Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 entry Feb 2016
The Siege of Civitella del Tronto 
—The Real “Last Stand” of the Bourbons

The modern nation state of Italy was unified in early 1861 through the defeat of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (or Kingdom of Naples) by a massive joint undertaking involving the forces of Giuseppe Garibaldi and the forces of Victor Emanuel II, king of Piedmont-Sardinia. Much of that story is told in the entries on Garibaldi and on Maria Sophia, the Last Queen of Naples. Though a lot of romantic slush is spent on the Bourbon "last stand" at Gaeta with the young heroine queen, Maria Sophia, holding off the invaders (see link, above), the real last stand came at the fortress of the town of Civitella del Tronto, a town in the province of Teramo, within the Abruzzo region of central Italy. It is located in the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park. It is 20 km/12 miles inland from the Adriatic far north of Naples (240 km/150 mi to be exact). That is almost in Umbria, much further north than you would expect if you think of the Kingdom of Naples as "everything from Naples south." Not so. Civitella del Tronto is roughly where the number 2 is on the map (image), at the very top, in the modern region of Abruzzo and called "Outer Abruzzo" when it was a province of the old Bourbon Kingdom of the The Two Sicilies.)

Much press, even at the time, spoke of the fall of Gaeta as the end of the Kingdom of Naples. In one sense it was true. Naples, the capital city had fallen to Garibaldi in September of 1860, so that part of the kingdom was over and done with (even though the Bourbon garrison at Messina on Sicily still held out). The Piemontese forces came down from the north picking up territory piece by piece and incorporating them into what was to be the new nation. (This included the large territory of the Papal States except Rome, itself, which would not fall to Italy until 1871). On February 18, 1861, the Piemontese parliament declared the creation of the new Kingdom of Italy. That was while the siege of Gaeta was still going on. Other southern garrisons were holding out as well, among which was the fortress of Civitella del Tronto. But there was no longer any doubt as to the outcome. The Bourbon forces in Gaeta surrendered on February 13, 1861; the last garrison on Sicily, Messina, surrendered in February 15; the Piemontese king, Victor Emanuel II, officially declared the beginning of the new kingdom on February 18, 1861. At that point, only the garrison at Civitella del Tronto held out. Hopeless doesn't begin to describe it. The king and queen of Naples had already fled the kingdom, leaving Gaeta to become refugees in Rome. Their kingdom of Naples was through. Yet —intepret it as you will— the fortress at Civitella del Tronto decided to make a statement —maybe not fight to the last man or anything like that, maybe just show they still had something left.

The site, itself, had been part of the kingdom of Naples since the middle ages. The fortress acquired its massive defensive configuration between 1565 and 1576 when the Kingdom of Naples was actually a vice-realm of the Spanish. It had undergone sieges before, one against French forces in 1557 who were waging war against the Spanish. The fort withstood the siege. Another time was against Napoleon's forces in 1806 (the fort held out for 4 months before surrendering). The fortress was a substantial structure. At the time of the siege in March 1861, it was the largest fortress in Italy and second in Europe (after
Hohensalzburg in Salzburg, Austria). It was set atop a rocky cliff and was about 500 meters long and 45-50 meters wide. The total area was 25,000 sq. meters (a bit more than six acres). It was well fortified with a reputation for having withstood sieges before. Nothing is immovable, and in this case, the irresistible force was a strong attacking army, but even they didn't take it easily. The Piemontese forces had started the siege in late October of 1860, even before the siege of Gaeta had begun. All in all, the defenders held out for 200 days before giving up on March 20, 1861, seven days after the "last stand" at Gaeta was over and three days after their kingdom had been declared defunct by the proclamation of the existence of a united Italy.

Details of the siege itself are relatively straightforward. The attacking Piemontese forces had over 1000 men. There were 500 defenders. Two to one is an advantage but it's not overwhelming in an uphill attempt to take a well-fortified position. Many other things come into play. That attackers had superior (that is, longer range) artillery. Psychologically, other Bourbon garrisons were surrendering as the Piemontese push increased; the fall of the capital city to Garibladi in September certainly hadn't helped; and, very telling, some of the attackers were ex-Bourbon military who had already gone over to the forces of unification. The Risorgimento (the move to unify Italy) was, indeed, a popular cause, even in many parts of the south. In any event, artillery shelling of the fortress started in late October, 1860. There were a few breaks for truce talks, but no results. There was really nothing to negotiate. With the fall of Gaeta, and the abdication and flight of the king of Naples, Francis II, it really was over. The holdout garrison of Civitella del Tronto was now isolated. On February 15, two days after the fall of Gaeta, Piemontese forces opened up with a ferocious artillery bombardment of the already badly damaged fortress. Still no white flag. On February 17, with the Civitella siege still going on, Victor Emanuel was crowned king of Italy in Torino. Attackers finally gained entrance to the fortress and brought the message that Gaeta really had fallen and that their own Bourbon king Francis bade them to lay down their arms.
Some defenders surrendered. Others viewed it as a trick. Fighting continued. On February 20 at 11 a.m. Major Raffaele Tiscar, now commander of the fortress of Civitella del Tronto, finally ran up the white flag. The 291 surviving defenders were taken prisoner. At 5 p.m. the flag of the House of Savoy, rulers of Piedmont-Sardinia, was raised over the fortress.

The defence of the fortress of Civitella del Tronto was generally viewed as an honorable one, even by the forces of unification. Futile but honorable. Even that grudging respect didn't last long. The forces of new Italy set about destroying the defensive works of the fortress by point-blank artillery fire, reducing many of the structures to absolute rubble. This was a warning to the renegade "bandits" (who would resist unification for much of the rest of the decade) roaming the hills. The fortress lay in ruins for a century. It wasn't until after WWII that the Italian economic miracle set its sights on restoring the structure. Today, all of it is clean and much is restored so as to be visited. The fortress houses a Museum of Weapons and Ancient Maps, opened in 1988.

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