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“Custozza” Memorial Monument

Five years after the foundation of the Kingdom of Italy, in 1861, the Italians intervened in the conflict between Prussia and the Habsburg Empire. They aimed to unite Venice with the Italian Kingdom. Thus, the Italians created a southern front, which forced Vienna to send to Lombardy an important military force led by Archduke Albert. Since at that time Transylvania was part of the Habsburg Empire, the Fiftieth Infantry Regiment from Alba Iulia participated at the battle of Custozza, in 1866. Forty years after the victory of the Habsburg forces in northern Italy, in what nowadays is the ‘Square of the Fortress’, a memorial monument was raised to the memory of the soldiers who died in that battle.

The birth of Italian nationalism at the beginning of nineteenth century, by the articulation of what Italians call Risorgimento (renaissance, resurrection), led, in March 1861, to the foundation of the Kingdom of Italy. This realm comprised the whole peninsula except Venice, which was under Habsburg rule, and Rome and its surroundings, which were controlled by the Pope and under French authority. The Austrian occupation of Venice and the presence of French soldiers in Rome was a painful reminder to the Italians that their unification was incomplete. Therefore, in 1866, as tensions were growing between Prussia and the Habsburg Empire, Italy signed a secret treaty with Prussia by which it assumed an obligation to open a southern front should war break out between Prussia and the Habsburg Empire. If victorious, Italy was to obtain Venice as a reward for its involvement in the conflict.

The conflict, known in Prussia as the Seven Weeks War and in Italy as the Third War of Independence, began in June 1866, when the Prussians and Italians declared war against Austria. On the southern front, the Habsburg troops led by Archduke Albert, although outnumbered by their enemies, obtained an important victory at Custozza on 24 June 1866 by taking advantage of the lack of organization of the 120,000 Italian soldiers, their demoralization, and the incompetence of their commanders. However, in early July at Königgrätz, Prussia won the decisive battle with the Habsburg in one of the greatest battle of modern history, in which half a million soldiers participated. On 23 August 1866, a peace treaty signed in Prague enshrined the exclusion of any Austrian influence in the German Confederation, and at the same time recognized the annexation of Venice to Italy.

Since in 1866 Transylvania was a province of the Habsburg Empire, the Fiftieth Infantry Regiment from Alba Iulia – composed of Romanians and Magyars but led by Austrian commanders – participated in the battle of Custozza. In 1906, on the fortieth anniversary of the victory of the Habsburg troops in northern Italy, a monument was erected in memory of the soldiers who fell in that battle, with financial contributions from the Alba Iulia garrison. The monument was placed in what was then known as Fortress’ Park or Army’s Park, and today as Fortress Square. It is in the form of an obelisk, raised on a pedestal. The names of the fallen soldiers are inscribed on commemorative plaques placed on all four sides of its lower part in Romanian, Hungarian, and German. It was sculpted by apprentices of the School of Arts and Crafts from Zlatna. It is four meters in height and on top it bears a winged metallic globe. It is surrounded by two rows of thick chains with intercalated cannon balls. The monument fell into neglect after the unification of Transylvania with Romania, from 1 December 1918. By the first decade of the twenty-first century, it was in a deplorable state. The erroneous perception that the monument belonged to an infamous period when Transylvanian Romanians depended on Vienna caused its abandonment by the authorities and its subsequent slow degradation. Recently, the monument was repaired and returned to its original state as part of the restoration of the Vauban fortress of Alba Iulia. (S.A)