Italian Language Blog

17 Marzo 1861 – 2011 Posted by on Mar 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

Yesterday, the 17th of March, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy with a national holiday. The history of the unification of Italy is long and complicated, but in a nutshell:

The official birth of il Regno d’Italia (the Italian Kingdom) took place on the 17th of March 1861, and Vittorio Emanuele II Re di Sardegna (King of Sardinia) was chosen as Re d’Italia (King of Italy).

Only two years beforehand, Italy was still divided into seven different States:

  • Regno di Sardegna, which included the north-west of Italy and the island of Sardinia, and was ruled by the Savoia Royal family;
  • Regno Lombardo-Veneto, which included the north-east of Italy, and was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire;
  • Ducato di Parma, ruled by the Spanish Borbone family;
  • Ducato di Modena, under Austrian control;
  • Granducato di Toscana, under Austrian control;
  • Stato Pontificio, which included part of the north and all of the center of Italy, and was ruled by the Church;
  • Regno delle Due Sicilie, which included Naples and all the south of Italy plus the island of Sicily, and was under Spanish dominion.

In 1860 il Ducato di Parma, il Ducato di Modena, and il Granducato di Toscana voted to be unified with il Regno di Sardegna, the only one of the seven states that had been truly independent for centuries, ruled by its indigenous royal family, the Savoia. In the same year the Piedmontese troops, with the help of Garibaldi’s Spedizione dei Mille (expedition of the Thousand), conquered il Regno delle Due Sicilie and part of lo Stato Pontificio, officially uniting them with il Regno di Sardegna following un plebiscito (a popular vote).

However the new Regno d’Italia, created on the 17th of March 1861, did not yet cover the whole of the Italian peninsula. In fact the north-east was still under Austrian rule (Veneto was conquered in 1866, while Trentino and Friuli became Italian after the First World War), and Rome and part of the center were still under lo Stato Pontificio. Nevertheless this was the first time since the Roman Empire that most of the Italian peninsula had been united as a single entity.

Despite never having had political unity, the Italian peninsula had shared a strong cultural identity for many centuries. As far back as il Cinquecento (the Fifteen Hundreds) scholars were discussing the possibility of una lingua italiana, that is, a common language for the whole of the peninsula. However, at the time of the unification of Italy in 1861 neither king Vittorio Emanuele II nor the Prime Minister, Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, spoke Italian, their mother tongue being Piedmontese, an Italian dialect heavily influenced by French.

In 1865, to reinforce the transition from il Regno di Sardegna to il Regno d’Italia Firenze took over the title of capital city from Torino. This was due to two main factors: 1. its geographical location in the center of Italy, and 2. its long standing cultural supremacy. However, the national aspiration to incorporate Roma as part of Italy had never died, and after a failed attempt in 1867 by Garibaldi, Roma was finally conquered on the 20th of September 1870 by i Bersaglieri (a specialized corps of the Piedmontese army), who succeeded in breaching the city walls, by means of the so called Breccia di Porta Pia (the Breach of Pia Gate). Roma was proclaimed capital city of Italy on the 1st of July 1871.

But is Italy really a unified country? I’ll discuss that in a upcoming blog.

Tags: , , , , , ,
Keep learning Italian with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it


  1. Delfina Acuto Herbert:

    I appreciate this clear and concise explanation of the unification Italy and the significant role that the Piedmont area had to it. I could never really understand what my family and friends in Casale Monferrato, Piemonte were telling me about it. I did not realize that their dialect was the “language” of that time in such a large area. Looking forward to the next blog. Ciao!

  2. Michael Long:

    Thank you for this post and your many others.
    As a student of history and language I so appreciate the information as it give me incentives to learn more Italian.

  3. augusto:

    Si chiamava il regno delle “due” sicilie. Un po’ di informazione non le dovrebbe far male:

    • Serena:

      @augusto Salve Augusto,

      Grazie per l’informazione, ho aggiornato il blog così che adesso dice “Il Regno delle Due Sicilie” (nota bene l’uso delle maiuscole nei nomi propri). Se voule contribuire al mio blog nel futuro un po’ di buona educazione non le dovrebbe far male

      Distinti Saluti da Serena

  4. kaveh:

    thank you for this very useful post. I’m looking forward for the next blog, too.

  5. Vince:

    Salve Serena:

    Did ‘Verdi’ really stand for, “Vittorio Emanuele Re d’Italia” at this time? Or is this just folklore?


  6. augusto:

    Le mie scuse, è evidente che il mio precedente messaggio sia risultato eccessivamente pretenzioso. Non era mia intenzione, volevo solamente rimediare a una sua piccola mancanza.
    Cordiali saluti

    • Serena:

      @augusto Salve Augusto, grazie per il suo aiuto. Scrivere un blog ogni tre giorni su argomenti diversi non è sempre facile. Inoltre non ho nessuno che lo possa controllare. Mio marito è inglese per cui mi aiuta molto con la lingua inglese, ma non può correggere la parte italiana, e per quanto io cerchi di essere attenta, ogni tanto una svista di ortografia o un dato sbagliato capitano. Pertanto una correzione o un consiglio sono sempre benvenuti.
      Cordiali saluti


Leave a comment: