In Rome, a New Museum Worth Celebrating

A Roman museum devoted to 19th century hero Giuseppe Garibaldi is a bright spot amid the gloomy news from Italy

View from Piazza Garibaldi in Rome
View from Piazza Garibaldi in Rome Image courtesy of Flickr user StefZ

Yearlong celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Italy unification are now winding down as the economy totters, protesters take to the streets and Silvio Berlusconi step downs, leaving a void in the president’s palace on Rome’s Quirinale Hill. Talk about an anticlimax.

So I‘m happy to report that the anniversary has brought something really worth celebrating in the form of a new Roman museum dedicated to revolutionary gadabout Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882), a central player in the creation of modern Italy; when sentenced to death for his participation in a 1834 uprising in northern Italy, he fled to South America where he fought for Uruguayan independence from Brazil, which is why he is known as “the hero of two worlds.” Fractious Italians aren’t unanimously in love with the great man. Nevertheless, almost every town has its via or piazza Garibaldi.

To reach Rome‘s Museo Storico Garibaldino, follow via Garibaldi from Trastevere up the Janiculum Hill on the west side of the Eternal City. Along the way you‘ll encounter a host of red-letter sites like the Church of San Pietro in Montorio with Bramante’s Tempietto, a Renaissance landmark, and the American Academy in Rome, founded in 1894 in a glorious building designed by the McKim, Mead and White. Carry on to the Porta di San Pancrazio, which was the scene of a bloody battle in 1849 between a revolutionary army headed by Garibaldi and superior French forces supporting an anti-Republican pope. Overmastered, the Garibaldini retreated, but lived to fight another day.

The museum is in the gate, restored after unification. It holds artifacts relating to the Italian hero and exhibits about the Garibaldi Division posted to Yugoslavia during World War II, where it fought against Germany after Italy capitulated to the Allies in 1943.

Walk on from there along the Passeggiata del Gianicolo which will take you to a proud equestrian statue of the Italian rebel and another to his Brazilian wife Anita who shouldered arms during the battle at San Pancrazio and died in the retreat, carrying their unborn child. If you’re arrive at noon when cannon fire marks midday, so much the better.

Viva Garibaldi. Via Italia.

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