Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ride to "San Martino della Battaglia", Part I

On 24 June 1859, on the hills south of Lake Garda, the Sardinian/Piedmontese army confronted and defeated the Austrians led by General Von Benedek. On the site of the bloody battlefield, not far from Sirmione, a group of monuments were erected to commemorate the victory. Our ride was going to visit the impressive tower, finished in 1893, that is dedicated to King Vittorio Emanuele II (who led the Sardinian/Piedmontese), the battle, and all of the fallen.

The "Battle of Solferino and San Martino" was a particularly gruelling one, lasting over nine hours and resulting in over 3,000 Austrian troops killed with 10,807 wounded and 8,638 missing or captured. The Allied armies, under Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II also suffered a total of 2,492 killed, 12,512 wounded and 2,922 captured or missing. Reports of wounded and dying soldiers being shot or bayoneted on both sides added to the horror. This battle would have a long-term effect on the future conduct of military actions. Jean-Henri Dunant, who witnessed the battle in person, was motivated by the horrific suffering of wounded soldiers left on the battlefield to begin a campaign that would eventually result in the Geneva Conventions and the establishment of the International Red Cross.

The geo-political context for the battle, part of the Second Italian War of Independence, was the nationalist struggle to unify Italy, long divided between France, Austria, Spain, and the Papal States.

There is more to Italian riding than just "JRA" (Just Riding Around). It would be easy to get lost in your thoughts as you ride through the very pretty and quite rural wine region of Custoza, across the Mincio River, and passing small towns. Here there are always very interesting history lessons as well, if you desire to learn about them.

As we entered the Lombardy Region and Brescia Province we arrived at San Martino della Battaglia.

Photos: Custoza grapes, everyone is enjoying the ride, small town coffee bar, the tower at San Martino della Battaglia

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