Garibaldi and the Unification of Italy

At university I studied Italian Unification and one of the heroes of this achievement was Giuseppe Garibaldi, who died on June 2nd 1882.  He was an Italian military and political figure.  In his twenties, he joined the Carbonari Italian patriot revolutionaries, and fled Italy after a failed insurrection. Garibaldi took part in the War of the Farrapos and the Uruguayan Civil War leading the Italian Legion, and afterward returned to Italy as a commander in the conflicts of the Risorgimento.

This handsome swashbuckler, with the regal bearing, long hair, full beard, burning eyes and trademark red cape cut a swathe through European politics during the mid-19th century.  For three decades, Giuseppe Garibaldi was involved in every major battle in Italy, provoking revolution in Sicily, bringing about the collapse of the Bourbon monarchy, the retreat of the Austrian empire, the overthrow of the Papal States, and the creation of the Italian nation.

After the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 the state worked hard at making sure Garibaldi would be remembered and the number of streets, piazzas and statues named after him makes him probably the most commemorated secular figure in history.

Such was the romance of his story that Garibaldi was at one point possibly the most famous man in Europe.  In London in 1864 people of all classes flocked to see him as he got off the train. The crowds were so immense it took him six hours to travel three miles through the streets. The whole country shut down for three days while he met the great and the good.  Literary figures including the poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson and Sir Walter Scott lauded him as the “Italian lion” and “the noblest Roman of them all“.

The English historian A.J.P. Taylor made the assessment that “Garibaldi is the only wholly admirable figure in modern history.”

Statues of his likeness stand in many Italian squares, and in other countries around the world.  A bust of Giuseppe Garibaldi is prominently placed outside the entrance to the old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC, a gift from members of the Italian Society of Washington. Many theatres in Sicily take their name from him and are ubiquitously named Garibaldi Theatre.

Five ships of the Italian Navy have been named after him, among which a World War II cruiser and the former flagship, the aircraft carrier Guiseppe Garibaldi.

The English football team Nottingham Forest designed their home kit after the uniform worn by Garibaldi and his men and have worn a variation of this design since being founded in 1865. A school in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire was also named in his honour. The Garibaldi biscuit was named after him, as was a style of beard. The Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy has been awarded annually since 2007 within the Six Nations rugby union framework to the victor of the match between France and Italy.

Other places and things named after Garibaldi include:

Mount Garibaldi, British Columbia

Garibaldi, Oregon

Garibaldi, Victoria Australia

Garibaldi, Brazil

Hotels in Naples, Palermo, Venice, Milan, and a bed and breakfast in Rome

In England, streets and squares in London, Scarborough, Grimsby, Bradford and St Albans

A station on the Paris metro

A cafe in Madrid

An area in Berlin

A restaurant in Vienna

A Street in Moscow

A Museum in Amsterdam

and

A block of high-rise Council Flats in Grimsby

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One response to “Garibaldi and the Unification of Italy

  1. I had noticed on visits to Italy that there is always a Via Garibaldi – usually the longest street in the town.
    He sounds most dashing. We could probably do with a few politicians like him today.

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