15 November 2023

Bernardino Nogara - Vatican financial advisor

Former engineer laid foundations for financial strength of the Papacy

Bernardino Nogara is said to have made vast sums for the Vatican
Bernardino Nogara is said to have
made vast sums for the Vatican
The engineer-turned-investment manager Bernardino Nogara, who in 1929 was appointed by Pope Pius XI to look after the financial dealings of the newly-independent Vatican City, died on this day in 1958 in Milan.

Nogara had returned to his homeland - he was born in Bellano, around 80km (50 miles) north of Milan on the shore of Lake Como - upon retiring from his position as Director of the Special Administration of the Holy See in 1954, at the age of 84.

Although details of the Vatican’s finances have traditionally been shrouded in secrecy, Nogara is thought to have swelled the papal coffers by hundreds of millions of dollars during his 25 years in charge.

Yet he is regarded by many commentators as a controversial figure because of the nature of some of his investments. He was alleged to have put money into companies whose businesses could be seen to be incompatible with Catholic Church doctrines, made loans to Mussolini’s Fascists, and clandestinely invested in companies that both enabled and profited from the deadly aggression of the Axis powers in World War Two.

Nogara’s background was in engineering. A graduate in industrial and electrical engineering at the Polytechnic University of Milan, he managed mining projects in Bulgaria and Wales as well as Italy before undertaking work in Istanbul shortly before the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

Well connected politically, it was while he was in Istanbul that he became involved with the Banca Commerciale Italiana (BCI) and was appointed  Italian representative to an international committee overseeing the failed empire’s debts. He would later become a director of the BCI.

Pope Pius XI, who put Nogara in charge of the papal finances
Pope Pius XI, who put Nogara
in charge of the papal finances 
He knew Pope Pius XI as a family friend and it was Nogara to whom the pontiff turned following the signing of the Lateran Treaty in 1929, which granted the Vatican independence and authorised the payment of substantial compensation to the Vatican by the Italian government in recognition of the loss of the Papal States as part of Italian Unification.

The money - 750 million lire plus a further one billion lire in Italian government bonds - rescued the Vatican from the brink of bankruptcy, although it was to suffer further blows later in the year as a result of the Wall Street Crash.

Nogara was called by Pius XI to direct the Special Administration of the Holy See, charged with managing the compensation sum awarded and, by virtue of shrewd investment, using it as the foundation for the Vatican’s future prosperity.

The belief that Nogara accepted the role with conditions - namely that he would not be “restricted by religious or doctrinal considerations” in such investments as he made - is disputed by some historians.

Yet his reported investment in the Istituto Farmacologico Serono di Roma, Italy's largest manufacturer of birth control products, would seem unlikely to have been approved if subject to vetting.

Neither, it has to be assumed, would his alleged investment in munitions plants and other war industries, including direct loans to Mussolini's government prior to his invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

Nogara, who was kept on in his role after the death of Pius XI ushered in Pius XII in 1939, was able to keep much of his business dealings on the Vatican’s behalf away from close scrutiny by creating a vast network of companies, running into hundreds across multiple countries, which gave him greater scope for making investments of a controversial nature that would not easily be traced back to the Vatican.

These are said to have included some concerns that were blacklisted by the Allies for helping to finance the Axis war machine.

Shortly before he died, Nogara was granted the decoration of Knight Grand Cross of the Piano Order, the highest pontifical honor for a layman, by Pope John XXIII.

The Orrido di Bellano is a spectacular natural gorge
The Orrido di Bellano is a
spectacular natural gorge 
Travel tip: 

Bellano, where Bernardino Nogara was born, is a picturesque fishing village on the eastern shore of Lake Como, just under 30km (19 miles) north of Lecco, noted for its narrow streets and colourful houses. Once a Roman burial place, it was also a stopping-off point on the Sentiero del Viandante, an ancient mule track dating back to the Roman period that runs along the eastern coast of Lake Como. One of Bellano’s attractions is the Orrido di Bellano, a natural gorge created by the cold waters of the Pioverna river, which carved gigantic potholes and caves into the rock, the erosion having started 15 million years ago.  A member of the association titled I Borghi più belli d'Italia - The most beautiful villages of Italy - Bellano is the location of most of the novels by local writer Andrea Vitali and the birthplace of the 17th-century writer and poet Sigismondo Boldoni.  It also plays host to an opera every August. 

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The Palace of the Governorate, designed by Giuseppe Momo, is part of the Vatican estate
The Palace of the Governorate, designed by
Giuseppe Momo, is part of the Vatican estate
Travel tip: 

The Vatican City, which occupies an area of 44 hectares (110 acres) within the city of Rome and has approximately 1,000 citizens, is the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population. It came into existence in 1929 when an agreement was signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See to recognise the Vatican as an independent state. The treaty - known as the Lateran Treaty - settled what had been a long-running dispute regarding the power of the Popes as rulers of civil territory within a united Italy.  The treaty was named after the Lateran Palace where the agreement was signed and although the signatory for the Italian government was the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, succeeding democratic governments have all upheld the treaty.

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Also on this day:

1848: The murder of politician Pellegrino Rossi

1902: The birth of musician and conductor Annunzio Mantovani

1922: The birth of film director Francesco Rosi

1939: The birth of actor Enzo Staiola, child star of neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves

1940: The birth of fashion designer Roberto Cavalli


14 November 2023

14 November

Giuseppina Strepponi – soprano

Death of the woman who inspired Donizetti and Verdi

Opera singer Giuseppina Strepponi died on this day in 1897 at the village of Sant’Agata in the province of Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna.  She was the second wife of the composer Giuseppe Verdi and is often credited with helping him achieve his first successes, having starred in several of his early operas.  Strepponi was born Clelia Maria Josepha Strepponi in Lodi, a little over 40km (26 miles) southeast of Milan, in 1815.  Her father was the organist at Monza Cathedral and also a composer and he gave her piano lessons when she was very young. At the age of 15 she was enrolled at the Milan Conservatory and she won first prize for singing in her final year.  Strepponi made her professional debut in 1834 at the Teatro Orfeo in Taranto and enjoyed her first success the following spring in Trieste, singing the title role in Rossini’s Matilde di Shabran. She quickly became a celebrity, singing Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini roles all over Italy to great acclaim.  She made her debut at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1839 as Leonora in the first production of Giuseppe Verdi’s first opera, Oberto.  Her strong performance was one of the main reasons the opera was received so well.  Read more…


Enzo Cucchi - artist

Enjoyed prominence as part of Transavanguardia movement

The artist Enzo Cucchi, who was a prominent member of the Italian Transavanguardia movement, was born on this day in 1949 in Morro d'Alba, a walled town set among hills about 10km (6 miles) inland from the Adriatic and 24km (15 miles) west of Ancona in the Marche region.  The Transavanguardia, which peaked during the 1980s, was part of an international revival of expressionist painting. Other Italians who could be considered part of the movement included Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Nicolo de Maria and Mimmo Paladino.  Cucchi’s most important works include the frescoes of the Chapel of Monte Tamaro near Lugano, designed by the architect Mario Botta, which he painted between 1992 and 1994, and the design of the curtain for the theatre La Fenice of Senigallia (1996), not far from Morro d’Alba.  In his early years, although his self-taught skills as a painter attracted praise, Cucchi was more interested in writing poetry. Some of his writing was published by La Nuova Foglio di Macerata, a small publishing house, through whom he met art critic Achille Bonito Oliva, who became an important figure in his career.  It was Oliva who came up with the term Transavanguardia.  Read more…


Carlo Emilio Gadda - writer and novelist

Author who drew comparisons with Levi and Joyce

The essayist and novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose work has been compared with the writings of Primo Levi, James Joyce and Marcel Proust, was born on this day in 1893 in Milan.  His novels and short stories were considered outstanding for his original and innovative style, moving away from the rather staid language of Italian literature in the early 20th century, adding elements of dialect, technical jargon and wordplay.  It has been said that Gadda opted for his experimental style because he thought that only through the use of a fragmentary, incoherent language could he adequately portray what he considered a disintegrated world.  Born into an upper middle-class family living on Via Manzoni in the centre of Milan, Gadda lost his father when he was only a child, after which his mother had to bring up the family on limited means, although she refused to compromise with her lifestyle. His father’s business ineptitude and his mother’s obsession with keeping up appearances would figure strongly in his 1963 novel, La cognizione del dolore, published in English as Acquainted with Grief.  Gadda fought in the First World War as a volunteer with the Alpini and was captured at the Battle of Caporetto.  Read more…


Aleardo Aleardi - poet and patriot

History-loving writer dreamed of a united Italy

Patriotic poet Aleardo Aleardi was born on this day in 1812 in Verona.  At the height of his success he was hailed as an important figure in the Risorgimento movement and there is now a school named after him in the city of his birth.  Aleardi’s poems are mostly about events in Italian history and his love for his home country, which was under Austrian occupation while he was growing up.  He was originally named Gaetano Maria but changed his name to Aleardi, the surname of his father, Count Giorgio Aleardi, when he started writing.  Aleardi studied law at Padova University but gradually became more interested in poetry, influenced by some of his fellow students who were involved in the romantic Risorgimento movement.  Risorgimento, which means resurgence, was the name for the political and social movement that led to the consolidation of the different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy during the 19th century. Most historians agree that the process began in 1815 with the end of Napoleonic rule in Italy and was completed in 1871 when Rome became the capital of the new united Italy.  Read more…


Maria Cristina of Savoy

Pious princess was beatified by Pope Francis

Princess Maria Cristina Carlotta Giuseppina Gaetana Elisa of Savoy was born on this day in 1812 in Cagliari on the island of Sardinia.  She was the youngest child of King Victor Emmanuel I of Piedmont-Sardinia and his wife Queen Maria Teresa of Austria-Este.  Maria Cristina was described as beautiful, but she was also modest and pious and in 2014 she was beatified by Pope Francis.  As a Savoy princess she had been expected to make an advantageous marriage alliance and when she was just 20 years of age she was married to Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies, in an attempt to keep southern Italy on friendly terms, at a ceremony in Genoa.  Modest and reserved, she was never comfortable at the royal court in Naples and she was unhappy with Ferdinand. But she was said to be loved by the ordinary people of the Two Sicilies, who were charmed by her beauty and kindness.  She had always been a devout Catholic and her commitment to God and the Church along with her beauty caused people to regard her as an angelic figure.  She gave birth to her only child, who would grow up to become Francis II of the Two Sicilies, in January 1836.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Verdi: The Man Revealed, by John Suchet

Giuseppe Verdi remains the greatest operatic composer that Italy, the home of opera, has ever produced. Yet throughout his lifetime he claimed to detest composing and repeatedly rejected it. He was a landowner, a farmer, a politician and symbol of Italian independence; but his music tells a different story.  An obsessive perfectionist, Verdi drove collaborators to despair but his works were rightly lauded from the start as dazzling feats of composition and characterisation. From Rigoletto to Otello, La Traviatato to Aida, Verdi's canon encompassed the full range of human emotion. His private life was no less complex: he suffered great loss, and went out of his way to antagonise many erstwhile supporters, including his own family. An outspoken advocate of Italian independence and a sharp critic of the church, he was at odds with 19th-century society and paid the price.  In Verdi: The Man Revealed, John Suchet attempts to get under the skin of perhaps the most private composer who ever lived. Unpicking his protestations, his deliberate embellishments and disingenuous disavowals, Suchet reveals the contradictory and sometimes curmudgeonly character of this great artist, convicted throughout much of his life but ultimately unable to walk away from the art for which he will be forever known.

An award-winning television journalist, John Suchet switched to presenting music for Classic FM in 2010, revealing a lifelong passion for Beethoven, about whom he has written seven books, as well as studies of Johann Strauss the Younger, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. 

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13 November 2023

13 November

Dacia Maraini – writer

Long career of a feminist novelist and playwright

Novelist and short story writer Dacia Maraini was born on this day in 1936 in Fiesole in Tuscany.  An Italian female writer who is widely recognised abroad, Dacia Maraini is also a respected critic, poet, journalist and playwright. She established la Maddalena, the first Italian theatrical group composed exclusively of women.  The themes of limitation and oppression in Maraini’s writing have their roots in her childhood years, which she spent in a concentration camp in Japan. She then went to live in Sicily, which she has also described as an oppressive setting.  Her writing expresses the concerns of the Italian feminist movement, focusing on issues such as abortion, sexual violence, prostitution and the mother/daughter relationship. Many of her works are autobiographical and are written in the form of diaries and letters.  Maraini lived with the writer Alberto Moravia from 1962 until 1983 and was a close friend of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Maria Callas.  She was the daughter of Sicilian princess Topazia Aliata di Salaparuta, who was an artist, and Fosco Maraini, a Florentine ethnologist.  When she was still a young child, Maraini’s family moved to Japan to escape Fascism in 1938. They were interned in a Japanese concentration camp. Read more…


Alberto Lattuada – film director

Versatility and eye for talent made him leading figure

A leading figure in Italian cinema, Alberto Lattuada was born on this day in 1914 in Vaprio d’Adda in Lombardy.  Lattuada was the son of the composer Felice Lattuada, who made him complete his studies as an architect before allowing him to enter the film business.  As a student, Lattuada was a member of the editorial staff of the antifascist publication Camminare and also of Corrente di Vita, an independent newspaper. Corrente di Vita was closed by the Fascist regime just before Italy entered the Second World War. Lattuada, who is said to have detested fascism, helped to organise a screening of a banned anti-war film at about this time, which got him into trouble with the police.  In 1940 Lattuada started his cinema career as a screenwriter and assistant director on Mario Soldati’s Piccolo mondo antico (Old-Fashioned World).  He directed his own first movie, Giacomo l’idealista (Giacomo the Idealist) in 1942.  In 1950 he co-directed Luci del varietà with Federico Fellini. This was the first film directed by Fellini.  Read more…


Italian composer who found the fast route to wealth and popularity

One of Italy’s most prolific composers, Gioachino Rossini, died on this day in France in 1868.  He wrote 39 operas as well as sacred music, songs and instrumental music. He is perhaps best remembered for, The Barber of Seville (Il barbiere di Siviglia), and Cinderella (La Cenerentola).  Rossini was born into a musical family living in Pesaro on the Adriatic coast in 1792. During his early years his mother earned her living singing at theatres in the area and he quickly developed musical talent of his own.  He made his first and only appearance on stage as a singer in 1805 but then settled down to learn the cello.  His first opera, The Marriage Contract (La cambiale di matrimonio), was staged in Venice when he was just 18.  In 1813 his operas, Tancredi and L’italiana in Algeri, were big successes in Venice and he found himself famous at the age of 20.  The Barber of Seville was first produced in Rome in 1816 and was so successful that even Beethoven wrote to congratulate Rossini on it.  The composer became wealthy and in big demand and travelled to Austria, France and England.  Read more…


Agostina Livia Pietrantoni - saint

Tragic sister’s simple virtue stopped the traffic in the capital

Nun Agostina Livia Pietrantoni died on this day in 1894 in Rome after being attacked by a patient at the hospital where she was working.  Her story touched Romans so deeply that her funeral brought the city to a standstill as thousands of residents lined the streets and knelt before her casket when it passed them.  The November 16 edition of the daily newspaper Il Messaggero reported that a more impressive spectacle had never before been seen in Rome.  ‘From one o’clock in the afternoon, the streets close to Santo Spirito, and all the roads it was believed that the funeral procession would pass, were crowded with people to the point of making the flow of traffic difficult.’  Sister Agostina was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1972 and canonised by Pope John Paul II in 1999. Her feast day is celebrated each year on November 12.  Sant’Agostina was born Livia Pietrantoni in 1864 in Pozzaglia Sabina to the north east of Rome. She was the second of 11 children born to a poor farmer and his wife.  She started work at the age of seven doing manual labour, carrying heavy sacks of stones and sand for road construction.  Read more…


Giovanna of Italy - Tsaritsa of Bulgaria

Daughter of King of Italy who married Tsar Boris III

The girl who would grow up to be Ioanna, Tsarista of Bulgaria, was born Princess Giovanna Elisabetta Antonia Romana Maria of Savoy on this day in 1907 in Rome.  Giovanna’s father was King Victor Emmanuel III, who was Italy’s monarch through two world wars from 1900 until he abdicated in 1946 just as Italy was about to become a republic.  Her mother was Queen Elena of Montenegro.  At the age of 22, Princess Giovanna became Tsarista Ioanna - the last Tsarista - after marrying the Tsar of Bulgaria, Boris III, in the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi.  It was the hope of the Italian royal family that the marriage would strengthen their relationship with the Balkan states.  The marriage lasted until Boris’s death in 1943 at the age of just 49. The Tsar had fallen ill during a trip to Germany to discuss Bulgaria’s role in the Second World War as a member of the Axis bloc and there were suspicions that he was poisoned on the orders of Hitler.  Bulgaria had agreed to join the Axis under the threat of invasion by the Germans, who wanted to use their territory to launch an attack on Greece, but the Tsar was said to be appalled at Hitler's massacres of Jews. On two occasions he refused orders to deport Bulgarian Jews.  Read more


Book of the Day: Train to Budapest, by Dacia Maraini

1956: Amara, a young Italian journalist, is sent to report on the growing political divide between East and West in post-war central Europe. She also has a more personal mission: to find out what happened to Emanuele, her soul mate from before the war when both were children in Florence. Maraini's novel, Train to Budapest, explains that Emanuele and his family were Jews transported by the Nazis from wartime Vienna, but not before he had sent Amara a long series of letters she still carries with her. Her quest now takes her on long train journeys. She visits the holocaust museum at Auschwitz, and Budapest, where she is caught up in the tumultuous events of the October rising against the Soviet Union. Amara is helped by chance travel companions, notably Hans, part Austrian and half-Jewish, who works as a surrogate father at weddings for brides orphaned in the war, and Hovath, an elderly Hungarian captured by the Russians after forced service with the German army outside Stalingrad in 1942. Along the way she meets many other survivors, each with their own story to tell, and ponders the troubled existence of her own parents in the oppressive world of Mussolini's Italy. But did Emanuele survive the war or, like so many other Viennese Jews, did he die in Auschwitz or a ghetto in Poland?

Novelist, poet and playwright, Dacia Maraini has been awarded Italy's top two literary prizes, the Premio Strega and the Premio Campiello. Her fiction, which has been published in 22 countries, includes Woman at War, Isolina, Voices and the worldwide best-seller The Silent Duchess. She lives in Rome.

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12 November 2023

12 November

Silvio Berlusconi resigns as PM

Financial crisis brings down 'untouchable' premier 

Silvio Berlusconi resigned as prime minister of Italy on this day in 2011. A controversial, polarising figure, he had dominated Italian politics for 17 years.  With Italy in the grip of the economic crisis that had brought severe consequences to other parts of the Eurozone, Berlusconi lost his parliamentary majority a few days earlier and promised to resign when austerity measures demanded by Brussels were passed by both houses of the Italian parliament.  The Senate had approved the measures the day before. When the lower house voted 380-26 in favour, Berlusconi was true to his word, meeting president Giorgio Napoletano within two hours to tender his resignation.  His last journey from the Palazzo Chigi to the Palazzo Quirinale, the respective official residences of the prime minister and the president, was not a dignified one.  When he arrived at the Quirinale, he was booed by a large and somewhat hostile crowd that had gathered, entering the building to shouts of 'buffoon' and 'mafioso'.  A gathering of musicians and singers serenaded him with a version of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah.  After the meeting concluded, he left by a side entrance to avoid further barracking.  Read more…


Giro di Lombardia - historic cycle race

2021 edition was 115th since inception

The Giro di Lombardia cycle race - now known simply as Il Lombardia - was contested for the first time on this day in 1905.  The last of the cycling calendar’s five ‘Monuments’ - the races considered to be the oldest, hardest and most prestigious of the one-day events in the men's road cycling programme - the Giro di Lombardia is has also been called the Autumn Classic or la classica delle foglie morte - the classic of the dead (falling) leaves.  It is a particular favourite with cyclists who excel on hill climbs, its changing route normally featuring five or six notable ascents, of which the Madonna del Ghisallo, the site of a church that has become a sacred place in the cycling world, is a permanent fixture.  The race was the idea of journalist Tullio Morgagni, well known as the founder of the Giro d’Italia, although the Giro di Lombardia predated the former by three years.  The editor of the Milan newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport came up with the idea to give Piero Albini, a Milanese rider, an opportunity to avenge his defeat by rival Giovanni Cuniolo in an event called the Italian King’s Cup.  For the first two years of its life, the race was simply called Milano-Milano, reflecting the fact that it started and ended in the regional capital. Read more…


Piero Terracina - death camp survivor

Roman lived to be 91 after being freed from Auschwitz

Piero Terracina, the man thought to be the longest survivor among the Jews rounded up for deportation in Rome after Nazi occupation during World War Two, was born on this day in 1928 in the Italian capital. Terracina was taken to the notorious Auschwitz death camp in Poland, where almost one million Jewish prisoners were killed, but was spared death and eventually liberated in 1945.  After a long and difficult recovery he returned to Rome and lived to be 91. For the last almost 30 years of his life, so long as his health allowed, he devoted himself to maintaining awareness of the Holocaust in the hope that such horrors would never be repeated.  Terracina enjoyed a relatively uneventful early childhood. Although many of Rome’s Jews still lived in the area of Rione Sant’Angelo to which they had been originally confined by papal decree in the 16th century, the Jewish community in the early part of the 20th century enjoyed the same status as any other Italians in the city.  Piero was the youngest of four children born to Giovanni Terracina and Lidia Ascoli. His father was a fabric merchant.  Read more…


Flying ace survived war to look after health of Italy’s politicians

Credited with five aerial victories during the First World War, the pilot Giulio Lega was born on this day in 1892 in Florence.  After the war he completed his medical studies and embarked on a long career as physician to Italy’s Chamber of Deputies.  Lega had been a medical student when he was accepted by the Italian army for officer training in 1915.  Because he was unusually tall, he became an ‘extended infantryman’ in the Grenadiers. He made his mark with them at the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo, for which he was awarded the War Merit Cross for valour. The following year he won a Bronze Medal for Military Valour in close-quarters combat, which was awarded to him on the battlefield.  Lega volunteered to train as a pilot in 1916 and was sent to Malpensa near Milan. After gaining his licence he was sent on reconnaissance duty during which he earned a Silver Medal for Military Valour. After completing fighter pilot training he joined 76a Squadriglia and went on to fly 46 combat sorties with them.  His first two victories in the air, near Col d’Asiago and over Montello, were shared with two other Italian pilots. During the last Austro-Hungarian offensive he downed a Hansa-Brandenburg C1 over Passagno single-handedly.  Read more…


Umberto Giordano - opera composer

Death of the musician remembered for Andrea Chenier

Composer Umberto Giordano died on this day in 1948 in Milan at the age of 81.  He is perhaps best remembered for his opera, Andrea Chenier, a dramatic work about liberty and love during the French Revolution, which was based on the real life story of the romantic French poet, André Chenier.  The premiere of the opera was held at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1896. At the time, its success propelled Giordano into the front rank of up-and-coming Italian composers alongside Pietro Mascagni, to whom he is often compared, and Giacomo Puccini.  Another of Giordano’s works widely acclaimed by both the public and the critics is the opera Fedora.  This had its premiere in 1898 at the Teatro Lirico in Milan. A rising young tenor, Enrico Caruso, played the role of Fedora’s lover, Loris. The opera was a big success and is still performed today.  Some of Giordano’s later works are less well-known but they have achieved the respect of the critics and music experts and are occasionally revived by opera companies.  Giordano was born in Foggia in Puglia in August 1867. He studied under Paolo Serrao at the Conservatoire of Naples.  Read more…


Treaty of Rapallo 1920

Agreement solves dispute over former Austrian territory

The Treaty of Rapallo between Italy and the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was signed on this day in 1920 in Rapallo near Genoa in Liguria.  It was drawn up to solve the dispute over territories formerly controlled by Austria in the upper Adriatic and Dalmatia, which were known as the Austrian Littoral.  There had been tension between Italy and the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes since the end of the First World War when the Austro-Hungarian empire was dissolved.  Italy had claimed the territories assigned to it by the secret London Pact of 1915 between Italy and the Triple Entente.  The Pact, signed on 26 April 2015, stipulated that in the event of victory in the First World War, Italy was to gain territory formerly controlled by Austria in northern Dalmatia.  These territories had a mixed population but Slovenes and Croats accounted for more than half.  The London Pact was nullified by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the war after pressure from American President Woodrow Wilson. Therefore the objective of the Treaty of Rapallo two years later was to find a compromise.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Silvio Berlusconi: Television, Power and Patrimony, by Paul Ginsborg

Silvio Berlusconi, a self-made man with a taste for luxurious living, owner of a huge television empire and the politician who likened a German MEP to a Nazi concentration camp guard – small wonder that much of democratic Europe and America has responded with considerable dismay and disdain to his governance of Italy.  Paul Ginsborg, contemporary Italy's foremost historian, explains here why we should take Berlusconi seriously. Silvio Berlusconi: Television, Power and Patrimony combines historical narrative - Berlusconi's childhood in the dynamic and paternalist Milanese bourgeoisie, his strict religious schooling, a working life which has encompassed crooning, large construction projects and the creation of a commercial television empire - with careful analysis of Berlusconi's political development. While highlighting the particular italianità of Berlusconi's trajectory, Ginsborg also finds international tendencies, such as the distorted relationship between the media system and politics. Throughout, Ginsborg suggests that Berlusconi has gotten as far as he has thanks to the wide-open space left by the strategic weaknesses of modern left-wing politics.

Paul Ginsborg, author of the highly acclaimed books A History of Contemporary Italy and Italy and Its Discontents, teaches history at Florence University.

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11 November 2023

11 November

NEW - Alessandro Mussolini - socialist activist

Father whose politics were Fascist leader’s early inspiration

Alessandro Mussolini, the father of Italian Fascist founder and leader Benito Mussolini, was born on this day in 1854, in Montemaggiore di Predappio, a hamlet in Emilia-Romagna, then still part of the Papal States in pre-unification Italy.  A blacksmith by profession, he was a revolutionary socialist activist who had a profound influence on his son’s early political leanings.  Although his embrace of nationalism was not as full as that of his son, Mussolini senior nonetheless greatly admired Italian nationalist figures such as Carlo Pisacane, Giuseppe Mazzini, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, whom he perceived as having socialist or humanist tendencies.  Regularly in trouble with the police for acts of criminal damage and sometimes violence against opponents, Alessandro was eventually held under house arrest and granted his release only when he announced he wished to marry his girlfriend, a local schoolteacher who was a devout Catholic.  Alessandro was born in a house in Montemaggiore di Predappio that once hosted Giuseppe and Anita Garibaldi as they made their way towards Venice from San Marino.  Read more…


Luca Zingaretti - actor

Found fame as TV detective Inspector Montalbano

The actor Luca Zingaretti, best known for his portrayal of Inspector Montalbano in the TV series based on Andrea Camilleri's crime novels, was born on this day in 1961 in Rome.  The Montalbano mysteries, now into a 10th series, began broadcasting on Italy's RAI network in 1999 and has become a hit in several countries outside Italy, including France, Spain, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.  Zingaretti has played the famously maverick Sicilian detective in all 28 feature-length episodes to date, each one based on a novel or short story collection by the Sicilian-born author Camilleri, now in his 92nd year but still writing.  Although he had established himself as a stage actor and had appeared in a number of films, it was the part of Montalbano that established Zingaretti's fame.  Yet he had hoped to become a star on another kind of stage as a professional footballer.  Growing up in the Magliana neighbourhood in the southwest of Rome, he spent as much time as he could out in the streets kicking a ball and played for a number of junior teams.  Read more…


Andrea Zani – violinist and composer

Musician who ushered in the new classical era

Andrea Teodora Zani, one of the earliest Italian composers to move away from the Baroque style, was born on this day in 1696 in Casalmaggiore in the province of Cremona in Lombardy.  Casalmaggiore, nicknamed ‘the little Venice on the Po’, was a breeding ground for musical talent at this time and Zani was an exact contemporary of Giuseppe Guarneri, the most famous member of the Guarneri family of violin makers in Cremona. He was just a bit younger than the violinist composers, Francesco Maria Veracini, Giuseppe Tartini and Pietro Locatelli.  Zani’s father, an amateur violinist, gave him his first violin lessons and he later received instruction from Giacomo Civeri, a local musician, and Carlo Ricci, who was at the time court musician to the Gonzaga family at their palace in Guastalla.  After Zani played in front of Antonio Caldara, who was Capellmeister for the court of Archduke Ferdinand Charles in nearby Mantua, he was invited to go to Vienna to be a violinist in the service of the Habsburgs.  A lot of Zani’s work has survived in both published and manuscript form, some of it having been recovered from European libraries. His early works show the influence of Antonio Vivaldi. Read more…


Victor Emmanuel III

Birth of the King who ruled Italy through two world wars

Italy’s longest reigning monarch, Victor Emmanuel III (Vittorio Emanuele III di Savoia), was born on this day in Naples in 1869.  The only child of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy, he was given the title of Prince of Naples. He became King of Italy in 1900 after his father was assassinated in Monza.  During the reign of Victor Emmanuel III, Italy was involved in two world wars and experienced the rise and fall of Fascism.  At the height of his popularity he was nicknamed by the Italians Re soldato (soldier King) and Re vittorioso (victorious King) because of Italy’s success in battle during the First World War. He was also sometimes called sciaboletta (little sabre) as he was only five feet (1.53m) tall.  Italy had remained neutral at the start of the First World War but signed treaties to go into the war on the side of France, Britain and Russia in 1915. Victor Emmanuel III enjoyed popular support as a result of visiting areas in the north affected by the fighting while his wife, Queen Elena, helped the nurses care for the wounded.  But the instability after the First World War led to Mussolini’s rise to power. Read more…


Germano Mosconi – sports writer and presenter

Short-tempered journalist who became the news

Germano Mosconi, who became a well-known television personality, was born on this day in 1932 in San Bonifacio in the Veneto.  Mosconi became notorious for his short temper and swearing on air and was regarded as a bit of a character on local television. But he became known all over Italy and throughout the world after a video of him someone posted anonymously on the internet went viral.  In the 1980s Mosconi delivered sports reports on Telenuovo in Verona and in 1982 he received the Cesare d’Oro international award for journalistic merit.  But he later became known for his excessive swearing and blaspheming. The anonymous video showed his irate reactions to various problems he encountered while broadcasting, such as people unexpectedly entering the studio, background noises and illegible writing on the news sheets he received.  His use of swear words, blasphemy and insults in both Italian and Venetian dialect and his other humorous antics made the video compulsive viewing all over the world.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Fascist Voices: An Intimate History of Mussolini's Italy, by Chrsitopher Duggan

Fascist Voices is a fresh and disturbing look at a country in thrall to a charismatic dictator. Tracing fascism from its conception to its legacy, Christopher Duggan unpicks why the regime enjoyed so much support among the majority of the Italian people. He examines the extraordinary hold the Duce had on Italy and how he came to embody fascism.  By making use of rarely examined sources, such as letters and diaries, newspaper reports, secret police files, popular songs and radio broadcasts, Duggan explores how ordinary people experienced fascism on a daily basis; how its ideology influenced politcs, religion and everyday life to the extent that Mussolini's legacy still lingers in Italy today.

Christopher Duggan is Professor of Italian History at Reading University. He has written several books on modern Italian history, including History of Sicily, with M I Finley and D Mack Smith, Fascism and the Mafia, A concise history of Italy, Francesco Crispi: From Nation to Nationalism and The Force of Destiny: a History of Italy Since 1796.

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Alessandro Mussolini - socialist activist

Father whose politics were Fascist leader’s early inspiration

Mussolini's father, Alessandro, by trade a blacksmith, was an active socialist militant
Mussolini's father, Alessandro, by trade a
blacksmith, was an active socialist militant
Alessandro Mussolini, the father of Italian Fascist founder and leader Benito Mussolini, was born on this day in 1854, in Montemaggiore di Predappio, a hamlet in Emilia-Romagna, then still part of the Papal States in pre-unification Italy.

A blacksmith by profession, he was a revolutionary socialist activist who had a profound influence on his son’s early political leanings.  Although his embrace of nationalism was not as full as that of his son, Mussolini senior nonetheless greatly admired Italian nationalist figures such as Carlo Pisacane, Giuseppe Mazzini, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, whom he perceived as having socialist or humanist tendencies.

Regularly in trouble with the police for acts of criminal damage and sometimes violence against opponents, Alessandro was eventually held under house arrest and granted his release only when he announced he wished to marry his girlfriend, a local schoolteacher who was a devout Catholic.

Alessandro was born in a house in Montemaggiore di Predappio that once hosted Giuseppe and Anita Garibaldi as they made their way towards Venice from San Marino.  Anita, carrying their fifth child, became ill soon after leaving Montemaggiore and died outside Ravenna.

Although Alessandro had distant noble roots on his father’s side, his own politics were firmly on the left. He declared himself to be a socialist revolutionary at the age of 19 and the following year took part in riots in nearby Predappio.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was one of Alessandro Mussolini's heroes
Giuseppe Garibaldi was one of
Alessandro Mussolini's heroes
He acquired a reputation for violence and intimidation against political adversaries and for destroying property, regularly testing the patience of the local authorities. Detained in 1878 after defying police warnings to stop threatening opponents and causing wilful damage to property, he was placed under house arrest.

At the heart of his political philosophy was the belief that the means of production should belong to the State and not be privately owned and that society should be governed by committees of workers. He combined his socialist principles with nationalism, driven by his pride at being Italian. His idealistic vision combined Garibaldi-style militarism with Mazzinian nationalist sentiment and humanitarian socialism.

His notoriety as an activist had an impact on his life in many ways. His in-laws, for example, would not grant their approval to his marriage to Rosa Maltoni after he was released from house arrest in 1882, their view of Alessandro not helped by his undisguised contempt for the Catholic church to which his bride, by contrast, was devoted.

He suffered regular periods out of work, too, because prospective employers, aware of his reputation, feared he would be a disruptive influence who might encourage his fellow workers to stage strikes.  These periods of idleness led him to drink heavily and he would eventually become an alcoholic.

Nonetheless, his marriage to Rosa produced three children, of whom Benito - named Benito Amilcare Andrea in honour of the Mexican politician Benito Juárez and two Italian revolutionaries, Amilcare Cipriani and Andrea Costa - was their first born, in 1893. Subsequently, Benito acquired a brother, Arnaldo, and a sister, Edvige.

Rachele Guidi, who was to become Benito's wife
Rachele Guidi, who was to
become Benito's wife
Meanwhile, Alessandro’s political activity continued. He participated in a successful campaign to have Costa elected to the Chamber as Italy’s first socialist deputy, and was himself elected to serve on the council in Predappio, where he organised the first local cooperative among labourers.

His involvement in local government ended, however, when he was wrongly arrested on suspicion of inciting riots in Predappio at the time of the local elections in 1902. Despite pleading his innocence, he was kept in custody for six months before a court in Forlì finally acquitted him.

The spell in prison damaged his health, and after Rosa died in 1905 he drifted into relative obscurity. He opened a small tavern on the outskirts of Forlì and became reacquainted with Anna Lombardi, whom he had courted many years earlier, before meeting Rosa. Anna was by now a widow with five daughters. One of them, Rachele Guidi, became enamoured with Benito, by then a young man in his 20s, and would later become his long-suffering wife. 

Benito, who had helped his father in the smithy as a boy, listening to Alessandro speak about Karl Marx as well as Pisacane, Mazzini and Garibaldi, at first worked with him too in the inn when his own commitments allowed it. In time, though, Benito was at home less and less and as the work took its toll on Alessandro, who turned increasingly back to the bottle.

He died in 1910, just eight days after his 56th birthday. Almost half a century later, in 1957, members of the Mussolini family arranged for his remains to be moved from their resting place in Forlì to the family mausoleum that Benito had built in 1928 in Predappio, the town of his own birth.

There, Alessandro was reunited with Rosa and Benito himself, who was also buried there in 1957, some 12 years after he was killed by partisans on the shore of Lake Como, when it was agreed the family could hold a funeral. Rachele was interred next to her husband at Predappio following her death in 1979.

The parish church at Montemaggiore was rebuilt on Benito Mussolini's orders
The parish church at Montemaggiore was
rebuilt on Benito Mussolini's orders
Travel tip:

Alessandro’s birthplace, Montemaggiore di Predappio, a hamlet which had 100 residents at the last count, is situated about 10km (six miles) from the town of Predappio in Emilia-Romagna, accessed by a road of many hairpin bends that climbs into the Apennines to the west of Predappio.  It was once the home of a castle built in the 12th century, the last remains of which disappeared in the 1960s. Nowadays, the only building of note is its parish church, dedicated to Santo Cristofero, that Benito Mussolini had rebuilt in 1939. A well-preserved castle can be seen at Predappio Alta, one of the villages on the road to Montemaggiore. The Rocca di Predappio dates back to the early 10th century and was enlarged in the 15th century, when the addition of formidable walls made it almost impregnable. Thanks to its use largely as a garrison rather than a defensive bulwark, its structure remains almost intact.

The Mussolini crypt attracts thousands of visitors
The Mussolini crypt attracts
thousands of visitors
Travel tip:

Predappio, where Benito Mussolini was born in 1883, is a small town situated around 18km (11 miles) south of Forlì.  After a landslide hit the town in the winter of 1923-24, many people were left homeless, prompting the Italian government to build a bigger, more prestigious township to celebrate the birthplace of Mussolini, following the architectural styles favoured by the emerging Fascist regime. Along with the nearby town of Forlì, Predappio was given the title of La Città del Duce. The Mussolini family mausoleum in a cemetery just outside the town has become one of several attractions in the town for the neofascists who visit in their thousands each year. Visitors may be disturbed by the number of businesses in Predappio openly selling memorabilia celebrating the Fascist regime, although plans by a local mayor to open a Museum of Fascism in the town did not reach fruition. 

Also on this day:

1696: The birth of violinist and composer Andrea Zani

1869: The birth of King Victor Emmanuel III

1932: The birth of Germano Mosconi, controversial sports presenter

1961: The birth of actor Luca Zingaretti


10 November 2023

10 November

Ennio Morricone - film music maestro

Composer who scored some of cinema's greatest soundtracks

Ennio Morricone, who composed some of the most memorable soundtracks in the history of the cinema, was born on this day in 1928 in Rome.  Morricone has written more than 500 film and television scores, winning countless awards.  Best known for his associations with the Italian directors Sergio Leone, Giuseppe Tornatore and Giuliano Montaldo, he has also worked among others with Pier Paolo Pasolini, Brian de Palma, Roland Joffé, Franco Zeffirelli and Quentin Tarantino, whose 2015 Western The Hateful Eight finally won Morricone an Oscar that many considered long overdue.  Among his finest soundtracks are those he wrote for Leone's 'Dollars' trilogy in the 1960s, for the Leone gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America two decades later, for Joffé's The Mission and De Palma's The Untouchables.  He composed the score for Tornatore's hauntingly poignant Cinema Paradiso and for Maddalena, a somewhat obscure 1971 film by the Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz that included the acclaimed Come Maddalena and Chi Mai, which later reached number two in the British singles chart after being used for the 1981 TV series The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.  Read more…


Lord Byron in Venice

Romantic English poet finds renewed inspiration

Aristocratic English poet Lord Byron and his friend, John Cam Hobhouse, arrived in Venice for the first time on this day in 1816.  They put up at the Hotel Grande Bretagne on the Grand Canal and embarked on a few days of tourism.  But it was not long before Byron decided to move into an apartment just off the Frezzeria, a street near St Mark's Square, and settled down to enjoy life in the city that was to be his home for the next three years.  Byron has become one of Venice’s legends, perhaps the most famous, or infamous, of all its residents.  Tourists who came afterwards expected to see Venice through his eyes. Even the art critic, John Ruskin, has admitted that on his first visit he had come in search of Byron’s Venice.  Byron once wrote that Venice had always been ‘the greenest island of my imagination’ and he never seems to have been disappointed by it.  He also wrote in a letter to one of his friends that Venice was ‘one of those places that before he saw them he thought he already knew’. He said he appreciated the silence of the Venetian canals and the ‘gloomy gaiety’ of quietly passing gondolas.  Read more…


Gaetano Bresci - assassin

Anarchist who gunned down a king

Gaetano Bresci, the man who assassinated the Italian king Umberto I, was born on this day in 1869 in Coiano, a small village near Prato in Tuscany.  He murdered Umberto in Monza, north of Milan, on July 29, 1900, while the monarch was handing out prizes at an athletics event.  Bresci mingled with the crowd but then sprang forward and shot Umberto three or four times with a .32 revolver.  Often unpopular with his subjects despite being nicknamed Il Buono (the good), Umberto had survived two previous attempts on his life, in 1878 and 1897.  Bresci was immediately overpowered and after standing trial in Milan he was given a life sentence of hard labour on Santo Stefano island, a prison notorious for its anarchist and socialist inmates.  He had been closely involved with anarchist groups and had served a brief jail term earlier for anarchist activity but had a motive for killing Umberto.  A silk weaver by profession, he was living in the United States, where he had emigrated in the 1890s and had settled in New Jersey with his Irish-born wife.  Working as a weaver in a mill in Paterson, New Jersey, Bresci and others set about propagating anarchist ideas among the large local Italian immigrant population. Read more…


Vanessa Ferrari - gymnast

First Italian woman to win a World Championship gold

The gymnast Vanessa Ferrari, who in 2006 became the first Italian female competitor to win a gold medal at the World Championships of artistic gymnastics, was born on this day in 1990, in the town of Orzinuovi in Lombardy.  Ferrari won the all-around gold - consisting of uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise - at the World Championships in Aarhus in Denmark when she was only 15 years old. It remains the only artistic gymnastics world title to be won by an Italian woman.  Earlier in 2006, Ferrari had picked up her first gold medal of the European Championships at Volos in Greece as Italy won the all-around team event.  Naturally small in stature, Ferrari was inspired to take up gymnastics by watching the sport on television as a child, when the sport was dominated by Russian and Romanian athletes.  With the help of her Bulgarian-born mother, Galya, who made many sacrifices to help her daughter fulfil her ambitions, Ferrari joined the Brixia gym in the city of Brescia. Brixia was co-founded by Enrico Casella, a former rugby player who was technical director of the Italian women’s gymnastics team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.  Read more…


Charles Ferdinand - Prince of the Two Sicilies

The heir presumptive whose marriage earned him exile

Charles Ferdinand, the Bourbon Prince of the Two Sicilies and Prince of Capua and heir presumptive to the crown of King Ferdinand II, was born on this day in 1811 in Palermo.  Prince Charles, the second son of King Francis I of the Two Sicilies and Maria Isabella of Spain, gave up his claim to the throne when he married a commoner, after his brother, King Ferdinand II, issued a decree upholding their father’s insistence that blood-royal members of the kingdom did not marry beneath their status.  In 1835, at which time Ferdinand II had not fathered any children and Charles therefore held the status of heir presumptive, Charles met and fell in love with a beautiful Irish woman, Penelope Smyth, who was visiting Naples.  Penelope Smyth was the daughter of Grice Smyth of Ballynatray, County Waterford, and sister of Sir John Rowland Smyth. Ferdinand II forbade their union, in accordance with his father’s wishes, but the lovers would not be parted.  On January 12, 1836 the couple eloped. Two months later, Ferdinand II issued the decree that forbade their marriage but three weeks after that Charles and Penelope reached Gretna Green, the town just over the border between England and Scotland.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words, by Alessandro De Rosa

Often considered movie history's greatest composer, Ennio Morricone reinvented the sound of cinema. In Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words, composers Ennio Morricone and Alessandro De Rosa present a years-long discussion of life, music, and the marvellous and unpredictable ways that the two come into contact with and influence each other. The result is what Morricone himself defines: "beyond a shadow of a doubt the best book ever written about me, the most authentic, the most detailed and well curated. The truest."  Opening for the first time the door of his creative laboratory, Morricone offers an exhaustive and rich account of his life, from his early years of study to genre-defining collaborations with the most important Italian and international directors, including Leone, Bertolucci, Pasolini, Argento, Tornatore, Malick, Carpenter, Stone, Nichols, De Palma, Beatty, Levinson, Almodóvar, Polanski and Tarantino. In the process, Morricone unveils the curious relationship that links music and images in cinema, as well as the creative urgency at the foundation of his experimentations with "absolute music". Throughout these conversations with De Rosa, Morricone dispenses invaluable insights not only on composing but also on the broader process of adaptation and what it means to be human. 

Alessandro De Rosa undertook his study of music composition following Ennio Morricone's advice. He studied with Boris Porena in Rome and then graduated from the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, Netherlands. He currently works as a freelance musician.

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