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G - 10 : Nizza Honours Garibaldi - Does it?

Garibaldi's Monument on Garibaldi Place in Nice

Almost everybody knows Giuseppe Garibaldi and what he has done for the unification of Italy. He was one of the leaders of the movement and took tremendous personal risk to achieve it. Telling his story again would be carrying water under the bridge. There is no Italian town without a Garibaldi monument on a large town square.

Place de Garibaldi in Nice (Nizza) - his Monument is to the left

Garibaldi was born in Nice where the biggest town square is named after him. Since 1860, Nice is part of France. The French Kings lusted after this territory for century. The siege of 1543 was the first of many. Louis XIV wanted it, so did Napoleon Bonaparte. Both conquered it by military force. But the following peace treaties always restored Nice to Savoy. On French websites Nice is described as a county where the “official language” was Italian before 1860 – not the only fake news about Nice' past. In 1860, everybody in Nizza spoke Italian. Even until 1930, most people in the old town spoke Italian.

Victor-Emmanuelle II ceed Savoy and Nice to France in 1860

When the conflict between the Kingdom of Sardinia (House of Savoy) and Austria started in 1859, Napoleon III saw an opportunity to gain the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice in return for military help. And so it was arranged between King Victor-Emmanuel II and Napoleon III. Wrote about this in Blog G – 124.

The old, Italian Town of Nizza (Nice) viewed from the Chateau de Cimiez, just below

Giuseppe Garibaldi did not like the deal. He was a realist though and knew that without French military help, Austria could not be dislodged from Italy. The question of Nice, or Nizza how he called his beloved native town – had to wait. But he hated Napoleon III for grabbing his town, faking a plebiscite and suppressing the Italian language and culture. In 1860, there was nothing he could do. Italy loved him for his contribution to the Italian unification but they would not risk a war with France over Nizza. Garibaldi bought Caprera, an island north of Sardinia and pulled back from political life.

Garibaldi's simple House built with Granite and whitewashed is today a Museum

But he remained a vigilant observer of world events and in 1870 saw a chance for getting Nizza back for Italy. War had broken out between Prussia and Napoleon’s France. The Italian people sympathised with the Prussians because they resented the French arrogance and had not forgotten the fate of Nice. But when Napoleon was beaten in Sedan and forced to abdicate, Italian sympathy swung in favour of the new French Republic. The 3rd Republic was defending land against monarchist Prussia who intended to annex Alsace and a large part of the Lorraine.

Garibaldi with his Staff of "his" Army of the Vosges which defended Dijon in 1870/1871

Garibaldi offered his service to France who reluctantly accepted the offer. Everybody knew how fiercely Garibaldi had criticized France over the last decade. But France was on the defensive, Paris surrounded and German Forces were as far south as Burgundy. Garibaldi arrived on 7 October 1870 in Marseille and quickly assembled a volunteer force with fighters from Savoy, Nice, Occitane, Italy and other foreign nationals. The 4’000 men strong Army of the Vosges moved towards Dijon where they battled the German Army with mixed success.

Garibaldi before Dijon - there was no such attack as painted here - but it looks heroic!

Whilst Garibaldi’s army had swelled to 15’000 men, it did not have enough equipment and ammunition to make a decisive move. He was able to successfully defend Dijon against 4’000 attacking Prussians in late January 1871 though and even captured a Pomeranian regimental flag. Today, a little bust reminds people in Dijon of Garibaldi’s successful defense of their town.

Since Paris was surrounded, the French National Assembly met in

Bordeaux from January to March 1871

Garibaldi used his newly won prestige and run as candidate in the first free election for the French Assembly in 1871. His pro-Italian list won 26’534 votes of 29’428 registered voters. As member of parliament, Garibaldi tried to convince his colleagues to arrange another plebiscite in Nice, but this time free and without interference from the authorities. Given that only 25’743 citizens voted for the annexation by France in April 1860, Garibaldi had a mandate. In Nice, people were overjoyed by his victory and started occupying French government buildings and harassing Gendarmes. France sent in 10’000 troops to restore order and killed and imprisoned several dozen irredentists.

The French Assembly replied in the same draconian way. On 13 February 1871, in a stormy assembly meeting, Garibaldi was denied the right to speak. France loved his contribution to the war effort against Germany. But letting the Niçards have another plebiscite on whether to be Italian or French: absolutely no. The famous writer Victor Hugo tried to convince his fellow assembly members to listen at least. But he was shouted down as well. By March 1871 both Garibaldi and Victor Hugo had resigned.

Mussolini's Italy annexed Nice from 1940 - 1944

In the following decades, Nice was systematically “francized”. French was made the official language. All government business, education and commerce had to be conducted in French. In the birth registries, many Italian names were francized: Bianchi became Le Blanc, Del Ponte Dupont. Many Niçards refused the conversion though. In the valleys behind Nice there are plenty of people bearing Italian names. The Italian speaking newspapers in Nice fought an uphill battle against the French domination in culture and society. La Voce di Nizza was closed in 1861, Il diritto di Nizza in 1871 and Il pensiero di Nizza in 1895. The French always found a pretext.

The Header of one of the Italian Newspapers in Nice - it was suspended in 1895

Over the decades, thousands of Italian speakers left Nizza and settled in Liguria. They were quickly replaced by French. Today, less than 2’000 native Italians remain. When Mussolini annexed Nice in1940 for four years, the area was already firmly French. Nobody wanted to be associated with the Italian fascist regime. The peace treaty between France and Italy after the second world war settled all. Italy formally gave up its claims on Nice. A walk through Nizza’s old town tells the story that disappeared from our history books. Italian culture survives in architecture and customs. We will see it when we visit Nice this summer.

Garibaldi on his beloved island where he lived a modest live during his last decade

Garibaldi never gave up on Nizza. But having resigned from the French National Assembly, there was nothing he could do anymore. He retired to his beloved island of Caprera and passed away on 2 June 1882 at the age of 75. Nice honours him today as the person who unified Italy. But that he wanted Nizza to be part of his Italy is conveniently forgotten.

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