4 July 2016

Gina Lollobrigida – actress

Movie star who became photo journalist

Gina Lollobrigida at the peak of her fame in the 1960s
Gina Lollobrigida at the peak of her
fame in the 1960s
Film star Gina Lollobrigida was born Luigina Lollobrigida on this day in 1927 in Subiaco in Lazio.

At the height of her popularity as an actress in the 1950s and early 1960s she was regarded as a sex symbol all over the world.

In later life she worked as a photo journalist and has supported Italian and American good causes. In 2013 she sold her jewellery collection and donated the money she raised, in the region of five million dollars, to fund stem cell therapy research.

One of four daughters of a furniture manufacturer and his wife, as a young girl, Lollobrigida did some modelling, entered beauty contests and had minor roles in Italian films. She studied painting and sculpture at school and claimed in later life that she became an actress "by mistake".

When she was 20 she entered the Miss Italia competition and came third. The publicity she received helped her get parts in European films but she turned down the chance to work in America after initially agreeing a seven-year contract with the American entrepreneur Howard Hughes. After she refused the terms of her contract, it took nine years for a legal dispute to be resolved.

She received a BAFTA nomination and won a Nastro d’Argento award for her performance in Bread, Love and Dreams (Pane, amore e fantasia), a comedy directed by Luigi Comencini, in 1953. She later starred in the English language film Beat the Devil, which was shot in Italy, and she also worked in the French film industry.

Lollobrigida's looks brought her much work  but she was also a talanted actress
Lollobrigida's looks brought her much work 
but she was also a talanted actress
Her appearance in The World’s Most Beautiful Woman (1955), a French-Italian comedy also known as Beautiful But Dangerous led to her receiving the David di Donatello - the award presented by the Academy of Italian Cinema - for Best Actress. She played the part of Italian soprano Lina Cavalieri and sang arias from Tosca herself.

In the 1950s and '60s, her talent and vivacious good looks put her in demand with the major studios and she was cast alongside many of the big box-offices names of the era, including Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Anthony Quinn, Yves Montand, Marcello Mastroianni, Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner, Sean Connery and Rock Hudson.

More awards came in the shape of a Golden Globe for the romantic comedy Come September (1961), a Nastro d'Argento and David di Donatello awards for the historical drama Venere Imperiale (1962), and a third David di Donatello for another comedy, Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell (1968), which also starred Shelley Winters, Phil Silvers, Peter Lawford and Telly Savalas. 

In the mid 1980s her role in the American television series Falcon Crest earned her a Golden Globe nomination. By then, she was making only occasional movie appearances, her last coming in 1997.

At the end of the 1970s Lollobrigida started working as a photojournalist as well as continuing with acting. She obtained an exclusive interview with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and also photographed many famous film stars, as well as publishing a number of books of her photographs.

Married twice, she has one son, Andrea Milko, by her first marriage to a Slovenian physician. In retirement, she divided her time between her country house in Sicily, her home in Via Appia in Rome and her villa in Monte Carlo.

UPDATE: Gina Lollobrigida died in Rome in January, 2023 at the age of 95.

The abbey of Santa Scolastica near Subiaco, Lazio, home town of actress Gina Lollobrigida
The Abbey of Santa Scolastica near Subiaco, Lazio,
home town of actress Gina Lollobrigida
Travel tip:

Subiaco, where Gina Lollobrigida was born, is a town in Lazio, about 40km (25 miles) to the east of Tivoli, alongside the Aniene river. It is famous for its two ancient abbeys, St Benedict’s and Santa Scolastica. The area has had a monastic community since the sixth century. The first printed books in Italy were produced on a printing press set up in the town in the 15th century.  Subiaco is also the birthplace of 16th century femme fatale Lucrezia Borgia.

Stretches of the original Via Appia are preserved as the Via Appia Antica
Stretches of the original Via Appia are
preserved as the Via Appia Antica
Travel tip:

Gina Lollobrigida’s home in Rome is in Via Appia, the Appian Way, which is one of the earliest and most important of the Roman roads. It connects Rome to Brindisi in southern Italy. The road is named after Appius Claudius Caecus, who directed the construction of its first section in 312 BC after it was deemed that a road was needed to ease the movement of military supplies and troops to and from Rome. Stretching for approximately 400 miles (645km), it was the first long road made for this purpose. Today, following the route is an ideal way to see several major monuments of ancient Rome, including the Tomb of Priscilla, the Catacombs of Callixtus and St Sebastian, the Circus of Maxentius, the baths of Capo di Bove and the Villa dei Quintili. Today a modern road, the Villa Appia Nuova, runs close to the original route, while there are many stretches of the original route preserved, known ad the Villa Appia Antica.

Also on this day:

1914: The birth of car designer Giuseppe 'Nuccio' Bertone

(Photo of Gina Lollobrigida by Ivo Lollobrigida CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of the Abbey of Santa Scolastica by Livioandronico2013 CC BY-SA 4.0)

3 July 2016

Ulisse Stacchini - architect

Designer behind two famous Milan landmarks

Photo of Ulisse Stacchini
Ulisse Stacchini
Ulisse Stacchini, the architect who designed two of Milan's most famous 20th century landmarks, was born on this day in 1871 in Florence.

A champion of Liberty style Art Nouveau designs, Stacchini's defining work was the gargantuan Stazione di Milano Centrale - the city's main railway terminal.

He also designed the stadium that evolved into the city's iconic Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, joint home of Milan's two major football clubs, Internazionale and AC Milan.

Stacchini studied in Rome and moved to Milan soon after graduating, setting up a partnership with the engineer Giulio de Capitani, building houses, offices and shops for private clients

Among his early projects was the Savini Caffè in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  His style can be seen in a number of town houses commissioned by wealthy patrons, including Via Gioberti 1 at Via Revere 7, which feature linear designs.

He became involved with the Milano Centrale project when he won a design competition in 1912, although construction was delayed by more than a decade because of the crisis in the Italian economy that followed the First World War.

This 1964 photo of  Milano Centrale illustrates the enormous size of the building
This 1964 photo of  Milano Centrale illustrates the
enormous size of the building
The project gained momentum only after Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister, with consequences for Stacchini's designs.  It was originally modelled on the Union Station in Washington but Mussolini wanted the new station to represent the power of the Fascist regime and encouraged Stacchini to create a majestic building that would have a huge presence.

To some critics, the end result was an incongruous mix of Liberty, Art Deco and classical features, adorned with numerous sculptures, yet it was impressive for its sheer scale.  Its façade spans 660 feet (200mt) and is 90 feet (27mt) high with three enormous porticos, each almost 30 feet (9mt) wide and 53 feet (16mt) high. It dominates the Piazza Duca D'Aosta.

It was while the station project was under way that Piero Pirelli, the president of AC Milan, commissioned Stacchini to design a new stadium for the club on a site in the San Siro district of the city.

Stacchini's original stadium bore little resemblance to the instantly recognisable structure of today, with its 11 cylindrical towers, three tiers of seats and a vast roof, but was impressive at the time, consisting of two grandstands, one of which was partially covered, and two end terraces, with a capacity of 35,000.  The first match there was staged in September 1926, a friendly between AC Milan and rivals Internazionale that the latter won 6-3.

It underwent several expansions and reconstructions and became home to both Milan clubs in 1945.  It was named after the footballer Giuseppe Meazza in part because he played for both AC Milan and Inter. He spent much the larger part of his career with Inter, however, hence AC Milan fans prefer to describe the stadium as the San Siro.

Stacchini went on to design many more buildings, especially for the banking sector, before spending the latter part of his working life teaching architecture at the Milan Polytechnic.  He died in Sanremo, Liguria, in 1947, aged 75.

Travel tip:

Milano Centrale has 24 platforms and handles about 320,000 passengers per day, using approximately 500 trains. The station is a major hub on the north-south route between Bologna and Salerno and also has trains running daily to international destinations including Bern, Lugano, Geneva, Zürich, Paris, Vienna, Barcelona and Munich.

Photo of the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza
The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza today
Travel tip:

The new M5 metro line has made access to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza easy to reach, with a new station (San Siro Stadio) situated directly outside the ground.  The line does not pass directly through the city centre but travellers using line M1 can change at Lotto, or at Garibaldi on line M2.   The Line 16 tram still runs from west of Piazza Duomo to the stadium, where the route terminates.  The journey by metro takes about 20 minutes, by tram half an hour.

(Old photo of Milano Centrale by Albertomos CC BY-SA 3.0)


2 July 2016

Palio di Siena

First of two annual races is contested today

Photo of the Palio di Siena
The Palio is run at a furious pace around the perimeter
of the Piazza del Campo in Siena
The first of the two annual contests for the historic Palio di Siena takes place in Piazza del Campo in the Tuscan city this evening.

The passionately competitive horse race, first run in 1656, is staged on July 2 and August 16 each year. The first race is in honour of Siena's Madonna of Provenzano, the second forms part of the celebrations marking the Feast of the Assumption.

A colourful pageant, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race, which sees the square filled with spectators from many parts of the world.

The Palio features 10 horses, each representing one of Siena's 17 contrade, or wards, ridden bareback by riders wearing the colours of the contrada they represent.   They race for three circuits of a dirt track laid around the perimeter of the Piazza del Campo.

It is an event with no holds barred.  Riders are allowed to use the whip to encourage their own mounts but also to hamper their rivals and falls are frequent.  The winner is the horse that crosses the finishing line first, even if its rider is no longer on board.

Horses are trained specifically with the Palio in mind and 10 judged to be of approximately equal quality are chosen four days before the race by the heads - capitani - of each contrada.  A lottery then takes place to determine which contrada each will represent.

The rules are complex.  The first nine horses are called into the starting area, known as the Mossa, in the order in which they are drawn and the race begins only when the rider of the 10th horse chooses what he judges to be the right moment tactically to join them.

Packed crowds line the narrow circuit for the Palio di Siena
Packed crowds line the narrow circuit
Winning is down to the skill of the rider, but with as much emphasis placed on preventing other contenders from finishing first as on actually crossing the line in front it can sometimes be a confusing event.  In the celebrations that follow, supporters of the winning contrada will naturally be seen enjoying their own success, but others might be equally joyful because their traditional rival has lost.

The 17 contrade are: Eagle, Snail, Wave, Panther, Forest, Tortoise, Owl, Unicorn, Shell, Tower, Ram, Caterpillar, Dragon, Giraffe, Porcupine, She-Wolf and Goose.

The race is limited to 10 for safety reasons (although accidents are still commonplace along the narrow or steeply banked parts of the circuit).  Seven of the runners are those who did not participate in the immediately preceding race, with the other three chosen in a draw.

The winner receives a decorated Drappellone - a large drape - which is paraded around the track and then goes on display in the contrada's museum.  The most successful contrada in the history of the race has been Oca - the Goose - with 63 wins, followed by Chiocciola - the Snail - with 51, and Tartuca - the Tortoise - with 46.

The race begins at some point after 7pm but spectators are advised to arrive in the Piazza by 4pm.  Police close the entrances to the square once they consider it to be full and the Corteo Storica parade arrives at 5pm.

Spectators can watch free of charge from the public space in the centre of the Piazza but because of the large numbers that inevitably want to attend the crowd will become tightly packed and the local tourist office advises against bringing small children.  There are also no public toilets and bottles of water and sun hats are considered to be essential.

Balcony positions and some private boxes can be obtained but they attract premium prices and tend to be booked up months in advance.

The beautiful Piazza del Campo in Siena is one of the finest squares in Italy
The beautiful Piazza del Campo in Siena is one of the
finest squares in Italy
Travel tip:

The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, established in the 13th century as an open marketplace on a sloping site between the three communities that eventually merged to form Siena, is regarded as one of Europe's finest medieval squares, looked over by the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia.  The red brick paving, fanning out from the centre in nine sections, was put down in 1349.

Travel tip:

Plans for an enormous basilica, which would have been the largest in the world, in Siena had to be abandoned because of lack of funds due to war and the plague but the smaller Duomo (cathedral) built in its place is nonetheless considered a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture.  It contains a 13th century pulpit designed by Nicola Pisani.

(Photos of the Palio by Roberto Vicario CC BY-SA 3.0)

(Photo of Piazza del Campo By Ricardo André Frantz CC BY-SA 3.0)


1 July 2016

Claudio Saracini – musician

Baroque songs have survived till modern times

Composer Claudio Saracini was born on this day in 1586 in or close to Siena in Tuscany.

He is one of the most highly regarded composers of his time and is known also to have played the lute and been a singer.

An example of Saracini's surviving music:

He became famous for composing monody, which is secular music for a single voice, and 133 of the songs he wrote in this style have survived till today.

Some of Saracini’s compositions are still recorded, often in collections along with works by other composers of the same era, such as Monteverdi, who is said to have admired him.

Saracini travelled widely and seems to have established useful connections abroad as he dedicated a lot of his music to foreign aristocrats. He also appeared to have absorbed some of the musical styles of the lands he visited in his own compositions.

A unique feature of his work is the influence of folk music, particularly music from the Balkans, which is rarely heard in early Baroque music. 

Saracini’s music was all published in Venice between 1614 and 1624, before his death in 1630.

During the 20th century there was renewed interest in his work after it had been neglected for a long time.

Photo of Piazza del Camp in Siena
The Piazza del Campo in Siena
Travel tip:

Siena is a beautiful old Tuscan town with a fan-shaped, central piazza, the Piazza del Campo, where the famous Palio, or horse race, is held twice every year. 

Travel tip:

When visiting Venice there are many opportunities to hear Baroque music played by orchestras in concerts held in some of the churches. To find out about concerts in Venice during your stay visit www.musicinvenice.com.

(Photo of Siena by Ricardo André Frantz CC BY-SA 3.0)