One of the main reasons for visiting Caprera was the curiosity to see Garibaldi Caprera’s House where the hero of the two worlds lived his last years dedicating himself to agriculture, but also continuing to do politics.
In my school memories I remembered that Giuseppe Garibaldi was sent into exile in Caprera after his countless battles for freedom. This made me suppose that this place, at the time so isolated from the world, was a sort of prison imposed by the King of Italy. Instead no, Caprera was owned by Garibaldi himself.
Caprera, the island of Garibaldi
Thanks to the inheritance of his brother Felice, he bought the northern half of the island of Caprera in 1856, initially living in a tent, then in a hovel, and a few years later he had the famous “white house” built in the style of South American farms. Ten years later, a collection of his children and admirers allowed him to buy the other half of the island, which until then had belonged to Richard and Emma Collins, an English family very close to Giuseppe.
Garibaldi’s first stay in Caprera
Garibaldi, however, arrived in Caprera on 25 September 1849 for just one month. After his arrest following his escape from Rome he was to be sent into exile in Tunis, but his ship was not received in Algeria and the captain, originally from La Maddalena, had orders to take him there. With him “Leggero”, the Magdalenian Giovanni Battista Culiolo, who had always followed and assisted him also for the death of Anita in the pinewood of Ravenna.
The entire population was there to welcome the exiles, as some of the inhabitants were at the side of the Hero of the Two Worlds on many occasions.
During that first stay Garibaldi wanted to meet the families of his soldiers and also took part in the work in the fields and the grape harvest, but he also took part in another heroic undertaking: he saved three fishermen from certain death by a fishing trip.
The return to Caprera
On his return from his second American adventure, determined to set up home and devote himself to his family, Garibaldi obtained permission from Nice to transport goods in the Mediterranean Sea with his Cutter Emma, in honour of Emma Roberts and their non-engagement, and for some years he travelled intensively between France, Genoa and Sardinia until his ship was shipwrecked by a storm in 1857 and Garibaldi decided to abandon the sea for good to devote himself to farming.
Caprera and the unification of Italy
In 1809, an emissary of the English government arrived on the island of La Maddalena with an important message for Baron De Geneys at the headquarters of the Sardinian Navy: It was time to start thinking about the restoration of the kingdom and after conferring with De Geneys, he sent a dispatch to his government in which he spoke of the “Cause of Italy” and “Italian union and independence”.
It was destiny that forty years after that message, which was one of the first acts of unity, the man who was to bring about the unity of Italy, arrived on the island. A place of reference where he decided to stay after so many hardships, a constant point of reference between one journey and another, between one enterprise and another.
Il Compendio Garibandino a Caprera
After crossing the bridge that separates the island of Caprera from the island of La Maddalena, we head – after the splendid Coticcio cove – towards the Compendio Garibaldino, where General Giuseppe Garibaldi lived with his family from 1856 to 1882, the year of his death, starting his farm.
He lived on the island for about 26 years, personally taking care of the cultivation of fields and orchards. At the edge of the farm he planted tall trees, some of which are still standing, including the majestic pine tree in the middle of the garden which was planted in February 1867 on the occasion of the birth of his daughter Clelia.
Today Italy adores you. In lawyers the new Roma novello Romolo. You ascend or divine:… You ascend. And Dante says to Virgil “We never thought nobler form of Hero.”
Garibaldi’s house in Caprera it was also a place to do politics
In Caprera, however, Garibaldi was not only a farmer, as we are used to think. In those years the island was the destination of thousands of people, of mysterious emissaries, of influential figures of the time.
Representatives of all European independence movements or revolutionaries, from Russians to Greeks, Hungarians, Poles to Spaniards, and for all of them he had words of exhortation, advice and valuable directives.
In September 1861, the United States Minister even visited him on behalf of President Lincoln to offer him command of the Confederate troops.
Finally in Caprera the dream of the unification of Italy with Rome as capital city matured, and in 1860 he left for the expedition of the Thousand. After Teano’s historic meeting with Vittorio Emanuele, he returned to Caprera with a sack of seeds, three horses and a bale of stockfish.
The house of Garibaldi Caprera
Garibaldi Caprera’s first house had three rooms. It still exists in the southern part of the courtyard, but soon it turned out to be too small and at first a wooden house of easy and quick construction was brought from Nice. Later the property was fenced with a wall to protect the crops from wild animals and finally the present “white house” was built.
In the Stables his tools, a steam machine to reap the grain, two saddles brought from South America and his bathtub being a heated room. In these rooms you can also find the burial stele of his mare Marsala with which he arrived in Palermo in 1860.
A house with simple architecture, built with communicating rooms, articulated around a small windowless hallway, destined for the staircase leading to the terrace from which the whole archipelago is dominated.
He soon created a small community in Caprera, the house was enlarged and all the necessary structures were gradually added: the oven, the windmill, the storehouse for tools, the stable and the pantry. Surrounded by the affection of the Magdalenians, he succeeded in creating a “true democratic and social republic”.
He planted many trees and began to make the farmer’s life, cultivating the fields and raising chickens, sheep, horses (his famous white mare, Marsala, is buried not far from the house).
He also bred many donkeys to whom he amused himself by naming his enemies (the most recalcitrant of which was named after the Blessed Pope Pius IX).
In the White House, moreover, Garibaldi lived with the children he had by Anita and those he had by a maid and his third wife Francesca Armosino.
In recent years, he had the opportunity to prepare the great enterprises that created Italy, making it one of the most important men of our Risorgimento. Following the Aspromonte wound, arthritis and malaria contracted in South America was undermined in the body but not in the spirit. Shy of honours and rewards, he lived the last years of his life in absolute poverty with his companion Francesca Armosino, a Piedmontese woman who had given him three children and whom he managed to marry two years before his death.
The death of Garibaldi
The “Leone di Caprera” went off at 6 o’clock in the afternoon of June 2nd 1882 and in the White House of Caprera the clock was stopped and the sheets of a large calendar were no longer detached: they still mark the time and day of the hero’s death.
His last room was set up in the main living room and the bed was turned towards the window so that he could see out.
He asked for his body to be cremated, but this decision was disregarded for religious reasons: the hero’s remains could not be burned and scattered. They were embalmed and buried in a tomb, in rough granite, just behind the house in the small family cemetery.
And of those remains, the Magdalenians immediately proclaimed themselves jealous guardians, changing the municipal coat of arms into the current one that represents the “Leone di Caprera”, which symbolises Garibaldi, bristling on a rock representing the island so dear to him. From that rock the remains of the hero, as the Latin motto that surrounds the coat of arms of the town of La Maddalena says, guard and protect the coasts of Italy:
HEROIS CINERES ORAS TUTORQUE LATINAS
The Garibaldi Caprera Museum
In Caprera his well restored house, his boats and his objects, which have become relics of one of the most famous and visited museums in Italy, have remained.
His boats, a large one to reach La Maddalena (the first bridge was built about 50 years after his death) and a regatta one, donated by Cantieri Orlando of Livorno, are displayed inside the garden.
The Compendio Garibaldino di Caprera is open to visits, except on Mondays for weekly rest shifts and the cost of the ticket is euro 7 (3,5 reduced). Garibaldi’s life on the island and how he cultivated it are described in the memoir written by his daughter Clelia, entitled Mio padre.
In 1982 it was declared a nature reserve oriented, until the constitution of the national park.
House of Garibaldi Caprera how to get there
In the Palau maritime station, two shipping companies prepare the boarding to reach La Maddalena. They guarantee the service from 04:30 to 24:00. Night trips are also guaranteed every hour. If you do not have a car, at the port of La Maddalena a bus takes visitors to the Garibaldi Museum in Caprera. In summer the connection is every 30 minutes, in winter every hour.