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, 11 March 2018

Sidney Sonnino – politician


Minister who pushed Italy to switch sides in World War One


Sidney Sonnino was an influential figure in shaping Italy's foreign policy
Sidney Sonnino was an influential figure
in shaping Italy's foreign policy
Sidney Sonnino, the politician who was Italy’s influential Minister of Foreign Affairs during the First World War, was born on this day in 1847 in Pisa.

Sonnino led two short-lived governments in the early 1900s but it was as Foreign Affairs Minister in 1914 that he made his mark on Italian history, advising prime minister Antonio Salandra to side with the Entente powers – France, Great Britain and Russia – in the First World War, abandoning its Triple Alliance partnership with Germany and Austria-Hungary.

His motives were entirely driven by self-interest. A committed irredentist who saw the war as an opportunity to expand Italy's borders by reclaiming former territory, he reasoned that Austria-Hungary was unlikely to give back parts of Italy it had seized previously.

Instead, he sanctioned the secret Treaty of London with the Entente powers, which led Italy to declare war on Austria-Hungary in 2015.

In the event, although Sonnino backed the winning side, the promises made in the Treaty of London, namely that Italy would win territories in Tyrol, Dalmatia and Istria, were not fulfilled. Despite suffering major casualties, including 600,000 dead, Italy was granted only minor territorial gains.

The perception that prime minister Vittorio Orlando – the third prime minister during Sonnino’s term as Minister of Foreign Affairs – had been humiliated as the spoils were divided at the Treaty of Versailles in part paved the way for Mussolini to capture the imagination of a disaffected nation.

At the Versailles summit: Sonnino is on the right with Marshall Foch and premier Clemenceau of France, British PM David Lloyd George and Italy's Vittorio Orlando
At the Versailles summit: Sonnino is on the right with
Marshall Foch and premier Clemenceau of France, British
PM David Lloyd George and Italy's Vittorio Orlando
Sonnino had come from an unusual background.  The son of an Italian father of Jewish heritage and a Welsh mother, he was raised as an Anglican.  The family’s wealth came from his grandfather, who had left the Jewish ghetto in Livorno to move to Egypt, where he made his fortune in banking.  They lived in the Castello Sonnino, on a clifftop overlooking the sea in Quercianella, south of Livorno.

Educated at the University of Pisa, where he graduated in law, Sonnino had a brief career as a diplomat before teaming up with his friend Leopoldo Franchetti, who would also go on to have a career in politics, in conducting one of the first major studies of Sicilian society, and in particular the workings of the Mafia.

Sonnino was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies for the first time in 1880 and remained a deputy until he resigned in 1919 in the wake of the Versailles humiliation.

He was known throughout his career as a sternly intransigent moralist but praised for his honesty and was seen as incorruptible and an able diplomat. He was a friend of southern Italy, introducing a number of measures that helped revive the southern Italian economy.

Sonnino died in Rome in 1922 after suffering a stroke.


The Castello Sonnino's clifftop setting
The Castello Sonnino's clifftop setting on a
promontory near Livorno
Travel tip:

The Castello Sonnino stands on a promontory south of Livorno near the hamlet of Quercianella. It was built in neo-medieval style by Sidney Sonnino on the site of a 16th-century fort built by the Medici. Sonnino was said to be fascinated by the rough solitude of that stretch of Italian coastline.  After his death, he was buried in a cave in a nearby cliff.

Pisa's Piazza dei Cavalieri, looking towards the Piazza dell'Orologio
Pisa's Piazza dei Cavalieri, looking towards the
Piazza dell'Orologio
Travel tip:

Pisa’s Piazza dei Cavalieri is the site of many historical buildings of political importance in the Renaissance, most of which are now part of the University of Pisa, including the Scuola Normale Superiore building, designed by the important Italian Renaissance artist and architect Giorgio Vasari. Look out also for the Palazzo dell'Orologio and the Chiesa di Santo Stefano, also designed by Vasari.



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