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Great Romans

From the wealth of art and music in Rome, you'd think lots of artists and composers would have been born in the city, but not so. The reason they came to the city was simple; the opportunities presented by the biggest of all patron of the arts, the Papacy.

The most famous ceiling redecorator of all time, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, was born in Tuscany but came to Rome to work for both the Church and the Medici family. Michelangelo lived close to the church of Santa Maria di Loreto, and his house was only demolished in 1874.

Raphael was a struggling artist aged only 25 when the call came from Pope Julius II to come to Rome, and soon he was the 'must-have' painter for the city, working for the next Pope in line too, Leo X.

Hell-raising artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggi, known as Caravaggio, arrived in Rome in 1592. Despite groundbreaking works that pushed realism in painting into a whole new phase, it was his incessant brawling and extensive police record that blighted his career. Finally, after murdering a young man, he fled the city in 1606 to escape Roman justice.

Romans are always big characters, especially when they find their vocation in film. Biggest of the lot has to be one Sofia Scicolone, better known as screen sex goddess Sophia Loren. Born in Rome but raised in Naples, she shot to fame after coming second in a beauty contest judged by director Carlo Ponti, who cast her in low-budget films. In 1952 she hit Hollywood, signed for Paramount, and the rest is cinematic history. Despite her bombshell image, she won an Oscar for a serious role in the wartime drama Two Women, and another honorary Oscar for her contribution to film.

With actress Ingrid Bergmann for a mum and director Roberto Rossellini for a dad, it was inevitable that Isabella Rossellini was born to be a star. Rome-born Isabella was as famous for her affairs as her films, being involved with Martin Scorsese, David Lynch and Gary Oldman.

Romans have always been stars behind the camera, too. Director Sergio Leone virtually invented the spaghetti Western, creating iconic films such as "A Fistful of Dollars" and discovering a new star in Clint Eastwood. His film "Once Upon a Time in the West" may have been a box office flop, but is now recognised as his masterwork.

Part of the success could be attributed to the Rome-born composer who created the haunting soundtracks for his films, Ennio Morricone. Morricone originally studied trumpet, choral music and composition at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, and began his career arranging Italian pop songs. To date, Morricone has composed more than five hundred film scores, graduating from those Westerns to films such as "The Mission", "The Untouchables", and "Cinema Paradiso" and even collaborating with pop star Morrissey.

Romans, as Caesar realised way back, also travel well. Rome-born opera singer Ezio Pinza made it big in America, performing in no less than twenty-two seasons at the Met Opera in New York, and becoming a star after starring in the Broadway musical "South Pacific".

Whilst Italian opera signers may be well-known, Italian scientists have tended to be in the background. Yet physicist Enrico Fermi, a professor of physics at the University of Rome, helped the USA develop the first atomic bomb. Fermi won the Nobel Prize for his work on elemental transmutation in 1938, and promptly moved to the US to escape from Mussolini. He demonstrated the first nuclear reactor in 1942 (on a squash court, of all places) and that pioneering work led to the development of the atom bomb. A year after Fermi died, a new element was discovered, the 100th to be found, and was named fermium in his honour.

Kids across the world owe their education to the first woman physician in Italy, Maria Montessori. Her revolutionary theory that children have a natural ability for achievement led her to open her first school in the slums of Rome in 1907. Today, Montessori schools teach thousands of children across the world.

And finally, here's a teaser. Which Rome-born astronaut landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin delivered Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon? NASA pilot Michael Collins first blasted into space aboard Gemini X and completed two space walks, before piloting the Apollo 11 command module Columbia around the Moon as Armstrong and Aldrin bounced around on the surface below.

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