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Life in Italy during the 19th Century

Italy During the Risorgimento
Italy During the Risorgimento

Members of the first Italian Government in Torino

The 19th century was a time of great change for Italy as the modern world emerged. The most prominent events of this time however, revolve around the rise of the Italian unification movement. Known as the Risorgimento, it was the social and political process that eventually succeeded in the unification of many different states into the modern nation of Italy.

The exact dates of the beginning and end of the Risorgimento are unclear, but scholars believe it began at the end of the Napoleanic era, the Vienna Congress of 1815. The process of Italian unification essentially ended with the Franco-Prussian War in 1871.


The Beginning of Unification

Beginning in the late eighteenth century, intellectual and social changes were taking place in Italy, questioning traditional values and beliefs. Liberal ideas from outside of Italy, mostly Britain and France, spread rapidly through the country.

Garibaldi's army in Sicily

The conclusions reached in the year 1815 at the Vienna Congress restored the pre-Napoleon status quo, meaning domination of Austria over the various states that made up Italy, including Venice and Lombardy. The Savoy-ruled Kingdom of Sardinia recovered Nice, Piedmont, Savoy and Genoa, a stepping stone on the way to unification. The Papal States occupied central Italy and the Spanish dominated Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, centered in Naples, ruled the Southern Italy and Sicily.

Giuseppe Mazzini

Giuseppe Mazzini was an Italian patriot who had spearheaded the revolutionary movement. His idea of the independent nation, his concept of ‘Italia’ spread fast among the large settlements of the country. After various failed attempts, revolutionary cells were being developed throughout the country.

Several reforms took place in the 1840s in the Papal States, Tuscany, Lucca and the Kingdom of Sardinia. However it was too little, too late to slow down the revolutionary movements. The reforms had the opposite effect; they only intensified the resolve of the country's revolutionary cells. All of this culminated in the infamous 1848 revolutions, which later spread throughout Italy and into Austria, Germany, and France.

Vittorio Emanuele II - first King of Italy

The first war of Italian Independence began with protests in Lombardy and revolts in Sicily. This resulted in four Italian republics creating constitutions during the rebellion of 1848. Pope Pius IX fled to Rome and the republic was then proclaimed upon the arrival of Garibaldi. When Mazzini arrived in Rome, he and was appointed Chief Minister of the new Roman Republic.

King Charles Albert of Piedmont-Sardinia joined the war and attempted to drive the Austrians out of the country. Though it looked like independence of the country was quite near; the Austrians successfully defeated the Charles Albert at the Battle of Novara in 1849. King Victor Emmanuel II would succeed his father after the battle, he would later become the first King of Italy.

Camillo di Cavour

Count Camillo di Cavour would become the prime minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in 1852. It only was because of the count's leadership and policies that the unification of Italy was possible.

Cavour persuaded Napoleon III of France to plan a secret war against Austria. Soon a war against Austria began in Italy. The French troops helped Piedmont defeat Austria in two important battles at Solferino and Magenta. Austria was soon forced to surrender the region of Lombardy, along with the city of Milan to Napoleon III. In 1859, Napoleon III then transferred the region of Lombardy to King Victor Emmanuel II.

Above: The The first Italian movie ever made: La Presa di Roma, released on September 18th 1905 and directed by Filoteo Alberini. The movie describes the last moments of Rome in the hands of the Pope, divided from the rest of Italy, as it was in 1870. In the opening scene, blindfolded General Carchidio is escorted from Ponte Milvio to General Kanzler of the Papal Army. Carchidio issues an ultimatum to surrender to Kanzler which is refused, and a breach in the city walls is stormed by troops (la breccia di Porta Pia). The film recorded a crucial moment in the country's recent history: the capture of Rome by the newly-formed Italian army and the election of the city as the country's capital. It was produced with the co-operation of the country's Ministry of War and its goal was to strenghten the feeling of "Italianity" among the populations, putting in a bad light the role of the catholicism during the unification.

The Italians of the Risorgimento

In many ways, the Italy of the 19th century is the root of many aspects of well-known Italian culture. The land, the food and the people were all shaped by warfare, struggle and the desire for independence. Most of the men who fought for freedom during this period were peasants, seeking a chance for something better. Northern Italy, mostly under direct influence of Austria of the House of Savoy saw the emergence of industry; however life was hard for most Italians, who remained poor farmers.

Southern Italy fared worse than the north, f

rom neglect as often as from outright oppression. Wealthy European landlords hired local peasants to tend their lands, creating the basis for the later Mafia organizations. Parched soil, strict laws, rampant banditry and poverty are sufferings still embedded in much of Southern Italian culture.

However, it is often through strife that humans are their most creative. This is most evident in the foods of Italy.

The Pope blesses his army in 1869


Gioacchino Rossini

The struggles of the 19th century saw the introduction of many of our favorite Italian foods. Greedy landowners of Northern Italy, long ago decided to feed their workers on cornmeal, which by now was to the North what pasta was to the South. Poverty led to tomatoes, once thought poisonous, into Southern Italian cooking. Both pasta and pizza, both already Italian staples, would never be the same. In all areas of the country, various wild plants, which some would consider weeds, were incorporated into foods in times of want. However, as the 19th century went on, these traditional foods of the poor were being enjoyed by all classes. Some, like the Pizza Margherita, became symbols of the newly created Kingdom of Italy. In 1891, Pellegrino Artusi  at age 71, completed the first Italian food cookbook.

Music in the 1800 in Italy

The 19th century was the time of romantic opera, first initiated by the works of Gioachino Rossini. However Italian music of the time of the Risorgimento was dominated by Giuseppe Verdi, one of the most influential composers of opera in any era. Although modern scholarship has reduced his actual role in the reunificaiton movement, for all intents and purposes, the style of Verdi’s works lends itself to being the soundtrack to the Risorgimento. Toward the end of the 1800 'popular' Italian music start appearing - The world wide known  'O Sole mio' was written in 1898.

Neapolitan lyrics Che bella cosa e' na jurnata 'e sole n'aria serena doppo na tempesta! Pe' ll'aria fresca pare già na festa Che bella cosa e' na jurnata 'e sole Ma n'atu sole, cchiù bello, oje ne' 'O sole mio sta 'nfronte a te! 'O sole, 'o sole mio sta 'nfronte a te! sta 'nfronte a te! Quanno fa notte e 'o sole se ne scenne, me vene quase 'na malincunia; sotto 'a fenesta toia restarria quanno fa notte e 'o sole se ne scenne. Ma n'atu sole, cchiù bello, oje ne' 'O sole mio sta 'nfronte a te! 'O sole, 'o sole mio sta 'nfronte a te! sta 'nfronte a te! English Translation What a beautiful thing is a sunny day, The air is serene after a storm The air's so fre
sh that it already feels like a celebration What a beautiful thing is a sunny day But another sun, that's brighter still It's my own sun that's upon your face! The sun, my own sun It's upon your face! It's upon your face! When night comes and the sun has gone down, I almost start feeling melancholy; I'd stay below your window When night comes and the sun has gone down. But another sun, that's brighter still It's my own sun that's upon your face! The sun, my own sun It's upon your face! It's upon your face!

Below: Enrico Caruso in a very early remastering of O Sole Mio

Life in Italy in the 1800s

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