Every year the vast amount of tourists that visit Rome are able to enjoy the city’s plethora of historical landmarks and its scenic streets. What they may not know is that many of the places they pass through and visit have been affected by the rule of Mussolini. Mussolini was by no means a good person, something that can be seen in the fact that he was publicly executed by the Partisans. However bad he was though, in his twenty plus years of power he made lasting changes to Italy, and especially Rome. With Mussolini’s principles of fascism, revitalizing the idea of the Roman Empire was extremely important (Maiellaro). Mussolini’s idea was to build up a sort of nostalgia for the once great empire, and then claim to be returning the kingdom to its glory. As Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire, the city was ripe with archaeological sites. And with the goal of bringing back the Roman Empire, having the sites to display to the public was very important. Mussolini also desired to show off the power of fascism through physically representing it in the new constructions of buildings in the city. If Mussolini loved anything more than fascism and his wife, it was probably himself. And so he spared no expenses in plastering his name around the city, and constructing monuments to his greatness. One of the great things about Rome is that it showcases architecture and monuments through many eras of Italian history. The era of fascism left arguably one of the largest imprints on the city, and as I will soon go over, much can still be seen now of the impact Mussolini left on Rome.
Unlike other totalitarian governments like Stalin or Hitler’s, Mussolini did not give Italian fascism just one architectural style. While he never settled on one style for the government, he did seem to favor modern architecture as well as monumental architecture. His architects, all fascists, had different styles but many fell into the category of modernist or monumentalist. One of the best showcases of Fascist era architectural style can be seen in the EUR district of Rome. The name EUR stands for Esposizione Universale di Roma, and it was built for the 1942 World’s Fair. One of the best examples of fascist architecture in the district is the Palazzo della Civilità Italiana. Borrowing elements like the classic arcades of Roman architecture seen in other buildings like the Colosseum or the Porta-Torre in Como. The building takes in a more modern form in the shape of a cube, combining neoclassical with modernist(Mras).
Other fascist buildings still standing in Rome show off other examples of modernism. The Foro Mussolini represented many aspects important to Fascism. Built for the Fascist Youth Organization the Balilla, the sports complex was built in a then lesser developed region of Rome. This was a common trait of Mussolini’s modernization of the city. Big projects such as the EUR district and the Foro were built at the periphery of the city where they had ample space to build. This allowed the fascist architectures to completely show off their style at a larger scale than in the city center. The project continued to grow more and more ambitious as it cut into a park nearby, this was caused in large part due to Italy’s ambitions of hosting the Olympics. Although many of the plans for the area did not come to fruition, the completed structures include multiple studiums, the Fascist Academy of Physical Education, the Fontana della Sfera, the Piazzale dell’Impero and several other structures (Kallis).
Because of the importance of the youth to Mussolini, his fascist party also saw the importance in education. So in addition to building the large Foro Mussolini athletic complex, the plan for a university city or Città Universitaria in Rome came to fruition as well. Much like the Foro Mussolini, the University was constructed on the outskirts of the city where there was ample space. Designed with an open campus, much like many American universities, the University of Rome boasted fascist architectural styles for each building. Many of the buildings in the university show off the modern architectural styles used by many fascist architects. However, because of the many architects that worked on the project, a single style for the buildings was never chosen. Either way, the campus is a great example of the fascist era trend of modern architecture that was imposing, but not excessively decorated (Painter).
Under the Mussolini fascist government, new buildings that reflected fascism through their design were important. But monuments to show off the party’s power and influence were just as important. Mussolini’s obsession with the Roman Empire, and his goal of returning the country to its former glory as an empire can be seen in the Fascist monuments built. In particular, Mussolini’s Obelisk ties back to the common Roman tradition of bringing large obelisks back from Egypt to show the empire’s power.
Built in the same area as the Foro Mussolini, Mussolini’s Obelisk was a symbolic monolith dedicated to Mussolini. Cut from a three-hundred ton block of marble in the Northern Italian town of Carrara. The obelisk, designed by Costantino Costantini, stood more than 60 feet high. The project was a huge undertaking, and just transporting the massive monolith took months to get it from Carrara all the way to its destination in Rome. The massive obelisk was placed in the Foro Mussolini in 1932, years after quarrying the rock it was cut from in 1927. The obelisk displayed the name “Mussolini” running down its side, with the base spelling out “DUX” meaning Duce or leader in Latin. What takes the monument’s Roman influence to another level is the addition of a parchment stuck under the obelisk at its base(Kallis). While the text can obviously not be reached due to the massive obelisk sitting on it, scholars have been able to research what the text contains. Written in Latin, the choice of language obviously is meant to be a call back to the Roman Empire, attempting to tie fascism back to the Roman Empire. The text essentially states the achievements of fascism and Mussolini, the Fascist Youth Organization, and the building of the Foro Mussolini (Brandford).
Other tie backs to the Roman Empire include Mussolini’s use of the Roman salute. Something which can be seen in many Fascist artworks like the statue Genius of Sport. Once named the Genius of Fascism, the state depends on a man standing, holding his right hand up in the Roman salute. However, nowadays the statue has been altered, and the person’s hands now have ancient roman boxing gloves on to disguise the salute. The statue can still be seen nowadays in the cities EUR district under the name Genius of Sport (Malone) .
Mussolini’s obsession with ancient Rome and it’s empire continued further than the monuments he built, he was also obsessive in his preservation and display of Ancient Roman archeological sites throughout the city. Before Mussolini even gained power there were talks about clearing space in the city to excavate. With Mussolini in charge, and his goal of showing off ancient Rome, these projects became of utmost importance and were finally given the funding they needed. The city center at the time was much more crowded and dense then it is today, many ancient Roman sites sat below later built houses and neighborhoods. For Mussolini to reach what he wanted to, he would have to tear down neighborhoods, and relocate thousands of people (Kallis).
While there were many projects at the time to uncover Roman ruins, some of the most well known ones took place near the center of the city. One of the government’s first large archaeological projects was “freeing” of the Theatre of Marcellus. The ancient theatre was surrounded by other more modern buildings that obscured it and hid it within the city. This meant that several buildings had to be removed, with even more after the discovery of other archeological finds(Kallis).
Just down the street from the theatre, the Piazza Venezia was and still is an important central location in the city. With the Vittoriano, the Campidoglio, the Roman Forum, and its proximity to the Colosseum, much work was put into the area surrounding the Piazza. These included excavations of Trajan’s market, and Caesar’s Imperial Foro. Other sites further away like the Largo Argentina and Foro Boario meant even more excavations and demolitions of houses was done. All in all, with the goal of showing off the remains of the Roman Empire, many areas of the city had to be torn down and the layout of the city redone.
As more and more excavation took place, not only were neighborhoods torn down, but roads were altered as well, some being built and some being destroyed. It became popular to create new roads that would give people scenic views of the archaeological sites. Many historical buildings were torn down simply because they messed with view of the new street. Other buildings, like the Church of Santa Rita da Cascia were literally dismantled and rebuilt in a new location. While there was wide scale redesign of the roads throughout the city, Mussolini’s rule resulted in some of the most well known streets in the city today (Kallis).
The Via Dell’Impero or street of the empire is arguably one of the most scenic streets in Rome today as it goes from Piazza Venezia, past the Roman Forum and right to the Colosseum. Under Mussolini’s rapid demolition and renovation to the city, the large project which tore down a section of houses, was nearly finished for the government’s ten year anniversary. While it needed some work to be completely done, in celebration of the anniversary a parade was held on the street, in which Mussolini rode a horse down it. The street was seen by some as a symbolic connection between the ancient city and the new modern one (Kallis). The new street showed off the still relatively new Vittoriano, as well as the newly excavated parts of the Roman Forum. It also gave an excellent view of the colosseum, which after tearing down houses could be seen all the way from Piazza Venezia. Symbolic in many ways, Via Dell’Impero showed once again how important the Roman past was to Mussolini. It also showed how ambitious he was in his goal of modernizing the capital city of his fascist empire.
Although Mussolini did indeed modernize Rome, and no doubt increase its touristic appeal by unearthing many ancient monuments. Much of the changes he made to the city involved moving thousands of people out of the city. While he certainly focused on the youth in aspects like sports and education. By relocating thousands of people far outside the city in towns known as Borgate and with little transportation to get into the city, the relocated people were essentially cut off from many of the improvements Mussolini made (Painter). While he may have boasted of his great empire to the people of Italy and the world, in actuality there were many problems he ignored. Sure, in some regards Mussolini succeeded, but at the cost of the citizens of Italy. After his fall, many fascist era constructions were destroyed, altered to remove fascist imagery, or simply just neglected (Malone). While his mark may have been left on the city of Rome, it’s ties to the fascist government have been for the most part cut.
Malone, Hannah. “Legacies of Fascism: Architecture, Heritage and Memory in Contemporary Italy.” Modern Italy 22, no. 4 (2017): 445–70. doi:10.1017/mit.2017.51.
Branford, Becky. “Mussolini Message to Future Revealed under Rome Obelisk.” BBC News. BBC, August 31, 2016. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37230455#:~:text=A%20text%20hidden%20underneath%20an,Italico%20sports%20complex%20in%20Rome.
Painter, B.. Mussolini’s Rome : Rebuilding the Eternal City. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, 2005. Accessed May 5, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Kallis, Aristotle. The Third Rome, 1922-43 : The Making of the Fascist Capital. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014. Accessed May 5, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.
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Mras, George P. “Italian Fascist Architecture: Theory and Image.” Art Journal 21, no. 1 (1961): 7–12. https://doi.org/10.2307/774290.