Yesterday, March 17, 2011, Italy celebrated its birthday. 150 years ago all the regions of Italy, previously ruled separately by the regional kings and popes, became a united country under one flag, the tricolore (three colors) of red, white and green. Well, kind of. The Italy as we know it today was missing a few cities in 1861.
Venice didn't join the country until 1866 when Italy helped Prussia defeat the Austrians. Venice was Italy's reward. Then in 1870, Italy added Rome and its surrounding papal states to the country. In any case, 1861 is the year recognized by Italians as the year Italy united as one. Of course, this 150th birthday gives the country reason to take the day off and celebrate.
Italy started celebrating the night before. Buildings were alit with the tricolore. Flags hung from windows. Evening festivities included musical performances and food festivals in the piazze. People gatherered together with their flags in hand to celebrate. Flower arrangements and food were decorated in green, white and red in honor of the festivities. Celebrations continued throughout the day and the evening of the 17th.
I was in Naples for the beginning of the festivities on the eve of the 16th and arrived in Lecce on the 17th to participate in the celebrations in Piazza St. Oronzo in Lecce. Along with the Leccesi, many local food vendors gathered under a tent in the piazza, offering samples and selling local specialties.
Buon compleanno Italy!