- Probably no other city has been so central for the development of European civilization as Rome. The city’s modern history has been characterized by its unique role as the dual capital of both world Catholicism and the secular Italian state. Between 1798, when the short-lived Roman republic was formed, and 1870, when Italian troops occupied the town and made the “eternal city” the capital of the new Italian state, Rome’s status as the capital of the Papal States was a perennial source of internal and international tension. In 1849, a second Roman Republic fought heroically against French troops, who eventually restored the city to the pope; in 1861 and 1867, the French again ensured that papal authority over the city remained intact. Only when the French were defeated by Germany in 1870 was the Italian army able to enter Rome through Porta Pia. Memorialists recall that from the window sills along the entry route, Piedmontese flags with the heraldic symbol of the House of Savoy suddenly appeared in place of the theretofore ubiquitous white and gold of the papal banner. Cries of “Long Live the King!” and “Long Live Italy!” accompanied the fanfares of Bersaglieri bands. A provincial plebiscite held two weeks later resulted in 133,681 votes in favor of annexation and only 1,507 opposed. The probability of becoming the national capital had an immeasurable influence on that electoral outcome. Rome became the capital of Italy in 1871, and Pope Pius IX declared himself to be a prisoner in the Vaticanand began a period of tension between the secular state and the Church that lasted until the 1929 signature of the Lateran pacts.Rome’s population expanded greatly after it became capital. Only 244,000 in 1870, it had reached 1.6 million by 1931 and over 2,000,000 by the early 1960s. Huge new suburbs were built, the most important of which, from the architectural point of view, is EUR (Esposizione Universale di Roma), designed by the urbanist and architect Marcello Piacentini between 1938 and 1942 and constructed after the war. Rome suffered much less than many other Italian cities during World War II. It fell to the Allies on 4 June 1944, and became the seat of the provisional government. This does not mean that the war was without its costs for the people of the city. On 23 March 1944, Roman partisans bombed a truckload of German guards, killing 32 soldiers. For each dead German, the outraged commander had 10 prisoners (starting with Jews) killed in the Ardeatine caves. Although the entrance to the caves was blown up and sealed after the massacre, witnesses were aware of what had been done, and the site was uncovered within a month. It is today the site of an annual commemoration ceremony. The German officer in charge, Erich Priebke, was extradited and placed on trial for war crimes in 1996.Rome hosted the Olympics in 1960 and the final of the World Cup in 1990. In 2000, the Catholic Church held a rare Jubilee that brought millions of pilgrims to the city from all over the world. The relationship between the secular state and the Vatican remains a core concern even today. Rome is, however, the center of Italian political life (all the principal parties have their headquarters in Rome except for the Lega Nord/Northern League [LN]). In recent years, the city administration has made notable strides in protecting and valorizing Rome’s unique architectural and artistic heritage, and the city, which not so long ago was a symbol of bureaucratic inefficiency and urban decline, is now enjoying something of a cultural and economic boom. Rome is the only southern Italian city able to match the wealthy towns of the North in terms of income per capita.
Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. Mark F. Gilbert & K. Robert Nilsson. 2007.
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