29. The Monument to Garibaldi and the Roman Republic of 1849
Today we return to Garibaldi’s statue on the Janiculum Hill and review the events that are summarized in the bronze sculpture group on the front of the statue. They represent Luciano Manara and the battle to save the Roman Republic of 1849. But what was this Republic, and what became of it?
Today we resume our visit to the top of Rome’s highest hill, the Janiculum, and to its crowning feature, the monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi—or Giuseppe Garibaldi in my Americanized version of a more proper Italian pronunciation. In the event you missed that earlier episode, number 13, we are considering the life of one of the Four Fathers of the Italian Fatherland, which was brought into existence in 1861. Garibaldi was the most active and most successful general of the Risorgimento, and because he also fought for freedom in South America, his monument identifies him as the “Hero of Two Worlds.” We also noted in this previous episode, that Garibaldi was militantly anticlerical and was hellbent on ending papal rule in Rome, which eventually occurred in 1870.
Our previous discussion postponed explanation of two groups of statues at the base of his monument. The one on the front of the statue represents the defense of the Roman Republic against the French in 1849; the one on the back is of the first battle in Garibaldi’s conquest of Sicily and all southern Italy in 1860. The former was a glorious defeat, the latter a spectacular victory. Both events are fascinating. I’ll focus today on the failed defense of the Roman Republic, but it is best to devote the next episode on Modern Rome to Cavour –or, Cavour—and his monument before we can understand what makes Garibaldi’s conquest of the south so remarkable.
The Bronze Group on the Front of the Statue: The Roman Republic of 1849
The group on the front is closely tied to the very location of the statue and to the many other reminders of Garibaldi here on the Janiculum Hill. It represents several of Garibaldi’s followers, loosely called Garibaldini, with a recognizable Luciano Manara leading a bayonet charge during the siege of Rome. It reminds that for Garibaldi and his poorly equipped troops, this tactic was essential but also came at a high cost, as the sculpture’s dead or wounded soldiers also show. And the troops in question included ordinary folk: we see a democratic army, if “army” is even the right word. But what was the siege of Rome, and who was the enemy?
Luciano Manara and group on front of Garibaldi’s monument. They seek to defend the Roman Republic in 1849.
The widespread European Revolutions of 1848 provide the background. Most of Europe was then in turmoil, as even without social media, news of one revolt seemed to spread and spark two or three more. Aggressive protests led the powerful Austrian Chancellor, Klemens von Metternich, to flee for his personal safety, while a revolution in France ended the monarchy and introduced the Second Republic. In Italy, revolts broke out in Sicily, Milan, Naples, and Salerno. Absolute monarchs vowed to become good liberals and scrambled to limit their own powers by creating bicameral legislatures and writing constitutions. Even the pope curtailed his rule by publishing a constitution and broadening the base of his government. Thinking excitedly that the final revolution was at hand, Marx and Engels published their Communist Manifesto. Even today the Italian language retains an expression emerging from this turbulent year. If you want to say that all hell broke loose, you can say there was a “quarantotto,” a “forty-eight.”
If important revolutions took life in the spring, it became increasingly unclear what fruit they would bear in autumn. In Rome, Pope Pius IX no longer could control the liberal support he himself had helped to excite. The general effervescence that first surrounded him now gave way to a mob he could not govern. Romans assassinated his chief minister, pointed cannons at the papal palace on the Quirinal Hill, and fired a few rifle shots into it. (I will remind you of this when we visit the Quirinal Palace!) The pope consequently donned a disguise and slipped away from Rome under cover of darkness. He went south to Gaeta, under the protection of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which had reversed its policy and once again declared itself an absolute monarchy and ally of Austria, which had also put down its revolt.
Now that Rome was without its pope, revolution-minded Italians raced to the Eternal City and called for a Constituent Assembly to form a new government, one they hoped to make the capital of a united Italy born from the ashes of revolutions around the peninsula. Elected in January of 1849, the Roman Assembly promptly abolished the temporal power of the papacy and declared [QUOTE] “the form of government at Rome shall be that of a pure democracy, and it will take the glorious name of the Roman Republic.” There had been an ancient Roman Republic, of course, one that lasted almost 500 years. Now, two millennia later, there was a new one.
Giuseppe Mazzini would later become known as another of the Four Fathers of the Italian Fatherland. Neither he nor Garibaldi hailed from Rome, but both were elected members of the Constituent Assembly of the new Roman Republic, and both became devoted leaders of this revolutionary democracy. Meanwhile, the pope had of course denounced the Romans who had driven him out of town, and he had called on Catholic France, Spain, Naples, and Austria to come to his aid. They all did.
In a policy opposed to that of his more famous uncle, who had essentially kidnapped two popes, Louis-Napoléon of France answered the pope’s call first, and French troops arrived at Rome’s port in April. The French did not expect the heavily out-gunned Roman Republic to put up serious resistance, and the new Roman Republic did not expect the French to attack. After all, Rome and France were now sister republics, both products of recent revolutions; and, as the Romans reminded the threatening troops, the new French constitution stated, [QUOTE] “France respects foreign nationalities. Her might will never be employed against the liberty of any people.” To their detriment, Mazzini and the Roman revolutionaries took this French pledge seriously.
Garibaldi arrived in Rome just three days before the French attacked on April 30. He was assigned to defend the high ground where his statue is now located. The Romans made other hasty preparations over these few days, including the enlistment of soldiers. Many of these had no training and often lacked useful weapons and uniforms.
Near Garibaldi’s statue on the Janiculum is a little museum inside the Porta San Pancrazio called “Museum of the Roman Republic and the Memory of Garibaldi and his Followers.” Among other things, it has a topographical map that shows the ground outside the western walls of the city. Garibaldi chose to defend this position, from which the French artillery could fire into Rome. From this advanced position, Garibaldi attacked the flank of the French as they grouped to assault the walls of the city further to the north. His troops did not succeed quickly or easily, but with reinforcements and a spirit unbroken by costly battles against a well-trained and well-equipped army, Garibaldi’s men eventually compelled the French to retreat from the grounds of the Villa Doria Pamphilj. It was an unlikely but invigorating victory, and an armistice was signed. Many concluded, at least for an instant, that the tiny Roman Republic just might be able to resist even a Goliath of the international scene. Or, as Mazzini hoped, perhaps the French republicans could be persuaded that they should not be fighting against Italian republicans to prop up an autocratic pope.
After a month in which they deceitfully encouraged Mazzini to believe that that they would not attack again, the French indicated that they would no longer respect the armistice. Buried in this honest notice that they would renew hostilities was another useful lie, however, for they broke the truce a day earlier than they declared they would. Thus, they added the advantage of surprise to their advantages in numbers, training, equipment, and artillery, for by attacking early, they were able to take several of the villas that were on the high ground outside the city walls. Garibaldi tried desperately to retake them, only to see his brave troops cut down as wave after wave charged the established positions of the French.
It was clear that Rome was doomed, but the siege of Rome went on for a full month. During this month, the French patiently improved their siege-works, fired regularly on Garibaldi’s positions, and surrounded the city. After having prepared for a final attack, the French launched it in the middle of the night of June 29. They broke through the fortifications on the Janiculum and could not be driven back.
In the bronze group on the front of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s statue is a soldier a the raised sword, who is boldly calling for a charge. This is Luciano Manara, Garibaldi’s Chief of Staff. Manara said memorably in a letter [QUOTE], “We need to die in order to bring [the revolutions of] ’48 to a serious conclusion; for our example to be useful, we must die.” He knew the Roman Republic could not defeat France in the battle for Rome but believed a noble example would inspire others and thereby serve victory in the longer run. Twenty-four years old, he was killed in the fighting on the day Rome fell.
On this same day, Garibaldi declared his intention to leave the city but continue the fight elsewhere. In the most famous and most characteristic of all his speeches, he announced in Saint Peter’s Square,
I am going out of Rome. Whoever is willing to follow me will be received among my people. I ask for nothing of them but a heart filled with love for our country. They will have no pay, no provisions, and no rest. I offer hunger, cold, forced marches, battles and death. Whoever is not satisfied with such a life must remain behind. He who has the name of Italy not only on his lips but in his heart, let him follow me.
Some four or five thousand haggard troops began to follow him, and they made their way north, across the Apennines toward Ravenna, first in the hope of stimulating popular insurrections like the ones of the previous year and later in the hope of joining the defense of the new (Venetian) Republic of San Marco against the Austrian re-conquest. But they were being hunted by four armies and suffered hunger and disease as well. Nor were the Italian people rising up to help them or to throw off their autocratic rulers. The survivors secured their safety only by dispersing and giving up the fight, at least for the time being. Garibaldi was among the survivors, but his pregnant wife Anita was not. With the enemy in hot pursuit, Garibaldi had to bury her in a shallow grave near Ravenna and then get himself out of Italy, where he was a wanted man. The Risorgimento had come to a halt, and it would be a decade before there would be another occasion on which he could fight for a new Italy.
It would also be a decade before he could return to move Anita’s mortal remains to Nizza, now Nice, his hometown. About sixty years after this, in 1932, Mussolini would have these remains ceremoniously transferred to Rome and led through the city by a horse drawn carriage. They were then deposited in the base of her own large equestrian statue, which is very close to her husband’s. All this was part of the celebrations marking the tenth anniversary of the Fascist March on Rome, so we will return to visit her statue later and see what use Mussolini made of the two Garibaldis.
The eventual burial place of Anita Garibaldi, under her statue on the Janiculum Hill.
The bronze group on the front of Garibaldi’s statue thus represents one of the most hard-fought campaigns in Garibaldi’s long military career. It failed to defend the Roman Republic, Garibaldi was driven out of Italy, the pope returned to rule Rome, and the old aristocracies were reinstated everywhere—except in Piedmont-Sardinia, where Victor Emmanuel II allowed an elected parliament to limit his power. The next obvious step taken in the direction of uniting Italy would be taken not by a revolutionary uprising on the model of 1848-49 but by this parliament or, rather, by its cagey prime minister, the Count of Cavour, who traced out a very different route to a somewhat different Italy.
The battles in which the French defenders of the papacy crushed the Roman Republic occurred on the Janiculum, near where Garibaldi’s monument stands today, and there are many other reminders of them in the immediate area. The most conspicuous are eighty-four busts that line the paths leading up to Garibaldi’s statue, mostly of Garibaldini whose patriotism was inspired or fortified by the General. A large majority of those remembered here participated in the defense of the Republic in 1849, and at least thirteen died during this defense. Quite a few fought in multiple campaigns with Garibaldi. One or two had been officers in the papal army but are honored here for having switched sides. One was a monk who left the Church to fight for Italy; another, Ugo Bassi, was a priest who fought for Italy without leaving the Church. A rare “patriot priest,” he joined Garibaldi in his march out of Rome when the Republic fell. He was captured by the Austrians and executed a month later. Of those who did not fight in 1849, two were sons of the Garibaldis, and two were grandsons. These four were also soldiers, and the latter two died young fighting in World War I’s Battle of the Argonne.
An important few of the busts are to foreign soldiers. Captain Petko Voyvoda, for example, was a Bulgarian freedom fighter. He never fought for the unification of Italy, but Garibaldi helped him to organize a “Garibaldi Battalion,” in which over two hundred of Garibaldi’s followers enlisted. They then fought alongside troops of other nationalities in the revolt of Crete, as the Greeks gradually freed themselves from rule by the Ottoman Turks. There are also busts here of Stefano Turr, a Hungarian, and Herman Liikanen, a Finn. Both fought for Italy while awaiting a good chance to fight for their homelands. They help remind us that Garibaldi, like Mazzini, was part of an international movement that sought to liberalize all of Europe, and the Americas as well.
One of many markers on the Janiculum regarding Garibaldi and the Roman Republic. This one notes support coming from Sicily.
Luciano Manara and revolutionaries like him had hoped that their noble sacrifices would further fuel insurrections that would issue in a united and democratic Italy. Giuseppe Mazzini—or Giuseppe Mazzini—whom we will consider more carefully when we visit his monument later, even thought that popular action was the only way to institute a new democracy: unless people are ready to act as citizens, participate in a national movement, and sacrifice for one, they will not possess the active qualities necessary to rule themselves democratically. Independent self-government must be achieved, he thought: a passive population cannot just have it thrust upon them.
Although Italy would indeed become unified in piecemeal fashion over the next two decades, ordinary Italians did not achieve this goal by rising up against their oppressors, and Italy became a limited monarchy, not the pure democracy Mazzini and others thought was taking shape in the Roman Republic of 1849. Though honored as one of the Four Fathers of the Italian Fatherland, Mazzini never reconciled with the limited monarchy that came to rule Italy, and the ill will was mutual: if he wanted to visit the country he helped to create, Mazzini had to don a disguise, use a false passport, and risk his life.
While Garibaldi shared Mazzini’s democratic sentiments, the failure of the insurrections of 1848-49 and other evidence led him to conclude that the only practical route to a new Italy required the leadership of Piedmont-Sardinia and its Savoy Dynasty. Garibaldi’s readiness to suppress his more democratic inclinations to work together with the king is noted on his statue by the inscription “Italy and Victor Emmanuel,” which is a slogan he had used while conquering Sicily and Southern Italy. He proved his loyalty also by wearing the uniform of the King’s army, not the irregular attire for which he had become well known, and by turning all the territory he conquered over to the King. But this is all most pertinent to the subject of the bronze group on the back of his statue, for which we must first set the stage. This subject is best known to Italians as “La Spedizione dei mille,” “the Expedition of the Thousand,” but we need to know first who Cavour was and what he did before Garibaldi’s Spedizione got started.
A monument to the French troops who overthrew the Roman Republic in favor of the pope. It is in the Villa Doria Pamphilij, about a 30 minute walk from Garibaldi’s statue. (My photo)
We will thus leave the Janiculum Hill for now, even though there are other monuments here that remember the battles of 1849, including tributes to the French—the enemy—who fought for the papacy as well as to others who defended Rome. Our next visit to Modern Rome will be down near the Tiber on the north side of the city, next to the huge Palace of Justice built by the New Italy. Here in Piazza Cavour and facing this Palace is where Italy chose to honor the Prime Minister of Piedmont-Sardinia who led the diplomatic effort to unify Italy. Once we know a little about Cavour, we can return to consider Garibaldi’s Spedizione, which is remembered on his statue and is one of the most remarkable military campaigns I know of.