Prisoner in the Vatican

When Napoleon III withdrew his troops from Rome, writes John Quinlan, the unification of Italy was at last accomplished.

At approximately 9.30am on September 20th, 1870, Bersaglieri troops of the Italian Army entered Rome, city of the Caesars and the Popes. Thus were the Middle Ages, in the picturesque phrase of the historian Gregorovius, blown suddenly away as by a tramontana, the wind from the north.

Since A.D. 754, when Pepin le Bref, the Frankish King, presented Pope Stephen II with the conquered exarchate of Ravenna, the States of the Church had waxed and waned until by 1861 the Patrimony of St Peter consisted merely of the City and a strip of the western Italian coast roughly corresponding to the old province of Latium.

The population was about 680,000, of whom less than a third lived in the Eternal City. The rest of the peninsula, except for Austrian Venetia, now formed the new Kingdom of United Italy. Rome as capital remained the goal of the Unitarians.

In effect, Italy had been made. Now it only remained, as d'Azeglio observed, to make Italians. For Italy was still to a considerable degree a geographical expression, as Metternich had said.

To anyone living south of Rome, the dominant Piedmontese seemed half French; and for Tuscans, Neapolitans and Sicilians, regional consciousness and separate social and historical development made it difficult for them to consider a wider context.

In 1860 Maxime du Camp heard the lazzaroni of Naples cheering the winning side—the Garibaldians—in the streets. When the procession passed and the cries of ‘Viva ritalia’ died away, these dwellers in caves and cellars began to ask each other who Italia was.

In March 1861, Cavour told the new Italian parliament sitting at Turin that Rome would be the national capital one day. There was every reason for this aim to be expressed in terms of hope rather than of firm intention, since the inviolability of the Papal State was guaranteed by the word of Napoleon III and the physical presence of a French garrison.

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