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Gianicolo - The View of a National Hero

Gianicolo - The View of a National Hero

Ever play Risk? The boardgame? It just might teach you a thing or two about history, or at least about the mental mechanisms that lead to stuff you need to learn in high school. The rage, tears and blood are just the same, except that it actually changed people’s lives.

One of the main players in mid-19th century Italy was Giuseppe Garibaldi and, except for some mishaps (it took him two tries to “win”) he was actually quite good, managing to unite a territory that for centuries had suffered under the battles between aristocracy, popes, kings, self-proclaimed emperors, dukes, and lots of other people with fancy titles.

By the mid 18th century the nation state had become not only a cool trend for European nations, it was turning into a must, with chic attributes such as democracy (or at least its beginnings), republicanism etc etc. Well, Italy was to be of no less (although not if you asked the papal sympathisants) and Garibaldi did like those red capes, so he didn’t just act but also look like a perfect national hero, just as he is represented on the equestrian statue on the panoramic Piazza Garibaldi.

Jokes aside, the Gianicolo hill turned into a battlefront on the first attempt to take Rome on behalf of the Garibaldine army, and thus became symbol for the battle for a united Italy. Although, another uniting moment makes the Gianicolo a well heard of place; the midday cannon shot. In 1904, Pope Pio IX decided that it was time for all the churches to ring in the noon hour at the same time. In order to accomplish this he decided to place a cannon on top of a hill and have it shoot a salve every day at noon. This practice is still respected today although it is merely symbolic now.

The view that our Hero enjoys from his (deservedly) high horse on Piazza Garibaldi is impressive and one of the most loved in the city. It spans from the far Saint Johns Basilica in the east all the way to Castel Sant’Angelo in the west. Saint Peters isn’t visible from the front, however if you step back to the far side of the Piazza you will see the grand dome far closer than you might have expected.

A little further down the road in the direction of Saint Peters there is a second equestrian monument, however this time the horse is mounted by a women with a new-born child in one arm and a gun in the other.

The women is no-one less than Anita Garibaldi, wife and in some sense the female alter ego of our hero. The child in her arms is their son Menotti, born during the war and just before the house where he saw the light was surrounded by enemies, though thankfully his mother lost no time and, gun in hand, jumped on her trusty steed and got them both away unharmed. Such is the stuff of legends.


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