The Hero’s Way, Walking with Garibaldi from Rome to Ravenna

In the summer of 1849, after three long months under siege, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italy’s legendary revolutionary hero, was forced to abandon his defence of Rome. Overpowered by superior French forces, he refused to surrender. Instead, on the evening of 2 July, riding alongside his pregnant wife Anita, he led 4,000 volunteers out of the city to continue the struggle for national independence in the countryside.

Hounded by both French and Austrian armies, always steering clear of beaten track, the garibaldini marched hundreds of miles through Umbria and Tuscany, before crossing the Appenines – Italy’s mountainous spine – in a dramatic race to reach the Adriatic and the independent Republic of Venice before their pursuers.

Fascinated by this journey made against the odds, Tim Parks set out with his partner Eleonora to reconstruct Garibaldi and Anita’s route. In the blazing summer of 2019, day by day, step by step, they followed the story of the garibaldini, capturing a sense of Italy both past and present. The Hero’s Way is an immersive account of an extraordinary moment in history, a celebration of courage, determination, and profound belief, and a walk in exceptional company through some of the most beautiful landscape known to man.

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DAY BY DAY PHOTO GALLERY

Day Zero – Rome

The day before we set out on our walk, Eleonora and I visited the
battlefield. You’re struck at once by how small the area is…

Day One – Rome to Tivoli

“He had forty-eight hours to prepare for the journey. We’ve been thinking
about it for a year and more…  Still, we are leaving from the same place. Piazza San Giovanni in
Laterano, Rome.”

Day Two – Tivoli, San Polo, Marcellina, Montecelio  

“It’s that time of the morning now when the heat intensifies, and in a matter of minutes the quiet countryside is transformed by the urgent clamour of the cicadas.”

Day Three – Montecelio, Mentana, Monterotondo,
Tenuta Gran Paradiso

“The pleasure of leaving before daylight. Free in the wide world to savour the elegance of the bulrushes and the blue of the cornflowers, the smells of lavender and mint, the bray of a donkey. Striding towards distant hills, at dawn.

“I remember a raspberry-stuccoed farmhouse, cactus to one side, fig tree to the other, with these words handwritten in white over the door: Formaggio e ricottina, la mangi da Michelina. Cheese and ricottinas, you can eat at Michelina’s.”

Day Four – Gran Paradiso, Passo Corese, Ponte Sfondato
(Le Murene)

“A great wet cloud is held up at the corners above olive groves and gravel pits, like a sagging sheet. It must burst soon.” 

“Of the last stretch of that walk I remember endless peaches glowing under stormy skies.”

Day Five – Poggio Mirteto, Cantalupo, Vacone

“Poggio means hill and turns up in many Italian place names – Poggio Bustone, Poggioreale, Poggibonsi – so the steep climb to Poggio Mirteto was no surprise. At the top, though, in a pretty central piazza, was something that moved me quite unexpectedly.”

 

“At the heart of the hilltop pile that is Cantalupo we find Piazza Garibaldi, where the only place open at 1.30 is Bar Garibaldi. The town is deserted, paralyzed by the day’s blue dazzle. The barman is forlorn. The piazza somehow combines the chic and the cemeterial. Everything is symmetrical and swept Swiss-clean.

Day Six – Vacone, Configni, Stroncone, Terni

“Climbing up to Configni towards eight, an open door in a dilapidated grey facade invited us to poke in our noses and discover a tiny church. You would never have guessed. A fresco over the altar showed Saint Sebastian cheerfully resigned to his arrows.”

“The path to Stroncone is breathtakingly beautiful, backbreakingly arduous. First the downward slope through dusty pasture and thick copse, then a stream to ford, with slimy stones under your toes, then an old mule track to climb.”

Day Seven – Terni

“The seventh day they rested, in the rarely visited Terni, where they met up with the English ex-colonel, Hugh Forbes, who fought in a white top hat. The cavalry slept outside the Basilica of San Valentino, protettore degli innamorati.”

“The Delle Grazie monastery is now an old people’s home, but the gracious public park around it still has space to sleep 2000 men. It’s a pleasure imagining them in their red shirts milling around us on the dry grass, among the cypresses and lindens.”

Day Eight – Terni, Cesi, San Gemini Fonte, Carsulae, Acquasparta

“Scattered here and there, in this lonely, secluded place, lay broken fragments of great millstones, wells and columns. A stately arch rose alone in the midst of the ruins. Garibaldi passed under this arch on his horse.” Quote from Gustav Hoffstetter…

“We wash our clothes and hang them to dry, slipping the hooks of coat hangers into the slats of the open shutters, and strike out to explore another of I borghi più belli d’Italia.”

Day Nine – Acquasparta, Colvalenza, Todi

“The landscape is gentler north of Acquasparta; the hills curve softly,
as though sculpted by the plough lines that turn them brown or ochre.
On the skyline a farmhouse peeps from a cluster of lindens. A shale
track leads through tunnels of overhanging willows.”

“Todi floats over a field of sunflowers, all turning their big
round faces towards us in golden mockery. It hovers and shimmers and
never seems to be any closer.”

“He stands on a high plinth beside an Opel Corsa, his bearded chin tucked down to watch us eating our vegetarian sandwich.”

Day Ten – Todi, Pontecuti, Prodo, Poggio Boalaio

“A heavy, humming heat now, full of crickets and cicadas. The land is parched blonde, with occasional old farmhouses, for the most part abandoned, though one place has dazzling white bedding hanging from an upstairs window.”

“Suddenly, there it is – Prodo – clustering just beneath the level of the plateau, as if it had slid a few hundred yards into the gorge, stopping right on the brink of a precipice. The garibaldini spend the night here. ‘A miserable village,’ Hoffstetter wrote.”

Day Eleven – Poggio Boalaio, Orvieto

“How utterly convincing this great church must have seemed to townsfolk and peasants. How much more so than a ragged band of men with an unlikely political project. To argue with the force that created the Orvieto Duomo you would have to argue with history, with God.”

Day Twelve – Orvieto, Ficulle

“How can a person be unhappy, Garibaldi asked Hoffstetter at one point in their march, living in a country as beautiful as Italy? This is the old Roman via Cassia, striking north from Orvieto to Ficulle. Today I feel I could walk forever.”

“In Ficulle a farmer kneeled at Garibaldi’s feet; soldiers had damaged his property. Garibaldi reassured him he would be compensated. All the while, ‘the General was unwinding tallow-soaked rags from the bleeding sores on his feet.’ We know the feeling.”

Day Thirteen – Ficulle, Salci, Palazzone

“Surprising indeed – says Hoffstetter – is the difference between Tuscan and Roman villages. While the inhabitants of the latter scampered off terrified at our approach … in Tuscany people flocked joyfully to greet us, bringing wine and offering themselves as guides.”

Day Fourteen – Palazzone, Cetona, Sarteano, Chianciano Terme

“What a milling of bodies round the old well spurting jets of fresh water from its artistic spouts! The happy throng of men eager to wash their dirty clothes after so many days of punishing marches!” Raffaele Belluzzi remembering the garibaldini in Cetona.

“Mint, lavender and honeysuckle. That was our midday. Beetles and grasshoppers. Giant straw bales and barking dogs. A green glow under young acacia trees. Frequent stops to wipe the sweat off our sunglasses.”

Day Fifteen – Chianciano Terme, Montepulciano

“We reached a small crossroads with one huge cypress and an iron cross beside it. The monastery where the garibaldini spent the night appeared to our right. Then Montepulciano came into view. As usual we had to dive into a valley before tackling the ascent.”

“In Montepulciano Garibaldi climbed the tower to study the terrain. I followed. It’s a hot, hazy day, and the distant mountains are no more than a smudge on the horizon. Directly below you see masses of stone and terracotta, piled up over centuries of civic optimism.”

Day Sixteen – Montepulciano, Torrita di Siena, Foiano della Chiana

“In Torrita di Siena the shutters are pulled to against the rising heat. The space is quietly alluring and uncannily empty. Garibaldi arrived at 8 p.m., persuaded the locals to bake bread for two days’ rations, and was on the move again at 2.30 a.m.”

“In Foiano della Chiana Garibaldi slept close to the men in a small house on the edge of town. A baby was born in the house that very night, and the General was invited to name the girl. ‘Call her Italia,’ he said.”

Day Seventeen – Foiano della Chiana, Castiglion Fiorentino

“The land is flat as Flanders here. There’s nowhere to hide. Not even the throb of a tractor or drone of a chainsaw to disturb the warm air. The countryside is rich and empty, luxuriant and melancholy. Foiano to Castiglion Fiorentino.

“The glory of Castiglion Fiorentino is the Piazza del Municipio where a 15th century portico has nine arches open to the piazza and three looking out on the hills to the east. We ate apples and studied the slopes where Hoffstetter placed his men so carefully.”

Day Eighteen – Castiglion Fiorentino, Arezzo

“It was a hot, hot day, a day when our shoes seemed too flimsy for the paths we were on, when seventeen miles seemed interminable. The hillside was pretty, but rugged, thorny. The cicadas mocked.”

“Arezzo appeared, blissfully below us, simmering. You can see how tempting it must have seemed to the garibaldini. A big rich town lying in the fertile upper reaches of the Val di Chiana.”

Day Nineteen – Arezzo

“Arezzo seemed the right place for a day of rest. There’s a pleasant buzz in the streets. Everywhere flags, coats of arms, emblems, porticoes, towers.”

“Cimabue’s crucifix glowed with sumptuous red and gold. Pain was never more beautiful. One almost understood those garibaldini from Arezzo, who were ready to die rather than endure the shame of a hometown that had sided with Austria.”

Day Twenty – Arezzo, Citerna

“The men’s change of mood after Arezzo was matched by a change of landscape. Postcard Tuscany is behind us. The country is wilder and emptier. We’re climbing wooded slopes up to 4000 feet.”

“Stunted trees laden with lichens. Dense undergrowth. Desert dry soil, prickly with creeping grasses. Broken rocks, fallen trunks, green lizards, thick cobwebs. The kind of place a knight might go to fight a demon, in an etching by Dürer.”

“The glory of Citerna is Donatello’s terracotta Madonna. Mother and child possess each other wonderfully, his hand on her neck, her cheek touching his temple. There’s a serene complicity between them, a quiet grace that spreads into the space around.”

Day Twenty-one – Citerna, San Giustino, Bocca Trabaria,
ValdericArte

“The way up to the Moon Mountains is magnificent. The column wound slowly up in gigantic spirals, like a big beautiful snake, Garibaldi riding at the head beside his heroic Anita.” Thus Hoffstetter’s diary. We looked down on their road from above.

“Although it was July, a bitter wind blew across those crags,” remembered Ruggeri, “nor stream ran or spring rose to wet the lips of the exhausted soldiers.” 

Day Twenty-two – Bocca Trabaria/ValdericArte, Mercatello, Sant’Angelo in
Vado

“Yet sweet illusions could still arise in fervent minds.” So remembered Ruggeri of the men setting out at dawn from BoccaTrabaria. It was easy walking down a gentle valley, beside the river Metauro to Mercatello. We are on the ridge above, to avoid the road.

“Exactly here, in Sant’Angelo in Vado the garibaldini rear guard was caught by Austrian Hussars. It’s not hard to imagine the clatter of galloping hooves on the cobbles. The cries of the men must have boomed in the confined spaces. Gunshots and clashing sabres.”

Day Twenty-three – Sant’Angelo in Vado, Lunano, Macerata Feltria

“By six we were well out of Sant’Angelo. Unusually there were clouds. A big pylon stark above us carried cables across the river where the garibaldini watered their horses, pursued from east and west.”

“Major Zambianchi’s foot wound was worse by the hour. Major Cenni was feverish with typhus. Anita was fading fast. Everyone crowded into this meandering trickle of grey mud and flies, the River Foglia, one long hot summer’s day. We followed.”

“Macerata Feltria. A long straight street climbs to a T-junction which boasts an elaborate ironwork drinking fountain with two quaint old street lamps hanging above. Plaques and statues abound.”

Day Twenty-four – Macerata Feltria, Mercato Vecchio, San Marino

“Moments later our hearts were lifted by the first sight of the sea. Across twenty miles of wooded hills, a sunny sparkle lit the horizon. We had walked all the way from Rome, and now the northern Adriatic was in sight.”

“Once again we were looking at a steep descent followed by an arduous climb to end the day. San Marino raises this experience to new levels of masochism. Not for nothing is it called Mount Titan.”

Day Twenty-five – San Marino

“Having survived another ambush the garibaldini climbed to San Marino. They were surrounded. Garibaldi sat on the steps of the Convent of the Cappuccini and wrote: ‘We have reached the land of refuge… I release my companions from any obligation in my regard.’”

“The views were spoiled by the sight of gathering enemies. Negotiations were frenetic. Garibaldi’s officers feared a trap. An exhibition offers relics and images, including the scribbled note in which Garibaldi wrote that he could not accept the conditions imposed.”

Day Twenty-six – San Marino, Borgo Maggiore, Torriana, San Giovanni
in Galilea, Sogliano al Rubicone, Borghi, Musano, Cento

“250 men left at midnight, using a dry riverbed to sneak through Austrian lines. They moved fast. Groups were lost in the dark. Their goal was the port of Cesenatico crossing the hills then diving to the plain. 40 miles in 22 hours. Nonstop. We left at dawn.”

“At Savignano al Rubicone, locals brought bread, wine and watermelons. A priest. Anita pulled her dagger from her belt, sliced a watermelon and sank her face into its red fruit. Seriously ill, she refused offers of rest and hospitality.”

Day Twenty-seven – Cento, Longiano, La Crocetta, Gatteo, Cesenatico 

“They stumbled on, exhausted, knowing the real action would begin on their arrival in the late evening of that interminable day. We ambled off into a mild summer dawn, looking forward to an easy downhill stroll and a swim in the sea.”

“For the garibaldini it had been a month of disappointments, a dream defeated, a terrible reckoning; for us, we both agreed, despite the discomforts and fatigue, the most exhilarating time of our lives together.”

“They commandeered fishing boats and struggled to launch into a stormy sea. They had been themselves, fearlessly. We had discovered new selves, following them.”

Day Twenty-eight – Cesenatico, Porto Garibaldi, Lido di Volano, Lido delle
Nazioni, Comacchio

“I had often contemplated the moon with awe and worship but for us the moon proved fatal that night.” Garibaldi’s boats were intercepted by Austrian warships just below the Po Delta. We took train and bus to the Lido delle Nazioni where four boats managed to beach.”

“Most of the fugitives were rounded up and shot. Including a 13-year-old boy. And the priest, Ugo Bassi. Anita was dying of septicaemia, the child in her womb dead. Helped by local patriots Garibaldi found refuge in a small hut. This is melancholy marshland.

Day Twenty-nine – Porto Garibaldi, Mandriole, Ravenna

“Eel fishers smuggled Garibaldi and Anita across the #LagunadiComacchio to a farmhouse in Mandriole where she died in his arms. Aged 27. The room is modest with a window over the courtyard. A dry wreath lies on the bed. Garibaldi sobbed and clung to the body.”

“With the Austrians desperate to capture Garibaldi, it took patriots 11 days to get him to Ravenna. We took a bus and checked out the monument to ‘the people of Ravenna who died for liberty … and to Anita Ribeira dé Silva di Merinos, from Laguna (Brazil)’.”

Day thirty – Ravenna, Bologna, Milano

“Patriots smuggled Garibaldi across Italy to the Tuscan coast. ‘On the sea I fear no one,’ he said. 11 years later his astonishing successes in Sicily and Campania brought about the unification of Italy. We took a high-speed train back to sweltering Milan.”