In the heart of Rome stands the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II), better known as Il Vittoriano.
This colossal monument to Italy's first king, Vittorio Emanuele II (b. 1820/r. 1861-78) was designed by a young architect, Giuseppe Sacconi (1854-1905). Work began in 1885 and, though it was inaugurated in 1911, the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Kingdom of Italy, the monument wasn't completed until 1937.
The centrepiece is a huge bronze statue of the king on horseback, which stands 12 metres (40 feet) high, making it the largest statue in the city. Cast in over a dozen pieces, the equestrian statue was begun by Enrico Chiaradia (1851-1901) and completed by Emilio Gallori (1846-1924). Before all of the pieces were assembled a group of dignitaries toasted the creation of the statue in, of all places, the horse's cavernous belly.
Around the base of the statue are 14 allegorical female figures, the work of Eugenio Maccagnani (1852-1930). They represent the noble cities (citta nobili) of Italy, with Turin, the birthplace of the king (and the first capital of Italy), enjoying pride of place in the centre. Moving counter-clockwise, the other cities are: Florence, Naples, Amalfi, Pisa, Ravenna, Bologna, Milan, Genoa, Ferrara, Urbino, Mantua, Palermo and Venice.
The Vittoriano is decorated with many more allegorical sculptures. The two fountains at the base of the monument represent the Tyrrhenian Sea (by Pietro Canonica) and the Adriatic Sea (Emilio Quadrelli).
At the foot of the broad flight of steps are two bronze sculptures: Thought by Giulio Monteverde and Action by Francesco Jerace. The four stone sculptures (above the fountains) depict, from left to right, Strength (Augusto Rivalta), Concord (Ludovico Poliaghi), Sacrifice (Leonardo Bistolfi), and Law (Ettore Ximenes),
The Vittoriano incorporates the Tomba del Milite Ignoto (Tomb of the Unknown Soldier), which is guarded day and night by two sentinels. Above the tomb is the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), the work of Angelo Zanelli (1879-1942). A figure of the Goddess Roma is enshrined on a pedestal, with classical friezes to either side: the Triumph of Labour and the Triumph of Patriotism.
The frieze of the portico is adorned with 16 colossal statues symbolising the Italian provinces. The two bronze quadrigae, which crown the monument, celebrate Unity (Carlo Fontana) and Liberty (Paolo Bartolini).
The panoramic terrace, at the top of the monument, offers spectacular views. Critics of the Vittoriano, of which there are many, are fond of joking that the best thing about the view from the terrace is that it is the only spot in Rome where you cannot see the monument!
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
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