Today is a special day in Italy. A holiday from work, a day spent relaxing with family and friends, enjoying the new season of warmer weather, and remembering the close of a dark period in Italian history.
April 25 is known in Italy as the Anniversario della Liberazione d’Italia, or the Anniversario della Resistenza. It was during these last weeks of April, 71 years ago, that one by one the cities of Northern Italy successfully renounced 20 years of fascist dictatorship, and five years of war. A friend of mine equated it to the 4th of July in the United States, as what was happening 71 years ago in Italy created the momentum for what would officially become Italy as we know it today, the Italian Republic, when the constitution was signed in 1948.
As an ex-patriot living in Italy, these holidays always catch me by surprise. Growing up in your own culture, holidays are tied to so many memories and anticipating them is second nature. But when you are living outside of your culture, none of these triggers exist and life from one day to the next is just one huge learning lesson.
Even though I’ve lived in Bologna for several years already, I’m still learning. I just found out from a friend that Bologna is an important destination for Italians celebrating this holiday. The city is full today – it is very exciting.
As an American, it is hard for me to understand the impact of a war happening in someone’s own backyard, and therefore, the significance of a holiday dedicated to the end of such a war.
I’ll never forget the afternoon that my English student, a Bologna police officer and a lover of history, showed me something in Bologna’s central square, Piazza Maggiore, that changed the way I look at this hub of activity and concentration of precious architecture in the center of the city.
We took a familiar path toward the piazza, one that I had walked hundreds of times, and he stopped me just as we were stepping up onto the center walkway.
“See here? Where the stone is missing? Do you know why it looks like this?”
I looked around. Strange, he was totally right. There were chunks of stone missing along this shallow curb that I had never noticed. But it wasn’t like that around the whole walkway, as far as I could see.
“Weird, I never notice,” I responded. “Why is it like that?”
“The tanks,” he responded. “From the war. They would damage the stone when they were rolling up onto the curb to go to the center of the piazza.”
I was flabbergasted. The war seemed so long ago, but this visible damage to the piazza in front of me made it so tangible. “Why didn’t they ever fix it? It has been so long!”
“I don’t know,” he said quietly. “Maybe they want to remember…”
In honor of today, I paid a visit to that curb, and took this picture. Turns out I wasn’t the only one with this idea. The gentlemen on the left side of the photo were doing the same thing. You can see the same clock tower in the background here as is pictured above the tank in the historical shot.
I’m discovering a little bit more every day how rich our pasts are, and how much there is to be found just below our footsteps. And most of all, I’m grateful to be included in today’s important festivities on this day of liberation in Italy. Here’s to many more to come!