The Italian flag, or "il tricolore" is one of the most recognised flags in the world.

With its trio of green, white and red splashed across restaurant signs all over the world, the Italian flag is an icon of Italy and Italian culture. However the green, white and red stripes weren't always synonymous with Italy.

Where do the green, white and red in the Italian flag come from?

Originally designed under Napoleons rule, the Italian flag was influenced by the "Tricolour" French flag. Though the Italian flag went through many different changes before becoming the way it is today, the green, white and red colours have been recurring throughout it's history.

Strangely there is no clear answer to what the three colours symbolise. There are different theories regarding Italy's Tricolore, one is that the colours carry idealistic significance, green for freedom, white for faith and red for love. Others believe that the colours have religious significance, representing three virtues, green for hope, white for faith and red for charity. Another theory is the colours represent Italy's geographic landscape and history, green for the countryside, white for the snowy alps and red for the blood of the Italian people shed over the course of Italy's history. 

How long has the Italian flag existed?

The Italian flag precedes Italy's unification. Before unification in 1861, each republic in Italy had a different flag.

When Napoleon began conquering Italian states after the French revolution began in 1789, he changed the landscape of Italy, creating new republics and destroying former territories. Following France's call for national unity, many Italians formed political and military groups to focus efforts on creating unity within their republics.

The green, white and red colours were originally taken from the civic militia in the Transpadane Republic, an unofficial government in Milan. Militia members wore the colours on their uniforms.

In 1797, the Cispadane Republic in Modena (established by Napoleon), designed it's flag with the trio of colours in horizontal stripes and a central emblem.

When the Cipadane Republic merged with nearby regions to create a new Cisalpine Republic, the stripes were rotated counterclockwise to the vertical stripes they are today.

However this was not the final form of the Italian flag, Later the short-lived region known as the Italian Republic, (located in the north of Italy), also had a green, white and red flag but theirs was organised in a geometric pattern. The geometric patterns mirrored patterns from the Napoleonic military flags. When the Italian republic became the Kingdom of Italy, with Napoleon as its emperor, the flag design was slightly altered and a golden Napoleonic eagle was placed in the center.

Evolution of the Italian flag:

evolution of the Italian flag

When did Italy get an official Italian flag?

From 1798 to 1848, the tricolore was an unofficial symbol of the ununified Italian nationalism. When Napoleons ruling ended in 1814, a new chapter of Italian history began. It was geographically united as one country in 1848, and the Tricolore became a celebrated symbol of Italy. Many regions adopting flags that reflected elements of the Tricolore, adding a sense of national unity. On 23rd March 1848 the flag was used by Italian troops in battle against the Austrian army, making it an official symbol of Italian confederation.The following month the flag was adopted by the kingdom of Sardinia. In 1861 it became the official flag of the kingdom of Italy.

When Italy was officially united as a monarchy under the rule of the Royal House of Savoy in 1861, a shield, cross and crown were added to the center of the flags three stripes. The shield and cross represented the House of Savoy and the crown symbolised the the monarchy. In 1946, when Italy changed from a monarchy to a republic, the flag returned to the simple, vertical Tricolore. Finally the flag legally represented all of Italy, geographically, politically and historically.

What is the Italian flag used for in Italy?

As well as being a symbol of national unity and pride, the Italian flag is a cherished symbol of Italy's history and complicated road to becoming the Italian Republic.

Like in many other countries it is illegal to disrespect the Italian flag. Any form of vandalism or destruction to an Italian flag is considered a crime and perpetrators risk being fined upto 5000 euro or potential imprisonment.

The Italian flag can be seen hanging outside of government buildings or being flown on holidays and ceremonial occasions.


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