7 July 2024

Michele Amari – politician, historian, and writer

Scholarly revolutionary became a leading translator of mediaeval Arabic

Michele Amari embraced the  cause of Italian unification
Michele Amari embraced the 
cause of Italian unification
Patriotic Sicilian revolutionary Michele Amari was born on this day in 1806 in Palermo.

Amari published a history in 1842 of the War of the Sicilian Vespers, was a minister in the Sicilian revolutionary government in 1848, and was part of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s revolutionary cabinet in Sicily in 1860.

He embraced the cause of Italian unification and helped prepare Sicilians for the annexation of Sicily by the Kingdom of Sardinia. During his later years, he served as a Senator of the new Kingdom of Italy.

A grandson of the third Count Amari of Sant’Adriano, he grew up in an aristocratic household. The title had been acquired in 1772 by one of his ancestors, who had held the hereditary office of the administrator of the royal tobacco monopoly.

Michele Amari lived with his grandfather in the centre of Palermo after his father, Ferdinando, had financial problems caused by his gambling. Armari was educated in Palermo and one of his teachers was a leading Sicilian historian.

Amari’s father later introduced him to Francophile democratic circles in Palermo and secured him a position at the Ministry of the Interior in 1820.

After his grandfather died, Amari returned to live in his father’s house and he was involved, along with his father, in the uprising of the Carbonari in Palermo. The rebels were demanding Sicilian independence and a liberal constitution.

Amari served in the governments of Sicily and the unified Italy
Amari served in the governments
of Sicily and the unified Italy
Ferdinando Amari was initially sentenced to death in 1822 for his participation in the rebellion, but he was kept in prison instead until he was released in 1834. During those years, Michele Amari read widely about politics and published translations of English authors, at one point receiving a letter of thanks from Sir Walter Scott for his work.

By 1837, Amari had prepared an outline for his book investigating the War of the Sicilian Vespers between 1282 and 1302. The work was interpreted by many people as being a call to overthrow the Bourbon rule in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Amari was involved in health administration during an outbreak of cholera in 1837 and he was transferred to Naples in 1838, but the book was eventually released in 1842.

The title was deliberately understated to bypass censorship, but it rapidly won an audience in Sicily and on the mainland in Italy. This caused concern to the Neapolitan Government and Amari had to go into exile in Paris, where he moved in French liberal elite circles.

During the 1848 Sicilian revolution, Amari returned to the island to take up the Chair of Law at the University in Palermo. He was elected as a deputy in the Sicilian parliament and became Minister of Finance in the revolutionary government.

After lobbying for the recognition of the Sicilian state in Paris and London, he accepted an academic position at the University of Pisa.

The Villa Amari in Via Traversa was the family's home in Palermo
The Villa Amari in Via Traversa
was the family's home in Palermo
Amari returned to Sicily in 1860 after Garibaldi’s Expedition of The Thousand and campaigned among Sicilians for approval of the annexation of the island. Amari was appointed a senator of the Kingdom of Sicily in 1861, two months before the proclamation of the new Kingdom of Italy.

He served as Minister of Education in the Italian Government from 1862 until 1864 and lived at times in Florence, Rome, and Pisa. He died in Florence in 1889 and was later buried in Palermo, at the church of San Domenico.

Having mastered Arabic while living in Paris, Amari was a forerunner for Oriental studies in Italy and became recognised as one of the finest translators of mediaeval Arabic in Europe.

Pasta alla Norma, served in a sauce made from tomatoes and aubergine, is a typical Sicilian dish
Pasta alla Norma, served in a sauce made from
tomatoes and aubergine, is a typical Sicilian dish
Travel tip:

With an area of 10,000 square miles (26,000 sq km), and 620 miles of coastline, Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, just off the toe of Italy’s boot. The ancient ruins, diverse architecture and wonderful cuisine enjoyed by visitors are all testament to the island’s colourful history. It's two biggest cities are Palermo and Catania, while the among the biggest draws for tourists are the cities of the southeast of the island, such as Siracusa (Syracuse), Noto and Ragusa, famous for their stunning Sicilian Baroque architecture, the upmarket resort of Taormina, and the Greek temples at Agrigento. Watching over the east of the island is Mount Etna, a volcano that is still active today. 

Palermo's magnificent cathedral relects the diversity of architectural style on the island
Palermo's magnificent cathedral relects the
diversity of architectural style on the island
Travel tip:

Sicily’s capital city, Palermo, where Michele Amari was born and is buried, has a wealth of beautiful architecture, plenty of shops and markets, and is home to the largest opera house in Italy, the Teatro Massimo. Amari’s family residence, the baroque Villa Amari, was built in 1720 by the first Count of Armari in Via Traversa in the Piano dei Colli in Palermo. Palermo's architectural styles bear testament to a history of northern European and Arabian influences.  The church of San Cataldo on Piazza Bellini is a good example of the fusion of Norman and Arabic architectural styles, having a bell tower typical of those common in northern France but with three spherical red domes on the roof, while the city’s majestic Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary includes Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical elements. 

Also on this day:

1573: The death of architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola

1903: The birth of film director Vittorio De Sica

1911: The death of composer and librettist Gian Carlo Menotti

1990: Italy finished third in Italia '90 World Cup






6 July 2024

6 July

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 - 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…


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…


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…


Book of the Day: Prophetic Times: Visions of Emancipation in the History of Italy, by Maurizio Viroli

Throughout Italy's history, prophetic voices - poets, painters, philosophers - have bolstered the struggle for social and political emancipation. These voices denounced the vices of compatriots and urged them toward redemption. They gave meaning to suffering, helping to prevent moral surrender; they provided support, with pathos and anger, which set into motion the moral imagination, culminating in redemption and freedom. While the Fascist regime attempted to enlist Mazzini and the prophets of the Risorgimento in support of its ideology, the most perceptive anti-Fascist intellectual and political leaders composed eloquent prophetic pages to sustain the resistance against the totalitarian regime. By the end of the 1960s, no prophet of social emancipation had been able to move the consciences of the Italians. Prophetic Times is an Italian story, but also the world's story, an inspiration for social and political emancipation everywhere.

Maurizio Viroli is Emeritus Professor of Politics at Princeton University and Professor of Government at University of Texas, Austin.

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5 July 2024

5 July

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...


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…


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…


Book of the Day: Maradona: The Hand of God, by Jimmy Burns

Anyone doubting that Diego Maradona was more than just a football player had only to witness the outpourings after his death on November 25, 2020. During his tempestuous life and career, he played for top clubs in South America and Europe, notably Napoli where he became an adored hero and adopted son, and grew to be a legend in his homeland of Argentina after leading them to victory in the 1986 World Cup.  Having gained access to his inner circle, Jimmy Burns traces Maradona's life from the slums of Buenos Aires, where he was born, through his great years of triumph, to the United States from where, in 1994, he was ignobly expelled after undergoing a positive drugs test. Maradona: The Hand of God also tells of his failed attempt to bring further glory to Argentina as coach in the 2010 World Cup, and ultimately, his tragic decline and recent death.  Widely regarded as the best and most revealing account of the highs, lows, genius and flaws of arguably the greatest footballer of all time, this biography inspired Asif Kapadia's award-winning 2019 film Diego Maradona.

Born in Madrid, Jimmy Burns studied in London and Lancashire, worked in Portugal, Spain and Buenos Aires and is an award winning journalist and author. 

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4 July 2024

4 July

NEW - Giambettino Cignaroli - painter

Artist celebrated in home city of Verona

The painter and writer Giambettino Cignaroli was born on this day in 1706 in Verona, where he spent much of his career and became the city’s leading painter in the Rococo era.  Primarily a painter of religious scenes, he became known also for spiritual images and celebratory historical painting.  His most famous works include Death of Cato and Death of Socrates, two canvases of Greco-Roman episodes which he painted for the Austrian governor of Lombardy, Count Karl von Firmian; his Virgin and Child With Saints Jerome and Alexander, for the Chiesa di San Giovanni XXIII in Bergamo; and the Death of Rachel for the Scuola Grande della Carità, now part of the Galleria dell 'Accademia in Venice.  He was thought to have painted a portrait of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the age of 13, although some experts attribute this work to Cignaroli’s nephew, Saverio Dalla Rosa.  Although his workshop was in his home city, Cignaroli travelled around northern Italy in the 1730s and ‘40s, when he often worked in Venice, Chioggia, Bergamo and Brescia. He was also active in cities such as Milan, Parma, Turin, Bologna and Ferrara.  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 Luigi Comencini's Pane, amore e fantasia (Bread, Love and Dreams). Read more…


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… 


Book of the Day: Rococo, by Klaus H Carl and Victoria Charles 

Deriving from the French word rocaille, in reference to the curved forms of shellfish, and the Italian Barocco, the French created the term Rococo. Appearing at the beginning of the 18th century, it rapidly spread to the whole of Europe. Extravagant and light, Rococo responded perfectly to the spontaneity of the aristocracy of the time. In many aspects, this art was linked to its predecessor, Baroque, and it is thus also referred to as late Baroque style. While artists such as Tiepolo, Boucher and Reynolds carried the style to its apogee, the movement was often condemned for its superficiality. In the second half of the 18th century, Rococo began its decline. At the end of the century, facing the advent of Neoclassicism, it was plunged into obscurity. It had to wait nearly a century before art historians could restore it to the radiance of its golden age, which is rediscovered in this book.

Klaus H Carl is a German author and photographer who has written and co-written numerous texts accompanied by his own photographs in illustrated books on art, its genres and its styles. Victoria Charles has published extensively on art. She has regularly contributed to Art Information, an international guide to contemporary art, and to specialised journals and magazines.

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