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Carboneria and other secret societies

1796 | 1831


The intense changes undergone through the napoleonic era deeply marked Bologna, that for years had gravitated toward the northern regions and hardly accepted to go back into the Papal States. After the Congress of Vienna, even though the predominant mood was one of resignation and (wait), in the city, as well, there were active movements and political associations of different orientation. Among these, the most lively and revolutionary was the Carboneria, secret society which developed in southern Italy and spread in Bologna mostly after the arrival of Gioacchino Murat’s armies from Naples (1815). Like Freemasonry, it had the taste for complex rituals, many symbols, the international diffusion and the rigid hierarchy. Its main aim was freedom and independence of subordinated people, yet it wasn’t clear neither the most convenient kind of government (monarchy or republic) nor the choice of means to assure its realisation (pacific or violent), nor the social condition of the ideal state meant to be created.

Starting with pushing away the (Carbonaros) from Marche (1817), the Bolognese attempted to replace them for directing the movement, in order to let the city become “quel centro nel quale raccogliere si possono tutte le notizie degli altri stati e particolarmente delle altre provincie dello Stato” (“that centre where it’s possible to gather all the news from the other states and in particular from the other provinces of the State”). With this scope, the Carbonaro chief Luigi Zubboli, active and ambitious conspirator, also member of Freemasonry, tried to rely on the highest classes, without obtaining great results, though. Many influent and distinct people in the city were afraid, in fact, of the (Carbonaros) revolutionary oppositions and didn’t go against the secular power of the Church, that they would have preferred to carry out toward a reform policy and a progressive tendency to become lay. They were aligned with a moderate reformism, which found its expression, at least according to the (Papal police) reports, in the secret society of Guelfi (or Adelfi). The moderate also included those who would be pleased to go back to the types of city and government autonomy, before the arrival of the French.

In the end, there were some minor sects, such as the Latinismo, the Spilla Nera, the Enotria, the Federati and the Loggia degli Imberbi, spread, for the most part, in the university. During the riots in southern Italy of 1820-21, Bologna became (command of square) for the various armies sent to Naples from the States of the Santa Alleanza and generally remained calm. After Pio VII’s death, the Papal States left aside the ralliement policy with the moderate, wanted by cardinal Consalvi. The radicalism of the clash between (carbonaros) and reactionaries, however, made itself vigorously clear mostly in Romagna, through political assassination attempts, trials, repression. Bologna apparently remained quite calm, though the subterranean (disease) increased, until it exploded in the revolution of 1831. Started from the (modenesi) riots promoted by Ciro Menotti, it extended very quickly on all the northern part of the Papal States: on February 4, in Bologna, students and (common people) manifested in the square, while a “universal shudder” ran throughout the city. In the temporary commission that the (pro-legato) had created to “frenare il popolo, metterlo alla ragione, indirizzarlo” (“stop the population, let it reason, direct it”), made up by politically heterogeneous elements, the most radical orientations won and, on February 8, the Papal secular power was declared as fallen and it was constituted a Temporary Government. Even the other cities of Romagna, of Marche and of Umbria rioted and, on February 26, their representatives created in Bologna the Governo delle Province Unite, its chairman was Giovanni Vicini.

Actually, while many youngsters that had joined it were moved by strong patriotic feelings and ready to act, the directing group, made up predominantly by napoleonic ex-officers, expressed a moderate reformism and didn’t have the national revolution as objective. So, the Government refused the alliance with the (modenesi) and did as much as it could to avoid the most radical positions to take the command. Then, on March 21, the Austrian army, called to help the Pope, entered the city without fighting. The patriots left off towards Romagna and, after a brief battle in Rimini, their army split up, with “undescribable desolation” of many young people, who would have preferred fighting. The sudden failure of the revolution of 1831 marked the beginning of the Carboneria’s sunset and the other similar secret societies. Just from the reflection on the profound matters of that failure, Giuseppe Mazzini moved to create a new political association, that he, willingly against the previous ones, wanted to call “Giovine Italia”.