Long Ago in Spoleto – Two Days of Aviation in Spoleto

We start the column LONG AGO IN SPOLETO by reporting an event that testifies to Spoleto’s relationship with modernity.

On March 25 and 26, 1911, a two-day event was organised, dedicated to aviation. The local press announced an exhibition by Raimondo Marra and his Farman biplane, an initiative of a committee of citizens.

Marra used to be a flight pioneer in Italy, a self-taught pilot who used to build his own planes, trying them at the Centocelle Aviation Camp in Rome.

Piazza d’Armi was chosen to be the spot of the event. Admission was fixed at 1 Italian Lira to sit on the tribune, and 50 cents for staying on the lawn, proceeds destined for the new hospital, about to be built. The event’s poster also informs us of a car and shuttle service organised for the occasion.

The press hailed it as an extraordinary event, talking of impressive experiments and reckless overflights of the city and the Rocca. Sadly, the whole thing ended on day 1. After a perfect take-off, the Farman biplane headed out to Colle San Tommaso but the wind overturned it and made it crash among the trees of the San Sabino road. The pilot happily escaped major injuries, and was tributed with an evening banquet at the Lucini Hotel in sign of encouragement.

After Spoleto, Marra exhibited in Lucca and Paris. But just after two months, his carreer ended tragically at the Tor di Quinto aerodrome in Rome. The accident was witnessed by then cavalry second lieutenant Francesco Baracca, among the first ones to run to Marra’s rescue, albeit uselessly. Baracca would later be prompted to leave cavalry and pursue aviation, as a consequence of this tragic event and became the aviation axe and war medal in WWI we all know.

Shortly after the two days in Piazza d’Armi, aviation was discussed of again in the city, thanks to Friar Aldo Bernetti, parish priest in Terraja who lectured on aviation on 6 and 7 April at the Sala Mauri. An aviation enthusiast, on that occasion he also presented an airplane model he himself had invented, which he expected to put into production as soon as possible.

The poem L’ariopranu by Fernardo Leonardi, dedicated to the airplane, dates to 1915. The appearing of that invention still raised wonder, interest and curiosity, though deprived of the cheerful enthusiasm that had greeted the arrival of the airplane in Piazza d’Armi just four years earlier.

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