Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Redeemed Lands

(Taken from the journal “Italy Today: A Fortnightly Bulletin”, Volume 1, Issue 7, 1918)


In the year 1027 the Emperor Conrad II bestowed all temporal power in the region of Trent on the Bishop, and for eight centuries after that the Trentino was an independent and autonomous state, recognizing no foreign sovereignty. The Bishop of Trent retained his temporal powers till 1803, when they passed to Austria. Two years after, in 1805, the principality of Trent was by the treaty of Pressburg ceded by Austria to Bavaria; five years later by the treaty of Paris of February 28, 1810, the Trentino became a part of the Kingdom of Italy founded by Napoleon, and assumed the official name of “Department of the High Adige.”

At the fall of Napoleon the Trentino returned under the dominion of Austria, to which it was to remain subject until the year 1918.

Such, briefly, is the history of this region. But throughput the centuries of independent life and the decades of subjection to the Empire of the Hapsburgs, the Trentino has kept unchanged its Italian character. Every town and village of the valley of the Adige bears an Italian name and is peopled by Italians. Ala, Mori, Rovereto and Calliano are types of these Italian communities. Throughout mediaeval times and to the end of the eighteenth century, when an ineffectual germanization of the official life of the region began, historical records make mention of the Italian character of its industrial and commercial life.

The splendor of the Italian Renaissance stamped its mark over the whole region of the Trentino. Castles and churches show the influence of Italian architectural style. Statues and bas-reliefs in the towns of this region also bear witness to the Italian taste of its inhabitants.


From the thirteenth to the end of the eighteenth century Istria was a dependency of the Republic of Venice. It remained under this rule till the peace of Campo-formio in 1797, when Austria acquired it, together with Venice itself and all other lands of the ancient republic of the Doges. By the peace of Pressburg, Austria was, in 1805, compelled to cede Istria to Napoleon who incorporated the region in the newly formed Kingdom of Italy but in 1814 Austria again seized it and has retained it until the end of the Great War.

Istria was as thoroughly Roman a province as Venetia; she fought the barbarians of past ages as bravely; she clung to the Roman government of Ravenna until her own free communes arose, as on the mainland opposite; and in the thirteenth century she came under the protection of Venice, whose soft dialect is still the speech of all her seaport towns and inland cities. Not till Napoleon's ambition led him to use Venice as a pawn with Austria was Istria severed from Italy; and even then, she was reunited with Italy from 1806 to 1814. Austria, then, has had just a century in which to win Istrian allegiance; and she has made use of every device known to the Teuton. By wholesale importation she has tried to make the countryside Slav; but Italians still are paying five-sixths of the rent tax, three-quarters of the industrial tax, four-fifths of the income tax.

Historically, Istria is a segment of Italy. Geographically, she is as truly Italian. Italy is bounded by the Alps and the three seas; and the Julian Alps swing across the base of Istria, divide it off from the Slav hinterland, and give it, by their protection, a Mediterranean climate, with the olive groves and the vineyards so characteristic of Italy.

Venice built her palaces of Istrian stone and her galleys of Istrian timber; Carpaccio and Schiavone were painters as Italian as their contemporaries of the peninsula. It is a noble series of Italian names from Istria that is crowned by that of Nazario Sauro of Capodistria, the devoted mariner who gave to Italy his knowledge of Istrian coasts and harbors when the war broke out, and on whom Austria has wreaked vengeance, as she has on Cesare Battisti, the former Deputy from Trent. From Alboin the Lombard down, the Teuton has never failed to add some tragic compelling touch to his maladroit efforts at controlling Latin peoples; the scaffolds of Battisti and of Sauro serve as a reminder to Italy and to the world of what would have been in store if Austria had remained on Italian soil.


Peopled by Illyrians, with some Greek colonies on the sea coast, Dalmatia was Roman from the second century B.C. until the fall of the Western Empire. Four Roman Emperors were Dalmatians, amongst whom was Diocletian, founder of Spalato. On the fall of Rome it was in Dalmatia that the Western Empire still survived for some decades. The Dalmatian cities, prosperous Latin communities, governed themselves freely even after the fall of Rome, obeying their own laws and statutes which were purely Italo-Roman in character, untainted by German barbaric feudalism. At first they were under the protection of the Roman Empire of the East, and subsequently they became independent republics, following the example of the free Italian communes. In 1409 they passed definitely under Venetian rule, which retained suzerainty over them until 1797, though they always retained their municipal autonomy. Toward the year 1000 small Slav principalities arose in the inland part of Dalmatia; their rule, however, never extended to the coast towns, which always remained free and Italian. Indeed these insignificant Slavonic lordships soon became Italian, so that Venice was able to assume undisputed rule over the whole of Dalmatia.

In 1815 Dalmatia came again under Austrian rule after having formed part of the Kingdom of Italy of Napoleon I.

Austria respected the Italian character of Dalmatia until 1866; but after the loss of Lombardy and Venetia a policy was adopted which aimed at fostering the Croatian element in this region. Little by little, by means of violence and fraud, the municipalities of the Dalmatian cities, which had been Italian for centuries, passed into the hands of the Slavs; in 1870 Sebenico, in 1883 Spalato (the last “podestà” of Spalato, Dr. Antonio Baiamonti, was a distinguished writer and patriot), in 1897 Cattaro (podestà Pezzi), in 1899 Ragusa (podesta Baron Gondola), and so forth. Courageous Zara alone managed to hold out, and preserved intact its Italian patrimony and Italian municipality until Austria, taking advantage of the present war, dissolved the town council. But ever since the Croatian invasion of Dalmatia was begun, as the several centres of resistance gradually passed into the hands of the Austrophilous Slavs, the government at Vienna, and with its consent, and sometimes without it, the Slavs themselves, illegally closed the Italian schools so as to deprive the Italian population even of this essential spiritual nutriment. Zara alone, proudly withstanding all assaults, was able to keep her schools. In all the rest of Dalmatia no Italian schools remained except those privately supported by citizens at their own expense by means of the National Leagues.

The eminent geographer Leon Dominian in his book on “The Frontiers of Language and Nationality” published by the American Geographical Society, renders justice to the Italian character of Dalmatian civilization and culture. The following are quotations from the chapter on “Borderlands of the Italian Language.”
“The history of this coastal land (of Dalmatia) is Italian in spite of the showing of census returns as to the numerical inferiority of Italians within its limits. Rome had reached Dalmatia and the Near East by way of the Adriatic. A whole chain of imposing ruins extended to the wild Albania shores bears the unmistakable impression of Roman splendor. In the partition of the Roman Empire in 225 A. D., Dalmatia was assigned to the western and not to the Eastern half. The period of its subjection to Venetian rule is one of the most brilliant in its history. All the civilization it received came from the west.

The fact is that the Italian element has always been predominant. Dalmatia has always greeted Italian thought as the heritage of Rome and Venice. Its history, its most notable monuments and its whole culture are products of either Roman or Venetian influence. The maritime cities in particular still remain strongholds of Italian thought. Almost every one boasts of a native son who has distinguished himself in the cause of Italy.

The Italians in Dalmatia constitute the progressive and educated element of the population. The mass of the Slavic element is uneducated.”


Geography. — Fiume, situated at the eastern base of the Istrian peninsula, belongs geographically to Istria to which it belonged politically until 1776.

The eastern frontier of Istria, which some place at the Arsa, the original frontier to the tenth Augustean Region, is really formed by the watershed of the Julian Alps which descend to the sea at the “Canale della Montagna,” opposite the head-land of St. Mark, near the island of Veglia.

Fiume, which was from its foundation a free municipality, was for some time under the dominion of the Franks, after which it became successively a fief of the archbishop of Pedana, of the bishop of Pola, of the lords of Duino, of the Hapsburgs, of the Lords of Walsee, and then again of the Hapsburgs.

All known documents relating to the city of Fiume bear witness to its uninterruptedly Italian character, which victoriously survived the Slav invasion in the seventh century that, for a time, seemed to have submerged everything.

In 1776 Maria Theresa made over Fiume to Hungary and — as a result of the protest of the inhabitants — a royal decree of April 23, 1779, proclaimed it to be a “separate body annexed to the crown of the kingdom of Hungary.”

In 1848 it was taken from Hungary by the Croatians of the Bano Jelacic, who held on to it for nineteen years without succeeding, spite of tenacious endeavors in undermining its Italian character, and in 1867, on the dualistic settlement between Austria and Hungary, it was restored to this latter.

In 1863 the so-called “deputations of the kingdom of Hungary, Croatia and Fiume” met at Budapest and decided that “the free city of Fiume and its territory” should remain, in accordance with the charter of 1779, a separate body provisionally annexed to Hungary “corpus separatum adnexum sacrae Regni coronae.”

In the first years after 1868 the autonomy and the Italian character of Fiume were respected. But for nearly twenty years the Italians of Fiume, harassed on all sides, struggling against the Croatians and the Magyars who have done everything in their power to denationalize them, have been engaged in a desperate but so far victorious fight in defence of their threatened Italian nationality.

The Italian character of Fiume is irrefutably proved even by the government census returns.

These figures show that in 1910 there were 24,000 Italians in Fiume (exclusive of some 6,000 Italian citizens most of them natives of Fiume), 12,000 Slavs (Croats, Serbs, and some Slovacs) and 6,400 Magyars.

The fact is that before the war at least 35,000 of the 54,000 inhabitants of Fiume were Italians, that is to say 65 per cent as compared to 28 per cent of Slavs and 6 per cent of Magyars.