By Alexis Culotta

Ring in today with a revolution: 22 March marked the end of the “Cinque Giornate di Milano,” or the “Five Days of Milan,” a skirmish in 1848 that locally resulted in the expulsion of the Austrians from Milanese territory and, more globally, contributed to the revolutions of 1848 that resulted in First Italian War of Independence.

The Duchy of Milan had essentially been under Austrian control since the early 18th century (save for a brief period during the reign of Napoleon when it was part of the Cisalpine Republic), but tensions between the Austrians and Milanese began mounting in the closing months of 1847.  This foment had reached such an extent that in February of 1848, Austrian field marshal Joseph Radetzky, who was in control of the Milan, enacted martial law tactics in an effort to keep order. The culmination of this simmering ire was news that Austrian Chancellor Clemens von Metternich had resigned in the midst of an uprising in Vienna. This news reached Milan on 17 March, and it sparked revolt spontaneously the following day. Though Radetzky attempted to maintain control, the virtually unanimous solidarity of the Milanese eventually forced the Austrians out of the city, with Radetzky giving the final call for retreat from Milan.

One could argue that this successful repulsion of the Austrians encouraged Carlo Amberto, the King of Sardinia, to declare war on the Austrians only one day later (23 March). This war, known since as the First Italian War of Independence, raged on for another year and proved unsuccessful for Carlo Amberto and his Kingdom of Sardinia as he could not successfully defeat the Austrian forces. His son, however, Vittorio Emanuele II, who became king following his father’s forced abdication in 1849, would be more successful, not only striking an armistice with Austria but also eventually creating the first unified Italy in over 500 years.

Giuseppe Grandi, Monument to the Five Days of Milan, 1895, Piazza Cinque Giornate, Milan.

Baldassarre Verazzi, A Scene from the Five Days in Milan, before 1886. Museo del Risorgimento, Milan.

Carlo Canella, Porto Tosa in Milan (22 March 1848), 1848-1850. Intesa Sanpaolo Collection.

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