02 July, 2006

38. Giuseppe Garibaldi

From the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, until the Risorgimento or 'Resurgence' in the 19th Century which resulted for the first time in a unified nation, Italy was a very fragmented place.

For centuries Italy was a shifting battlefield fought over by Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Greeks, Normans, the Pope, and others, until powerful city states like Milan, Florence, Genoa, and Venice emerged and operated as independent competitive nations. As the power of these city-states in turn declined, the French and the Austrians in the late 18th and 19th Centuries conquered and dominated large chunks of Italy, and the nationalistic ideal of a unified Italy gathered strength among the people in the patchwork of regions that make up the peninsula.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, whose monument this is, was a revolutionary and very successful soldier who, more than anyone else, was responsible for the unification of Italy . Popular hero of the people, he fought in or led numerous military campaigns over 35 years, eventually sacrificing his own ambitions and republican principles for the sake of national unity by throwing his support behind the King of Sardinia, Vittorio Emanuele II, who as a result became the first King of all Italy.

Considering that Garibaldi was not directly involved in any of Venice's liberation struggles against Austria, and given Venice's history of passionate independence – many residents of the Veneto speak the local dialect and consider themselves Venetian first and Italian second – you would not expect the homages to Garibaldi to be all that lavish here in Venice, but nevertheless they are.

This fine monument to Garibaldi stands in the centre of a garden at the junction between Garibaldi St and Garibaldi Avenue in the Castello sestiere, near the Arsenale. The fact that Garibaldi Street is long and wide and is one of the very few streets called 'Rio' that is not a canal, is an indication of the esteem in which Garibaldi must be held - even in Venice.

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