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10 Amazing Circus Families


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The Tognis
A fortune teller with Togni Circus in Italy peers into the throat of a crocodile to see into the future. © Bettmann/CORBIS
A fortune teller with Togni Circus in Italy peers into the throat of a crocodile to see into the future. © Bettmann/CORBIS

One of Italy's largest circus dynasties, the Togni family has been in action since the 1870s, when founder Aristide Togni fled his studies at the university and headed for the big top. Once Togni had a little experience, he created his own operation, the Circo Togni, with his wife and, subsequently, their eight children. Their circus quickly grew and excelled in everything from equestrian acts and tumbling to acrobatics and animal training. In addition to their children, outside performers were incorporated into the company, including some from other prestigious Italian circus families such as the Milettis and Casartellis. In 1919, King Victor Emmanuel III bestowed upon Circo Togni the prestigious title Circo Nazionale, or National Circus [source: Di Ritis].

Eventually, three of Togni's sons decided to split the operation into three different circuses. While the circuses morphed over time and some family members got out of the business, many remained. Circo Lidia Togni, for example, is one of the largest circuses in Europe. The dynasty is also known for producing talented acrobats, animal trainers and circus managers. In addition, the family is heralded for its talent in circus engineering; the Tognis created the world's most popular big top systems: the round cupola, the Italian oblong cupola, the quarter pole-free and the round-cupola-quarter-pole-free [source: Di Ritis].