Sunday, 24 March 2013

A change of direction

While so far my blog has been exclusively about British history, with continental Europe only coming in for a mention within a British context, I thought today I'd surprise you all and go for a more directly European flavour. So without any further ado, let me take you to Milan!

Yes, fabulous Milan, today associated more with fashion, finance and football than perhaps with history. However, the city has been centre-stage for a lot of goings-on throughout the years, and a lot survives today for the heritage hunter as much as the fashionista. I have thus far made an almost-unconscious assumption that anyone reading my blogs is at least familiar with the basic pattern of British history, and have therefore described events at the places I have visited with a sort of inevitability borne of that assumption. Continuing, therefore, I suppose I should explain the pattern of Italian history, which is quite different from that of Britain. 

Generally speaking, following the collapse of Rome, the Italian peninsula fragmented into city-states that were very much independent of each other. Duchies at Ferrara, Modena, Urbino, Parma and Milan all flourished throughout the Renaissance, with Republics of Florence, of Venice and of Genoa, Naples having a king, and Rome being governed from the Vatican by a Pope who was as much a King himself as any other crowned head of Europe at this time. Foreign powers soon came knocking, with Spain dominating the south (the Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies becoming more a client-state), and Austro-Hungary ruling the north, sandwiching the Pope between them. France vied for control of the north for much of the later Renaissance, without much success however. Austrian domination led to cities like Milan and Turin becoming as great as Vienna or Prague for centres of the Enlightenment. Italy was very much "a geographical expression", as one governor put it in the early nineteenth century. It was the nineteenth century that saw the great struggle for independence - the Risorgimento - that finally culminated in 1861 with a unified state under the Duke of Savoy, crowned Vittorio Emanuele II, the first King of Italy. The continental strife that followed World War I saw the emergence of Fascism in Italy under the notorious Benito Mussolini, who formed his fatal alliance with Adolf Hitler more for self-preservation than anything else. Post-war Italy became an international success story, with the country becoming renowned for style and culture. Despite the political scandals and the sensationalism surrounding organised crime, Italy retains an allure for billions to this day. And that is one big nutshell!

Milan first rose to prominence during the later Roman Empire, when the settlement of Mediolanum became the seat of the 'Vicar of Italy' following Diocletian's reforms of the Imperial system. The Vicarius was a deputy who would oversee small portions of the by-then sprawling morass of Empire, reporting to the Emperor to keep administration more manageable. These portions were each called diocese, and these terms are still used today in the modern church, Christianity showing its Roman roots. Following Diocletian's reforms, Mediolanum was chosen as the new capital of the Western Roman Empire, headed by Diocletian's subordinate Maximian, while Diocletian himself made the Eastern capital at Nicomedia (in present-day Turkey). 

Ruins from this important period in the city's history include the foundations of Maximian's palace, uncovered by bombing during WW2, and a portion of the curve of the Circus (the Roman equivalent of a horseracing track). 

^, ^^ & ^^^ the ruins of the Imperial Palace

^ the curve of the circus.

Mediolanum is incredibly important because it was from here that Constantine I issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which decreed Christianity to be the official state religion. This was a marked shift in Imperial policy, which had been persecuting Christians with some rigour, but is not without precedent, as an earlier edict (311AD) agreed to act 'more benevolently' towards Christians. The Milan edict is notable, however, for invoking the Christian God to allow all Romans to prosper from there on out. 

^ Constantine outside San Lorenzo alle Colonne.

In Milan, Christianity flourished under the guidance of St Ambrose, one of the Great Doctors of the Church (named in the thirteenth century for all that he did for the faith), and now the city's patron saint. As Bishop of Milan from 374AD, Ambrose was instrumental in the opposition of Arianism - that is, the belief that no-one was equal to God, not even Jesus - gaining a foothold in northern Italy. St Ambrose was a very busy man, building churches up and down the city while finding saintly relics among other things. 

San Lorenzo alle Colonne (above), not one of these, is however one of the oldest round churches in the western Christian world, dating from the 4th century. The 'colonne' are columns from what is believed to have been a Roman temple in the city (though a bath house is sometimes postulated), moved here when the church was built. 

The church was once surrounded by houses that had grown up around it, but following urban renewal in the 1930s these were swept away to expose the church as it is today. To the rear is a park, once the venue for public executions much like Tyburn in London. 

^ the rear of the basilica from Piazza della Vetra. 

A basilica is just a church that has been granted certain ceremonial privileges by the Pope, though it has a much more interesting history. The original use for the basilica was an open hall in any Roman building, though most often a public space, with columns on either side of a central aisle. For most of the religion's early history, Christians met in innocuous places wherever they could, often peoples' homes. This habit of appropriating existing buildings for their own use led to the earliest churches being modeled almost exactly after existing Roman buildings. There is probably an element of symbolic domination in using the important basilicas of the Romans for their churches, of course. 

Perhaps the most stunning of the Milanese churches, however, is the Duomo, or Cathedral.

Magnificent, isn't it? Construction began in 1386, sweeping aside the five other churches that stood here in the heart of Milan. Literally as well as figuratively, the new church was to be the centre of the city. It was consecrated in 1418, but work continued on making the church stunning until the facade was eventually finished in 1813. The style was purposeful, intended to be seen as a symbol of the power of the Dukes of Milan. 

^ the apse.

It bristles with spires, which give it the appearance of a snowflake in the words of one commentator. Statuary adorns the lower portions, some of it quite bizarre:

The work was commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who decreed that a Jubilee be held in 1390, where people of the city were encouraged to donate both money and labour for the project, and also that only Candoglia marble was to be used (rather than bricks, as originally planned), to create the astonishing effect today. Artisans from France and Germany, as well as Italy, were used in the design and execution of the building. Progress was rapid, with over half of the construction completed by Gian Galeazzo's death in 1402. Following the usurpation of the Visconti by the Sforza family that I shall discuss shortly, the cathedral was enlarged and the bizarre statuary was added in a further effort to create an impression. And what an impression! Work continued on the Duomo despite the turbulent political waters with the displacement of the Sforzas by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with the facade begun after 1607. However, the original, Classical design was replaced by a more Gothic effort in the mid-seventeenth century, but this stopped for almost the entire eighteenth century, the facade merely being walled off in brick. It wasn't until Napoleon arrived to be crowned King of Italy in 1805 that the facade was ordered to be completed. 

^ the east window.

So who are these Viscontis, and Sforzas? Well, settle down and I'll explain.
The Visconti family were an old Lombard family from a small town near Lake Maggiore, who began their rule in Milan in 1262 when Ottone Visconti was elected Archbishop of Milan in a controversial move by Pope Urban IV, who had effectively forced Visconti onto the people of Milan ahead of the current ruling family's candidate. It seems astonishing to modern sensibilities that Ottone Visconti, as archbishop, would then proceed to wrest control of the city from the incumbent Torriani Lords of Milan by force, but wrest he did, finally defeating them in the Battle of Desio in 1277. Remember, bishops were allowed to take part in wars provided they did not spill blood (the famous panel from the Bayeux Tapestry showing Bishop Odo on horseback swinging a club springs to mind). Ottone was succeeded by his nephew Matteo I, whom he had promoted to capitano del popolo in 1287. Matteo quickly became embroiled in the Guelph and Ghibelline wars that were raging across Italian city states at this time. Briefly - the Guelph faction supported the Pope (and included the Torriani family), and the Ghibellines were more closely affiliated with the Holy Roman Emperors of Austro-Hungary. Matteo had been appointed Vicar of Lombardy by the Holy Roman Emperor, and his loyalty was firmly in the Ghibelline camp. This also put Matteo in opposition to the Papacy, which was at this time ruling from Avignon. Pope John XXII, in an effort to remove the Ghibellines from Italy altogether, began by removing the title of Imperial Vicar from all those who laid claim to it, then accused Matteo of 'necromancy' with Dante (the famous author of the Divine Comedy), and refused to recognise Matteo's son Giovanni Visconti as archbishop of Milan. Accused of further heresies, it all became too much for Matteo, who ceded his power to his son Galeazzo in 1322 and retired, dying a month later. In the midst of all of this turmoil, however, Matteo still found time to build, including the Loggia degli Osii, which is located in the quiet corner of Milan only a short walk from the Piazza del Duomo, in the Piazza Mercanti:

Galeazzo I Visconti, who had married into the powerful Este family of Ferrara, only held the lordship for six years, which were years filled with strife of one sort or another. Shortly after ascending to the title of capitano del popolo, he fled the city after a revolt orchestrated by his cousin Lodrisio Visconti, who had once helped Matteo in his wars against the Torriani family. Lodrisio actually imprisoned Galeazzo, and his son Azzone, in Monza just north of the city. Galeazzo escaped and, with the help of the Holy Roman Emperor, reasserted enough control over the city to give the lordship to his son Azzone, who appears to be one of the worst of the Visconti lords yet, implicated in the assassinations of both his uncle Marco and the attempted assassination of Charles IV the Holy Roman Emperor. Azzone was appointed perpetual lord of Milan, but died in 1339 without an heir, so was succeeded by his uncle Luchino Visconti. Luchino expanded the lands held by the lordship to include Pisa and Parma, as well as bringing his own title as lord of Pavia to the mix. It becomes clearer how the great Duchy would be formed, with an expansionist policy that made use of mercenary armies recruited from northern Europe. 

Following Luchino's death in 1349, his brother Giovanni (the archbishop) assumed the title of Lord of Milan over his nephews, to whom Luchino had initially intended power. Giovanni's expansionism brought Milan into direct opposition to Florence, and opened up the Guelph/Ghibelline war further. After his death, his nephews succeeded him in an uneasy triumvirate - Matteo II, who had himself married into the powerful Gonzaga family of Mantua, ruled for a year before dying at a banquet, where it was believed he had been poisoned by his two brothers. Barnabò Visconti and Galeazzo II Visconti pursued an interesting foreign policy that led to further excommunication from the Pope as well as condemnation from the Holy Roman Emperor - it would seem they were on their own. Barnabò, who had married into the della Scala family of Verona, famously imprisoned the Papal Legate who served his excommunication papers in 1373, demanding he eat the document, including its wax seal. A definite warlord, his abuse of his people marks him as typical of the despots who ruled with absolute power in the middle ages. 

Galeazzo II was equally as tyrannical. Married into the Savoy dynasty ruling the north-western portion of Italy, and with a daughter married to Lionel of Antwerp, the son of Edward III of England, you might think he's more of a politician than anything. He founded the University of Pavia, after all - one of the most historic universities in Italy. He is, of course, infamous for his instigation of the "quaresima", a horrible form of capital punishment where a criminal is tortured for 40 days before being killed. One day of torture (starting with five whippings, then being forced to drink a water-vinegar-ash mix, then his shoulders flayed and boiling oil dripped on him, then the soles of the feet flayed and made to walk on chickpeas, then the rack, then an eye is removed, then the nose, then the hands one at a time, then the feet one at a time, then the testicles one at a time, then the penis, then he is placed on the breaking wheel) alternating with one day of rest, criminals invariably died before getting to day 41. 

Galeazzo II died in 1378 at Pavia, and his son Gian Galeazzo Visconti eventually poisoned his uncle and succeeded to the lordship in 1385. Gian Galeazzo, as I have already discussed, was responsible for the Duomo as we know it today, but his grandiose plans didn't stop there. In 1395 he bought from the Holy Roman Emperor the title of Duke of Milan, and he had dreams of uniting all of northern Italy under his rule - perhaps, even, the entire peninsula. While his infamous forebears had done much to bring the city-states of the Lombard plain under Visconti control, and even incurred into Tuscany and the Papal States, Gian Galeazzo still had to deal with Florence to the south-west, and Bologna to the south-east. During a costly war with both, he was on the verge of victory when the plague that was sweeping through the land at the time killed him. 

Gian Galeazzo was succeeded by both of his sons by his second wife, his cousin Caterina (daughter of Barnabò), beginning with Gian Maria. Another brute, who trained his dogs to kill people, he didn't control the duchy effectively enough, leading to attacks on his lands by the condottiero Facino Cane. Gian Maria was assassinated in 1412, while Facino Cane himself lay dying in Pavia, resulting in the duchy reverting to Filippo Maria Visconti, Gian Maria's younger brother. Filippo Maria married Facino Cane's widow Beatrice di Tenda, and while fans of the Bellini opera will most likely know what happens next, I'll fill the rest of you in. Filippo is no great admirer of Beatrice, partly because she has too much power of her own, but also she meddled in his affairs. When Filippo takes a shine to Beatrice's maidservant, Agnese del Maino, he had Beatrice arrested for adultery, and executed at Binasco in 1418. Filippo remarried, but not Agnese, whom is believed to have been the only person he ever really loved, but to the daughter of the Duke of Savoy. However, his only heir upon his death in 1447 was a daughter, Bianca Maria Visconti, who had been married to the condottiero Francesco Sforza.

Filippo had thrown a spanner in the works, however, by bequeathing the duchy to the King of Aragon the day before his death. Also, the Holy Roman Emperor demanded the duchy revert back to himself. Several other claimants made efforts to secure the duchy, but the University of Pavia declared the Ambrosian Republic in 1447, naming it after St Ambrose, of course. After riots and widespread unrest from famine, the ruling council agreed to make Francesco Sforza Duke of Milan, ushering in the new Sforza dynasty. 

^ Francesco Sforza's coat of arms, the Sforza eagle quartered with the Visconti basilisk.

It is believed that in 1368 a fortress was begun by the two brothers Bernabo and Galeazzo II, little more than a fortified square that was further embellished by Gian Galeazzo. Following the unrest of the last years of Visconti rule, and the Republic, the castle was allowed to crumble, with Francesco Sforza specifically stating he did not wish to rebuild a symbol of such tyranny. However, the people of Milan obviously felt much better with a fortification in their midst, so the castle was rebuilt under the supervision of the Florentine architect Filarete - the idea being that a much more elegant building would result. And so, I present to you the Castello Sforzesco:

In wandering the courtyards of this building, the sense of being in more a Renaissance palazzo than a medieval castle. This was largely due to the son of Francesco and Bianca, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, who had been educated as a "new" Renaissance man, who had an equal love of art as of power. The famous fresco in the Cortile Ducale of 'the lion and the elephant' was painted during his rule:

All that education couldn't breed out the cruel streak perhaps a relic of the Visconti blood inherited from his mother, however, as Galeazzo Maria was known to rape and assault the wives of Milanese nobles, and particularly enjoyed tearing his enemies limb from limb with his bear hands. He once forced a poacher, it is said, to eat a hare whole, causing him to suffocate, and also starved to death a priest who predicted he would only reign for a few short years. Well, Galeazzo Maria did only reign for a decade as it happened, being assassinated in 1476 by a group of conspirators while attending mass - an incident that, it is believed, inspired the Pazzi Conspiracy in Florence eighteen months later. 

Galeazzo Maria was succeeded by his son Gian Galeazzo Sforza, who was only seven years old and so power was vested in his uncle Ludovico, known as 'il Moro'. Ludovico was a famous patron of the arts, and together with his wife Beatrice d'Este, he turned Milan into a pre-eminent Renaissance centre of culture and learning, with the Castello Sforzesco at its heart. 

^ the cortile ducale.

Donato Bramante and Leonardo da Vinci were just two of the more famous artists attracted to the city by Ludovico's patronage. Indeed, Leonardo's famous The Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie was painted near to Francesco I's burial place at Ludovico's commission. But what of the young Gian Galeazzo, the titular Duke? Well, despite the rumour that spread shortly after his death in 1494 - that he had died due to over-exertion in bed ("immoderate coitus", as one historian puts it) - it is more widely believed that he had been poisoned by Ludovico, who wasted no time in seizing power for himself. 

^ Ludovico 'il Moro', in the Rochetta.

Ludovico continued to rule almost benevolently, widening the streets of Milan and endowing the universities at Milan and Pavia well, but tragedy struck in 1497 when Beatrice died. Ludovico, distraught, found himself quickly embroiled in the Italian Wars, a series of wars that were fought variously between France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, England, the Papal States, and the Duchy of Milan. When the King of Naples and the Pope (who, interestingly, was at this time Alexander VI, the Borgia Pope) allied against Milan, Ludovico hoped to use France to fend them off and allowed Charles VIII to march through his territory. When Charles then set his sights on Milan, Ludovico looked to Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor, for an alliance against the French, hoping the two would fight among themselves and leave Milan out of it. This merely served to have all eyes in Europe looking to Milan, it would seem!

^ the Piazza d'Armi looking towards the Rochetta.

Milan was invaded in 1498 by the new French king Louis XII, and Ludovico was expelled. Looking around for allies, he offered an alliance with England but Henry VII turned him down. With the eventual help of some Swiss mercenaries (ah, where would medieval history be without those guys!!), Ludovico re-entered Milan in 1500. Louis' army also included Swiss mercenaries, who were unwilling to fight each other, and left the conflict. Ludovico's force was crippled and, two months later, he was imprisoned, dying in his cell in 1508. Louis XII ruled Milan until his own death in 1512, when Massimiliano Sforza, the son of Ludovico, was installed to the duchy:

^ Massimiliano, in the Rochetta.

Massimiliano only lasted until 1515, when the duchy once again reverted to the French king, now Francis I. An interesting monarch in his own right, Francis always sticks in my mind for his ongoing rivalry and one-upmanship with Henry VIII of England. A tremendous womaniser (Verdi's opera Rigoletto is based on the play by Hugo Le roi s'amusé - the 'roi' of the title being Francis), Francis unsuccessfully tried to get elected as Holy Roman Emperor upon the death of Maximilian I in 1519, beaten by Charles I of Spain, who became Charles V. Despite a fairly poor military record, Francis did manage to hold onto the duchy of Milan until 1521, when Charles V re-conquered the lands and installed Ludovico's second son, Francesco II Sforza, as duke. Francesco II had been brought up at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor since Ludovico's expulsion in 1498, and so was perhaps little more than a puppet-ruler for the Holy Roman Empire. He was, either way, the last Sforza to hold the title of Duke of Milan. If Charles V thought he had a puppet ruler, however, he was gravely mistaken, for Francesco II soon entered into the League of Cognac with Francis I, the Pope, and the Republics of Venice and of Florence, in an effort to drive the Holy Roman Emperor out of Italy. The war was a disastrous failure, with Milan and Rome both in the hands of Charles V - in fact, it was the Pope's flight from the Vatican that proved a final catalyst in Henry VIII's break with Rome. 

Francesco II died in 1535, and the Duchy of Milan went to Charles' son, later Philip II of Spain. It was under Spanish rule that the Great Plague of 1630 swept through Milan, claiming nearly half the population of the city as it passed through. Spain would continue its domination of the city until 1706, when Milan was ceded to the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the War of the Spanish Succession. A sort of second golden age began for Milan while under Austrian control, as I mentioned fleetingly at the beginning. Milan became an intellectual centre along with Vienna, with an economic revival running parallel. Café Culture spread particularly throughout the city, and a periodical - Il Caffè - appeared during the 1760s courtesy of the Verri brothers and Cesare Beccaria. Beccaria, an alumnus of Pavia University, wrote a celebrated treatise condemning torture and the death penalty, On Crime and Punishments. This was typical of Enlightenment society under Maria Theresa, the Empress of Austria for most of the eighteenth century. 

^ Piazza Beccaria

Enlightenment Milan also saw a bit of rebuilding, largely the work of the architect Giuseppe Piermarini. Among other works, Piermarini remodeled the Palazzo Reale, where Mozart played as a child, and perhaps most famously, the Teatro alla Scala, that august Cathedral of Opera:

^ Palazzo Reale

^ Teatro alla Scala

^ another Piermarini creation, the fountain in the Piazza Fontana, nestled in a quiet corner behind the Duomo.

However, Enlightenment Milan was interrupted in 1796 by Napoleon Bonaparte's advance throughout Europe, when he ousted the Austrians and instigated the Cisalpine Republic, a client state of post-Revolutionary France that placed Milan at the capital. Austria agreed to this in exchange for the Venetian Republic, not knowing that Napoleon would of course continue on his course to unite the whole of Europe under his leadership. The Cisalpine Republic was replaced in 1802 with the Italian Republic, Napoleon of course as its first President. This wasn't enough, however, and when Napoleon annexed Venice as well, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed on March 17 1805, with Napoleon crowned at the Duomo on May 26, as mentioned above. Napoleon's stepson Eugene de Beauharnais was given Viceroy powers over the Kingdom, which lasted until Napoleon's abdication in 1814, when Eugene attempted to get himself crowned as King, only to be defeated by the returning Austrians. Control of Milan, as with most of Italy, reverted to the Austrian Empire following the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and life pretty much returned to normal. 

^ the Arco della Pace, originally intended to celebrate Napoleon's victories, it now commemorates the peace of 1815.

Opera was now big business in Italy, and at this time the big name in Italy was Gioacchino Rossini, whose La pietra del paragone was premiered in Milan in 1812. Rossini would have four more Milanese premieres, including Il turco in Italia and Bianca e Falliero, but the biggest name to be tied to Milan before Verdi is probably Vincenzo Bellini, who was discovered at the Naples Conservatory by the impresario of La Scala, Bartolomeo Merelli. Bellini died young, with only ten operas to his name, but four of these were premiered at the famous theatre, including Norma, famous for the act one aria 'Casta diva', and the fact that Bellini was paid a record fee for the score in 1831. The third great bel canto opera composer, the immensely productive Gaetano Donizetti, also had several of his most famous operas premiered at La Scala - including Lucrezia Borgia and Maria Stuarda. It is perhaps Giuseppe Verdi who has been most famous for his association with the great house, which is something of an anomaly, as he only started and ended his 52-year career here. Nabucco made his name, but following the premiere of Giovanna d'Arco in 1845, he wouldn't present another new opera there until Otello in 1887. Giacomo Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly was premiered here in 1904, with one of the most disastrous first-nights in operatic history. In 1926, Puccini's Turandot was premiered posthumously under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, who had had the opera finished by Franco Alfano, but ended the premiere where Puccini had 'laid down his pen', about two-thirds of the way through Act Three. 

However, it wasn't just opera that Milan became famous for. Perhaps the most famous of all Italian novelists, Alessandro Manzoni, also lived in the city. The maternal grandson of Cesare Beccaria, Manzoni made a name for himself with his tragedy Il Conte di Carmagnola, which inspired the praise of none other than Goethe. Upon the death of Napoleon in 1821, he penned the famous Il Cinque maggio, but it was in 1823 that he began work on his masterpiece, I promessi sposi. Set during the Milanese plague of 1630, and featuring three massive chapters that describe the pestilence at length, the novel deals with the attempted marriage of Renzo and Lucia, who are separated to keep Lucia from the attentions of Don Rodrigo. A cracking read, although the plague chapters are a bit heavy-going, the book appeared serialized between 1825-7, but then underwent a thorough revision throughout the 1830s. Manzoni is an instrumental figure in the unification of Italy because of this book, which was set against the backdrop of Spanish oppression during the Thirty Years War, was seen to be a commentary on the Austrian oppression of the time. Furthermore, 'Italian' as a language didn't really exist at this time, instead a series of dialects had evolved, fostered at first by the insularity of the city-states, and then through separate foreign domination. In 1842, the novel appeared in the Tuscan dialect, having been revised into such by Manzoni, and effectively setting the stamp of approval on Tuscan as the national language of Italy. The country was one step further to unification.

^ my own copy, well-thumbed from many a bus ride!

The Milanese chafed under Austrian rule as the 19th century wore on. Matters came to a head in 1848, when the "smoking strike", where Milanese refused to buy tobacco for three days in protest of Austrian taxation, precipitated widespread revolt starting on March 18. The Austrian troops under Field Marshal Radetzky (you know the March, written by Johann Strauss I?) were expelled on March 22 and for five whole days (Cinque Giornate in Italian) Italy was free of Austrian control. The inability to adequately organise in time led to the collapse of this council of war, however, and the Austrians returned and defeated the King of Sardinia, Carlo Alberto, who had been proposed as the head of a united Italy. The King of Sardinia was also the Duke of Savoy, as an aside. The presence of two firebrands during the Cinque Giornate, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini, is noteworthy, although Mazzini preferred an Italian Republic than a monarchy under the King of Sardinia, and the two later found themselves in Rome during the brief period of the Roman Republic. Mazzini attempted to incite a riot in Milan in 1853 against Austrian rule, but nothing came of it.

The outbreak had clearly shown that Italy was ripe for unification, and political manoeuverings began to position the Kingdom of Sardinia as the figurehead behind which the rest of the country could mass. Carlo Alberto had abdicated in favour of his son Vittorio Emmanuele II, the owner of one of the most luxuriant moustaches I have ever seen. In 1859 the Austro-Sardinian War broke out, with France backing Sardinia against Austrian aggression. The war proved costly to France, with the Battle of Magenta and the Battle of Solferino seeing great losses. According to wikipedia, Solferino was the last major battle where all the troops were commanded personally by their respective monarchs, with Franz Joseph I commanding Austrian forces, and Napoleon III in charge of France alongside Vittorio Emmanuele II for Sardinia. The Italians had hoped to regain all of northern Italy, but Napoleon III cut a deal behind Vittorio Emmanuele's back with the Austrians once Lombardy alone had been secured, afraid of the continuing costs to his own country. The Austrians ceded Lombardy to France, and in turn Napoleon exchanged Lombardy with Savoy and Nice, in an attempt to restore "natural borders". 

^ the statue of Napoleon III in Parco Sempione.

While Italians smarted at this partial victory, it was nonetheless a victory. Insurrections began in Naples against Spanish rule there, led by Giuseppe Garibaldi, and before long the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed under Vittorio Emmanuele. Milan can be seen as something of a catalyst for the unification movement, then, and was one of the first places in Italy to be fully free from foreign aggressors. Following unification in March 1861, work began on the grand Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele in Milan, under the architect Giuseppe Mengoni. The first iron-and-glass structure in Italy, the Galleria used the new train station architecture to bring light into the elegant arcades.

^ Piazza del Duomo, with the gaping arch to the right forming the entrance to the Galleria.

The Galleria was built as an expression of hope for the future of the country - despite being unified under the King of Sardinia in 1861, there were still pockets that had to be brought under full Italian control, not least of which was Rome. The Papal States clung to independence until 1870, despite Rome having been declared the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy shortly after unification. The Italians were unable to take possession of Rome as a garrison of French troops were stationed there, with Napoleon only agreeing to their removal over a period of four years. However, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 forced his hand, and his troops were removed, allowing the Italians to move in. The capture of Rome didn't go down well with the Pope, who declared himself 'a prisoner in the Vatican', and it wasn't until the Lateran Pact of 1929 when Mussolini was able to negotiate a successful conclusion to the conflict - the Pope renounced his claim over the formal Papal States, in return for the Italian recognition of Vatican City as a separate sovereignty. This was, however, the last opposition to Vittorio Emmanuele's authority, and the rest of the country was happily under his rule. This is reflected in Milan's Galleria, where the coat of arms of the House of Savoy, the white cross on a red shield, take centre-stage in the mosaic floor:

And so we come to the end of one of my favourite blogs to date. I have long had a tremendous interest in Italy and its history and culture, and Milan was my fist foray to the country. While I hope to get back soon, I shall nevertheless continue with my British history blogs soon - recommencing with a return to Shropshire... 

No comments:

Post a Comment