For those who love the tricolour flag and what it has represented in modern history, a visit to Reggio Emilia is a must. It was in this city, in the heart of the Po Valley, that on 7 January 1797, one of the most important pages of Italian history was written, when the Unification of Italy was still only a dream.
But why Reggio Emilia? What were the particular political events that led this town to become a benchmark for the ideals of liberty and independence that warmed the hearts of many during that time period?
Today, as you walk through the old town centre you can see the signs of that revolution in the monuments and streets. Starting from the Palazzi dei Mercanti del Panno [Cloth Merchants’ Palazzo] and Palazzo Busetti, reminders of the clashes between the Este Duchy and the ancient local wool and silk guilds, you reach the Follo Arch, constructed between the end of eighteenth and the beginning of nineteenth century, which can be considered the symbol for the local patriots of that dream of French-style liberation: liberty, equality and fraternity.
On the façade of some of the buildings, such as Saint Vincent’s Academic Institute, we can still see the coat of arms of the city and the inscription “The Republic of Reggio”, which, on 26 August 1796, replaced the previous eagle of the Este family crest. A stroll through the ghetto will conjure up memories of the period of oppression ordered by the ducal power against the Jews.
However, the real turning point occurred in the Sala del Tricolore, the room of the tricolour, now the seat of the Reggio Emilia City Council. It was here, on 7 January 1797, that the representatives of Bologna, Modena, Reggio Emilia and Ferrara proclaimed the white, red and green tricolour as the banner of the newborn Cispadane Republic, which was destined to soon become the symbol of independence and Italian national unity.
In the adjoining rooms, the Museo del Tricolore documents the historical and political context that led to the birth of the Italian flag. The exhibition is arranged along two parallel lines; on one side, you can follow the history of the national flag, from its origins to gaining independence and the Unification of Italy; on the other side, the events of the Risorgimento linked directly to the city of Reggio Emilia.