The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II)—also known as the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Motherland) or Il Vittoriano—is a monument built to honor Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy. The neo-classic structure in white marble occupies a site between the Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill in Rome. Designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885, it was inaugurated in 1911 and completed in 1935.
After the death of Vittorio Emanuele II, in 1878, it was decided to erect a monument to celebrate il Padre della Patria and, by association, the Risorgimento. An international design competition was held in 1880 and won by Henri Paul Nénot; ultimately, however, he did not continue with the project. Another competition was launched in 1882, with participation limited to Italian designers. A detailed list of recommendations was drawn up for the project, which called for a complex to be sited at the north elevation of the Campidoglio, in line with the Via del Corso, with a bronze equestrian statue of the King. The competitors had a year to deliver the project. From the ninety eight proposals submitted, a young architect from Le Marche, Giuseppe Sacconi, was chosen as the winner.
In order to construct the monument it was necessary to carry out numerous evictions and demolitions in the area adjacent to the Capitol. During excavations, the Insula dell'Ara Coeli was uncovered (an insula was the most common form of housing in Imperial Rome), as well as other ancient ruins.
The equestrian statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, the focus of the monument, was completed in 1889 by Emilio Gallori and inaugurated in 1911. After the death of Sacconi, in 1905, work continued under the direction of Gaetano Koch, and Manfredo Manfredi Pio Piacentini. The monument was inaugurated by Vittorio Emanuele III June 4, 1911, during the International Exposition for the fiftieth anniversary of the Unification of Italy. Work on the monument continued for some time, though, and the complex was not completed until 1935.
Features of Il Vittoriano
A fundamental element of the monument are the neo-classical porch columns. Each entrance porch is decorated with two bronze chariots surmounted by winged Victories (Quadrighe dell'Unità e della Libertà).
- Altare della Patria: the Altar of the Motherland, designed by the sculptor Angelo Zanelli Brescia, who won a competition in 1906, is the most famous part of the monument. It is located just beyond the front steps; in front of it is the guard of honor and the great statue of the goddess Roma. Inside the Milite Ignoto (Unknown Soldier) is buried. The corpse is that of an unknown Italian soldier selected from amongst the fallen of the First World War.
- La Scalinata (Steps): At the top of the staircase, which was reopened in 2000 after forty years of restoration of the entire complex, is the entrance to the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento, which features exhibits on the 19th-century struggle to unify Italy.
- Le Fontane dei Due Mari (The Fountains of the Two Seas): The fountain on the left represents the Adriatic, facing east, with the lion of San Marco. On the right is the Tyrrhenian, with the wolf of Rome and the siren Partenope, which symbolizes the city of Naples.
- Inscriptions: The central theme of the monument is represented by two inscriptions on the gateway, placed under the two chariots of Charles Fontana and Paolo Bartolini: "PATRIAE UNITATI" and "CIVIUM LIBERTATI." The Latin terms are translated as "unity of the homeland" and "freedom of the citizens."
- Symbology: Throughout the monument are different vegetative symbols, including the palm tree (victory), oak (strength), laurel (victorious peace), myrtle (sacrifice), and olive (harmony).
Wedding Cake or Typewriter?
Il Vittoriano has raised several controversies in art criticism. Because of its glaring whiteness, vast size, and positioning, the over-the-top edifice has been labeled the monumentissimo by its critics. Others have dubbed the building the torta nuziale (wedding cake) or macchina per scrivere (typewriter). Nevertheless the monument remains a landmark for any tourist, including Italians themselves. In fact, every year during the Festa della Repubblica the commemoration includes the laying of a wreath at the Altare della Patria.