Republic Day, known as Festa della Repubblica, is a national holiday in Italy on June 2nd each year. It commemorates the day when Italians voted to abolish the monarchy in 1946, establishing Italy as a republic. The country celebrates in spectacular style with an airborne display of the national flag, speeches and remembrances. All over the world, Italian embassies hold celebrations with Heads of State of the host country and they send congratulations to the President of the Republic.
It was 73 years ago that Italian voters went to the polls casting 12,717,923 votes in favor of a republic and 10,719,284 votes for the monarchy. At that point, the die was cast, Italy had become a republic and former King Umberto II of Savoy left the country with his family on June 13th. Emanuele lived out his days in Cairo, Egypt, while Umberto went to Portugal.
Many do not realize that the final King of Italy ruled for only one month. The House of Savoy had ruled since Italy’s Unification in 1861. Vittorio Emanuele I (Victor Emmanuel) of Sardinia was the first to reign and was followed by a series of kings until Victor Emmanuel III ascended to the throne in July 1900. During his long reign of nearly 46 years, the Kingdom of Italy became involved in two World Wars and was called Il Re soldato (The Soldier King). Due to his height of only five feet, Victor Emmanuel III was also nicknamed Sciaboletta or little saber.
The family had popular support for decades, but the monarchy made one fatal mistake. Halfway through Victor Emmanuel III’s rule, Benito Mussolini and fascism rose to prominence in Italy. In the autumn of 1922, Mussolini threatened to march on Rome to seize power. Instead of a violent uprising, the King met with Mussolini and on October 30, Mussolini was installed as Prime Minister. The King had unwittingly signed his own downfall, but would last another 24 years on the throne before standing down.
King Victor Emmanuel III further compounded his actions when he failed to act against Mussolini’s subsequent abuses of power, both before and during World War II. Many interpreted the King’s actions as weakness that would go on to have dire consequences for Italy, Europe and the monarchy. As Italy’s situation worsened, the once-popular King’s reputation suffered tremendously as the population grew disillusioned with their figure-head.
By the end of the war, many Italians believed that the King had been too close to the hated fascist dictator. Whether the monarch could have stepped in to halt Mussolini is debatable, but unfortunately the tide of popular opinion had turned irretrievably against him, especially in the northern regions. Not even Victor Emanuele’s belated deposition of Mussolini in 1943 could cleanse the monarchy’s reputation. Realizing that nothing would clear his own tainted name, Victor Emanuele III tried one last act to restore the monarchy to popularity by transferring his power to his well-liked son, Crown Prince Umberto in 1946, hoping to strengthen support for the monarchy against the referendum that had been proposed to abolish it.
One point of fact, Umberto had been acting as head of state since 1944, following the collapse of the fascist regime, but technically, he was King for a mere month, earning him the nickname ‘Re di Maggio’ or the ‘May King.’ Unfortunately for the new monarch, it was a case of too little, too late. Citizens voted 54% to 45% for a republic – the populace had spoken and the King of Italy’s reign was brought to a halt. Umberto II died in Geneva, Switzerland in 1983.
The constitution of Italy now forbids a monarchy. It was not until 2002 that the members of the House of Savoy formally renounced their claim to the title and due to this, from 1946 until 2002, were forbidden from setting foot on Italian soil.
In June 1948, the first military parade was conducted along Via dei Fori Imperiali in Rome. The following year, after the entry of Italy into the NATO, ten more parades were conducted in different cities. In 1950, for the first time, the parade was included in the celebrations for the Republic Day and in 1961, on the hundredth anniversary of the Unification of Italy, it was also conducted in Turin and Florence, the first capitals of the unified country.
This year’s ceremony will have a laurel wreath placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, inside the Altare della Patria in Rome and a military parade with members of the highest posts in the State represented. All Armed Forces, Police, Fire Brigade and the Italian Red Cross, along with some military delegations of NATO and of the European Union, take part in the parade. The afternoon features concerts by the band of the Italian Army, Navy, Air Force, Carabinieri and State Police at the Palazzo del Quirinale Gardens, the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic.
But one of the highlights of the day is undoubtedly the aerial display by the Frecce Tricolori, who fly over the Altare della Patria monument. Flying in tight formation, the nine Italian Air Force fighter jets, known as the Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale or National Acrobatic Patrol, streak the skies with green, white and red plumes of smoke signifying the three colors of the Italian national flag. It makes quite an impressive sight!
So, just as we celebrate July 4th as the day when the Declaration of Independence was signed and connections with Great Britain severed, June 2nd signifies the day when Italians used their power to vote and dethroned the monarchy once and for all. If you are fortunate enough to be in Rome next year, make sure you check out the Frecce Tricolori as they steak over the capital and celebrate along with the Italians by raising a glass of vino to the Repubblica.