Circolo Unione 1803 - 2003

Written by  Giorgio Zanardi
The bicentenary of the first Italian circle.
The origins of the Circolo Unione are closely linked with those of the civic theatre, the Teatro Comunale, which opened uncompleted in 1798.

On taking up his position as papal legate in Ferrara, Cardinal Francesco Carafa responded to local calls for a theatre worthy of the name and of the city's musical traditions and resumed the construction project which had been abandoned through the failure of his predecessor. In order not to overburden civic funds, he turned to the local nobility to support the cost of construction of the four layers of boxes in exchange for ownership in perpetuity, and founded an "entertainments society". The building proceeded with alacrity until 1785, when Carafa was recalled to Rome.

Under his successor, Cardinal Ferdinando Spinelli, building was interrupted for a long period, so that when in 1798 it was opened to celebrate the arrival of the Armée d'Italie, the Teatro Comunale was unfinished and still lacked a foyer. Carafa's idea of an "entertainments society", however, had continued to make progress, particularly in the new Napoleonic sociopolitical atmosphere. On 22 December 1803, the society opened an office in an apartment adjacent to the theatre.
From then on, the society and the theatre developed almost symbiotically, each encouraging the development of the other.
However, it should not be thought that the Circolo Union was founded and grew in response to the papal legate's demand. It was established and developed to «to succeed at all costs in the holy duty of liberating Italy from foreign domination».
From the early years of the nineteenth century, this "holy duty" underpinned every move by its presidents, representatives and its first 291 members, of whom 55 were women with full equality.

Thus all the Circle's members were suspected of harbouring Carbonari sympathies. On the occasion of the revolt in 1831 the lawyer Caroli, a society member, was exiled for acting as standard-bearer when the tricolour was borne from the society to be hoisted over the castle. In 1848 it was the turn of the president Carlo Mayr to flee to Lugo to avoid arrest.

In 1859 Carlo Aventi, yet another member, lost his life volunteering at Cornuda, while the circle's rooms also witnessed the birth of the Corpo dei Bersaglieri del Po, founded by the son of the president, Count Ercole Mosti Estense, supported by the whole membership, which offered itself as hostage - risking the death penalty - in place of the young rebels of Ferrara who had been arrested. The Circolo's patriotism was also demonstrated in public subscriptions and civic and military initiatives of every kind. The ladies of the society were intensely involved in settling refugees in the city after the retreat from Caporetto, while wounded and convalescent officers in Ferrara could enjoy the privileges of membership of the Circolo.
The Circolo Unione was not only active in patriotic events, but also worked tirelessly in the event of natural disasters, opening their homes to the families of flood victims when the Po broke its banks in 1872 and again in 1851, and giving money to cover costs incurred for festivals that had to be cancelled as a result of the repeated disasters which have overtaken the south in more recent years.
The Circolo has also made its contribution to happier national and civic events, organising the fourth centenary celebrations of the birth of Ariosto and taking part in the Ottava d'oro festivities promoting the commemoration of the Palio S. Giorgio.

The Circolo has always been open to the demands on an increasingly modern society: as in the equal rights granted to women when the society was founded, and admission of Jews in 1848.
On its first centenary, the president, the Garibaldian Stefano Gatti Casazza and the poet Domenico Tumiati praised the fraternal spirit of the Circolo and its love for Ferrara in a wonderful poem. This year, for the bicentenary, the Circolo will pass its archives to the State Archive. These records provide a rich first person testimony to the history of Ferrara, since many of its members have been members of the city centumvirate or the council of wise men, or have held the position of gonfalonier as in the case of the president count Antonio Avogli Strozzi in the first five years.
This history and these values will continue to inspire the "FIRST-born OF Italian societies" (as the Enciclopedia Treccani defines it) as it moves into its third century of life.