Giuseppe Garibaldi – The General (1807-1882)
by Andrew Martin Garvey
The name Garibaldi conjures up three images for many people: the man who was one of the principle figures of the House of Savoy led Italian Risorgimento, a teatime biscuit (currants or raisins) or a main street in many Italian cities.
In Turin, Garibaldi refers to the former and the latter: Via Garibaldi a main, pedestrian shopping street, which is named after Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) a man of many talents who was a revolutionary a general, a freemason, a politician, a horse thief, a seaman, a dictator, a hero (of Two Worlds – Europe and the Americas). The biscuit on the other hand was named after Garibaldi following his visit to England!
Giuseppe Garibaldi the man, was a colourful character at the battlefront of the Risorgimento – the political and social movement that eventually led to the unification of Italy, consolidating the different states on the Italian peninsula into one single state. Generally considered to be a bit of a loose cannon, Garibaldi was an enthusiastic idealist who caused more than a few headaches for the Risorgimento politicians.
Garibaldi was born in Nice, but served in the Piedmontese navy and came under the influence of republican Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-72) who represented the popular front of the Risorgimento. He joined Mazzini in a failed republican uprising, which ended up with him fleeing to South America with the threat of a death sentence back in Italy hanging over his head.
There he developed a penchant for ponchos and romantic, swashbuckling antics and it was only a matter of time before word of his reputation spread back to Europe. On returning in 1848, Garibaldi gathered a group of volunteer guerrilla fighters together called Red Shirts (Camicie Rosse) whose uniform was inspired by his military campaigns in Uruguay.
His raging military actions from the south to the north of Italy created a thorn in the side for Cavour in Piedmont who realised that Garibaldi was better on side than not despite their differing aims. Garibaldi wanted unification – Cavour and King Vittorio Emanuele were initially just working towards the expansion of Piedmont.
The King seduced Garibaldi away from the republican influence of Mazzini but appeared soon after to withdraw support when he decided to hand Nice over to France and failed to support Garibaldi’s famous Sicilian campaign with 1,000 men. This did not go down well. The south however voted to join Vittorio Emanuele’s united Italy in 1860 but Garibaldi’s request to be Viceroy of Naples fell on deaf ears. Considered a rival to the King’s own popularity and certainly a danger to conservative politicians, he was left to spend many of his days in self-imposed exile on the island of Caprera.
Via Garibaldi, the Turin street, which today stretches for almost a kilometre from Piazza Castello westwards to Piazza Statuto, was originally the Roman Decumanus Maximus, which stretched from the Porta Decumana (now behind Palazzo Madama in Piazza Castello to the Porta Praetoria which stood at what is today the crossroads with Via Garibaldi and Via della Consolata.
Previously to being named after Giuseppe Garibaldi the street had been known as Via Sant’Espedito (St Expeditus, the patron saint of merchants and navigators) and later Contrada Dora Grossa (after one of Turin’s rivers). When Turin was under the occupation of Napoleon the street was called Rue du Mont Cenis, because it led to the mountain pass between Piedmont and France of that name. When the House of Savoy returned from exile in Sardinia in 1814 the street once again became Contrada Dora Grossa. Some years after Italy had been proclaimed a Kingdom it became, in the 1880s, Via Giuseppe Garibaldi.
Other than the shops and cafes Via Garibaldi has some of Turin’s most interesting churches. Included among these is the Church of the Holy Trinity (Santissima Annuziata) at the corner of Via XX Settembre, the Church of the Holy martyrs (Santi Martiri) at number 25 and St Dalmatius (San Dalmazzo) at the corner of Via delle Orfane.
A couple of other interesting yet little known facts about Via Garibaldi is that it is almost “home” to what was the city’s largest private palazzo: Palazzo Saluzzo Paesana which was commissioned by the Marquises of Saluzzo to rival the Savoy’s palaces and which almost bankrupted the former sovereign House of Saluzzo.
The other thing is that one of Turin’s best schools, the Convitto Umberto I (or Humbert I College), is at the corner of Via Garibaldi and Via Bligny. The building that houses the school dates back to the early 18th century and was the work of three of the most famous architects who worked in Turin: Garove, Juvarra and Plantery.
Rather than go any further into Via Garibaldi it might be better to leave everything to the visitor and suggest that one of the other good things about Via Garibaldi is the fact that some of Turin’s most interesting streets lead off form it and offer visitors and residents alike some real treats to discover.