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Niamh Cullen on the history and future of Italian unity @ Dublin Review of Books. This year Ireland was not the only country to celebrate a national holiday on March 17th. This was also the day on which, a hundred and fifty years ago, the kingdom of Italy was officially proclaimed in Turin and King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont – the small Alpine kingdom bordering Italy and France – declared the first Italian king.
From 1861 onwards, Italy was a politically unified entity, rather than a collection of small kingdoms and city states and a mere “geographical expression”, as the Austrian chancellor had dismissively referred to it a few years earlier. The unification happened fairly quickly; Venetia was incorporated into Italy in 1866 and the process was completed when Rome was seized by Italian forces from papal rule in 1870 and made capital of the new kingdom that same year.It also seemed to happen without too much violence or upheaval; initially at least. The unification was brought about by a combination of the political guile of the Piedmontese prime minister Count Camillo di Cavour and the daring of Italy’s nineteenth century nationalist hero Giuseppe Garibaldi. Usually pictured bearded and in his trademark red shirt and hat, often on horseback and carrying a sword, Garibaldi is the undisputed hero of Italy’s founding myth; the risorgimento or rebirth, as the uprisings and military struggles leading to the creation of the Italian nation are named.It was a combination of Cavour’s political skill in engineering a war against Austria to drive their forces out of Italy and in persuading the northern and central states to join a new Italian kingdom under Piedmontese rule, and of the romantic nationalist Garibaldi’s initiative in landing his “thousand” men in the south of Italy and claiming the Kingdom of Naples for Cavour’s Italy, that created the modern Italian nation.read more