At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Aurelio Saffi – republican activist

Politician prominent in Risorgimento movement


Giacinto Pin's portrait of Aurelio Saffi
Giacinto Pin's portrait of Aurelio Saffi
The politician Aurelio Saffi, who was a close ally of the republican revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini during Italy’s move towards unification in the 19th century, was born on this day in 1819 in Forlì.

He was a member of the short-lived Roman Republic of 1849, which was crushed by French troops supporting the temporarily deposed Pope Pius IX, and was involved in the planning of an uprising in Milan in 1853.

Saffi was sentenced to 20 years in jail for his part in the Milan plot but by then had fled to England.

He returned to Italy in 1860 and when the Risorgimento realised its aim with unification Saffi was appointed a deputy in the first parliament of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

At the time of Saffi’s birth, Forlì, now part of Emilia-Romagna, was part of the Papal States. He was educated in law in Ferrara, but became politically active in his native city, protesting against the administration of the Papal legates.

He soon became a fervent supporter of Mazzini, whose wish was to see Italy established as an independent republic and saw popular uprisings as part of the route to achieving his goal.

Giuseppe Mazzini captured in an early photograph
Giuseppe Mazzini captured in an
early photograph 
One such uprising took place in Rome on November 15, 1848, when the assassination of Pellegrino Rossi, a minister in the Papal government, was followed by mass demonstrations on the streets of the city, demanding a democratic government, social reforms and a declaration of war against the Austrian Empire.

The Pope slipped out of Rome dressed as an ordinary priest and fled to Gaeta in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The new Roman Republic was declared in February 1849,  led by Mazzini, Saffi and Carlo Armellini.

The Roman Republic, however, lasted only until July 3, when a French army sent by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the new president of the French Republic - later the emperor Napoleon III - whose restoration of the papacy repaid his Roman Catholic supporters, defeated the republic’s army, led by Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Saffi retired to exile in Liguria and later joined Mazzini in Switzerland before moving with him to London.  He returned to Italy in 1852 to plan a series of uprisings in Milan similar to the so-called Five Days of 1848, when the Austrians were temporarily driven out by Italian nationalists.

Again the project ended in failure.  Saffi went back to England, being sentenced in his absence to 20 years in jail. Obliged to put down roots in England, he was appointed the first teacher of Italian at the Taylor Institute in Oxford and married Giorgina Craufurl, an Italian-born English supporter of Mazzini, with whom he had four sons.

In 1860, Saffi moved to Naples, then under the control of Garibaldi, and was elected a deputy in the parliament of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy the following year.

He spent his last days in his villa in the countryside near Forlì after taking up a professorship at the University of Bologna.  He died in 1890 at the age of 70.

Aurelio Saffi's statue stands at the heart of Piazza Saffi
Aurelio Saffi's statue stands at the heart of Piazza Saffi
Travel tip:

Formerly Piazza Maggiore, the main square in the elegant city of Forlì was renamed Piazza Saffi in 1921 in honour of Aurelio Saffi, who by then was recognised along with Giuseppe Mazzini as an Italian hero thanks to their part in the unification.  A large square, it has a statue of Saffi at its centre and is bordered along its southern side by the Abbey of San Mercuriale, which was completed in the 12th century. On the opposite side is the Palazzo Comunale, which dates back to the 11th century. The most recent addition is the Palazzo delle Poste – the city’s Post Office – that was built in the 1930s.

Saffi's study at the Villa Saffi museum
Saffi's study at the Villa Saffi museum
Travel tip:

The Villa Saffi, about 4km (2.5 miles) south-west of the centre of Forlì, at which Saffi spent much of his time when he was living in Italy, is a former Jesuit convent bought by Aurelio’s grandfather, Tommaso Saffi, as a summer residence.  Much of Saffi’s collection of historical documents connected to Giuseppe Mazzini and the Risorgimento remains in the house, which is now municipally owned and open to the public as a museum with free admission.




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