The monument holds great national significance. It is an architectonic and artistic tribute to the Italian Risorgimento: the complex process of unification undertaken by Victor Emmanuel II throughout the second half of the 19th Century. It is regarded as a national symbol of Italy and every year it hosts important national celebrations. The largest annual celebrations are Liberation Day (April 25th), Republic Day (Italian: "Festa della Repubblica Italiana") (June 2nd), and Armed Forces Day (Italian: "Giornata dell'Unità Nazionale e delle Forze Armate") (November 4th). During these celebrations, the Italian President and the highest government officials pay tribute to the Unknown Soldier and those who died in the line of duty by laying a laurel wreath.
Following the death of Victor Emmanuel II in 1878, the Italian government approved the construction of a monumental complex on the Northern side of Rome’s Capitol Hill. The monument would celebrate the legacy of the first king of Italy and would become a symbol of national patriotism. Construction began in 1885, under the lead of Italian architect Giuseppe Sacconi, and required the demolition of numerous buildings in the proximity of the selected location.
The partly completed monument was inaugurated on June 4th, 1911 on the occasion of the Turin International world’s fair and the 50th anniversary of Italian Unification. Construction continued throughout the first half of the 20th Century; in 1921 the body of the Unknown Soldier was placed in the crypt under the statue of goddess Roma and in 1935 the monument was fully completed amidst the inauguration of the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento Italiano.
With the rise of Fascism in 1922, the Vittoriano became the setting for the military parades of the authoritarian regime of Benito Mussolini. After World War II, with the institution of the Italian Republic in 1946, the monument was stripped of all its Fascist symbols and reassumed its original function as a secular temple dedicated to the Italian nation and its people. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, however, its significance as a symbol of national identity started declining as the public opinion started perceiving it as a cumbersome relic representing a nation superseded by its own history. At the turn of the 21st Century, Italy’s President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi pushed for a revaluation of Italian patriotic symbols, including the Vittoriano. The monument continues to host major national parades and celebrations such as Liberation Day (April 25th), Republic Day (June 2nd), and Armed Forces Day (November 4th).
The monument, the largest in Rome, was controversial since its construction necessitated the destruction of a large area of the Capitoline Hill with a Medieval neighbourhood. The monument itself is often regarded as conspicuous, pompous and too large. It has been described as being "chopped with terrible brutality into the immensely complicated fabric of the hill".
It is clearly visible to most of Rome. The monument is also glaringly white, built from "corpse-white marble" imported from Botticino in Brescia, making it highly conspicuous amidst the generally brownish buildings surrounding it. For its shape and conspicuous nature, Romans have given it a number of nicknames, including la torta nuziale ("the wedding cake"), la dentiera ("the dentures"), macchina da scrivere ("the typewriter") and la zuppa inglese ("English soup" dessert, which refers to a trifle).
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, under the statue of goddess Roma, with the eternal flame on the right
The flags of disbanded units of the Italian Armed Forces, as well as the flags of ships stricken from the naval register of the Italian Navy are stored at the Vittoriano in the so-called Shrine of the Flags (Sacrario delle Bandiere). The oldest flag on display is the flag of the 19th-century frigate Giuseppe Garibaldi. When an Italian military unit is reactivated its flag is taken from the Vittoriano and returned to the unit, which with the flag receives also the name, traditions, and military honors bestowed upon the flag over time.
A view from the Piazza Venezia, looking towards Altare della Patria from the North-West
Initial study for Victoria on quadriga, inside the building
^ abcdeAtkinson, David; Cosgrove, Denis (March 1998). "Urban Rhetoric and Embodied Identities: City, Nation, and Empire at the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument in Rome, 1870-1945". Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 88 (1): 28–49. 10.1111/1467-8306.00083.
^Sandra Berresford, Italian Memorial Sculpture, 1820-1940: A Legacy of Love56.