People in many ancient cultures, such as the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman enjoyed flatbreads with various toppings, including olive oil and herbs.
Most people attribute the beginnings of the modern version of the round dish, covered with cheese and toppings, the ‘pizza‘ to the city of Naples in Italy where it has been the “thing” since the 1700s. In fact, it seems that before pizza became a popular cuisine in Italy, it stormed America. Though it was created in Naples it took a while to catch on in Italy, It wasn’t until the 1940s that pizza would spread across Italy and become a much-loved food item, instead of being a treat found only in Naples.
Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba is the oldest pizzeria in Naples to serve pizza. It started as a street vendor in 1738 and it became a real pizzeria in 1830. They’re still open and are serving pizza to this day. Vincenzo Luciano is the 5th generation to run the business.
Europe has a population of 740 million of which 500 million are in the European Union (EU). According to the European Union border agency the plethora of refugees entering Europe had increased over the past 10 months. More than 150,000 refugees entered the EU in August 2015 increasing the total influx of refugees to more than half a million for the year 2015.
Although this amount of refugees is not large enough to construe it as an invasion or being over-run when compared to the population of Europe, the European leaders were slow to respond. Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU migration commissioner has called it “the worst refugee crisis facing Europe since World War II.“
For many refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and the abominable ISIS, the Greek islands have been the gateway to enter the European Union. This year alone, more than 259,000 refugees entered Greece by boat via Turkey. The arrival of about 88,000 refugees in the Greek islands in August 2015 was the largest so far, an eleven-fold increase compared to the same month a year ago. Almost 75% percent of the refugees seeking asylum were Syrians.
The Schengen Area
Six founding members: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany created the European Economic Community (EEC) by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. This regional organization aimed to bring about economic integration between its member states, including a common market and customs union.
When the ten member states of the then EEC were not able to reach a consensus on the abolition of border controls, five of its members signed The Schengen Agreement on June 14, 1985, paving the way to the creation of Europe’s borderless Schengen Area. The treaty signed near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg was not implemented in full until 1995.
The Schengen Agreement proposed the gradual abolition of border checks and allow vehicles to cross the common borders of the signatories of the treaty without stopping. It permitted residents in the border areas to cross the borders away from fixed checkpoints.
In 1990, the Schengen Convention supplemented the Schengen Agreement by proposing the abolition of internal border controls and a common visa policy. For most purposes, the Schengen Area with a common visa policy functions as a single country for international travel purposes. The Schengen Agreement and the rules adopted under it were quite separate from the EU structures.
The Schengen Area now comprises 26 European countries. These member states have strengthened their external border controls with non-Schengen states. Out of the current 28 European Union member states, 22 are participants in the Schengen Area.
Countries comprising The Schengen Area
Denmark (excluding Greenland
and the Faroe Islands)
Finland (Including Åland Islands)
France (mainland and Corsica only)
Netherlands (excluding Aruba,
Curaçao, Sint Maarten
and the Caribbean Netherlands)
Norway (excluding Svalbard)
Portugal (Including Madeira and Azores)
Spain (with special provisions for
Ceuta and Melilla)
Currently, the Schengen Area has an area of 1,617,4245 square miles (4,189,111 square kilometers) and a population of over 400 million people.
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania are four of the six EU members that do not form part of the Schengen Area, are legally obliged and wish to join the Area. The other two, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, maintain opt-outs.
Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland have signed the Schengen Agreement even though they are member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and are not in the EU.
The three European microstates, the Vatican, Monaco, and San Marino do not have border controls with the Schengen countries that surround them. Though considered as de facto within the Schengen Area they have not officially signed documents that make them part of the Schengen Area.
The influx of refugees
Since many Eastern European countries are guarding their borders in the face of the influx of refugees, the distribution of refugees among the 28-member EU is somewhat skewed. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), EU countries received more than 437,000 asylum applications from January 2015 to July 2015. Germany received the most applications, followed by Hungary, Sweden, Italy and France.
The migrants from African countries enter the EU through Italy and Spain. Many of those who enter Italy apply for asylum on landing there. Some try to cross into France.
From France, a few try to enter the United Kingdom by perilous means such as getting smuggled in containers through the Eurotunnel from Calais, northern France.
Many Syrians try to reach Italy from Greece while others head to Austria via Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia.
Most refugees try to reach the Schengen Area. From there, they move into Hungary through Macedonia and Serbia. Also, some refugees from Turkey reach Hungary via Bulgaria and Romania. The popular route to enter the Schengen zone is through Norway, by way of Russia and Lebanon.
From Hungary, most refugees continue their journey to richer countries such as Germany and Sweden that have liberal immigration policies.
Marco Polo died at his home in Venice on January 8, 1324. Before his death, friends and readers of his book visited him and urged him to admit that his book was a fiction. Marco would not relent. He told them:
“I have not told half of what I saw!“
Marco Polo has been long regarded as the earliest and most distinguished of European travelers of all times for traversing Asia from one extremity to the other. He surpassed every other traveler of his time in the extent of the unknown regions he visited, as well as in the amount of new and important information he had collected. His description of the Chinese imperial court and the Chinese empire under the most powerful of the Asiatic dynasties, and tales of the adjacent countries in the Far East, forms a grand historical picture not painted by any other traveler of his period.
Authenticity is important in any travel narrative, otherwise it altogether becomes a worthless romance. A profound ignorance veiled Europe when the Polos returned from the East. Doubts of the authenticity of Marco’s tales arose since most of the regions he had traversed were wholly unknown at that time. And his discoveries far transcended the knowledge of his age. Also, many editions of Marco Polo’s travelogue proliferated in an age when printing was unknown. The narratives varied from one another, often corrupted to a great extent.
Even now, some argue that Marco Polo never reached China, but cobbled together secondhand accounts of what he had heard. They say there are inaccuracies in the tales. They point out that he never mentioned the basic elements of Chinese culture, such as drinking tea, the use of chopsticks, the Chinese characters, or the tradition of foot-binding.
Responders to such skeptics have stated that if the purpose of Marco Polo’s stories of travels was to impress others with tales of his high esteem for an advanced civilization, then it is possible that Polo shrewdly would omit those details that would cause his readers to scoff at the Chinese with a sense of European superiority. Marco lived among the elite Mongols. Foot-binding was almost unknown among the Mongols and was rare even among Chinese during Polo’s time.
Some observers, who have only a cursory view of the history of China, say he never mentioned the Great Wall in his book. These people are ignorant of the fact that the Great Wall, familiar to us today, is a Ming structure constructed, about two centuries after Marco Polo’s travels in China, to keep out northern invaders.
It is odd that Marco Polo never produced a single map to accompany his narrative accounts in the ghostwritten book. Hence, scholars have long debated its the veracity. Now, there is new evidence in favor for this historical puzzle of whether Marco Polo did indeed visit China and the Far East. The proof is in the form of a curious collection of fourteen little-known maps and related documents purported to have belonged to the family of Marco Polo.
In the 1880s, Marcian Rossi, an Italian, immigrated to the United States. He brought along with him a collection of sheepskin vellum he said were of the 13th and 14th century. There were 14 little-known maps and related documents detailing Marco Polo’s journey to the Far East. These documents bear the signatures of the three daughters of Marco Polo — Fantina, Bellela and Moreta.
The existence of these parchments came to light only in the 1930s, when Marcian Rossi contacted the Library of Congress. He explained that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian Admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family. But the collection did not undergo exhaustive analysis.
Are the maps forgeries or facsimiles? They created a problem for the historians of cartography. Did Marco Polo’s daughters, whose names appear on some of these artifacts, preserve in them geographic information about Asia as told by their father? Did they inherit the maps created by him? Did Marco Polo entrust the maps to a Venetian admiral who had links to Rossi’s family line? Or, if the maps have no connection to Marco Polo, who made them, when, and for what purpose?
While some historians discounted the 14 parchments as mere fantasy, forgeries, or facsimiles, others wanted a balanced, detailed study of the documents.
Benjamin B. Olshin, a historian of cartography and a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, spent more than a decade studying the artifacts. He translated the Italian, Latin, Arabic and Chinese inscriptions found therein. All but one of the original documents, a map Marcian Rossi donated to the Library of Congress, remain in the possession of Rossi’s great-grandson Jeffrey Pendergraft in Texas. Olshin is the first scholar in decades to see those originals.
The map donated by Marcian Rossi to the Library of Congress, dubbed “Map with Ship,” is a curious one. It has an illustration of a Venetian sailing vessel and a sketch of what appears to be outlines of Japan, Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, the Bering Strait, the Aleutian Islands and the coastlines of present-day Alaska and British Columbia. The map was not a navigational aid because it lacks longitude and latitude reference lines.
Olshin has detailed the results of his intensive research in his book, “The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps.” The book is the first credible book-length analysis of these parchments. It is a balanced, detailed, and a non speculative work of cartographic scholarship, not another ‘who discovered?’ sensation. Olshin charts the course of the documents from obscure origins in the private collection of the Italian-American immigrant Marcian Rossi in the 1930s. He describes the investigations by the Library of Congress, J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI for their authenticity. Olshin describes his own efforts to track down and study the Rossi maps.
After a thorough tracing of Marcian Rossi’s ancestry, Olshin asserts that Rossi’s explanation that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family was credible.
Olshin describes himself as an “evidence guy” and makes no claims that the document “Map with Ship,” depicts Alaska for certain although there are similarities. Olshin also admits, the authenticity of the ten maps and four texts is not settled. The ink on the parchments remains untested. A radiocarbon study of the sheepskin vellum of one key map, the only one subjected to such analysis, dates it to the 15th or 16th century, making it at best a copy.
Regardless of the origin of the documents, Olshin offers insights into Italian history, the age of exploration, and the wonders of cartography. He then takes his readers on a fascinating journey to the early legendary lands of the Chinese.
Alessandro Scafi said in Times Literary Supplement (UK):
“Olshin plays with the idea that Marco Polo’s relatives may have preserved geographical information about distant lands first recorded by him, or even that they may have inherited maps that he made. If genuine, Olshin argues, these maps and texts would confirm that Marco Polo knew about the New World two centuries before Columbus, either from his own experience or through hearing about it from the Chinese … Fascinating material … Olshin himself admits that there is no hard evidence to support his thrilling speculations. Including translations of every annotation and inscription, Olshin’s study and description of the fourteen parchments are exhaustive. His analysis, however, leaves many questions open … A fascinating tale about maps, history and exploration.”
The parchments in the Rossi collection may not only back up Marco Polo’s claim that he journeyed to the Orient, but also could reveal he might have set foot on the North American continent, 200 years before Christopher Columbus. It is purported that Columbus carried a well-worn copy of “The Travels of Marco Polo” with him on his historic 1492 voyage. It is conjectured that the travels of Marco Polo inspired Columbus to seek a westward sea route to the riches of East Asia, but instead landed in the New World.
When Niccolò, Maffeo, and Marco Polo, arrived in Italy they found the Republic of Venice at war with the Most Serene Republic of Genoa, that had one of the most powerful navies in the Mediterranean.
Marco Polo joined the Venetians in the war. He commanded a galley equipped with a trebuchet, a type of catapult that used as a siege engine in the Middle Ages. The Genoans captured Marco in a skirmish in 1296, off the Anatolian coast between Adana and the Gulf of Alexandretta, and imprisoned him.
While spending several months in prison between 1298–1299, Marco became a friend of a fellow prisoner Rustichello da Pisa, an Italian writer of romance. Marco told Rustichello about his time in Asia. Rustichello soon committed his stories to paper in Old French. The romance writer also incorporated into it tales of his own as well as other collected anecdotes and current affairs from China.
After his release in 1299, Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa together turned the written notes into a travelogue titled “Livre des Merveilles du Monde” (Book of the Marvels of the World) or “Devisement du Monde” (Description of the World). In Italian the account appeared as “Il Milione” (The Million) or Oriente Poliano and was published later in English as “The Travels of Marco Polo.“
Marco Polo was not the first European to reach China.
Marco Polo was the first to leave a detailed popular chronicle of his experience in medieval China to the world, but he definitely was not the first European to travel to the Far East.
During the time of the great Mongol invasion of eastern Europe, the Battle of Legnica on April 9, 1241, proved disastrous. The loss threatened to cast European Christendom under the rule of Ögedei Khan, the 2nd Khagan of the Mongol Empire.
Four years later, with the dread of the Mongols still on the mind of the people in eastern Europe, Pope Innocent IV, dispatched the first formal Catholic mission to the Mongols. It was partly to protest against the latter’s invasion of Christian lands, partly to gain trustworthy information about Mongol armies and their intention for the future. The Pope chose 65-year-old Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine to head this mission.
The mission started on Easter day April 16, 1245, from Lyon, where the Pope then resided. Giovanni bore a letter “Cum non solum” dated March 13, 1245, from the Pope to Ögedei Khan, the Mongol Emperor. Another friar, Stephen of Bohemia, accompanied Giovanni, broke down at Kaniv near Kiev. Another Minorite, Benedykt Polak, appointed to act as interpreter joined Giovanni at Wrocław.
Their journey was perilous. The Papal legate wrote that they were, “so ill that we could scarcely sit a horse; and throughout all that Lent our food had been nought but millet with salt and water, and with only snow melted in a kettle for drink.“
Friar Giovanni and his companions rode an estimated 3000 miles in 106 days. By the time they reached their destination Ögedei Khan was dead.
On August 24, 1246, Giovanni and his companions witnessed the formal enthronement of Güyük Khan as the Third Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The new emperor refused the invitation to become a Christian, but demanded that the Pope and rulers of Europe should come to him and swear their allegiance to him.
When Güyük Khan dismissed the expedition in November, 1246, he gave them a letter to the Pope, written in Mongol, Arabic, and Latin. It was a brief imperious assertion of the Mongol emperor’s office as the “scourge of God.”
Later on, other Catholic emissaries followed. In the 1250s, William of Rubruck, traveled east on a quest to convert the Mongols to Christianity. These early missionaries were largely inspired by the myth of Prester John (Latin: Presbyter Johannes), Christian patriarch and king popular in European chronicles and in the tradition of the 12th through the 17th century.
The accounts about this mythical king vary. They are just a collection of medieval popular fantasy. One such account depicts him as a descendant of the Three Magi, ruling a kingdom full of riches, marvels, and strange creatures. Polo mentions the fictional monarch in his book, and even asserts that Prester John fought a great battle against the Mongol ruler Genghis Kahn.
A Lombardian surgeon also had reached the city of Khanbaliq in 1303. A merchant named Petro de Lucalongo, had accompanied the monk John of Montecorvino to Khanbaliq in 1305.
In his work “Histoire de l’Empire Mongol,” Jean-Paul Roux, a French Turkologue and a specialist in Islamic culture says that a person named André de Pérouse had mentioned that there was a small Genoese colony, in the harbor of Zaytun in 1326. Andolo de Savignone was the most famous Italian resident of the city. In 1336, Toghon Temür, the 15th Khagan of the Mongol Empire and the 11th Emperor of the Yuan dynasty sent him to the West to buy “100 horses and other treasures.“
In 1339, a Venetian named Giovanni Loredanoto returned to Venice from China during the reign of Emperor Toghon Temür.
A tombstone with the name of Catherine de Villioni, daughter of a Dominici, who died in 1342 during the reign of Toghon Temür was discovered in Yangzhou.
Well-known master artists of the medieval times steeped the manuscripts like the one shown above in enchanting colors.
The Travelogue, “The Travels of Marco Polo” soon spread throughout Europe in manuscript form. It gave the curious Europeans in the Middle Ages craving to know more about the marvels of the Orient, the first comprehensive look into the inner workings of the Far East, including China, India, and Japan. Rarely have secular topics had such an intense echo.
The Travelogue is divided into four books:
Book One describes the lands of the Middle East and Central Asia that Marco Polo traveled through on his way to China.
Book Two describes China and the court of Kublai Khan.
Book Three describes some of the coastal regions of the East: Japan, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, India, and the East Coast of Africa.
Book Four describes some of the then-recent wars among the Mongols, and some of the regions of the Far North, like Russia.
No authoritative version of Marco Polo’s book exists. The early manuscripts differ much from one another. Also, inadvertent errors and discrepancies crept in during the process of copying and translating.
The published editions of the travelogue either rely on single manuscripts, or a blend of many versions. For example, the popular translation published by Penguin Books in 1958 is the handiwork of R.E. Latham, who blended several manuscripts together to make a readable whole.
A.C. Moule and Paul Pelliot based their 1938 English translation on a Latin manuscript found in the library of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1932, and is 50 percent longer than other versions.
Some published editions carry notes to clarify, as exemplified in the English translation by Henry Yule.
To date, approximately 150 manuscript copies exist in various languages.
After his release from prison, Marco Polo returned to Venice. He married and raised three daughters. During the next 25 years, he carried on the family business.
A 13th-century travelogue titled Livre des Merveilles du Monde (Book of the Marvels of the World) or Devisement du Monde (Description of the World) introduced Europeans to the geography of the Orient and the ethnic customs of its indigenous peoples.
The book described the travels of the Italian merchant traveler Marco Polo between 1276 and 1291, through Asia: Persia, China, Indonesia, Burma, Tibet, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India, and his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan, the fifth Khagan (Great Khan) of the Mongol Empire. The book described Cathay (present-day China) in great detail and its abundance of riches. Though Marco Polo was not the first European to have visited the Far East, he still became famous after the publication of the book.
Marco Polo was born in Venice on September 15, 1254 to a wealthy Venetian merchant named Niccolò Polo. Marco’s father and his uncle Maffeo Polo being merchants had established trading posts in Constantinople, Sudak in Crimea, and in a western part of the Mongol Empire in Asia.
In 1264, the Polo brothers joined up with a diplomatic mission sent by Hulagu, the ruler of Il-khanate to his brother Kublai Khan, both grandsons of Gengis Khan. They reached the seat of Kublai Khan, the leader of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, in Dadu (present day Beijing, China) in 1266.
Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor, received the Polos well and expressed his interest in Christianity. He then sent them back to Italy with a Mongol named Koeketei as an ambassador to Pope Clement IV. They carried a letter from the emperor requesting the Pope to send 100 educated people to teach Christianity and western customs to his people. He also requested oil from the lamp of the Holy Sepulcher. The emperor also gave them the paiza, a golden tablet a foot long and 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide, to signify certain privileges and authority, allowing them to acquire lodging, horses and food throughout his dominion.
Koeketei left in the middle of the journey, leaving the Polos to travel alone to Ayas in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From that port city, the Polos sailed to Saint Jean d’Acre, capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Pope Clement IV died on November 29, 1268. The long sede vacante between the death of Pope Clement IV, and the election of a new pope delayed the Polos from fulfilling Kublai Khan’s request.
In 1269 or 1270, Teobaldo Visconti, then papal legate for the realm of Egypt suggested that the brothers return to Venice and wait for the nomination of the new Pope.
Niccolò Polo once again saw his son Marco, now a teenager, who had been living with his aunt and another uncle in Venice since the death of his mother at a young age.
In 1271, Theobald Visconti was elected as Pope Gregory X. He received the letter from Kublai Khan brought by the Polo brothers.
The Polo brothers left Venice on their second voyage to the Orient along with a 17-year-old Marco. Unable to recruit the 100 people that Kublai Khan had requested to teach his people, the Polos left with only two Dominican friars: Niccolò de Vicence and Guillaume de Tripoli. They set sail to Acre.
At Acre they joined a caravan of merchants travelling to the Persian port of Hormuz. Soon, bandits attacked their caravan using the cover of a sandstorm to ambush them. The marauding bandits killed many members of the caravan and enslaved the rest, but the Polos managed to escape to a nearby town.
Marco reveled in the adventure, but the two monks after getting a taste of the hard journey ahead of them, soon turned back for home.
When they reached Hormuz they wanted to sail straight to China, but the ships in Hormuz were not seaworthy, so they continued overland through the Silk Road.
The journey was challenging and at times they had to traverse harsh terrain. In what is now Afghanistan, Marco fell ill. He had to retreat to the mountains to recuperate from the illness.
Crossing the Gobi desert, proved long and, at times, arduous. Marco told later: “This desert is reported to be so long that it would take a year to go from end to end. And at the narrowest point it takes a month to cross it. It consists entirely of mountains and sands and valleys. There is nothing at all to eat.“
In 1274, three and a half years after leaving Venice, when Marco was about 21 years old, the Polos reached Kanbaliq or Dadu, the capital of the Yuan dynasty (present day Beijing). Kublai Khan who welcomed them into his summer palace known as Xanadu, a grand marble architectural wonder. The Polos presented the sacred oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to the Mongol Emperor.
The Polos spent the next 17 years in China under the patronage of Kublai Khan. Niccolo and Maffeo were granted important positions in Kublai Khan’s Court. The Mongol Emperor took a liking to Marco, an engaging storyteller. Marco’s immersed himself into the Chinese culture and mastered four languages. He served as an official in the salt administration and made trips through the provinces of Yunnan and Fukien. At one stage, he was the tax inspector in the city of Yanzhou.
Marco Polo marveled at the use of paper money in the Mongol empire, an idea that had not reached Europe at that time.
Kublai Khan employed Marco Polo as a special envoy. He sent Marco to Burma, India, Tibet and other far-flung areas hitherto never explored by Europeans. Marco was promoted again and again for his work. He served as governor of a Chinese city. Later, Kublai Khan appointed him as an official of the Privy Council.
The Polos asked permission on many occasions to return to Europe, but Kublai Khan liked them so much that he would not agree to their departure.
In 1291, Kublai Khan entrusted the Polos with their last duty. It was to escort the Mongol princess Koekecin to her betrothed, the Il-khan Arghun of the breakaway state of the Mongol Empire in Persia, ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu.
The Polos departed from the southern port city of Quanzhou with a caravan of several hundred passengers and sailors. They sailed to Sumatra, Ceylon and India. They visited Mylapore, Madurai and Alleppey in India. Marco Polo nicknamed Alleppey as the “Venice of the East.”
The journey was harrowing due to storms and disease. Many perished. By the time they reached Il-khanate in Persia in 1293 or 1294, only 18 people, including the princess and the Polos, were still alive. They came to know that Il-khan Arghun to whom the princess was betrothed had died. They left the Mongol princess Koekecin with the new Il-khan Gaykhatu. The Polos then moved to Trebizond . From there they sailed to Constantinople and then reached Venice in 1295. They had travelled almost 15,000 miles (24,000 km). The Polos returned to Venice with thier fortune converted in gemstones. In Venice, the Polos struggled to converse in their native tongue. Above all, they were unfamiliar to their family.
In some countries, the test for parallel parking is the hardest part of getting a license to drive a vehicle. Even for the most experienced drivers, parallel parking might not be the easiest of all manoeuvres. Now, in some cases, electronic gadgets takeover much of the work and help the drivers in parallel parking.
In recent years, one of the most popular Guinness World Record has been the hotly contested “tightest parallel parking” title. In this high-speed parking contest, the drivers accelerate their vehicle towards the space between two parked cars and veer sideways into the spot. They use only the hand-brake and the steering wheel to glide their vehicle into a space with just a few inches longer than their vehicle.
Records are set to be broken. During the last four years, the record for “tightest parallel parking” has changed hands many times.
On April 2, 2011, German stunt driver Ronny Wechselberger aka Ronny C’ Rock achieved the tightest parallel parking record. On the set of the Guinness World Records’ TV show “Wir holen den Rekord nach Deutschland” (“We bring the record to Germany”) in Berlin, he parked a Volkswagen Polo into a space with just 26 cm (10.24 in) to spare.
On July 21, 2011 the Chinese driver Zhang Hua of the Chery Car Stunts Performance Team bettered Ronny C’ Rock’s achievement. On the set of Zheng Da Zong Yi-Guinness World Records Special TV show at Zhengzhi Driving School, Linyi City, Shandong Province, China, Zhang Hua drifted his vehicle into a tighter fit. The gap measured only 24 cm (9.45 in) longer than his vehicle.
In April 2012 Patrik Folco, the Italian stunt performer cum precision driver, slid his car into a gap measuring just 22 cm (8.66 in) longer than the car he was driving.
A month later, during the third week in May 2012, the Chinese master wheel man Han Yue managed to shave off an incredible 7 cm (2.76 in) from the record. During an attempt at the launch in Beijing of a new special edition of the Mini called The Chinese Job, he drifted into a space of just 15 cm (5.91 in) longer than his vehicle.
On June 18, 2012 at Flugplatz Kindel in Eisenach, Germany, Ronny C’ Rock recaptured the tightest parallel parking record from Han Yue by drifting into a space 14 cm (5.51 in) longer than his car. The feat was recorded for the Guinness World Records’ TV show “Wir holen den Rekord nach Deutschland” (“We bring the record to Germany”). It was aired on RTL2 (Germany).
Ronny used a VW Up with a length of 3.54 m (11 ft 7.37 in). He parked the vehicle into a 3.68-cm-long (12 ft 0.88 in) space, marked by two other Ups. The distance was measured electronically with a laser device as well.
On December 10, 2012 the Moffatt brothers Alastair and John from Gloucester, UK, beat Ronny Wechselberger’s record measuring 14 cm (5.51 in).
The brothers compete in various forms of motorsport since the age of 8. At that time, they had a combined experience of over 47 years and had won 10 national championships. They are also Master Instructors for Stunt Drive UK, the countries first stunt driving experience day company.
The Moffatt brothers were invited to attempt the tightest parallel parking feat for Guinness World Record as part of a new children’s TV Series called “Officially Amazing.” This show features some of the funniest, most ridiculous, scariest and Amazing record attempts from around the world. It airs on the CBBC Channel and throughout the International BBC Network.
On the set of “Officially Amazing” (Lion TV) in Hereford, UK, the Moffatt brothers driving British vintage Mini Mayfairs successfully pulled off the stunt with just 13.1 cm (5.16 in) to spare between the cars – a gap about 0.72 cm (0.28 in) longer than the length of an iPhone 5 (12.38 cm long).
The younger brother John was the first of the pair to break the record. After a few failures, he drifted his Mini into a space with 13.1 cm (5.16 in) to spare, to enter the history books.
It was then up to Alastair Moffatt to match his brother’s feat. Alastair skidded his car into the same space at 2.40 and equalled his younger brother John’s feat.
The new record was held in joint names as both John and Alastair achieved the 13.1 cm (5 in) gap within 20 minutes of each other.
Alastair was obviously thrilled for John. He said:
“When I achieved the record all I felt was relief, we were running out of light, as filming had taken a huge proportion of the day and I there was only time for 1 or 2 attempts left, so the pressure was on. The fact that we now hold this record jointly is great, as we are very competitive with each other, however, John continually reminds me that he achieved it first!”
In July 2013, Alistair Moffat reduced the gap to an impressive 8.6 cm (3.385 in) which many motoring experts thought unbeatable.
On November 14, 2014 during the “China Drift Championship” held in Chongqing, the Chinese master wheel man Han Yue did the seemingly impossible. He regained the title by setting a new tightest parallel parking record. He drifted his MINI 3-Door Hatch into a space with just 8 cm (3.1 in) to spare between two other cars just like it.
Due to the political instability in Milan, Leonardo left for Rome accompanied by Melzi and Salai on September 24, 1513.
Giuliano di Lorenzo de’ Medici, was an Italian nobleman, the third son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. One of his elder brothers Giovanni de‘ Medici was now Pope Leo X. Appointed Gonfaloniere of the Holy Church, Giuliano had heard much of Leonardo. Meeting Leonardo for the first time, Giuliano welcomed him with open arms like two friends meeting after years of separation. He gave Leonardo lodgings in Fort Belvedere, with a studio and several rooms for his companions.
Giuliano and Leonardo became close friends. They discovered in each other the same interests – love of mathematics, mechanics, and nature, and they shared similar thoughts and feelings. Guiliano’s protection gave security to Leonardo and new impetus to carry on with his interests.
Like his father, Giuliano too was a friend and protector of many artists in Florence and Rome. He immediately commissioned two paintings, a Leda and a portrait of a Florentine woman.
In the Vatican Leonardo enjoyed a period of tranquility with a decent salary and no major obligations. He drew maps, studied ancient Roman monuments, started a project for a large residence for the Medici in Florence. He conducted experiments in human flight. From big models Leonardo went on to create tiny ones. He experimented with gliding flights and the curvature of the wings by modelling miniature birds in thin wax.
In Rome, Leonardo found an old acquaintance, Donato Bramante, the Italian architect, who introduced Renaissance architecture to Milan and the High Renaissance style to Rome. He also found the Pope’s favourite, Raphael, the Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance holding court like a prince.
There was no formal scientific research in the Middle Ages. Unable to suppress the writings of the ancient Greeks, the Roman Catholic Church allowed the teaching of ancient Greek science as long as it did not conflict with the Holy Bible and its own teachings. The scholars had to accept the observations of nature passed down from Aristotle and other ancient Greeks. The Church would not permit free inquiry. It imprisoned, tortured, and executed truth-seekers. Leonardo was a truth-seeker, and this fact would not endear him to the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, Pope Leo X prohibited Leonardo from performing dissections and autopsies. Thus, ended Leonardo’s study of the human body.
Giuliano de‘ Medici died prematurely on March 17, 1516 (aged 37), and Leonardo felt that he had no friends in Rome to protect him, not even the Pope.
King Francis I of France, a patron of the arts, had earlier invited Leonardo to Amboise. So, Leonardo left Italy to spend the last three years of his life in France accompanied by Melzi and Salai. King Francis provided him the Château du Clos Lucé, then called Château de Cloux, as a place to stay and work.
The king treated Leonardo as a member of the nobility and not as an employee of the royal house. He arranged an annuity of 700 gold scudi to be paid to the elderly artist, to relieve him of any shadow of worry about money. In exchange the young King asked only friendship. The King often went to Cloux to visit Leonardo or sent a carriage to bring the aged artist to his castle.
In the autumn of 1516, Leonardo was not yet 65, but looked much older like an ancient prophet. From 1517, onwards Leonardo’s health started deteriorating. Even when his right arm was paralyzed, he still worked with his left hand. He made sketches for urban projects, drainage of rivers and even decorated for the holiday palace. He even conceived the idea of prefabricated houses.
The French greeted Melzi as an “Italian gentleman living with master Leonardo,” but accepted the 36-years-old Salaì, only as a “servant”. A dejected Salaì parted from Leonardo and left France in 1518. In reality, he understood that the young Melzi had taken his place in the heart of the Maestro.
Melzi remained in France with his master until Leonardo’s death at the Château du Clos Lucé on May 2, 1519. According to a legend, King Francis I was at his side when he died, cradling Leonardo’s head in his arms
Upon Leonardo’s death, Melzi inherited the artistic and scientific works, manuscripts, and collections of Leonardo. Melzi then wrote a letter to inform Leonardo’s brothers. In this letter he described Leonardo’s love for him. He described his master’s feeling towards him as “sviscerato e ardentissimo amore” meaning “passionate and ardent love”.
Returning to Italy, Melzi played the role of a guardian of Leonardo’s notebooks. He prepared Leonardo’s writings for publication in the manner directed by his erstwhile master.
Melzi married, and fathered a son, Orazio. When Orazio died on his estate in Vaprio d’Adda, his heirs sold the collection of Leonardo’s works.
It is commonly believed that Leonardo bequeathed to Salaì several paintings including the Mona Lisa. Salaì owned Mona Lisa until his death in 1525. In his will the Mona Lisa was assessed at 505 lire, an exceptionally high valuation for a small panel portrait at that time. Through his estate, many works, including the Mona Lisa, passed into the possession of Francis I of France.
Salaì returned to Milan to work on Leonardo’s vineyard, where his father worked before, and which his erstwhile master had passed on to him through his will.
On June 14, 1523, at the age of 43, Salaì married Bianca Coldiroli d’Annono.
Salaì died in 1524 as a result of a wound received from a crossbow in a duel. He was buried in Milan on March 10, 1524.
Among all his pupils Leonardo da Vinci had a long-lasting relationship with Gian Giacomo and Francesco Melzi apprenticed to him as children.
Salaì – “The Devil”
On July 22, 1490, Leonardo was in Oreno looking for the perfect horse for the equestrian monument in honor of Francesco Sforza. There he met the 10-year-old Gian Giacomo Caprotti da Oreno, born in 1480, by chance. The 38-year-old Tuscan genius charmed by the beauty of the boy adopted him. The boy was born in 1480 to Pietro di Giovanni, a tenant of Leonardo’s vineyard near the Porta Vercellina, Milan.
Leonardo nicknamed the boy as Salaì or il Salaìno meaning “The Devil” (lit. “The little unclean one”). Salaì lived up to his nickname. On at least five occasions, Giacomo had run off with Leonardo’s money and valuables. He spent a fortune on apparel, including 24 pairs of footwear. Leonardo had made a list of his recalcitrant ways calling him “a thief, a liar, stubborn, and a glutton”.
Despite Salaì ‘s thievery and dereliction, he remained Leonardo’s servant, and assistant for more than 28 years. Some writers believe that Leonard had a taste for “rough trade” and his relationship with Salaì, his “kept boy”, was anything but typical of a father and a son. Vasari describes Salaì as “a graceful and beautiful youth with curly hair, in which Leonardo greatly delighted.”
In 1563, Gian Paolo Lamazzo in his Libro dei Sogni, included a fictional dialogue between a questioner and Leonardo on “l’amore masculino“.
The questioner asks Leonardo of his relations with Salaì: “Did you play the game from behind which the Florentines love so much?”
Leonardo replies: “And how many times! Keep in mind that he was a beautiful young man, especially at about fifteen.”
Some researchers presume that Salaì was the model for Leonardo’s “St. John the Baptist,“an oil painting on walnut wood. Some consider it to be Leonardo’s final painting between 1513 to 1516.
The piece depicts St. John the Baptist in solitude. St. John dressed in pelts has long curly hair. He smiles in an enigmatic manner, reminiscent of Leonardo’s famous Mona Lisa. He holds a reed cross in his left hand. His right hand points up toward the heaven suggesting the importance of salvation through baptism represented by John the Baptist. Another painter might have added the cross and wool skins at a later date.
Salaì trained as an artist under Leonardo. He became a capable, but not an impressive painter. He created several paintings under the name of Andrea Salaì. His work includes the Monna Vanna, a nude version of the Mona Lisa which might have been based on a lost nude by Leonardo.
Some drawings among the works of Leonardo and his pupils make reference to Salaì’s sexuality. There is a lewd drawing modelled on Leonardo’s painting “St. John the Baptist,” called “The Angel Incarnate.” It depicts a young nude man with an erect phallus. The figure appears to be in the likeness of Salaì. The face of the figure is closer to Salaì’s copy of Leonardo’s painting than to the original John the Baptist in the Louvre. Salaì himself may have drawn them.
Included in a folio of Leonardo, is a page of drawings by a hand other than Leonardo’s. One of them is a crude sketch depicting an anus and identified as “Salaì’s bum,” pursued by a horde of penises on two legs. The page on which this sketch appears is the same page that contains the depiction of a bicycle. None of the drawings on this page is by Leonardo. The page was not seen until a restoration of the volume in the 1960s. Several pages went missing and were later returned. Some suggest that the drawings are by a pupil of Leonardo, perhaps by Salaì.
We might have had more examples of pornographic drawings by Leonardo and his pupils if a 16th century priest had not destroyed the bulk of those erotic sketches.
Count Francesco Melzi
In 1506, during his second stay in Milan, Leonardo took into his household the 15-year-old Count Francesco Melzi as a pupil. Unlike Salaì, Melzi hailed from a Milanese noble family. Vasari says that Melzi “at the time of Leonardo was a very beautiful and very much loved young man.“
As an adult, Melzi became secretary and main assistant of Leonardo.
As a painter, Melzi worked closely with and for Leonardo. Some paintings attributed to Leonardo during the nineteenth century are today ascribed to Melzi.
In 1482, Leonardo da Vinci sent the following letter to Ludovico Maria Sforza, the Duke of Milan, Leonardo. He claimed that he could create all sorts of machines both for the protection of a city and for siege:
“Most Illustrious Lord: Having now sufficiently seen and considered the proofs of all those who count themselves masters and inventors in the instruments of war, and finding that their invention and use does not differ in any respect from those in common practice, I am emboldened… to put myself in communication with your Excellency, in order to acquaint you with my secrets. I can construct bridges which are very light and strong and very portable with which to pursue and defeat an enemy… I can also make a kind of cannon, which is light and easy of transport, with which to hurl small stones like hail… I can noiselessly construct to any prescribed point subterranean passages — either straight or winding — passing if necessary under trenches or a river… I can make armored wagons carrying artillery, which can break through the most serried ranks of the enemy. In time of peace, I believe I can give you as complete satisfaction as anyone else in the construction of buildings, both public and private, and in conducting water from one place to another. I can execute sculpture in bronze, marble or clay. Also, in painting, I can do as much as anyone, whoever he may be. If any of the aforesaid things should seem impossible or impractical to anyone, I offer myself as ready to make a trial of them in your park or in whatever place shall please your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.”
Leonardo’s letter earned him a commission from Ludovico Sforza to design an equestrian statue as part of a monument to his father Francesco I Sforza who died in 1466. It was an immense undertaking, intended to be the largest equestrian statue in the world.
Leonardo travelled to Milan and stayed with the de Predis brothers – Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis and Evangelista de Predis. Ambrogio was also a painter. Evangelista was a gilder and assisted painters in preparing the colours.
Ludovico Sforza employed Leonardo from 1482 to 1499. As a court artist, he also organized elaborate festivals.
In 1482, Leonardo started the seemingly impossible task of creating a rearing horse over three metres high. Such a task had never been undertaken before. He did extensive preparatory work. He made numerous small sketches of horses to help illustrate his notes about the complex procedures for moulding and casting the sculpture.
In 1483, Leonardo da Vinci and Ambrogio de Predis were commissioned to execute the famous Madonna of the Rocks. Two versions of the painting exist—one in the Louvre (1483 – c. 1486), another in the National Gallery, London (1483 – 1508).
On April 25, 1483, Prior Bartolomeo Scorlione and the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception approached Leonardo. They wanted him and the Predis brothers to create the painted panels for the altarpiece in the church of San Francesco Maggiore in Milan. The contract referred to Leonardo as “Master”.
On April 25, 1483, Prior Bartolomeo Scorlione and the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception approached Leonardo. They wanted him and the Predis brothers to create the painted panels for the altarpiece in the church of San Francesco Maggiore in Milan. The contract referred to Leonardo as “Master”.
Because of the scale of works commissioned, at the court of Ludovico Sforza was large Leonardo had assistants and pupils in his studio to assist him. Leonardo’s pupils at that time were Marco d’Oggiono, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Ambrogio de Predis, Bernardino de’ Conti, Francesco Napoletano, and Andrea Solario.
Leonardo’s fresco of the Last Supper was an incredible piece of painting. Even before its completion word spread about it by the visitors to the church. It was completed by 1498. Leonardo’s experimental technique used for this work was a disaster. It left the mural as a sad ruin with peeling paint by 1517. Subsequent deterioration and the repeated restorations obliterated details and individual figures. Even then, the Last Supper still retains some of the authority which made it the most celebrated painting of its time.
Severe plagues in 1484 and 1485 drew Leonardo’s attention to problems of town planning.
By 1493, after many stoppages, Leonardo made a full-sized clay model of a horse for preparing the moulds for casting. Tons of bronze were needed to complete the horse.
On October 22, 1494, when the throne of Milan fell, Ludovico assumed the ducal title and received the ducal crown from the Milanese nobles.
In 1494, the new king of Naples, Alfonso, allied himself with Pope Alexander VI, posing a threat to Milan. Ludovico decided to fend him off using France, then ruled by the powerful Charles VIII, as his ally. He permitted the French troops to pass through Milan so they might attack Naples. However, Charles’s ambition was not satisfied with Naples, and he subsequently laid claim to Milan itself. Regretting his decision, Ludovico allied with the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I. Unfortunately, his decision backfired and the Italian Wars broke out.
Ludovico made weapons from 80 tons of bronze originally intended for Leonardo da Vinci’s equestrian statue of his father.
In 1495, Ludovico managed to defeat the French at the Battle of Fornovo.
King Louis XII of France had a hereditary claim to Milan. His paternal grandmother Valentina Visconti was the daughter of Giangaleazzo Visconti, the first Duke of Milan. Hence, in 1498, he descended upon Milan. King Louis was successful in driving out Ludovico from Milan. Ludovico managed to escape the French armies and, in 1499, sought help from Maximilian.
When the French took Milan in 1499, the French archers used Leonardo’s clay horse for target practice. After the fall of Ludovico Sforza, Leonardo left Milan. He returned to Florence in 1500, after brief sojourns in Mantua and Venice.
In February 1500, Ludovico returned with an army of Swiss mercenaries and re-entered Milan. Two months later, Louis XII laid siege to the city of Novara, where Ludovico was based. The French army also had Swiss mercenaries. In April 1500, the Swiss mercenaries hired by Ludovico chose to leave Novara as they did not want to fight their compatriots. They handed Ludovico over to the French. Deprived of all the amenities of life, Ludovico spent his last years in the underground dungeon at Loches, where he died on May 17, 1508.
In 1508, Leonardo returned to Milan and stayed there for the second time. During this time he had relationships with other Milanese artists along with his original pupils. Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (Il Sodoma), Giovanni Francesco Rustici, Giampietrino, Cesare da Sesto and young Francesco Melzi were his pupils. Such artists as Bernardino Lanino, Cesare Magni, Martino Piazza da Lodi and Bernardino Luini are also regarded as members of the circle of Leonardo.
Many writers have emphasized that Leonardo took only handsome boys and youths as his pupils. He was kind and considerate towards them. He cared for them and nursed them himself when they were ill.
As he selected his pupils on account of their beauty rather than their talent, none of them — Cesare da Sesto, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, Andrea Salaino (Salaì), Francesco Melzi and the others — ever became a prominent artist. Most of them could not make themselves independent of their master. They disappeared after Leonardo’s death without leaving any significant painting to the world of art.
Other painters such as Bernardino Luini and Giovanni Bazzi (Il Sodoma), who by their creations earned the right to call themselves his pupils, were probably not known to Leonardo “personally”.
Leonardo da Vinci was well-loved by his contemporaries. Early biographers described him as a man with great personal appeal, kindness, and generosity. Vasari wrote:
“Leonardo’s disposition was so lovable that he commanded everyone’s affection. He was a sparkling conversationalist… In appearance he was striking and handsome, and his magnificent presence brought comfort to the most troubled soul; he was so persuasive that he could bend other people to his will. He was physically so strong that he could withstand violence and with his right hand, he could bend the ring of an iron door knocker or a horseshoe as if they were lead. He was so generous that he fed all his friends, rich or poor… Through his birth, Florence received a very great gift, and through his death, it sustained an incalculable loss.”
Speculation about Leonardo’s sexuality began during his lifetime and has continued since then.
Leonardo tried his best to keep his private life secret. Some of his writings are in code. He left hundreds of pages of writing, but little of it is personal. One of the few references Leonardo made to sexuality in his notebooks states:
“The act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions.”
Researchers have extrapolated and interpreted the above statement to ascertain his sexual inclination. Other than this statement, none of his writings indicate that he had any romantic interest or any intimate sexual relationship with any person – female or male. It is true that he surrounded himself with handsome young men throughout his life. Yet, Giorgio Vasari, the 16th-century biographer of Renaissance painters, has not made any reference to Leonardo’s sexuality whatsoever.
Like other contemporary Florentine painters, Leonardo often used graceful young men to pose for his paintings. His art reflects an admiration for beauty in males. Some art critics have noted homoerotic elements in his portrait of St. John the Baptist.
There is a controversy with Leonardo’s Last Supper: “Is the male apostle seated on the right of Jesus an effeminate youth, or a woman?”
In April 1995, the Scientific American reported that a computer analysis established that the mysterious woman portrayed in Mona Lisa might in fact be a self-portrait of Leonardo himself.
In the 20th century, some biographers made explicit reference to a probability that Leonardo was homosexual. A few others asserted that Leonardo was celibate for much of his life.
The only available historical document on the sexual life of Leonardo is an accusation of sodomy made against him in 1476. At that time he was an apprentice in the workshop of Verrocchio.
In the 15th century, Florence was famous not only for art, but also for its active community of gay men. Homosexuality was widespread and tolerated. In fact, the word Florenzer (Florentine) was a slang for a homosexual in Germany. Sodomy was then a serious offence, carrying the death penalty, but difficult to prove. So, the punishment for the offence was seldom imposed. The usual penalty for the first offence was a small fine.
At that time, it was a common practice to denounce a person in an anonymous letter. In 1432, the Podesta (chief magistrate) set up the Office of the Night to eradicate “the abominable sin of homosexuality.” The Office of the Night installed wooden boxes called tamburos in the courtyards of the Palazzo della Signoria, the town hall of Florence. Accusations of misdeeds and crimes such as theft, the practice of magic, exploitation and stealing, etc., ended up in the tamburos along with vilifications due to jealousy, resentment and revenge put in them. The officials then sorted them out. During its 70 years of persecution, the Office of the Night officially charged over 15,000 men for sodomy.
Jacopo d’Andrea Saltarelli, born 1459, was an apprentice goldsmith and a male prostitute. He is sometimes described in modern literature as an artist’s model. According to the court records there were several charges of male prostitution against him.
In April 1476, an unknown person placed a letter in a tamburo at Palazzo della Signoria, accusing 17-year-old Saltarelli of male prostitution. Of the four men listed, as patronizing him, one was Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci.
On April 9, 1476, Leonardo, along with four other defendants, appeared before the officials of the Office of the Night. The accuser’s letter reads:
“I hereby inform Your Official Lords that it is a true thing that Jacopo Saltarelli, blood brother of Giovanni Saltarelli… pursues many miseries and keeps company with persons who share in such evil practices… I will hereby list some of them: Bartolomeo di Pasquino, goldsmith, lives at Vacchereccia, Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci, stays with Andrea del Verrocchio, Bacino the doublet-maker, lives at Ono San Michele… Leonardo Tornabuoni, known as Teri, dresses in black.”
After the hearing, the court dismissed the charges against them cum conditioneutretamburentur, that is, subject to being re-examined.
Then on June 7, 1476, Leonardo was once again the arrested and jailed for the same accusation. His father refused his pleas for help. The charges were again dismissed because the accusations did not meet the legal requirement for prosecution. Such accusations could be made secretly, but not anonymously. All accusations of sodomy had to be signed, but in this case it was not. Also, the family of Leonardo Tornabuoni, associated with Lorenzo de‘ Medici, exerted its influence to secure the dismissal. After serving two months in prison, the authorities released Leonardo.
Though declared not guilty, Leonardo felt no gladness, only desolation. From that date until 1478 there is no record of his work or even of his whereabouts. In 1478, Leonardo left Verrocchio’s studio. He left behind him the companionship of his fellow apprentices. He Wanted to get away from certain persons and from the city.
Leonardo went to Vinci, where his father had bought a farm some years before. Leonardo’s curiosity about natural life became a need to observe the phenomena of nature. He started studying nature which he declared was essential for a good painter. He resumed his study of landscapes. He analysed the objects of his study in detail, breaking down reality into the tiniest details.
Leonardo’s curiosity about natural life became a need to observe the phenomena of nature. He started studying nature which he declared was essential for a good painter. He resumed his study of landscapes. He made detailed analysis, breaking down reality into the tiniest details.
Two months later, after the sentence of not guilty became definitive, Leonardo wrote:
“When I made God a cherub, you put me in prison. Now, if I make him a grown man, you will do me even worse“.
It is a significant testimony to Leonardo’s resentment at being misunderstood.