Victor Emmanuel Monument, Rome

Victor Emmanuel Monument, Rome

Between the Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill stands the Victor Emmanuel Monument, or the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. It honors Victor Emmanuel, the first King who unified the different provinces under the Italian flag. That is why the monument is also called Altar of the Fatherland, or Altare della Patria.

The statue was conceptualized in 1895, by Giuseppe Sacconi. However, the actual sculpture was a collaborative effort of many artists from all over the country. Work began in 1911, and was finished in 1935.

Yes, the monument took decades to complete—such was the degree of difficulty and complexity of the work. One described the process as being “chopped with terrible brutality into the immensely complicated fabric of the hill." Certainly, no effort and no cost was spared. The artists used the finest pure white marble from Botticino and Brescia. The design included an impressive stairway, leading through Corinthian columns, and beautiful fountains. Victor Emmanuel is depicted as an equestrian, with the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas. These symbolize the “winged victory” – as if the king were conquering not just Italy, but heaven itself.

The monument also houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where an eternal flame burns in solemn remembrance of those who lost their lives during the first world war. The body was chosen from 11 unidentified remains by Maria Bergamas, a simple woman who had lost her only child to the war. The soldier was entombed after a state funeral on November 4, 1921.

While many praise the monument for its historical significance, others met its construction with criticism. They did not approve of destroying a large part of a Medieval neighborhood to make room for it. They believed it was too large, and too ostentatious. The style was also conspicuously different from the surrounding architecture, partly because of its white color. (In fact, its derogatory nicknames include “the wedding cake” and “the false teeth.”) President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi tried to salvage public opinion for it by turning the area into a public forum, and promoting it as a viewpoint of the central area of the city.

Victor Emmanuel Monument, Rome, Rome