Garibaldi’s Cabin

Image of a brick hut with a thatched roof and  trees on either side.

Contributor: Harald Hendrix

Location: Via Baiona 192, 48123 Area Industriale Ravenna, Italy

Description: Inextricably linked to one of the most dramatic moments in the heroic life of Giuseppe Garibaldi, this humble hunting lodge situated in an almost inaccessible area of wetlands near the city of Ravenna preserves the long-lasting memory of popular consent to Garibaldi’s republican and patriotic project to unite Italy. Erected in 1810 by a local clergyman to accommodate his passion for hunting in this part of the river Po delta between Ravenna and Comacchio, it grew into an ideal hideaway for those escaping from arrest by the authorities. In the aftermath of the revolutionary season of 1848 it thus became the shelter of one of Europe’s most radical and appealing advocates of political change, Giuseppe Garibaldi, in what doubtless was the most difficult moment of his life.

From February to July 1849, Garibaldi had presided in Rome over what initially was a highly successful revolution, coercing pope Pius IX to leave the Eternal City and establishing a popular government. Yet as in other parts of Europe also this revolution failed, and Garibaldi had to flee the city on July 2. Chased by papal troops and their allies, together with his comrades and his pregnant wife Anita he crossed Central Italy in order to reach the liberal states of Venice or Sardinia. This turned out to be a disastrous endeavour. Most of his troops could not make it, and Anita fell ill with malaria. When at the end of July he and his wife reached the Ravenna region, local supporters organised a safe itinerary. Using a series of hideaways, at the homes of these supporters or in isolated dwellings like this hunting lodge, they were able to successfully help Garibaldi finding his way to freedom in what eventually became an exile to the Americas, where he stayed from 1850 till 1854.

This happy ending, however, came with enormous loss. On their desperate retreat, Anita’s illness had quickly aggravated, partly due to the extremely poor circumstances of their trip. While looking for assistance by a local doctor, on August 4 they arrived at a farm in the Po delta not far from Ravenna, where Anita died as soon as her husband let her lie down after having carried her for miles. Struck with grief but still chased by enemy troops, Garibaldi had no other choice than to go on, leaving his beloved wife to be buried by local supporters. He hid in various places, and thus on August 6 1849 was escorted to this hunting lodge, which he used for one night only. From there, he moved on using various other hideaways, ultimately reaching Genoa in September.

By its association with the darkest hour in Garibaldi’s life, in a political and an emotional sense, the hunting lodge soon became known as Garibaldi’s Cabin. The local Ravenna supporters of his cause, who had been essential in safeguarding their hero, became particularly interested in developing this humble dwelling into a monument. But only after the accomplished unification of Italy could this ambition materialise. In 1867 a local patriotic association, the ‘Società dell’Unione Democratica’ bought the lodge, initiated renovation works, and put two commemorative plaques on its façade. When in 1882 Garibaldi died, a nationwide campaign to honor his memory developed. In Ravenna this strengthened the already existing focus on Garibaldi’s Cabin. On October 21, 1882, a society specifically targeted at this memorial place was founded, the ‘Società Conservatrice del Capanno Garibaldi’. This organisation of volunteers took over ownership of the property, adding a third commemorative plaque to the façade, and became responsible for curating and managing the location, until today.

Garibaldi’s Cabin has been attracting large numbers of visitors ever since, notwithstanding or perhaps due to its isolated position, which makes it difficult to reach the place. It developed into a focus point for communities sharing particular political views, starting with the Ravenna ‘garibaldini’ and other left-wing oriented republicans who cherished Garibaldi’s anti-monarchical and anti-clerical stance. To enhance and celebrate their shared identity, they organised and still organise today recurrent pilgrimages to the lodge, particularly on Garibaldi’s name day (March 19) and date of death (June 2). This may occur in a local setting, but also on a national scale, as happened during the massive ‘National Pilgrimage to Garibaldi’s Cabin’ in 1907. Following the huge impact of these pilgrimages, other political forces attempted to appropriate the location’s popularity, as did the fascists during the 1920s and 1930s.

Such public interest turned this rather unimposing humble building into something of a cultural icon, to be carefully preserved. Thus, when damaged or even when completely destroyed by fire, as happened several times, it was restored or rebuilt as before. Such was its fame that in 1911, at the World Exposition in Rome celebrating half a century of Italian Unity, a replica of Garibaldi’s Cabin became one of the main attractions. It being an evidently humble dwelling helps to generate continuous interest and popularity. Not only does it eloquently synthesize the significance of the person it celebrates, as a politician and as a man. It also represents an effort to remember cherished by civilians and their communities, rather than organised by institutions of power. This popular orientation finds eloquent expression in the memorial habits performed during the pilgrimages to this location, consisting mainly of eating together and making group pictures in front of Garibaldi’s Cabin.

Date: 1810

Creator: Giuseppe Roncuzzi ‘don Masone’

Subject: Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882)

Media:
1) Pietro Bouvier, Giuseppe Garibaldi carrying his dying wife Anita in the swamps near Comacchio, oil on canvas, 1864, Museo del Risorgimento, Brescia (public domain)
https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Garibaldi_carrying_his_dying_Anita_through_the_swamps_of_Comacchio_(oil_on_canvas).jpg

2) A Gathering at Garibaldi’s Cabin, ca 1870 (public domain)
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/it/9/9e/Capanno_Garibaldi_vecchia_immagine.jpg

Media rights: photograph by Harald Hendrix

Object type: building; hut

Format: building, 6.00 x 3.86 m

Publisher: owned, preserved and managed by the “Società Conservatrice del Capanno Garibaldi” established in 1882.

References

Maurizio Mari, Quelli che andavano al Capanno … L’archivio del Capanno Garibaldi. Ravenna: Società Conservatrice Capanno Garibaldi Ravenna, 2012.

Lucy Riall, Garibaldi. The Invention of a Hero. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Giorgia Vittonato, Il Capanno di Garibaldi. Culto del Risorgimento, memoria locale e cultura politica a Ravenna. Ravenna: Longo, 2005.

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