At first the French Revolution had little effect on Italy, but the situation changed after Austria formed a coalition against France in 1793. The first French armies invaded Italy that year, and in 1796 Napoleon Bonaparte, later emperor Napoleon I of France, led a major invasion into Italy. His victories over the Austrians led to the Treaty of Campo Formio (1797) and the establishment of the Cisalpine and Ligurian republics in Lombardy, with the former’s capital at Milan and the latter’s at Genoa. The French advance south helped establish republics in Rome in 1798 and Naples in 1799.
The Italian republics soon collapsed after Austria and its ally Russia drove the French armies out of Italy in 1799. But Napoleon again invaded northern Italy and defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in 1800. The Cisalpine Republic became the Kingdom of Italy in 1805 and Napoleon was crowned king of Italy at Milan. In 1810 French forces occupied Rome and imprisoned the pope. By then the whole of Italy with the exception of the islands of Sicily and Sardinia was part of the French empire.
The French introduced political changes and French civil law, the Code Napoléon. The function of the Italian territories was to provide raw materials for French industries as well as soldiers and money to sustain the emperor’s endless wars. As the French empire began to crumble following the disastrous Russian campaign of 1812, the excessive burdens of conscription and taxation provoked protests throughout Italy. See also Napoleonic Wars.
Napoleon’s hold on Italy was weakened by his defeat at Leipzig in 1813 as the Austrians invaded northern Italy and a British fleet occupied Genoa. The Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) led to a restoration of Austrian domination of the peninsula, but Sardinia recovered Piedmont, Nice, and Savoy, and acquired Genoa.
After the collapse of Napoleon’s empire in 1814, the European powers met at the Congress of Vienna to redraw the political map of Europe. They placed the Italian states under the control of Austria. A new kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, which included the former Venetian Republic, came under direct Austrian rule. Nearly all the other Italian rulers were cousins or clients of Austria’s Habsburg monarchy. As the leading Catholic power in Europe, Austria also was the protector of the papacy, and it could quickly dispatch troops from its fortresses in the Po Valley. Only the kings of Sardinia, who also ruled Piedmont, enjoyed some degree of autonomy after the restoration of 1815. The European powers still considered Piedmont to be an indispensable geographical barrier separating France and Austria. But fearful of future invasion by France, the restored rulers of Piedmont looked to Austria for protection until the 1840s. Austria’s power imposed unity on Italy’s otherwise untidy political geography. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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