We all recognize the flag of Italy, but few of us know its history. The tricolor flag, known in Italy as Il Tricolore, has equal sized bands of green, white and red. According to some the green stands for hope, joy and love; the white signifies peace and honesty; and the red represents bravery, strength and valor But for the Italians the green represents the country’s hills and plains; the white, the snow-capped Alps; and the red, blood spilt in the wars for Italian Independence. The colors actually may have been based on the red and white flag of Milan together with the green of the uniforms worn by the Milanese civic guards.
The Cispadane Republic of northern Italy first used the tricolor flag in 1797. It was a square flag with horizontal bands—red at the top, white in the middle and green at the bottom. In the center of the white band was an emblem made up of a garland of laurel decorated with a trophy of arms and four arrows, which represented the four provinces that formed the Republic at that time.
During the Risorgimento the flag went back to the tricolor bands, this time placed vertically with the green at the hoist side. Through the years leading to the Italian unification, the flag had different “defacements”, which in the study of flags (vexillology) means differentiation of the flag by the addition of elements, such as a coat of arms.
Under the Constitutional Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the flag had an elaborate coat of arms in the center. In 1860 it was modified back to the vertical tricolor bands with the coat of arms in the white center band. The flag was used only until 1861 when the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was defeated by Garibaldi in the Expedition of the Thousand. During the rule of the Royal House of Savoy in 1861, the coat of arms was replaced by the House of Savoy shield–a white cross on a red background placed in the center white band. This flag was used until 1948.
The present tricolor flag was formally adopted on January 1, 1948 with the enactment of Italy’s Constitution and the end of the reign of the House of Savoy.
In addition to the national flag, each of Italy’s 20 regions also has its own flag.