6 July 2023

6 July

Cesare Mori - Mafia buster

'Iron Prefect' who 'eliminated' the Cosa Nostra

Cesare Mori, the prefect of police credited with crushing the Sicilian Mafia during the inter-War years, died on this day in 1942 at the age of 70.  At the time of his death he was living in retirement in Udine, in some respects a forgotten figure in a country in the grip of the Second World War.  Yet during his police career his reputation as a hard-line law enforcer was such that the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini personally appointed him as prefect of Palermo, charged with breaking the Mafia’s hold over Sicily and re-establishing the authority of the State by any means necessary.  Mori was born in Pavia in Lombardy, by then part of the new Kingdom of Italy, in 1871.  His upbringing was difficult.  His first years were spent living in an orphanage, although his parents were not dead and looked after him after he had turned seven.  He attended the Military Academy in Turin and was set on a career in the army but after marrying Angelina Salvi in 1897 he quit and joined the police, taking up a posting in Ravenna.  His first experience of Sicily came with a brief posting to Castelvetrano, near Trapani, where he captured a notorious bandit, Paolo Grisalfi.  Read more…


Goffredo Mameli - writer

Young poet wrote the stirring words of Italian national anthem

Patriot and poet Goffredo Mameli died on this day in 1849 in Rome.  A follower of political revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini and a supporter of the Risorgimento movement, Mameli is the author of the words of the Italian national anthem, Fratelli d’Italia.  Mameli was the son of a Sardinian admiral and was born in Genoa in 1827 where his father was commanding the fleet of the Kingdom of Sardinia.  As he grew up he became interested in the theories of Mazzini and he joined a political movement that supported the idea of a united Italy.  Mameli was a 20-year-old student when he wrote the words that are still sung today by Italians as their national anthem.  They were sung to music for the first time in November 1847 to celebrate the visit of King Charles Albert of Sardinia to Genoa.  The anthem is known in Italian as L’inno di Mameli or Mameli’s hymn.  Mameli became involved in the movement to expel the Austrians from Italy and joined Garibaldi’s army. He also became director of a newspaper that launched a press campaign urging the people to rise up against Austria.  He died after being accidentally injured in the leg by the bayonet of one of his colleagues during a battle.  Read more…


Pietro Valpreda - the ‘bomber’ who never was

Jailed suspect acquitted after 16 years

Pietro Valpreda, who was arrested following the Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan in December 1969 and was held for 16 years awaiting trial as a terrorist before being acquitted, died on this day in 2002.  The Piazza Fontana bombing killed 17 people and injured 88 others after a device was detonated inside the Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura in Piazza Fontana, which is just a few streets away from the Duomo in the centre of Milan.  Valpreda was an anarchist sympathiser but insisted he was at home on the afternoon of the incident, being cared for by an aunt, who swore under police questioning that her nephew, who was a dancer with a vaudeville company, was suffering from flu.  He was charged, however, on the evidence of a taxi driver, Cornelio Rolandi, who said he dropped a man fitting Valpreda’s description in the vicinity of the bank before the bomb went off and picked him up again afterwards, minus a briefcase he had been carrying when he dropped him.  Despite considering Rolandi’s evidence to be unreliable on the grounds of inconsistencies in his description of events, prosecuting magistrates held Valpreda.  Read more…


5 July 2023

5 July

NEW - Italian aviators set distance flying record

Rome-Brazil flight makes history

Italian aviation enthusiasts were celebrating on this day in 1928 when two pilots of the Regia Aeronautica - the Italian Air Force - landed their aircraft in Brazil having set a world record for the longest straight-line non-stop flight.  The duo - Carlo Del Prete and Arturo Ferrarin - had taken off from a military airfield at Montecelio near Rome 49 hours and 19 minutes earlier, crossing northwest Africa and the South Atlantic in their Savoia-Marchetti S64 monoplane on a single tank of fuel.  They were credited with a distance of 7,188km (4,466 miles), that being the great-circle distance (the formula used to calculate the distance between points on the surface of a sphere) between Montecelio and the flight’s intended destination - after several changes of plan - at Natal on the northeastern tip of Brazil.  In fact, after making a series of manoeuvres en route because of weather events, the two had covered around 8,100km (5,033 miles) and, fearing they would run out of fuel before they could reach Natal, took the decision to land on a beach at Touros, some 70km (43 miles) further up the coast. Both Del Prete and Ferrarin were experienced in long-haul flying. Read more…


Gianfranco Zola – footballer

Brilliant forward voted Chelsea’s all-time greatest player

Gianfranco Zola, a sublimely talented footballer whose peak years were spent with Napoli, Parma and Chelsea, was born on this day in 1966 in the Sardinian town of Oliena.  Capped 35 times by the Italian national team, Zola scored more than 200 goals in his club career, the majority of them playing at the highest level, including 90 in Italy’s top flight – Serie A – and 58 in the English Premier League.  He specialised in the spectacular, most of his goals resulting from his brilliant execution of free kicks or his dazzling ball control.  Zola went on to be a manager after his playing career ended, although he has so far been unable to come anywhere near matching his achievements as a player.  He was probably at his absolute peak during the seven years he spent playing in England with Chelsea, whose fans named him as the club’s greatest player of all time in a poll conducted in 2003, shortly before he left to return to Sardinia.  However, it was probably the four years he spent with Napoli, his first Serie A club, that were his making as a player, after being spotted playing club football in Sardinia for Nuorese and Torres.  Read more…


Roberto Locatelli - motorcycle racer

World champion who survived horror crash

The former world 125cc motorcycling champion Roberto Locatelli was born on this day in 1974 in the Lombardy city of Bergamo.  Locatelli won the 125cc title in 2000, riding an Aprilia for the Vasco Rossi Racing team, winning the Grands Prix of Malaysia, Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain and Japan to finish top of the standings, ahead of the Japanese rider Yoichi Ui.  He finished third in the standings in 2004, his next best performance, but because of the rule excluding riders over the age of 28 from competing in the 125cc class was obliged to focus on the 250cc category.  He enjoyed some success racing with the Toth team, obtaining two podium finishes in the 2006 season, including second place in Valencia, to finish fifth overall. The achievement won him a contract to ride for Gilera in 2007.  However, while practising for the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez in March 2007 Locatelli suffered an horrific crash, losing control of his bike and slammed into a trackside tyre wall at an estimated speed of 150kph (93mph).  He was taken to Cadiz hospital and placed in a medically-induced coma. Tests ruled out brain damage, but every bone in the rider’s face was broken, in addition to a fractured left collarbone, a dislocated left ankle, and a punctured lung.  Read more…


Diego Maradona joins Napoli

Argentina star hailed as a ‘messiah’ by Neapolitans

SSC Napoli, a club who had never won Italy’s Serie A since their formation in 1926 and lived in the shadow of the powerful clubs in the north of the country, stunned the football world on this day in 1984 by completing the world record signing of Argentina star Diego Maradona.  Maradona, who would captain his country as they won the World Cup in Mexico two years later, agreed to move to Napoli from Spanish giants Barcelona, who he had joined from Argentina club Boca Juniors in 1982.  Although the Catalan team had been keen to offload him after two years in which Maradona had never been far from controversy, his arrival in arguably the poorest major city in Italy, whose team had finished 10th and 12th in the previous two Serie A seasons, was still a sensation.  Maradona’s unveiling at the Stadio San Paolo on 5 July, 1984 attracted a crowd of 75,000 to the stadium. Napoli supporters were fanatical about their team despite their lack of success and were thrilled to have a distraction at a time when problems with housing, schools, buses, employment and sanitation were making daily life in Naples very difficult.  Read more…


Giovanni Sforza – Lord of Pesaro and Gradara

Military leader was briefly married to Lucrezia Borgia

Giovanni Sforza d’Aragona was born on this day in 1466 in Pesaro in the region of Le Marche.  The illegitimate son of Costanzo I Sforza, Giovanni became part of the powerful Sforza family and inherited his father’s titles when he was just 17, as Costanzo I died leaving no legitimate children.  Giovanni Sforza is mainly remembered for being the first husband of Lucrezia Borgia, but he was also a condottiero - a professional army commander -  who fought military campaigns and ruled over Pesaro and Gradara from 1483 until his death.  In 1489 Sforza married Maddalena Gonzaga, the daughter of Federico I of Mantua, but she died the following year.  As Giovanni was related to the Sforza branch who ruled the Duchy of Milan, he was regarded as a valuable connection by the Borgias and with the help of Giovanni’s cousin, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, the Borgias arranged a marriage between Giovanni, who was by then in his twenties and Lucrezia, the 12-year-old illegitimate daughter of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI.  A proxy marriage took place on 12 June 1492 as the contract stipulated that Lucrezia would stay in Rome and not consummate the marriage for a year.  Read more…


Alberto Gilardino - World Cup winner

Prolific goalscorer now on coaching ladder

The footballer Alberto Gilardino, who was an important member of Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning squad and is one of the all-time top 10 goalscorers in Serie A, was born on this day in 1982 in the province of Biella in Piedmont.  A striker, Gilardino, who enjoyed his peak years as a player with Parma, AC Milan and Fiorentina, totalled 188 goals in Serie A matches, putting him ninth on the all-time list.  He had scored 100 Serie A goals by the age of 26, one of the youngest to achieve that milestone.  As an Italy international, he played under coaches Marcello Lippi, Roberto Donadoni and Cesare Prandelli, scoring 19 goals in 57 appearances, having made his mark previously in the country’s Under-21 team, for whom he was all-time top scorer with 19 goals in 30 games and was captain of the side that won the 2004 European Under-21 championships.  Under Lippi, he was a key figure at the 2006 World Cup, starting all three group games and the first knock-out round alongside Luca Toni, scoring Italy’s goal against the United States in the group stages. He lost his place to Roma’s Francesco Totti in the later knock-out rounds.  Read more...


Paolo Rossi's World Cup hat-trick

Spain 1982: Italy defeat Brazil in classic match

Italians were celebrating up and down the country on this day in 1982 years ago as striker Paolo Rossi turned from villain to hero with a magnificent hat-trick to knock hot favourites Brazil out of the World Cup finals in Spain.  The Juventus forward had served a two-year suspension for his role in an alleged match-fixing scandal while on loan with Perugia and was controversially selected for the World Cup by Italy coach Enzo Bearzot.  He had returned to action in Serie A late in the 1981-82 season after his ban was lifted less than six weeks before the finals were due to begin. Critics argued that with so little preparation time he could not possibly be match fit.  Boasting stars such as Zico, Falcão, Éder and Sócrates, the 1982 Brazil side was reckoned to be at least the equal of the team of Pelé, Rivellino, Tostão and Jairzinho that won the 1970 World Cup in such flamboyant, thrilling style.  Some say the 1982 vintage was even better. What is true is that they needed only to avoid defeat against Italy in their final match in the second group phase in the Estadio Sarrià in Barcelona to reach the semi-finals.  Italy, by contrast, had been uninspiring.  Read more…

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Italian aviators set distance flying record

Rome-Brazil flight makes history

The Savoia-Marchetti S64 on the runway at Montecelio airfield, near Rome
The Savoia-Marchetti S64 on the runway
at Montecelio airfield, near Rome 
Italian aviation enthusiasts were celebrating on this day in 1928 when two pilots of the Regia Aeronautica - the Italian Air Force - landed their aircraft in Brazil having set a world record for the longest straight-line non-stop flight. 

The duo - Carlo Del Prete and Arturo Ferrarin - had taken off from a military airfield at Montecelio near Rome 49 hours and 19 minutes earlier, crossing Northwest Africa and the South Atlantic in their Savoia-Marchetti S64 monoplane on a single tank of fuel.

They were credited with a distance of 7,188km (4,466 miles), that being the great-circle distance (the formula used to calculate the distance between points on the surface of a sphere) between Montecelio and the flight’s intended destination - after several changes of plan - at Natal on the northeastern tip of Brazil.

In fact, after making a series of manoeuvres en route because of weather events, the two had covered around 8,100km (5,033 miles) and, fearing they would run out of fuel before they could reach Natal, took the decision to land on a beach at Touros, some 70km (43 miles) further up the coast.

Carlo Del Prete had flown across the Atlantic twice before
Carlo Del Prete had flown across
the Atlantic twice before
Both Del Prete and Ferrarin were experienced in long-haul flying and had taken on several endurance challenges.

Del Prete, born in Lucca in 1897, was a major in the Regia Aeronautica. He had been chosen as co-pilot by Francesco De Pinedo, one of the Italian pioneers of long-distance flying and a friend from their time in the Italian Navy, for an epic transatlantic journey from Europe to the Two Americas, flying over three continents - Africa, South Africa and North America - and crossing the Atlantic twice, covering a total distance of 43,820 km (27,228 miles).

Ferrarin, who hailed from Thiene in the province of Vicenza, was a former Regia Aeronautica pilot who specialised in aviation contests, acquiring fame through a 1920 race from Rome to Tokyo, stopping in Greece, Syria, India, Burma, Thailand, French Indochina (now Vietnam), China, and Korea, over a distance of 8,000km (4,971 miles). He and fellow Italian Guido Masiero, together with their respective engineers, were the only two finishers from 11 aircraft that began the race.

Together, Del Prete and Ferrarin had set a record earlier in 1928 for the longest distance over a closed circuit, in the same Savoia-Marchetti S.64, completing 51 circuits of a route between Torre Flavia, near Ladispoli, and Anzio along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast, covering 7,666km (4,763 miles) and staying continuously airborne for 58 hours 34 minutes.

The transatlantic flight was planned for the first days of July so that the night hours of the flight would benefit from a full moon.  The monoplane, which had been built specifically for long-distance flying, complete with a bunk bed behind one of the seats, took off from Montecelio on a purpose-built runway at 6.51pm on the evening of July 3. 

Arturo Ferrarin clashed with Fascist politician Italo Balbo
Arturo Ferrarin clashed with
Fascist politician Italo Balbo
The original planned destination had been Rio de Janeiro, but for technical reasons it was changed shortly before departure to Bahia (now Salvador), further to the north.

Weighed down heavily with the fuel necessary for the journey, the plane was able to climb only at 0.25 metres per second. It took 3km (1.8 miles) to reach an altitude of 15m (49ft).

The first difficulty the pilots encountered came as they flew over Africa, when hot winds caused their engine to burn fuel more quickly, prompting them to change their course in order to find cooler temperatures further north. 

The next problem was a belt of equatorial thunderstorms, which required them to climb to a safer altitude rather than risk putting the aircraft through stresses of the storm.

The sighting of the Brazilian coastline on the morning of July 5 came as a relief, confirming that that mid-flight route re-calculations had been accurate. 

Yet there was more drama ahead with another encounter with bad weather as they headed towards Bahia, this time in the shape of fog, forcing another change of plans. The new destination was now Natal, where they expected to land on the Latécoère airfield . However, worried about their fuel reserve and still hindered by poor visibility, Ferrarin and Del Prete eyed a strip of sand at Touros and decided to put down there. 

The landing was not without damage to the plane as its wheels quickly sank into the sand. Nonetheless, the two airmen clambered from the cockpit triumphant.  Yet the story had three tragic postscripts.

The Savoia-Marchetti S64 on the beach at  Touros in Brazil after its emergency landing
The Savoia-Marchetti S64 on the beach at 
Touros in Brazil after its emergency landing
While still in Brazil, Ferrarin and Del Prete were asked by the company who built the plane for them to carry out a demonstration flight in their Savoia-Marchetti S.62 seaplane for an audience of potential buyers in Rio. During the flight, the aircraft’s wing assembly collapsed and the aircraft plunged into the sea. Ferrarin escaped serious injury but Del Prete was left with damage to both legs, one of which had to be amputated.  An infection set in and he died in Rio on August 16, five days before his 31st birthday.

On his return to Italy, Ferrarin was awarded the Gold Medal of Aeronautic Valor. However, in 1929 Italo Balbo, a powerful member of Mussolini's Fascist government, who had become the Minister of the Italian Air Force, banned any further participation by Italian airmen in races and competitions on the grounds that they gave prestige to individuals rather than highlighting the power of the regime’s air weaponry. After Ferrarin and Balbo clashed over the decision, Balbo demanded that Ferrarin leave the Air Force. 

He joined the aviation division of auto giants Fiat, where his duties included flying company founder Giovanni Agnelli’s seaplane. On one such flight in 1935, with Agnelli’s son, Edoardo, his passenger, he hit an object in the water off Genoa and overturned. He escaped unharmed but Edoardo was killed.  Ferrarin himself died five years later in another air accident.

The S64, meanwhile, improved the closed circuit record again in 1930, with pilots Fausto Cecconi and Umberto Maddalena at the controls, flying continuously for a distance of 8,188 km (5,088 miles) and remaining in flight for 67 h 13 min.  Sadly, the following year, the S64 crashed into the sea and was never recovered, taking Cecconi and Maddalena and the engineer Giuseppe Da Monte down with it.

The airfield at Montecelio, with its Fascist-era architecture, as it was in the 1930s
The airfield at Montecelio, with its Fascist-era
architecture, as it was in the 1930s
Travel tip:

The Montecelio airfield is now part of a municipality known as Guidonia Montecelio, about 25km (15 miles) northeast of Rome, which comprises the ancient hilltop town of Montecelio, the history of which goes back 6,000 years, and the modern town of Guidonia, built in 1937. Once the home of a fortified Roman fort, Montecelio in the Middle Ages featured a fortress built at the highest point of the town, the remains of which are still visible. A maze of streets and alleyways tumble down the hillside, radiating from a pleasant central square, the Piazza San Giovanni.  Guidonia was originally built to house the officers and civilian employees based at the airfield. Built under the guidance of lead architect Alberto Calza Bini, it followed the orthogonal layout of streets typical of other Fascist-era new towns. 

Lucca's walls provide a full 4.2km circuit of the city and are popular with walkers, cyclists and joggers
Lucca's walls provide a full 4.2km circuit of the city
and are popular with walkers, cyclists and joggers
Travel tip:

Lucca, where Carlo Del Prete was born, is situated in western Tuscany, just 30km (19 miles) inland from Viareggio on the coast and barely 20km (12 miles) from Pisa, with its international airport.  It is often overlooked by travellers to the area in favour of Pisa’s Leaning Tower and the art treasures of Florence, 80km (50 miles) to the east, yet has much to recommend within its majestic walls, where visitors can stroll along narrow cobbled streets into a number of beautiful squares, with lots of cafes and restaurants for those content to soak up the ambience, but also a wealth of churches, museums and galleries for those seeking a fix of history and culture.   The Renaissance walls, still intact, are an attraction in their own right, providing a complete 4.2km (2.6 miles) circuit of the city popular with walkers and cyclists.

Also on this day:

1466: The birth of military leader Giovanni Sforza

1966: The birth of footballer Gianfranco Zola

1974: The birth of motorcycle racer Roberto Locatelli

1982: Paolo Rossi’s World Cup hat-trick

1982: The birth of footballer Albert Gilardino

1984: Diego Maradona signs for Napoli


4 July 2023

4 July

Giuseppe ‘Nuccio’ Bertone – car designer

The man behind the classic Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint

Automobile designer Giuseppe Bertone, who built car bodies for Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lamborghini, Ferrari and many other important names in the car industry, was born on this day in 1914 in Turin.  Nicknamed ‘Nuccio’ Bertone, he was regarded as the godfather of Italian car design. His career in the automobile industry spanned six decades.  His father Giovanni was a skilled metalworker who made body parts for cars in a workshop he founded two years before Giuseppe was born.  Giovanni had been born in 1884 into a poor farming family near the town of Mondovi, in southern Piedmont. He had moved to Turin in 1907 and became gripped by the automobile fever that swept the city.  It was under the direction of his son that the company – Carrozzeria Bertone – was transformed after the Second World War into an industrial enterprise, specialising at first in design but later in the manufacture of car bodies on a large scale.  An accountant by qualification, Nuccio joined his father's firm in 1933, although his passion at first was racing cars as a driver. He raced Fiats, OSCAs, Maseratis, and Ferraris.  Read more…


Luigi Guido Grandi – monk, philosopher and mathematician

Man of religion who advanced mathematical knowledge

Luigi Guido Grandi, who published mathematical studies on the cone and the curve, died on this day in 1742 in Pisa.  He had been court mathematician to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’ Medici, and because he was also an engineer, he was appointed superintendent of water for the Duchy.  Grandi was born in 1671 in Cremona and was educated at the Jesuit College in the city.  He joined the Camaldolese monks at Ferrara when he was 16 and a few years later he was sent to the monastery of St Gregory the Great in Rome to complete his studies in philosophy and theology in preparation for taking holy orders.  Having become a professor in both subjects at a monastery in Florence, he became interested in mathematics, which he studied privately.  Grandi soon developed such a reputation in the field of mathematics that he was appointed court mathematician by Cosimo III.  While also serving as Superintendent of Water at the Medici court, he was involved in the drainage of the Chiana valley, which runs north to south between Arezzo and Orvieto.  Read more… 


Gina Lollobrigida – actress

Movie star who became photojournalist

Film star Gina Lollobrigida was born Luigina Lollobrigida on this day in 1927 in Subiaco in Lazio.  At the height of her popularity as an actress in the 1950s and early 1960s she was regarded as a sex symbol all over the world. In later life she worked as a photojournalist and has supported Italian and American good causes. In 2013 she sold her jewellery collection and donated the money she raised, in the region of five million dollars, to fund stem cell therapy research.  One of four daughters of a furniture manufacturer and his wife, as a young girl, Lollobrigida did some modelling, entered beauty contests and had minor roles in Italian films. She studied painting and sculpture at school and claimed in later life that she became an actress "by mistake". When she was 20 she entered the Miss Italia competition and came third. The publicity she received helped her get parts in European films but she turned down the chance to work in America after initially agreeing a seven-year contract with the American entrepreneur Howard Hughes. After she refused the terms of her contract, it took nine years for a legal dispute to be resolved.  She received a BAFTA nomination and won a Nastro d’Argento award for her performance in Bread, Love and Dreams (Pane, amore e fantasia). Read more…


3 July 2023

3 July

Ulisse Stacchini - architect

Designer behind two famous Milan landmarks

Ulisse Stacchini, the architect who designed two of Milan's most famous 20th century landmarks, was born on this day in 1871 in Florence.  A champion of Liberty-style Art Nouveau designs, Stacchini's defining work was the gargantuan Stazione di Milano Centrale - the city's main railway terminal.  He also designed the stadium that evolved into the city's iconic Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, joint home of Milan's two major football clubs, Internazionale and AC Milan.  Stacchini studied in Rome and moved to Milan soon after graduating, setting up a partnership with the engineer Giulio de Capitani, building houses, offices and shops for private clients.  Among his early projects was the Savini Caffè in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  His style can be seen in a number of town houses commissioned by wealthy patrons, including Via Gioberti 1 at Via Revere 7, which feature linear designs.  He became involved with the Milano Centrale project when he won a design competition in 1912, although construction was delayed by more than a decade because of the crisis in the Italian economy that followed the First World War.  Read more…


Alessandro Blasetti - film director

Reputation tarnished by links with Mussolini

Alessandro Blasetti, the film director sometimes referred to as ‘the father of Italian cinema’ for the part he played in reviving the film industry in Italy in the late 1920s and 30s, was born on this day in 1900 in Rome.  In his directing style, Blasetti was seen as ahead of his time, even in his early days.  His films were often shot on location, used many non-professional actors and had the characteristics of the neorealism that would make Italian cinema famous in the post-War years.  Yet he will forever be seen by some critics as an apologist for Fascism, a charge which stems mainly from his support for at least part of the ideology of Benito Mussolini, which led to a number of his films being interpreted as Fascist propaganda, although the evidence in some cases was rather thin.  The son of an oboe professor at Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Blasetti graduated in law from the Sapienza University of Rome.   Married in 1923, his first job was as a bank clerk but after a year he began to work as a journalist and wrote the first film column to appear in an Italian national newspaper.  He used his position to campaign for a revival of film production in Italy.  Read more…


Flavio Insinna - actor and presenter

Star of TV dramas turned game show host

The actor and presenter Flavio Insinna, who is the host of Italy’s popular television game show L’eridità and was formerly the face of Affari tuoi - the Italian version of Deal or No Deal - was born on this day in 1965 in Rome. In a broad-ranging career, Insinna has run up an impressive list of credits in cinema, theatre and television as well as publishing an autobiography and a novel. He is also known for his philanthropy after donating his 49-foot boat Roxana to humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières to help rescue Syrian refugees.  In a substantial catalogue of television drama and comedy appearances, notable was Insinna’s portrayal of the Carabinieri captain Flavio Anceschi in the popular Rai Uno series Don Matteo, with Terence Hill and Nino Frassica.  Ironically, Insinna’s ambition after obtaining his Liceo Classico diploma from Rome’s Augusto high school in 1984, had been to become a Carabinieri officer but after failing to gain admission to the elite police force’s training college he opted for acting. He enrolled at the drama school run by the Polish-Italian dramatist Alessandro Fersen and later joined the drama laboratory led by the Rome-born singer and actor Gigi Proietti, who had been one of his heroes growing up.  Read more…


Walter Veltroni - politician

Popular former communist twice elected Mayor of Rome

The politician Walter Veltroni, who was the first leader of Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (Partito Democratico) and was twice elected Mayor of Rome, was born on this day in 1955 in Rome.  A popular figure, Veltroni helped the PD reach a level of influence in Italian politics that enabled them to provide the leaders of three consecutive governments in Enrico Letta, Matteo Renzi and Paolo Gentiloni before the centre-left were routed at the 2018 general election.  Veltroni had such charisma and broad appeal that he was often tipped as a future prime minister, but his star began to wane after he lost the April 2008 general election in a head-to-head with Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom party.  He had stepped down as Mayor of Rome in order to focus on winning the election so defeat was a crushing blow.  In February 2009, following a heavy defeat for PD in regional elections in Sardinia and amid clashes within the party, he resigned as leader, giving way to his former deputy, Dario Franceschini.  Veltroni's political career had begun in 1976, when he was elected as a Rome city councillor as a member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI).  Read more…


2 July 2023

2 July

Pierre Cardin - fashion designer

Star of Parisian haute couture was born in Italy

Pierre Cardin, who has been described as the last survivor of the heyday of Parisian haute couture in the 50s and 60s, was born on this day in 1922 in the province of Treviso, north of Venice.  There are differing versions of the story of Cardin’s Italian origins.  One says that his parents were French but had a holiday home in Italy and that he was born in the village of Sant’ Andrea di Barbarana, on the Piave river, where his parents had a house.  Another says that his father was Italian, a labourer, that he was born in another small town in the province, San Biagio di Callalta and that he was the last of 11 children. This version suggests his father was in his 60s when Pierre – christened Pietro – was born.  What is agreed is that the family left Italy for France in 1924, possibly because of his father’s unease at the rise of Mussolini and his opposition to Fascism.  They settled in the industrial city of Saint-Etienne, where Pierre began his career in the clothing industry in 1936 when he was taken on as a tailor’s apprentice.  He moved to Vichy in 1939 and worked during the Second World War for the Red Cross before relocating to Paris in 1945, determined to make his name in the fashion world.  Read more…


Palio di Siena

First of two annual races contested on 2 July

The first of the two annual contests for the historic Palio di Siena takes place in Piazza del Campo on 2 July.  The passionately competitive horse race, first run in 1656, is staged on this date and 16 August each year. The first race is in honour of Siena's Madonna of Provenzano, the second forms part of the celebrations marking the Feast of the Assumption.  A colourful pageant, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race, which sees the square filled with spectators from many parts of the world.  The Palio features 10 horses, each representing one of Siena's 17 contrade, or wards, ridden bareback by riders wearing the colours of the contrada they represent.   They race for three circuits of a dirt track laid around the perimeter of the Piazza del Campo.  It is an event with no holds barred.  Riders are allowed to use the whip to encourage their own mounts but also to hamper their rivals and falls are frequent.  The winner is the horse that crosses the finishing line first, even if its rider is no longer on board.  Horses are trained specifically with the Palio in mind and 10 judged to be of approximately equal quality are chosen four days before the race.  Read more…


Carlo Pisacane – socialist and revolutionary

Patriot who put deeds before ideas

Carlo Pisacane, Duke of San Giovanni, was killed on this day in 1857 at Sanza in Campania, while trying to provoke an uprising in the Kingdom of Naples.  Pisacane is remembered for coming up with the concept ‘propaganda of the deed’, an idea that influenced Mussolini and many rebels and terrorists subsequently.  He argued that violence was necessary, not only to draw attention or generate publicity for a cause, but to inform, educate and rally the masses to join in.  Pisacane was born into an impoverished but noble family in Naples in 1818.  He joined the Neapolitan army at the age of 20, but became interested in the political ideas of Giuseppe Mazzini and went to England and France before going to serve in the French army in Algeria.  After the revolution of 1848 he came back to Italy, where he played a part in the brief life of the Roman Republic. After the city was captured by the French he went into exile again in London.  Pisacane regarded the rule of the House of Savoy as no better than the rule of Austria and went to Genoa to involve himself with the uprisings planned by Mazzini and his followers.  Read more…


1 July 2023

1 July

Gino Meneghetti - career burglar

Pisa-born criminal became legend in Brazil

Gino Amleto Meneghetti, a small-time thief in Italy who became a romanticised figure for his criminal exploits after emigrating to Brazil, was born on this day in 1878 in Pisa.  His early days were spent in a fishing village outside Pisa, but his father could find only low-paid work and moved the family to a different neighbourhood so he could take a job in a ceramics factory.  It was there that Gino fell in with a gang of boys who regularly engaged in petty crime, stealing fruit or chickens or other objects of minimal worth.  The young Meneghetti was arrested for the first time at 11 years of age.  After teenage years spent largely thieving, he made an attempt to change his life, going back to the classroom to learn to be a mechanic and a locksmith.  He found work and saved money, but then decided to move to Marseilles in France to live with an uncle, who owned a restaurant.  It was not a wise move. Like most large commercial ports, there was a seamier side to Marseilles and Meneghetti again fell into bad company.  His next arrest was for a more serious offence - illegal possession of weapons.  Found guilty, he spent some time in prison before being deported to Italy.  To avoid compulsory military service, Meneghetti feigned madness.  Read more…


Achille Varzi - racing driver

Death on track led to mandatory wearing of crash helmets

Italian motor racing fans were in mourning on this day in 1948 when it was announced that Achille Varzi, whose rivalry with fellow driver Tazio Nuvolari made frequent headlines during the 1930s, had been killed in an accident while practising for the Swiss Grand Prix.  Although the sun was shining, an earlier downpour had left parts of the Bremgarten circuit outside Berne very wet and Varzi’s Alfa Romeo 158 was travelling at 110mph (170kph) when he arrived at a corner that was both wet and oily.  The car spun several times and appeared to be coming to a stop but then flipped over. The helmetless Varzi was crushed beneath the car and died from his injuries at the age of 43.  His death was especially shocking because he was regarded as one of the more cautious drivers. Since beginning his career on two wheels in his teens he had suffered only one major accident, in stark contrast to Nuvolari, whose daredevil tactics led him to have several serious crashes.  Whether Varzi would have survived with better protection is unknown, but his death did prompt motor racing’s governing body, the FIA, to make the wearing of crash helmets by drivers mandatory rather than optional. Read more…


Alberto Magnelli - abstract painter

Self-taught artist whose work became known as Concrete Art

The abstract painter Alberto Magnelli, who became a leading figure in the Concrete Art movement, was born on this day in 1888 in Florence.  Concrete Art is described as abstract art that is entirely free of any basis in observed reality and that has no symbolic meaning. It had strong geometric elements and clear lines and its exponents insisted the form should eschew impressionism and that a painting should have no other meaning than itself.  The movement took its name from the definition of concrete as an adjective rather than a noun, meaning ‘existing in a material or physical form’.  It became Magnelli’s focus after he moved to Paris in 1931. Until then, he had experimented in various genres.  He was born into a comfortable background in Florence, his father coming from a wealthy family of textile merchants.  He never studied art formally but would spend hours in museums and churches looking at paintings and frescoes. He particularly admired the Renaissance artists Andrea del Castagno, Paolo Uccello, and Piero della Francesca.  Magnelli’s first paintings were landscapes, which he began to produce while on holiday in the Tuscan countryside.  Read more…


Clara Gonzaga – noblewoman

Countess from Mantua founded European dynasties

Clara (Chiara) Gonzaga, the eldest daughter of Federico I Gonzaga and Margaret of Bavaria, was born on this day in 1464 in Mantua.  One of her six children became Charles III, Duke of Bourbon and led the imperial army sent by Emperor Charles V against Pope Clement VII in what was to become the Sack of Rome in 1527.  Clara was also to feature as one of the characters in The Heptameron, a collection of 72 short stories written in French by the sister of King Francis I of France, Marguerite of Angouleme, who had been inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron.  Clara had five siblings, including Francesco II Gonzaga, who married Isabella d’Este.  She was married at the age of 17 to Gilbert of Bourbon Montpensier. Four years later he succeeded his father as Count of Montpensier and Dauphin of Auvergne.  Clara and Gilbert had six children, but when she was just 32, Gilbert, who had also become Viceroy of Naples and the Duke of Sessa, died of a fever while in Pozzuoli near Naples, leaving her a widow.  Three years later, Clara acted as a mediator on behalf of her brother Francesco, who was trying to form an alliance with King Louis XII of France in order to protect Mantua.  Read more…


Claudio Saracini – musician

Baroque songs have survived till modern times

Composer Claudio Saracini was born on this day in 1586 in or close to Siena in Tuscany.  He is one of the most highly regarded composers of his time and is known also to have played the lute and been a singer.  He became famous for composing monody, which is secular music for a single voice, and 133 of the songs he wrote in this style have survived till today.  Some of Saracini’s compositions are still recorded, often in collections along with works by other composers of the same era, such as Monteverdi, who is said to have admired him.  Saracini travelled widely and seems to have established useful connections abroad as he dedicated a lot of his music to foreign aristocrats. He also appeared to have absorbed some of the musical styles of the lands he visited in his own compositions.  A unique feature of his work is the influence of folk music, particularly music from the Balkans, which is rarely heard in early Baroque music.  Saracini’s music was all published in Venice between 1614 and 1624, before his death in 1630.  During the 20th century there was renewed interest in his work after it had been neglected for a long time.  Read more…