The relics of history never return by chance: buried in the collective unconscious, they sometimes re-emerge in a Jungian way to give us a warning. Thus, while the world risks the Third World War thanks to the willing collaboration of Russia, Ukraine and NATO, the hearse that transported the coffin of theArchduke Franz Ferdinand of Habsburg-Este. As everyone remembers, his assassination, carried out on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo at the hands of the student Gavrilo Principwas the igniting spark for the First World War.
For at least 25 years, the carriage lay in the deposits of the Ethnographic Museum of Udine, but it is due to the art historian Fabio Franz having recognized her as the protagonist of the most tragic funeral procession in history, the symbolic cause of the death of 16 million people, including soldiers and civilians, as well as the dissolution of four empires, the Hapsburg, German, Russian and Ottoman. The recognition took place thanks to the comparison of the cart with the photos of the impressive funeral procession which took place on 2 July 1914 in the streets of Trieste, then Austrian: a much more solemn celebration than the one the archduke will have in her Vienna.
We were able to visit the heirloom thanks to the mayor of Udine, Pietro Fontanini (Lega) who promises: “We are working to start the restoration as soon as possible, in order to make the carriage usable by citizens and tourists so that it can remember the tragedies experienced by our territories and inspire everyone to defend the values of life and peace between the peoples”.
Thus, accompanied to the deposit by the technicians of the Municipality, passing through finds from the peasant tradition and splinters from huge grenades, we arrive at the corner where it is kept.
The emotional impact is strong, above all because the piece has the patina of more than a century of history. The wagon is of exquisite Italian manufacture, even if some parts of the mechanics – decidedly modern for the time – are of German manufacture. The black wood, once partially gilded, is carved with cherubs, tapered columns and bold acanthus spirals; the glass that surrounds the cabin, miraculously intact, is finely frosted with figures of angels and saints. Inside, abandoned, an old bronze laurel wreath: in that same compartment the case with the body of the Archduke was loaded.
You wouldn’t have called Franz Ferdinand a “funny guy,” but he was a prince of proven morality and highly intelligent despite the superficially negative portrayals that leftist historians such as Percivale Taylor have given him. He had married the Czech countess Sophie von Chotkowa, a morganatic marriage because the wife was not of royal blood: this never went down well with the Austrians.
But, after all, Franz Ferdinand was only the third in line of succession, after his cousin Rodolfo who committed suicide (so it is said) in Mayerling in 1889 and after his own parent, Cecco’s brother Beppe, who died in ’96. In 1914, therefore, for eight years Franz Ferdinand had been the heir to a still short-sighted two-headed empire between Austria and Hungary, which had been creaking for some time under the separatist pressures of the Czechs, Poles, Ruthenians, Romanians, Croats, Slovaks, Serbs, Slovenians and Italians.
The archduke was a solid man: very military, very Catholic and tendentially absolutist, he got along better with the German Kaiser than with his uncle. Politically shrewd and farsighted, he already had a plan ready to make the Habsburg Empire a confederation of states (Vereinigte Staaten von Gross-Österreich): by granting large administrative autonomy to peoples on an ethnic basis, he would have defused the irredentist powder keg while keeping the Empire in peace and prosperity. It was not for nothing that he was detested by the Hungarians, who would have seen their role reduced, and by the Slavic irredentists who sensed the danger of a reconciliation that would have demotivated their centrifugal thrusts. For this reason, in an incredibly clumsy and amateurish bombing organized by the group Mlada Bosnia (Young Bosnia), Gavrilo Princip managed to capture the moment when the archduke, who had already escaped an attack with hand grenades, was stuck in the car of Count Harrach who was trying to maneuver. The bomber approached, shot Franz Ferdinand in the neck and, in a cruelly senseless way, also in the abdomen of the duchess.
“Sopherl! Sopherl! Sterbe no! Bleibe am Leben für unsere Kinder! – Sofia! Do not die! Stay alive for our children!”, the archduke implored, supporting his beloved wounded wife, the one he had wanted to marry at all costs in 1900, despite her lower rank. They both died shortly after, despite the intervention of the doctors.
As the art historian later showed us Pamela Volpi, of the cultural associationNice compound”, in Trieste, at the Diego de Henriquez Museumthere is a carriage very similar to the one that carried the Duchess Sofia’s coffin, but it is not the original.
The coffins of the archducal couple were transported from Sarajevo to the sea and then embarked on the battleship Viribus Unitis, which had been launched by Franz Ferdinand himself in 1911 with a non-random name, which can be translated from Latin as “Unity is strength”. (The ship will be sunk by our stormtroopers, the naval officers Rossetti and Paulucci, with the leech, in 1918).
The bodies of the murdered spouses arrived in Trieste, disembarking at the current Molo Audace; of this historic event there are photographs and videos available on the net.
In the Julian capital, the imperial couple had the most solemn funeral rites: on two different carriages from the Zimol, the coffins paraded between two wings of the crowd, from Piazza Unità to the Central Station, where they were then loaded onto the train for Vienna. The demonstration tended propagandistically to justify the conflict with Serbia, a retaliation which, by setting fire to the system of alliances between the European powers, would probably have been discouraged even by the poor Archduke Franz Ferdinand.