There is a fascinating exhibition on the first floor of the Circolo dei Forestieri in Bagni di Lucca, Villa celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of “L’arma dei Carabinieri”.
The police in the UK have their divisions but are one body, originally formed by Sir Robert Peel back in 1829 for the implementation of law and order in the kingdom and, characteristically known as “Bobbies”. Everything from petty larceny to multiple homicide, from fraud to sexual violence comes under their aegis.
In Italy the situation is somewhat different. There are, of course, various branches of police – the station in the centre of BDL Villa belongs to the municipal police – but their duties rarely extend beyond traffic control, parking offences and other “minor” civil offences.
For criminal offences the Carabinieri step in and they have their own station which is opposite the tennis courts of Bagni di Lucca. What makes them rather different from their law enforcement equals in the UK is that the Carabinieri are, in fact, part of the military: they are one of its four main constituents, the others being the army, navy and air force.
Indeed, Italy has two military police sections: one is the carabinieri and the other is the guardia di Finanza (a fiscal police and fraud squad combined).
The military status of the carabinieri emanates from the 1814 decree of King Victor Emmanuel I of Savoy, well before Italy’s unification in 1861. The king wanted a police force modelled on the French gendarmerie. Because they carried rifles, known also as carbines, the new force was known as the carabinieri – literally, carabineers.
The carabinieri became Italy’s police force when the country was united and continue to be highly regarded (despite the usual spate of carabinieri jokes which abound and are largely the result of the fact that the majority of recruits in the north come from the southern part of Italy. But then, unfortunately, there are similar types of regional jokes in the UK although here north and south are reversed).
Because of their military provenance the carabinieri have often served in UN peace-keeping missions abroad and are highly regarded wherever they assist. It’s good that the carabinieri are able to mix both with civilians and armies in their daily routines as this certainly makes them more flexible in their approach.
Sadly, too the carabinieri have suffered in Iraq where nineteen were killed at their HQ at Nasiriya in 2003 as a result of a suicide bomber. Here is a painting, at the exhibition I visited, of the incident .
The patron saint of the Carabinieri is the Virgin and ther are some exquisite portraits done by local artists Kety Bastiani:
The carabinieri place one of their predecessors in the highest regard. This is Salvo d’Acquisto, who volunteered his life when there was a choice between the Germans either executing twenty-two civilians suspected of anti-axis activities or one volunteer stepping forward to be killed instead, in their place. Bagni di Lucca commemorates this heroic act in Salvo’s statue by local sculptor Gilberto Malerbi, which was unveiled in autumn 2005.
There are many things of interest in the exhibition even if one is not particularly interested in Italian police. I especially enjoyed the model fleet of carabinieri vehicles:
Certainly the carabinieri place great emphasis on looking good and their ceremonial uniforms, especially are splendid.
The exhibition is only open for one more day, next Saturday and is being curated by a student of mine from the university of the third age who saw forty five years in this noble service, which has become so much part of Italian lore that it is even featured in one of the world’s most read children’s books, Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio.