Friday, June 2, 2023

Sabbatical 2023: Republic Day in Orvieto

Today - June 2nd - is Republic Day (Festa della Repubblica) in Italy. It's a day that recalls the post-World War 2 referendum in 1946, in which the citizenry of the kingdom of Italy chose to be a republic over a monarchy. To understand this more fully, one needs to go back in history a bit to the medieval period and the rise of the city-states. 

These were many different independent and political entities that arose after the collapse of Rome and the descent of Germanic "barbarians" into northern Italy. Orvieto was also invaded and came under control of the Longobard duchy. In 774 CE, the area was liberated and Orvieto became a province of the Papal State. This began a long era of great wealth, beauty and expansion. Orvieto became one of several modern, functional, democratic city-states (communes) with a well organized political system and urban structure. (These are the basis for our modern-day democracy in the U. S.) Because of a civil war in Rome during this time, Pope Urban IV lived in Orvieto. His residency led to the construction of a pontifical palace in the city, as well as, the commissioning of the construction of the duomo to be built beside his palace. In this medieval period each major square in the city represented an institution - Piazza Duomo represented religious power; Piazza del Popolo, the power of the people, and Piazza della Repubblica, the power of the polis (political power). These city squares still exist today. 

Orvieto's prosperity lasted until 1348, when the plague and fighting between the noble families (especially the Monaldeschi and Fileppeschi families) put an end this time of expansion. However, the city still found economic prosperity, thanks to its close connection to and popularity with the papacy - it was viewed as a quiet and safe place to stay not far from Rome. Orvieto continued as an important papal province until 1860, when Italy was unified and it became part of the Kingdom of Italy, a constitutional monarchy governed by the House of Savoy. 

It was under the rule of this House that Mussolini came to power in the early 1920's, leading to the fascist regime in Italy and the Axis alliance with Nazi Germany. After disastrous defeats in Eastern Europe and North Africa, the Italian empire collapsed. Mussolini was arrested by order of King Victor Emmanuel III, which provoked a civil war. The northern half of the country was occupied by the Nazis with the cooperation of Italian fascists, becoming a puppet-state. The south was controlled by the monarchy, which fought for the Allied cause. However, the Italian resistance movement (the "partisans") operated all over Italy. In April 1945, Mussolini was assassinated by Italian partisans two days before Hitler's suicide. This led to the call for a national referendum for Italians to decide whether they wanted to be a republic or a monarchy.

The results of the referendum are quite interesting to me, which ended up with about 55% of the population voting to become a republic versus the 45% who wanted to remain a monarchy. The blue in this image represents those areas with a majority vote for a republic, the red for the monarchy. In central Italy in particular - where the independent city-states and democratic institutions were formed - the population overwhelmingly voted to form a republic, to be self-governing.

Italy's history is so much more complex than what I've captured in these few paragraphs. It's a fascinating study of the struggle between the three areas represented by the three piazzas - that of the church, the people, and the political system. 

One last note about the preservation of the cathedral in Duomo. There's a fascinating story captured here on how this lily of Italian cathedrals was preserved near the end of the second World War. As Allied forces approached from the south, they were greeted by a Volkswagen, carrying a young German officer waving a white flag who spoke perfect English. He carried a message from the German commander based in the city: "In consideration of the historic beauty of Orvieto, the German commander proposes to the allied command that the city of Orvieto be declared open." 

The allied commander agreed and fighting continued away from the city, saving this beautiful medieval city with its incomparable duomo. 

Fino a tardi, arrivederci!

(Molte grazie to the website, Orvieto Viva, for much of the history on this and previous blog pages.)

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