Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II

The European central government started the celebrations for the hundredth anniversary of WWI this summer. As I don't see the point of celebrating the beginning of an international conflict that pained the whole continent, and as I don't see why in Italy we should celebrate that, as we entered WWI in 1915, I conform myself to the standards and I decided to celebrate anyway, introducing you one of the most popular (with tourists) and criticized (by the locals) monuments of Rome, the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, or "Vittoriano" for short.
I picked this monument for three reasons.
First, it's one of my favourites, despite its bad name and controversial history.
Second, very little is known about it, its symbology and history, making people prate about it everytime that it's mentioned.
And finally, third, I want to give some importance to the only "National Monument" (as in "monument aims to represent the nation, and serve as a focus for national identity" rather than the more common "National heritage site"'s sense) of Italy.

First, let's start with a bit of history.
Italy was unified in 1860, following the huge effort from the guys from Northern Italy, specifically King Victor Emmanuel II and Count Camillo Benso of Cavour, coadiuvated by the passionate contribution of cool dudes like Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini.
Rome became the Capital of Italy only in 1871 (despite being declared as so in 1861), after the capture of Rome in 1870, when the Italian army faced the Papal State.

When Victor Emmanuel died in 1878, the government decided to build a monument to his role as "the Father of the Land" on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, a place dense with symbols and suggestions.
The first tender for the monument dated 1880.
Many criticize the look of the actual Vittoriano, but it's probably because they never saw the other options, even more absurd and humunguous; to give you a glint of it, here are the proposals of architects Boffi and Corinti:
Fortunately the "sober" project of Giuseppe Sacconi was the winner.
The achitect was inspired by the classical excellences of the Pergamon Altar and the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, but many defamers said that he was inspired by German architects like Leo Von Klenze rather than genuine classicism.

The project was picked by the powerful minister Zanardelli, who forced on the architect the use of the super-white Botticino marble (coming from the Northern city of Brescia, something that Romans saw as an insult, as the "stardard" marble for Roman buildings is the Travertino marble since good ol' Roman times) and the insertion of an equestrian statue of the king as the cornerstone of the whole monument.

In the end the final project of the Vittoriano looked like this:
You can spot a few differences with the final result already, but let's go in order.

As I told you, locals have usually negative feelings about this monument (nourished by the criticism on the monument sprouting in the 70s and the 80s).
It's not mostly because the whole place was destroyed, removing what little of Middle Ages remained in Rome.
From the following pictures, you can check the spots who are no longer: the beautiful cloisters of Santa Maria in Aracoeli (at least the original Gothic church was partially spared!), the Tower of Julius III and the Church of Santa Rita da Cascia.



On this last picture you have a view of the place: you can see the original look of Aracoeli and you can spot the Tower on the left, in the background behind the church.

The first stone was posed in 1885 by King Humbert I, the son of Victor Emmanuel II, but the work didn't proceed as smoothly as firt anticipated.
The soil of the hill was softer than expected, so it had to be enforced to avoid its collapse; meanwhile some Roman buildings were discovered during the excavation, and some legends talk even about the fossil of a mastodon--
--Long story short, King Humbert I died, Giuseppe Sacconi died, and in 1905 the trio of Gaetano Koch, Pio Piacentini and Manfredo Manfredi were commissioned with the overseeing of the construction, as the monument wasn't done yet.
The monument would be finally inaugurated in 1911, but its actual completion with the statue of Goddess Rome dated 1925... So, it was a long road to its completion, just as it was a long road for the unification of Italy.

But let's walk around and try to "read" the monument together.

The first things that you should notice are the fountains featuring the seas of Italy, the Adriatic Sea and the Thyrrenian Sea, resting at the sides of the monument, just like the two seas surround the country.


The Adriatic Sea features the winged lion of Venice, and it watches and points toward the East, while the Thyrrenian Sea sports the she-wolf of Rome and the two-tailed siren Parthenope, associated with Naples.

Then it's the turn of the six groups of statues decorating the lower part of the monument, the Values of Italians.
The first ones are the bronze groups of Thought and Action, respectively sculpted by Giulio Monteverde e Francesco Jerace in 1907:
The "Thought" is represented by a "winged genius" tracing the future of Italy in the air. As Discord and Tyranny run away, Minerva is helping a man on his feet, while behind them another genius is sharpening a sword.
The "Action" is led by a "Young Italy" who's holding the flag, citizens and workers encourage the revolution as a lion roars and another female figure ("Revolution"?) is holding a fascio, a reference to the French Revolution.

The other groups of the "Values" are sculpted in Botticino marble and they are Strenght, Harmony, Sacrifice and Law:

"Strenght" was sculpted by Augusto Rivalta: it's interesting to note how, besides the obvious reference to the martial valor inspired by the central figure, the other characters of the group show the tools of work; "Harmony" was sculpted by Lodovico Pogliaghi and it represents the Peace between the Monarchy and People; "Sacrifice" shows a dying hero, the gratitude of those who were saved by him and Freedom kissing the dying man sweetly on his lips; in the end "Law", sculpted by Ettore Ximenes, shows the defeat of Slavery as Justice puts her sword back in place.

As we walk up the huge stairs, this is what we see:
On the background is the cloister, that at the moment is inaccessible. From up there you could notice the terrace and the sommoportico, decorated with the statues of the 16 Regions (that's how many there were back then!), each corresponding to a column.
Almost every Region was sculpted by a local artist; each of them is 5 meters tall.

Right in front of you is the Altar of the Homeland. This is how the whole monument is sometimes called, erroneously.
This is the biggest difference with the original project of Sacconi.
The tenders were called on a subject which was "consistent with the civil and political significance of the monument" in 1908.
The sculptor was Angelo Zanelli, as his are the original project and the designs.
The altar shows two parades decorating the sides of the statue of Goddess Rome.
The bas-relief on the left represents the "Triumph of Work", on the right is the "Triumph of Patriotism": both of them represent the blessing of History over the City.
Inspired by the iconography of Minerva, a golden mosaic decorates her niche. The statue of Rome was finished in 1925.
Meanwhile in 1921 the government bill was laid before the Chamber of Deputies for the internment of an "unknown soldier" in the Vittoriano... The place guarded by the two soldiers of the Infantry
is this tomb-- But we'll talk about it later!


On the second row of stairs is the Equestrian Monument of Victor Emmanuel II, the focus of the whole deal:
You couldn't tell from there, but this statue is huge, over 12 meters tall.
You can get an idea of its actual size from the pictures of the time:

It's kinda shocking to think that the tummy of the horse can host a whole banquet, isn't it XD ?
It's the work of Enrico Chiaradia, and it was completed on 1910.

The bronze statue is resting on the basement of the Noble Cities:
As the name suggests, the "Noble Cities" are those related to nobiliar governments. As they are holding the statue of the first King of Italy, the tribute to monarchy had to be expected.
In the picture you can spot Mantova (ruled by the Gonzagas) and Amalfi.
Contrary to the statues of the Regions, the Cities were scuplted by the same artist, Eugenio Maccagni.

All the bronze winged critters decorating the monument are Victories.
These first ones are waiting for you at the beginning of the stairs: these winged Victories by Edoardo Rubino are resting their feet on a rostro, a reference to the Roman Forum, resting right behind the Vittoriano.
Another four, originally sculpted in gold, are placed at the top of the Thriumphal Columns facing the two propilei. They are the work of Nicola Cantalamessa Papotti, Adolfo Apolloni, Mario Rutelli and Arnaldo Zocchi and were completed in 1911. They are holding, respectively: a palm and a snake, a sword, and the other two of are holding a crown of laurel.
In the end, on top of each propileo, is a quadriga, mounted by a Victory: here, though, the quadrighe don't represent Triumph, but, respectively, the "Unity of the Homeland" and the "Freedom of Citizens":

At this point, we better enter to talk more about the "unknown soldier" mentioned earlier.
The place is the location of various museums and exhibitions.
Besides those, you can spot original "sketches" and studies for the statues that we saw outside.
Here is one of the quadriga and the study of Rome's head:

By passing through the moving Shrine of Flags, you can access the Chapel of the Unknown Soldier, located behind the Altar of the Homeland.
As I mentioned before, the idea of letting the corpse of an unknown soldier of WWI to be buried in the Altar was expressed in 1921.
It was seen as a tribute to the fallen of the Great War, and a way to celebrate even those unknown soldiers who perished in the conflict, as the most of them were left nameless or even without a proper burial.
As you walk down the stairs in the little lair, you first meet the altar of the Chapel. It's decorated with icons of the Saints protectors of soldiers and armies.


Here's a shot of Saint Barbara, the only one that I could shot properly!

Right in front of the altar, is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:
The story behind the burial is quite moving.

Eleven corpses were selected from those left unnamed on the various fronts, and Maria Bergamas was chosen as the mother destined to pick one of the bodies for the burial.
As she was passing the coffins, she couldn't take it anymore and passed out for the great pain on the tenth coffin: this was chosen as the Unknown Soldier.

The solemn internment of the remains of the Unknown Soldier happened on November 4, 1921, in the presence of King Victor Emmanuel III:

--Once I was out I could spend a few minutes enjoying the view from the first terrace on the lower level--
--You can see Saint Peter's from here! Can you recognize the dome?

Anyway, before leaving you I would like to show you an interesting bit--Did you notice how the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II is a somehow bigger version of the Campidoglio complex..?
We have a huge stair, and two lions at its bottom. An equestrian statue:
...But the most interesting bit is this: the same structure of the stairs passing behind the statues decorating the Palazzo dei Conservatori.
The statues of the two rivers (the Nile and the Tiber), the statue of the Goddess Rome (also Minerva) in the middle of the whole thing:
--I leave you with this intriguing similarity 'til next post!

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