The flag of Italy is a tricolor featuring three equally sized vertical pales of green, white, and red, with the green at the hoist side. Its current form has been in use since 19 June 1946 and was formally adopted on 1 January 1948.
The first entity to use the Italian tricolor was the Cispadane Republic in 1797, after Napoleon’s victorious army crossed Italy. During this time many small republics of Jacobin inspiration supplanted the ancient absolute states and almost all, with variants of color, used flags characterized by three bands of equal size, clearly inspired by the French model of 1790. The colors chosen by the Republic were red and white, the colors of the flag of Milan, and green, which was the color of the uniform of the Milanese civic guard.
Some have attributed particular values to the colors, and a common interpretation is that the green represents the country's plains and the hills; white, the snow-capped Alps; and red, blood spilt in the Wars of Italian Independence. A more religious interpretation is that the green represents hope, the white represents faith, and the red represents charity; this references the three theological virtues.
The first official tricolore Italiano or Italian tricolour, was adopted on January 7th, 1797 when the XIV (14th) Parliament of the Cispadane Republic, on the proposal of deputy Giuseppe Compagnoni of Lugo, decreed “to make universal the ... standard or flag of three colors, green, white, and red …” This was probably because the Legione Lombarda had carried banners of red, white (from the flag of Milan), and green (from the uniform of the civic guard), and the same colors were later adopted in the banners of the Legione Italiana, which was formed by soldiers coming from Emilia and Romagna. The flag was a horizontal square with red uppermost and, at the heart of the white fess, an emblem composed of a garland of laurel decorated with a trophy of arms and four arrows, representing the four provinces that formed the Republic.
The Cispadane Republic and the Transpadane Republic, which had itself been using a vertical Italian tricolor from 1796, merged into the Cisalpine Republic and adopted the vertical square tricolor without badge in 1798. The flag was maintained until 1802, when it was renamed the Napoleonic Italian Republic, and a new flag was adopted, this time with a red field carrying a green square within a white lozenge.
In 1799, the independent Republic of Lucca came under French influence and adopted as its flag a horizontal tricolor with green uppermost; this lasted until 1801. In 1805 Napoleon installed his sister, Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, as Princess of Lucca and Piombino. This affair is commemorated in the opening of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”.
In the same year, after Napoleon had crowned himself first French Emperor, the Italian Republic was transformed into the first Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, or Italico, under his direct rule. The flag of the Kingdom of Italy was that of the Republic in rectangular form, charged with the golden Napoleonic eagle. This remained in use until the abdication of Napoleon in 1814.
The President of the Italian republic has an official standard. The current version is based on the square flag of the Napoleonic Italian Republic, on a field of blue, charged with the coat of arms in gold. Prior to this the field was solid blue. The current coat of arms, more accurately called an emblem as it was not designed to conform to traditional heraldic rules, was adopted in place of the Royal arms on 5 May 1948.
After the Republic was proclaimed, the national flag was provisionally adopted as distinguishing flag of the head of state, in place of the Royal standard. On the initiative of the Ministry of Defence, a project was prepared in 1965 to adopt a distinct flag. Opportunity suggested the most natural solution was the Italian tricolor defaced with the coat of arms; however, under conditions of poor visibility, this could easily be mistaken for the standard of the President of the United States of Mexico, which is also that country's national flag. The standard is kept in the custody of the Commander of the Reggimento Corazzieri of the Arma dei Carabinieri, along with the war flag (assigned to Regiment in 1878).
The Italian Constitution does not make provision for a Vice-President. However, separate insignia for the President of the Senate, in exercise of duties as acting head of state under Article 86, was created in 1986. This has a white square on the blue field, charged with the arms of the Republic in silver. Distinguishing insignia for former Presidents of the Republic was created in 2001; a tricolor in the style of the Presidential standard, it is emblazoned with the Cypher of Honor of the President of the Republic.
In 1927, Mussolini adopted a personal standard consisting of fasces on a Savoy blue field with a yellow border; this was abolished in 1943. Firstly in 2001, and then again from 2008, Silvio Berlusconi adopted a similar standard of the office of Prime Minister, this time the coat of arms proper on a darker blue field with double yellow border.
The law, implementing Article 12 of the Constitution and following of Italy's membership of the European Union, lays down the general provisions governing the use and display of the flag of the Italian Republic and the flag of the European Union (in its territory). There are no international conventions on flying the flag, but protocol adopted by a large number of countries have such similarities as to suggest lines of commonly accepted practice. In general two areas of exposure are identified: national and international events. In both cases it is generally followed practice that national flags displayed in a group should be of equal size and each hoisted on its own flagstaff, of equal height, or on separate ropes if fixed on yardarm. The flag is flown from sunrise to sunset, except in case of bad weather; exhibition at night is permitted provided it is adequately illuminated. The flag is raised and lowered vividly and with solemnity; it is always treated with dignity and should never be allowed to touch the ground or water. Vertical hoist is transformationally identical to horizontal hoist (i.e. the flag is rotated 90 degrees).
When displayed alongside other flags, the national flag takes the position of honor; it is raised first and lowered last. Other national flags should be arranged in alphabetical order. Where two (or more than three) flags appear together, the national flag should be placed to the right (left of the observer); in a display of three flags in line, the national flag occupies the central position. The European flag is also flown from government buildings on a daily basis. In the presence of a foreign visitor belonging to a member state, this takes precedence over the Italian flag. As a sign of mourning, flags flown externally shall be lowered to half-mast; two black ribbons may be attached to those otherwise displayed. Traditionally, the flag may be decorated with a golden fringe surrounding the perimeter.
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