Rome's French period began in 1798, when the French revolutionary army, taking advantage of the weak defenses of the sprawling Papal States, entered the city along via Flaminia, through the Porta del Popolo, down the via del Corso, and up the capital steps, where the "Republic" was declared. Under what was known as the "repubblica per ridere" (The Ridiculous Republic, or, more literally, the Laughable Republic), the Pope was deported, enemies of the regime were executed in Piazza del Popolo and the Piazza of Santa Maria in Trastevere, and increases in the price of bread led to riots in the streets.
|He loved Rome--or perhaps the idea of Rome--but he would never see the city. The painting is in the Museo Napoleonico|
|Villa Medici, inhabited by the French since 1803|
|Castel Sant'Angelo, where French troops were|
|The Quirinal Palace, where a captive Pope|
excommunicated Napoleon, among others.
the Pope would be willing to compromise in exchange for protection--he had Pius kidnapped and removed from the city to Savona. The attack on the Church continued with the removal of the stations of the cross from the Coliseum, the deportation of hundreds of clerics, and the closing down of the Papal welfare state, which had supported thousands of Romans unable (or sometimes unwilling) to work.
The French under Napoleon were reformers, standard-bearers of the Enlightenment, and they made every effort to bring their modernizing perspective to a Rome that clung to its medieval ways with tenacity. Like Mussolini, the French disliked and feared Rome's physical complexity. They believed that its narrow, winding streets--perhaps especially the warrens of Trastevere--and its nameless streets and numberless houses--reinforced the insularity and hostility of the population, including the Trasteverini. The French were not in power long enough to do much in the way of urban renewal, but they did manage to number the houses and install street signage and street lights, as well as prohibit concealed weapons in a violent city where nearly every man carried a knife.
The ban on concealed weapons was not popular with the Romans, nor was military conscription, the forcing of able-bodied men to work on public projects, depots for the storage of vagrants, or efforts to suppress the lottery (Romans loved to gamble). The new "scientific" guillotine was introduced in 1813, and torture was outlawed.
|Giuseppe Valadier's Casina, on the Pincio|
The French were planners, too. By 1810 there were plans for an enormous imperial palace, one that would have dwarfed the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II. There were plans to turn the Lateran Palace into a hospice for beggars, to create open piazzas around Trajan's column, the Pantheon, and the Trevi fountain, and to cut new boulevards in the city. Mussolini would have understood.
|Imagine the Tevere, navigable for large vessels,|
all the way to Perugia. The French did.
There was a plan to open the Tevere to large vessels, all the way to Perugia, and another to create an enormous garden from the Pincian Hill to the Tevere.
|The Verano cemetery|
Of all these plans, few came to fruition. The Pincian/Tevere garden was in the works when the French departed, and one element in that larger plans remains to this day: the Casina by Italian architect Giuseppe Valadier. The Verano cemetery, located adjacent to the Basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le mura, was another French achievement.
|Canova's Pauline (Napoleon's sister), in |
the Borghese Museum
|The unassuming Pasquino, where|
Romans expressed their dislike of the French.
It would all be over soon. French influence in the city was dramatically reduced in 1812, when Napoleon's armies ran into trouble in Russia. In May of 1814, Pope Pius VII entered Rome in triumph over the Ponte Milvio, the same route into the city taken by the French revolutionary forces some 16 years before. The Romans got their city back.
|The Museo Napoleonico|
Lucien, Napoleon's brother, lived in Rome from 1804 to 1808, and he returned to the city after his sibling's fall. One of Lucien's descendants founded the Museo Napoleonico. The museum is at Piazza di Ponte Umberto I, 1, just north of Piazza Navona.
This account is based on Susan Vandiver Nicassio's informative and entertaining history, Imperial City: Rome Under Napoleon (The University of Chicago Press, 2005). It is available from the publisher and on amazon.com (paper and Kindle).