The colossal, 81 meter high, Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) as it is commonly referred to, also known as the Vittoriano or National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II stands proudly in Rome’s Piazza Venezia on the Capitoline, one of the city’s legendary 7 hills (where - as the tale recounts - Rome was originally founded).
Between 1884 and 1889 a massive demolition operation began, historic streets disappeared and entire quarters were razed to the ground to make room for the new landmark, needless to say the decision was highly criticized. The first stone was laid in 1885 by Umberto I of Savoia son of Italy’s first King, Victor Emmanuel II, in memory of which the Vittoriano was built. The monumental structure was inaugurated in 1911 during the Turin International Exposition, although it was only officially completed in 1935.
The project, by Architect Giuseppe Sacconi, was intentionally loaded with highly symbolic patriotic details clearly referencing the nation’s recent unification. Two fountains, representing the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Adriatic Sea, symmetrically appear on the sides of the Altare della Patria while an equestrian statue of King Victor Emmanuel II stands upon a marble base meticulously engraved with symbolic personifications of 14 cities, the “noble mothers” of the Italian Risorgimento. In 1921 the tomb of Milite Ignoto (an unknown, unrecognizable Italian solider) was positioned at the very center of the Vittoriano, in memory of the lives lost during World War I; the sepulcher is continuously watched over by military guards and two eternal flames. In between the equestrian statue and Milite Ignoto, a sculpture of the deity Rome, indicating the centrality of the capital city, rises in front of a golden mosaic backdrop. Furthermore, a portico, sustained by 16 columns (each representing one of the Italian regions existing at the time), emerges on the upper level; 16 different artists, all native to one of the regions, were called upon to sculpt allegorical personifications, 5 meter statues located on the cornice in correspondence to the columns, flaunting distinctive regional details. Sculptural groups decorate the façade symbolizing action, thought, power, law, sacrifice and unity. Not one detail was improvised, every single decorative element was loaded with profound meaning.
In 2007, two elevators were installed allowing access to the terrace offering visitors breathtaking panoramic views of Rome.
Piazza Venezia and the Altare della Patria are certainly two must-sees, can’t wait? Tune into our live cam in Rome, we’ll take you there now!
The Vittoriano’s odd shape led Romans to sarcastically nickname it “the typewriter”! Did you know that the Altare della Patria is the only historically relevant monument in Rome that wasn’t built with local travertine stone, but with corpse-white marble from Botticino in Brescia? Curiously, when construction work began a celebratory “good luck” refreshment was served for over 20 people. Wondering where? Inside the bronze horse’s belly!