Did you know that today, June 2nd, is a national holiday in Italy? Government offices, post offices and schools are closed across the land. And many archeological sites such as the Colosseum and Forum in Rome close too as Italians, and even Google, prepare to celebrate the Festa della Repubblica Italiana or Italian Republic Day. So what’s it all about?
Following the fall of fascism and the end of World War II in September 1945 an institutional referendum was called on June 2nd and 3rd 1946 to decide what kind of government the populace wanted – a monarchy or republic?
The Italian monarchy, the Savoia (Savoy) dynasty, had reigned for a total of 85 years after the unification of Italy in March 1861. Vittorio Emmanuele I (Victor Emmanuel) of Sardinia took over the reigns first and was followed by a series of kings until Victor Emmanuel III ascended to the throne in July 1900. The family had popular support for decades, with supporters applauding newreels including footage of the King. But the monarch made one fatal mistake and the monarchy would be punished at the referendum.
Halfway through Victor Emmanuel III’s rule fascism and, in particular, Benito Mussolini rose to prominence in Italy. In the autumn of 1922 Mussolini threatened to march on Rome to seize power. The Prime Minister was confident that the army could defeat Mussolini’s 10,000 men as they approached the capital but at the last minute the King invited Mussolini to meet him. By 30th October Mussolini had been installed as Prime Minister at just 39, despite only having 35 deputies out of a total of 630 seats in the Chamber and absolutely no experience of government. And the King had unwittingly signed his own downfall but would last another 24 years before standing down.
King Victor Emmanuel III further compounded his actions when he failed to act against Mussolini’s subsequent abuses of power both before and during World War II. The fascist was gradually assuming absolute control through changes to the law to transfer power to himself. But as democracy crumbled the King stood by, later claiming that he feared civil war if he’d intervened rather than made a deal with Mussolini. Whatever the truth, many interpreted the King’s actions as weakness that would go on to have dire consequences for Italy, Europe and the monarchy.
His weakness persisted throughout the war as Mussolini took Italy into battle as an ally of Hitler. And even despite several disastrous campaigns, the King either refused to or was unable to act against the fascist dictator. As Italy’s situation worsened, the once-popular King’s reputation suffered tremendously as the population grew disillusioned with their figure-head.
By the end of the war, many Italians believed that the King had been too close to the hated fascist dictator. Whether the monarch could have stepped in to halt Mussolini is debatable but unfortunately the tide of popular opinion had turned irretrievably against him, especially in the northern regions.
Not even Victor Emmanuele III’s belated deposition of Mussolini in 1943 could cleanse the monarchy’s reputation. And once again he was criticised when he fled south to Brindisi to outrun a possible German advance on Rome. Both the British monarchy and the Pope had stood firm in the face of Nazi attacks on London and Rome respectively whilst Victor Emmanuele III was again seen as lacking the appropriate strength of character.
Realising that nothing would clear his own tainted name, Victor Emmanuele III tried one last act to restore the monarchy to popularity by transferring his powers to his well-liked son Crown Prince Umberto in 1946 and later formally abdicating in May 1946.
But it was all too little, too late for the monarchy. Within a month voters went to the ballot box voting 54% to 45% for a republic. The citizens had spoken and the King of Italy’s reign had finally been brought to a grinding halt with all male members of the Savoy family promptly being sent into exile, never to return. In fact Victor Emmanuele III lived out his exile in Egypt and is buried in Cairo while his son Umberto died in Portugal, refused the right to return to Italy even as he lay dying.
Today the Italian constitution forbids the reinstatement of a monarchy unless a completely new constitution is written and frankly no-one’s about to do that! Furthermore, Italy would have to search further afield than the Savoia family for a new monarch if they felt the need for one as the House of Savoy family formally renounced any claim to the throne in 2002 in return for the right to return to their homeland.
And so each year on June 2nd Italians around the country, particularly in Rome, and around the world celebrate the birth of the Italian Republic with parades, ceremonies and much fanfare. Commemorations in Rome include the President’s laying of a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier at the Altare della Patria in Piazza Venezia, a large military parade and then musical concerts in the gardens of the Palazzo del Quirinale, official home of the President.
But one of the highlights of the day is undoubtedly the aerial display by the Frecce Tricolori, equivalent to the UK’s Red Arrows acrobatic flying squad, who fly over the Altare della Patria monument as part of the military parade. Flying in tight formation the nine Italian Air Force fighter jets, formally known as the Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale or National Acrobatic Patrol, streak the skies with grean, white and red plumes of smoke signifying the three colours of the Italian national flag. It makes quite a sight and is a great way to mark the official ceremonial celebrations.
So, just as Americans the world over celebrate July 4th as the day when the Declaration of Independence was signed and connections with Great Britain severed, June 2nd signifies the day when Italians used their votes to depose, ditch and ultimately dethrone their tainted, discredited monarchy once and for all. If you’re in Rome next year, make sure you check out the Frecce Tricolori as they jet over the capital and take the chance to celebrate and commemorate along with the Italians by raising a glass to the republic! Leave me a note to let me know how you celebrate your national day. Viva l’Italia!
For full details on the Festa della Repubblica Italiana events see the official Festa della Repubblica website here
Note : road closures are normally in force from early in the morning until around 8pm around the route of the military parade, namely Via dei Fori Imperiali etc.
Changes to public transport are also enforced during the day so always check public transport websites for updates and information.
And finally, if you’re in Rome around the Festa della Repubblica be aware that rehearsals start a few days earlier and can cause traffic disruptions in the evenings between 11pm and 5am the next day.
The post Festa della Repubblica Italiana – Italian Republic Day, 2nd June first appeared on DreamDiscoverItalia