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The Capture of Rome (20 September 1870) was the final event of the long process of Italian unification known as the Risorgimento, which finally unified the Italian peninsula under King Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy. Venezia-Giulia, Trentino and Alto Adige were still under the Austrian rule, and they were annexed to Italy after the First World War.

Second Italian War of Independence

During the Second Italian War of Independence, much of the Papal Statesmarker had been conquered by the Piedmontese Army, and the new unified Kingdom of Italy was created in March 1861, when the first Italian Parliament met in Turin. On 27 March 1861, the Parliament declared Rome the Capital of the Kingdom of Italy. However, the Italian government could not take its seat in Rome because of the French garrison maintained there by Napoleon III of France, which propped up Pope Pius IX, who was determined to retain temporal power in the States of the Church.

In July 1870, at the very last moment of the Church's rule over Rome, the First Vatican Council was held in the city – defiantly affirming the doctrine of papal infallibility.

Franco-Prussian War

In July 1870, the Franco-Prussian War began. In early August, Napoleon III recalled his garrison from Rome. Widespread public demonstrations demanded that the Italian government take Rome. The Italian government took no direct action until the collapse of Napoleon at the battle of Sedanmarker.

Letter to the Pope

King Victor Emmanuel II sent conte Gustavo Ponza di San Martino to Pius IX with a personal letter offering a face-saving proposal that would have allowed the peaceful entry of the Italian Army into Rome, under the guise of protecting the pope.

According to Raffaele De Cesare:
The Pope’s reception of San Martino [10 September 1870] was unfriendly.
Pius IX allowed violent outbursts to escape him.
Throwing the King’s letter upon the table he exclaimed, "Fine loyalty!
You are all a set of vipers, of whited sepulchres, and wanting in faith."
He was perhaps alluding to other letters received from the King.
After, growing calmer, he exclaimed: "I am no prophet, nor son of a prophet, but I tell you, you will never enter Rome!"
San Martino was so mortified that he left the next day.

Advance of the Italian army

The Italian army, commanded by General Raffaele Cadorna, crossed the papal frontier on 11 September and advanced slowly toward Rome, hoping that a peaceful entry could be negotiated. The Papal garrisons had retreated from Orvietomarker, Viterbomarker, Alatrimarker, Frosinonemarker and other strongholds in the Lazio, Pius IX himself being convinced of the inevitability of a surrender. When the Italian Army approached the Aurelian Wallsmarker that defended the city, the papal force was commanded by General Karl Kanzler, and was composed of the Swiss Guards and a few "zouaves"—volunteers from France, Austriamarker, the Netherlandsmarker, Spainmarker and other countries—for a total of 14,000 men against the c. 50,000 Italians.

Rome under siege

The Italian army reached the Aurelian Wallsmarker on 19 September and placed Rome under a state of siege. The intransigent Pius IX decided that the surrender of the city would be granted only after his troops had put up a token resistance, enough to make it plain that the take-over was not freely accepted. On 20 September, after a cannonade of three hours had breached the Aurelian Walls at Porta Piamarker, the crack Piedmontese infantry corps of Bersaglieri entered Rome. In the event 49 Italian soldiers and 19 papal Zouaves died. The day's events are memorialized throughout Italy in the via XX Settembre in virtually every town of any size. Rome and the region of Lazio were annexed to the Kingdom of Italy after a plebiscite.

Occupation of the Leonine City

The Leonine Citymarker, including the Vaticanmarker, seat of the Pope, was occupied on September 21. The Italian government had intended to let the Pope keep the Leonine City, but the Pope would not agree to give up his claims to a broader territory.

The Via Pia, the road departing from Porta Pia, was rechristened Via XX Settembre (September 20). Subsequently, in numerous Italian cities the name Venti Settembre was given to the main road leading to the local Cathedral.

Writer Edmondo De Amicis took part in the capture of Rome as an officer in the Italian army.

Reconciliation by the Church

For many years afterwards, the Catholic Church remained obdurate in rejecting the results of 1870. This ended with the Concordat of 1929, where the Church renounced its claims over most of the city of Rome in return for Italy's recognition of the Vatican Statemarker.

On 20 September 2000, there was an item in the Catholic publication Avvenire, which stated:

See also



  1. See Timeline of Italian unification.
  2. These words are derived from the Biblical Book of Amos 7:14 where the Prophet defies the emmissary of the King of Israel [1]
  3. De Cesare, 1909, p. 444.
  4. Rendina, Enciclopedia di Roma, p. 985
  5. For the Vatican during the Savoyard Era 1870–1929, see also "prisoner in the Vatican" and the Roman Question.

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