Colomba Antonietti

A love worth fighting for

Gisella Lombardi

The two lovebirds are inseparable, they first go to Ancona, and when the pope orders his troops to go north, Colomba cuts her hair, swaps her clothes for an old uniform of her husband’s, and joins him in the voluntary division under general Ferrari.

This is a love story in arms. If you were to go to Foligno and enter the building that once was Michele Antonietti’s bakery – today the restaurant of Hotel Italia – you could go to room 206 and, looking outside the window you would see the city hall of Foligno. The windows that face room 206 were once the headquarters of the papal army posted in Foligno. It was from these windows that Luigi and Colomba saw each other for the first time.
Colomba Antonietti was the baker’s daughter. None of her writings survived, but she is told to us by those who knew her. She was a tall and slender girl, with a greek profile and curly black hair, so curly that, despite her trying to style it, it was always in a mess. She was athletic and one of her favourite pastimes was strolling about on the roofs of Foligno. One day, during one of her walks she discovered ten patriotic conspirators plotting in an inn and from her vantage point she saw the building about to be stormed by the papal army. Aware of the danger, she warned the young plotters and convinced them to hide in the attic. The guards searched the inn but didn’t find anything, yet suspicious they decided to camp outside the inn. It was not possible to leave the inn through the front door, so Colomba guided the ten conspirators onto the roofs and back to her house. Hoping that her family would not wake, she had them enter through the window and go out the back, saving their lives. Her niece refers to another story that helps us understand her character. For the Carnival of 1844 she dressed up as a pilgrim panhandling for money for a trip to the Holy Land. A group of rich men mistook her for a noblewoman and playing along gave her a lot of money. This went on until she revealed herself and donated all the money to the poor. These stories give us a feeling of what kind of person she was, a girl with a strong character and a good heart, always ready to help.
The count Luigi Porzi of Imola was a cadet at the guard house of Foligno and he is the one telling us most of this love story in the letters he wrote to his nephew, when he was old and heart sick. Colomba and Luigi fell instantly in love. First, they looked at each other from the windows, then met briefly in the street. But these stolen little moments weren’t enough for them as they were already certain of their love. Luigi tried to befriend her parents so that he could visit her at home. But they soon caught on to his game and, displeased that their daughter was reciprocating the sentiment, decided to put an end to it. They feared his family would not allow him to marry beneath his standard. But the scolding they gave Colomba wasn’t enough. That night, under her window, while the stars made her tears glisten, Luigi promised to marry her. But the Antoniettis had no intention of giving up. They hired a man to follow her and report back to them and asked for Luigi to be transferred out of town. In the meantime, what they feared, actually happened. Foligno had nine thousand citizens at the time and soon everybody in town knew about the love story between the baker’s daughter and the count.

If somebody hadn’t known about the news, they certainly found out on the day that the spy reported to her father that Colomba was at the window talking to Luigi. The bakers rushed to the windows and slapped her hard. Luigi, out of rage, chased the spy on the roofs throughout the entire town, making a spectacle not easy to forget. The spy was nearly caught but luckily fled the city that same night. Colomba’s mother tried and, this time, succeeded in convincing the head of the guards to put Luigi in jail for fifteen days, and then transfer him to Senigallia. But it didn’t matter, not even distance could cool the love the two felt for each other and they continued communicating through letters.
On the 2nd October 1846, Luigi became second lieutenant of the papal artillery regiment, he received leave, the exemption from the marriage banns and went back to Foligno to marry his beloved. He tried to invite her mother, but she was so against it that she went to Rome instead. Similarly, her father did not attend the wedding. They married in secret, at one o’clock at night. The happy couple spent the rest of their leave in Bologna, where Luigi’s mother lived. When they returned to Rome, they found an unpleasant surprise. Luigi should have asked permission to marry Colomba, and since he had failed to do so, he got thrown into jail in Castel Sant’Angelo. Luckily an uncle of his intervened and Colomba could visit him daily for the three months he spent there. It is during this period, going in and out of jail and living in Trastevere that Colomba discovers a new feeling of freedom and change. In Rome the couple meets Colomba’s cousin who introduces them to the patriotic circles.
The two lovebirds are inseparable, they first go to Ancona, and when the pope orders his troops to go north, Colomba cuts her hair, swaps her clothes for an old uniform of her husband’s, and joins him in the voluntary division under general Ferrari. Motivated by patriotic feelings, they fight together for the liberation of Venice – Masi, Colomba’s cousin is also with them. He tries to keep her away from the fight and sends Luigi to Rome to deliver orders. But his effort is futile: a few days later the Roman Republic has been declared and the Porzi are part of the new army.
On the 24th April, general Oudinot and his troops disembarked at Civitavecchia. With astonishment they realise that the city won’t be easily conquered. The French request the city to surrender: the only answer they get is the bells of Montecitori and Campidogli and the sound of cannons and muskets being loaded. Rome will fight. The whole population is in arms and thousands of young people have come from the whole peninsula and beyond to join in this dream. They know they have no chance and yet, they win the first battle. In the meantime, the Bourbon army attacks in the Lazio region. Luigi and Colomba are with Garibaldi and his army. They first fight the Borboni back to Palestrina and then Garibaldi engages the Napoletan army in Velletri. It seems that even Anita commented on how well Colombia fought side by side with her husband. The army returns to Rome and a truce is negotiated. But the break is brief. Oudinot takes back his words and attacks on the night of the 3rd June. The Republic is doomed.
Luigi and Colomba fight side by side on the bastions. After many days in battle, they get 48 hours of reprieve. Many years later Luigi remembers how Colomba had a bad feeling. She feared God would not allow two people to love each other so much and thought she would soon die. He tried to not think about it and to console her. Those moments of peace were soon over, and the two lovers were once again in the middle of the fight. On the 13th June, they were on the third bastion on the left of Porta San Pancrazio. They were trying to mend the first breach made by the French with sacks of sand and dirt dug from the trench. That morning the French opened an incessant fire. At 5 p.m., only a third of the company was still alive. The few remained standing kept at it. Luigi and Colomba were in a trench, in front of the walls, stacking sacks of sand to build the barricade when suddenly a cannonball bounces off the wall and hits Colomba’s right hip. She has only a few minutes left to live. Other soldiers try to rescue her and put her on a stretcher and while they are carrying her away, a heart wrenching scream is heard, a man is running crazily, jumping over the debris and the holes. When he sees her body, he starts crying and kissing it. It is Luigi, Colomba dies in his arms.
It is building that barricade, with so many other young people that believed in the Roman Republic, that Colomba Antonietti Porzi dies. Luigi will never fall in love with anybody else. Forced to flee, he emigrated to Brazil, he won’t ever be able to go back home. Not out of a lack of trying, but every time he does, something happens to prevent him from going back. He writes letters to his nephew, old and heartsick, remembering the love of his life and its tragic ending. History has tried to rewrite Colomba’s story, painting her as a frivolous woman, incapable of keeping away from her husband because she was too weak. But this is a love story, and it is precisely because Colomba was everything but frivolous. In fact, she was a very capable and courageous woman, and the love she and Luigi had for each other was anything but weak.


[1] Dal Maso, Cinzia: Colomba Antonietti, La vera storia di un’eroina, EDILAZIO (2011)

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