6 February 2018

Amintore Fanfani - politician

Former prime minister who proposed "third way"

Amintore Fanfani was prime minister of Italy six times
Amintore Fanfani was prime
minister of Italy six times
Amintore Fanfani, a long-serving politician who was six times Italy’s prime minister and had a vision of an Italy run by a powerful centre-left alliance of his own Christian Democrat party and the socialists, was born on this day in 1908.

A controversial figure in that he began his political career as a member of Mussolini’s National Fascist Party, he went on to be regarded as a formidable force in Italian politics, in which he was active for more than 60 years, admired for his longevity and his energy but also for his principles.

Throughout his career, or at least the post-War part of it, he was committed to finding a “third way” between collective communism and the free market and became a major influence on centre-left politicians not only in Italy but in other parts of the world.

The American president John F Kennedy, whose friendship he valued, told colleagues that it was reading Fanfani’s book, Catholicism, Protestantism and Capitalism, that persuaded him to dedicate his life to politics. They last met in Washington in November 1963, just two weeks before Kennedy was assassinated. 

Although he opposed communism, Fanfani’s position was generally in favour of socio-economic intervention by the state and against unfettered free-market capitalism.

Fanfani (left) meets US president John F Kennedy at the White House in Washington
Fanfani (left) meets US president John F Kennedy at
the White House in Washington
He even went as far as to write that Catholicism and capitalism were incompatible, with an “unbridgeable gulf” between them.

"Capitalism requires such a dread of loss," he wrote, "such a forgetfulness of human brotherhood, such a certainty that a man's neighbour is merely a customer to be gained or a rival to be overthrown, and all these are inconceivable in the Catholic conception.”

His key contribution to post-War Italian politics was to reform the Christian Democrats, ending its dependence on the Vatican, creating a support base in industrial centres in addition to its rural strongholds, where parish churches served as party offices. He rebuilt the party as one of traditional values, but not hostile towards change.

Fanfani would later admit that his pre-War support for Fascism was wrong, an “aberration”. But he saw the value in the vast public sector developed by Mussolini in the 1930s, realising it could be harnessed as a powerful instrument of political rule, one that would provide employment for the masses when the private sector fell short, as well as jobs to keep friends sweet and to keep would-be opponents on his side.

Fanfani admitted his support for the Fascists had been a mistake
Fanfani admitted his support for
the Fascists had been a mistake
It was this that enabled the Christian Democrats to establish an almost unbreakable hold on government in Italy that collapsed only when the party became consumed by corruption in the 1990s and was broken up.

Born in Pieve Santo Stefano in the province of Arezzo in Tuscany, Fanfani hailed from a large family with strong Catholic beliefs. He graduated in economics and business from the Università Cattolica in Milan before becoming a member of the National Fascist Party, drawn by the corporatist idea of state control for the benefit of working people, which he believed would eventually take hold across Europe.

However, after Mussolini's fall in 1943, he fled to Switzerland, returning at the end of the War to join the newly-formed Christian Democrats, becoming vice-secretary. Under the post-War prime minister Alcide de Gasperi, he had several ministries. Notably, as Minister of Labour, he introduced policies to build homes for workers and put 200,000 of the country’s unemployed to work on reforestation programmes.

During his terms as prime minister, the first of which came in 1954 and the last in 1987, he introduced reforms in health, education, housing and social security. He improved the state pension and established links to wages.

Fanfani consistently pushed for a centre-left agenda
Fanfani consistently pushed for a centre-left agenda
From the late 1950s onwards, Fanfani persuaded the party of the need to establish closer ties with the socialists, partly because of his own centre-left policies, partly because he felt it would help isolate the Italian Communist Party.

He was one of the instigators, along with Aldo Moro, of the coalition with the socialists formed in 1962-63.  When Moro was kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades in 1978, Fanfani was the only Christian Democrat leader allowed by Moro’s family to participate in his funeral.

Yet Fanfani, though a brilliant politician, could never achieve the popularity he craved within the party, his own downfall eventually coming about through the factionalism that was inevitable in a party the size of the Christian Democrats.

Partially as a result, he never achieved his ambition of being elected President of the Republic, although he did occupy virtually every other prestigious office to which a politician could aspire, including president of the UN assembly and president of the Senate.

He died in Rome in 1999, aged 91, survived by his second wife, Maria Pia Tavazzini, and his two sons and five daughters, all by his first wife, Bianca Rosa.

The Archivio Diaristico Nazionale is in the Piazza Pretoria in the centre of Pieve Santo Stefano
The Archivio Diaristico Nazionale is in the Piazza
Pretoria in the centre of Pieve Santo Stefano
Travel tip:

Pieve Santo Stefano, where Fanfani was born, is situated in the east of Tuscany, close to the border with Emilia-Romagna, about 50km (31 miles) northeast of Arezzo.  A small town of about 3,500 residents, it sits on the bank of the Tiber river. It enjoyed a golden age in the 15th century when it was a favourite retreat for Lorenzo the Magnificent of Florence, who brought paintings by Girolamo della Robbia, Piero della Francesca and Ghirlandaio with him. Although the Della Robbia – his Jesus and the Samaritan at the well – can still be appreciated inside the Palazzo Comunale, most of Lorenzo’s art treasures were lost in a flood in 1855.  The town is now notable as the home of the Archivio Diaristico Nazionale, an archive of diaries, memorial documents and epistolary texts established by the journalist Saverio Tutino in 1984.

Palazzo Madama in Rome, the seat of the Italian Senate
Palazzo Madama in Rome, the seat of the Italian Senate
Travel tip:

Fanfani’s home in Rome was a short distance from the headquarters of the Senate in the Palazzo Madama, which was built on the site of the ancient baths of Nero, adjoining Piazza Navona.  The palace was completed in 1505 for the Medici family, who had it built as a home for Giovani and Giulio, two Medici cardinals who would go on to become Popes Leo X and Clement VII respectively.  After the Medici era ended in the 18th century, the palace became the seat of the Papal Government. In 1871, after the capture of Rome by the Kingdom of Italy, it was designated as the seat of the Senate.

5 February 2018

Saint Agatha of Sicily – Christian martyr

Huge crowds turn out for feast day in Catania

The flower-bedecked carriage of St Agatha at the February 5 celebration in Catania
The flower-bedecked carriage of St Agatha at the
February 5 celebration in Catania
One of the largest festivals in the Roman Catholic calendar takes place on this day every year to celebrate the life of the Christian martyr Saint Agatha of Sicily.

In Catania, which adopted her as the patron saint of the city, hundreds of thousands of people line the streets to watch the extraordinary sight of up to 5,000 citizens hauling a silver carriage said to weigh 20 tons (18,140kg), bearing a huge statue and containing the relics of the saint, who died in 251AD.

The procession follows a route from Piazza del Duomo that takes in several city landmarks and ends, after a long climb along the Via Antonino di Sangiuliano at Via Crociferi.

The procession begins in the afternoon and finishes deep into the night.  There is an enormous fireworks display that takes place when the procession reaches Piazza Cavour.  The final leg, the Race of the Cord, is the part that involves the seemingly endless lines of white-smocked citizens pulling cords attached to the carriage up the long hill of San Giuliano.

As well as being the patron saint of Catania, which may have been her birthplace and where citizens have long believed she has a calming influence on the volcanic activity of Mount Etna, as well as preventing earthquakes and epidemics of disease, Saint Agatha is the patron saint of breast cancer patients, wet nurses, bell-founders and bakers among others.

Thousands of citizens form a vast human chain to pull the carriage through the streets of Catania
Thousands of citizens form a vast human chain to pull
the carriage through the streets of Catania
These stem from the nature of her legend, in which she was subjected to unthinkable cruelty including the mutilation of her breasts.

It is said that Agatha was born in either Catania or Palermo in about 231AD to a wealthy and noble family. At a very early stage in her life she decided to dedicate herself to God and became a consecrated virgin.

However, she was a naturally beautiful girl and her vows of celibacy did not deter men from being attracted to her and making unwanted advances.

One such person was a Roman prefect named Quintianus, who had been sent by the emperor Decius to govern Sicily, with orders to persecute anyone found to be doing anything to advance the Christian faith.

When Quintianus encountered Agatha, he was transfixed by her beauty and offered to spare her from persecution in return for satisfying his physical desires.

When she refused, he sent her to work in a brothel but she refused to take any customers.  Word of this reached Quintianus, who locked her in prison and said she would be tortured unless she renounced her beliefs.

Sebastiano del Piombo's graphic depiction of the cruel torture of the defiant Agatha
Sebastiano del Piombo's graphic depiction of the cruel
torture of the defiant Agatha
She stuck steadfastly to her promise despite the most awful treatment, which culminated in the slicing off of her breasts. Sent back to prison, she was given no food or medical attention but is said to have been visited by the apostle, St Peter, who supposedly healed her wounds through prayer.

Nonetheless, she died in prison in 251AD, at the age of only 20 years.

As well as being the patron saint of groups such as those stricken with breast cancer and other health problems concerning the breasts, she is also the patron saint of bell-founders on account of her severed breasts resembling bells, and of bakers because of a special cake made for the celebrations.

The cakes – often called minni di virgini (virgins’ nipples) – are filled with sweet ricotta or patisserie cream, covered with marzipan and topped with glossy white or pink icing with a cherry nipple.

Her remains are housed in the Badia di Sant’Agata in Catania – the church opposite the city’s Duomo, which is also dedicated to Saint Agatha.  

The Minni di Virgini cakes that are baked as part of the celebrations
The Minni di Virgini cakes that are baked
as part of the celebrations
There are many other churches in Italy and across the world dedicated to Saint Agatha, including the church of Sant’Agata dei Gotti, in Via Mazzarino in Rome.

As well as being the patron saint of Catania, Agatha is also the patron saint of Sorihuela del Guadalimar in Spain, of Molise and San Marino, and Kalsa, a historical quarter of Palermo.

Saint Agatha is a patron saint of Malta, where in 1551 her intercession through a reported apparition to a Benedictine nun is said to have saved Malta from Turkish invasion.

In art, Saint Agatha was often depicted carrying her severed breasts on a platter, as with Bernardo Luini’s painting in the Galleria Borghese in Rome, and in a panel of the Polyptych of St Anthony, painted by Piero della Francesca, which is kept at the National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia.

The Badia di Sant'Agata
The Badia di Sant'Agata
Travel tip:

The Badia di Sant’Agata in Catania, which overlooks Via Vittorio Emanuele II, is one of the city’s principal examples of the Sicilian Baroque style.  Opposite the north elevation of the Duomo, it was designed by Giovanni Battista Vaccarini on the site of an ancient church and convent dedicated to the saint, which was destroyed in the earthquake of 1693.

Travel tip:

The procession on February 5 takes in Via Etnea, the principal shopping street of Catania, an almost dead straight thoroughfare that stretches from Piazza del Duomo to the Municipio (City Hall) over a distance of more than 2.5km (1.5 miles), passing through the Piazza della Università and by the Bellini Gardens.  It is lined with fashionable shops and department stores and is particularly popular on a Saturday, when it is thronged with huge crowds.

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)

31 January 2018

Don Bosco – Saint

Father and teacher who could do magic tricks

Giovanni Bosco was born in 1815 soon after the
end of the Napoleonic Wars
Saint John Bosco, who was often known as Don Bosco, died on this day in 1888 in Turin.

He had dedicated his life to helping street children, juvenile delinquents and other disadvantaged young people and was made a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1934.

Bosco is now the patron saint of apprentices, editors, publishers, children, young delinquents and magicians.

He was born Giovanni Bosco in Becchi, just outside Castelnuovo d’Asti in Piedmont in 1815. His birth came just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that had ravaged the area.

Bosco’s father died when he was two, leaving him to be brought up by his mother, Margherita.

Mama Margherita Occhiena would herself be declared venerable by the Catholic Church in 2006.

Bosco attended Church and grew up to become very devout. Although his family was poor, his mother would share what they had with homeless people who came to the door.

While Bosco was still young, he had the first of a series of dreams that would influence his life.

He saw a group of poor boys who blasphemed while they played together, and a man told him that if he showed meekness and charity he would win over these boys, who were his friends.

Don Bosco used magic tricks to get the attention of street children
Don Bosco used magic tricks to get the
attention of street children
Not long afterwards he saw a travelling group of circus performers and magicians and realised if he learnt their magic tricks he could use them for his own purposes. He staged a magic show for other children and ended by inviting them to pray with him.

He later decided to become a priest, but had to work for two years in a vineyard before he found a priest, Joseph Cafasso, who was willing to help him achieve his ambition. Cafasso would later be made a saint for his work ministering to prisoners and the condemned.

After studying for six years, Bosco was ordained as a priest in 1841. He was assigned to work with poor children in Turin and visited prisons which housed large numbers of boys between the ages of 12 and 18 in deplorable conditions.

Bosco used his magic tricks to get the attention of the street children and then shared his message with them. He developed teaching methods based on love rather than punishment.

His mother began to help him and by the 1860s they were responsible for finding shelter for hundreds of boys.

He negotiated new rights for apprentices to prevent them from being abused and beaten. He encouraged some of the boys he met to consider becoming priests, but was accused by other priests of stealing boys from their parishes.

Don Bosco is commemorated around the world. This statue is in Rondo, in Spain
Don Bosco is commemorated around the
world. This statue is in Rondo, in Spain
The Marquis of Cavour, Chief of Police in Turin, regarded his open air services as political and a threat to the state. Bosco was interrogated on several occasions but no charges were ever made against him.

In 1859 Bosco established the Society of St Francis de Sales to carry on his charitable work helping boys. The organisation has continued to help children all around the world to this day.

Some of the boys helped by Don Bosco also decided to work to help abandoned boys. One of these was John Cagliero, who later became a Cardinal.

Bosco also founded a group of religious sisters to do for girls what he had been doing for boys. They became known as the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.

After Bosco’s death on January 31, 1888, his funeral was attended by thousands and the call for his canonisation came immediately.

Pope Pius XI had known him personally and declared him blessed in 1929 and a Saint in 1934. He was given the title Father and Teacher of Youth. His feast day is celebrated all over the world on this day.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II was formally petitioned to declare Bosco the Patron Saint of stage magicians.

Bosco’s extraordinary life was featured in the 1935 film, Don Bosco, directed by Goffredo Alessandrini and starring Gianpaolo Rosmino as the priest.

The house in which Don Bosco was born is in Becchi, a
hamlet just outside Castelnuovo d'Asti
Travel tip:

Castelnuovo d’Asti in Piedmont, which was near the hamlet where Bosco was born, has been renamed Castelnuovo Don Bosco in honour of the saint. It is situated about 20km (12 miles) east of Turin and about 25km (15 miles) northwest of Asti. One of the main sights is a medieval tower, one of the few remains of the castle, which was built before the year 1000 and gave the town the name, Castelnuovo.

The Basilica of Don Bosco was built between 1961 and 1966
The Basilica of Don Bosco was built between 1961 and 1966
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Don Bosco was built in Frazione Morialdo at Castelnuovo Don Bosco between 1961 and 1966 close to the saint’s birthplace. In front of the church there is a large square designed to accommodate large numbers of pilgrims who visit the Basilica. It is also possible to visit the birthplace of Don Bosco, which is still standing at Via Becchi 36.

More reading:

Francesco Faà di Bruno - the wealthy academic who helped the poor