Sunday, April 25, 2010

Getting the Boot

Magnet # 226:  Map of Italy

Material:  Metal

Purchased By:  Dad

Italy celebrates its Festa della Liberazione, or Liberation Day, today.  It's one of the most popular holidays in the nation and nearly all businesses, public offices, and even forms of public transportation are shut down to celebrate.  This event dates back to 1945, when dictator Benito Mussolini was finally removed from power.  Within days, he was executed and his body, along with those of other leading Fascists, was displayed in a piazza where 15 anti-Fascists had been executed.  By doing so, they made their message clear - Mussolini's Fascist Party had come to an end in Italy, and better times were ahead for the country.  The Italian's relief was so great, they are still celebrating 65 years later with parades, concerts, speeches, and other events in just about every town in the nation.  And those who were victims of the Nazis and members of the Italian Resistance are held in particularly high regard, along with soldiers.

Although the areas which now make up Italy have been settled for thousands of years, the Italian nation we are all familiar with didn't exist until 1861.  After the fall of Rome, areas of the region slowly began to break apart into city-states, each having their own identity in matters such as currencies and armies.  Many of these city-states, such as Florence, Pisa, Venice, and Milan, became very wealthy and successful, with their own distinctive feel.  In them, art, science, architecture, food, and literature flourished, particularly during the Renaissance.  But because they were not unified, these city-states also became attractive to invaders.  For many years, France and the Holy Roman Empire competed for control of Italy and later, Spain and Austria both waged war in the city-states.  And after the French Revolution, the idea of a unified Italy began to gain popularity among the populace.  Thanks to Napoleon, however, part of the northern territories came under French rule for just under two decades.  From this, representative assemblies were established and even more Italians longed to see a united country.  But Austria still had control over part of the area, and revolutions began to break out.  In Venice, Rome, and Tuscany, the citizens declared republics.  However, Austria soon took back control of what it had lost.  Most Italians soon realized that they wanted to be unified under the King of Sardinia, and its Prime Minister, Count Cavour played a key role in making that happen, creating an alliance with France that led to Austria being expelled from the area. And when Giuseppe Garibaldi and his army of red shirts, defeated the Kingdom of Naples for control of Sicily, it was available to be added to what would become the Kingdom of  Italy in 1861.  Yet challenges still lay ahead for the unified country, such as money troubles and a lack of industrialization.  And before they had even celebrated 100 unified years, Mussolini nearly tore Italy apart, bringing it to fight on the side of the Axis Powers and killing thousands of Italians.  But when he was gone, the country was able to become a republic, moving forward to better times.

The Republic of Italy was a long time in the making, and its citizens have much to be grateful for and proud of.  It's one of the most beautiful places in the world, and is one of Europe's leading tourist destinations, drawing in millions of visitors each year.  With its rich history that includes the ruins of Rome and Pompeii, and historic sites in Florence and Venice, the country is a fascinating look back at human history.  And it has some of the best foods and wines of any country, along with stunning works of Renaissance art.  The one thing that's surprising about Italy is that nearly everyone who travels there says it really is as great as it is said to be.  I've never seen it for myself, but I'd certainly like to someday - how could I not want to see Venice, where my favorite movie of all time, Dangerous Beauty was filmed?  Until then, I'll have to take nearly everyone else's word on just what a great place Italy is.

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