A PIRATES’ HUNTER COUNT AND HIS TRAGIC END IN A BALLOON
The adventurous life of Count Francesco Zambeccari
In the Basilica of San Francesco in Bologna there is a family tomb that tells us about the reckless life of one of its exponents: Count Francesco Zambeccari. In the funeral monument, located in the right aisle, above the statue of Alessandro Zambeccari, there is a fastigium with a compass, a globe, a telescope and the profile in the low relief of Count Francesco. He was the son of Senator Giacomo and since his childhood, for example during his college years in Parma, it was clear that he was a restless soul. Totally uninterested in politics, he decided, at a very young age, to enlist in the Royal Guard Corps of Spain in Madrid, as a frigate lieutenant. He hunted pirates in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. Intolerant of any discipline, he ended up earning a complaint to the court of the Holy Inquisition to escape which he took refuge in Paris. It was here, in the French capital, that he was enchanted by the first demonstrative flight of the Mongolfier brothers in 1783. This passion was nurtured with a real study only during the two years of imprisonment that he had to spent in the Turkish prisons of Constantinople after being taken prisoner while he was active, this time, in the Imperial Russian Navy. There he studied the basics of aerostatic science and balloons inflated with alcohol stoves. Released thanks to the intercession of the King of Spain, Count Francesco returned to Bologna, but even his marriage to Diamante Negrini and the three children who were born managed to calm the Count’s volcanic temper. After the flight of 1784 carried out in Venice that had made him famous so much that Guardi painted him in one of his canvases, in Bologna the Count Francesco undertook three more flights with the balloon, all more than celebrated in the city chronicles. The second flight actually turns out to be a failure as it ended with a shipwreck near Istria and Zambeccari succeeded to survive only thanks to some fishermen who recovered it at sea. The last flight was September 21, 1812. The Count climbed into the flask with his attendant, Bonaghi, and the balloon began to rise from the Parco della Montagnola above the skies of Bologna, but shortly after he had risen in flight, while he was still taking height, a strong gust of wind made him skid making him end up against the high branches of one of the trees in the park. While the two men tried to bring the balloon back on the ground, the recipient of alcohol toppled over, leaving the Bonaghi safe but soaking the poor Count who caught fire and died burned alive. This is the tragic end of this exceptional Bolognese nobleman!
The tomb of the Zambeccari, due to the Napoleonic suppressions, was moved for a period to the Certosa and since 1926 it is again placed in the Basilica where we see it today.