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Garibaldi, Sicily and the Risorgimento

THE HISTORY OF SICILY

Goethe famously wrote that "without seeing Sicily it is impossible to understand Italy - Sicily is the key to everything." It is likely that Garibaldi thought along similar lines when he chose to begin his unification of Italy from Sicily.

The so-called "hero of two worlds" disembarked in Marsala on 11th May 1860 with just 1,000 men in tow (hence the expression Grazie Mille). Not a shot was fired, for Garibaldi had been extremely cunning. Arriving in Sicilian waters, Garibaldi moored his two ships off the island of Favignana and waited. When the two French frigates stationed in the port at Marsala went out on reconnaissance, Garibaldi slipped in behind them and docked next to two British Navy ships and a British wine merchant's cutter.

On re-entry to the port, the French were unable to fire upon Garibaldi for fear of hitting the British ships and causing a serious diplomatic incident. In the meantime, Garibaldi and the "red-shirts", as his men were known, stocked up on the town's golden nectar before continuing their rapid march across Sicily.

Garibaldi and the "red-shirts", as his men were known, stocked up on the town's golden nectar before continuing their rapid march across Sicily.

Passing through Salemi, where Garibaldi proclaimed a united Italy, their first real battle came four days later with a famous victory over the 3,000-strong French garrison at Calatafimi. The invading "army" swelled in ranks as thousands of Sicilians jumped at the chance to join their liberator and hero.

On 27th May they arrived at Palermo, where fierce fighting broke out. The city's inhabitants rose against their French oppressors and much of Palermo was reduced to rubble.

Help was at hand, however, from the seemingly ubiquitous British Navy, which intervened and called for an armistice. The Bourbon forces surrendered the city and left to regroup further to the east and on the Italian mainland.

Within six weeks the whole of Sicily had been "liberated" except for the citadel of Messina. This too, however, was soon to fall and Garibaldi and his makeshift army marched on Rome. The rest, as they say, is history!

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