March 22: Yet another historic day in Venice


1848, if you’ll cast your minds back, was a year that produced a bumper crop of uprisings, insurrections, and assorted revolutions all across Europe. It was a brief, incandescent period variously known as the “Spring of Nations,” “Springtime of the Peoples,” or “The Year of Revolution.”

It happened in Venice, too.

"The Proclamation of the Republic of San Marco March 1848" by Sanesi (c. 1850).

Venice, by then, had spent 51 years — two generations — under an Austrian army of occupation, except for a few scattered years when it was the French instead.

But on March 22, 1848, the independent Republic of San Marco was declared by a group of visionaries led by a Venetian named Daniele Manin (Mah-NEEN).

Historic Irony Alert: He was a relative, by adoption, of Ludovico Manin, the last doge of Venice.

Daniele Manin, in his eponymous campo, depicted in bronze by Luigi Borro (1875).

I’ve often reflected on how odd it is that there should be more memorials to Daniele Manin around Venice than to any other individual (I’ve counted five so far), and yet it seems that he has become, like so many other heroes, just another distant star in the galaxy of indifference to which even the most passionate and brilliant people seem to be consigned. If anybody utters his name today (or any day), it’s probably because they’re referring to Campo Manin.

The house toward which the statue is looking bears this plaque: "In this house lived Daniele Manin when he initiated liberty foreteller of Italian unity and greatness which in death he did not see Magnanimous and Venerated Exile"

I’m offering this brief disquisition in order to enlarge your view of what history in Venice can entail.  It wasn’t just doges and fireworks, it was also patriots and blasting artillery.

I suppose you could live in Venice if you didn’t care about history, though I don’t quite see what the point would be.  But if you were to actually dislike history, you should probably move to Brasilia or Chandigarh. History is what Venice is made of, and history is made of people.

In addition to Campo Manin — which you can grasp is named for a person, even if you don’t know what he did — there is the more inscrutable street name of Calle Larga XXII Marzo: The Wide Street of the Twenty-Second of March.

On March 22, 1848, Venice rose up against the Austrian occupiers, and the flag of the independent Republic of San Marco was raised in the Piazza San Marco. It was war.

It appears that this sign for the Calle Larga XXII Marzo might be a survivor of the Austrian shelling.

Not only did the Austrian army fire on the city with cannon placed on the railway bridge (which they had built two years earlier), it also made one of the first attempts at aerial bombardment. They sent hot-air balloons aloft loaded with incendiary bombs rigged with timers; the wind, happily, blew them back to where they came from.

The Venetians and their allies  fought ferociously, but whereas once the fact of being surrounded by water had been a defensive advantage, now it became a fatal handicap.  The Austrians clamped a siege around the city, reducing it to starvation, which was accompanied by an epidemic of cholera.

One of the best-known poems from this period is “Le Ultime Ore di Venezia” (The Final Hours of Venice), written in 1849 by Arnaldo Fusinato.  He relates the desperate last days in the city, constructing an exchange between a passing gondolier and the poet in which they give a summary of the situation in which the former republic  found itself.  Each stanza concludes with the poignant refrain, “Il morbo infuria, il pan ci manca/Sul ponte sventola bandiera bianca” (Disease is raging, there is no more bread/on the bridge the white flag is waving).

It had to end.

Flag of the Republic of San Marco (1848-1849).

On August 22, 1849, Manin signed the treaty of surrender.  The Austrians re-entered Venice, where they remained until 1861.  Manin, like several of his ministers, went into exile.  He died in Paris in 1857, at the age of 53.

His body returned to Venice on — yes — March 22, 1868, to a city which had finally been liberated from the Hapsburg domination and become part of the Kingdom of Italy. A solemn funeral ceremony was held for him  in the Piazza San Marco, and he was placed in a tomb against the north wall of the basilica.

Lino has often told me the anecdote of the little old Venetian lady who was crossing the Piazza San Marco not long after the Austrians returned to the devastated city.  A soldier walked by, and his sword was dragging — perhaps only slightly — across the paving stones.

She couldn’t take it. “Pick your sword up off the ground,” she commanded him. “Because Venice surrendered —  she wasn’t taken.”  Starving a city into submission is one of the least noble ways to conquer your enemy, but history shows that it does get the job done.

Final tally: Slightly more than a year of independence, almost all of which time was spent fighting.

When I reflect on much of this — I shouldn’t, but it’s more than I can resist — and observe the condition of the city’s successive administrations over the past 50 years or so, each of which seems to be a copy of its predecessor, except slightly worse, I can’t bring myself to imagine what Daniele Manin and his dreadnought compatriots might be thinking.

I suppose it’s a good thing after all that he has been “disappeared” into the deep space of cultural oblivion.

The tomb of Daniele Manin in a niche of the basilica of San Marco, facing the Piazzetta dei Leoncini.It would seem that the four lions supporting his sarcophagus are the only ones showing any emotion anymore as to the fate of Manin, his followers, and his city.

The extraordinary facade of the Hotel San Fantin is decorated with cannon and cannonballs from the conflict, as well as several majestic plaques. The marble lion surmounts this inscription: "A remembrance of the heroic resistance of Venice 1849."

Venice, represented as a stately woman, with flag, sword and lion, sits within this motto: "OGNI VILTA' CONVIEN CHE QUI SIA MORTA." (It would befit all cowardice that here it should die.)

The walls of the buildings enclosing the “Bocca di Piazza” are covered with imposing bronze portraits of the most important organizers and sustainers of the revolution. Unfortunately, only their size gives a hint as to their importance, as the inscriptions aren’t translated.

Brothers Attilio and Emilio Bandiera, with Domenico Moro -- all Venetians -- attempted a raid in 1844 against the Austrians in Calabria, were captured and shot.

The Campo de la Bragora was re-named in their honor.

The house where Domenico Moro was born, on the Fondamenta de la Tana facing the Arsenal.

In recognition that the uprising began at the Arsenal, this plaque on a wall of the Arsenal says: "By the virtue of the people's unanimity the foreign dominion fell 22 March 1848 To its imperishable memory the City Hall placed this."

A silver five-lire coin minted by the Repubblica Veneta in 1848. They were completely serious about this being a real government. It didn't last, but only 13 years later, the Austrians were finally gone.

[Translation by me]:  Italian Soldiers!  The war of independence, to which you have consecrated your blood, has now entered a phase which for us is disastrous.  Perhaps the only refuge of Italian liberty are these lagoons, and Venice must at any cost guard the sacred fire.

Valorous ones! In the name of Italy, for which you have fought, and want to fight, I implore you not to lessen your efforts in the defense of this sacred sanctuary of our nationality.  The moment is a solemn one: It concerns the political life of an entire people, whose destiny could depend on this final bulwark.

As many as you may be, that  from beyond the Po, beyond the Mincio, beyond the Ticino, have come here for the final triumph of our common cause, just think that by saving Venice, you will also save the most precious rights of our native land. Your families will bless the sacrifices which you have chosen to undergo; an admiring Europe will reward your generous perseverance; and the day that Italy will be able to proclaim itself redeemed, it will raise, among the many monuments which are here, of the valor and glory of our fathers, another monument, on which it will be written: The Italian soldiers defending Venice saved the independence of Italy.

The Government  12 August 1848  MANIN

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Categories : Venetian History


  1. Greg says:

    Another fine history lesson; thank you!

  2. Andrew says:

    And for what? Here we are nearly 200 yers later and ‘di niente’. We love our beloved city and expect it to be respected and shared by all.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      It seems to me that you’ve connected two points that don’t actually connect. “For what?” is a question to which there are a multitude of answers, most of them provided by the people who put everything into the struggle. Bear in mind that Venice (as indicated in Manin’s manifesto) was part of an array of struggles going on all over Italy. The “what” to which you refer may have varied from Naples to Genova to Venice but that’s a detail. I don’t think one can usefully judge the value of an event by the unintended consequences that came later. Second, Manin and his group had very little, perhaps nothing, in common with the administrations of the 20th century which have none of their attributes, either intellectual, or historical, or moral. But seeing that Manin wasn’t stupid, he had undoubtedly already discovered the innate human urge to reap where you haven’t sown, and to profit by somebody else’s labors and, perhaps, also destroy them. As for expecting the city to be respected and shared by all, I believe that would be impossible. There are too many different kinds of people with too many different ambitions and too many different egotisms, whose decisions or lack of same are what will determine the city’s future. I don’t have the impression that “love” and “respect” figure very largely in their panorama of the city. There are far too few of the “we” to which you refer to make any difference in what happens here.

  3. Krystyna says:

    Well, I think that Manin and his beautiful and inspiring idea of liberty is recorded quite well in Venice, and not “fallen into oblivion”.
    By the way I also think that there are some ways to conquer your enemy which are even less noble than starving a city: for example killing nearly everybody including children, and destroying nearly every building, exactly like it happened to my home city Warsaw in the 2nd world war.
    Earlier, when Poland was divided between Russia, Germany and Habsburg Austria, the people who lived in the Austrian part considered themselves quite lucky – because the Germans and Russians were much much worse. The Russians had even forbidden every use of the Polish language, hoping to kill the Polish culture and identity this way. The Habsburgs never had this kind of ideas, on the contrary, all the languages of the regions occupied by them were considered official languages in Austria.
    Sorry for the off-topic, hope it doesn’t offend anybody!!

    My ancestors reconstructed Warsaw again from scratch – looking at the nice and precise pictures of the old city center of Warsaw, which had been painted by the Venetian painter Bernardo Bellotto. And so here we are on topic again 🙂

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      Thanks for the observations. I’d be interested to know, if you were to ask 20 people at random what they think of Daniele Manin, what their answers might be. I’ve heard plenty of individuals say he was the last doge of Venice.

  4. Roger Rooke says:

    Thank you for the explanation. My birthday is the 22nd March and while in Venice I wondered about the significance of the street name.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      I’m glad to know I answered that question. Very clever of you to have been born on such an important date!