When we travel to another Country we pretty much want to see places, meet the locals, try new food, discover and learn about the local culture. In some cases we do believe we know a lot about the Country we are visiting and in most of the cases it is true because information are nowadays easily accessible through the internet. In some others it is not, especially when we assume we do know a lot or when we take for granted that there is not much more to know about a place before our visit.
This is what happens to Italy. The Country is famous worldwide for the enormous volume of it’s artistic and natural heritage, most of which is protected by UNESCO. Therefore, those who plan to go to Italy for the first time do usually want to the admire the masterpieces of the local art. Their schedule includes pretty often Venice, Florence, Rome, Pompeii. Some others are repeaters and choose to visit places that are usually less crowded and whose heritage doesn’t offer less than the most popular cities.
One thing that most of the visitors often take for granted is that Italy has always been one single Country. The truth is pretty different. I think it might be useful to offer you with another perspective and suggest a different travel itinerary based on the process which led the Italian Peninsula to unify itself under the flag of a single Monarch: the House of Savoy.
Therefore my travel Itineray includes the 3 Capitals of the former Kingom of Italy: in chronological order these are: Torino, Florence and Rome.
I’ll try to make a very long story short, starting from this map which shows that before 1861, the pensinsula was divided into several States, before being eventually unified as a single State.
The light blue section of the peninsula was the Kingdom of Sardinia, of which Torino was the Capital, ruled by the House of Savoy. The yellow section called Lombardo-Veneto was another State under the control of the Austrian Royal Family (the Hofburg). The light purple section was the Vatican State, ruled by the Pope, while the yellow was called Grand Duchy of Tuscany, ruled by a side branch of the Austrian Royal Family (the Hofburg-Lorena). Finally, the beige section was called Kingdom of the 2 Sicilies ruled by the Spanish Royals (the Bourbon) + some smaller entities like Parma, Modena and Lucca, which were independent duchies.
Let’s go step by step:
1 – In 1848 the King of Sardinia, Charles Albert of Savoy issued the first Constitution called Statuto Albertino, which turned his Kingdom into a Constitutional Monarchy. He kept the executive power for himself while legislation was shared with the freshly established Parliament. The tapestry here below shows the king signing the Constitution, surrounded by the members of his Cabinet:
2 – In 1848 some protests against the Austrians started in Lombardo-Veneto, thus the king of Savoy decided to declare the first War of Independence, aiming at conquering Milan, the whole Lombardy and Veneto. After the first successful battles however, he was hardly defeated by the Marshall Radetzky (the one made famous by the composition “the March or Radetzky” by Johann Strauss – father) and the war ended.
3 – 1849 Charles Albert abdicates in favour of his son: Vittorio Emanuele II. 10 years of diplomatic contacts started, during which the Kingdom of Sardinia enforced some major commercial and industrial innovations. Meanwhile a suasion action was enforced towards the emperor of France – Napoleon III, who accepted to join the army of Savoy against the Austrian in the event of an attack, in return of taking the city of Nice and the Savoie region as a reward (at that time they were both part of the Kingdom of Sardinia).
4 – 1859 The second war of Independence started. Two enormous armies faced each other in several battles, the most devastating ones in the Lombardo-Veneto area: in Palestro, San Martino-Solferino, Magenta with more than 260.000 soldiers on the battlefields. With the help of the French army, the Kingdom of Savoy defeated the Austrian. Some major places previsouly under the control of the Austrians started street demonstrations aiming at voting, with a plebiscite, the annexion to the Kingodom of Sardinia.
Top info: The International RED CROSS was established right after the Battle of Solferino. In fact, a Doctor from Switzerland, named Jean Henry Dunant, was on the battlefield where he observed the lack of any form of rescue for those soldier who were left wounded on the field and died alone. Dunant decided to create an association of nurses, to assist the soldiers on the battlefields, on vuluntary basis, and he choose the symbol of a red cross to make them recongnizable and to prevent them from being attacked. In 1863, national red cross societies were created. The Italian is the 5th in chronological order.
Top info 2: Do you know why the red ink for your printer is called MAGENTA? It is the name of a village were a very bloody battle was held on June 4th 1859 between the Italians and the Austrians. The red ink is named after the colour of the blood of the Italian soldiers who died in the attempt of pullig the Austrains back.
5 – It may seems that the mission was accomplished, but it’s not. Southern Italy was still under the control of the Spaniards. In 1860 a mission led by the hero of the Italian Unification, Giuseppe Garibaldi, made of 1000 volunteers only, called the “red shirts”, conquered village by village the whole Kingdom of the 2 Sicilies almost peacefully as the locals welcomed him as a liberator.
6 – On March 17th, 1861, Italy was declared a Kingdom and Vittorio Emanuele II, formerly king of Sardinia, was declared King of Italy with a ceremony held at the Parliament.
Torino became the first Capital of Italy
7 – In 1864, due to to an agreement with the French Emperor, Napoleon III, who was a bit concerned about the proximity of Torino to the border between Italy and France, asked to move the Capital elsewhere. In return he would lift his protection over the city of Rome (a task inherited by Holy Roman Empire), setting the line free for the Italian army to conquer the eternal city.
Florence became the second Capital of Italy
8 – In 1866 the third war of Independence started. Defeating the Austrians was less difficult this time for the newly established army of the kingdom of Italy. The whole Veneto and Lazio Regions, were conquered and annexed.
9 – In 1870, the French protection over Rome was removed as promised, thus the Italian army broke the city walls at Porta Pia (the exact place is still visible today) and conquered the City. The Pope declared to be himself a “prisoner of the Italian State” and sheltered inside Castel Sant’Angelo – a circular fortress close to the Basilica of St. Peter.
Rome became the third, and final, Capital of Italy
If you want to discover more about Italy and understand the reason why the Italians are sometimes pretty different depending on the area you visit, why there are 20 different dialects (in some cases different languages), why the culinary tradition is so vary and why we have so much art, it might be good for you to design an Itinerary to the places linked to the process of the Country’s unification:
Torino should be your first destination, then Milan which contributed with it’s protest against the Austrians. You should then move to Florence, further down to Naples and Marsala in Sicily (where Garibaldi started his conquery of the island). Then complete your itinerary in Rome, which is the current Capital of the Country. It’s a journey all along the pensinsula to dive into history, art and food.
In 1946, after world war II, Italy was turned into a Republic.
If you want to discover more about his story you should also include these two museums in your itinerary:
Torino – Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento, located at Palazzo Carignano, home to the first Parliament of Italy
Rome – Museo Centrale del Risorgimento, located inside the Munumental complex called Vittoriano (also known sarcastically as “the wedding cake”)
Beside a plethora of local initiatives whihc celebrates this Story, these are the two most importan and complete museums about this story.