Thursday, January 28, 2010

I ask no monument, proud and high, to arrest the gaze of passersby.

After retracing our steps back to the station we caught the train to Colosseo station to begin our walk to Rome's three most visited free attractions. The ring road around the Colosseum was closed off to traffic and there was a festive atmosphere brewing. There were street performers everywhere.

The 'I bet I can do this longer than you can' artist. I bet he can too!

The 'We're a long way from home, please buy our CD' artists.

The ever popular 'Boys from the Global Ghetto'.

And this guy who used a few cans of spray paint, some stencils, crushed up newspaper, cardboard and about 15 minutes to create these... right in front of an appreciative and growing audience.

Not far from the Colosseum is Rome's enormous tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The monument is actually the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II, the first King of unified Italy. Designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1895 it wasn't finished until 1935 which isn't surprising considering its size and grandeur. It's a staggering 135m wide and 70 m high not including the bronzed winged victories.

If you walk up the steps at the front you can see that it is also Rome's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier a practice used throughout the world to memorialise unidentified soldiers who have died in modern wars.

Experts believe the tradition was begun with a simple ceremony during the Peloponnesian Wars in Ancient Greece where an empty stretcher was carried in recognition of the fallen. A silent tribute was introduced on Armistice Day, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month 1918 as part of a commemorative ceremony at Whitehall. King George V had requested that all Britons suspend what they were doing for 2 minutes as a mark of respect for those that had died during WWI.

The first actual burial of an unknown soldier representing all those whose remains were buried unidentified was thought to have taken place at Westminster Abbey a year later when the actual remains of a returned soldier from the battlefields on the Western Front were interred with full military honours in what is known as the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. This was followed closely by a similar ceremony in France at the Arc de Triomphe in 1920 and most other Allied Nations in the following years. Advances in DNA identification over the years has meant that many of the unknown have been given back their identities which for some has meant a request by the families to rebury their relative in family graves, leaving some of the world's Unknown Soldier tombs empty.

Up until 2004 New Zealand had War Memorials to remember our dead.

This part of a commemorative wall, on the top floor of the Auckland Museum, has two of my mother's uncles names on it. One was killed in front of her father- his brother- by 'friendly fire' something that affected my Grandad so badly after the war, he only ever spoke of it once to my father, years later.

Of the 250 000 New Zealanders who have served in armed forces 30 000 died overseas, 9000 of those remains have either never been found or they have no known grave. On the 11th November 2004 a World War I Digger, a Kiwi, was returned home for burial in the new Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the National War Memorial, Wellington. The ceremonial programme was probably the largest commemorative programme ever undertaken in New Zealand.

He is one of 30,000 who died in service. One of over 9000 who have no known grave or whose remains could never be recovered. His remains were chosen by the Commission from the First World War Caterpillar Valley Cemetery in the Somme, France, an area where the greatest number of the various New Zealand regiments and battalions are known to have fought. The soldier, whose name, rank, regiment, race, religion and other details are unknown, represents and honours all New Zealanders who became lost to their families in war.

The body of the unknown soldier in Rome's memorial was chosen from 11 unknown remains on October 26, 1921 by Maria Bergamas, whose only child was killed during World War I. His body was never recovered. The selected soldier was moved from Aquileia, where the ceremony with Bergamas had taken place, to Rome and buried in a state funeral on November 4, 1921

The full quote I used for the title of this post reads:
'I ask no monument, proud and high, to arrest the gaze of passersby. All that my yearning spirit craves, is bury me not in a land of slaves.'Attributed to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper; Pacifist; Abolitionist; Feminist; Poet (1825-1911)


Connie said...

What an amazing memorial! I would love to see this tribute to the unknown fallen.

Anonymous said...

LOVE that quote!!

Natalie said...

Seriously emotional post! From laughing out loud at your street performers to being moved by the memorial...heartfelt. Another amazing day.