Victor Emmanuel Monument (Rome)

Victor Emmanuel Monument (Rome)


Description of Victor Emmanuel Monument

The National Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II or (mole del) Vittoriano, called by synecdoche Altare della Patria, is an Italian national monument located in Rome, in Piazza Venezia, on the northern slope of the Capitoline Hill, the work of the architect Giuseppe Sacconi. It is located in the center of ancient Rome and connected to modern Rome thanks to roads that radiate off from Piazza Venezia.

Its construction began in 1885 and the works ended in 1935: however, already in 1911, the monument was officially inaugurated and opened to the public, on the occasion of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the unification of Italy. From an architectural point of view it was conceived as a modern forum, an agora on three levels connected by stairways and topped by a portico characterized by a colonnade.

It has a great representative value, being architecturally and artistically centered on the Risorgimento, the complex process of national unity and liberation from foreign domination carried out under the reign of Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy, to whom the monument is dedicated: for this reason the Vittoriano is considered one of the Italian patri symbols. The Vittoriano contains the Altare della Patria, first an altar of the goddess Rome and then, since 1921, also the chapel of the Unknown Soldier. Since this element is perceived as the emblematic center of the building, the whole monument is often called the Altare della Patria.

Since its inauguration it has been the scene of important celebratory moments. This has accentuated its role as a symbol of national identity. The most important celebrations that take place at the Vittoriano take place annually on the occasion of the anniversary of the liberation of Italy (25 April), the Italian Republic Day (2 June) and the Day of National Unity and the Armed Forces (4 November ), during which the President of the Italian Republic and the highest offices of the State pay homage to the chapel of the Unknown Soldier by placing a laurel wreath in memory of the fallen and missing Italians in the wars.

The monument has a wide symbolic value representing - thanks to the recall of the figure of Vittorio Emanuele II and the construction of the Altare della Patria - a secular temple metaphorically dedicated to free and united Italy and celebrating - by virtue of the burial of the Soldier - the sacrifice for the homeland and the associated ideals.

Victor Emmanuel Monument (Rome) 


The premises
After the death of Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy, which took place on January 9, 1878, there were many initiatives intended to raise a permanent monument to celebrate the first king of united Italy, architect of the process of unification and liberation from foreign domination. For this reason, Vittorio Emanuele is indicated by historiography as one of the four "Fathers of the Fatherland" together with Cavour, for his political and diplomatic work, Garibaldi, for his military actions, and Mazzini, whose thought enlightened the mind and the actions of Italian patriots. The aim was therefore to commemorate the entire Risorgimento season through one of its protagonists.

On March 26, 1878, the parliamentarian Francesco Perroni Paladini deposited a bill with the Chamber of Deputies of the Kingdom of Italy whose objective was to erect a permanent monument dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II to be built in Rome. On April 4, the government acknowledged this indication in the person of Giuseppe Zanardelli, interior minister of the Kingdom of Italy, who filed a bill with the same objective in the Council of Ministers. Zanardelli's bill was approved by the Parliament of the Kingdom of Italy on May 16, 1878 with 211 votes in favor and 10 against.

The two competitions
On 13 September 1880 the "Royal Commission for the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II" was established, which on the following 23 September launched an international competition in which 311 competitors took part. The public funds destined for the work would have been equal to 8 million lire, to which would have been added the money raised by a popular subscription open to all Italians, even those who had moved abroad between the end of the 19th and 1st centuries. early 20th century. The competition was won by the Frenchman Henri-Paul Nénot, who, however, was not followed by an implementation phase of the project.

It was decided not to pursue the project for various reasons. In fact, heated controversies arose over the fact that a project by a foreigner had been chosen for a monument representing a prominent figure in Italian history. Furthermore, it was disputed that Nénot's idea was, as discovered only later, a slightly updated version of his previous project for the new Sorbonne headquarters, which he had already carried out in 1877. To this was added the tension due to the so-called "slap of Tunis", or the French occupation of Tunisia. Another reason that made Nénot's project be discarded was the too much freedom granted to the artists in choosing the place of construction and the type of monument to be built, guidelines that had led to a flourishing of architectural proposals that were too different from each other - in total there were 293 the projects deposited. They ranged from very simple monuments, formed by monumental columns and equestrian statues, to complex and large buildings.

The parliament then gave the Royal Commission the mandate to launch a second competition, which this time, however, should have established both the place of construction and the precise characteristics of the building. Thus a heated debate was born, regarding the choice of the place where to raise the monument: the Capitoline Hill, the Piazza di Termini, which was on the border between the historic center of Rome and more recent buildings ("between the old and the new Rome ", as reported in the minutes of the royal commission), or piazza Esedra or piazza della Rotonda, where the Pantheon stands, where new monumental buildings would have risen.

Some members of the Royal Commission, including President Depretis himself (who was also President of the Council) were favorably impressed by the idea expressed in the project by Ettore Ferrari and Pio Piacentini, second place in the previous competition: that of building the monument on the Capitoline Hill, a place that for millennia was representative of Roman power. This in fact would have made the Vittoriano not only the memorial of the first king of Italy, but the symbol of the capital Rome (the third Rome), the true counterpart of St. Peter, the emblem of papal Rome, and of the Colosseum, an icon of imperial Rome. The Royal Commission, despite the opposition of eminent personalities of the culture of the time, such as Rodolfo Lanciani and Ferdinand Gregorovius, therefore approved the location of the monument on the Capitol.

A sign of the bitter debate that had taken place was the immediate resignation of the opposing members, worried about the demolition of historical and artistic testimonies, which would have been necessary for the construction of the monument in the chosen place. The choice took into consideration the fact that on this hill of Rome there are the Palazzo Senatorio and the Tabularium, monuments endowed with conspicuous national symbolism and among the most representative of Roman antiquity: they are in fact the symbol of the power of Rome and from them derives the other name by which the Campidoglio is known ("Monte Capitolino", whose etymology has to do with "capital"), since they housed the public state archives of ancient Rome, from the decrees of the Roman Senate to the treaties of peace.

It was decisive that only by building the Vittoriano in the historic center of Rome, it could rival, even from a "secular-spiritual" point of view, with the monuments of the Rome of the popes: the aversion for Rome was still very much alive. of the Papal State, personified by Pope Pius IX, a pontiff who put himself in sharp contrast with the newborn Kingdom of Italy leading to the resurgence of the Roman question.

The announcement of the second competition therefore envisages the construction, next to the Ara Coeli basilica, of an imposing marble monument characterized by ascending steps, with a majestic colonnade on its top and with a statue of Vittorio Emanuele II seated on a throne , which would have been the center of the architectural complex. This was the project followed in the construction of the Vittoriano with the variants of the case (the king's pose will then be on horseback and not on a throne).

Participants in the competition, which closed on February 9, 1884, had a year to deliver their designs. The proposals presented were ninety-eight: since the royal commission was unable to decide between the projects of Bruno Schmitz, Manfredo Manfredi and Giuseppe Sacconi, it was necessary to launch a third competition, limited however only to these three proposals, which ended on the 24th. June 1884. Among the three projects, the royal commission chose that of Giuseppe Sacconi, a young architect from the Marche, who thus won the competition and had the task of drawing up the detailed design of the Vittoriano.

The design choices
The Vittoriano project was inspired by the great Hellenistic sanctuaries, such as the Altar of Zeus in Pergamum and the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia in Palestrina. The Vittoriano was conceived as a vast and modern forum open to citizens, located on a sort of raised square in the historic center of Rome, organized as an agora on three levels connected by steps, with conspicuous spaces reserved for the walk of visitors.

On its top there would have been a majestic portico characterized by a long colonnade and two imposing propylaea, one dedicated to the "unity of the homeland" and the other to the "freedom of citizens", concepts metaphorically linked, as already mentioned, to the figure of Vittorio Emanuele II: it would therefore become one of the symbols of the new Italy, alongside the monuments of ancient Rome and those of the Rome of the popes. Having then been conceived as a large public square, the Vittoriano, in addition to representing a memorial dedicated to the person of the sovereign, was invested with another role: a modern forum dedicated to the new free and united Italy.

From an architectural point of view, the monument must have consisted of a series of stairways adapted to the steep sides of the Capitoline Hill, north of the basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. The whole complex would have appeared as a sort of marble covering of the northern slope of the Colle del Campidoglio, being loaded with symbolic meanings linked to the Risorgimento. The location also guaranteed two other advantages: the Vittoriano would have been in line with Via del Corso, of which it would have constituted the perspective vanishing point, and would have overlooked an important urban hub, Piazza Venezia, of which Sacconi in fact envisaged the expansion , to adapt the space to the grandeur and symmetry of the monument.

The original design of the Vittoriano (one of the most grandiose built in the 19th century in Italy) involved the use of marble for the portico and travertine (traditional stone of the buildings of ancient Rome) for the remaining part of the monument: however the only Botticino marble, more easily modeled and more similar to the white marbles that the ancient Romans used in the most representative constructions. In reality, the first choice had been for Carrara marble, but the request for a price deemed too high by the royal commission prompted the latter, on 2 July 1889, to decree the use of Botticino marble.


This material was also preferred above all for its chromatic peculiarities: compared to Carrara marble, which is characterized by an absolute white, Botticino marble has a white shade that has a slight tendency to straw yellow, a characteristic that gives it greater "warmth" ". Due to the change in the type of marble, which would have provided a different brightness and an elegant two-tone in sync with the travertine, Giuseppe Sacconi was forced to review the project and made minor changes. The Vittoriano was enriched with further friezes, trophies, bas-reliefs and small statues, all placed along the perimeter walls which, overall, provided a visual impact comparable to the two-tone due to the planned use of two different covering materials. In order to then draw the observer's gaze towards the portico, in place of a different covering material, Sacconi made the decorations of this part of the monument more conspicuous by adding statues.

Botticino marble takes its name from its extraction area, Botticino, an Italian town north-east of Brescia, which is about 500 kilometers from Rome. The replacement of the travertine chosen by Sacconi thus generated many controversies, which originated from the distance from Rome of the Botticino marble quarries, considered excessive: a few kilometers south-east of Rome, near the Tivoli, there are large deposits of travertine, all 'today exploited in a variety of quarries by numerous local companies.

The opening of the construction site and the archaeological finds
The direction of the works was entrusted to Giuseppe Sacconi with a royal decree dated 30 December 1884 and the official opening of the site took place on 1 January 1885. The solemn ceremony of laying the first stone of the Vittoriano took place on 22 March 1885 in the presence of King Umberto I of Savoy, Queen Margherita of Savoy, the entire royal family and a large foreign representation.

During the first excavations in 1887, as everyone expected, the compact tuff on which the monument should have rested was not found. Instead, fluvial clays, sand banks and a conspicuous presence of caves, tunnels and ancient quarries came to light. Caves and tunnels had been foreseen, as it was known that in ancient times the area had been excavated by the Romans, but not in similar and massive density. Giuseppe Sacconi was forced to modify the project and to provide for a reinforcement of the tunnels with the construction of structures that rested on their vaults. Some quarries were then used during the Second World War as an air-raid shelter.

With the continuation of the excavation work, a section of the Servian walls was also unearthed, the first city wall dating back to the sixth century BC, or at the time of the kings of Rome, as well as the remains of a mammoth: both findings were incorporated into the walls of the Vittoriano being built without destroying them and leaving the possibility of inspecting them, except for some parts of the fossil animal (transferred to the University of Rome). Many other Roman finds were then found, scattered over the entire area of ​​the yard, including remains of buildings, statues, capitals, objects of common use, etc.

Consequence of the discovery of the Servian walls was a substantial modification of the project: two other foundation pillars were added to the portico, so as to leave the archaeological finds uncovered during the excavation work free and open for inspection. For this reason the portico was more curved and its dimensions were changed, which went from 90 to 114 meters in length, with the number of columns, including those of the propylaea, which increased from sixteen to twenty. Furthermore, the columns were made more slender. In this way the Vittoriano went from being one of the many monuments on the Capitoline Hill without standing out in a particular way (as foreseen by the original project) to a showy and imposing building that embraced the northern slope of the hill in a more enveloping way.

Another change in the course of construction came from Sacconi who, in February 1888, proposed adding the interior spaces to the Vittoriano. The idea came to him after the discovery of the tunnels and caves in the subsoil: some of them were then used to create part of the interior of the Vittoriano, namely rooms, crypts, galleries and corridors. These interiors would then house the Central Museum of the Risorgimento, the Shrine of the Flags and the crypt of the Unknown Soldier.

Due to these changes, the cost of the work went from the 9 million lire initially budgeted to the final 26.5 million. Finally, 70,000 cubic meters of land had to be excavated to build the foundations.


The demolitions of the surrounding buildings

To erect the Vittoriano it was necessary, between the last months of 1884 and 1899, to carry out numerous expropriations and extensive demolitions of the buildings that were located in the site area. The place chosen was in the heart of the historic center of Rome and was therefore occupied by ancient buildings arranged according to urban planning dating back to the Middle Ages. In particular, the area was occupied by the Convent of Aracoeli, a monastic complex of medieval origin and managed by the order of the Friars Minor together with the adjoining library, also including the sixteenth-century so-called Torre di Paolo III overlooking Via del Corso.

The killing was carried out thanks to a precise program established by Agostino Depretis, Prime Minister. The demolition works, and consequently those of construction of the Vittoriano, proceeded swiftly thanks to special urban planning tools made available by the government. All the demolitions passed to the scrutiny of the royal commission which, among the buildings and the archaeological remains, decided which ones to preserve and which not.

It was also necessary to face the need to make the Vittoriano look out towards an adequately large space. Piazza Venezia at the time was in fact smaller in size. Bounded to the west by the palace of the same name, its eastern side was disorderedly marked by ancient buildings, including some valuable ones, such as Palazzo Bolognetti-Torlonia. From 1900 to 1906, works were carried out, based on the ideas of Giuseppe Sacconi, to expand the square and make it symmetrical in shape, adapting it to the great bulk of the monument and its symbolic meaning: the celebration of the new free and united Italy.

In this way, some historic streets of Rome and their neighborhoods disappeared, such as via Della Pedacchia, via Di Testa Spaccata, via Della Ripresa Dei Barberi, via Macel De 'Corvi and the adjoining square where the artist Michelangelo resided. Other streets, on the contrary, were upset with the demolition of all the buildings that stood on the sides, such as via Giulio Romano, via San Marco and via Marforio. Part of the demolitions were carried out to allow the monument to be seen from via del Corso and via Nazionale. In total, the area that was razed to the ground was equal to 19,200 square meters.

Various personalities spoke out against the demolitions, including the mayor of Rome Leopoldo Torlonia and the archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani. In the parliamentary seat it was Ruggiero Bonghi, on 10 May 1883, who vehemently attacked the demolitions. To these criticisms were added those of Ferdinand Gregorovius, a German historian famous for his studies on medieval Rome, and of Andrea Busiri Vici, president of the National Academy of San Luca. On the other hand, there were also authoritative opinions, such as that of the art historian Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle and the architect Camillo Boito, who were instead in favor of demolitions, albeit with the necessary distinctions.

Already in the early twentieth century Primo Levi explained the choice to raise the Vittoriano on the Capitoline Hill, which he metaphorically defined the center of the "Third Rome", after ancient Rome and the Rome of the popes, recalling a future third epoch in the history of 'Italy (a historical succession seen as natural, dictated by the caesura of the fall of the Western Roman Empire), during which the city could once again become a reference point for the world. In this context it was deemed necessary to equip it with infrastructures and buildings, even symbolic ones such as the Vittoriano, which would underline its role as capital of the newborn Kingdom of Italy.

The general objective was also to make Rome a modern European capital that would rival Berlin, Vienna, London and Paris, overcoming the centuries-old papal urbanism. In this context, the Victorian would have been the equivalent of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the Admiralty Arch in London and the Opéra Garnier in Paris: in fact, these buildings all share a monumental and classical aspect that metaphorically communicates pride and the power of the nation that built them.


The equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II

The construction of the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, the first work carried out and architectural fulcrum of the entire monument, was entrusted by the royal commission, after another competition held on 9 February 1884, to Enrico Chiaradia already in April 1889, on the same day as it was closed. of the competition for the construction of the Vittoriano.


The statue, which was completed by Emilio Gallori, since its creator had died in 1901, was cast with bronze from some cannons of the Royal Army and then mounted on the marble base where the allegorical personifications of the fourteen cities were carved "nobles" of Italy, between 1907 and 1910. The centers depicted are the capitals of the pre-unification noble states, whose birth is attributable to a period prior to the Savoy monarchy: for this reason they were considered the "noble mothers" of Risorgimento Italy.

On the occasion of the visit of King Vittorio Emanuele III of Savoy, the authorities decided to offer refreshments to a small group of guests among those who had participated in the project. The event was set up inside the belly of the bronze horse, which was able to accommodate more than twenty people, as evidenced by the vintage photographs, copies of which are exhibited on the rear terrace of the Vittoriano.

The continuation of the works and the variations to the original project
During the construction of the monument, Giuseppe Sacconi made the decision to insert an altar dedicated to his homeland inside the Vittoriano. The suggestion seems to have come from Giovanni Bovio, a philosopher and republican deputy, who would have advised him to erect an Altar of the Fatherland on the model of those built in the period of the French Revolution.

The place and the dominant subject of the altar were chosen immediately: a large statue of the goddess Rome which would be placed on the first terrace after the entrance to the monument, just below the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II. So the Altare della Patria, at least initially and before the burial of the body of the Unknown Soldier, was thought of as a chapel of the divinity that personifies Rome, to celebrate the greatness and majesty of the legitimate capital of Italy. This reference to classicism was not an exception: in the Vittoriano there are numerous artistic works that recall the Roman civilization. With the construction of the Altare della Patria, the Vittoriano assumed a new role: as well as a memorial dedicated to the person of King Vittorio Emanuele II and a modern forum of Italy, it was also a secular temple of the nation.

In 1890, due to the unforeseen events that occurred during construction, Giuseppe Sacconi had drawn up a second project of the Vittoriano, with some variations: the addition of numerous windows to illuminate the unforeseen basement rooms, the construction of two side stairways to be able to access and the consequent elimination of the two fountains on the sides of the central staircase. The variant was presented on the occasion of the visit to the construction site of King Umberto I of Savoy. Furthermore, Sacconi had to repeatedly oppose the various proposals to place within the building also works of art that represented specific characters and historical facts. In fact, he believed that only through an allegorical art, devoid of any reference to contemporaneity, could the monument be given a universal value, which was not affected by the passage of time. Around 1900, after an interruption of the works which lasted from 1896 to 1898 due to lack of funds, Sacconi expressed his desire to bring the project back to its original form, returning to the only entrance staircase, central and flanked by the two " fountains of the seas ".

In the meantime, during February 1900, the management of the construction site was transferred from the "Royal Commission for the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II" to the Ministry of Public Works.

Giuseppe Sacconi died in 1905, after twenty years almost completely dedicated to the construction of the Vittoriano. His three close collaborators (Pompeo Passerini, Adolfo Cozza and Giulio Crimini) took over temporarily the reins of the construction site, who in 1906 developed the third project for the monument. The works continued and were completed under the direction of Gaetano Koch, Manfredo Manfredi and Pio Piacentini. Manfredi, in particular, had been Sacconi's fellow student, and between the two there was mutual affection and esteem. Theirs was a solid, disinterested and loyally competitive friendship, having participated in the same competitions, including that of the Vittoriano. The three architects prepared the fourth general project, in which they accepted Sacconi's desire to return to the original design of the monument. On the occasion of the International Exhibition in Milan, a plaster model of his (later lost in a fire) was shown to the public. With this fourth and last project, the Vittoriano had its final form, which is the one corresponding to the ideas always supported by Sacconi: a monument characterized by exclusively allegorical works of art, with the exception of the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II.


In 1906, by means of a royal decree dated 17 May, the "National Committee for the history of the Risorgimento" was established, forerunner of the modern and homonymous institute. In the same decree the seat of this committee was decided: the Victorian building. At the same time it was decreed that the monument, inside, would also house the "Cultural Center of Studies and Research on the Risorgimento", as well as a museum and a library on the subject. Thus the foundations were laid for the current Central Museum of the Risorgimento.

Between 1906 and 1911, the year of the inauguration of the Vittoriano, the latest changes were made to Sacconi's project, including the lowering of the balustrades of the terraces and the modification of some stairways, made more rectilinear in order to further streamline the structure and give the impression that it was the natural architectural continuation of Piazza Venezia.


The inauguration

The monumental complex was inaugurated in front of an immense crowd on June 4, 1911, on the occasion of the events connected to the national exhibition during the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Unification of Italy, by King Vittorio Emanuele III.

The ceremony was also attended by Queen Elena, Queen Mother Margherita of Savoy and the remaining part of the royal family, including Maria Pia of Savoy, daughter of Vittorio Emanuele II and Queen Mother of Portugal, recently deposed by the revolution that had established the republic in 1910. Also present were the Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti, the six thousand mayors of Italy, the veterans of the Risorgimento wars and three thousand students of the Roman schools.

Among the veterans of the wars (both those framed in the Royal Army and the Garibaldians) there were some relevant personalities, such as the last survivor of the Constituent Assembly which proclaimed the Roman Republic of 1849. The three Garibaldians were also present and parade a tricolor flag during the Trentino campaign, military operation of the third Italian war of independence led in 1866 by Giuseppe Garibaldi, and the battle of Dijon - fought between 1870 and 1871 during the Franco-Prussian war. This second banner accompanied the Italian volunteers who decided to fight the Prussians and, due to machine gun shots, was very damaged: only the green band remained intact, the one close to the auction, as opposed to the wholly frayed white one.

The atmosphere experienced during the inauguration ceremony of the Vittoriano was characterized by an intense united and national spirit. Despite this conciliatory atmosphere, there were voices out of the chorus. The socialists (at that time led by the maximalist wing, which was the most intransigent and radical) were opposed to the solemn event because of their internationalist ideology, and the republicans, who were critical of this ceremony given the unquestionable monarchical connotations of the monument.


The Entombment of the Unknown Soldier

After the First World War, the Altare della Patria was chosen to house the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, an Italian soldier who died during the First World War whose identity remains unknown due to the serious injuries that made his body unrecognizable. Precisely for this reason it represents all the Italian soldiers who died during the wars. The impossibility of identifying the soldier makes him a very strong symbol, because only in this way is a metaphorical transition between ever broader concepts possible: from the figure of the single soldier to that of all the soldiers of the army and finally to that of the whole nation.

The body was buried with a solemn ceremony on November 4, 1921 on the occasion of the Day of National Unity and the Armed Forces and since then his tomb has always been guarded by a guard of honor and two eternal flames. The ceremony was the most important and participatory patriotic manifestation of united Italy, since one million people took part. This celebration also represented the recovery, by the Italians, of that patriotic spirit that had been watered down by the sufferings suffered during the bloody conflict. The Altare della Patria, initially thought of as an altar of the goddess Rome, then also became the chapel of the Unknown Soldier.

The Socialists and Communists also participated. They, as already mentioned, were linked to an internationalistic ideology by definition and, therefore, were officially averse to this celebration with its showy patriotic connotations. Furthermore, the socialist political forces, during the parliamentary debate that had led Italy to participate in the First World War, were partly opposed to a direct intervention by the country in this conflict. Nonetheless, the socialists still honored the Unknown Soldier, calling him "proletarian torn apart by other proletarians".


The Vittoriano was thus consecrated to its definitive symbolic value becoming - thanks to the recall of the figure of Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy and the presence of the Altare della Patria - a secular temple metaphorically dedicated to free and united and celebrating Italy - by virtue of the entombment of the Unknown Soldier - the sacrifice for the homeland and national ideals.



In 1925, on the occasion of the Birth of Rome (21 April), the missing part of the Altare della Patria was inaugurated, that is the sculptures created by Angelo Zanelli that flank the statue of the goddess Rome. With the construction of the quadriga dell'Unità and the quadriga della Libertà, which were placed on their respective propylaea between 1924 and 1927, the external spaces of the Vittoriano could be said to be completed. Meanwhile, on February 19, 1921, the "Royal Commission for the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II" was dissolved.

In 1928 it was decided to refurbish the area adjacent to the Vittoriano by opening Via del Teatro di Marcello. This involved the dismantling of the seventeenth-century Church of Santa Rita da Cascia in Campitelli, which stood on the slopes of the staircase of the Ara Coeli basilica and which was rebuilt ten years later near the theater of Marcellus. The excavation works brought to light the Ara Coeli insula, dating back to the 2nd century AD. and still visible today on the left side of the Vittoriano. The arrangement of the area around the monument was completed between 1931 and 1933 by the architect Raffaele De Vico, who designed the two tree-lined exedras arranged in travertine steps.

The crypt of the Unknown Soldier was instead inaugurated during the demonstration of May 24, 1935, which was dedicated to the twentieth anniversary of Italy's entry into the war in the First World War. This room is located under the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, at the Altare della Patria. The internal side of the chapel of the Unknown Soldier faces the crypt, while the external one is an integral part of the Altar.

The work to complete the Vittoriano took place at the end in 1935 and involved the construction of the Central Museum of the Risorgimento, inaugurated and open to the public only in 1970. On the occasion, the creation of a Shrine of the Flags was also planned, designed to host a exhibition of historical Italian military flags. Its precursors were the transfer inside the Vittoriano of the war flags of the dissolved regiments that were previously in Castel Sant'Angelo: even the Shrine of the Flags became open only later, on November 4, 1968, on the occasion of the 'National Unity and the Armed Forces.

The completion of the interior spaces, including the crypt of the Unknown Soldier (with mosaics by Giulio Bargellini), is to be attributed to Armando Brasini, former artistic director of the Vittoriano. The same architect also took care of the brick facade with buttresses on Via di San Pietro in Carcere. In this context, in 1939, the management of the Vittoriano passed from the Ministry of Public Works to that of Public Education.



The conclusion of the First World War and the results of the Treaty of Versailles left the Italian government embittered which, according to the Pact of London signed in April 1915 with the Triple Entente, once hostilities ended, it could have annexed northern Dalmatia among other territories. On the contrary, with the exception of the city of Zadar, the area was incorporated by the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes born from the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even the promises of mandates of the League of Nations (substantially some former German colonies and part of the non-Turkish lands that had belonged to the Ottoman Empire) remained unfulfilled and Italy was awarded only small territorial compensations in favor of the colonies it already owned. Consequently, the myth of the "mutilated victory" was born, which was quickly adopted by fascism, an excellent political question instrumental to the recall of the sufferings and sacrifices suffered by the Italian people during the war. Then the Vittoriano, for the second time, changed its metaphorical meaning: while maintaining the exteriority of a secular temple, it became one of the symbols of Italy's military redemption, patriotism and the war capacity of the country, placing in the background the celebration of Vittorio Emanuele II and the nature of a modern forum.

The prelude to the politicization of the monument took place already in 1920, before the burial of the Unknown Soldier (1921) and the march on Rome (1922), due to anti-socialist and anti-Bolshevik demonstrations organized by the nationalist and patriotic parties which took place at the Vittoriano before the administrative elections of October 1920 and the political elections of May 1921. Following the march on Rome and the seizure of power by Mussolini, the Vittoriano became one of the stages for the regime's demonstrations. Furthermore, part of the public gathered on its stairways and watched the speeches uttered by Mussolini from the balcony of Palazzo Venezia, jutting out over the square of the same name.

To fix the Vittoriano in the collective imagination of Italians, from the end of the twenties fascism started an impressive propaganda work, also making use of the nascent Italian film industry: the building became a constant presence in the films of the regime, whose background was often the panorama of Rome. From 1928 to 1943 the Vittoriano appeared in 249 films distributed in Italian cinemas; 168 of these apparitions (67.5%) were linked to a tribute to the Unknown Soldier, 81 (the remaining 32.5%) were the scene of a fascist demonstration organized within its walls.

In this context, the architect and engineer Gustavo Giovannoni proposed the construction, near Piazza di Spagna, of a monument comparable to the Vittoriano to celebrate Fascist Italy, a project which he never followed. This was not the only point of contact between liberal and fascist Italy: both had the objective of forging a new Italy and both had imperialist tendencies. Instead, what differentiated them was the way in which they wanted to pursue this goal: liberal Italy leaving free will to the citizens, the fascist regime with coercion and violence.

During the twenty years, the Vittoriano often played the choreographic role, solemn and spectacular, in the military parades that from via dell'Impero (the modern via dei Fori Imperiali) arrived under the balcony of Palazzo Venezia. The monument retained a certain role in the fascist nationalist frame also because it welcomed the Unknown Soldier, to whom the regime often paid homage. The altar of the fallen fascists, which was located on the Capitoline Hill, also had a similar role.



With the fall of fascism (25 July 1943) and the end of the Second World War in Europe (8 May 1945) a democratic change could take place in Italy and, as a consequence of the referendum of 2 June 1946, the Italian Republic was born. The Vittoriano was emptied of the military contents associated with it by fascism and returned to its previous function as a secular temple.

From that moment on, the Altare della Patria has once again become the scene of symbolic events representing the entire Italian people. The most important are held annually on the occasion of the Anniversary of the liberation of Italy (25 April), the Day of the Italian Republic (2 June) and the Day of National Unity and the Armed Forces (4 November), during which the President of the Italian Republic and the highest offices of the State pay homage to the chapel of the Unknown Soldier with the deposition of a laurel wreath.

From the sixties of the twentieth century, however, the Vittoriano met with disinterest, if not when in contempt. In fact, it was no longer considered one of the symbols of national identity and indeed represented, with its neoclassical bulk, a cumbersome testimony of the Italian past, fascism, colonialism, the tragedies of the first half of the twentieth century. Thanks to the increasingly evident state of abandonment, the celebrations that took place there were less and less attended, including those that interested the Unknown Soldier. From many quarters it even came to propose to abolish them or to transfer them elsewhere, because the memory of the fascist oceanic gatherings was still alive. Therefore the Victorian gradually slipped into a damnatio memoriae which caused his exclusion from the Italian collective imagination.

To this was added the painful memory of the demolitions and demolitions of entire historical blocks of Rome, which continued for decades under the liberal governments or during the dictatorship. There was also a change on the part of the institutions: from involving and exciting events, they moved on to ritual and aseptic commemorations, carried out for ordinary necessity and with little public transport. Piazza Venezia too, as a consequence of the urban expansion of Rome after the war and the exponential increase in vehicular traffic, turned into a simple nerve center of the city road system.


On December 12, 1969, the Vittoriano was the site of an attack: around 5:30 pm two bombs exploded, ten minutes apart, coinciding with the massacre of Piazza Fontana in Milan. However, there were no victims at the monument. They had been placed laterally, in correspondence with each propylaeus, and one managed to unhinge the door of the Central Museum of the Risorgimento (thrown away for seven meters) and to break the windows of the basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. The second detonation made the base of a flagpole unsafe. Due to the damage caused by the attack, the Vittoriano was closed to the public and remained so for thirty years: on the other hand, the grandiloquent building was now ignored and its usefulness was no longer felt or recognized.

In the wake of the political climate of the seventies and due to the closure to the public, the Vittoriano experienced a long period of oblivion on the part of both institutions and citizens. In 1975 it passed in charge from the Ministry of Education to the newly formed Ministry for Cultural Heritage, a department to which it still belongs. In 1981, by decree dated May 20, the ministry declared the historical and artistic importance of the Vittoriano, referring to the previous law n. 1089 of 1 June 1939.

At the end of the eighties an opinion movement arose, led by Ludovico Quaroni, who wanted the "ruderization", that is the complete abandonment to itself which would be followed by a phase of partial dismantling, with the removal of the most important (which would have been preserved in some museum) and the conversion of the monument to a simple elevated walk: this would also have required the demolition of the most impressive and symbolic sections, as part of the top portico and propylaea. In this way the Vittoriano would no longer stand out in the eyes of visitors and would have a monumentality comparable to that of the surrounding buildings.


The rediscovery

It was the President of the Italian Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, at the beginning of the 21st century, who began a work of rediscovery and enhancement of the Italian patriotic symbols, including the Victorian. Thanks to Ciampi's initiative, it has regained the symbolic importance it once had. Ciampi's work was also taken up and continued by his successor, Giorgio Napolitano, with particular emphasis during the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy.

Specifically, the monument was made accessible again to the public under pressure from Carlo Azeglio Ciampi on 24 September 2000, after a careful restoration and on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the 2000-2001 school year, the most important part of which took place precisely at the Vittoriano. in the presence of the President of the Italian Republic. In 2003 President Ciampi expressed himself thus, speaking to schools: ... this monument is experiencing a second youth. We rediscover it as a symbol of the legacy of values ​​that the generations of the Risorgimento have entrusted to us. The foundations of these values ​​are engraved here in marble: the unity of the homeland, the freedom of citizens.

Since 4 November 2000 the most symbolically important ceremonies (Anniversary of the liberation of Italy on 25 April, Italian Republic Day on 2 June, National Unity and Armed Forces Day on 4 November) take place permanently at the monument. The Vittoriano has also become an important museum center for collections relating to the Italian national identity: the exhibition spaces present (the Central Museum of the Risorgimento and the Sacrario delle Bandiere) have been relaunched with a work of strengthening and updating that has made them increasingly frequented.

This renaissance of the Vittoriano went hand in hand with the constant and growing work of enhancing the other Italian national symbols. Currently the Vittoriano remains the property of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage which, since 1 February 2005, has managed it through the Regional Directorate for Cultural and Landscape Heritage of Lazio, then the Regional Directorate for Museums of Lazio. In 2020 the monument was joined to the nearby National Museum of Palazzo Venezia within a single administration, creating a new body with special autonomy.

The rediscovery of the symbolic value of the Vittoriano is now accompanied by a more serene judgment of its artistic value which, as for any monument, must be contextualized in its time of construction: the monument is now seen by the most up-to-date art critic as an excellent example of Italian art of the late nineteenth century and an important step in the search for the "national style" that was to characterize the newly established Kingdom of Italy. The Vittoriano plays this role both in itself and for the numerous works of art it houses, including Neoclassicism, Eclecticism and Liberty.


Architectural and artistic works

The Vittoriano is located on the Campidoglio hill, in the symbolic center of ancient Rome, and is connected to the modern one thanks to the streets that radiate off from Piazza Venezia. The monumental complex of the Vittoriano is 70 meters high (81 meters including the crowning quadrigae of the two propylaea), 135 meters wide, 130 meters deep, occupies an area of ​​17 550 square meters and has, thanks to the conspicuous development of the interior spaces, a floor area of ​​717,000 square meters.

The entrance staircase is 41 meters wide and 34 meters long, the terrace where the Altare della Patria is located is 66 meters wide. The maximum depth of the Vittoriano underground reaches 17 meters below street level. The colonnade is made up of columns 15 meters high and the length of the portico is 72 meters. Since June 2007 it has been possible to go up to the terrace of the chariots using an elevator: this terrace, which is the highest in the monument, can also be reached via 196 steps that start from the top of the portico.

The architecturally predominant elements of the Vittoriano are the external stairways, made up of 243 steps as a whole, and the portico located on the top of the monument. The latter, inserted between two lateral propylaea, is called sommoportico due to its elevated position (from "supreme", ie "high", "large", "highest part"). The portico is made up of a large Corinthian colonnade, an order that also characterizes the two propylaea.

The allegories of the monument represent, according to the canons of the Neoclassical style, mostly the virtues and sentiments that animated the struggles for national unity during the Risorgimento, i.e. in the period from the uprisings of 1820-1821 to the capture of Rome (1870) , or, according to others, to victory in the First World War. In the Vittoriano there is a conspicuous presence of statues depicting winged Victories, both in marble and bronze, which symbolize the good omen enjoyed in the political amalgamation of the peninsula.

As already mentioned, there are also numerous artistic works that recall the history of ancient Rome [76]: since its inauguration the Vittoriano complex also celebrates the greatness and majesty of Rome, which is elected to the role of legitimate capital of Italy. Then there are several plant symbols present, including the palm tree, which recalls the "victory", the oak (the "strength"), the laurel (the "victorious peace"), the myrtle (the "sacrifice") and the olive tree (the "concord"). All the works of art created for the Vittoriano have engaged the major artists then active in Italy.

In the Vittoriano allegorical meanings are widespread which should have been clear and unambiguous, according to the intentions of their creators. According to some authors, this goal was not achieved, however, given that the works, in their opinion, have often undergone ambiguous interpretations. Those who support this intrinsic ambivalence of the Vittoriano find the causes in the Risorgimento which, according to the revisionist vision, was characterized by a dual nature: on the one hand there would have been the patriots, on the other the silent majority, formed mainly by peasants and by the middle class, which would have remained indifferent to the Italian unification process. The patriots themselves had different views on the future system of Italian government: from the beginning they were in fact divided into centralists and federalists, into monarchists and republicans. In any case, all recognized themselves in the same tricolor flag and shared the same ideals of unity and independence.

To this must be added the historical stratification and the profound difference in public employment of the Vittoriano, in particular the political contrast between liberal and fascist Italy in spreading their respective political messages. If liberal Italy saw in the Vittoriano a secular temple where to metaphorically celebrate the unity and freedom of the homeland, fascism considered the monument as a stage where to flaunt the aggressive military power of the country while since the birth of the Italian Republic it is considered as the "forum of the Republic".

From a stylistic point of view, the architecture and works of art that embellish the Vittoriano were conceived with the aim of creating a "national style", a model to be used in other areas as well. This was, in fact, the need expressed by art critics in those first decades of unity, in which the nation was fine-tuning its own identity, also from an artistic point of view. This "national style", according to Camillo Boito, who was its theorist, could not be new in plan, but rather, to have a completely national character, it should have been linked to the Italian architecture of the past. The study of the classics, however, had to be considered a starting point and not an arrival. This was the responsibility felt by Sacconi in his project.

In this context, for the realization of the Vittoriano, Giuseppe Sacconi took inspiration from neoclassical architecture, the heir of classical Greek and Roman architecture, on which Italic elements were grafted according to the spirit of Eclecticism. Sacconi also kept in mind the architectural style in vogue during the Second French Empire of Napoleon III (1852-1870), which was very common in the new buildings built in Paris at that time, leading to the complete transformation of the French capital. This style was in fact the only one that he appreciated among those of his time, even if he did not share its excessive decorativism and sumptuousness. According to some authors, Sacconi was also inspired by the forms used, even in the colonial context, by various imperialist nations of the time such as the United Kingdom, France, the German Empire and Belgium.

The fountains of the two seas
Leaning against the external base of the Vittoriano, on the sides of the entrance gate to Piazza Venezia, there are the "fountains of the two seas" which are dedicated to the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian seas. Both are inserted in a flower bed and have, from the outset, a hydraulic system that recycles the water avoiding waste. At one time there was also an active 500,000-liter water tank, which was later abandoned, which is located in the basement of the monument. The two fountains therefore represent the two major Italian seas and, therefore, from this point of view the Vittoriano is assimilated to the Italian peninsula. In this way, the entire country is represented, even geographically. To the right of the fountain of the Adriatic you can see the remains of the Sepulcher of Gaius Publicio Bibulus, a monument of the Republican era, an important point of reference for ancient Roman toponymy.

The external stairways and terraces
The external stairways of the Vittoriano adapt to the ascending sides of the northern slope of the Capitoline Hill and lead, starting from the entrance of Piazza Venezia, to the terrace of the Altare della Patria, then to the terrace of the redeemed cities (the one immediately below the colonnade of the portico) and finally to the terraces of the two propylaea, which flank the portico and constitute the two entrances.

The Vittoriano, as already mentioned, was conceived as a large forum open to citizens, a sort of raised square in the heart of the capital organized as an agora on three levels where there are ample spaces reserved for the transit and parking of visitors, of which the stairways and terraces constitute the fundamental element.

The monument, as a whole, appears as a sort of marble covering of the northern slope of the Capitoline Hill: it was therefore conceived as a place where it is possible to take an uninterrupted patriotic walk among the works present, which almost all have allegorical meanings linked to the history of Italy. In fact, the path does not have an architectural purpose, since there are two entrances to the highest part, one for each propylaum.

At the entrance there is an imposing staircase that leads to the terrace of the Altare della Patria and of the Unknown Soldier and which represents the first raised platform of the Vittoriano, as well as its symbolic center. The path along the staircase continues beyond the tomb of the Unknown Soldier to symbolically represent a continuous and uninterrupted procession of Italians that continues its walk up to the highest point of the building: the portico and the propylaea.

The artistic gate leading to the Vittoriano, which is the work of Manfredo Manfredi, has the particularity of being "retractable", that is, it can slide vertically underground thanks to rails. The system that allows the lowering of the grating, originally hydraulic, was considered at the time of its construction among the most technologically advanced in the world. The entrance gate has a length of 40 meters and a weight of 10.5 tons.


On both sides of the entrance staircase there are a series of sculptures that accompany the visitor towards the Altare della Patria. The first sculptures that meet are two sculptural groups in gilded bronze, with subjects inspired by the thought of Giuseppe Mazzini, Il Pensiero and L'Azione (respectively, to the left and right of the staircase for those coming from Piazza Venezia), followed by two sculptural groups (also in this case one on each side) depicting as many winged Lions and finally, on the top of the staircase, before the start of the Altare della Patria terrace, two winged Victories.

The presence of these figures is not accidental, since they have a precise meaning. Thought and Action were in fact fundamental in the process of Italian unification, since they are necessary to change the course of history and to transform a society. The overall shape of the two sculptural groups recalls the intrinsic characteristics of the two concepts: Action has a triangular and angular profile, while Thought has a circular shape.

The two winged Lions represent the initiation of patriots who decide to join the enterprise of Italian unification motivated by ardor and strength, which also control their instinctive side: otherwise the patriots would slide towards the darkening of their abilities if instinct was left completely free. Winged Victories, in addition to recalling the military and cultural successes of the Roman era, allegorically symbolize the good omen for the achievement of national unity.

At the end of the entrance staircase, immediately after the statues of the winged Victories, there is the terrace of the Altare della Patria, the first raised platform of the Vittoriano, which is centrally dominated by the statue of the goddess Rome and the chapel of the Unknown Soldier. On the terrace of the Altare della Patria there are also sculptural groups in Botticino marble that symbolize the moral values ​​of the Italians, or rather the ideal principles that make the nation solid. The four groups have a height of 6 meters and are located to the right and left of the entrance to the terrace of the Altare della Patria (two on each side), laterally to the statues of Il Pensiero and de L'Azione and in correspondence with the fountains of the two seas, along the parapets overlooking Piazza Venezia. This is no coincidence: the concepts expressed by these four sculptural groups, La Forza, La Concordia, Il Sacrificio e Il Right, are the tangible emanation of Il Pensiero and De L'Azione.

On the sides of the Altare della Patria the staircase resumes dividing into two symmetrical ramps parallel to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Both reach a pronaos where two large doors open (one on each side, both positioned symmetrically and sideways to the Unknown Soldier and each in correspondence with one of the two propylaea) leading to the interior spaces of the Vittoriano. Above each door there are two statues: on the left door Politics and Philosophy, while on the right door there are two statues depicting The War and the Revolution.

From the two shelves where the doors that give access to the internal spaces open two further flights of stairs that converge, exactly behind the Altare della Patria, towards the base of the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II: the latter is located on the second large raised platform, in order of height, of the Vittoriano. Behind it, the stairway resumes its ascent towards the top of the portico reaching a small ledge, from which two stairways depart from the side, each leading to the entrance of a propylaum. Before reaching the entrances of the propylaea, each of the two stairways is interrupted by creating a small intermediate shelf, which allows access to the terrace of the redeemed cities, the third large and last raised platform of the Vittoriano, which is located exactly behind the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II and immediately under the colonnade of the portico.


The redeemed cities are those united to Italy following the Treaty of Rapallo (1920) and the Treaty of Rome (1924), peace agreements at the conclusion of the First World War: these municipalities are Trieste, Trento, Gorizia, Pola, Fiume and Zara. Following the Paris treaties of 1947, Pula, Rijeka and Zadar passed to Yugoslavia and - after the latter's dissolution - to Croatia. After the conflict, Gorizia was divided in two: one part remained with Italy while the other, which was renamed "Nova Gorica", passed first to Yugoslavia and then to Slovenia. Each redeemed city is represented by an altar set against the back wall, which bears the corresponding municipal coat of arms. The six altars were placed on the terrace between 1929 and 1930.

At the center of the row of the altars of the redeemed cities, engraved on the stylobate, there is a monumental inscription carved on the occasion of the solemn ceremony of the burial of the Unknown Soldier (November 4, 1921) which shows the text of the Victory Bulletin, an official document written after the armistice of Villa Giusti with which General Armando Diaz, supreme commander of the Royal Army, announced, on November 4, 1918, the surrender of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the victory of Italy in the First World War.

At the base of the text of the Bulletin of Victory there are two other altars similar to those of the redeemed cities but which have, in place of the municipal coat of arms of the municipalities, a helmet: these two altars bear the inscription: "Et Facere Fortia" the one on the left and "Et Pati Fortia" the one on the right. They echo the Latin phrase et facere et pati fortia romanum est ("It is from Roman to do and suffer strong things"), which derives from the words that Muzio Scevola said to Porsenna, as reported by Tito Livio.


The Altar of the Fatherland

The Altare della Patria is the best known part of the Vittoriano and is the one with which it is often identified. Located on the top of the entrance staircase, it was designed by the Brescian sculptor Angelo Zanelli, who won a competition specifically held in 1906. It is formed by the side of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier facing outwards, while the other side is located in a crypt. In an aedicule, exactly above the tomb, is the statue of the goddess Roma, and the two marble reliefs located on the sides converge towards it.

The sculptor Angelo Zanelli interrupted the nineteenth-century custom, which wanted the representation of the goddess Rome with exclusively warlike features: the artist decided instead to create the statue inspired by the iconographic characteristics of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, as well as of war. The large statue of the deity emerges from a golden background. The presence in the Vittoriano of the goddess Rome wants to underline the thought of the patriots of the Risorgimento: the Eternal City is the only and indispensable capital of Italy, and all of Italian history converges towards this idea.

The Unknown Soldier was transferred to the Altare della Patria on November 4, 1921. The epigraph under the statue bears the Latin inscription "Ignoto Militi" and the years of beginning and end of Italian participation in the First World War, or "MCMXV" ( 1915) and "MCMXVIII" (1918).

His tomb is a chapel that symbolically represents all the fallen and missing in the war. The side of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier facing the Altare della Patria is always guarded by a guard of honor and by two flames that burn perpetually in the braziers. The soldiers of the various weapons of the Italian armed forces provide the guard, which initially should have alternated every ten years; currently they alternate according to a calendar established from year to year.

The flames that burn perpetually are an ancient symbol, which has its origins in classical antiquity and especially in the cult of the dead: they represent the memory that remains alive despite the passage of time. In this case, they therefore symbolize the undying memory in the Italians of the sacrifice of the Unknown Soldier and of his love for his country. This is also valid, of course, for Italians far from their country and it is no coincidence that the construction of the two perennial braziers is due to donations made by Italian emigrants, as recalled by the plaque placed at their base, the text of which reads "The Italians all abroad to the Motherland ".

The bas-relief on the left of the Altar of the Fatherland represents the Triumph of Labor and the one on the right symbolizes the Triumph of love of country: both scenographically converge towards the statue of the goddess Rome. The general conception of the bas-reliefs recalls one the Bucolics and the other the Georgics of Virgil, completing the triptych of the Altar of the Fatherland with the statue of the Roman divinity.


The allegorical meaning of the bas-reliefs is linked to the desire to represent the Italian soul with sculpture. In fact, the reference to the Aeneid is present in the Georgics and in both works the industriousness in the work of the Italians is evoked.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is annually the scene of official ceremonies during the celebrations of the Anniversary of the liberation of Italy (25 April), the Italian Republic Day (2 June) and the Day of National Unity and the Armed Forces (4 November ), occasions on which the President of the Italian Republic and the highest offices of the State pay her solemn homage.

The equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II
After passing the Altare della Patria, continue to climb the staircase and you will come across the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, a bronze work by Enrico Chiaradia and architectural center of the Vittoriano. On the marble base of the statue the personifications of the noble Italian cities are carved. The statue is made of bronze, 12 meters high and 10 meters long and weighs 50 tons. Including the marble base, the entire sculptural group is 24.80 meters high.

The equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II is the only non-symbolic representation of the Victorian. The choice to represent him on horseback is not accidental, since the equestrian statues have, since ancient times, a precise symbolism. In classical antiquity the equestrian statues were aimed at exalting the portrayed subject, whose warlike virtues were emphasized. Furthermore, by riding and controlling a steed, the character's ability to control primordial instincts was communicated: in this way civic virtues were also recognized in the subject.

Even the placement of the statue in the architectural center of the Vittoriano, above the Altar of the Fatherland and in front of the colonnade of the portico, is not fortuitous: in classical antiquity the equestrian statues were often located in front of colonnades, public squares, temples or along the triumphal ways; in places, therefore, basic for their centrality. The presence of the base on which the personifications of the noble cities are carved, finally, is linked to the same archaic traditions.

The statues of the noble cities
On the base of the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, as already mentioned, there are sculptural representations of fourteen noble cities; that is the ancient capitals of Italian noble states, historically converging towards the Kingdom of Italy and towards the Savoy dynasty, as it espoused the cause of the Risorgimento. It is therefore not a question of the most important cities in Italy, but of those considered to be its "noble mothers".

The fourteen statues of the noble cities are placed at the base of the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II because metaphorically they are the foundations of Italy and, in a broader sense, the unity of the homeland is based on the union of its municipalities.

Unlike those dedicated to the regions of Italy, the statues depicting the fourteen cities are all the work of the same sculptor: Eugenio Maccagnani.

The portico and the propylaea
General features
Continuing to climb the staircase beyond the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, we arrive at the architecturally most impressive element of the whole architectural complex: the large, slightly curved portico located on the top of the monument and therefore called the "sommoportico". At its ends there are two propylaea, protruding from the central body, of which they constitute the entrances.

The portico is 72 meters long and consists of sixteen Corinthian columns 15 meters high, surmounted by capitals embellished by the face of turreted Italy (located in the center) and by acanthus leaves. On the upper frieze there are sixteen statues, allegorical personifications of the Italian regions. Each statue is located in correspondence with a column. For the columns of the portico, Giuseppe Sacconi was inspired by those of the Temple of the Dioscuri of the Roman Forum, located nearby.

Each propylaum crowns a bronze sculptural group, depicting a winged Victory on a quadriga. This recalls the celebration of the triumph of republican Rome, when the victorious commanders ascended the Capitol in a chariot drawn by four white horses. The Romans believed that the gods sent Victories to earth, to bring gifts to the winner of a military confrontation.

The two quadrigas, as the Latin inscriptions on the pediments of the underlying propylaea expressly state, symbolize the freedom of citizens ("Civium Libertati", right) and the unity of the homeland ("Patriae Unitati", left), the two concepts hinge that inform the entire monument. The implicit message is that Italy, having once again returned to a single political structure and conquered independence, is ready to spread a new Renaissance throughout the world, supported by the moral virtues allegorically represented in the Vittoriano.

The concepts of "citizens' freedom" and "unity of the fatherland" can be referred to the contribution made by Vittorio Emanuele II to the Risorgimento, at the beginning and at the end of his reign. For the freedom of citizens, the Moncalieri proclamation was fundamental, with which the King, who had risen to the throne a few months ago, confirmed the liberal regime, despite the repressions that followed the "spring of the peoples" in other European states. As for the "unity of the fatherland", it can instead be remembered that Vittorio Emanuele, a few years before his death, took responsibility for the capture of Rome, a decisive step to unify the country. After Rome became the capital, only Trentino-Alto Adige and Venezia Giulia were missing for the completion of the unit, annexed only after the First World War, also called the "fourth Italian war of independence".

The quadrigas, already foreseen in the original project, were built and positioned in 1927. Within the pediments of the two propylaea there are sculptural groups that have the same theme as the respective quadrigas above.

The statues of the regions
The staircase leading to the terrace of the redeemed cities is the best observation point for the statues of the regions of Italy, which are located on the frieze of the portico, each in correspondence with a column. The presence of statues allegorically portraying the Italian regions is inspired by the personifications of the Roman provinces. For the type of frieze, very high and with statues alternating with clypei, Sacconi was inspired by that of the portico of the nearby Forum of Trajan. The statues placed on the cornice of the portico are sixteen, equal to the number of Italian regions at the time of construction of the monument. Each statue is five meters high and was entrusted to a different sculptor, almost always a native of the region whose image he would have carved. The cornice is also embellished with eagles and lion heads.

Since the Vittoriano was built, the identification criteria of some Italian regions and the names of some of them have changed, and consequently the names of the statues do not always correspond to the current ones. As for the names, in the period coeval with the project of the monument, Emilia-Romagna was simply called Emilia and Basilicata was called Lucania. Furthermore, Abruzzo and Molise are represented by a single statue, since until 1963 they constituted a single region (Abruzzi and Molise); also the Triveneto is represented by a single statue, since Trentino-Alto Adige and Venezia Giulia at the time still belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Valle d'Aosta and Piedmont, likewise, are represented by a single statue, since they formed a single administrative entity: the Valle d'Aosta region was established only in 1948.

The interior spaces
The internal spaces of the portico and the propylaea are accessed via two triumphal entrance stairways located in correspondence with each propylaea. The two entrance stairways are located on a small ledge which can be reached via a short staircase which joins the terrace of the redeemed cities. At the base of the entrance stairway of the propylaea there are four statues of winged Victories on triumphal columns: made in 1911, two are at the entrance to the right propylaum and two at the entrance to the left one.

Each entrance leads to a large quadrangular vestibule, facing the outside through a colonnade. The vestibules lead to the internal spaces of the portico. These rooms are decorated with mosaics, important works of floral Liberty and pictorial symbolism, which cover the lunettes and the two domes of the propylaea. Even the mosaics have as their subject the metaphorical representation of the virtues and feelings, very often rendered as allegorical personifications, which animated the Italians during the Risorgimento. The interiors of the portico are decorated with allegories of the sciences, while the doors that connect the propylaea and the portico are embellished with representations of the arts.


The decoration of the ceiling of the propylaeum on the left was entrusted to Giulio Bargellini. In these mosaics he adopted innovative technical devices, such as the use of materials of various kinds and of tesserae of different and inclined dimensions in order to create studied luminous reflections. It should also be noted that the lines of the mosaic representations continue towards those of the underlying columns.

The Bargellini mosaics along the highest part of the walls represent figuratively La Fede, rendered as the consecration of the children to the homeland officiated by the people (in the background a city reminiscent of Jerusalem); The Force, or a warrior who accompanies a young man to an encounter with a woman armed with a sword; The Work, personified by a family of farmers who get together after a day in the fields; La Sapienza, proposed as a teacher in the chair in front of his students seated on the desks.

The decoration of the ceiling of the right propylaeum was instead entrusted to Antonio Rizzi. Along the highest part of the walls, Rizzi created: The Law (a work composed of the allegories of Justice seated on the throne, of Wisdom, Wealth, Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance, each with its classic attributes); The Valor (represented with a young man who hardens his sword on the wings of Liberty and who is surrounded by the founders of the Italic lineage, including Aeneas and Ascanius); Peace (a female figure holding a bundle of wheat and others bearing the fruits of the earth, while white doves fly towards a source of water); The Union (pictured with a young man who meets La Poesia).

The internal doors leading from the two propylaea to the portico are adorned with allegorical sculptures representing Architecture and Music, which are located in the left vestibule and which are the work of Antonio Garella, and Painting and Sculpture, which are located in the vestibule. on the right and which were made by Lio Gangeri. The interior of the portico has a floor of polychrome marble and a coffered ceiling: the latter, which was designed by Gaetano Koch, is called the "ceiling of the sciences".

The ceiling owes its name to the bronze sculptures by Giuseppe Tonnini located inside the portico, collectively known as Allegories of Sciences: they are all made up of female personifications, Geometry with compass and square, Chemistry with retort and still, Physics with lantern and barometer, Mineralogy with a quartz crystal, Mechanics with toothed wheel, Medicine with cup and staff of Asclepius, Astronomy with the globe of the zodiac and the sextant and Geography with protractor and terrestrial globe. The vertical wall opposite the columns is decorated on the top with mosaics with a golden background, after 1925. Other sculptures present inside the portico are the Trophies of arms, that is to say a vast set of shields, cuirasses, halberds, spears, flags , arrows and quivers; a trophy shows the crown of Italy, the eagle with the crusader shield and the collar of the Annunziata: the emblems of the House of Savoy.

The internal crypt of the Unknown Soldier
The crypt of the Unknown Soldier is a room located under the equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II. It is accessed from the Shrine of the Flags. From it it is possible to see the side of the chapel of the Unknown Soldier which faces the interior spaces of the Vittoriano; it is therefore located in correspondence with the Altare della Patria, from which instead you can see the side of the tomb facing the outside of the building.

The epigraph on the inside of the sepulchral stone bears the inscription "Ignoto Militi" and the start and end dates of the Italian participation in the First World War, or "Xxiv Maggio Mcmxv" (24 May 1915) and "Iv November Mcmxviii" (November 4, 1918). As already mentioned, the external side of the sepulchral stone instead shows only the years of Italian participation in the war.

On November 1, 1921, the Gold Medal for Military Valor was awarded to the Unknown Soldier, the highest Italian military decoration, with a motivation that was also reported on the inner side of the chapel, in the crypt of the same name:
"Worthy son of a brave lineage and a millenary civilization, he resisted inflexible in the most disputed trenches, lavished his courage in the most bloody battles and fell fighting without a doubt reward to hope that the victory and the greatness of the Fatherland"


On the door of the simulacrum there is instead the following epitaph, written by Vittorio Emanuele III himself:
"The name is unknown - his spirit strikes - wherever Italy is - with a voice of tears and pride - countless mothers say: - he is my son"

The Soldier was also awarded foreign honors. The Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded by the Federal Government of the United States of America, had already been awarded on 12 October 1921. This was followed by the Cross of Liberty for the military command of I Class, the highest conferable by the government of Estonia, and the Croix de guerre, a French military honor.

The crypt of the Unknown Soldier is the work of the architect Armando Brasini. It is a room in the shape of a Greek cross with a domed vault which is accessed via two flights of stairs. A short tunnel starts from the crypt and reaches the niche of the chapel of the Unknown Soldier. The niche is inserted in an arcosolium inspired by the style of early Christian buildings, especially the catacombs. The ceiling of the crypt instead recalls Roman architecture, alternating cross vaults and barrel vaults. The room, built in bricks, is characterized by the presence of round arches and niches. There is also a small altar for religious functions.

The walls of the crypt are decorated with a Byzantine-style mosaic, the work of Giulio Bargellini, of a religious nature. The crucifixion of Jesus is located above the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, on the walls the patron saints of the Italian armed forces stand out: St. Martin patron of the infantry, St. George for the cavalry, St. Sebastian for the local police and St. Barbara for the Navy Military, bomb squads and engineers. Finally, in the dome there is the Madonna of Loreto, patroness of the Air Force.

Parts of the crypt and sepulcher were made with stone materials from the mountains that were the scene of the battles of the First World War: the floor is in Karst marble, while the small altar was made from a single block of stone from Mount Grappa .

The exhibition spaces of the Vittoriano
Inside the Vittoriano there are some exhibition spaces dedicated to the history of Italy, especially that of the Risorgimento: the Central Museum of the Risorgimento with an adjoining institute of study, the Sacrario delle Bandiere and an area that hosts temporary exhibitions of artistic interest, historical, sociological and cultural called "Brasini wing", from the name of the architect who designed it. It is also possible to visit part of the aforementioned archaeological finds found during the construction of the Vittoriano. In the Sacrario delle Bandiere it is possible to visit the rooms where, during the construction of the monument, the studio of Giuseppe Sacconi was located.

Access to the Central Museum of the Risorgimento is on the left side of the monument, at the back of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, along via di San Pietro in Carcere. It illustrates a period of Italian history, between the end of the 18th century and the First World War, through the exhibition of relics, paintings, sculptures, documents (letters, diaries and manuscripts), drawings, engravings, weapons and prints.

On the entrance stairway of the Central Museum of the Risorgimento engravings related to some significant episodes for the birth of the Risorgimento movement are visible, from the seed sown by the French Revolution to the Napoleonic enterprises, in order to better frame and remember the national history between the reform of the ancient Italian states and the end of the First World War. Along the walls other marble engravings show some passages of texts enunciated by prominent personalities, which best testify and describe this part of Italian history.

The Central Museum of the Risorgimento also includes the Shrine of the Flags, a place where the war flags of the dissolved military units and the radiated naval units, the banners of the military institutes and suppressed units belonging to the armed bodies of the State are collected and kept (Italian Army, Air Force, Navy, Carabinieri, State Police, Penitentiary Police and Guardia di Finanza). The access to the shrine is located along via dei Fori Imperiali: in this museum space there are also relics relating to the wars especially of the Risorgimento, in which the Italian armed forces took part.

The Brasini wing, reserved for temporary exhibitions, is dedicated to Armando Brasini, the main promoter of the Central Museum. The wing has three exhibition rooms: the "large exhibition hall", having an area of ​​700 m² and generally hosting art exhibitions, which usually require more space, the "central hall" of 400 m² and the "jubilee room", which has an area of ​​150 m².