Mameli was born in Genoa in 1827 of a prosperous family. His father was Giorgio Mameli, who supervised the Genovese sardine fleet and his mother was Marchese Adelade Zoagli Lomellini. His literary talent was apparent very early, and before he was twenty he had dedicated his efforts to the political ferment of his times becoming both poet and pamphleteer.
The Congress of Vienna had given Genoa and Liguria to the Kingdom of Sardinia (a fief of the House of Savoy), and they were, in those tumultuous years, magnets for political exiles from the other parts of Italy: the Savoys had already found their roles as leaders of the Risorgimento. Followers of Mazzini and Garibaldi were numerous and very active in Genoa, and young Goffredo Mameli had grown up in this atmosphere of patriotic enthusiasm. Mazzini was his particular hero.
Fratelli d'Italia, l'Italia s'è desta: The year 1847 was one of celebrations and demonstrations, following the commemoration in 1846 of the centenary of the expulsion of the Austrians from Italy during the war for the Austrian succession. Young Geffredo took part in every demonstration and was particularly active in those celebrating the liberal reforms of Pope Pius IX in Rome.
Amid this excitement Mameli wrote his most ardent poem "Fratelli d'Italia, l'Italia s'è desta" ("Italian Brothers, Italy has Arisen"). The indecisiveness of Carlo Alberto of Savoy offended Mameli's patriotic and republican feelings, and he wanted popular rather than royal independence. All of the other popular Italian revolutionary songs of the time referred to the king, and the song most often sung in Genoa was "The Star of Alberto" Mameli's new lyric was written specifically to provide a "popular" alternative to the royalist songs that dominated the activity on the streets of Genoa.
The words of the Mameli's hymn were meant to memorialize past battles for freedom waged throughout Italy: by the Lombard towns, the Florentine republic, the Genoese, following the example of the young Balilla (who had thrown the first stone at an Austrian officer), and the Sicilians against the French in the so-called Sicilian Vespers. The focus of all aspirations to freedom was Rome, which, in another poem, Mameli called "City of memories, city of hope".
By most accounts, Mameli took the lyric to Michele Novaro, a musician friend who lived in Turin on November 23, 1847. Overnight Novaro composed the music, and the next day Mameli brought back words and music to his companions in Genoa. A few days later, on December 1, Fratelli D'Italia was played for the first time at a popular assembly. The tune quickly spread throughout the peninsula and was on everyone's lips, in defiance of the Austrian, Bourbon and Papal police.
An alternative story of the anthem's composition involves a soiree at the home of the American consul on September 8, 1847, where the subject of conversation was, as usual, the uprisings of the day. Guests who had clustered about Mameli urged him to write a new poem. On the spot he improvised a few lines, and, at home that night, he wrote the rest. A few days later an artist friend took the poem to Turin and read it aloud at a party given by a nobleman, Lorenzo Valerio. Michele Novaro, who was present, tried out a few notes on the piano, and then he too went home complete the composition. The anthem was sung for the first time the next day, according to this version of the story, by a group of political exiles in the Caffè della Lega Italiana of Turin.
Fratelli d'Italia has been called the Italian Marseillaise, but the Marseillaise is a militant marching song that urges a complete break with the past. Mameli's hymn, on the contrary, glorifies and urges a return to Italy's republican heritage -- from the republic of ancient Rome to the more recent glory of Balilla. The salient characteristic of the verse is recognition that the 1848 revolutions (throughout Europe) made by intellectuals was focused on the past rather than present.
Goffredo Mameli fought in the first war of independence in Lombardy in 1848. After the armistice, against which he protested, he joined the more radical forces of Garibaldi and entered Rome with him. In 1849, he took part in the defense of the Roman Republic against French troops called in by the Pope. On June 3, during the siege, he was gravely wounded and was taken to the hospice of the Trinità dei Pellegrini, where he died a month later. He was buried at the adjacent church of Santa Maria in Montecelli. The French authorities had refused to give the body to his father.
In 1941, Mameli's remains were moved to Jacobucci's Monumento Ossario Gianicolense on Via Garibaldi, between the fountain of the Acqua Paola and the Church of Saint Peter in Montorio, on the Janiculum.
More information about Mameli and the Italian national anthem is available on the Internet:
Words and music are at:
http://members.nbci.com/_XMCM/luigino/anthems.html, the latter of which also has previous Italian anthems.
A picture and short description of the Monumento Ossario Gianicolense is at http://www.italycyberguide.com/Geography/cities/rome2000/I1.htm.