The Italian Flag: History and Meaning
With the spread of Italian culture around the world, many people are familiar with the sight of Italy’s national flag. The green, white and red colors or il tricolore as it is called in Italian has three equal vertical bands with the green on the hoist side. There were many variations of the flag in earlier years, representing Italy’s long journey to becoming a united nation.
Italy was a land of nation-states and kingdoms. In the late 18th century, Napoleon’s forces invaded what is now northern Italy. With the Duchy of Milan overthrown, in 1796 the Cisalpine Republic was born and a new flag flown. Inspired by the French flag, the blue band was changed to green, representing the uniforms of the Milan Civil Guard, while the red and white bands from the original flag of Milan remained. The shape, however, was a square.
In 1805 Napoleon was declared emperor and the shape of the flag changed to a rectangle. The golden Napoleonic eagle was placed in the center and this flag flew until 1814, which marked the end of Napoleon’s reign.
With the near unification of Italy into one nation in 1848 (excluding the regions of Venetia, Rome, Trento and Trieste), a national flag was adopted. The green, white and red bands were retained with the addition of the House of Savoy coat of arms. For 85 years, this flag would fly.
The Twentieth Century
During the Second World War, fascists attained government control and for two years the Italian Social Republic (1943-1945) ruled. The standard flag was put aside in favor of a war flag that placed a silver eagle clutching a bundle of fasci littori, which were symbols of fascist power.
At the end of the war, Italy declared itself a republic in 1946 and adopted the current flag in 1948.
Meaning Behind the Colors of the Italian flag
Debate still goes on as to the true meaning behind the colors. Two theories have evolved over the years. The first suggests a more religious or poetic meaning to the colors with green for hope, white for faith and red for charity. Another more secular and straightforward interpretation states that the green represents the Italian landscape, the white stands for the snowy mountains of the Alps, and the red signifies the bloodshed that led to Italy’s independence.