Italian Unification

 

Although Italy has a long and storied history, think the Etruscans, the Romans, etc., it is easy to forget that it has been an independent nation for less time than the United States.  We learned some about Italian unification at the Risorgimento Museum in Milan. Since it was all in Italian, we could do some research after returning home.  Being history buffs, we found it interesting and liked the museum anyway.

Napoleon Bonaparte kicked out the Austrians and the Spanish out of Italy in 1796.  Until then, Italy had not existed a under a central power since the Romans.  It was a collection of city states that had been, for the most part, ruled by foreign powers (Austria, Spain, France).

Initially, Milan welcomed Napolean and built the triumphal arch, the Arco della Pace, for him.  They hoped that he would bring the ideals of the French Revolution (liberty, equality and brotherhood) to them.  In their eyes, he turned out to be just another narcissistic megalomaniac.  To express their dissatisfaction and disappointment, they turned the horses around.  Nevertheless, under Napoleon, Italy experienced it’s first taste of unification and it proved impossible to unring that bell.  It awakened hopes for Italy to become an independent nation.

The movement toward unification grew in the 50 years following Napoleon.  It started out as a revolutionionary movement on the fringes of society.  Since membership in this group (the Carbonari) was punishable by death, it was a secret society.  Understandable.

Giuseppe Mazzini led this professional revolutionary group.  Mazzini traveled extensively, spreading revolutionary propaganda, influencing Italian radicals and revolutionaries throughout Europe.  He was involved in the failed revolution 1848–49.

Giuseppe Garibaldi had a long military career before Victor Emmanuel convinced him to conquer Sicily.  In 1860 with 1,000 volunteers known as the Red Shirts, Garibaldi landed in Sicily, (which had rebelled against Francis II the king of the Two Sicilies), and conquered the island in a spectacular, daring campaign.  He then took Naples, and won a decisive battle on the Volturno River.  This led Victor Emmanuel’s proclamation as king of a united Italy.

Vittorio Emanuele II, king of Sardinia and the first king of united Italy.  He was the rallying point around which the movement coalesced.  These men were so fundamental to the formation of Italy that in virtually every Italian town, you find streets, squares, piazzas and buildings named after Victor Emanuel, Mazzini, Garibaldi and Cavour.

Camillo Cavour (statesman, premier of the Kingdom of Sardinia), pulled a fast one on France.  In a brilliant sleight of hand, he convinced them to drive Austria out of Italy (Franco-Austrian War).  One occupier down, one to go.   He convinced France to take part of Savoy and Nice in exchange for getting out of the rest of Italy.   Clever.

After Garibaldi’s victories and Victor Emmanuel’s coronation, when Tuscany, Parma, Modena, and the Romagna voted for annexation to Sardinia, Cavour sent Sardinian troops into the Papal States, which, with the exception of Latium and Rome, were soon annexed.  And presto, you have Italy.

 

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Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Next to Milan’s Duomo, is Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a four-story glass-covered shopping arcade.

We sat down for our first of several coffees at the Campari Cafe, just inside the opening.  The cappuccinos were the best these caffeine addicts had ever tasted.  I’m not exaggerating.  It was the best coffee I’d ever had.  Sitting on the patio, we had front row seats for some great people watching.   I am sure that people in Geneva and other places are just as interesting, but the culture is so private that you feel bad staring.  In Milan, everyone is there to see and be seen, so it feels perfectly acceptable.

Campari was invented in this historic café.  Giuseppe Verdi and Auturo Toscanini used to hangout here after a performance at the nearby La Scala Opera House.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was built right after Italian unification in 1870 to be a showplace for modern Milan.  This patriotic, art deco building still is.

It was Milan’s first building with electric lighting.

Guiseppe Mengoni designed it, but tragically plummeted to his death from the scuffling just weeks before it was finished.

For good luck, locals (and tons of tourists) spin on one of the floor’s mosaics.  The mosaic is of a bull, Milan’s symbol.  You don’t just step on any part of it.  You spin, grinding your foot into its, um, what’s the word for cojones in Italian?  We saw over a dozen people do it.   People walked out of their way to do a quick spin before continuing with their business.

I’m all for breaking some balls, but the extraordinary amount of wear and tear means that the poor bull gets a new set every few years.  The ground is permanently indented there.