Today, June 2nd, was Republic Day in Italy, marking 73 years since a referendum held in the war-torn country voted to replace the monarchy with a democratic republic. We were aware that roads and some tourist attractions would be closed in the morning while celebrations commemorating this special event took place. Marg and I decided there was no better place to be than right there on the barricades overlooking the Vittorio Emanuelle II Monument at Piazza Venezia to watch the parade and the colourful aerial display. (I’ve divided this post into a number of sections, to match the different aspects of the ceremony, so please scroll down and read right through to the end.)
The first group of photos show the Italian President and his entourage ascending the steps of the monument to place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where a guard of honour has stood watch continuously since 1932 and an eternal flame burns.
Immediately the wreath was place, at just after 9.20am, a roar from the sky announced the arrival of nine jet planes, flying in tight precision formation, flying directly over the monument, with green, white and red smoke billowing out behind them. It was a magnificent sight, the colours of the Italian flag providing a sensational backdrop for the statue atop the monument.
The official party then returned down the steps and made their way along the Via del Fori Imperiali, out of our sight, to take their positions in one of the temporary stands erected along the road, from where they could view the military parade that would soon follow.
A sizeable crowd was building now and people were lined five or six deep along the barricades, despite the hot sun beating down. Security was tight. Military personnel were coming and going, preparing for the parade. We stood and waited patiently for almost an hour. We had no real idea when the parade might begin, but took our cues from the Italians in the crowd around us. They weren’t moving, so neither did we.
Eventually, from around the corner emerged the first of the military divisions in the parade, marching in precision and decked out in colourful military dress uniforms. One division after another followed, as members of Italy’s army, navy, air force, police, nurses, emergency services and other civic groups marched past the national monument. As they passed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, flags were sometimes lowered or salutes given. Some of the divisions broke out into chants or songs as they passed. The dress uniforms some wore appeared to be more suited to a bygone era, although some of the troops came marching along in contemporary camouflage gear. The final group came in running and singing, attracting loud cheers from the crowd. Some were clapped enthusiastically, particularly the wheelchair group and the nurses. Cries of ‘Viva Italia’ and ‘Bravi’ rang out around me. People were waving Italian flags. It was undoubtedly an event to rouse feelings of national pride.
The parade continued for just over an hour. Some of the more interesting groups to come through included dog handlers, balaclava-clad police, snow patrol and what appeared to be anti-terrorist armed security forces. The enthusiasm of the Italian spectators in the crowd around me never waned. Each division that marched past was cheered and applauded. Italian flags waved back and forth along the barricades holding the spectators in check.
When the final group marched past, all eyes turned to the sky again. Almost instantly, the roar of the fighter jets returned and the Frecce Tricolori emerged into view once more over the monument, having flown in directly over the Colosseum. Plumes of green, white and red smoke once again trailed behind them. They swept past, then turned and came back in the opposite direction for a final encore, to the delight of the applauding crowd.
Moments after the fighter jets had gone, the official entourage was escorted away from the parade area by a cavalry division looking resplendent in their colourful dress uniforms and helmets. Security guards walked either side of the presidential vehicle, their eyes constantly sweeping the crowd for any sign of danger. Finally, a cavalry division on white horses brought the spectacular parade to a conclusion. Soon the barricades came down and the huge crowd spilled out into the parade space.
Marg and I were so pleased to have witnessed this amazing event. It’s one we won’t forget in a hurry. But after standing still in the hot sun for two hours we were in need of refreshment. A couple of streets away we found a cafe and ordered a couple of Aperol spritzes and a light lunch. From there, we found a second place and treated ourselves to a double scoop ice cream each.