Righetto: a life for Rome, by Giuseppe Gesualdi and Alessia Anniballi

One of the beautiful areas in Rome is the Gianicolo area which overlooks the central part of Rome. In this area, there are monuments and statues of heroes who sacrificed their lives for Italy. One of these statues is of a young boy called Righetto. What is special about his story is the courage he had at such a young age. This 12 year old homeless orphan was from Rome, where he worked as a baker’s delivery boy to support himself. He had a loyal dog called Sgrullarella who followed him everywhere.

In 1848, Italy was divided into many states. Together, the southern part of Italy and the Island of Sicily comprised the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The  central part of Italy was known as the Papal States, while in the north were the three Duchies: of Parma, Tuscany and Modena.  In the northwest was the Kingdom of Sardinia. Rome was part of the Papal States, ruled by the pope. At this time, when groups of people were demanding democratic government, changes in society and declaring war against the Austrian Empire which was taking control of the Northern part of Italy, a revolution took place in the Papal States. The Pope left Rome and went to Gaeta and the Papal government was replaced with the republican government and the Roman Republic was declared. But this only lasted for a short time because the Pope received support from the French Troops and war broke out. In spite of unexpectedly strong resistance led by General Giuseppe Garibaldi, the French troops were able to take control of key areas of the city and Rome suffered considerable bombing.

The citizen-soldiers noticed that the bombs took 10-20 seconds to explode, so to save as many lives as possible they came up with a dangerous method of neutralising the bomb fuses with a wet rag just before they exploded. This method was carried out mainly by women and children, who in return received payment from the government, and the unexploded bombs were re-used against the enemy. Righetto had performed this method many times, until one last time when he left it too late and the bomb exploded in his hands. He died soon after, on 29 June 1849 on the Ponte Sisto (a bridge across the Tiber).

Righetto’s story spread and a statue called L’Audace (The Brave One) was built in Count Litta’s palace in Milan by Giovanni Strazza in 1851. More than a century and a half later, on 9 September 2005, another statue in honour of Righetto was unveiled in the city of Rome’s Gianicolo area, with the following inscription: A Righetto – Giovane trasteverino simbolo dei ragazzi caduti in difesa della gloriosa Repubblica Romana del 1849 (To Righetto – a young boy from Trastevere, symbol of all the boys and girls who died defending the Roman Republic in 1849).


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