What with all these ancient ruins we’re constantly tripping over and digging up around here, one could be forgiven for assuming that when Italy celebrates its birthday tomorrow, it will be placing several thousand candles atop the ole birthday cake. But, my friends, you would be mistaken, for tomorrow is only the 151st anniversary of Italy’s birth. Sure, the city of Rome is close to 3,000 years old, and there are archaeological finds throughout the peninsula that predate Rome herself, but Italy as a unified state has only existed since 1861 when it came together under the reign of King Vittorio Emanule II, immortalized in countless street names, piazzas, and giant, vaguely wedding cake-shaped (although really, it looks more like an old school typewriter to me), monuments seen in the photo above. Now, you might have read that last sentence and said to yourself “Hmmm, that’s odd, if he was the first King of Italy, why was he called Victor the 2nd?”. Well friends, prior to her unification, the Italian peninsula and surrounding islands were actually a collection of unaffiliated, and, occasionally warring, states – dominated by the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and the Papal States. In the mid-19th Century, VEII of the Kingdom of Sardinia led the drive for unification, eventually consolidating the majority of modern day Italy into a single entity. And, on March 17th, 1861, the deputies of the newly established Italian Parliament (deputized by VE himself), declared Vittorio Emanuele II the King of Italy. Interestingly, they also declared Rome to be the capital of the unified Italian state, although Rome and the rest of the Papal States were not yet part of Italy, and would not be until the Italian army annexed it in 1870.
As is generally the case in hostile takeovers, not everyone was thrilled with this new situation, and, in fact, certain parts of modern day Italy are still a bit resentful of losing their independence (old grudges die hard, and not for quite a few generations apparently, ’round these parts). Still, it was not enough to deter the country from coming together last year to celebrate its sesquicentennial with a year-long celebration of parades, shows, museum exhibits, and an all-night party on March 17th complete with after hours access to really cool churches and a midnight fireworks show in Piazza Venezia. While there aren’t any scheduled celebrations this year, I hope you all join me in wishing a buon compleanno and tanti auguri to our dear Italy.