6 June 2016

Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour

Prime Minister died after creating a united Italy

Painting of camillo cavour
Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, depicted by
Michele Gordigiani in a painting circa 1850

The first Prime Minister of Italy, Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, died on this day in 1861 in Turin.

A leading figure in the struggle for Italian unification, Cavour died at the age of 50, only three months after taking office as Prime Minister of the new Kingdom of Italy. He did not live to see Venice and Rome become part of the Italian nation.

Cavour was born in 1810 in Turin, the second son of the fourth Marquess of Cavour. He was chosen to be a page to Charles Albert, King of Piedmont, when he was 14.

After attending a military academy he served in the Piedmont-Sardinian army but eventually resigned his commission and went to run his family’s estate at Grinzane in the province of Cuneo instead.

He then travelled extensively in Switzerland, France and England before returning to Turin where he became involved in politics.

Photo of Cavour statue
The monument to Cavour in front of the
Palace of Justice in Rome
Originally he was interested in enlarging and developing Piedmont-Sardinia economically rather than creating a unified Italy.

As Prime Minister he took the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia into the Crimean war hoping it would gain him the support of the allies for his plans for expansion.

But he became expert at playing off the French against the Austrians, charming the British and making use of Garibaldi. As a result, Cavour became the architect of the Risorgimento that eventually led to the creation of a united Italy ruled by the House of Savoy.

When the Kingdom was finally created in 1860 he became Victor Emmanuel II’s first Prime Minister.

But worry and hard work took their toll on Cavour and he became ill with malaria. He died while he was at the height of his career in 1861.

Today many Italian cities have streets and squares named after Cavour, who is considered to have been the person responsible for establishing the new unified Italy.

Photo of Grinzane Cavour
The Grinzane Cavour, near Turin, which was Cavour's
home from 1830 until his death in 1861

Travel tip:

The 13th century castle of Grinzane Cavour near Turin is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Camillo Benso Count of Cavour lived there from 1830 until his death in 1861. During his stays there he restored the building and improved the cultivation of the vines in the area. The castle has rooms dedicated to Cavour as well as the Cavour Regional Enoteca, which showcases the best wines produced in the region.

Travel tip:

Turin, where Cavour was born and died, is the capital city of the region of Piedmont. It is an important business centre and also has architecture demonstrating its rich history, which is linked with the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of ‘royal’ Turin.

More reading:

Victor Emmanuel II - first king of the united Italy

Giuseppe Mazzini - hero of the Risorgimento

(Photo of Grinzane Cavour by Sbisolo CC BY-SA 3.0)

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