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The Victor Emmanuel II Monument in Rome.

Azzurri (Blue) – One Hundred Years in the Making

Designed in blue, as opposed to the green, white and red of their national flag, the Italian national soccer team’s jerseys of the Azzurri, harken back to another period in Italian history. It pays homage to the King of Italy’s lineage and the official color of the House of Savoy – royal blue. After the end of the Second World War, a vote by the Italian populace replaced the monarchy with a republic, but the story of the Risorgimento, resurgence in Italian, is one that will never be forgotten in the country.

When the Roman Republic first unified Italy, Rome itself had existed as a state for approximately eight-hundred years. It was not to be the last time that the peninsula would first break apart before eventually coming back together. After the Fall of the Roman Empire during the fifth century AD, the reemergence of a unified Italy had to wait until the age of the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 19th century. For hundreds of years, the concept of Risorgimento remained both theoretical and unattainable. It was championed by Dante Alighieri, Cosimo de Medici and Niccolo Machiavelli, but in the periods of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the concept was less about national unity and more about resistance to outside forces.

Napoleon had briefly exerted control over all of the Italian regions and in doing so had met little resistance. For many in the regions, it seemed that his government offered more stability than the individual Italian Kingdoms. Napoleon was, after all, Italian by blood, but after his fall, fighting among the disparate states became more vicious than ever. In 1830, when nationalist rebellions broke out on the peninsula, there were eight distinct Kingdoms, but the most dominant of these Italian states, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, showed the least interest in unification.

After invading one Italian Kingdom after another, the Austrian Empire put down, but not to rest, the nationalist insurrectionists’ forces. The year was 1831 and would prove to be momentous to the cause. Unlike Napoleon, the Austrian army devastated Venice and Milan. King Carlo Alberto of Sardinia declared war on Austria on behalf of the entire Italy.

Central figures of the Risorgimento, from left are General Giuseppe Garibaldi, King Vittorio Emanuele II and Count Camilo Benso of Cavour.

Even though the Austrian army was far stronger than even the combined forces of the Sardinians, Venetians and Milanese, Risorgimento had a voice and would soon gain support. The Prime Minister of Sardinia, Count Camilo Benso of Cavour, spoke openly about Italian patriotism and a peninsula-wide government. During the Crimean War of the mid-19th century, he courted his counterparts in France and Britain, forging relationships crucial for the next decade.

In 1859, Prime Minister Cavour aligned Sardinia with Napoleon III, with whom he organized a second military effort against the Austrian Empire. The French and Italian armies, while vastly outnumbered, were victorious. A year later, King Vittorio Emanuele II of the Savoyard, Kingdom of Sardinia, took on the joint powers of the remaining Kingdoms of Italy, proclaiming the sole Kingdom of Italy on March 17, 1861.

Even after transitioning from constitutional monarchy to a Republic, Italy continued to celebrate the role that the King played in the formation of the country. The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II sits at the center of Rome and remains one of the most important national monuments in Italy. Thus, the jerseys of the Azzurri remind us of unity – not only on the playing field – but also within the historical fabric that led to a unified Italy.

The Azzurri colors have a deeper meaning than many realize.