4 February 2018

Cesare Battisti – patriot and irredentist

Campaigner for Trentino hailed as national hero

Cesare Battisti photographed in 1915
Cesare Battisti photographed in 1915
Cesare Battisti, a politician whose campaign to reclaim Trentino for Italy from Austria-Hungary was to cost him his life, was born on this day in 1875 in the region’s capital, Trento.

As a member of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, Battista was elected to the assembly of South Tyrol and the Austrian Imperial Council, where he pushed for autonomy for Trentino, an area with a mainly Italian-speaking population.

When the First World War arrived and Italy decided to side with the Triple Entente and fight against Austria-Hungary, Battisti decided he could fight only on the Italian side, joining the Alpini corps.

At this time he was still a member of the Austrian Chamber of Deputies, so when he was captured wearing Italian uniform during the Battle of Asiago in 1916 he was charged with high treason and executed.

Italy now looks upon Battisti as a national hero and he is commemorated in monuments in several places in the country, as well as having numerous schools, streets and squares named after him.

At the time of his birth, the son of a merchant, also called Cesare, Trento was part of Tyrol in Austria-Hungary, even though it was a largely Italian-speaking city. As Battisti became politically active as a young man, first while studying law in Graz, in Austria, and later literature and philosophy at the University of Florence, he found himself drawn towards the Italian irredentism movement, one of whose aims was achieving autonomy for Trentino as part of a unified Kingdom of Italy.

Battisti as a student in Florence, where he became drawn to the irredentist movement
Battisti as a student in Florence, where he
became drawn to the irredentist movement
He began a student movement, the Società degli Studenti Trentini, and with like-minded fellow students founded a number of magazines and newspapers to spread the message and rally support for the cause.

In 1911, standing on an SDWP ticket, he was elected to the Reichsrat, the parliament of Vienna, with the aim of achieving change from within.

In 1914, with the support of Guido Larcher and Giovanni Pedrotti, he sent an appeal to the king, Vittorio Emanuele III, exhorting the monarch to respond to his wishes and unite Italy.

By the time the Austro-Serbian war had broken out, later in 1914, Battisti sensed the possibility of Italy being drawn into the conflict in opposition to Austria-Hungary and decided to leave Trento to find a safer part of Italy.

Not long afterwards, Battisti began to campaign for Italy to join forces with the Triple Entente countries – Russia, France and Great British – against Austria-Hungary, and when the First World War broke out he decided he could be true to his principles only by fighting on the side of the Italian forces.

Battisti volunteered for the Italian army and soon won medals for bravery. He was promoted to lieutenant with the Vicenza Battalion of the 6th Alpine Regiment. 

He was captured by Austrian forces during the Battle of Asiago, which took place about 60km (37 miles) east of Trento and a similar distance north of Vicenza. When it was realised who he was he was taken to his home town to face a court martial, at the Castello di Buonconsiglio, at which his parliamentary immunity was over-ridden and he was sentenced to death.

The Mausoleum housing Cesare Battisti's tomb stands on a rocky outcrop overlooking Trento
The Mausoleum housing Cesare Battisti's tomb stands on
a rocky outcrop overlooking Trento
His request to face a firing squad so as not to dishonour the Italian uniform was denied and he was executed by hanging on July 12, 1916, at the age of 41. The incident damaged support for Austrians in the area, particularly after photographs of a smiling execution squad posing with Battisti’s body were published in newspapers. He left a widow, Ernesta, and three children.

At the conclusion of the conflict, Trento became an Italian city as part of the settlement.  Battisti was hailed as a hero and monuments to him have been erected in Rome as well as at the Bolzano Victory Monument in another part of South Tyrol that was successfully reclaimed from Austria. 

With the agreement of his family, his remains were moved in 1935 to a mausoleum built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city. The structure, consisting of a circular base supporting 16 columns topped by a balustrade, was designed by the architect Ettore Faguioli to resemble a classical temple.

The Piazza Duomo in Trento
The Piazza Duomo in Trento
Travel tip:

Trento today is a cosmopolitan city considered to be one of the most desirable places to live in Italy on the basis of job opportunities and quality of life. With a population of 117,000, it is situated in an Alpine valley on the Adige river between the northern tip of Lake Garda and the border city of Bolzano, about 115km (71 miles) north of Verona. Settled by the Romans in the first century, it changed hands many times before becoming a major city in the Holy Roman Empire. The Austrians took charge in the 14th century and it remained under their control, with the exception of a spell of French domination in the Napoleonic era until the First World War.  It is notable in the 16th century for hosting the Council of Trent, the ecumenical council of the Catholic Church that gave rise to the resurgence of the church following Protestant Reformation.

Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento
Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento
Travel tip:

The Castello del Buonconsiglio, where Battisti was tried and executed by the Austrians, is a castle next to Trento’s city walls built in the 13th century.  It consisted at first of the building now known as the Castelvecchio, which was the seat of the Bishopric of Trento until the 18th century, and saw the addition of several more buildings as various bishops chose to enlarge and reinforce it. Legend has it that there was a secret tunnel linking it with the city’s cathedral. It became a military barracks under the Austrians, then a jail, before falling into disrepair.  It was restored after Trento became part of Italy in the 1920s and now houses a museum and art gallery. 

Also on this day:

3 February 2018

Giovanni Battista Vaccarini - architect

Sicilian Baroque designs shaped the look of Catania

Vaccarini's Fontana dell'Elefante has  become the symbol of Catania
Vaccarini's Fontana dell'Elefante has
become the symbol of Catania
Giovanni Battista Vaccarini, the architect who designed many of the important buildings in Sicily’s second city of Catania, was born on this day in 1702 in Palermo.

He was responsible for several palaces, including the Palazzo del Municipio, the Palazzo San Giuliano and the Palazzo dell’Università.  He completed the rebuilding of a number of churches, including the Chiesa della Badia di Sant’Agata, and designed the Baroque façade of the city’s Duomo – the Cattedrale di Sant’Agata – which had been a ruin.

Perhaps his most famous work, though, is the Fontana dell’Elefante, which he placed at the centre of the reconstructed Piazza Duomo, consisting of a marble pedestal and fountains, supporting an ancient Roman statue of an elephant made from lava stone, which in turn has an obelisk mounted on its back, supposedly inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Obelisk of Minerva in Rome, which is also borne by an elephant.

The monument's nickname in the Sicilian language is "Liotru," a reference to Elidoros, an eighth century wizard who sought, through magic, to make the elephant walk. The statue came to be adopted as the symbol of the city.

Vaccarini had shown artistic talents at an early age and as a young man went to Rome to study architecture, with the support of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, whose uncle had been Pope Alexander VIII. Ottoboni was a patron of the arts who had helped the career of the musician and composer Arcangelo Corelli.

A portrait of Vaccarini by Gaspare Serenario, painted in 1761
A portrait of Vaccarini by Gaspare
Serenario, painted in 1761
The young Sicilian was particularly keen on the work of Bernini and Francesco Borromini, two leading figures in the emergence of Roman Baroque architecture. He was influenced too by the flamboyant styles of Alessandro Specchi, who built the papal stables, Filippo Raguzzini and Francesco de Sanctis, who designed the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti – the Spanish Steps.

When he returned to Sicily he was appointed, in around 1730, as city architect by the Senate of Catania, with the city still facing a massive reconstruction programme following the devastating earthquake of 1693, which is thought to have killed up to 60,000 people and virtually destroyed 70 cities, towns and villages.

Vaccarini thus spent much of his working life directing the restoration of the city, which has subsequently grown to be the second largest on the island, with a population of more than 315,000.

The only significant period he spent away from Catania was in 1756 when he travelled to Naples to help Luigi Vanvitelli and Ferdinando Fuga with the construction of the marble Reggia di Caserta, the Royal Palace at Caserta, north of the city.

Vaccarini spent more than half his life working on the  restoration of Catania's Duomo
Vaccarini spent more than half his life working on the
restoration of Catania's Duomo
The restoration of the Catania Duomo, which spanned 36 years from 1732 to 1768, probably best illustrates the style of Vaccarini, influencing the mood of late Sicilian Baroque, the façade notable for the juxtaposition of white marble with lava stone in alternating columns.

The small church of the Badia (Abbey) of Sant'Agata, adjacent to the cathedral, borrowed some ideas from Borromini’s church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, in Rome, in particular its high dome and delicate front of concave and convex ripples, with a preciseness of detail that was a constant in Vaccarini's work.

The Palazzo Gioeni and Palazzo Valle and the church of San Benedetto, in Via dei Crociferi, were also part of Vaccarini’s Catania project.

Vaccarini died in his home city of Palermo in 1768.

Catania, sprawling at the feet of Mount Etna, is the sixth largest metropolis in Italy
Catania, sprawling at the feet of Mount Etna, is the sixth
largest metropolis in Italy
Travel tip:

The city of Catania, which is located on the east coast of Sicily facing the Ionian Sea, is one of the ten biggest cities in Italy, and the seventh largest metropolitan area in the country, with a population including the environs of 1.12 million. A little like Naples, only more so, in that it lives with the constant threat of a natural catastrophe, Catania has been virtually destroyed by earthquakes twice, in 1169 as well as 1693, and regularly witnesses volcanic eruptions from nearby Mount Etna. As such it has always been a city for living life to the full. In the Renaissance, it was one of Italy's most important cultural, artistic and political centres and has enjoys a rich cultural legacy today, with numerous museums and churches, theatres and parks and many restaurants.

The beautiful Basilica della Collegiata
The beautiful Basilica della Collegiata
Travel tip:

Apart from Vaccarini’s work, there are many other examples of the Sicilian Baroque style of architecture that give Catania its character, including the beautiful Basilica della Collegiata, with its six stone columns and the concave curve of its façade, designed by Stefano Ittar and Angelo Italia.  Elsewhere on the island, Rosario Gagliardi’s Church of San Giuseppe in Ragusa Ibla, Andrea Palma’s Duomo in Syracuse and Francesco Camilliani’s fountain in Piazza Pretoria in Palermo are other fine examples of the style.

2 February 2018

Raimondo D’Inzeo – Olympic showjumper

First athlete to compete in eight consecutive Games

Raimondo D'Inzeo always competed in his Carabinieri uniform
Raimondo D'Inzeo always competed in
his Carabinieri uniform
Raimondo D'Inzeo, who with his older brother Piero became the first athlete to compete in eight consecutive Olympic Games, was born on this day in 1925 in Poggio Mirteto, a small town in Lazio about 45km (28 miles) northeast of Rome.

They achieved the record when they saddled up for the show jumping events in Montreal in 1976, surpassing the previous record of seven consecutive summer Games held by the Danish fencer Ivan Osiier, whose run, which began in 1908 and was interrupted twice by World Wars, had stood since 1948.

The D’Inzeo brothers, whose Olympic journey began in London in 1948 just as Osiier’s was ending, had chalked off seven Olympics in a row at Munich in 1972, when each won the last of their six medals in the team event. Raimondo had carried the Italian flag at the opening ceremony.

Their finest moment came at the 1960 Olympics in their own country, when they were roared on by a patriotic crowd at the Villa Borghese Gardens in Rome to complete a one-two in the individual event, Raimondo taking the gold medal on his horse Posillipo, Piero the silver on The Rock.

Raimondo’s other medal successes had come in Stockholm in 1956, when he won the individual silver and the team silver on Merano. He collected a team bronze on Posillipo at Tokyo in 1964 and rode Fiorello II to another team bronze in Munich.

Piero (left) and Raimondo D'Inzeo with a teammate at the Rome Olympics in 1960
Piero (left) and Raimondo D'Inzeo with a
teammate at the Rome Olympics in 1960
The brothers were 51 and 53 years old respectively when they competed in Munich but would probably have extended their record to nine consecutive Games but for the boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

As it was, their record stood until 1996, when the Austrian sailor Hubert Raudaschi completed his ninth consecutive Games. The record for the most appearances at the summer Olympics now stands at 10, which another showjumper, Canada’s Ian Millar, achieved at London 2012, although his were not consecutive.

It could be argued that Raimondo D’Inzeo was born to ride. His father, Carlo, was chief instructor in the Royal Piedmontese Dragoons, an elite mounted regiment in the Italian army, and later dean of the equestrian faculty of the Italian sports university La Farnesina in Rome.

Raimondo did not take to riding at first, finding the whole experience frightening. When he was placed on a horse at the age of 10, he was so scared of being hurt he felt unable to move. But, listening to his father talking to his brother about horses at home every evening, he began to feel left out and decided to persevere. Eventually, he felt as comfortable in the saddle as Piero.

Nonetheless, he decided he wanted a career as an engineer and persuaded his father to let him enrol at the University of Milan.  But he had already grown to love horses and after a while would spend increasingly less time attending lectures and increasingly more time at the San Siro horse racing track, even competing in races from time to time.

Raimondo d'Inzeo with wife Giuliana pictured soon after  the medal ceremony at the 1960 Olympics
Raimondo D'Inzeo with wife Giuliana pictured soon after
the medal ceremony at the 1960 Olympics
He abandoned the idea of becoming an engineer and in 1950 followed his brother into the mounted arm of the Carabinieri, Italy’s quasi-military police force.  It was at the Carabinieri stables in Rome that he first encountered Merano, who would give him his first Olympic medals. The bond between the two became so close that Merano came to recognise the sound of D’Inzeo’s car as he arrived in the yard and would put his head through the stable door in anticipation of a treat.

D’Inzeo would always compete in uniform, each year with more pips as he rose eventually to the rank of General.  The mounted arm of the Carabinieri were often engaged in ceremonial roles, although that was not always the case.

In July 1960, shortly before the Olympics, he had to endure a particularly harrowing episode when he was ordered to lead a charge on horseback to break up a demonstration in Rome against the government of prime minister Fernando Tambroni. A number of people were killed and injured during the violence.

In addition to his Olympic successes, D'Inzeo was the world individual jumping champion in both 1956 and 1960, and a silver medalist in that event in 1955 and bronze medalist in 1966. He won eight International Grand Prix events between 1956 and 1975, including the Rome Grand Prix four times. He was a founding member and former President of the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC), which was created in June 1977.

He died in November 2013 at the age of 88, leaving a widow, Giuliana Mazzetti di Pietralata, a son and a daughter. Another daughter died in a skiing accident in childhood.  Piero passed away the following February, aged 90.

The Piazza Martiri della Libertà in Poggio Mirteto as it would have appeared while D'Inzeo was growing up
The Piazza Martiri della Libertà in Poggio Mirteto as it
would have appeared while D'Inzeo was growing up
Travel tip:

D’Inzeo’s birthplace, Poggio Mirteto, a town situated on a hill overlooking the Tiber river in the province of Rieti in northern Lazio, found itself on the map in 1849 when the unification army of Giuseppe Garibaldi stopped in the town with some 4,000 men during a strategic retreat from Rome. There is a commemorative plaque marking the house where Garibaldi’s wife, Anita, who was pregnant, spent two nights. The town’s main square was subsequently renamed Piazza Martiri della Libertà.

The showjumping competitions at the 1960 Olympics took place at the Piazza di Siena in the Villa Borghese Gardens
The showjumping competitions at the 1960 Olympics took
place at the Piazza di Siena in the Villa Borghese Gardens
Travel tip:

The individual jumping and dressage events at the Rome Olympics of 1960 took place in an arena constructed at the Piazza di Siena at the Villa Borghese Gardens, which are among the city’s largest public parks. The gardens date back to 1605, when Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V and patron of the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, began converting a former vineyard. Team jumping took place on the final day of the Games at the Stadio Olimpico, while the eventing contest was staged at the Centro Equestre Federale, in Pratoni del Vivaro, situated in the town of Rocca di Papa, not far from the pope’s traditional summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, 25km (16 miles) southeast of the capital.

More reading: 

Emilio Lunghi - Italy's first Olympic medallist

How Dorando Pietro found fame from an Olympic disqualification

Ottavio Missoni - from Olympic hurdler to fashion designer

Also on this day:

1723: The death of anatomist Antonio Maria Valsalva

1891: The birth of former prime minister Antonio Segni

1925: The birth of Olympic showjumper Raimondo D'Inzeo

1 February 2018

Francesco Maria Veracini – violinist

Virtuoso performer was prolific composer

Francesco Maria Veracini was one of the 18th century's leading violinists
Francesco Maria Veracini was one of the
18th century's leading violinists
One of the great violinists of the 18th century, Francesco Maria Veracini, was born on this day in 1690 in Florence.

He was to become famous throughout Europe for his performances and for a while he was Handel’s biggest rival as a composer.

Veracini was born into a musical family, although his father was a pharmacist and undertaker. His grandfather, Francesco, had been one of the first violinists in Florence and had a music school business, which he eventually passed on to his son, Antonio, who was Francesco’s teacher. Veracini grew up in Florence but by 1711 he had established himself in Venice where he played in church orchestras.

In 1712 on February 1, his 22nd birthday, he performed a violin concerto of his own composition in the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in honour of the visit to Venice of the Austrian ambassador. This is the first recorded public performance by Veracini playing one of his own compositions. At about that time, one of his performances so impressed the violinist, Giuseppe Tartini, that he decided to take time off to study better use of the bow in Ancona.

The violinist Pietro Locatelli is thought to have studied with Veracini at this time.

Veracini performed in London in 1714 and then went to Germany, where he obtained a court position in Dresden at an impressive salary.

Via Palazzuolo in Florence, where Veracini was born
Via Palazzuolo in Florence, where Veracini was born
There was much friction between the court musicians and in 1722 Veracini fell to the ground from a third-floor window, suffering a number of injuries. It was never established whether this was a suicide attempt following a quarrel with another musician or whether, as Veracini claimed later, someone had tried to murder him and he jumped from the window to escape.

He survived the incident but rumours of his madness were circulated subsequently. He seemingly lived something of a charmed life, some years later escaping a shipwreck in which his two treasured Stainer violins - which he called St Peter and St Paul - were lost.

Veracini returned to London in 1733 and performed in many different theatres. His operas were produced at the Opera of the Nobility, who hired the great castrato opera singer, Farinelli, and were the main rivals to Handel’s theatre.

He went back to Italy for good in 1750 and continued to compose, conduct and play the violin until he was well into his 70s.  He was appointed maestro di cappella for the churches of San Pancrazio and San Gaetano in Florence. Although he composed music for operas, he is perhaps best known for his violin sonatas. Veracini died in Florence in 1768.

A plaque marks the house in Via Palazzuolo where the violinist was born in 1690
A plaque marks the house in Via Palazzuolo where the
violinist was born in 1690
Travel tip:

There is a plaque commemorating Veracini at the house where he was born at number 30 Via Palazzuolo in Florence in the parish of San Salvatore, a few minutes from the city centre. Nearby is the church of San Salvatore di Ognissanti, known simply as Chiesa di Ognissanti, which is located in a piazza of the same name.

The Frari church in Venice, where Veracini gave his first public performance of one of his own compositions
The Frari church in Venice, where Veracini gave his first
public performance of one of his own compositions
Travel tip:

The church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, where Veracini first played one of his own compositions, is a huge, plain Gothic church in Campo dei Frari in San Polo and is known simply to Venetians as the Frari. The church houses the tombs of Monteverdi, Rossini, and Titian and has works of art by Titian, Bellini, Sansovino and Donatello. The church is open daily from 9.00am to 5.30pm and on Sundays from 1.00 to 5.30pm.

More reading:

Farinelli, the castrato who became music's first superstar

How Pietro Locatelli's playing left listeners astonished

The brilliance of Andrea Zani, 18th century violinist and composer

Also on this day:

1891: The birth of Corradino d'Ascanio, designer of the Vespa scooter

1922: The birth of opera singer Renata Tebaldi

(Picture credits: Via Palazzuolo and plaque by Sailko)