A difficult century
The 19th century was a crucial one for the Republic of San Marino, which had emerged unharmed first from the Napoleonic period and then from the Italian unification and post-unification process. The risk it was taking was serious and perhaps fatal for the survival of the small State. It was the homologation and assimilation of the Republic into the Italian unification process. Therefore, the public authorities needed to assert the autonomy and sovereignty of the state vis-à-vis the new Kingdom of Italy and to reshape state identity in a more defined and recognisable way than what had been necessary before.
It was necessary to modernise the institutions, to restore the city's decorum, to provide it with new symbolic and concrete features, buildings and public institutions that could demonstrate to the new international interlocutors the value, longevity and authoritativeness of a centuries-old self-government on which the legitimisation of sovereign power was based.
The decision to build a renovated Government Building, on the remains of the ancient and decaying domus magna communis, thus embodied the aspirations of San Marino citizens as they made their debut on the scene of great European politics, which San Marino was rushing towards thanks to a wise diplomatic policy and to the prestige of its republican model during the Risorgimento period.
Indeed, the Republic was enjoying unexpected international fame thanks to its intervention in one of the most significant episodes of Garibaldi's epic. The world had almost suddenly discovered the existence of a tiny, virtuous and fearless country that had defied the armies of half of Europe to defend Garibaldi and his handful of worn-out and exhausted fighters fleeing from Rome. The name of San Marino was thus linked to a heroic moment in the epical Risorgimento - the sacrifice of the best Italian youth in the glorious and tragic experience of the Roman Republic - and was indissolubly linked to the biography of the Hero of the Two Worlds, who did not fail to thank San Marino citizens.
But the building site is also the virtual place where the conflict between the new emerging classes and the oligarchic notabilities takes place, the place where social tensions were mitigated with the map of public works against endemic poverty, the place establishing the need for an institutional structure more in line with the political tendencies that would lead in 1906 to the introduction of popular vote with the great, peaceful revolution of the Arengo, the meeting of the heads of family.
The Government Building becomes an icon of the State. The tangibility and visibility of its austere architectural shape symbolises the culture, history and institutional tradition of a community.
The domus magna communis
The Great and General Council meetings were originally held in the ancient Basilica, as first mentioned in a document from 1253 kept in our State Archives. According to tradition, they were later held in a house situated under the Tower, within the first city walls, but in the 14th and 15th centuries, meetings were already held in the domus magna communis and Carlo Malagola recalls "...sometimes even in Borgo, then, as in ancient times, and perhaps because the Government Building was at risk of collapse, they met again in the Basilica in 1561, and then permanently moved to the rebuilt Government Building in 1625, after it had been rebuilt at the beginning of the 17th century".
The new Government Building on the Pianello, today Piazza della Libertà, was built exactly on the remains of the old domus magna communis, a humble building dating back to the late 14th century. The only significant element of the façade was the small three-arched portico. Inside there was a large atrium (which during the 17th and 18th centuries was also used as a theatre) from which there was direct access to the Ministry and to a staircase that led up to the Archive, located on the mezzanine floor above the portico, and to the Hall of the Council of the Sixty, or down to the offices of the Chamberlain, the Cadastral Office and the Registry, and finally to the dungeons used as prisons. Over the years, the small building had undergone many restorations, but none were sufficient. The one of 1543 had been entrusted to Giovan Battista Belluzzi, the ingenious man from San Marino who had won the trust of the Medici family by serving them as a military architect and dying precisely at their service in Florence's war against Siena. Certainly, there was not much money available and this was probably the cause of many unsatisfactory restorations. During the 16th century, public property had been sold and a special tax had even been introduced, but by the second half of the 17th century, the long-awaited restoration of the domus magna communis had not yet been completed.
Finally the new Government Building
Finally in 1836, the construction of a new building was seriously considered, and the task was entrusted to the Bolognese architect Antonio Serra, who had already worked on the reconstruction of the Basilica. He developed a project in the neoclassical style, which also unexpectedly and sadly was not executed. The resounding rejection of the project is indicative of the identity visions of the members of the judging committee. It was deemed too pompous to be a worthy and faithful representation of the ideals of sobriety and simplicity of the rustic Commune, praised by the 17th-century utopians in their apologia of the small Republic portrayed as a model of 'happy city'. But it would take another half-century for the ambitions of those San Marino people, driven by the Republic's new need for visibility, to be converted into a real political, pedagogical and propaganda programme lucidly aimed at making the myth of 'perpetual freedom' official.
In line with this programme is the decision adopted by the Council in its meeting of 20 December 1880 to rebuild the Government Building with the requirement that its style be inspired by medieval architecture. It had to be clear and perceivable that the Communes virtues of freedom and democratic participation, which had disappeared elsewhere, had instead been tenaciously pursued in the history of the Republic, and the appearance of the new Building would serve as a concrete testimony thereof.
The architect and the deus ex machina
Azzurri is the right architect. Raised in the artistic environment of Roman Purism, he had earned a reputation for his creations using 16th century forms and for his erudite knowledge of classical architecture. Moreover, in 1880, he had become president of the Accademia di San Luca, the same academy where Pietro Tonnini, had studied design in his youth. He was the San Marino citizen who had been entrusted with the task of selecting a prestigious architect for this important assignment.
Pietro Tonnini was an example of the oligarchic notabilities. He was a painter of limited talent and had devoted very little time of his long life to his profession. Instead, he had held dozens of posts as a diplomat and as a statesman and administrator. As a lieutenant in the city militia, he had been the last San Marino citizen to take leave of Garibaldi who was fleeing to Ravenna. For years he had supported the reconstruction of the Building and became its deus ex machina, even going far beyond his role as President of the Commission for the Works. His collaboration with Azzurri, based on a shared aesthetic sensibility that had developed within the academy, proved to be decisive for the success of the project, but it ended up making the San Marino cultural climate lingering on the simple models of the artists who gravitated around Azzurri. Indeed, for almost a decade San Marino authorities entrusted public works mainly to Emilio Retrosi, Giulio Tadolini and Luigi Cochetti.
The building site: ten years of work
After a long preparation period, the building site of the Government Building finally opened on 17 May 1884 with the laying of the foundation stone, but it took a good ten years for the works, carried out by master builder Giuseppe Reffi, to be completed. The many letters between Azzurri and Tonnini reveal an endless sequence of difficulties, delays, unforeseen events and in the background, the usual, frustrating, chronic lack of funds. The San Marino workers did not like Azzurri's slowness in preparing executive drawings, they wanted to work and their pressing demand for work exacerbated the disagreement between the government and the stonecutters. Tonnini was therefore forced to beg Azzurri to promote the sale of San Marino noble titles in Rome, among his friends of the Roman upper middle class who were more susceptible to ambitions of social advancement. Tonnini, who was in his fifth term of office as Captain Regent, did not hesitate to use his authoritativeness as head of state to exploit his French connections and obtain a loan of one hundred thousand liras from Paris. This was a breath of fresh air for the limited resources of the Republic, which could finally see the works completed. But by an absurd twist of fate, it was Tonnini, the one who had worked the hardest for the success of the project, who did not have the privilege of enjoying the fulfilment of the dream that he had first envisioned and then pursued all his life. Pietro Tonnini passed away on 24 August 1894, thirty-seven days before the Building's inauguration, due to a brief, fulminant illness. He was Captain Regent, a memorable and rare circumstance that ensured him at least a lavish State funeral. The memory of his untiring commitment remains inside the Building, so much so that his noble profile appears twice: in the marble plaque located beside the staircase of honour, and in the homage paid by Emilio Retrosi who depicted him in the portrait of one of the two Captains Regent in the large painting in the Hall of the Great and General Council.
A great poet for the inauguration
The inauguration of the new Building took place in a festive atmosphere on 30 September 1894. The solemn ceremony was organised with great care and much attention was devoted to it by the press of the time. Despite the rainy weather, a large number of authorities had come to San Marino, some even from Paris and Vienna. The Government had entrusted Giosuè Carducci with the task of celebrating the inauguration as Official Speaker, and the poet did not disappoint the expectations of San Marino citizens. His famous speech, dedicated to the Perpetual Freedom of San Marino, was another important milestone in that political programme, dictated by the national interest, which at that time required the legitimisation of the Republic in relation to the new Italian and European geopolitical systems.
For his speech, Carducci was not only awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of San Marino, but also earned the friendship of all San Marino citizens. Accompanied by his daughter Laura, he had arrived by carriage from Rimini the day before the ceremony, and had stayed at the home of Marino Fattori who, overjoyed by such high honour, had offered the poet his humble hospitality. The brief stay of Carducci in San Marino was the focus of popular imagination, which fabricated numerous creative and affectionate anecdotes around it.
In the new Building, all the administrative and political offices that were in the old one resumed their activities. The more functional spaces improved its practicality, but above all the shapes, symbols and commemorative elements on its internal and external walls increased its representative value.
Today, even the most inattentive tourist cannot fail to recognise that the Government Building is the symbol of the State of San Marino, its sovereignty and its ideals of freedom and independence.