What’s in a name?

Poets, politicians and popes: all can be found immortalised in Italian street names, along with a smattering of artists and industrialists, scientists and saints, as well as a handful of key dates in Italy’s history. As a result, a brief stroll around even the smallest of villages will turn into a fascinating ambulatory version of an Italian ‘Who’s Who?’

Once you have wandered past the tall, shuttered palazzi along Via Roma – for although not actually obligatory, I’ve yet to come across a town that doesn’t have one (and Montelupone is no exception) – and then paused for a cappuccino on the shaded terrace of an intimate little café on the grand Piazza del Popolo – and there will be one, trust me, or possibly a Piazza della Libertà – you could very well find yourself window-shopping on Viale Cavour, or admiring the fountains in the Piazza Garibaldi or dodging the traffic on the busy Corso Mazzini. Practically every town from the Alps to Etna has a street or square named after at least one of these three heroes of the Risorgimento: those soldier-politicians who led the march to Italian unity and who are still revered as national heroes. And just for the record, the road that encircles Montelupone’s walled historic centre is a Via Garibaldi.

Leave the Piazza del Popolo (or della Libertà) from another corner and there is every chance that this will lead you to Via Papà Giovanni XXIII. Although his papacy only lasted for five years, Pope John XXIII is fondly remembered for championing universal human rights and the peaceful resolution of conflict, so his name is a regular on street maps. And he probably still just pips Papà Giovanni Paolo II (John Paul II) to the number one spot, even though the latter still enjoys almost superstar status. And of course, in practically any town you will encounter any one of a whole clutch of saints, headed up, naturally, by Santa Maria and Saint Francis, who is one of Italy’s two patron saints.  The latter is an especially popular choice in these parts since Assisi and the magnificent Basilica di San Francesco are little over an hour away, but as you turn the corner, you could just as easily find yourself in Contrada Santa Caterina (just as you will if you head down the hill out of Montelupone towards our house). A mystic theologian and one of only four female ‘doctors of the church’, she was born in Siena and was proclaimed patron saint of Europe by John Paul II in 1999, having already been named Italy’s second patron saint in 1940.

Then as you curve back towards Via Roma your route could take you along one of those many streets named after a number of significant dates in Italian history. Via XX Settembre (of which Montelupone has an example) marks the day at the height of the Risorgimento in 1870 that the Pope lost control of Rome, while Via XVII Marzo celebrates Italy’s unification in 1861. And in the village we also have a Via XXIV Maggio. This is a slightly unusual one since it commemorates the day in 1915 on which Italy fired its first shots in World War One. While not normally considered a cause for celebration, the event is significant as this was the first time that the whole country took up arms under a single flag in defence of the young nation.

Figures from more recent times who have streets names after them include Giacomo Matteotti, a prominent socialist who stood up to Mussolini and the Fascists, but who ended up being kidnapped and murdered by Il Duce’s secret police in 1924, and fellow left-winger and industrial activist, Antonio Gramsci who in 1937 also met a sticky end at the hands of the Fascists.  Prime Ministers are always a popular choice too – regardless of how popular they might have been in life – and possibly the most frequent example (and before you ask, yes, we have one in Montelupone) is Via Aldo Moro, named after the prime minister who was kidnapped and then murdered by the Red Brigades in 1978.

Then to go with these prominent twentieth century figures is a collection of dates from more recent history that are memorialised in street names. Our local supermarket, for instance, is on Via XXV Aprile, one of many such streets up and down the country that commemorate Italy’s liberation from the Nazis in 1945, while any Contrada II Guigno you come across marks the declaration of the republic in 1946. Since the monarchy was abolished on the same day the republic was declared, you may be surprised to come across a Corso Vittorio Emanuele, but since this was the first king of the newly-united Italy, he is still fondly remembered as ‘Padre della Padria’ – Father of the Nation – and many a grand, town-centre boulevard is named in his honour.  On the other hand, I find it rather odd that there should be any street named after his son and successor, Umberto I, for despite being nicknamed ‘il Buono’ – the Good – he was an aggressive colonialist, turned a blind eye to the activities of the Mafia and the Camorra, had only contempt for Parliament, and outraged public opinion by decorating the General responsible for the massacre in 1898 of some 400 civilians who were protesting against rising bread prices. Not altogether surprisingly, he was assassinated a couple of years later. But commemorated he is: indeed, the elegant, tree-lined Corso Umberto I is Civitanova Marche’s most up-market shopping street and the place to be seen during the evening passegiata in summer.

But it’s not only national heroes (or villains, in Umberto I’s case) that are honoured in this way. Around these parts there are also streets called Via Rafaello Sanzio, Piazza Giacomo Leopardi, or Viale Maria Montessori; Contrada Enrico Mattei, Corso Beniamino Gigli, or Piazza Giovanni Pergolesi. For street names are also a manifestation of Italy’s famed campanilismo: loyalty to the local. And while the names may not be as familiar as Cavour, Mazzini and Garabaldi, they are all noteworthy Marchigiani. So to discover who these famous sons (and one daughter) of Le Marche are, come and take a stroll through the flower-filled cobbled streets of the region’s many hill-top towns, pausing as the fancy takes you for a coffee, a gelato, perhaps a glass of chilled Verdicchio, or simply to drink in the soaring views of ‘monti e mare’, and their achievements shall be revealed to you….

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