16 April 2021

16 April

Felice Pedroni - prospector

Italian’s discovery sparked Fairbanks Gold Rush

The gold prospector known as Felix Pedro was born Felice Pedroni on this day in 1858 in the village of Trignano, near the small Apennine town of Fanano in Emilia-Romagna.  In July 1902, on or around the 22nd, Pedroni discovered gold in the Tanana Hills northeast of the fledgling town of Fairbanks, Alaska in a small, then unnamed stream (later to be called Pedro Creek).  Some claim that Pedroni was the prospector who, on his return to Fairbanks from his prospecting mission, uttered the famous words "There's gold in them there hills", although there are other accounts of where the phrase originated.  What does not seem to be disputed is that Pedroni’s discovery triggered what became known as the Fairbanks Gold Rush as more than 1,000 other gold diggers flooded the area.  Brought up in a family of subsistence farmers in Trignano, Pedroni was the youngest of six brothers. He left Italy in 1881 after the death of his father. He moved first to France, then took the bold decision to board a steamship to America.  After disembarking in New York City, where he was registered as Felix Pedro, he found work as a labourer but, having heard about the gold in Alaska was determined to get there.  Read more…


Fortunino Matania - artist and illustrator

War artist famous also for images of British history

Chevalier Fortunino Matania, a prodigiously talented artist who became known as one of the greatest magazine illustrators in publishing history, was born on this day in 1881 in Naples.  Matania made his name largely in England, where in 1904 he joined the staff of The Sphere, the illustrated news magazine that was founded in London in 1900 in competition with The Graphic and the Illustrated London News.  The use of photography on a commercial scale was in its infancy and artists who could work under deadline pressure to produce high-quality, realistic images to accompany news stories were in big demand.  Never short of work, he was commissioned by magazines across Europe, including many in his native Italy.  Matania’s best known work was from the battlegrounds of the First World War but he also covered every major event - marriages, christenings, funerals and state occasions - from the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 to that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.  He produced illustrations of the Sinking of the Titanic for The Sphere.  He was also in demand to design advertising posters, such as those inviting travellers on the LNER and other railways to visit Blackpool or Southport.  Read more…


Antonio Starabba Marchese di Rudini – Prime Minister

Bloodshed in Milan marred liberal premier’s time in office

Political leader Antonio Starabba, Marchese di Rudini, who twice served as prime minister of Italy, was born on this day in 1839 in Palermo in Sicily.  During his second term in office, Di Rudini’s Government passed social legislation to create an obligatory workmen’s compensation scheme and a fund for disability and old age pensions but they were also blamed for the army’s brutal treatment of rioters in Milan.  Di Rudini was born into an aristocratic but liberal Sicilian family and grew up to join the revolutionaries in Sicily.  He became Mayor of Palermo and successfully resisted the opponents of national unity. He was then promoted to Prefect and given the task of suppressing the brigands in Sicily.  After entering parliament, Di Rudini became leader of the right wing but when he became premier in 1891 he formed a coalition with the left and began economic reforms.  When Di Rudini became prime minister for the second time in 1896, the Italian army had just been defeated in Ethiopia and he signed the peace treaty to end the war there.  In 1898, riots in Milan about food prices were brutally repressed by General Fiorenzo Bava-Beccaris.  Read more…


Adelaide del Vasto – Countess of Sicily

Prudent ruler who looked after Sicily for her young sons

Adelaide del Vasto, who served as regent of Sicily during the 12th century, died on this day in 1118 in Sicily.  One historian described her as ‘a prudent woman’ and a Greek and Arab document listed Adelaide – known in Italian as Adelasia - as ‘a great female ruler and protector of the Christian faith’.  Born in Piedmont, Adelaide was from an important family with branches that ruled Liguria and Turin. She became the third wife of Roger I of Sicily in 1089. When he died in 1101 she became regent of Sicily for her young sons, Simon and Roger II, when she was about 26.  After rebellions broke out in parts of Calabria and Sicily, Adelaide dealt with them severely, but this did not tarnish her reputation as a good ruler.  Adelaide’s eldest son, Simon, was enthroned at about the age of nine but he died in 1105 leaving her as regent again until Roger II became old enough to take control of the kingdom in 1112. There is evidence that Adelaide continued to play a central role in the governing of Sicily as her signature can still be seen on documents drawn up after that date.  During her regency Palermo officially became capital of the Kingdom of Sicily.  Read more…


15 April 2021

15 April

Filippo Brunelleschi – architect

Genius who designed the largest brick dome ever constructed

One of the founding fathers of the Renaissance, Filippo Brunelleschi died on this day in 1446 in Florence.  He is remembered for developing a technique for linear perspective in art and for building the dome of Florence Cathedral.  However, his achievements also included sculpture, mathematics, engineering and ship design.  Brunelleschi was born in 1377 in Florence. According to his biographer, Antonio Manetti, and the historian Giorgio Vasari, his father was Brunellesco di Lippo, a notary. Filippo’s education would have equipped him to follow in his father’s footsteps but because he was artistically inclined he was enrolled in the silk merchants guild, which also included goldsmiths and metal workers, and he became a master goldsmith in 1398.  In 1401 he entered a competition to design a new set of bronze doors for the Baptistery in Florence. His entry and that of Lorenzo Ghiberti are the only two to have survived.  In the first few years of the 15th century, Brunelleschi and his friend, Donatello, visited Rome together to study the ancient ruins. It is believed they were the first to study the physical fabric of the ruins in any detail.  Read more…


Leonardo da Vinci – painter and inventor

Artist regarded as most talented individual ever to have lived

Leonardo da Vinci, painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect and engineer, was born on this day in 1452 near Vinci in Tuscany.  Leonardo’s genius epitomises the Renaissance ideal of possessing all-round accomplishments and his wall painting of The Last Supper and portrait of the Mona Lisa are among the most popular and influential artworks of all time.  His surviving notebooks reveal a spirit of scientific enquiry and a mechanical inventiveness that were centuries ahead of their time.  Leonardo received an elementary education but must have shown early artistic inclinations because his father apprenticed him to Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence when he was 15, in whose workshop he was trained in painting and sculpting. There are many superb pen and pencil drawings still in existence from this period, including sketches of military weapons and apparatus.  Some of Leonardo’s drawings have been widely reproduced over the centuries and are now even used on T-shirts and coins.  Leonardo moved to Milan in 1482 to work for the Duke, Ludovico Sforza, where he was listed as both a court painter and engineer. In addition to his works of art, he designed court festivals and advised on architecture and fortifications.  Read more…


Giovanni Amendola - journalist and politician

Liberal writer died following attack by Mussolini’s thugs

Giovanni Amendola, a dedicated opponent of Fascism, was born on this day in 1882 in Naples in southern Italy.  As a critic of the right wing extremists in Italy, Amendola had to suffer a series of attacks by hired thugs. He endured a particularly brutal beating in 1925 by 15 Blackshirts armed with clubs near Montecatini Terme in Tuscany and he later died as a result of his injuries, becoming one of the earliest victims of the Fascist regime.  Amendola had obtained a degree in philosophy and contributed to the newspapers, Il Leonardo and La Voce, expressing his philosophical and ideological views. He was given the chair of theoretical philosophy at the University of Pisa but, attracted by politics, he stood for parliament and was elected to the Chamber of Deputies three times to represent Salerno.  He began contributing to Il Resto di Carlino and Corriere della Sera, urging Italy’s entry into World War I in 1915. He then fought as a volunteer, reaching the rank of captain and winning a medal for valour.  Amendola supported the Italian Liberal movement but was completely against the ideology of prime minister Giovanni Giolitti.  Read more…


Jacopo Riccati – mathematician

Venetian nobleman who was fascinated by Maths

Respected mathematician Jacopo Francesco Riccati, who had an equation named after him, died on this day in 1754 in Treviso.  He had devoted his life to the study of mathematical analysis, turning down many prestigious academic posts offered to him. He is chiefly remembered for the Riccati differential equation, which he spent many years studying.  Riccati was born in 1676 in Venice. His father, Conte Montino Riccati, was from a noble family of landowners and his mother was from the powerful Colonna family. His father died when Riccati was only ten years old, leaving him a large estate at Castelfranco Veneto.  Riccati was educated first at the Jesuit school for the nobility in Brescia and in 1693 went to the University of Padua to study law.  After receiving a doctorate in law in 1696 he began to study mathematical analysis.  He was invited to Russia by Peter the Great to be president of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, also to Vienna to be an imperial councillor, and he was offered a professorship at the University of Padua, but he declined them all, preferring to remain on his estate with his family studying on his own.  Read more…

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14 April 2021

14 April

- The Milan-Sanremo cycle race

Classic event older than Giro d’Italia

The Milan-Sanremo cycle race - one of the sport’s oldest and most prestigious single-day contests - took place for the first time on this day in 1907.  Covering a distance of 286km (177 miles), the race followed a course said to have begun at the Conca Fallata Inn, next to a navigation basin on the Naviglio Pavese canal in Milan and ended on Corso Cavallotti on the outskirts of Sanremo, a seaside town on the coast of Liguria famed for its temperate Mediterranean climate.  Cycling was growing in popularity across Europe at the time, particularly in Belgium and France. Both of those countries had established single-day long distance races in the late 19th century and it is probable that these were the inspiration when Tullo Morgagni, a Milan journalist, put forward the idea for Milan-Sanremo.  Morgagni had launched what would become the Giro di Lombardia the previous year and proposed his new project to Eugenio Costamagna, director of the Milan sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport.  Morgagni reasoned that Sanremo’s standing at the heart of Italy’s nascent tourist industry would give the event a particular appeal.  Read more...


Girolamo Riario - papal military leader

Assassinated after failed attempt to unseat Medici family

Girolamo Riario, the 15th century governor of Imola and Forlì who was part of a major plot to displace the powerful Medici family as rulers of Florence, was assassinated on this day in 1488. Riario, a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV who had appointed him Captain General of the Church, was unpopular with his subjects as a result of imposing high taxes, but his murder was thought to be an attempt by the noble Orsi family of Forlì to seize control of the city. Two members of the family, Checco and Ludovico, led a group of assassins armed with swords into the government palace, where Riario was set upon.  Despite the presence of guards, Riario was stabbed and slashed repeatedly.  Eventually, his dead body was left in a local piazza, surrounded by a crowd celebrating his demise, as the Orsi brothers and their gang looted the palace. Read more…


Gianni Rodari - children’s author

Writer whose books reflect the struggles of the lower classes in society

Writer and journalist Gianni Rodari, who became famous for creating Cipollino, a children’s book character, died on this day in 1980 in Rome. Regarded as the best modern writer for children in Italian, Rodari had been awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for children’s literature in 1970, which gained him an international reputation. Cipollino, which means Little Onion, fought the unjust treatment of his fellow vegetable characters by the fruit royalty, such as Prince Lemon and the overly proud Tomato, in the garden kingdom. The main themes of the stories are the struggle of the underclass against the powerful, good versus evil and the importance of friendship in the face of difficulties. Read more…


Lamberto Dalla Costa - Olympic bobsleigh champion

Fighter pilot who became first Italian to win a Gold medal

Lamberto Dalla Costa, part of the team that brought Italy its first gold medal for Olympic bobsleigh, was born on this day in 1920 in Crespano del Grappa, a small town in the Veneto. Dalla Costa was an adventurous individual with a passion for flying. He joined the Italian Air Force as a volunteer during World War Two and became a combat pilot who rose eventually to the rank of air marshall.  When Italy was chosen to host the 1956 Winter Olympics at Cortina d'Ampezzo they was a tradition of looking towards the military to provide the crews for the bobsleigh events and Dalla Costa was selected, even though he had never been involved with high-level competitive sport, after demonstrating the right level of skill and discipline. Read more…


Gasparo da Salò – violin maker

Founder of the Brescian school of stringed instrument craftsmen

One of Italy’s earliest violin makers, Gasparo da Salò, died on this day in 1609 in Brescia. He developed the art of string making to a high level and his surviving instruments are still admired and revered. Da Salò was born Gasparo Bertolotti in Salò, a resort on Lake Garda in 1542. His father and uncle were violinists and composers and his cousin, Bernardino, was a violinist at the Este court in Ferrara and at the Gonzaga court in Mantua. Bertolotti received a good musical education and was referred to as ‘a talented violone player’ in a 1604 document about the music at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. Bertolotti moved to Brescia on the death of his father and set up shop in an area where there were other instrument makers. He became known as Gasparo da Salò and his workshop quickly became one of the most important in Europe. Read more...


The Milan-Sanremo cycle race

Classic event older than Giro d’Italia

Action from one of the earliest Milan-Sanremo races as riders head along the Ligurian coast road
Action from one of the earliest Milan-Sanremo
races as riders head along the Ligurian coast road
The Milan-Sanremo cycle race - one of the sport’s oldest and most prestigious single-day contests - took place for the first time on this day in 1907.

Covering a distance of 286km (177 miles), the race followed a course said to have begun at the Conca Fallata Inn, next to a navigation basin on the Naviglio Pavese canal in Milan and ended on Corso Cavallotti on the outskirts of Sanremo, a seaside town on the coast of Liguria famed for its temperate Mediterranean climate.

Cycling was growing in popularity across Europe at the time, particularly in Belgium and France. Both of those countries had established single-day long distance races in the late 19th century and it is probable that these were the inspiration when Tullo Morgagni, a Milan journalist, put forward the idea for Milan-Sanremo.

Morgagni had launched what would become the Giro di Lombardia the previous year and proposed his new project to Eugenio Costamagna, director of the Milan sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport.

Lucien Petit-Breton of France was the first Milan-Sanremo champion
Lucien Petit-Breton of France was
the first Milan-Sanremo champion
Morgagni reasoned that Sanremo’s standing at the heart of Italy’s nascent tourist industry would give the event a particular appeal.

Costamagna agreed to give the paper’s support and the chosen course was based on an amateur event contested the previous year. The difference was that the amateur race took place over two days, breaking at Acqui Terme, a spa town southwest of Alessandria. Morgagni was not even sure the riders would be capable of covering the distance in a single day, given the mountainous nature of some of the terrain.

It was not helped that the weather was unseasonably cold, which put off almost half of the original entry of 60 riders, but of the 33 that set off, 14 did complete the course, the winner being the Frenchman Lucien Petit-Breton, winner of the Paris-Tours one-day race the previous year, who finished the race in around 10 hours and 45 minutes at an average speed of 26.2km (16.5 miles) per hour. 

Despite the reduction in the field, the race was a commercial success for Gazzetta dello Sport and attracted enough top-class contestants for the newspaper to continue its backing the following year. Two years later, Morgagni persuaded Costamagna that the Gazzetta should commit resources into launching a national tour along the lines of the Tour de France, and so was born the Giro d’Italia.

Today, Milan-Sanremo is one of the so-called Monuments of competitive cycling, the five races considered to be the oldest, hardest and most prestigious one-day events in men's road racing.  The Giro di Lombardia, staged in the autumn, is another, along with the Tour of Flanders and Liège–Bastogne–Liège in Belgium, and France’s Paris-Roubaix.

Costante Girardengo remains the most successful Italian entrant
Costante Girardengo remains the
most successful Italian entrant 
The present race is even longer than the original, following a course of 298km (185.2 miles), starting in Piazza del Duomo in the heart of Milan and finishing along the Via Roma, Sanremo’s most fashionable shopping street.

The route through Lombardy, Piedmont and Liguria takes in the cities of Pavia, Voghera, Tortona, Novi Ligure and Ovada, climbs through the Passo del Turchino to an altitude of  591m (1,939 ft) before descending to the Ligurian Sea in Voltri.

From there, the course follows the spectacular scenery of the Aurelia highway along the Ligurian coast, taking in such towns as Arenzano, Varazze, Savona, Finale Ligure, Pietra Ligure, Loano, Borghetto Santo Spirito, Ceriale and Albenga and the seaside resorts of Alassio, Andora, Diano Marina and Imperia. 

The coast road incorporates a number of climbs, concluding with the Poggio di Sanremo, now a suburb of Sanremo, before a fast and winding descent towards Sanremo.

A host of important names in cycling are listed among the past champions, including the great Belgian and five-times Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx, whose seven victories between 1966 and 1976 is unequalled, the Frenchman Laurent Fignon and Ireland’s Sean Kelly.

Now generally held on the third Saturday in March, the Milan-Sanremo has been won 51 times by Italian riders, among whom Costante Girardengo claimed six victories between 1918 and 1928, Gino Bartali (1939-50) four and Fausto Coppi (1946-49) three. The most recent Italian champion is Vincenzo Nibali, successful in 2018.

The Casino di Sanremo is a striking example of the resort's Stile Liberty architecture
The Casino di Sanremo is a striking example
of the resort's Stile Liberty architecture
Travel tip:  

The resort of Sanremo in Liguria expanded rapidly in the mid-18th century, when the phenomenon of tourism began to take hold, albeit primarily among the wealthy. Several grand hotels were established and the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia was among the European royals who took holidays there. The Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel was so taken with the elegance of the town after his holiday visits that he made it his permanent home. Known as the City of Flowers, it is characterised by its Stile Liberty architecture (the Italian variant of Art Nouveau), of which the Casinò di Sanremo in Corso degli Inglesi is a beautiful example.

The Naviglio Pavese is lined with bars and restaurants
The Naviglio Pavese is lined
with bars and restaurants
Travel tip:

The Naviglio Pavese canal in Milan, which was the original departure point for the Milan-Sanremo race, is one of a small number of canals in the city, yet between the 12th and 17th centuries it had a network of canals a little like those of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. They were constructed to make up for Milan lacking a major river, then essential to commerce. The network linked the city to the Ticino and Adda rivers, as well as easing movement of goods around the city. When trains, then lorries and vans replaced barges as the quickest methods of transport, however, the canals fell into disuse and most were eventually filled in. The remnants that remain are just to the southwest of the city centre. Nowadays, the Naviglio Grande, the Naviglio Pavese and the Darsena basin - once the hub of the city’s inland port - have become a popular area for the restaurants and bars that have sprung up alongside the water.

Also on this day:

1480: The Otranto Massacre

1742: The birth of Pope Pius VII

1984: The birth of football Giorgio Chiellini

1988: The death of car maker Enzo Ferrari

(Picture credits: Sanremo casino by Sailko; Naviglio Pavese by PFAnythingGoes; via Wikimedia Commons)


13 April 2021

13 April

Roberto Calvi – banker

Mystery remains over bizarre death of bank chairman

Roberto Calvi, dubbed 'God’s Banker' by the press because of his close association with the Vatican, was born on this day in 1920 in Milan.  In 1982 his body was found hanging from scaffolding beneath Blackfriars Bridge close to London’s financial district. His death is a mystery that has never been satisfactorily solved and it has been made the subject of many books and films.  Calvi was the chairman of Banco Ambrosiano in Milan, which had direct links to Pope John Paul II through his bodyguard, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, who was also head of the Vatican Bank, which had shares in Ambrosiano.  Calvi had been missing for nine days before his body was found by a passer-by in London. At first police treated his death as suicide but a year later a second inquest overturned this and delivered an open verdict.  In October 2002, forensic experts commissioned by an Italian court finally concluded Calvi had been murdered.  Calvi had become chairman of Ambrosiano, Italy’s largest private bank, in 1975 and had built up a vast financial empire.  But three years later the Bank of Italy issued a report claiming Ambrosiano had illegally exported several million lire.  Read more…


Antonio Meucci - inventor of the telephone

Engineer from Florence was 'true' father of communications

Antonio Meucci, the Italian engineer who was acknowledged 113 years after his death to be the true inventor of the telephone, was born on this day in 1808 in Florence.  Until Vito Fossella, a Congressman from New York, asked the House of Representatives to recognise that the credit should have gone to Meucci, it was the Scottish-born scientist Alexander Graham Bell who was always seen as the father of modern communications.  Yet Meucci’s invention was demonstrated in public 16 years before Bell took out a patent for his device. This was part of the evidence Fossella submitted to the House, which prompted a resolution in June, 2002, that the wealth and fame that Bell enjoyed were based on a falsehood.  It has even been suggested that Bell actually stole Meucci’s invention and developed it as his own while the Italian died in poverty, having been unable to afford the patent.  Meucci’s story began when he was born in the San Frediano area of Florence, which was then part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the first of nine children fathered by a policeman, Amatis Meucci, and his wife, Domenica.  Read more…


Giannino Marzotto - racing driver

Double Mille Miglia winner from a famous family

Giannino Marzotto, a racing driver who twice won the prestigious Mille Miglia and finished fifth at Le Mans, was born on this day in 1928 in Valdagno, a town situated in the mountains about 30km (19 miles) northwest of Vicenza.  He was the great, great grandson of Luigi Marzotto, who in 1836 opened a woollen factory that evolved into the Marzotto Group, one of Italy’s largest textile manufacturers.  Marzotto worked for the company after he retired from motor racing, at one point filling the position of managing director and later company president, before giving up those roles to develop other businesses.  He was one of five sons of Count Gaetano Marzotto, who was the major figure in the Marzotto company in the 20th century, transforming the family business into an international entity and building the Città Sociale, a town adjoining Valdagno characterised by wide, tree-lined boulevards which he built to provide a pleasant and well-appointed community for the workers at the Marzotto factory.  With this wealthy background, Giannino was able to indulge his passion for cars.   Read more…


12 April 2021

12 April

Giorgio Cantarini - actor

Child star of Oscar-winning Life Is Beautiful

Giorgio Cantarini, who delivered an award-winning performance in the triple Oscar-winning movie Life Is Beautiful when he was just five years old, was born on this day in 1992 in Orvieto.  Cantarini was cast as Giosuè, the four-year-old son of Roberto Benigni’s character, Guido, in the 1997 film, which brought Academy Awards for Benigni as Best Actor and, as the director, for Best Foreign Film. For his own part, Cantarini was rewarded for a captivating performance in the poignant story with a Young Artist award.  Three years later, in Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning blockbuster Gladiator, Cantarini was given another coveted part as the son of Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus.  Born to parents who separated soon after his fifth birthday, Cantarini went to an audition for the part of Giosuè after an uncle read a description in a newspaper article of the kind of child Benigni wanted and told him he was a perfect match.  Cantarini recalled in an interview in 2018 that the audition consisted simply of a conversation with Benigni, with no acting involved. Once shooting began, he was told what to do on a scene-by-scene basis.  Read more…


Caffarelli – opera singer

Tempestuous life of a talented male soprano

The castrato singer who performed under the stage name of Caffarelli was born Gaetano Maiorano on this day in 1710 in Bitonto in the province of Bari in Apulia.  Caffarelli had a reputation for being temperamental and for fighting duels with little provocation, but he was popular with audiences and was able to amass a large fortune for himself.  One theory is that his stage name, Caffarelli, was taken from his teacher, Caffaro, who gave him music lessons when he was a child, but another theory is that he took the name from a patron, Domenico Caffaro.  When Maiorano was ten years old he was given the income from two vineyards owned by his grandmother to enable him to study music. The legal document drawn up mentioned that the young boy wished to be castrated and become a eunuch. Maiorano became a pupil of Nicola Porpora, the composer and singing teacher, who is reputed to have kept him working from one sheet of exercises for years before telling him there was no more he could be taught because he was the greatest singer in Europe.  In 1726 Maiorano made his debut in Rome, aged 15, under the stage name Caffarellino.  Read more…


Pope Julius I

Day of remembrance for pope who chose the date for Christmas

Pope Julius I died on this day in 352 AD in Rome and soon after his death he was made a saint. His feast day is celebrated on this day every year by Catholics all over the world.  Julius I is remembered for setting 25 December as the official date of birth of Jesus Christ, starting the tradition of celebrating Christmas on that date.  He also asserted his authority against Arianism, a heretical cult that insisted Christ was human and not divine.  Julius was born in Rome but the exact date of his birth is not known. He became pope in 337 AD, four months after his predecessor, Pope Mark, had died.  In 339 Julius gave refuge in Rome to Bishop St Athanasius the Great of Alexandria, who had been deposed and expelled by the Arians.  At the Council of Rome in 340, Julius reaffirmed the position of Athanasius.  He then tried to unite the Western bishops against Arianism with the Council of Sardica in 342. The council acknowledged the Pope’s supreme authority, enhancing his power in ecclesiastical affairs by granting him the right to judge cases of legal possession of Episcopal sees.  Read more…


Marcello Lippi - World Cup winning coach

Former Juventus manager won Champions League and World Cup

Marcello Lippi, one of Italy's most successful football managers and a World Cup winner in 2006, was born on this day in 1948 in Viareggio on the Tuscan coast.  Lippi, who as Juventus coach won five Serie A titles and the Champions League before taking the reins of the national team, subsequently had a successful career in China, where his Guangzhou Evergrande team won three Chinese Super League championships and the Asian Champions League.  He is the only manager to have won both the European Champions League and the Asian Champions League.  Lippi, who still lives in Viareggio, spent much of his playing career in Genoa with Sampdoria, where he played as a central defender or sweeper.  He began his coaching career at the same club in 1982, looking after the youth team, before taking on his first senior team at Pontedera, a small club in Tuscany playing in the third tier.  It is in the Italian tradition for coaches to gain a grounding in the lower divisions and Lippi did not experience Serie A until Cesena became his fifth club in 1989.  His breakthrough came in 1994 when he achieved UEFA Cup qualification with Napoli, a club at that time in financial turmoil.  Read more…


Flavio Briatore - entrepreneur

From clothing to luxury resorts via Formula One

The colourful and controversial entrepreneur Flavio Briatore was born on this day in 1950 in Verzuolo, a large village in the Italian Alps near Saluzzo in Piedmont.  Briatore is best known for his association with the Benetton clothing brand and, through their sponsorship, Formula One motor racing, but his business interests have extended well beyond the High Street and the race track.  His empire includes his exclusive Sardinian beach club Billionaire, Twiga beach clubs in Tuscany and Apulia, the Lion under the Sun spa resort in Kenya, the upmarket Sumosan, Twiga and Cipriani restaurants, and the Billionaire Couture menswear line.  Briatore was also for three years co-owner with former F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal of the English football club Queen’s Park Rangers.  He is also the man to whom the contestants must answer in the Italian version of the hit British TV series The Apprentice.  With a fortune estimated at £120m (€140m; $150m), Briatore lives the lifestyle of the super-rich clients he entertains at his clubs and restaurants, owns a £68.2m (€80m; $85m) yacht and has enjoyed the company of a string of beautiful and famous women.  Read more…


11 April 2021

11 April

Primo Levi - Auschwitz survivor

Celebrated writer killed in fall in Turin

Primo Levi, an Auschwitz survivor who wrote a number of books chronicling his experiences of the Holocaust, died on this day in Turin in 1987.  He was 67 years old and his body was found at the foot of a stairwell in the apartment building where he lived, having seemingly fallen from the third floor.  A chemist by profession, Levi died in the same building in which he was born in July 1919, in Corso Re Umberto in the Crocetta district of the northern Italian city.  Apart from his periods of incarceration, he lived in the same apartment, a gift from his father to his mother, almost all his life.  His death was officially recorded as suicide, the verdict supported by his son's statement that his father had suffered from depression in the months leading to his death.  He had undergone surgery for a prostate condition and was worried about the failing health of his 92-year-old mother.  Some of his friends, however, doubted that he would have taken his own life and believed he had fallen accidentally.  They argued that while other survivors never recovered from the mental scarring, Levi had emerged with "soul and psyche intact" and retained a hopeful and positive outlook.  Read more…


Rachele Mussolini - wife of Il Duce

Marriage survived 30 years despite dictator's infidelity

Rachele Mussolini, the woman who stayed married to Italy’s former Fascist dictator for 30 years despite his simultaneous relationship with his mistress, Claretta Petacci, and numerous affairs, was born on this day in 1890.  The daughter of Agostino Guidi, a peasant farmer, and Anna Lombardi, she was born, like Benito Mussolini, in Predappio, a small town in what is now Emilia-Romagna.  They met for the first time when the future self-proclaimed Duce had a temporary teaching job at her school.  They were married in December 1915 in a civil ceremony in Treviglio, near Milan, although by that time she had been his mistress for several years, having given birth to his eldest daughter, Edda, in 1910.  Mussolini had actually married another woman, Ida Dalser, in 1914 but the marriage had broken down despite her bearing him a son, Benito junior, and Mussolini returned to Rachele.  Her father had cautioned against her marrying Mussolini, whom he considered to have no prospects, but when Agostino died, his widow became the lover of Mussolini’s father, Alessandro, himself a widower.  Read more…


Battle of Ravenna

Thousands die in pointless conflict of the Italian Wars

French forces inflicted appalling casualties upon a largely Spanish Holy League army on this day in 1512 at Molinaccio just outside Ravenna.  The French, under the command of their brilliant 21-year-old leader Gaston de Foix, had taken Brescia in Lombardy by storm in February and then marched on Ravenna intending to provoke the papal Holy League army into battle. They also had an Italian contingent of soldiers with them under the command of Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.  Ramon de Cardona, Spanish viceroy of Naples and commander of the Holy League forces, led an army through the papal states of the Romagna to relieve Ravenna, passing Forlì and advancing north along the Ronco river.  Both sides had learned the new rules of warfare in the gunpowder age and were reluctant to assault well defended earthworks with cavalry or infantry.  They indulged in an artillery duel and had to manoeuvre unwieldy cannons to find effective lines of fire.  But after two hours they changed tactics and both cavalry and infantry threw themselves forward in assaults. The casualties were heavy as horsemen clashed in swirling melees and infantry swarmed over ramparts and ditches.  Read more…

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