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Alberto Lamarmora
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Alberto La Marmora
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Alberto Ferrero della Marmora (1789-1863) 
Lieutenant general- Senator of the Realm
Geologist and Scientist - Member of the Academy of the Sciences of Turin
and of the Geological Societies of France, Berlin and London

Alberto was born on 7th April 1789.
He was the third-born and second male of Celestino and Raffaella Ferrero della Marmora.

Biography and military career
Armi Corps
Civilian and political work
Family Life
Light and shade
The La Marmora crypt in the Basilica of San Sebastiano, Biella

Biography and military career
He began his military career at the age of seventeen in 1806, when he was admitted to the academy of Fontainebleau thanks to steps taken by his father just before he died. Between the end of December 1807 and January 1808 his widowed mother Raffaella had no qualms about asking Napoleon in person for an audience in order to ensure that he would take care of her sons’ careers. Alberto La Marmora left  Fontainebleau as an officer of the 1st infantry regiment and from there moved to the Italian army in Calabria,  then he was under the orders of Beauharnais; in Vienna he joined Napoleon and as second lieutenant took part in the battle of Wagram from which he emerged with such serious health problems that he had to retire for two years. Until then he had participated in the principal Napoleonic campaigns  from Paris to Madrid, from Saumur to Lipsia, from Ulm to Wagram. Lieutenant at the age of 24 (1813) he fought at Lutzen, earning himself the Legion of Honour , and the following year he took part in the Russian Campaign with the Moscow army where he was captured:  on his release in April 1814 he embarked upon an adventurous return journey across a devastated Europe.
After the Restoration, and once again thanks to his mother’s influence , he rejoined the Piedmontese army as lieutenant of the Grenadier Guards and in 1815 after the battle of Grenoble he was promoted to captain.
1821: the revolts and Alberto La Marmora - Alberto’s military career was interrupted in 1821 because his name appeared among those officers who were in favour of and “had shown their liking for the constitutional system by making speeches and mixing with wrong-thinking people and innovators”.
However, at the time of the revolts in March 1821 he was busy exploring Sardinia ( this can be seen from his diaries) and so he could not be directly implicated. But in September of the same year in Genoa, he was informed that proceedings had been instituted against him: on 4th October the military commission brought charges against him but these were not made public. Following this procedure on the 23rd of the same month Alberto was released “ from further service”.
After spending a short time at home, Alberto decided to  return to Sardinia in a sort of  “ voluntary confinement” This was his third visit to the island and it was an opportunity to continue the studies he had already begun.

In 1824 he rejoined the army as captain of an infantry regiment in Sardinia and the subsequent stages of his military career are as follows:
1829: commission of King Carlo Felice “for the rank of major”
1831: commission of King Carlo Alberto “as lieutenant colonel of General Staff”
1834: commission as colonel in General Staff
1840: commission as Major in command of the Navy school of Genoa
1849: commission of  King Vittorio Emanuele II as commander of the Isle of Sardinia
1851:  he was retired at his request
He died in Turin in 1863 at the age of 74 . His remains lie in the La Marmora crypt in the Basilica of San Sebastiano in Biella.


Army Corps

  From the age of 17 to 25 he served in the infantry and artillery of the Napoleonic army and was decorated  with the Legion of Honour at Dresden in 1813.
Once again in the Sardinian army, he received the commission of the Royal Guards in 1819.
While Carlo Emanuele’s name is associated with the history of the Cuirassiers, Alessandro’s is linked with the Bersaglieri, and Alfonso’s with the Voloire. Every year the Biella section of the Association of the Grenadier Guards of Sardinia commemorates Alberto La Marmora at the La Marmora crypt in the Basilica  of San  Sebastiano in Biella where he is buried with his brothers.


Civilian and political work
Although his military experience was central to Alberto La Marmora’s life , his numerous engagements in society were equally important : principally as a scientist , as senator from 1848 to 1851 and in his final years as a writer.

The scientist – The collection of Alberto la Marmora’s scientific writings consists of about 50 titles, most of which are on the subject of Sardinia. These include memories of an ornithological nature which he wrote at the age of 30 in 1819 after his first trip to Sardinia, and writings in his role as military commander of Sardinia such as the piece he wrote in 1857 when he was 68 entitled  “ The Suez isthmus and the electric telegraph station of Cagliari”.
But three works in particular reveal the extent of his research and brought him fame as both geographer and geologist, as well as international recognition:
  • "Voyage en Sardaigne, ou Description statistique, physique et politique de cette île", published in Paris in 1826 with new editions published in Paris and Turin (both in 1839-1840 and in 1857). The several volumes of this work are complete with three atlases which were gradually added to the different editions.
  • The publication of “Carta dell’Isola e Regno di Sardegna” , Paris and Turin 1845.
  • Itineraire de l’Ile de Sardaigne pur faire suite au voyage en cette contrée” in two volumes published in Turin in 1860.
Alberto’s training in the scientific and naturalistic disciplines had taken place at the age of 18 while he was attending the academy of Fontainebleau in 1806-1807. Silvia Cavicchioli writes:  “ It was here, in an environment that was profoundly tempered by the Enlightenment and in a pre-positivistic scientific setting that La Marmora developed a scientific mind that was both technical and military, training him for the double role , which he was to play throughout his life , of both soldier and scientist. In France he learnt and  perfected the exact sciences , mathematics , design, physical geometry, topography and cartography, according to the eighteenth century model already adopted by the Royal Schools of Artillery ,designed in Turin by Ignazio Bertola, and which aimed at training a ruling class that was both military and administrative , of technocrats-scientists”.  
Alberto absorbed ideas and stimuli  from the great masters: he attended Louis Puissant’s lessons on genetics , he acquired an interest in ornithology by reading  “Natural History of Sardinia” by Cetti, he listened to the Norwegian naturalist Jacob Keyser as they explored the island together;  even his early writings had an international appeal, enabling him to join the network of academies and scientific societies of the time.
In his early years his interests ranged from history to archaeology, from numismatics, to ethnology and statistical geography:  but mineralogy and geology were the subjects in which he excelled in the long term, presenting results which were original and significant.

  • In 1824 he became an official Fellow of the Academy of Sciences of Turin in the class of Physical Sciences and Mathematics.
  • In 1859 he became vice-president of the Academy and, most unusually,  became a member of the society in both the sciences and the arts.
He was awarded diplomas by the geological societies of France , Berlin and London and after his death was commemorated officially by prestigious institutions like the Royal Geographical Society of London.

The Senator – Alberto La Marmora was Senator of the Realm from 1848 to 1852 and he had many commitments. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy in 2011 a reconstruction of the Senate was created in Turin in Palazzo Madama with an installation entitled  “ Italy will be. Reconstruction of the Senate chamber”. Alberto La Marmora’s name appears on a list of the fifteen senators proposed.

The writer - In the last two years of his life he published two historical biographies which he had been working on since 1860:
- “Le vicende di Carlo di Simiane Marchese di Livorno poi Pianezze tra il 1672 ed il 1706 ricavate da corrispondenze diplomatiche private”,  Turin 1862
- “Notizie sulla vita e sulle geste militari di Carlo Emilio S. Martino di Parella, ossia cronica militare anedottica”,  Turin 1863


Military decorations
1813: Napoleonic Legion of Honour  at Dresden for his achievements in the battle of Lutzen
1816: Order of Savoy in exchange for French Legion of Honour
1836: patent of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazzarus
1851: patent of the Grand Cordon of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazzarus
Decorations and civilian appointments
1831: appointed Knight of the Order for civilian achievement
1836: appointed Councillor of mines
1845: appointed Senator of the Realm
1851: patent of citizen of Cagliari
1856: patent of 1st  class Commendatore of the Order of Savoy
Scientific awards
1824: appointed Fellow of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Turin
1829: diploma as member of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Turin
1832: diploma from the Geological Society of France
1844: diploma from the Geological Society of Berlin
1856: appointed vice-president of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Turin
1863: diploma from the Geological Society of London


Family Life

Alberto never married. However, he was very close to his family, as can be seen from his correspondence with his brothers and sisters with whom he reorganized part of the family archives.


Light and shade

Alberto La Marmora had a strong character, tackling the difficulties in his life with courage and living his successes to the full. The seven long years between the ages of 17 and 25 which he spent in the ranks of the Napoleonic army made such a profound impression on him that he remembered them constantly throughout his life.
The first setback in his military career occurred in 1821 when, at the age of 32, he was accused of sympathizing with the constitutional revolts in March of that year which broke out in Piedmont, even though at the time Alberto was in Sardinia. In October of the same year he was released from the army.
The family, who were well-known for their intimacy and loyalty to the House of Savoy, were greatly dismayed by these events, with Alberto’s mother Raffaella in her letters grimly referring to the “disgrace”.
However, in the space of a few years Alberto’s scientific research in Sardinia earned him such recognition that when Pietro Ayres painted his famous family portrait in 1828 Alberto La Marmora was emphatically placed at the centre of the painting in the act of pointing out one of his tablets to his mother Raffaella:  by then, instead of evoking his expulsion from the army, Alberto’s connection with  Sardinia was associated with prestige and achievement, on account of the European fame the Biellese scientist had attained.
Another unhappy episode of his military life occurred in 1848: he had volunteered ( he was 59) to join the First war of Independence and was given the task of reorganizing the troops of the Provisional Government of Venice. However, the mission was a failure, a subject of which he wrote in 1857 in a pamphlet entitled  “Some events of the war in Veneto”.
But in Alberto’s life light and shade balance out and our impression today is of a life rich in achievements and acknowledgements that he obtained both at home and abroad.

The La Marmora crypt in the Basilica of San Sebastiano, Biella

Alberto La Marmora was a good friend of Quintino Sella with whom he shared an interest in geology. While  La Marmora was a competent scientist in his field, Quintino Sella made efforts to promote geological studies and to improve education in this subject.
After his death in Turin in May 1863 Alberto was buried in the la Marmora crypt in the Basilica of San Sebastiano in Biella, the tomb where the other members of the La Marmora family lie. Quintino Sella established a committee to raise funds in order to make a bust of his scientist friend: a sculptor from the Ticino, Vincenzo Vela, who had already made a marble bust for the city of Cagliari, was entrusted with this work which can now be seen in the Basilica of San Sebastiano near the crypt and the works of Odoardo Tabacchi.

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