97. The last hurrah
In 1797, Ludovico Manin, the last Doge, resigned when his city was taken over by Napoleon, who six months later signed Venice over to Austrian rule. During the next fifty years or so of Austrian occupation, much of the spark went out of Venice, it fell into decline and disrepair, with many of the fine old palaces abandoned and in some cases left derelict.
In 1847, Daniele Manin (who was no relation to the former Doge, but nevertheless a fierce Venetian patriot) presented a petition to the puppet consultative assembly that was critical of their Austrian masters, and he was promptly arrested and charged with high treason. The Venetian people rallied to the cause of this Austrian-hating lawyer and supporter of Italian unity and by March the next year the Austrian governor was forced to release him. But it was too late, rebellion was afoot and the Austrians soon lost control of the arsenal and they evacuated the city, leaving Manin to be proclaimed president of the Venetian Republic.
Determined to unify Venice with the rest of Italy, Manin resigned his powers in favour of Piedmont six months later, only to see Piedmont abandon Venetia to the newly reinforced Austrians who set about occupying the Venetian mainland and laying siege to the main city of Venice. The citizens stood firm against recapture and early in 1849, Manin was again appointed president, this time with unlimited powers to defend the city, which he did skillfully and energetically, to the best of his considerable organisational ability.
It was a doomed resistance. By August, ammunition and provisions were exhausted, and the Austrian batteries were close enough to start bombarding the city, at which point Manin negotiated an honourable amnesty, accepting exile for himself and a few others as the price of peace.
He never returned to his beloved Venice and died in exile in Paris in 1857. Two years after the Austrians left Venice for the last time in 1866, Manin's body was brought back to Venice and given a state funeral as the hero of the resistance, the man who gave the Lion of Venice its final roar.