The Wedding Cake (Altare della Patria)

Before the funeral of Vittorio Emanuele II, who died suddenly at the youthful age of 57 on January 9th 1878, the possibility of erecting a monument in honour of the first King of a unified Italy was discussed during the assembly of the municipal council. As King of Sardinia and then Italy for almost 29 years, he had been the protagonist of epic deeds in the eyes of his people. His reputation was heroic, a king heaven sent, a father figure to all.

On March 16th a decree was issued by Minister Giuseppe Zanardelli. It was the green light for a national monument dedicated to the memory of the king. Eight million lire was set aside for the triumphal ark.

Construction of the monument meant that considerable sacrifices would have to be made as regards artistic and archaeological heritage. An entire medieval district was demolished. The convent of Ara Coeli (Heaven’s Altar) was demolished. Paolo III’s tower and the viaduct connecting it to “Palazzetto Venezia” were demolished. Giulio Romano’s home was demolished. Pietro da Cortona’s workshop was demolished. The old “Via della Pedacchia”, “Via Macel de’ Corvi” (crow’s slaughterhouse), and Madame Lucrezia’s alley also disappeared.

On March 22nd 1885, the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone came to pass in the presence of the Italian Royal Family. Sacconi’s project was inspired by monumental classic complexes such as Pergamon’s altar and Palestrina’s temple. The monument was intended to have been an open space, an agora, open to all citizens inside a sort of banked square in the heart of Imperial Rome.

A legoland staircase flanked by two winged lions leads to the “Altae of the Motherland”, which itself supports an “alto-rilievo” (high relief) by Angelo Zanelli. A colossal equestrian bronze of Vittorio Emanuele II by Enrico Chiaradia is the highlight, lowlight, or darklight, depending on your point of view. The grand portico (porch) with columns reaching 15 metres high, and two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas – an allegorical representation of supreme victory – were created by Carlo Fontana and Paolo Bartolini.

Today it dominates Piazza Venezia, obscuring much of the Roman Forum. Those of us who have a vested interest in ancient Roman history would pay well to see it demolished. Italians are ambivalent and they have plenty of less than endearing nicknames for their wedding cake, including “English soup”. Either way, tens of thousands of snap happy tourists love it. Mildy disconcerting to say the least.


Italy in Poland

When Toto Di Natale’s goal put Italy ahead last Sunday, screams of ‘daje’ from neighbouring apartments punctuated an otherwise peaceful Roman evening. Those of us who pay attention to the appalling state of Italian football could not hide our disappointment. Football here has fallen far. Players who pay friends who pay acquaintances who know others to bet, or worse, pay business associates on the other side of the world to close match fixing deals are alive and well, and in Stefano Mauri’s case, in jail. The Lazio captain may have been scapegoated, but after the Doni affair and a host of other worrisome incidents, it is clear that corruption in Italy is a bloodline which runs deep. Nick Squires of The Telegraph summed up the reality of Italy last November.

If it is possible to clear the names of those involved, it’ll be a massive boost for a country in the doldrums in every sense. The Italian football fans I know have, to their credit, become thick skinned to block the endless stream of newsbytes detailing the many soap operas of corrupt football players they used to support, for whom the lure of lucre seems to be overpowering. As ambassadors for the city in which they play, and in many cases, their country, astronomical salaries ought to control economic woes. The solution, unfortunately, is life bans for the guilty. Club football here can still win the day. For now, however, it’s in the hands of the national team against Croatia and the Republic of Ireland.

For visitors to Rome, for the time being, we don’t recommend paying to watch a football match in the Stadio Olimpico, as who knows who’s paid who to perform or underperform. We can, however, recommend one or more of our Vatican tours in Rome which offer excellent value for money. Ok, Raphael may have plagiarized Michelangelo but that’s another article for another day.