Picture by author

Sometimes courage, altruism and hope make all the difference

If a 21-years-old British boy had gone straight to bed after his shift ended, 109 years ago, today the world would be a different place.

Young Harold Cottam was the wireless operator aboard RMS Carpathia in 1912, and there would likely be no Titanic survivors around if he had not, by sheer chance, left his headset on while undressing for bed.

While he was untying his shoes he received messages from Cape Cod stating they had private traffic for the Titanic: the channels had been jammed with passenger communications from the huge passenger ship for days: everybody wanted to try…


Still from Fellini’s movie Amarcord portraying the SS Rex (edited by author)

Fast, sleek and opulent, the legendary liner inspired the name of a beer

Hurray for the Rex! The greatest thing the regime ever built!”

In Fellini’s Oscar-winning 1973 movie Amarcord, the SS Rex comes out of the darkness, glistening with lights like a giant Christmas tree. The crowd awaiting her passage cheers wildly, claps, waves hats and handkerchiefs— some even shed a tear — at the sight of the elegant, almost mythical ship sailing through the summer night.

The SS Rex was impressive for several reasons: for one, she was the largest Italian ocean liner ever built up until 1991, when the Grand Classica stole the title. The Rex also held the westbound…


An act of spite turned two invaluable historical artifacts to ashes

Black and white photograph of a man standing in front of a giant wooden hull
Black and white photograph of a man standing in front of a giant wooden hull
The hull of one of the ships (Wikimedia Commons)

I guess that anything we manage to save from history is a miracle,” Donna Tartt wrote in her 2014 Pulitzer winning novel The Goldfinch.
I suppose it must be true, considering how many historical and artistic treasures we managed to destroy — out of malice, bad judgment, political or religious zeal, or simply plain, sheer stupidity.

The botched restoration of Martínez’s Ecce Homo and the 17th-century painting of the Virgin Mary irreparably damaged by an incompetent restorer are some examples of this, but at least those were done in…


The Ottoman paradise of Ada Kaleh was sacrificed to progress

Up until 1970, the tiny island of Ada Kaleh must have appeared to visitors as an illustration straight out of Arabian Nights: almonds and figs growing around colorful bazaars, rose fields, white minarets, men in anachronistic red fezzes sipping Turkish coffee under magnolia trees.

But Ada Kaleh — populated mostly by Turks, whose name means ‘island fortress’ in Turkish — was not in Turkey. It wasn’t even particularly close to Turkey: the islet rested in the middle of the river Danube between Romania and Serbia, in a region known as The Iron Gates.

And how did a piece of Turkey…


Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

The iconic garment is more than 600 years old

Baggy, skinny, bell-bottomed, high-waisted, dark or sandblasted: almost everyone owns at least a pair of jeans. Most people have worn a jean jacket, shirt, or skirt, and — if you lived through the fashion embarrassment that was the early 2000s — you might have even donned a full denim outfit à la Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears.

But did you know the ubiquitous textile was already in fashion in the 15th century, when the Genoese Navy (the Republic of Genoa’s military fleet) started equipping its sailors with it?

At the time Genoa was already famous around Europe for producing a…


The Italian Gothic tale of the “Barber of Potenza”

Photograph of a smiling young girl with long dark hair wearing a white turtleneck
Photograph of a smiling young girl with long dark hair wearing a white turtleneck
Elisa Claps — Quotidiano.net

Elisa Claps was sixteen years old when she went missing in Potenza, Southern Italy, in September 1993. She wore round glasses and had a big, bright smile: her face would appear on television, newspapers and billboards, and haunt the nation for the next 17 years.

A Nice Young Girl

Elisa was well-behaved, introverted, and a bit naive. Intensely religious, she often went to pray in the local church and had little to no experience with boys: she was far too shy to approach them — or to rebuff their advances.

One boy, in particular, seemed to be obsessed with her: 21-year-old Danilo Restivo, who…


You give schnapps a bad name

Alcohol and decision-making don’t mix well. Alcohol and firearms also don’t mix well. That’s why, generally speaking, it’s best for armies not to get collectively drunk during a war.

The Austrian soldiers battling against the Ottoman Empire begged to differ.
On the night of September 17, 1788, in the midst of the Austro-Turkish War, the army set camp outside the city of Karansebes (now Caransebeș, Romania) and its vanguard decided to get roaring drunk.

At the time of the Battle of Karansebes, the Austrians were fighting against the Ottoman Empire for control of the area around the Danube River: while…

Giulia Montanari

Thirty-something public registrar in Italy. Not the glamorous part of Italy, though. Top Writer in History

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