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The Risorgimento: Italy’s Unification Movement (1:38)

Milan, Italy

Milan’s Risorgimento Museum tells the story of Italy's unification, when a cluster of colonies and small states in 1850 became one united country by 1870, thanks to patriotic heroes — their George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons — leading the way.

Complete Video Script

The nearby Risorgimento Museum tells the story of Italy's unification. It helps us imagine the excitement in Europe during the mid-1800s as the modern nations of Italy, Germany and others were being born. Back then, a few royal families — such as the Habsburgs, Bourbons, and Romanovs — ruled Europe without regard to nationality. And none of them wanted to see the emergence of modern nation states. Even without really understanding the details, just pondering the stirring paintings here makes it clear there are Italian equivalents to our battles of Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, and Yorktown.

After four centuries of foreign rule, Milan helped spearhead Italy's road to unity. Step by step — whether in bloody battle or by popular vote as was the case in Venice, Italy went from a peninsula of colonies and small states in 1850 to one united country in 1870.

Italy's heroic struggles were led by patriots whose names are household words today. Mazzini — the intellectual who spread the notion that Italian-speaking people should be one nation. Garibaldi — the guerilla war hero whose feisty little army of red shirts brought Sicily and Southern Italy into the fold, and Victor Emmanuel, the only Italian blooded king, who, upon unification was the slam dunk favorite to be the first constitutional monarch of the new Italy.

Throughout Italy, the George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons of the Italian independence movement are celebrated. Statues, streets, and squares are named in honor of the founding fathers of modern Italy.