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Italian History Highlights by Steve Saviello

Courtesy of Stephen J. Saviello we have the following Italian history highlights

History of ITALY  - Concise, informative essay on Italian History.  Excellent reading for anyone who wants to add to their knowledge of Italian History in particular or World History in general.

Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) - Popular hero of the age of Italian Unification. 

Naples, A Brief History  - The most important city in Southern Italy, Naples was founded in the 8th Century before Christ, near the volcano Vesuvio.
History of Salerno, CAMPANIA - of Etruscan origin, a Roman colony in 197 BC., conquered by the Goths, Byzantines and in 646, by the Lombards. Read here for more on it's Interesting history.

History of Italy

As a nation state, Italy has emerged only in 1871. Until then the country was politically divided into a large number of independent cities, provinces and islands. The currently available evidences point out to a dominant Etruscan, Greek and Roman cultural influence on today's Italians.  The earliest human settlements within the territory of present-day Italy date almost certainly date to the initial phase of the Quaternary era (Pleistocene).  This period was characterized by frequent alternation in climatic conditions, with consequent phases of expansion and retreat in the Alpine and Apennine glaciers and relative variations in sea level.

With the Iron Age, Italy and her population practically enter the historical period. Until the end of 5th century A.D. Italy was dominated a number of tribes, and finally the Romans.  The last hundred years of the Western Roman Empire, from the second half of the 4th century, coincided with large migrations of Germanic peoples (Visigoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Huns, Heruli, Alemanni etc.) who on different occasions settled within her territories.  At the same time economic conditions also reflected the political instability of the imperial government, it deteriorated gradually and was accompanied by a chronic fall in population.

It was in this period that the influence of the Christian church began to make itself felt more consistently.  This was in contrast to the progressive orientalization of the Empire, now focused on its new capital of Constantinople, founded by the emperor Constantine between 326-330 on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium.

With first the Normans and then the Hohenstaufen (1220-1266), besides the institution of particularly efficient state structures that formed a network of control throughout the territory, there was introduced into Italy, with all its juridical implications, the feudal system.  This further favoured the expansion of large establishments, whether civil or ecclesiastical, but conserved for the towns sufficient independence to guarantee the development of economic activities.

The ending of imperial authority, quickly followed by the papal crisis involving its transfer to France from 1309 to 1377, was accompanied by a strengthening in the independence of the Northern and Central Italian communes. There was also a notable economic improvement for the majority of towns in the Po Valley and Tuscany.

The scarse inclination of the newly-formed urban middle-class for military activities led to a search for the protection and support of their interests by the powerful feudal families. In a short time, although in the name of the people, they acquired the signoria or lordship of the old communes. Their sphere of interest then often spread considerably beyond the original town and its surrounding district, forming a much more extensive territory. In practice, the change from commune to new signoria also signified the transformation of the first city-states into true and proper States, whose political force was therefore directly connected to their economic power.

In this atmosphere of renewed vitality, culture also prospered with a new enthusiasm for the study of the classical world and a revaluation of interest in nature and man (humanism). The arts (from literature to the expressive and figurative) had one of their finest moments. The appearance of towns was transformed with the introduction of new styles of architecture. During this period Italy indeed became the cultural centre of Europe.

A period of calm, in the agitated political panorama of Renaissance Italy, seemed to be heralded by the Peace of Lodi (1454). The great Italian states of Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome and Naples agreed to guarantee through the Lega Italica at least forty years of peace and stability.

Between the mid-15th century and the mid-18th century, Italian city states fought against the Spanish and then the French domination. They gained their independence after this long and politically chaotic period.

The next fifty years saw a period of relative political stability and economic progress for all the various Italian States. Judicial and administrative reforms were carried out, generally marked by increased efficiency in state structures. This was also due to the actions of statesmen and enlightened sovereigns like Maria Teresa of Austria and Joseph II in Lombardy, Bernardo Tanucci at Naples, Pietro Leopoldo in Tuscany and Pius VI at Rome.

Following this brief but intense period came first the echo of the French Revolution (1789) and the tragic end of the French monarchy (1792) and then the resounding reality of the Napoleonic armies. The latter's first Italian Campaign (1796) carried with it the hope of an independent Italy before too long. Spanish predominance in Italy, extending over some two centuries, had rather negative consequences for the country, whose economy, especially in the rich northern and central regions underwent a disastrous decline. This brought in its train social and cultural repercussions. The imbalance between the southern regions and the rest of the country increased, above all in the agricultural sector.

After the revolution, Italy had to concede to France cultural leadership. A contribution that was to play a significant role in the political and philosophical debate leading to the revolutionary spirit of the 18th century. Earlier, however, and again from France, there had spread throughout Europe, of course including Italy, the new spirit of Enlightenment. This was a reaction against the restrictions imposed by tradition and religious faith, revaluing the human intellectual capacity and individual conscience in its ability to confront and resolve the great issues of humanity and its destiny through the use of reason alone.  Favoured also by the renewal of economic and civil life through a series of reforms stemming from the tolerant and enlightened rulers of the period, Italy made her main contribution in this field at Milan and Naples by the actions of statesmen and economists of the calibre of Beccaria, Verri, Romagnosi, Galiani, Genovesi, Pagano and Filangieri. Reforming activities were however abruptly interrupted by the events of the French Revolution, bringing into question the very concepts of State and Society under the pressure of the new Jacobinism.

The Italian political and territorial picture, which at the end of the 18C seemed to have stabilized, rapidly disintegrated in the face of Napoleon Bonaparte's first military campaign across the peninsula so as to successfully attack the Austrian Empire on its southern flank. Successive events further reinforced Napoleon's control of Italy. His brother-in-law Murat ascended the throne of Naples; the Kingdom of Italy was expanded with the Trentino and Alto Adige (the latter fiercely defended by Andreas Hofer); and Tuscany and the Papal States were incorporated in the new French Empire (Peace of Schönbrunn, 14 October 1810). But after a brief interlude, the failure of Napoleon's Russian Campaign and his defeats at Leipzig (1813) and Waterloo (1815), as well as Murat's tragic end (October 1815), brought back to Italy the restoration of the old political and territorial order under the terms of the Congress of Vienna (June 1815). But the seeds of liberty and change had been sown in Italy above all with the First Napoleonic Campaign and a sense of national unity had been aroused by the establishment of first republican structures and then the Kingdom of Italy.

Following the plebiscite that voted in favour of annexation to Piedmont (1860), there then began the construction, together with the territory of Southern Italy that had been taken by Garibaldi's expedition of `The Thousand', of the United Kingdom of Italy. This was to be proclaimed at Turin on 17 March 1861, though the acquisition of Rome and Venice were still outstanding. The latter was added five years later (1866) following an unfortunate conflict with Austria, which was resolved in Italy's favour thanks to the intervention of Prussia; Rome was conquered by force, 20 September 1870, on the fall of Napoleon III. With these events the territorial unity of the Italian nation was almost complete and it was now necessary to construct its own social, economic and cultural image.

Among the numerous and complex problems of the new State emerged the need to bring uniformity to a territory that was so politically and economically diverse.  The indiscriminate application of the administrative, judicial and fiscal structures of the old Piedmont was to create a further divide between Italy's more economically developed Northern and Central regions and the structurally weaker Southern region (the Mezzogiorno).  A mass emigration of peasants and the poorest classes to the two Americas occurred (in the decades spanning the 19-20C the number reached several million) and the so-called southern question took root.  At the same time, in order to compete with the other European powers, Italy followed a policy of colonial expansion in Africa. She occupied Eritrea (1885-96), Somalia (1889-1905), Libya and the islands of the Aegean (1911-12).  A commercial concession (500 sq miles) centred on Tien-Tsin was obtained from China in 1902.

In the economic and social areas the period from the taking of Rome to Italy entering the First World War (1870-1915) was characterized by general growth in the whole country.  This was undoubtedly favoured by an interlude in international politics that allowed Italy to put her financial affairs in order and re-organize her administrative structure. There then followed the development of certain essential sectors, such as the rail network and basic industries, often making use of foreign capital.  At the same time, attempts were made to strengthen international political relations (by joining in the Triple Alliance with the Germany of Bismark and the Austria of Franz Joseph) and commercial links, even if it was eventually necessary to resort to protectionism in order to protect the still fragile national economy.  While agriculture encountered notable difficulties due to the fall in prices on foreign markets and the backward conditions of a large part of the countryside, as well as the scourge of malaria, industry was a growth area.  The textile industry, with its two main sectors of silk and cotton, as well as the metallurgical and mechanical industries were favoured by increasing supplies of electrical energy from the newly built water-powered plants in the upper Alpine and Apennine valleys.

Just after the WWI, which was already lost, a number of new political parties were founded; Partito Popolare (1919), by Luigi Sturzo, as a continuation of the Democrazia Cristiana; Partito Comunista d'Italia (1921, at Leghorn), from a split with the Partito Socialista and led by Antonio Gramsci; and, finally, the Fasci di Combattimento of Benito Mussolini, previously a socialist leader and an ardent interventionist.  This latter movement, after having obtained 35 deputies in the 1921 election, transformed itself into the Partito Nazionale Fascista equipped with a revolutionary programme that, after the episode of the March on Rome of 28 October 1922, brought Mussolini to the head of a government.

Having obtained a parliamentary majority in the 1924 election and the following year passed a law increasing the powers of the head of government, it was in 1926, with the abolition of all the other political parties, that the Fascist dictatorship formally began.

In its external policy the Fascist regime especially sought prestige by further colonial expansion, as that into Ethiopia (1935-36) or participation in the Spanish Civil War on the side of Franco's forces.  Gradually, Italy's good relations with France, Britain and the Soviet Union (whose revolutionary government Italy was the first country to recognize) deteriorated, while her links with Hitler's Germany increased (Rome-Berlin Axis, 1936).  In 1939 the Pact of Steel with Germany, after an initially non-belligerent phase, inevitably dragged Italy, in 1940, into the tragic events of the Second World War (1939-45).

Italy's increasingly unsuccessful war, fought on many fronts and against better trained and equipped armies, overwhelmed Mussolini in 1943, when he was censured by his own party.  He was replaced as head of government by the Marshall Pietro Badoglio, who immediately signed an armistice with the allied powers (3 September 1943).  The formation of a new government by Mussolini in Northern Italy, the Repubblica Sociale Italiana based at Salò, with the support of Germany and in opposition to the monarchial government (temporarily based at Brindisi) provoked a civil war.  This was only brought to an end by the intervention of the allied armies, the formation of the partisans, the abdication of the king and the end of Mussolini (28 April-2 May 1945).

After an interlude with several national coalition governments and the provisional rule of Umberto II of Savoy, Alcide De Gasperi of the Democrazia Cristiana became President of the Council.  On 2 June 1946 the results of the institutional referendum brought to an end the monarchy of the House of Savoy (its last king, Umberto II, going into exile) and heralded the republic which was officially proclaimed on 18 June 1946.  Enrico De Nicola was elected as the Republic's first President.  Under the government led by De Gasperi, the first parliamentary assembly to be freely elected by the people began work on the new Constitutional Charter that was to come into force on 1 January 1948.

Special Thanks to...
Steve Saviello & Comunes of Italy Genealogy Group - 1 May 1997

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Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882)

The foremost military figure and popular hero of the age of Italian unification known as the Risorgimento with Cavour and Mazzini he is deemed one of the makers of Modern Italy.  Cavour is considered the "brain of unification," Mazzini the "soul," and Garibaldi the "sword."  For his battles on behalf of freedom in Latin America, Italy, and later France, he has been dubbed the "Hero of Two Worlds."  

Born in Nice, when the city was controlled by France, to Domenico Garibaldi and Rosa Raimondi, his family was involved in the coastal trade. A sailor in the Mediterranean Sea, he was certified a merchant captain in 1832.  During a journey to Taganrog in the Black Sea, he was initiated into the Italian national movement by a fellow Ligurian, Giovanni Battista Cuneo.  In 1833 he ventured to Marseilles where he met Mazzini and enrolled in his Giovane Italia or Young Italy.  Mazzini had a profound impact on Garibaldi, who would always acknowledge this patriot as "the master."  In February 1834 he participated in an abortive Mazzinian insurrection in Piedmont, was sentenced to death in absentia by a Genoese court, and fled to Marseilles.  The exile sailed first to Tunisia eventually finding his way to Brazil, where he encountered Anna Maria Ribeiro da Silva, "Anita," a woman of Portuguese and Indian descent, who became his lover, companion in arms, and wife.  With other Italian exiles and republicans he fought on behalf of the separatists of the Rio Grande do Sul and the Uruguayans who opposed the Argentinean dictator Jan Manuel do Rosas.  Calling on the Italians of Montevideo, Garibaldi formed the Italian Legion in 1843, whose black flag represented Italy in mourning while the volcano at its center symbolized the dormant power in their homeland.  It was in Uruguay that the legion first sported the red shirts, obtained from a factory in Montevideo which had intended to export them to the slaughter houses of Argentina.  It was to become the symbol of Garibaldi and his followers.  The formation of his force of volunteers, his mastery of the techniques of guerilla warfare, his opposition to Brazilian and Argentinean imperialism, and his victories in the battles of Cerro and Sant'Antonio in 1846 not only assured the freedom of Uruguay but made him and his followers heroes in Italy and Europe.  The fate of his patria continued to preoccupy Garibaldi.  The election of Giovanni Mastai-Ferretti as Pope Pius IX in 1846 led many to believe he was the liberal pope prophesied by Gioberti, who would provide the leadership for the unification of Italy.  From his exile Mazzini applauded the first reforms of Pio Nono.  In 1847 Garibaldi offered the apostolic nuncio at Rio de Janeiro Bedini, the service of his Italian Legion for the liberation of the peninsula.  News of the outbreak of revolution in Palermo in January 1848, and revolutionary agitation elsewhere in Italy, encouraged Garibaldi to lead some sixty members of his legion home.  He offered his services to Charles Albert and the Piedmontese who initiated the first war for the liberation of Italy, but found his effort spurned.  Rebuffed by the Piedmonese, he and his followers crossed into Lombardy where they offered assistance to the provisional government of Milan.

Special Thanks to...
Steve Saviello & Comunes of Italy Genealogy Group - 1 May 1997

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Naples, A Brief History

Naples is the regional capital of Campania, a southern Italy region.  It's inhabitants are over a million and they reach three millions in the whole metropolitan area.  Naples has always had a world fame for the brightful image of its gulf dominated by the volcano Vesuvio. 

Naples was founded in the eighth century before Christ by greek colonists.  The town was in the beginning called Partenope (VII b.C.) and then Neapolis (Vb.C.).  Naples importance grew with the Romans who endowed it with large roads and commercial infrastructures whose witnesses are the archeological findings in Naples, Campi Flegrei, Pompei, Oplonti, Ercolano, Capri.  As a first one may quote the so called "; Castel dell'Ovo"; (Egg Castle) which was built on the islet named Megaride, the ancient site of the "Villa diLucullo".  During the centuries Naples has passed through several foreign dominations keeping nonetheless the role of the most important town of southern Italy.  In every corner of the town a visitor may discover the traces of many different cultures. 

From the fifth century to the 1000 Naples is ruled by barbarians, Longobards, Byzantines and other populations, Italic also.  In the meanwhile Norman domination of southern Italy expanded to the point of unifying in 1130 all southern Italy in one kingdom; in politics as well as in the administration the feudal system was predominating: all the aspects of life were based on the castle life.  In 1224 Frederick II founded the University of Naples. 

From 1266 to 1442 Naples is ruled by the French dynasty of the Anjevins (Carlo,Roberto, Giovanna...). We have many historical, literary and enviromental traces of that period, such as the castle "Maschio Angioino" which was renamed "Castel Nuovo" (New Castle) during the following Aragonese dominiation (Alfonso andFerrante of Aragon).  Visitors may admire the enchanting triumph arch of Alfonso of Aragon which was built at the entry of the castle to celebrate the aragonese victory against the Anjevins (1442). 

From 1503 to 1707 the kingdom of Naples is ruled by the Spanish; more precisely it loses his quality of a Kingdom, being administrated by Spanish Viceroys.  During the Viceroy Pedro Alvarez de Toledo (one of the most famous) the town was reorganized and many streets were built or rebuilt, such as the famous via Toledo, which is now one of the most crowded streets of Naples centre.  The whole town changes look under Pedro de Toledo: it is now enlarged, new walls and gates are built, the number of churches and buildings significantly increases.  The most important evenements in this period are: the beginning of the building of the fortress "Castel Sant'Elmo" (1534) and of the Royal Palace (1600), the eruption of the volcano Vesuvio, the revolt leaded by the fisherman Masanielloin 1647, the pestilence in 1647, which was followed by a strong earthquake. 

In 1734 after a short period of Austrian viceroyalty, begins therule of the Borbone dynasty which gives to Naples a great splendour.  Maria Amalia and Carlodi Borbone (1734-1759) are enlightened sovereigns who open to Europe the kingdom gates.  They give rise to the royal palaces of Caserta and Capodimonte, to the San Carlo theatre, to the Albergo dei Poveri (a charitable institution).  In the arts they give rise to the famous "Collezione Farnese" the art of porcelain reaches its top. 

Between the end of 17th century and the 18th century Naples obtains a leading position in the musical field as well; not only for the "Opera seria" but mostly for the "Opera Buffa".  Provenzale, Scarlatti, Pergolesi, Porpora, Piccinni, Jommelli, Traetta, Di Majo, Paisiello, Cimarosa are among the most famous musicians belonging to the Neapolitan Musical Tradition.

The eight years old Ferdinando succeeds to Carlo di Borbone who ruled from 1759 to 1825, with two temporary interruptions.  In 1799 Naples experiences a revolutionary attempt to create a Neapolitan Republic (Repubblica Partenopea), after the French Revolution, but it is bound to be just a temporary interruption of the Borbone dynasty rule: intellectuals and very famous members of the various fields of Neapolitan culture take part in the revolution which miserably ends with a bloody repression and the death of many of them. 

In the period between 1806 and 1815 Naples is temporarily ruled by France with Giuseppe Bonaparte and Gioacchino Murat.  During these years starts the building or modernization of many important public structures such as the "Orto Botanico" (Botanical Gardens), the "Osservatorio Astronomico" (Observatory), the actual "Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella" (Music Conservatory of San Pietro aMajella), while the "Piazza del Plebiscito" is definitely fixed up in its actual aspect with the elliptical portico of the church of San Francesco di Paola, in front of the Royal Palace. 

Ferdinando di Borbone is followed by Francesco I (1825-30) and Ferdinando II(1830-59).  The latter is very famous for having strongly promoted industry and technology: in 1839 Naples has namely the first railway in Italy which links Naples to Portici. 

Francesco II (1859-60) is the last Neapolitan king: in 1860 Garibaldi, coming to Naples with his army from Sicily annexes the town to the kingdom of Italy, under the rule of the Savoia dynasty (Turin). 

Naples as a town of great attraction for its traditions and natural beauties has been described in essays and letters by many foreign visitors who in the past reached the town facing long and dangerous journeys.  Naples image has been made immortal by the works of painters, musicians and poets who have always been inspired by the town since its ancient times.  Historical traces are evident in the structures of the streets in the centre of the town, in the buildings, in the estates, in the churches, in the cloisters, in the places and of course in the museums.  Among the many museums in Naples the National Archaeological Museums, the "Reggia di Capodimonte", "Palazzo Reale" and the museum of San Martino are the most important as to quantity and variety of works in exhibition.  A unique typology is represented by the Botanical Gardens and th19th century Aquarium which hosts only flora  and fauna coming from the gulf of Naples.  From December 1995 Naples with its historical center is under the patronage of the UNESCO as being a "human kind patrimony". 

Special Thanks to...
Steve Saviello & Comunes of Italy Genealogy Group - 1 May 1997

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History of Salerno, Campania

The town lies at the centre of the Gulf, at the mouth of the Irno River valley, not far from Piana del Sele towards which it is rapidly expanding.  Probably of Etruscan origin, it was a Roman colony in 197 BC.  After the fall of the Roman Empire, it was conquered by the Goths, Byzantines and, in 646, by the Lombards, who annexed it to the duchy of Benevento.  In 839 it became the capital of an independent Lombard principality and later raided by the Saracens.  Robert Guiscard, the Norman ruler, conquered Salerno in 1077, making it the capital of his dominions; the foundation of the famous Scuola Medica Salernitana (school of medicine) enhanced its importance.  Under the Swabian rulers, it declined with the growing importance of Naples, and in the 15th century the Angevins granted it in feud to the Colonna family, then later to the Orsinis, Sanseverinos and Grimaldis.  It shared the fortunes of Naples after 1590 until the unification of Italy. 

The city is structured in three distinct nuclei: the medieval part, on the slopes behind the coast, characterized by narrow winding streets, the eighteenth century area beyond the old walls, and the modern town, built after the Second World War, mainly towards the south, often in a haphazard sprawl.  The monuments include the Duomo (11th century) built by Robert Guiscard, beside the fine Romanesque campanile, inside are two outstanding magnificently mosaiced ambos (pulpits) dating to the 12th and 13th centuries; the Romanesque portal, known as the `Porta dei Leoni' (11th century) is also of interest; the church of S. Maria delle Grazie (end 15th century), church of S. Giorgio (Baroque), Palazzo Pinto (12th century), the medieval aqueduct, Arechi Castle (Byzantine), with a fine view of the city.  

Salerno's economy, facilitated by the lines of communication, is based on the marketing of provincial agricultural products, on maritime activities and on banking.  Industry has developed in the food, engineering, textiles and ceramics sectors. There is a high proportion of tourist trade.

  • Festa di S. Matteo (21 september),
  • Concert Season at the Teatro Verdi, Estate Musicale (with ballet) at the Torre Acornale. 

Famous People:
  • Tommaso Guardati, `Masuccio Salernitano' (novelist, 15th century),
  • Andrea Sabatini, Andrea da Salerno' (artist, c. 1480-1530),
  • Giovanni Amendola (politician, 1886-1926).

Cultural Institutions:
  • Conservatorio, Accademia Musicale Salernitana,
  • Provincial Archeological Museum,
  • Museo del Duomo (valuable 12th century ivory altar front,
  • 13th century illuminated parchment of the Exultet, Art Gallery).

In the Province:
  • Battipaglia (agricultural and industrial centre),
  • Cava de' Tirreni (Disfida dei Trombonieri, Corpus Domini, nearby Trinity Abbey),
  • Nocera Inferiore (Archeological Museum),
  • Amalfi (Museo della Carta), Ravello, Positano,
  • Bagni Contursi (spa), Padula (Archeological Museum of west Lucania),
  • Vietri (Museo della Ceramica).

Steve Saviello   1997
Owner Comunes of Italy Genealogy Group

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Special Thanks to
Stephen J. Saviello
List-Owner: Comunes_of_Italy Genealogy Group
Editor, 1997 to 2000, Comunes_of_Italy Italian Mailing List

Steve Saviello's articles appear on "Italian Genealogy Online" with his permission.

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