This post is part of my irregular series on the study of flags known as vexillology. Today I look at Italy, which forms half of my father’s heritage.
The Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815) threw France and the rest of Europe, and the United States indirectly, into years of chaos. They wrought much change in the political atmosphere in that continent – in flags and otherwise.
Before unification under the House of Savoy from 1848 to 1861, Italy flew under many flags, as the nation was divided into independent states, such as the Republic of Genoa and Republic of Florence, that each had their own flag. The modern-day Italian flag is a legacy of French Republics who resided in northern Italy in the late 18th century. They designed the flag of the Transpadane Republic, the provisional government of Napoleon Bonaparte in Milan.
The tricolor French banner served as inspiration for the Transpadane Republic’s. It featured three vertical bars colored green, white, and red. The Cisalipne and Cispadine Republics – short-lived republics in northern Italy – had similar designs. (The flag of the former was taller; the flag of the latter had horizontal bands and a crest in the middle.)
Why green, white, and red? There are several explanation. Some harken the culinary symbolism of the colors; others point to the cardinal virtues of hope, faith, and charity that Dante wrote about in Divine Comedy; still others claim that the colors come from those of regional flags – the white and red of Milan and the green of a regional military. I’m inclined to believe the last.
The Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815 with the Congress of Vienna that left Italy fragmented among the victors. The patriot Giuseppe Mazzini spurred the movement toward unification in 1831. Nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi was instrumental in the creation of the Kingdom of Italy , finally achieved in 1861. Until 1946, the flag of the Kingdom of Italy was the same as that of the Transpadane Republic, with the addition of the House of Savoy shield in the white band.
On January 1, 1948, the Italian Republic adopted the flag we know today.
Other “Flag Study” posts