Italy Celebrates 150 Years of Unification

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Italy never saw so many national flags waving in the air as on March 17, 2011.

Posted across windows and balconies all over the country, thousands of green, white and red flags celebrated the 150th anniversary of the country’s unification.

As a nation-state, Italy is younger than the United States. The home of the ancient Roman empire became a nation as a whole just 150 years ago, on March 17, 1861.

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On that day, Victor Emmanuel II became the first king of a unified Italy. It was the culmination of the Risorgimento, the movement for independence that for years struggled to free the country from foreign rule and unite several micro-states.

Indeed, before 1861, Italy was, in the words of the Austrian statesman Metternich, a "mere geographical expression."

The country was just a patchwork of city-states and regions ruled by the pope and a variety of monarchs.

Established as a monarchy with a parliamentary government (the Italian Republic was founded in 1946), the new state had its first capital in Turin. Four years later, in 1865, the capital was moved to Florence and then, in 1871, to Rome.

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A number of events have marked the anniversary, including parades, fireworks, jets streaming green, white and red smoke trails across the sky, and historical re-enactments recalling the campaign of Risorgimental hero Giuseppe Garibaldi to bring Italy's deeply different states together.

“Without unity our nation would have been swept away by history,” said Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

Despite heavy rain in many cities, hundreds of thousands celebrated singing the national anthem, “Brothers of Italy,” as green-white-red light projections covered the facade of the main monuments.

“From North to South, all proud of the three-color flag,” wrote the daily La Repubblica.

The newspaper reported the results of a national poll, which found about 90 percent of Italians are happy about the country’s unification.

“It’s a feeling shared everywhere … even among the supporters of the Northern League [whose leader campaigned in the 1990s for the complete secession of “Padania,” north of the Po River]. … Compared with 10 years ago, Italians are feeling more unhappy and divided. But they are convinced that in 10 years the country will be more united, in a still united Europe,” La Repubblica wrote.

Italian flags on windows and balconies celebrate Italy's 150th anniversary of unification (Photo: Rossella Lorenzi)

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