A room in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico commemorates the first king of unified Italy.
Although Siena is a city with strong ties to the Middle Ages, one can easily find traces of another crucial era in the history of Italy: the Risorgimento.
The most important traces of the Siena during the Risorgimento are in Piazza del Campo, which is the beating heart of the city and it has always been the scene of major events and the symbol of citizens’ passion.
In the mid-19th century, Siena had a population of just over 32,000 inhabitants all living within the ancient walls, and the gates were guarded by customs guards. However, they didn’t prevent new ideas to enter and disturb the sleep of those who considered the Unification of Italy a mere accident, wishing for a prompt restoration of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and, above all, the temporal power of the Church.
Liberal ideas had set root in Siena. When Giuseppe Mazzini visited the city in 1830, several tricolour handkerchiefs had been confiscated, the distribution of which had been strictly forbidden by the central government. Giovine Italia was increasing in numbers, so much so that a concerned report by the government delegate pointed out that most schoolchildren were ‘imbued with modern maxims’.
Mazzini himself noted in August 1833 that ‘the Sienese are organised from top to bottom and liable to be spurred into action’. Therefore, Siena was a patriotic city from the very beginning.
So, it’s no wonder that after the death of Victor Emmanuel II in 1878, the Mayor Luciano Banchiwho was a fervent supporter of Risorgimento ideals since childhood, suggested to honour the first Italian sovereign by dedicating a space in the Palazzo Pubblico to him: the Risorgimento Hall. What’s more, many aren’t aware that Piazza del Campo was also named after him and was called Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II throughout the monarchical period.
The project involved the pictorial decoration of an entire room in the palace and the director of the Art Institute of Siena and committed patriot Luigi Mussini was called in to coordinate the work. Mussini hired the best Sienese artists, who created the cycle of frescoes that can be seen today in the so-called Risorgimento Hall, inaugurated in 1890.
Now part of the Museo Civic Museum of Siena, Visiting the Risorgimento Hall offers a glimpse into 19th-century history The frescoes by Pietro Aldi, Amos Cassioli and Cesare Maccari depict episodes from the Wars of Independence and celebrate the heroism of the patriots and Italy finally being united under the crown of King Victor Emmanuel II.
The room also contains several sculptures by 19th-century Sienese artists such as Giovanni Dupré, Tito Sarrocchi, and Enea Becheroni. Among these, the Tristitiadi Emilio Gallori was presented at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris where it was awarded a gold medal.
Two glass cabinets contain relics of the Risorgimento. Here we find the uniform worn by the king at the Battle of San Martino, which he had given to Luigi Mussini to thank him for a portrait he had painted for him. The second cabinet houses a photo, a red shirt and other Garibaldian objects that belonged to Luciano Raveggi (a native of Orbetello, Siena) who participated in the Expedition of the Thousand.
Where: Civic Museum, Palazzo Comunale (Piazza del Campo)
When: daily 10:00 am-7:00 pm (ticket office closes and last admission 6:15 pm)