What we can learn from Giuseppe Garibaldi


In May 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi landed in Sicily with about 1,000 patriotic Italians. From there the general marched north and collected thousands more. Together they united most of the Italian peninsula, which had previously been split up and ruled by foreign powers. This political Risorgimento (Resurrection) would be completed after the conquest of Rome in 1871, creating a new, unified land: Italy. Garibaldi’s triumph in the face of adversity and inspiring personality made him a character with rare visions. Visiting Italy today means meeting him everywhere: in Piazza Garibaldi, Corso Garibaldi or Via Garibaldi in villages and towns across the country.

What is less known is that he led a similar march in 1849 that had a major impact on the 1860 campaign. This earlier march ended in a bitter but noble failure.

Amid the liberal revolutions in Europe in 1848, Garibaldi – a Nice-born nationalist, republican, and radical – returned to Italy after 14 years of struggle in South America. He offered his support to the Roman Republic, a short-lived state that was formed when the Pope abandoned the liberal upsurge and left its territories. After a bold but unsuccessful defense of republican Rome against the French, inspired by the revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini, Garibaldi’s forces were on the defensive. On July 2, 1849, he gathered his followers in the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome and urged them to one last struggle for freedom. American journalist Margaret Fuller observed that he looked like a “hero of the Middle Ages”.

The patriots marched across the country, evading the military of conservative France, Spain, Naples and Austria, who were supposed to end this last breath of 1848 before seeking refuge in the small state of San Marino and finally disbanding. Garibaldi fled first into exile in Great Britain and then to the USA. But the doomed march gave him a new political understanding that would allow him to change the map of Europe 11 years later. It’s a raging fairy tale, suitable for a movie.


The man himself was a cocktail of paradoxes: obscure but heroic, reserved but inspiring, “the man who has brown eyes but everyone thinks they are blue,” as one observer put it. In 1849, at the age of 42, he made an eccentric pose in his gaucho’s poncho and sombrero. So did his accomplices and followers, known as Garibaldini, in their brightly colored clothing. There was Anita, his fearless, pregnant Brazilian wife; Gustav von Hoffstetter, his idealistic Bavarian adjutant; the uneducated but ingenious populist Ciceruacchio; and the hardworking 13 year old Gaetano Sacchi; not to mention the broader crowd of patriots, thrill seekers and idlers who accompanied their march from Rome.

Almost exactly 170 years later, in the summer of 2019, the author Tim Parks and his partner Eleanora set out with rucksacks to walk the 250 mile journey of the Garibaldini; the path of a unifying person through a still noticeably fragmented country. The resulting book is a dream for armchair globetrotters – especially for those who are restricted to their own country this summer by Covid-19. But Parks interweaves his travelogue with thought-provoking reflections on leadership, history, memory, politics, idealism, and the true meaning of love for one’s homeland.

Parks is a novelist and non-fiction chronicler of modern Italy, but also a translator for authors such as Calvino, Moravia and Machiavelli. Like any good translator, he tries to conjure up the original. With the aim of taking a walk “as close as possible to the Garibaldini experience”, he uses detailed descriptions of the march by people like Hoffstetter as well as modern hiking apps to recreate the route.

Your path is therefore not straightforward; the Garibaldini had to use feint and distraction to escape their pursuers. They hurried from Rome to Tivoli in the east, then northwest to Todi in Umbria, then described an arc through Tuscany before reaching San Marino – now independent, also because it briefly protected the supporters of the association at the time – where Garibaldi finally his When it turned out, he could not stop the Austrians.

Along the same route, Parks shows us many of the complex realities of the land that Garibaldi helped shape. There is a lot of humorous coexistence between the small needs of the modern hiker (washing the sink, sweat-soaked hiking equipment, bubbles and in one case a broken Nespresso machine) and those of the marchers (threatened with death by foreign powers), sleeping on hard, confiscated monastery floors the gloomy prospect of dry wells and springs at the end of long road days).

In addition, through their loyalty to the historical route, the author and his partner have achieved something like a cross-section through today’s Italy. Your walk will capture the land that isn’t always featured in travel brochures and olive oil advertisements. Yes, the mountain towns, idyllic vineyards and ancient monuments are there. The two hikers sip glasses of ice-cold cedrata in wonderfully historic, sun-drenched places. But they also fear for their lives as they rush down thunderous, dusty streets made grim with graffiti and rubbish; they are molested by dogs and blackberries; they pass emptying villages; they encounter the poorly integrated and vilified lower class of African migrants who clean cars, pick fruit and scrub floors. Park’s deep affection for Italy and all of its flaws – present in his writings since his earliest non-fiction books – is implicit and imperative.

[see also: Why Italy remains ungovernable]

As the walk goes on, his book deepens. The more time the two hikers spend following in Garibaldi’s footsteps, the more they feel connected to the places they pass through. Parks writes of a growing “awareness of the uninterrupted intensification of physical contact with the land” and something like an addiction: “We don’t want this accumulation to be interrupted.” When they finally reach the Italian east coast at Cesenatico, where Garibaldi is in the waves crashed, in order not to give up on Italian soil, they feel the need to follow him further. To do this, take a train up the coast to Ravenna.

Historical responses are increasing. When Parks encounters a man leading a horse, he ponders the intimate relationship that must have existed between the cavalrymen in Garibaldi’s lost troops and the horses they rode: “What trust… like the beast in the dark on you felt steep stony river bed. “Garibaldi, we learn, had a close connection to the landscapes he encountered. “He has started to show the way himself”, noted his companion Badarlon the last flight to the sea. “It was as if he had always lived here in the country. He had the nose of a dog, the eye of a hawk. ”He really was a citizen of somewhere.

And yet, in today’s terminology, he was also a citizen out of nowhere. The Risorgimento It was about the abolition of foreign rule in the interests of the people, but Garibaldi was by no means a reactionary. He lived as freely as he dressed, he fought for the freedoms of several nations, he was against standing armies (in his opinion military forces should only be formed for a specific purpose) and he spoke four languages. “Garibaldi would have been a remainer, wouldn’t he?” Eleanora ponders. “He was an internationalist. Proud to be a citizen of four or five countries. ”

Contemporary Italian politics often feels like a contest between liberal, internationalist technocrats (such as the youngest Prime Minister, former President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi) and far-right nationalists (including Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni of the emerging Brothers of Italy party) ). What place for a hero from somewhere and somewhere in a country where these two are so opposite?


There is an ongoing debate about Garibaldi’s historical role. Mussolini’s fascists called him one of their own: the “first fascist”. Parks argues convincingly against it when he talks about his stroll through an Italy whose internal security was then under the control of the right-wing extremist Salvini, then Minister of the Interior. In fact, on his way, Parks meets various normal Italians who have been seduced by conspiracy theories that Garibaldi was part of a globalist, liberal conspiracy. “He would never have landed in Sicily if he hadn’t been protected by Jewish bankers and English lords,” says an otherwise kind vintage car park in a grocery store in a village north of Rome.

If Garibaldi’s legacy is unclear, it is partly because he was a pragmatic idealist. The March of Rome in 1849 – its failure and subsequent exile – showed Garibaldi and his unity campaigners that, as Parks puts it, “they must give up all talk of social revolution and republicanism.” When he landed in Sicily eleven years later, he did so with a new dose of realpolitik that supported a monarchy (that of Piedmont in northwestern Italy) and the bourgeoisie.

Garibaldi was a Republican revolutionary who made a deal with the establishment; a nationalist internationalist and a humble, reserved man who has become the icon of an exuberant nation. Understanding such paradoxes means following in his footsteps.

The Hero’s Way: Walking with Garibaldi from Rome to Ravenna
Tim Parks
Harvill Secker, 384 pp., € 20

[see also: Mussolini and the rise of fascism]


Leave A Reply