Modern Rome

The Birth of Secular Italy and the End of Papal Rule

Modern Italy was brought into being by a movement called the Risorgimento, which in a different context could have referred to Christ’s rising from the dead. In Italian politics, it meant a revolution that sought the independence and unity that Italy had lost 1,500 years earlier. It also sought to introduce the modern liberalism that had been gaining ground in France, Great Britain, and the USA in the previous century or so.

A further goal of the Risorgimento was to make Rome the capital of the new Italy, which meant a sharp conflict with Rome’s current ruler, the Roman Catholic Church. We will take these issues up under the following headings.

Map of Italy in 1810

Napoleon did not unite all of northern Italy, exactly. He incorporated part directly into the French Empire, and created a separate Kingdom of Italy (with himself as its King, as his son was King of Rome). At the same time, he spread modern liberal political principles, which served as a model for the future.

Equestian Statue of King Victor Emmanuel II on the Victor Emmanuel II monument

There were Four Fathers of Modern Italy, but only one of them was a king, and here he is, front and center on a vast monument nicknamed “the Wedding Cake.” As for the other three, they will get the attention they deserve, which is in every case more that that earned by King Victor Emmanuel II. (My photo.)

Statue to Garibaldi on the Janiculum Hill

At the base of the statue to Garibaldi on the Janiculum Hill is this plaque dated MMDCLX, that is, 2660, which might seem to show that the Masons, who donated it, are not so hot with Roman numerals. But they simply chose to reject the Christian dating system and recur to that of ancient Rome, which dates everything from the (supposed) date of Rome’s founding. That’s 753 BC, so the date on the plaque converts to 1907, the 100th anniversary of Garibaldi’s birth. Anticlericalism shows itself in both large and small ways.

This is not a statue of Mussolini, of course, but one of several statues of emperors he positioned along a new boulevard he had built, the “Street of the Empire,” now called the “Street of the Imperial Forums.” It is dated “the 11th year of the Fascist Renewal.” Since the “renewal” was held to have begun with the March on Rome of 1922, the statue dates to 1933 and shows Mussolini’s desire to link his regime with that of the Ancient Roman Empire. (Photo Blake Buchannan.)

Monument to the Italian Constitution in 1948

This is not much of a monument, but that is part of the point. It notes the ratification of the Italian Constitution in 1948, in which a republic replaced the Italian kingship, and it is the only such marker I’ve noticed in Rome. I think the Italian people were simply too tired and cautious after the war to celebrate this great change, and in fact the vote against the monarchy was very close. The location of this marker, in the Foro Olimipico amidst other similar markers that pay tribute to Mussolini’s vaunted accomplishments, suggests its main job it to show that these markers do not represent the current will of the Italian people. They were still standing in 2017: I wonder why. (My photo.)