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ITALIAN HISTORY

Five things you should know about Italy’s Republic Day

Here's a quick guide to what and how Italy will celebrate on Thursday, June 2nd.

Five things you should know about Italy’s Republic Day
Italy marks Republic Day on June 2nd. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

We get a day off in Italy on June 2nd, as Republic Day, or the Festa della Repubblica, is a public holiday.

As you can probably guess from the name, this is date Italy commemorates the abolition of the monarchy and the creation of the Italian Republic we have today.

READ ALSO: The Italian holiday calendar for 2022

Here are a few curious facts you may or may not already know about the events we’re marking this week.

It all started in 1946

June 2nd, 1946, was the day Italians voted to abolish the monarchy, and the Republic of Italy was born; hence Republic Day.

After an 85-year monarchy, which had for the most part been very popular with the people, a referendum resulted in 12,717,923 votes ‘for’ (54 percent) and 10,719,284 votes ‘against’ (45 percent).

Following the result, all male members and future heirs of the ruling House of Savoy were deposed and exiled, most ending up in Switzerland.

Italy’s final king only ruled for one month

The House of Savoy had ruled since Italy’s Unification in 1861, but its final monarch, Umberto II (or Umberto Nicola Tommaso Giovanni Maria di Savoia, in full), only got to be king for a month, earning him the nickname ‘Re di Maggio’ or ‘the May King’ – slightly unfair since he actually ruled from May 9th to June 12th.

Umberto had actually been acting as head of state since 1944; after Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime – to which the monarchy had been closely allied – collapsed, Italy’s wartime King Victor Emmanuel III transferred his powers to his only son in the hope it would give the monarchy a PR boost.

Obviously, it didn’t work.

Italy will never have another monarchy

For one thing, the constitution now forbids a monarchy, and for another, the House of Savoy family formally renounced their claim to the throne as one of the conditions for the right to return from exile, in 2002.

Umberto refused the right to return to his homeland, dying in Geneva in 1983.

So what happened to the others? Prince Victor Emmanuel, his wife, and son returned to Italy in 2003 after former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party overturned their exile.

But they weren’t exactly welcomed home with open arms – not least because Victor Emmanuel – descendant of King Victor Emmanuel III – had not long before defended Mussolini’s racial laws as “not all that bad”.

READ ALSO: Ditching the monarchy or a day at the beach: What exactly is Italy celebrating on Republic Day?

There were numerous protests and the mayor of Naples refused a €15,000 donation from the family to a local hospice.

More recently, in 2021, the wartime King’s great-grandson Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy apologised to the country’s Jewish community for his ancestor’s role in dictator Mussolini’s racial laws and the Holocaust.

Republic Day changed dates for 24 years

In 1977, Italy’s large number of public holidays were thought to be having a negative impact on the already struggling economy. So to avoid affecting business, Republic Day was moved to the first Sunday in June. It was only changed back to June 2nd in 2001.

The first Sunday of June had a long history as Italy’s national holiday; before Italy became a Republic, this holiday was known as the Feast of the Albertine Statute – the constitution of 1848, which was seen as the foundation of the Kingdom of Italy.

There’s a lot going on to celebrate

Though things have been quieter for the past two years with Covid lockdown measures in place, celebrations are expected to be back in full swing for 2022.

Rome hosts a huge huge military parade through the historic centre, with smaller, similar events in many other cities and towns throughout the country.

Elsewhere in the capital, the presidential palace opens its gardens to the public free of charge.


Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

But perhaps the highlight is the flyover by Frecce Tricolori, Italy’s Air Force. The planes will fly over the Altare della Patria monument in Piazza Venezia, leaving a trail of green, white and red smoke.

If you’re not interested in joining in the Republic Day celebrations, be aware that there will be road closures in Rome as the parade takes place, and elsewhere, public transport is unlikely to be running as normal (check for travel updates before travelling). Some tourist sites will also be closed.

To find out more about how Italy is marking the day, check the official website (in Italian).

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CHRISTMAS

Ten Christmas nativity scenes you’ll only see in Italy

Creative nativity scenes appear in homes, churches and public buildings across Italy in December, each one a little different. How many of these have you seen?

Handmade nativity figures for sale on Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, often called 'Christmas Alley'.
Handmade nativity figures for sale on Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, often called 'Christmas Alley'.. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

1. The world’s largest

Let’s start with the world’s largest nativity scene, in Cinque Terre. Each year, the picturesque town of Manarola in the Liguria tourist spot is illuminated with over 15,000 lights – a tradition which began back in 1961 with a single cross.

The nativity scene today features than 150 statues illuminated using 8km of electrical cable.

IN PHOTOS: Magical nativity scene lights up Italy’s Cinque Terre coast

The Manarola nativity scene in Italy’s Cinque Terre. Photo: Marco Bertorello / AFP

2. The Vatican’s version

You might expect the scene set up in Piazza San Pietro to be the most traditional of all, but in recent years it has held surprises.

The Vatican’s nativity also now includes a QR code that takes visitors to a video about the Christmas story. There’s even a special Wifi hotspot so visitors don’t have to use up their data.

Some things never change, though: as per tradition, the baby Jesus will be added to the scene by the pope himself on Christmas Eve.

Pope Francis in front of a classic nativity scene in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 2013. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE/AFP

3. Neapolitan style

No one does nativities quite like Naples. Head to the city’s “Christmas Alley”, Via San Gregorio Armeno, for a glimpse into the workshops that turn out many of the crib figures displayed all over Italy.

Among the usual characters, look out for fishmongers, butchers, pizza makers and other figures that have made their way into Neapolitan Christmas tradition – not to mention the pop stars, footballers politicians and other public figures that craftsmen slip in there too.

IN PICTURES: A weird and wonderful Christmas in Naples

A winged Diego Maradona figurine on Via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

4. Living nativities

You might do a double take when you first see one of Italy’s presepi viventi – they are made up of real people in character. And rather than being a small display, these theatrical productions are often staged across an entire town centre.

There are several living nativities across the country, but perhaps the most famous one is found in the southern Italian city of Matera, known for its ancient cave houses and magical landscape. Walking through a 5km route through the sassi, or old town, visitors pass shepherds and artisans who will direct them to the actual crib.

5. A used-car nativity

Hey, why not. This one can be seen at Rome’s annual 100 Presepi exhibition, displaying nativities of all materials and sizes from around the world.

6. An edible version

You definitely shouldn’t tuck into the nativity scene in Olmedo, Sardinia – but you could. The elaborate figures on display at the ‘presepe di pane‘ in the church of Nostra Signore di Talia are made entirely of bread. 

7. On the water

The “floating nativities” of port town Cesenatico, Emilia-Romagna, are the only ones of their kind in the world. The boats display around 50 life-size statues throughout December, portraying a scene typical of the fishing village. Each year a new statue is added, and at night, lights bring the whole scene to life.

A floating nativity scene in Cesenatico. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

8. …and under it

Head to Laveno-Mombello on Lombardy’s Lago Maggiore for a look at a sunken nativity scene. The sight of the holy family – plus some seashells and palm trees – submerged in the waters of the lake makes for a surprising, but undeniably scenic, view.

9. Made of sand

In Jesolo near Venice, a nativity scene made entirely of sand – some 1,500 tonnes of it – is created each year with a different theme. For 2021’s edition, the sand sculpture is dedicated to Italy’s health workers and their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Photo: christopher_brown/Flickr

10. Made of ice

Several (presumably colder) Italian towns instead sculpt their nativity scenes from ice. Massa Martana, a village in the province of Perugia, is one place where you can see life-sized figures carved from huge blocks of ice and dramatically illuminated.