Friday, March 18, 2011

Five Days of Milan (Cinque Giornate di Milano, 18-22 March 1848) and Grandi's monument

Teaching people to read and write, to do a bit of basic math, to keep orderly ledgers, to give them a fighting chance during the competition for various public office jobs (a secure paycheck...sounds pretty good to me), that should be a good thing, right? Employing and promoting locals raises moral, should improve efficiency, and keeps the money circulating locally, hopefully reducing whining for money from the central government. Still good, right?

It sounded like a good idea to the Austrian empress, Maria Theresa of Hapsburg, and her son, Giuseppe, then in control of enormous swathes of northern Italy, including the duchy of Milan, in the second half of the 18th century, but it backfired.

You start teaching people to think for themselves, and they kinda want to do it, you know?...More......

Meanwhile north of the Alps, the French Revolution had toppled a divinely appointed monarchy, and put The People in charge. Never mind the internal squabbling and horrors. It still sent that party pooper Napoleon, young, brash, in favor of establishing the independent Cisalpine Republic in northern Italy (until he decided to be emperor, himself, instead), blowing through Milan. He ruffled Austrian feathers from the end of the 18th into the beginning of the 19th centuries, and helped toss them out, but toss 'em out, they just kept coming back.

It didn't hurt that, over the centuries, the Milanese often welcomed anyone helping them break a heavy yoke, only to welcome back the former to help break the new and equally heavy yoke of the latter.

That first time the Austrians were still nice about it, though.

Skipping lightly over continued turbulence, on the 18th of March, 1848, the Milanese once again had had enough of what, from the Milanese point-of-view, was Austrian domination (can't really say the uprising caught the Austrians completely by surprise, but the fact that the Milanese duchy had been part of the Austrian Empire since the early 16th century did kind of lull them into a false sense of security).

Barricades were thrown up out of whatever could be dragged out of nearby buildings, and piled up to block streets.

A completely crazy idea.

Fight imperial troops from behind piled up mattresses and chairs.

But it began to work.

And five days later on the 22nd, the Milanese were so close, so close to kicking the Austrians out that someone began hammering like a madman on the giant bronze bell--cast in 1352!--in the city hall tower to rouse the Milanese to one final effort.

It worked--the imperial Austrian troops really were kicked out that day--but the bell got the worst of cracked.

The original is on display in room VI of Milan's Museo del Risorgimento.

It also is remembered in this monument with one female personification for each of the five days and a bell. Designed by Giuseppe Grandi, the monument was raised in 1895 in Piazza Cinque Giornate (Piazza of the Five Days), site of one of the fierce battles during that week. The late 19th century monument also serves as a patriotic burial place for the Milanese, who died during those days, and whose bones in the meantime had rested under the Column of Christ in Largo Augusto, which deserves a (later) message all of its own.

More simple math. I can hear the wheels turning in your head. "If that was March 1848, and this is March 2011, why is Italy now celebrating the 150th anniversary of its birth as a nation?"

You're right, the math doesn't work.

You're forgetting about Carlo Alberto, a duke from the ancient House of Savoy in Piedmont, chosen to lead the gathering forces against the Austrians.

Way outside Milan, his troops started loosing battles and ground, and things began to look pretty grim.

Cutting his losses, he accepted defeat a few months after those glorious Five Days of Milan in March, and, almost as if it were a hindsight, came out onto the balcony of his headquarters in the then brand new Brentani-Greppi mansion (1829-31) on what today is called "Via Manzoni" to spill the beans, then make a run for it.

The clueless Milanese still thought that they were free and independent. Silly fools.

When they heard what Carlo Alberto had done, giving them back into the hands of the Austrians, they went bonkers with rage, and would have pulled him literally to teentsy pieces, if his guards hadn't spirited him away with great difficulty (it wasn't the first, or the last, time that a Savoy betrayed'd think once burned, twice shy...).

This time, the returning Austrians were not happy campers.

Very severe restrictions, retribution, for about ten years pushed the Milanese again to desperation.

Once again, they were in the forefront of the agitation and battles to push the Austrians out. That time it worked, though, and little by little more bits were added to the growing Italian nation formally united under a Savoy monarch on the 17th of March, 1861, though more bits and pieces continued to be added for years to come:

Happy 150th Birthday, Italy!

With you in mind, I snapped the photo of the Cinque Giornate monument on January 01, 2011, at about 3:30 P.M., while I snapped the Brentani-Greppi mansion on the 13th of April, 2009, around 2:45 P.M. as part of my general photographic campaign of Milan to document it and express my love for it.

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