After the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), Spanish domination in Italy came to an end. A branch of the French Bourbon family ruled Spain, and Italy experienced another period of political unrest, warfare, and instability. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chappelle in 1748 finally brought peace. It left the Austrian Habsburg monarchy firmly in control of Lombardy and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Habsburg relatives ruled in Parma. Venice and Genoa survived as independent republics until the end of the 1700s, but had little power or influence. The importance of the duchy of Savoy, however, grew immensely.
The dukes of Savoy had acquired Sicily, Piedmont, and Nice. In 1720 they traded Sicily for the island of Sardinia and henceforth called themselves kings of Sardinia. The capital of the kingdom was, however, in Turin, a city in Piedmont. The expansion of the Piedmontese monarchy resulted from its geographical position between the warring monarchies of Austria and France. At every peace conference the European powers added more territories to strengthen the kingdom, whose independence was considered fundamental to the security of Europe. With growing confidence the Piedmontese rulers sought to expand their dynastic ties with the rulers of other northern and central Italian states.
The popes also retained their autonomy during the 1700s, although they had little political power. Throughout Europe, Catholic rulers reasserted their authority over the church. In southern Italy, a branch of the Spanish Bourbons came to the throne in 1734 and the kingdom of the Two Sicilies once again became an independent state.
The years between 1748 and the French Revolution (1789-1799) were a period of relative peace on the Italian peninsula. Peace was accompanied by signs of economic revival, especially because demand for agricultural products and industrial raw materials (particularly olive oil for making soap and raw silk) increased rapidly in Britain and France.
During this period Italian rulers attempted to strengthen their power at the expense of the church and the feudal nobility. In Turin, Milan, Rome, and above all in Naples, the rulers built palaces, villas, theaters, and almshouses for the poor, making all of these cities once again centers of art. Wealthy and educated individuals from all over Europe, and from North America, set out to follow the Grand Tour, visiting the great artistic centers of Italy and the sites of antiquity. As Italian rulers sought to reorganize their states, their efforts attracted the attention of writers, thinkers, and philosophers. Debates on politics and society brought Italy into the mainstream of the European intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment. Taking their cue from France, Italian thinkers contributed to the search for more rational and constructive forms of political organization. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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