The Italian National Day and Republic Day is celebrated on June 2nd each year. It commemorates the day that the Italian people went to the polls to decide on the country’s form of government. The results of the vote were 12,717,923 in favor of a republic and 10,719,284 to retain the monarchy. With that, the die was cast and Italy became a republic, while the male descendants of the House of Savoy were sent into exile.
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. Victor Emmanuel III was King from July 29, 1900 until his abdication on May 9, 1946. 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 5 feet, Victor Emmanuel III was also nicknamed Sciaboletta, “little saber.” He abdicated his throne in 1946 in favor of his son, Umberto II, in the hope of strengthen support for the monarchy. As the votes indicated, many in Italy still favored the monarchy, but in the end, Umberto who had been acting head of state since 1944, was peacefully shown the door. As king for a mere month, his the nickname was Re di Maggio – the May King.’ Umberto II died in Geneva, Switzerland in 1983. The constitution of Italy now forbids a monarchy and the House of Savoy family formally renounced their claim to the throne as one of the conditions for the right to return from exile. This did not occur until 2002.
The first Sunday of June had a long history as Italy’s national holiday. Before Italy became a Republic, the holiday was known as the Feast of the Albertine Statute, based on the constitution of 1848, which was seen as the foundation of the Kingdom of Italy. The gardens at Palazzo del Quirinale will open with performances from martial bands and there will be a huge military parade through central Rome, with smaller celebrations in many other cities and towns. The military parade in Rome is presided over by the President of the Italian Republic as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The Prime Minister, formally known as the President of the Council of Ministers and other high officers of state also attend.
In 1948, Via dei Fori Imperiali hosted the first military parade in honor of the new Italian Republic. The following year, with Italy’s entry into NATO, ten parades were held simultaneously across the country and in 1950, the parade was featured for the first time in the listings of the country’s official celebrations. A ceremonial laying of a wreath takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Vittoriano, then the President of Italy reviews the parading formations. The ceremony continues in the afternoon with the opening of the gardens of the Quirinale Palace, seat of the President of the Republic and with musical performances by the band ensembles of the Italian Army, Navy, Air Force, the Arma dei Carabinieri and several others.
The parade begins when the Corazzieri Squadron of the Carabinieri arrives at the Presidential grandstand at the Via dei Fori Imperiali with the President of Italy. The parade starts with the Carabinieri Central Band striking up to “La Fedelissima,” its official march. They are followed by the stirring sight of the National Colors of the Italian Armed Forces, standards of the regions of Italy and veterans associations. Following them are over 1,000 uniformed marchers, representing company-sized formations of the Italian Armed Forces units with their military bands, members of the Red Cross and police, firefighters, the Forestry Corps with the traditional final place of honor in the parade reserved for the Rome City Police. The annual highlight is undoubtedly the appearance of the Frecce Tricolori, Italy’s Air Force. The planes will fly in formation over the Altare della Patria monument, leaving a trail of green, white and red smoke. The trailers blend together and for several minutes the colors of the Italian flag provides a canopy above central Rome, an inspirational sight to millions on Festa della Repubblica.