In 1878 the Italian Parliament decided to build a national monument in honour of the recently deceased sovereign Victor Emanuel II. After publishing two international competitions (in 1880 and 1882) for drawings, it was decided to choose the ones presented by Giuseppe Sacconi. This young architect from the Marche region used the great temples of classical times as a model and conceived the designated space as a scenic representation celebrating the Italian Risorgimento at the heart of Imperial Rome.
The architectural structure of the monument was conceived as an ideal ascending itinerary starting from the stairways and terraces, embellished with various sculptural groups and the bas-reliefs of the central Cenotaph, to then proceed to the lateral Temples and to finally reach the grand Portico of columns surmounted by bronze four-horse chariots, allegories of the Unity of the Nationand of Freedom.
Although they began in 1885, the works went on slowly and the project was continuously altered. Even the material to be used in its construction, travertine, was replaced with white botticino Brescian marble. The years between 1885 and 1910 saw works in the whole area at the foot of the Capitol, with the demolition of the existing Medieval and Renaissance buildings. To improve the view of the new monument, even the Palazzetto Venezia and Church of Santa Rita were moved.
After Sacconi’s death, in 1905, the construction works were directed by the architects Gaetano Koch, Manfredo Manfredi and Pio Piacentini. On 4 June 1911, during the International Exposition marking the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Italy, King Victor Emanuel III inaugurated the huge gilt-bronze equestrian statue. In 1921 the body of the Unknown Soldier was placed inside the crypt designed by Armando Brasini.
Between1924 and 1927, the Quadriga of Unity, by Carlo Fontana, and the Quadriga of Freedom, by Paolo Bartolini, were placed on the propylaea. However, it was not until 1935 that the works on the monument finally ended.