Living in Rome
All shops and offices are closed today in Rome for the 150th anniversary of the Italian Unity. On that very day in 1861, the newly formed Italian Parliament proclaimed Vittorio Emmanuele II the new King of a unified Italy. They were based in Turin, the then capital of the new State. Rome became the capital city only ten years later, while Florence played that role for a short stint between 1865 and 1871.
The new Kingdom was the culmination of the Risorgimento, the political and cultural movement which dominated the peninsula since the fall of Napoleon in 1815, and which had as an ideal the creation of a national and unified Italy. Giuseppe Garibaldi, one of its leaders, was the one who turned a primarily intellectual movement into a huge popular force, bringing together groups of civilians to march through the regions of Italy. It all started in 1860 when he left the port of Genova with a thousand men to invade Sicily, and rebel against the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples and the two Sicilies. From there, they moved upwards, gathering forces in the process.
Giuseppe Mazzini and Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, the other two main figures of the Risorgimento, were the political and constitutional brains behind the Movement. Cavour became Italy’s first Prime Minister. Together with Garibaldi and King Vittorio Emmanuele II, they are considered the founding fathers of the Nation. One of the politicians of the times, Massimo d’Azeglio, famously said that now that Italy was made, they had to try to make Italians. Cavour himself admitted that his job of bringing together very different people from North to South was as hard as going to war against a foreign enemy like Austria.
It is not surprising that 150 years after, on the occasion of the celebration, Italians are reflecting on what it means to be Italian, and whether the patriotic sentiment is as strong as it was then. The celebration itself feels a bit like a non event, however living here, there is no doubt Italians from North to South feel they belong to the same nation, even though one political movement from the wealthy North, the Northern League, would like to split from the poor South. Regional differences may be stronger than in other European countries, but the national sentiment is there as can be seen in any international football or rugby game!