivoli. During the war years, he wrote books on photography and skiing, at which he was so proficient he qualified as an instructor. His Il Messaggio dalla Camera Oscura was the first compendium on the history of photography to be published in Italy. 

The years after the war were his most productive as as an architect, during which he built the Lago Nero Sled Station on behalf of the car designer Piero Dusio, owner of the Cisitalia company, which resembled a traditional log ski chalet suspended on concrete trusses, the Casa del Sole apartment building in Cervinia, a new Monumental Cemetery on the outskirts of Turin, the interior of Turin’s RAI Auditorium and the Casa Cattaneo, a rationalist villa overlooking Lago Maggiore.

The dining room from one of Mollino's apartments illustrated his interior design work
The dining room from one of Mollino's
apartments illustrated his interior design work
The death of his father in 1953 pushed Mollino into a personal crisis, during which he almost abandoned architecture. His consuming interests were photography, latterly of an increasingly erotic nature as he sought to highlight what he saw as the aesthetic qualities of the female form, car design - his Bisiluro racing car, built in 1955, competed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans - and aerobatic flying, by which he became excited after obtaining his pilot’s license in 1956.  It was during this time that his one serious relationship, with the sculptress Carmelina Piccolis, came to an end.

His focus on architectural projects returned in the late 1950s and continued until his death in 1953 from cardiac arrest. By then, he had sealed his legacy with the Chamber of Commerce building in Turin, the design of which allowed for large functional spaces free from columns, and the Teatro Regio opera house, the interior of which saw Mollino create a spectacular elliptical auditorium with a shell-like roof and lightning that resembled icicles, and a labyrinthine foyer based on the enormous subterranean vaults imagined by the 18th century artist, Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

After his death in 1973, it was discovered that he had created in his secret apartment in Via Napione between 1961 and 1970 a collection of different rooms, each lavishly decorated in individual style, one of which was furnished with a boat-shaped bed on a blue carpet, surrounded with symbols of ancient funeral rituals and some of his personal treasures and photographs. It is thought this was the room in which he intended to spend his final hours, although in the event he was working in his studio when he died.

The museum, which can be visited by private appointment, is now maintained by Italian design expert Fulvio Ferrari and his son Napoleone.

Juvarra's unfinished facade of the Castle of Rivoli
Juvarra's unfinished facade
of the Castle of Rivoli
Travel tip:

The town of Rivoli, where Mollino grew up, is notable for the Castle of Rivoli, probably built in the 9th–10th centuries and acquired by the House of Savoy in the 11th century.  In 1273 King Edward I of England visited the castle en route from the Crusades and the castle was the first place of public veneration of the Shroud of Turin, the length of cloth claimed to have been wrapped around the body of Christ after the crucifixion. Work on the current Baroque structure began in the 17th century and was redesigned but never finished by the architect Filippo Juvarra in the 18th century. Since the late 20th century it has been home to a permanent collection of 20th-century Italian art.

Mollino's elliptical auditorium at the Teatro Regio Torino, with its icicle lighting
Mollino's elliptical auditorium at the Teatro
Regio Torino, with its icicle lighting
Travel tip:

The Teatro Regio Torino, which was Mollino’s last major work, can be found in Piazza Castello close to the Palazzo Reale in the centre of Turin. The theatre has had of a chequered history. Inaugurated in 1740, it was closed by royal decree in 1792 then reopened with the French occupation of Turin during the early 19th century, first as the Teatro Nazionale and then the Teatro Imperiale before its original name was reinstated with the fall of Napoleon in 1814. It endured several financial crises in the late 1800s but limped into the 20th century only to be burnt down in the catastrophic fire in 1936. It remained dark for 37 years until reopening in 1973. The rebuilt theatre, with Mollino’s striking contemporary interior design hidden behind the original facade, was inaugurated with a production of Verdi's I vespri siciliani directed by Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano.

Also on this day:

1527: The Sack of Rome

1895: The birth of silent movie star Rudolph Valentino

1963: The birth of ballerina Alessandra Ferri


14 September 2021

Vittorio Gui – composer and conductor

Precise and sensitive musician enjoyed a long and distinguished career

Vittorio Gui enjoyed a long and distinguished career
Vittorio Gui enjoyed a long
and distinguished career
Internationally renowned orchestra conductor Vittorio Gui was born on this day in 1885 in Rome.

Gui composed his own operas, while travelling around Italy and Europe conducting the music of other composers. He spent many years conducting in Britain and served as the musical director of the Glyndebourne Festival for 12 years.

He was taught to play the piano by his mother when he was a young child. He graduated in Humanities at the University of Rome and then studied composition at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

The premiere of his opera, David, took place in Rome in 1907. He made his professional conducting debut at the Teatro Adriano in Rome in the same year, having been brought in as a substitute to lead Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.

This led to Gui being invited to conduct in Rome and Turin. Arturo Toscanini then invited him to conduct Salome by Richard Strauss as the season opener at La Scala in Milan in 1923.

He conducted at the Teatro Regio in Turin between 1925 and 1927 and premiered his own fairytale opera, Fata Malerba, there.

Gui founded the Orchestra Stabile in Florence and developed the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival, which he led for ten years, conducting the Orchestra Stabile and trying out unusual operas there.

Some recordings of performances conducted by Gui are still available
Some recordings of performances
conducted by Gui are still available 
He was guest conductor at the Salzburg festival in 1933 and invited by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1936 to be a regular conductor at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in London.

Complete recordings of Gui conducting Il Trovatore and La Traviata from the 1939 Covent Garden season have survived.

Gui remained in Britain during World War Two and made his debut at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1948. He served as musical director there from 1951 to 1963 and as artistic counsellor to the festival from 1963 to 1965.

He was particularly known for his conducting of music by Brahms and in 1947, on the 50th anniversary of the death of Brahms, he conducted a complete cycle of the orchestral and choral works of the composer  throughout Italy.

A prolific writer and critic, Gui’s works include a study of Boito’s opera, Nerone, an article on Mozart in Italy and a collection of essays, Battuta d’aspetto.

Gui died in October 1975 at his home in Florence at the age of 90 after an attack of angina. He had made his final appearance as a conductor in Italy just two weeks before his death, when he inaugurated the new season at the Teatro Comunale in Florence with a concert of Mozart and Brahms.

He was considered by critics to have been one of the most precise and sensitive conductors of the 20th century and he had been presented with a gold medal by the regional administration of Florence on 14 September, 1975, his 90th birthday.

The Teatro Regio in Turin was closed for 37  years after a catastrophic fire in 1936
The Teatro Regio in Turin was closed for 37 
years after a catastrophic fire in 1936
Travel tip:

The Teatro Regio in Turin, where Gui conducted in the 1920s, was burnt down in a catastrophic fire in 1936. It remained dark for 37 years until reopening in 1973. The theatre, which is in Piazza Castello close to the Palazzo Reale in the centre of the city, had something of a chequered history even before the fire. Inaugurated in 1740, it was closed by royal decree in 1792 then reopened with the French occupation of Turin during the early 19th century, first as the Teatro Nazionale and then the Teatro Imperiale before its original name was reinstated with the fall of Napoleon in 1814. It endured several financial crises in the late 1800s but somehow survived.

The Teatro del Maggio Musicale  has been fully open only since 2014
The Teatro del Maggio Musicale 
has been fully open only since 2014
Travel tip:

The Orchestra Stabile Fiorentina founded by Gui evolved into the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, resident at the Teatro Comunale in Corso Italia, on the edge of the city’s historic centre, about 1.5km (1 mile) from the Ponte Vecchio along the Arno river.  Since 2014, the May Festival has had its own base at the new Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, situated less than one kilometre away on land opposite the vast public park known as Le Cascine. Designed by Paolo Desideri, it was inaugurated in 2011 with a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony conducted by Zubin Mehta, although not fully opened until 2014-15, when its first opera season was staged. The square in front of the theatre is named Piazza Vittorio Gui in honour of the festival’s founder.

Also on this day:

1321: The death of the poet Dante Alighieri

1937: The birth of architect Renzo Piano

1938: The birth of journalist Tiziano Terzani


31 August 2021

Luca Cordero di Montezemolo – aristocrat and businessman

Luca di Montezemolo led Ferrari to F1 success
Luca di Montezemolo led
Ferrari to F1 success
Former driver who led Ferrari to Formula One success

Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, a former racing driver, chairman of Ferrari and Fiat and president of employers’ federation Confindustria, was born on this day in 1947 in Bologna.

He is one of the founders of NTV, an Italian company that is Europe’s first private, open access operator of 300km/h (186 mph) high-speed trains.

Montezemolo is a descendant of an aristocratic family from Piedmont, who served the Royal House of Savoy for generations. He is the youngest son of Massimo Cordero dei Marchesi di Montezemolo and Clotilde Neri, niece of the surgeon, Vincenzo Neri. His uncle was a commander in the Italian Navy in World War II and his grandfather and great grandfather were both Generals in the Italian Army.

After graduating with a degree in Law from Rome Sapienza University in 1971, Montezemolo studied for a master’s degree in international commercial law at Columbia University.

His sporting career began at the wheel of a Giannini Fiat 500. He then drove briefly for the Lancia rally team, before joining the auto manufacturing conglomerate Fiat. In 1973 he moved to Ferrari, where he became Enzo Ferrari’s assistant, and he became manager of the Scuderia - the racing division of the company - in 1974.

Montezemolo pictured in 1985 with Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli, who made him a trusted lieutenant
Montezemolo pictured in 1985 with Fiat chairman
Gianni Agnelli, who made him a trusted lieutenant 
While Montezemolo was involved with the team, Ferrari won the Formula One world championship with Nikki Lauda in 1975 and 1977. He became head of all Fiat racing activities in 1976 and became a senior manager of Fiat in 1977.

During the 1980s he held a number of positions in the Fiat empire, including managing director of the drinks company, Cinzano. He also managed Team Azzurra, the first Italian yacht club to enter the America’s Cup and in 1985 he became manager of the organising committee for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli appointed Montezemolo president of the then struggling Ferrari company in 1991, after the death of Enzo Ferrari. Montezemolo was awarded the Lorenzo Bandini trophy for his achievements in Formula One motor racing in 1997 and, under his leadership, the Ferrari team won the world drivers’ championship in 2000.

Montezemolo became president of Confindustria in 2004 and on the death of Agnelli was elected chairman of Fiat. He stepped down from Fiat in 2010 and resigned as president and chairman of Ferrari in 2014.

He launched NTV - Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori - in 2006 along with three other businessmen with the aim of competing for business on the Italian high speed rail network following the liberalisation of the railway sector in the European Union.  Trading under the brand name Italo, today it operates more than 90 daily services across 11 routes, serving serving 54 cities.

He is also non-executive chairman of the board of the airline Alitalia and was committee president of the Rome bid for the Summer 2024 Olympics.

He has been awarded five honorary degrees in Mechanical Engineering by Italian universities. Married twice, Montezemolo has five children. He celebrates his 74th birthday today.

The Villa Ada is surrounded by one of the biggest urban parks in Rome
The Villa Ada is surrounded by one of the
biggest urban parks in Rome
Travel tip:

While working on the Rome bid for the 2024 summer Olympics, Montezemolo has had an office at the Foro Italico, the site for the 1960 Olympics, and an apartment in the exclusive Parioli district in the north of Rome. This became an upper class area early in the 20th century after the construction of Viale Parioli. Now considered to be Rome’s most elegant residential area, notable for its tree-lined streets and some of Rome's finest restaurants, it is also home to some foreign embassies.  The Villa Ada, once the Rome residence of the Italian royal family and surrounded by the second largest park in the city, can also be found within the Parioli district.

The elegant Piazza Galimberti is the central square in Cuneo
The elegant Piazza Galimberti is
the central square in Cuneo
Travel tip:

The Montezemolo family name comes from a small village in the province of Cuneo in the Piedmont region, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) southeast of Turin. Cordero Montezemolo Barolo wine is made in the wine producing area of La Morra by a branch of the Montezemolo family. The city of Cuneo is characterised by its 19th-century Savoy layout and architecture, with eight kilometres of arcaded streets, at the heart of which in the elegant Piazza Galimberti.

Also on this day:

1542: The birth of noblewoman Isabella de’ Medici

1834: The birth of opera composer Amilcare Ponchielli

1900: The birth of Gino Lucetti, Mussolini’s would-be assassin

1907: The birth of Altiero Spinelli, political visionary


14 July 2021

Natalia Ginzburg - writer and politician

Sicilian raised in Turin became one of Italy’s great postwar novelists

Natalia Ginzburg (née Levi) with her husband, the  leading anti-Fascist figure, Leone Ginzburg
Natalia Ginzburg (née Levi) with her husband, the 
leading anti-Fascist figure, Leone Ginzburg
The writer and politician Natalia Ginzburg was born on this day in 1916 in the Sicilian capital, Palermo.

The author of 11 novels and short story collections, as well as numerous essays, Ginzburg came to be regarded as one of Italy’s great postwar writers, alongside Primo Levi, Carlo Levi, Alberto Moravia, Cesare Pavese, Elsa Morante and Giorgio Bassani among others.

Her most famous works include Tutti i nostri ieri - All Our Yesterdays - published in 1952, Lessico famigliare  - Family Sayings -  published in 1963, and La famiglia Manzoni - The Manzoni Family - published in 1983.

She was notable for writing about family relationships, politics during and after the Fascist years and World War II, and philosophy.

Ginzburg, who was married to a prominent figure in the Italian resistance movement in World War Two, was an active anti-Fascist and a member of the Italian Communist Party in the 1930s.  In later life, she was elected to the Chamber of Deputies as an independent.

Ginzburg became a leading light in postwar Italian literature
Ginzburg became a leading light
in postwar Italian literature
Although born in Palermo, Ginzburg spent her early life in Turin, where her father, Giuseppe Levi, was a professor of neuroanatomy at the University of Turin, presiding over a research laboratory that produced three winners of Nobel Prizes.

The family was well connected in social and intellectual circles in Turin. Her sister, Paola, married a future president of the business machines company, Olivetti, of which one of her brothers, Gino, became Olivetti’s technical director. Of her two other brothers, Mario was a journalist and Alberto a doctor. 

As a Jewish family - although her mother, Lidia, was a gentile - they were heavily involved in the city’s anti-Fascist movement and suffered for it. Natalia’s brothers were frequently arrested and sometimes jailed for their activities. Guiseppe Levi was in time stripped of his position at the university and moved to Belgium.

Natalia’s brothers were members of the anti-Fascist organization Giustizia e Libertà (Justice and Liberty), the leader of which was Leone Ginzburg, a professor of Russian Literature at the University of Turin, with whom she began a relationship. 

Like her father, Leone was dismissed from his university position. He was under constant surveillance from Mussolini’s secret police and eventually stopped visiting the Levi family home, worried that he was putting the family in danger. Nonetheless, he and Natalia continued to see one another and were married in 1938. They had three children, the eldest of whom, Carlo Ginzburg, is now an eminent historian.

A recent edition of one of Ginzburg's most acclaimed works, Family Lexicon
A recent edition of one of Ginzburg's
most acclaimed works, Family Lexicon
Despite her own Jewish roots and her marriage to Ginzburg, Natalia was allowed to bring up her children largely without harassment. For Leone, however, it was a different story. Placed under precautionary arrest every time an important politician or the King, Victor Emmanuel III, visited the city, in 1941 he was sentenced to internal exile in the remote, impoverished village of Pizzoli in Abruzzo.  He and Natalia and their young family lived there until 1943, when he secretly moved to Rome to edit an anti-Fascist underground newspaper.

Mussolini was deposed but it did not mean the Ginzburgs could rest easy. When Nazi Germany invaded the peninsula, Natalia was determined to be reunited with her husband and managed to persuade a German army unit to take her to Rome, claiming she and her children were refugees who had lost their papers.

They found Leone and went into hiding but it was not long before he was arrested. This time their separation was permanent. By the following February, Leone had died aged 34 after suffering a cardiac arrest in the Rome prison of Regina Coeli, having been subjected to brutal interrogation and torture.

At this time, Natalia Ginzburg’s career as a writer was in its infancy, although she was already the author of a novel published under a pseudonym in 1942 at a time when Mussolini’s race laws barred Jewish authors from seeing their work in print.

After the war, she worked at the Turin publishing house of Giulio Einaudi - of which Leone had been a founder - and became acquainted with some of the leading figures of postwar Italian literature, including Carlo Levi, Primo Levi, Pavese and Italo Calvino.  It was Pavese who is said to have given her the most encouragement to write more herself.

Her own output increased after she was married for a second time, in 1950, to Gabriele Baldini, an academic. They lived in Rome and for many years were at the centre of the city’s cultural life, Ginzburg’s novels, short stories, essays and plays attracting much critical acclaim. Having become friends with the director and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini, she even accepted a small part in his 1964 film, The Gospel According to St Matthew, in which he followed the neorealist tradition of using non-professional actors.

Ginzburg won some of Italy’s most prestigious literary awards, including the Strega Prize for Lessico famigliare and the Bagutta Prize for La famiglia Manzoni.  

She and Baldini had two children, although both were born with severe disabilities and the first died after only a year. Baldini himself died young, in 1969 at the age of only 49.

Ginzburg was never far from active politics. Like so many anti-Fascists from the wartime period, she was at times a member of the Italian Communist Party, although when she was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1983 it was as an independent.

Her literary output began to slow down in the 1980s. She died in Rome in 1991 at the age of 75.

Piazza San Carlo in Turin, looking towards the churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo
Piazza San Carlo in Turin, looking towards the
churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo
Travel tip:

The original offices of the Einaudi publishing company in Turin were in Via dell'Arcivescovado, a few steps from the beautiful Piazza San Carlo, one of the city's main squares. A stunning example of 16th and 17th century Baroque design, the large piazza is notable for the twin churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo at the southwest entrance to the square and for the monument to Emanuele Filiberto, a 16th century Duke of Savoy, in the centre. Spectacularly lit up in the evening, the square is home to two of Turin's most famous coffee houses, the Café San Carlo and Café Torino, as well as the Confetteria Stratta, renowned for the exquisite pastries it offers. 

Piazza Municipio is the main square of the  Abruzzo village of Pizzoli
Piazza Municipio is the main square of the 
Abruzzo village of Pizzoli
Travel tip:

Pizzoli was an impoverished village in is a remote, mountainous part of central Italy some 135km (84 miles) northeast of Rome at the time the Ginzburg family were exiled there in 1941. Nowadays it is a well-kept, lively small town popular with visitors to the area as a starting point for trekking holidays in the mountains of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. Situated 15km (9 miles) northwest of the city of L'Aquila, Pizzoli is typical of the region in that it has the feel of a different time when life was less frantic. Its local quisine features pork and mutton in abundance, with thin skewers of salted, flame-grilled mutton called Arrosticini among its specialities.

Also on this day:

1602: The birth of Cardinal Jules Mazarin, ruler of France

1614: The death of Saint Camillus de Lellis, a reformed gambler who devoted himself to caring for the sick

1902: The collapse of the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice

1948: The shooting in Rome of Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti 


24 April 2020

Giuseppe Marc’Antonio Baretti – author

Dramatic life of the ‘scourge’ of writers

A portrait of Giuseppe Baretti by the English  painter Joshua Reynolds
A portrait of Giuseppe Baretti by the English
painter Joshua Reynolds
Literary critic, poet, writer, translator and linguist Giuseppe Baretti was born on this day in 1719 in Turin, the capital city of Piedmont.

His life was often marred by controversies and he eventually had to leave Italy for England, where the drama in his life continued and he was tried at the Old Bailey for murder in 1769.

Baretti’s father had intended him to enter the legal profession but when he was 16 he fled from Turin to Guastalla in Emilia-Romagna where he worked in the import and export business.

His main interest was studying literature and criticism but, after he became an expert in the field himself, his writing was so controversial that he eventually had to move abroad.

Many students of Italian Literature are familiar with the name of Giuseppe Baretti as the writer, editor and proprietor of the fearlessly sarcastic periodical La frusta letteraria, which means 'Literary Scourge', in which he castigated bad authors.

For a few years Baretti wandered from country to country supporting himself by writing.

A Reynolds portrait of Samuel Johnson, the English writer who befriended Baretti
A Reynolds portrait of Samuel Johnson,
the English writer who befriended Baretti
He was the author of two influential dictionaries, a Dictionary and Grammar of the Italian Language and a Dictionary of the Spanish Language, as well as dissertations on Shakespeare and Voltaire.

Eventually he settled in London, where he was sometimes referred to as Joseph Baretti. He became Secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts and a friend of the writer Samuel Johnson and the actor and playwright David Garrick.

Baretti was a frequent visitor at the home of Hester Thrale, an author whose diaries have been a valuable source of information about both Johnson and 18th century contemporary life. Baretti’s name also occurs repeatedly in James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson.

In 1769, Baretti was tried for murder after inflicting a mortal wound with a knife on a man who had assaulted him in the street. Johnson and other friends supported him and gave evidence in his favour at his trial, which resulted in his acquittal. Baretti could have been sentenced to death, but his actions were regarded as self-defence.

He later said he was extremely satisfied with the outcome of the trial and the support of his friends, which had made him ‘an Englishman forever’.

Baretti died in London in 1789 and was buried in Marylebone Chapel in the city.

The facade of the Palazzo Madama, which  was designed by Filippo Juvara
The facade of the Palazzo Madama, which
was designed by Filippo Juvara
Travel tip:

Turin, where Giuseppe Baretti was born, is the capital city of the region of Piedmont. It has some fine architecture that illustrates its rich history as the home of the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of ‘royal’ Turin. The elegant Baroque Palazzo Madama, built in white stone, was designed by the architect Filippo Juvara.

The Piazza Mazzini is the beautiful main square of the town of Guastalla in Emilia-Romagna
The Piazza Mazzini is the beautiful main square of
the town of Guastalla in Emilia-Romagna
Travel tip:

Guastalla, where Baretti went to escape a legal career, is a town in the province of Reggio Emilia in the region of Emilia-Romagna. It lies on the banks of the Po River in the Po Valley, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the cities of Reggio Emilia, Parma and Mantua. In the 16th century Guastallo was the capital of  a duchy ruled by the Gonzaga family and it was visited by the artist Guercino and the writer Torquato Tasso. The town is the headquarters of SMEG, a manufacturer of high-design domestic appliances, which was founded there in 1948.

Also on this day:

1859: The birth of coffee maker Luigi Lavazza

1966: The birth of footballer Alessandro Costacurta

2010: The death of art collector Giuseppe Panza