Altar of the Fatherland (Italian: Altare della Patria), also known as Victor Emmanuel II National Monument (Italian: Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II) or (Mole del) Vittoriano was built on the first hill on which Rome was founded and is situated between the Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill in Rome, Italy. It is an Italian national monument and was built to honour the first king of unified Italy, Victor Emmanuel II. The monument was built in the year 1885 by Umberto I of Savoy, son of Vittorio Emanuele II and was inaugurated by King Vittorio Emanuele III during the 50th anniversary of the unification of Italy at the Universal Exhibition on June 4th in 1911.

As much as it is fair to say that the monument was built as a tribute to King Victor Emanuele II, it is safe to consider that the monument was also dedicated to Risorgimento. Risorgimento was the movement that led to the freedom and unification of Italy from foreign rulers. The Altar has a museum that is dedicated to the unification (Central Museum of the Risorgimento) and an institute for the History of the Italian Risorgimento. The museum houses weapons, flags and other objects from the movement.

altar of the fatherland

Significance of Altar of the Fatherland:

Italian architect Giuseppe Sacconi was the one who designed this 81 meters high marvel. There are many allegorical definitions in the building that are believed can represent the whole country geographically. This neoclassical monument (as referred by many) is made of white marble (Botticino marble of Brescia) and features endless stairs, columns, fountains and statues which references the allegorical definitions.

There are two fountains on each side of the monument; each representing a sea surrounding Italy. The two seas that surround Italy are Adriatic Sea and Tyrrhenian Sea. Both the fountains are built on the sides of the monument and have words “Patriae Unitati” and “Civium Liberati” written under them. These are the words of fundamental principles of unity and freedom on which the new state was built.

Altar of the Fatherland 1 EBJ Chronicles

On the top of the building, there are many friezes which refers the regions of the nation. In 1921, a tomb of an unknown soldier was placed (with an eternal flame which is always guarded by two soldiers) in the center, near the Statue of Rome. The tomb was to honour all the missing and lost soldiers in numerous battles of World War I. On a plinth in the middle of the tomb, stands a bronze statue of Vittorio Emanuele II on horseback.

Altar of the Fatherland 2 EBJ Chronicles

Also there can be seen an overlooking chariot being driven by Goddess Victoria on either side of the two porticos of the monument. Both the statues are made of bronze, same as of King Victor Emanuele II’s statues. Beneath the statue of King Vittorio Emanuele, on the base, there are 14 cities of Italy and above the colonnades, there are 16 time regions.

The colonnade completely is decorated with mosaics and marbles by Giulio Bargellini, in recognition of faith, work, strength, wisdom, law, value and peace. One can also see many plant symbols, each of which symbolises a specific meaning i.e the palm for victory, the oak for strength, the laurel for peace, myrtle for sacrifice and the olive for concord.

There were many criticism and oppositions too for the construction of the monument as it is next to another icon of Italy, The Colosseum. Also, a number of significant buildings were sacrificed in order to make space for the Altar of the Fatherland. The buildings that were brought down to clear the space for the construction of Altar of the Fatherland included Torre di Paolo II, The Three Cloisters of the Convent of Ara Coeli etc. A 17th century church of St. Rita was dismantled, moved and rebuilt near the Theatre of Marcellus.

Facts and Lesser known Facts of Altar of the Fatherland:

  • King Victor Emmanuel II was also known as “Gentleman King” and the “Father of the Nation“.
  • The monument is currently under the ownership of Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities.
  • Visitors can climb to the rooftop of the building to enjoy the majestic view of the city.
  • While the excavation work was going on for the site, ‘Insula of the Ara Coeli’ was discovered which dated back from the second century AD and can still be seen on the left side of the monument.
  • Giuseppe Sacconi was not the only architect, in 1905 when he died, the project was taken over by Gaetano Koch, Manfredo Manfredi and Pio Piacentini respectively.
  • The monument was inaugurated in 1911 but the work was completed in 1935.
Sources: Google, Vatican Rooms, Understanding Italy

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