Showing posts with label Uprising. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Uprising. Show all posts

16 September 2022

Sette e mezzo: The Palermo revolt of 1866

Insurgents took control of city after a major uprising 

Sicily had seen previous uprisings in the 19th century, such as this depicted in 1860 during the unification campaign
Sicily had seen previous uprisings in the 19th century,
such as this depicted in 1860 during the unification campaign
The Sette e mezzo revolt - so named because it lasted seven and a half days - began in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, on this day in 1866.

The uprising - five years after the island became part of the new Kingdom of Italy - brought to the surface the tensions that existed in southern Italy following the Risorgimento movement and unification.

It was put down harshly by the new government of Italy, who laid siege to the city of Palermo, deploying more than 40,000 soldiers under the command of General Raffaele Cadorna.

It is not known exactly how many Sicilians were killed before the revolt was subdued. Several thousand died as a result of a cholera outbreak that swept through Palermo and the surrounding area, but it is thought that more than 1,000 may have been killed as a direct consequence of the siege.

Sicily did not take well to the imposition of a national government, bringing with it plans to modernise the traditional economy and political system. New laws and taxes and the introduction of compulsory military service caused resentment. There was a feeling also that the industrialisation of Italy was too heavily concentrated in the north, with little investment being made in the south.

Government officials installed in new municipal offices were almost exclusively from the north and many seemed to regard Sicilians almost as barbarians.

General Raffaele Cadorna led the troops who were ordered to crush the revolt
General Raffaele Cadorna led the troops
who were ordered to crush the revolt
The local ruling elites frequently tried to undermine attempts by the national government to establish a police force and a liberal justice system and from 1861 onwards there were a series of small uprisings, often encouraged by local brigands who feared for the future of their own criminally acquired wealth.

On the morning of September 16, 1866, however, something much bigger and organised took place, with thousands of people from villages around Palermo gathering at the edge of the city, under the command of some of the island’s disenfranchised former political leaders.

Many were armed, some as the result of storming small government army garrisons. More than 4,000 attacked the prefecture and police headquarters, killing the inspector general of the Public Security Guard Corps. 

Similar violence took place in neighbouring towns as word of the Palermo uprising spread, including Monreale, Altofonte and Misilmeri. It is thought that there were possibly as many as 35,000 insurgents in Palermo and its province.

On September 22, seven and a half days after the rioters had begun to mobilise around Palermo, the fighting ceased.  The rioters had control of the city and the organised nature of their campaign became clear when a Revolutionary Committee was formed. The secretary was Francesco Bonafede, a follower of the northern revolutionary, Giuseppe Mazzini, and its membership included many figures from the traditional Sicilian aristocracy, including princes, barons and even clergymen, among them the Archbishop of Monreale, Monsignor Benedetto Purchase.

Yet the response of the new national government was uncompromising. On September 27, ships of the Italian Royal Navy bombarded Palermo, destroying the homes of hundreds of citizens, after which the cholera outbreak only accelerated, eventually claiming almost 4,000 victims.

Bandit groups were blamed for stirring up anti-government sentiments
Bandit groups were blamed for stirring
up anti-government sentiments
The  bombardment paved the way for 40,000 troops to be landed in the city, a force ultimately too powerful for the insurgents. House-to-house fighting destroyed still more buildings and rioters were rounded up and summarily executed. Almost 2,500 citizens were arrested, although fewer than 200 were ultimately convicted.

Army casualties were put at just over 200, along with 42 policemen. The number of insurgents killed is unknown and the estimated figure of 1,000 is probably an under-estimate.

Although this uprising was ultimately quelled, Sicily’s problems did not go away. Outbreaks of less organised violence continued, often blamed on local bandits, and the island’s economic difficulties led to increased emigration, particularly to the United States. Left-wing political groups gained popularity.

Yet Italy’s politicians on the mainland never effectively dealt with the economic imbalance between the north and south and this can be blamed, along with the dismantling of the traditional structures of society, for the growth and influence of organised crime in the shape of the Sicilian Mafia, as well as the Camorra in Naples and its surrounds, the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria and other groups.

Palermo's magnificent Cathedral of the  Assumption of the Virgin Mary
Palermo's magnificent Cathedral of the 
Assumption of the Virgin Mary
Travel tip:

Although Palermo has long been associated with the Mafia and organised crime, visitors to the city would normally witness nothing to suggest that the criminal underworld has any influence on daily life.  The Sicilian capital, on the northern coast of the island, is a vibrant city with a wealth of beautiful architecture bearing testament to a history of northern European and Arabian influences.  The church of San Cataldo on Piazza Bellini is a good example of the fusion of Norman and Arabic architectural styles, having a bell tower typical of those common in northern France but with three spherical red domes on the roof, while the city’s majestic Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary includes Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical elements. Palermo’s opera house, the Teatro Massimo is the largest in Italy and the third biggest in Europe.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova at Monreale is described as the finest Norman building in Sicily
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova at Monreale
is described as the finest Norman building in Sicily
Travel tip:

Monreale, which was also the scene of an uprising in 1866,  is an historic hill town about 12km (7 miles) west of Palermo. Its Cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova and the adjoining cloisters have been described as the finest Norman buildings in Sicily, its extravagant features in part down to the competition with Palermo to build the island’s greatest cathedral. The buildings have their origin in the 12th century, commissioned by the Norman ruler William II. Mosaic making is still taught in Monreale today, with many workshops around the town. The local cuisine is a mix of traditional Sicilian and cookery of Arab origins. 

Also on this day:

1797: The birth of Sir Anthony Panizzi, librarian at the British Museum

1841: The birth of revolutionary politician Alessandro Fortis

2005: The arrest of Camorra boss Paolo di Lauro


8 February 2016

Revolt in Padua

When students and citizens joined forces against their oppressors 

The Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua witnessed fighting in the 1848 uprising against the Austrians
The Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua witnessed fighting
in the 1848 uprising against the Austrians
An uprising against the Austrian occupying forces, when students and ordinary citizens fought side by side, took place on this day in Padua in 1848.

A street is now named Via VIII Febbraio to commemorate the location of the struggle between the Austrian soldiers and the students and citizens of Padua, when both the University of Padua and the Caffè Pedrocchi briefly became battlegrounds.

The Padua rebellion was one of a series of revolts in Italy during 1848, which had started with the Sicilian uprising in January of that year.

The Austrians were seen as arrogant and aggressive by ordinary citizens and the ideas of Giuseppe Mazzini and Camillo Benso Cavour about a united Italy were becoming popular with progressive thinkers.
Many students supported the ideas of the revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini
Many students supported the ideas of
the revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini

Students and professors at Padua University had been meeting in rooms at the University and in Caffè Pedrocchi to discuss their discontent.

The uprising began with the storming of a prison and prisoners being set free. Then many ordinary citizens came to fight alongside the students against the armed Austrians, who clubbed the Paduans with their guns as well as firing at them.

You can still see a hole in the wall of the White Room inside Caffè Pedrocchi made by a bullet fired by an Austro-Hungarian soldier at the students.

Both Paduans and Austrian soldiers were killed and wounded in the fighting. Many people were arrested by the soldiers and in a crackdown later, some students and professors were expelled from the university.

The revolt was short lived and there was no other rebellion  in Padua against the Austrians. But the 8 February uprising was thought to have encouraged Charles Albert of Savoy, King of Sardinia-Piedmont, to later declare war on Austria.

In 1866 Italy finally expelled the Austrians from the Veneto and Padua became annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.

Travel tip:

Right in the centre of Padua, the Caffè Pedrocchi has been a meeting place for business people, students, intellectuals and writers for nearly 200 years. Founded by coffee maker Antonio Pedrocchi in 1831, the café was designed in neoclassical style and each side is edged with Corinthian columns. It quickly became a centre for the Risorgimento movement and was popular with students and artists because of its location close to Palazzo del Bò, the main university building. It became known as 'the café without doors', as it was open day and night for people to talk, read, play cards and debate. Caffè Pedrocchi is now a Padua institution and a 'must see' sight for visitors. You can enjoy coffee, drinks and snacks all day in the elegant surroundings.

The Basilica di Sant'Antonio dates back to the 13th century
The Basilica di Sant'Antonio in Padua
Travel tip:

The University of Padua was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna . The main university building, Palazzo del Bò in Via VIII Febbraio in the centre of Padua, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the lectern used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610. Other sights that are a must-see on a visit to Padua include the 13th century Basilica di Sant'Antonio.

More reading:

Giuseppe Mazzini - hero of the Risorgimento

Sicilian revolt that sparked a year of uprisings

The Five Days of Milan

Also on this day:

1591: The birth of Baroque master Guercino

1751: The death of Trevi Fountain architect Nicola Salvi