Visitors to Palermo, Italy, may be surprised to see a plaque written in Hungarian as well as Italian hanging on a wall along one of the city’s major streets. This bilingual marker is a reminder of the relatively recent formation of Italy as a single state.
The plaque, hidden in plain sight on the wall of a military barracks, commemorates the role of Hungarian military leader Lajos Tüköry in the “Expedition of the Thousand” campaign to free Sicily from the Bourbon Spanish rulers in 1860—a major step in the struggle to unify Italy.
Tüköry was one of four famous Hungarian volunteers who joined the campaign led by Italian General Giuseppe Garibaldi. He was a senior officer in the army of some 1,000 volunteer “red shirts” who took on a much larger force defending the island of Sicily. He was shot in the knee at the siege of Palermo, just as the red shirts were entering the city, and died from gangrene a short time later. General Garibaldi himself gave the eulogy at Tüköry’s funeral, referring to him as a “freedom fighter of Italy.”
This plaque commemorating Tüköry was placed here in the 1930s by the city of Palermo. Interestingly, at that time the country was under fascist control and it is clear that the monument was once adorned with the fascist symbol, the fasces. This has subsequently been defaced by removing the axehead from the fasces, presumably in the latter stages of World War II. The text also shows some influence of fascist triumphalism, referring to the “Roman greatness,” a phrase popular with Benito Mussolini. And the political significance of the Hungarian text that accompanies the Italian should not be lost. In 1927, Mussolini had signed a Hungarian-Italian treaty of friendship, and the Hungarians were being cultivated as future allies.
This is not the only monument to Tüköry found in Palermo. There is a bust of him in the park opposite the parliament building, a major street bears his name, and the building where the plaque is hung is called (translated from Italian), the Lajos Tüköry Army Barracks.
Know Before You Go
The plaque can be seen from the sidewalk of Corso Calatafimi, at the Forze Armate Esercito Caserma Lajos Tüköry (Lajos Tüköry Army Barracks).