ROMErome and the french revolution
papal rome, 1814–1870: political change
papal rome, 1814–1870: economy and society
rome, 1870–1914: urban transformation
rome's contested identities
rome before world war i
In the century between the French Revolution and World War I, Rome experienced changes as great as any in its long and adventurous history. From its beginning as the seat of the bishop of Rome, the Eternal City became the residence of the supreme pontiff of the Catholic world and in the eighth century became the capital of the pope's temporal dominions in central Italy (the Papal State). Over the centuries the city had become the architectural embodiment of papal power, but when the new kingdom of Italy was created in the mid-nineteenth century, Rome acquired a new secular vocation as Italy's new capital. In September 1870 Italian troops occupied the city, and the pope's temporal powers came to an end. A spiritual but no longer a secular ruler, the pope withdrew across the river Tiber to become a self-imposed "prisoner" with his cardinals in the Vatican City; and in the decades that followed, Rome's appearance, social structure, and functions changed radically. It never became an industrial city like Turin, Milan, Genoa, or Florence, but the city had always held an irresistible symbolic meaning for Italian nationalists. The city's new and often deeply contradictory Italian identities had still to contend, however, with its past.
Papal Rome had long been the center of the Catholic world, but in the eighteenth century the city found a new place on the itineraries of the grand tour and acquired a reputation as one of Europe's best party towns. Wealthy travelers mingled with the faithful to admire the city's monuments and art treasures and to enjoy its unparalleled public spectacles and festivals, notably the carnival. Although papal Rome could never be a center of the Enlightenment, in the final decades of the century numerous reform projects were initiated by Pope Pius VI (r. 1775–1799).
The revolution in France and the wars that followed brought all this to an end, and for Rome the immediate consequences were economic recession, invasion, and foreign occupation. A French army occupied the city in February 1798, set up a republican government, and carried Pope Pius VI off into exile, where he died a year later. So did the Republic, but when French armies returned to Italy in 1800 Rome initially maintained a precarious independence until 1808, when it was again occupied and a year later annexed to France.
Napoleon never visited Rome, but he dreamed of making it the second city of the empire. Joseph Valadier was commissioned to design a grandiose imperial forum around the Porta del Popolo, where a magnificent royal villa was to be surrounded by the "Gardens of the Great Caesar" on the Pincio. But when Napoleon's empire collapsed in 1814 work had barely begun, and the costs of French imperial rule had been heavy. The city's art treasures were plundered and its economy was devastated by economic recession and the Continental Blockade: between 1789 and 1814 the city's population had fallen from 185,000 to 135,000.
In 1814 the Congress of Vienna restored Pope Pius VII (r. 1800–1823) to his former title as king of the Papal State, which as well as Rome included the central Italian provinces of Emilia, Romagna, the Marche, and Lazio. But after the Restoration, Rome would never regain its eighteenth-century exuberance. Pius VII's successor, Pope Leo XII (r. 1823–1829) closed the city's cafés and theaters and banned the carnival. Foreign tourists stayed away, and even the British diplomatic envoy left the city because there was nothing to do. The pope's death in 1829 was greeted with celebrations, but things changed little under his successor Gregory XVI (r. 1831–1846).
Then in 1831 and 1832 the Papal State was the theater for major insurrections. Those were quickly suppressed by an Austrian army, but it was evident that papal rule was bitterly resented in central Italy, where sympathy for the Italian nationalist movement was strong. This was not the case in Rome, which enjoyed many privileges as the seat of papal government. But that did not lessen the expectations, when in 1846 a pope who was believed to sympathize with the liberal
nationalist program was elected as Pius IX. As a result, when revolutions broke out in other parts of Italy at the beginning of 1848 Rome was soon at the forefront of events.
Pope Pius IX (r. 1846–1878) quickly disappointed the nationalists, however, and in April refused to take part in the war against Austria. The government's failure to introduce reforms also provoked unrest in Rome and when Rosolino Pilo, the moderate leader appointed by the pope, was assassinated in November, Pius IX took the opportunity to flee the city in a closed carriage, disguised as a woman. Followed by his cardinals he took refuge in the Kingdom of Naples and appealed to the Catholic rulers to restore him to his capital.
In Rome, meanwhile, the Roman Republic was formally declared on 9 February 1849 and began to implement radical reforms. But the flight of the pope had caused serious unemployment, and the city was now threatened by the armies of the Catholic rulers of Naples and Spain and of the new French Republic that had responded to the pope's appeal for help. On 30 April, nine thousand French troops commanded by General Charles Oudinot laid siege to the city, whose defense was organized by Giuseppe Garibaldi. The French finally over-came the heroic resistance and occupied the city on 3 July, but thanks to Garibaldi's skillful retreat many of the defenders escaped.
After the heroic fall of the Roman Republic, "Rome or Death" became the battle cry that rallied nationalists throughout Italy. But Rome was now occupied by a French army that remained on the pretext of protecting the pope, which enabled the French emperor Napoleon III (r. 1852–1871) to play a key role in the politics of Italian unification. When in 1860 the pope lost most of his temporal dominions, French support enabled Pius IX to hold on to Rome. Garibaldi made two attempts to liberate the city, but both ended in disaster: the first at Aspromonte in 1862 and the second at Mentana, on the city's periphery, in 1867. But when in September 1870 Napoleon III was defeated by the Prussians at the battle of Sedan, the city's fate was sealed: on 20 September 1870 Italian bersaglieri (light infantry) breached the city walls near the Porta Pia and papal Rome finally made way for the capital of the new Italy, which was proclaimed a year later.
In 1814 Rome was the third largest city in Italy, after Naples (450,000) and Palermo (180,000). It was still a walled city whose gates were shut at night, and inside the city walls there was still a great deal of farmland. The population lived concentrated along the banks of the river Tiber, which frequently flooded. Over four thousand Romans worked as agricultural laborers, and the other main sources of employment were domestic and other service activities. There were no industries except for home-based textile spinning and weaving and the state-run tobacco factory that was opened in Trastevere in the 1850s.
The population lived in extreme poverty, supported by the large number of convents and religious orders that were concentrated in the poorest districts—Monti, Trevi, Pigna, and Trastevere. In 1871 a third of the population was estimated to be permanently dependent on welfare, and among the poorest were the inhabitants of the Jewish ghetto. At the beginning of the century the French had abolished the regulations forbidding the Jews from leaving the ghetto, but these were reinstated after the Restoration, and in 1825 Pope Leo XII ordered the ghetto to be enlarged. In 1847 Pius IX ordered that the walls of the ghetto be destroyed, but this was revoked in 1850 and the Jews were again deprived of civil liberties.
Rome was primarily a city of priests, prelates, and the religious. They accounted for 5 percent of the population in the 1850s and together with the city's six hundred churches and convents were the principal consumers of the goods that were landed at the two busy ports on the Tiber: the Ripagrande and the Porto di Ripetta. Visitors also played an important part in the city's economy. In papal Jubilee years their numbers might reach one hundred thousand, and there was always a steady traffic of clerics on ecclesiastical business. The city was also a magnet for an ever-growing stream of international travelers, art-lovers, artists, and tourists, to cater for whom Rome could offer 30 hotels, 14 inns, 31 restaurants, 712 hostelries, and 217 cafés—more than any other Italian city in the mid-nineteenth century.
Down to the time of unification, agriculture continued to be the mainstay of the city's economy. To the immediate south the Pontine Marshes were infested by malarial swamps, but the rest of the vast plain surrounding the city was divided into huge estates known as latifundia. Two-fifths of property in the city and one-third of the rural estates were owned by religious foundations, while most of the rest belonged to a small number of very wealthy aristocratic families—the Borghese, the Chigi, and the Sforza Cesarini.
Except for the small number of agents who managed the estates of the great noble families and a few wealthy bankers like the Torlonia, papal Rome had no commercial middle class while public administration and education was controlled exclusively by the clergy. Nonetheless, ecclesiastical ritual, wealthy private patrons, and foreign tourists created a strong demand for a variety of luxury trades. The census of 1866 listed over 1,500 goldsmiths and jewelers, dozens of botteghe specializing in making mosaics or works in bronze or marble, and dealers in antiques and artworks of every kind.
In the decades after 1870 Rome's physical appearance and social composition changed rapidly. Despite serious cholera outbreaks (in 1837, 1854/ 5, and 1867) immigration had already caused the population to rise to 220,000 by the time of unification, but over the next thirty years it more than doubled, jumping to 300,000 in 1880 and then to 460,000 by 1900.
In the 1850s the Belgian cardinal Frederick Xavier de Mérode had made the first attempt to devise an urban development project, but the papal government had no means to fund this. As a result, in 1870 Rome was still a city "without sewers, without street lighting, without any wide boulevards or wholesale markets, with few manufacturers, no
industries and no industrial working class districts" (quoted in Vidotto, p. 129).
Rebuilding the capital was one of the new government's main priorities, but it too was very short of money. Developing a city that contained some of the finest architecture in Europe also raised major technical and artistic issues, but the greatest obstacles were municipal political rivalries, which meant that most of the development took place without any planning or regulation. The German historian Ferdinand Gregorovius described the speed with which former monasteries and convents were commandeered for the new ministries and public buildings while housing projects began to spring up everywhere. But these were insufficient to cater to the thousands of immigrants who were drawn to the city in search of work, so that conditions in the already overcrowded working-class districts like Trastevere and Testaccio deteriorated even further.
In 1883 an urban development plan was finally approved. It provided for a new central thoroughfare (the Via Nazionale, linking the Termini Station to the Piazza Venezia) and new arterial roads to be named after Count Cavour (Camillo Benso; 1810–1861) and Victor Emmanuel II (1820–1878). New residential districts (Flaminio and Prati) were also projected for the army of white-collar workers needed to staff the new government offices, and the more crowded districts of the centro storico (city center) and the ghetto were to be demolished. The immediate consequence, however, was a speculative building boom that quickly spiraled out of control. When this burst in 1887 the crash nearly brought down the entire Italian banking system, and Rome's economy did not recover for over a decade. That was not the only damage, however, and one English observer sadly concluded that "twenty-two years of Piedmontese government have done more to destroy Rome than all the invasions of the Goths and the Vandals" (Hare, p. 12).
Except for the new elevated embankments to protect the city from the recurrent flooding of the Tiber, government funds went mainly to prestigious projects designed to impose an Italian identity on the old papal city. Among the most important of the new ministries was the monumental Palace of Justice and the no-less-grandiose memorial to King Victor Emmanuel II (r. 1861–1878) that dominates the heart of the city today.
Parliament voted the funds for the monument to Italy's first king shortly after his death in 1878, but it was not completed until 1906. From the start the project was surrounded by controversy. By no means did all Italians recognize the monarch to be the nation's principal representative. Its siting between the Campidoglio, the Roman Forum, and the Ara Coeli convent was intended to stress continuities with the past, but every aspect of its design was fraught with polemic and financial problems that caused endless delay.
Republicans, democrats, monarchists, and Catholics rehearsed the same symbolic battles over every public ceremony, the naming of every street and piazza, and the erection of every statue. The decision to bury King Victor Emmanuel II in the Pantheon in 1878 pleased republicans but infuriated Catholics and the dynasty's Piedmontese loyalists. Attempts to bury Pius IX in 1881 provoked an anticlerical riot that nearly caused the pope's bier to finish in the Tiber. The inauguration of the statue to the philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) in the Campo dei Fiori in 1889 and of the equestrian memorial to Garibaldi on the Janiculum in 1895—provocatively overlooking St. Peter's—were both aggressive and officially endorsed anticlerical provocations. But the church never relinquished its hold on the city, and the revival of the papal Jubilee celebrations in 1900 marked the start of a concerted counteroffensive that was reinforced by popular new Marian cults and powerful lay Catholic organizations.
After 1900 the city's economy recovered, thanks in part to increased trade, tourism, and above all the expansion of public administration: 20 percent of the active population were by now state employees. The government finally made special funds available for urban development, and in 1907 an energetic anticlerical administration headed by Ernesto Nathan (1845–1921), the son of a Jewish family of Italian descent born in London, came to power. As in many other Italian and European cities at this time, measures were taken to promote public services, municipal transport, establish primary schools, improve public hygiene, and enforce development regulations. But in 1914 Nathan's administration was decisively defeated by a conservative and clerical alliance that remained firmly in control of the nation's capital as Italy entered World War I. A newfound sense of national solidarity was reflected in closer rapprochement between church and state, and the monument to Victor Emmanuel II was renamed the Altar of the Fatherland. The solidarity did not outlive the war, but that did not lessen Rome's symbolic attraction, which was why Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) chose it as the setting for the fascist seizure of power in October 1922.
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John A. Davis