Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview



Italian History

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Italy Today




Marco Polo


These are links to my pages on Italy's various historical eras.   

The author and this book are recommended by a site visitor. This books deals with Rome, Romans and Napoleon from 1796-1815, including all the interesting details of daily life.


A print image of tiny Napoleon Bonaparte, sitting atop what is almost certainly a very short horse, leading his soldiers into battle for the conquest of Europe.  Click on the image to read more about the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Era.

Napoleon, the handsome (?), Corsican, Italian-speaking, master administrator, who is now said to have possible died from accidental arsenic poisoning from unsafe drinking water on his island exile.

That Italian unification began on Sardinia is more than a bit amazing sounding if you've ever been to Sardinia.  I have, and the primitive albeit beautiful island seems untouched by royalty for centuries.  The most exotic thing on offer is a look over at Corsica off the northern coast.  There are lots of primitive remains of previous civilizations.  

And there is, of course, Prime Minister  Berlusconi's vacation home, where he was injured in a "friendly" gave of soccer with Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair this past summer, not long after a bomb was found and defused nearby.  Exciting days in Sardinia!  Click on the logo above to find out about the island and touring there.

Click on the image above to go to a Heraldry site (in French) that has an amazing collection of images of Italian coats-of-arms, for families, regions, towns, royalty.  The image above is the coat-of-arms of the last descendant of the Medici who passed away in 1737.

The link is to the main page.  From there, click on the menu item 'Géographique', and then select 'Péninsule italienne' to get the list of Italian coats-of -arms categories.

Heraldry in Pre-Unification Italy

The above link goes to a page that describes the political regions existing in Italy before unification and their heraldry.  Interestingly, they also provide the size of each group in population, percentage of total and square kilometers.

Click on the image of Giuseppe Garibaldi to read the 'Economist' newspaper's clear-eyed account of his 1000 man march to take the south of Italy for the King.


Cavour is a name you come across everywhere in Italy.  No town of any size is without a Piazza Cavour or a Via Cavour, or a Mazzini and Garibaldi, for that matter. Click on the image of Cavour to go to a fun website, in Italian, dedicated to Cavour:  They have a running countdown on their main page to the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy.

Map and Chronology of Unity of Italy

The above link is to a page on the website of Robert Angelo, an Italian-American.  He offers a wonderfully concise list of events leading to Italian unification. 

The Pitti Palace and the Boboli Gardens beyond.  These are open to the public now, but were the private property of the Duke of Florence at the time the poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrette Browning were his neighbors. They lived at the far right of end of the square.  Many of Elizabeth's poems were written in sympathy with Italian unification and served to build awareness and support abroad for the cause.  Click on the image to go to my page about them.

Giuseppe Mazzini

On Nationality, 1852

Click on the text above to read Mazzini's call-to-arms, or at least a call-to-revolution, for Italians to emulate the French Republicans.  

Descendents of Italians live all over the world.  There is a site that helps descendents obtain Italian documents to help chart the family's history:  Italiamerica.  Click on the banner to visit their site for information on the document service and a lot more!  

And check out my page dedicated to Hyphenated-Italians.


Here's a caricature made at the time of unification, showing Garibaldi putting the last part of Italy together in the 'boot' of King Vittorio Emmanuele II.


Italian Unification


It could be said that the drive for the national unification of Italy began with Napoleon’s regional administrations and the French Revolution’s ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, which were inspired by the successful American Revolution which began in 1776, which was in turn inspired by many French and English philosophers. 


The average European began to accept that:

  • a national government might be able to better their lives,

  • and that by joining together, people could demand more freedoms and equality and enjoy more friendly relations with their neighbors. 

The mindset was ripe for the liberal and nationalistic changes to come. 


When Napoleon was defeated, representatives of the major European powers presided over the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to put Europe back together again, and to get rid of those anti-monarchical and anti-aristocratic ideas of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. 


Part of the agreement ceded the Veneto and Lombard regions of Italy to Austria.  This just added to the patchwork quilt that was Italy at the time.  Austria also controlled Sicily and Southern Italy, and several Central Italian regions.  The Pope controlled regions in Central Italy, and Rome, and his territory was defended by French soldiers. 


The only independent regions of what is today Italy were under King Vittorio Emmanuele II who controlled Sardenia and Piedmont, Savoy and Nice.  The King desired Italian unification with himself as it’s liberal-minded monarch.




He saw his chance after the failure of the Carbonari revolts in 1848, and the resulting torture, death and prison terms for thousands of sympathizing Italians.  Winning over the hearts and minds of all Italians was an easier task with emotions running so high. 


The King formed a constitutional monarchy to rule over his territories, that relied on a parliament of appointed and elected representatives. 


The King found the perfect partner in Camillo di Cavour, who became his prime minister in 1852.  Together they instituted constitutional reforms of such great economic and social success, that all of Italy wanted to join together under the Sardinian King. 


Cavour was a realist who recognized that the foreign powers would never freely give up their Italian regions, no matter what the local people said or did.  So using statesmanship, Cavour found foreign allies to support the cause of Italian unification.




He courted the favor of France and England, and then found support in Napoleon III of France who agreed to assist the fight against the Austrians in exchange for the French-speaking regions of Savoy and Nice.  Together they forced Austria to surrender Lombardy, which was absorbed into the Kingdom of Sardinia.


This success was the catalyst for the subsequent unification.  Once people saw that it could happen, and that there was a viable government under which they could unify, they joined the cause whole-heartedly. 


Nationalist revolutionaries took control of much of the Papal States, and an election there acted as a referendum, showing the will of the people to be united with the Kingdom of Sardinia.  The King absorbed the new regions, and Cavour’s foreign allies quickly recognized the enlarged Kingdom, stopping any opposition to the move.


But it was an Italian army that liberated Southern Italy, the so-called Two Sicilies, from the Austrian controlled Bourbon dynasty.  In 1861, Garibaldi’s Red Shirts began with 1,000 men, but his army grew as locals joined them, donning home-made red shirts as their uniform. 


As his troops advanced, there was some fighting, but many of the enemy armies either defected or laid down their arms as the Red Shirts advanced.  They took Sicily and then crossed over to Calabria and made their way to Naples, where they declared their victory.


Mazzini, Garibaldi’s mentor, was a more advanced political thinker who worked for the formation of a democratic republic, but the force of history was against him, at least for the moment, so Italy became a constitutional (limited) monarchy when Garibaldi’s forces surrendered the newly won regions to the King of Sardinia. 


The official formation of the Kingdom of Italy took place in March of 1861, under King Vittorio Emmanuele II.  The country became complete over time. 

  • In 1866, again working with allies, Italy regained the Veneto from Austria. 

  • And in 1870, when French troops were redeployed elsewhere, Italian troops took Rome from the Pope, leaving only the Vatican City to the Pontiff. 

  • The Trentino and Trieste regions were ceded to Italy at the end of World War I in 1918 in return for their fighting with the allies. 

Italy today is comprised of 20 regions, 94 provinces, and 8090 communities.  The head of state is the President of the Republic, but to make this complicated for foreigners, the Prime Minister is called the President in Italian (Presidente del consiglio).


An interesting twist to history happened after the end of World War II, on October 5, 1954.  Trieste was taken from Yugoslavian control where it had ended up after the war and again returned to Italian control by the allies after violent protests by the locals who swore to defend their ‘Italian-ness’ to the death.  The 50th anniversary was celebrated recently throughout Italy, one of many slogans being ‘A Great History; One Italy’, showing just how recent Italian Unification is in the hearts and minds of Italians.


The Pope had been having conniption fits all through the process of Italian unification, but when he was left with only the Vatican City, he really got angry.  He excommunicated just about everybody, again, this is after he earlier had said that any Italian supporting unification was a sinner.  Then he pretended to be a prisoner in the Vatican City, hoping to get sympathy and support from Catholic countries around Europe. 


It didn’t work, and finally in 1929, the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini made a deal with the Pope, paying him reparations for his lost territory, and letting the church determine social laws in Italy.  This added legitimacy to Fascism and Mussolini, and the close association between the church and Fascism is certainly a black stain on the church's history as dark as the Inquisition's stain.


This deal with Mussolini is why in Italy, today, if a father moves out of his conjugal home, he’s breaking the law and can be arrested. It makes you understand better why Italy was so quiet recently, when other European countries were bad-mouthing socially conservative Turkey’s eventual entry into the European Union.


Immediately after unification things did not go well, mainly due to two conflicting strains in policy. 

  • One faction pushed for Italy to become a world power by building up her military and navy, and sending them out to conquer colonies. 

  • The other faction said that before becoming a world power, Italy had to put her house in order.  That meant modernizing the backward country through agricultural reforms, national education programs, creating efficient local and national administrations, collecting taxes, and providing security throughout the new country. 

Italy tried to do both, splitting the little financial capital it had, and achieving neither goal in any great measure. 


However, they did start a war with a weak Turkey and took away parts of the crumbling Ottoman Empire.  Their victory encouraged others to do the same, provoking a chain reaction of Balkan wars whose waging and outcomes are still being avenged today. 


The resulting chaos and poverty in Italy, together with extremely high birth rates, lead to massive emigration, mainly to Latin America and North America.




Next Section:  Fascism and the World Wars