WHO WALKED THESE STREETS
Vittorio Emanuele II – The King
For those who have been to Italy, you may have noticed that many streets are named after important figures or dates in Italy’s history. In Turin, one of the busy thoroughfares, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (at the crossroads of Corso Gallileo Ferraris and Corso Vittorio), is overshadowed by a monument of Vittorio Emanule II, the first King of Italy. Let’s discover more about this influential figure and how he impacted both Turin and Italy’s history.
Vittorio Emanuele, the future King of a united Italy, was born in 1820 in Palazzo Carignano in the center of Turin, which is now home to the Risorgimento Museum. His father was Charles Albert, Prince of Carignano and his mother was Maria Therese of Austria.
In 1831, when Emanuele was 11 years old, his father ascended to the throne of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, which was perhaps the most powerful city-state in Italy at that time. The time was a turbulent one, as there was a rise of nationalism sweeping throughout the Italian peninsula Rather than thinking of themselves as citizens of a city-state first, people were thinking of themselves as Italian. So was the young Emanuele.
The First War of Italian Independence began in 1848, when Vienna, Milan and Venice revolted against Austrian rule. Charles Albert declared war on Austria, and the young Emanuele fought in the front lines at several battles. Charles Albert was forced to abdicate the throne after his forces suffered a humiliation defeated by the Austrians in at the Battle of Novara in 1849.
Vittorio Emanuele then ascended the throne of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia. He was 29 years old, had been married to Adelaide of Austria for seven years, and had several children.
Determined to throw off the foreign yoke and unite Italy under a single government, Emanuele provided support to the Conte de Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi, who led troops in the Second War of Italian Independence in 1859. Emanuele had learned an important lesson from the previous disastrous war, and this time enlisted the aid of the French to help him in defeating Austria.
This time, their forces were victorious, and one city-state after another became united in the new country, until on 17 March, 1861, Vittorio Emanuele II of Sardinia became the “Padre della Patria,” or “Father of the Fatherland” – the first ruler of the Kingdom of Italy. He immediately declared Turin as the capital of the new country. It would remain so for five years, until it was moved briefly to Florence.
Vittorio Emanuele could not rest on his laurels, however. There were still three city-states left to be liberated. Emanuele himself led troops during the third war of Italian Independence in 1866, which culminated with the annexation of Venice from Austria. In 1870, the reunification was complete when he sent the Italian Army into the Papal States to seize Rome, which subsequently would become the capital of all Italy.
Emanuele’s first wife, Adelaide, died young in 1855 after giving birth to 8 children, including Umberto, who would succeed his father as King of Italy, and Amadeo who would become King of Spain. In 1869, Emanuele married his mistress, Rosa Vercellana a quite infamous event…Vercellana was a commoner and so the marriage was morganatic – meaning that neither she nor the two children she bore Emanuele had any claim to the throne. Vittorio Emanuele died in 1878 at the age of 57, and was buried in the new capital of Italy, Rome, in the Pantheon where he was mourned by all of Italy.