If you happen to come to Italy during 2011, you should know this is a special year for the nation. Next Thursday – March 17 – schools and shops will be closed and a National Day will be officially celebrated throughout the country (more on the events in Milan at the end of the article). This year, in fact, Italy celebrates its 150th anniversary as a country: it was 1861 when the unification was officially proclaimed after more than forty years of rebel movements and Wars of Independence.
Prior to that, a map of the peninsula looked like a patchwork of smaller states as a result of the Congress of Vienna, where European leaders renegotiated national boundaries and spheres of influence after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars (a significant part of Italy went under direct control by the Austrian Empire). It wasn’t long, however, before the wind of nationalism blowing throughout Europe touched Italy. The idea of a united Italy grew at first particularly among intellectuals, and soon revolutionary groups, like the Carbonari, began to form.
The very first insurrections started in the early ‘20s, gradually grew in the ‘30s and, finally, by 1848 the sentiment toward unification was ripe enough to provoke revolts in many states in a very short time. In Lombardy, tensions against the Austrian domination blew up as, after five days of barricades (le Cinque Giornate di Milano, from March 18 to 22), the Milanese people managed to expel the Austrian garrison. It was a crucial moment in the Italian Risorgimento and finally prompted the King of Sardinia (whose kingdom actually centered around Piedmont) to wage war against the Austrian Empire. The First War of Independence, however, ended unsuccessfully in 1849.
A decade later, things were brought to the next level by Piedmont Prime Minister Count of Cavour, who engaged in war against the Austrians, at first with the help of Napoleon III. When the latter broke his alliance, the Piedmontese fought on until they succeeded in creating the Unified Provinces of Central Italy and later on annexing them to the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1860.
That same year, to support the riots occurring in Sicily against the sovereign Francesco II, Giuseppe Garibaldi organized his famous Spedizione dei Mille. At first, the volunteers who landed in Sicily to help the rebels were really about a thousand; but as their insurrections succeeded more people joined in and finally took also the kingdom’s capital, Naples. When he joined Vittorio Emanuele II, King of Sardinia, Garibaldi greeted him as King of Italy—a title which, on March 17, 1861, was finally made official by the first Italian Parliament assembled a month earlier.
Every year Italy celebrates two major events as national days: Liberation Day on April 25 (1945, from the nazi fascist occupation), and Republic Day on June 2 (1946, birth of the Republic after World War II). This year only, in addition, March 17 will be an extra ‘National Day’ with country-wide official ceremonies and celebrations.
In Milan, a number of events has taken place since fall 2010, and a lot more are to come until the end of 2011. Here follows a quick guide.
March 16: All state museums open, also during the night. Notte bianca, rossa e verde (nuit blanche) with various events and celebrations.
March 17: In Rome, official ceremonies; closing event and fireworks throughout the country.
Exhibitions & Events in Milan
@ Palazzina Liberty – Largo Marinai d’Italia
- Civica Orchestra di Fiati: free concert, March 16, 9:00 pm.
@ Museo del Risorgimento – Via Borgonuovo 23 – open Tuesday to Sunday, 9:00 am to 1:00 pm; 2:00 pm to 5:30 pm. Closed on Mondays. Admission € 2 (reduced € 1).
- Napoleone III e l’Italia. La nascita di una nazione. 1831 – 1870: 120 pictures on the French ‘adventure’ during the Risorgimento. Organized in collaboration with Musée de l’Armée et des Invalides in Paris. In Milan until April 10.
- Cronaca di una Rivoluzione. Immagini e luoghi delle Cinque giornate di Milano: a scale model and interactive map, watercolors and paintings on the ‘Five Days of Milan’. March 20 to May 22.
- Cristina la Pasionaria. La principessa di Belgiojoso, intellettuale e patriota: letters, writings, books etc. by noblewoman and patriot Cristina di Belgioioso. Organized in collaboration with the Italian Institute for Culture in Paris. In Milan from May to September.
- Storie di Donne. Immagine femminile e identità nazionale. Ritratti fotografici a Milano 1859 – 1914: 300 photos on the changing role of women in society. October 12 to December 31.
@ Pinacoteca di Brera – Via Brera 28 – open Tuesday to Sunday, 8:30 am to 7:15 pm. Closed on Mondays. Admission € 5 (reduced € 2,5).
- Manzoni, Hayez e Verdi: re-evoking the XIX century Milanese intellectual atmosphere through the works of three of the most influential artists in their fields (literature, painting and music). April 12 to September.
Official calendar for the 150th Anniversary Celebration in Milan from the Comune di Milano
Italia Unita 150, the official website about the anniversary