The year 1932 marked an important stage of development for fascist Rome. The tenth anniversary of the March on Rome, the Decennale, offered the regime the opportunity to celebrate its achievements and especially to introduce new spaces and events in Rome. An English-language pamphlet of the state-sponsored tourist agency boasted that the regime had “completely transformed Italy” in its first decade. “Anyone visiting Rome after an absence of ten years can hardly believe that so many and such important works could have been accomplished during this short period of time.” It pointed to the Via dell’Impero, the new towns in the reclaimed areas of the Pontine Marshes, and the opening up of the city’s ancient monuments.1 Mussolini’s imprint already gave the city a new look appropriate to the rhythm of modern life, with one construction project after another superimposing a new and beautiful city on imperial Rome.2 “It is not exaggerated to affirm that side by side with old Rome and even within its walls, another city has sprung up or rather has been revealed during the last ten years: a new Rome that deserves to be visited as much as the old one generally described in guide-books.”3
Fascist “spectacle” found new forms of expression that shaped the subsequent development of the city and its use as the showpiece of the regime. In particular, two events marked the Decennale on October 28-29, 1932: the opening of the new Via dell’Impero, running from the Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum; and the opening of the special Exhibit of the Fascist Revolution (Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista), which would attract nearly 4 million visitors in the next two years.
THE VIA DELL’IMPERO
The new Via dell’Impero appeared as another fascist victory in the struggle to unite Italians and to give Italy a new sense of purpose and accomplishment. Plans to change the streets in the city’s historic center did not originate with the fascist regime. In 1873 Alessandro Viviani developed the first Master Plan, which included a new street from the Colossseum to the Piazza Venezia.4 The regime could now boast that it had finally acted to carry out this work in yet another “action speaks louder than words” message. The vast project took several years, tearing down an entire neighborhood, creating a street thirty meters wide, and providing a principal avenue for parades and propaganda. Aesthetics, archaeology, traffic, and public health furnished the rationale for the work, along with the government policy of putting people to work.
The new street provided a major new artery and an outlet for the Via Cavour, which carried traffic down from Rome’s main train station, Termini. According to the regime, the demolition of the neighborhood meant the end of crowded, unhealthy living conditions. Residents would be welcomed in the outlying neighborhoods newly constructed for them. These borgate provided new public housing and health services. On both sides of the avenue, excavation opened up imperial forums for visitors and tourists to see. Not only was there a new view of the Colosseum, but the Basilica of Maxentius was “liberated” as well and became a site for outdoor concerts. The street’s twenty-meter width provided ample room for traffic, while ten additional meters of sidewalks could accommodate large numbers of pedestrians.
The Via dell’Impero perfectly expressed the fascist wedding of past and present, traditional and modern that became the hallmark of Mussolini’s Rome. “Undoubtedly it is the most interesting and majestic road in the world” appealing to lovers of ancient Rome as well as “ordinary tourists partial to modern and handsome thoroughfares.”5 One fascist hailed it as “certainly the grandest fascist monument, having captured the unique vision of today’s Rome, and having restored to the life of the people the most beautiful structures, formerly suffocated by superstructures, hovels and alleys. It will have the greatest importance in the orientation of the new Italian taste.”6 Clearly the Via dell’Impero embodied the concept of romanità and Mussolini’s claim that the new Rome expressed the political revolution that was transforming Italians into a new, energetic, and thoroughly fascist people.
2.1 Via dell’Impero from the Colosseum to the Victor Emmanuel Monument, 1932
Visitors entering the new street from the Piazza Venezia and the Victor Emmanuel Monument viewed the combination of Trajan’s Column, Trajan’s Market, Trajan’s Forum, and Augustus’s Forum on the left, and Caesar’s Forum on the right. Just beyond Trajan’s Forum was the Forum of Nerva. Statues of Caesar, Augustus, Trajan, and Nerva lined the street. The street also offered new access to the Roman Forum.
On April 21, 1934, the regime unveiled four stone tablets of maps of the Roman Empire on the new wall running alongside the forum by the Basilica of Maxentius. “The four maps together construct a narrative depicting the empire from its earliest days until the period of its greatest territorial extent under Trajan.” 7 After the conquest of Ethiopia, a fifth map, added on October 28, 1936, depicted fascism’s new empire and was dedicated to the martyrs of fascism. The plan at this time was to build the new Fascist Party headquarters, Palazzo del Littorio, across the street where the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista would be on permanent display, with a sacrario, or chapel, in honor of the fascist martyrs. This overtly fascist fifth map disappeared at the end of World War II, but the other four remain today.8
A paper read before the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1934 by Dr. Guido Calza trumpeted the achievement of the Via dell’Impero. The new street occupied a central and integral place in the bold plans for a new Rome:
To-day modern life comes into contact and runs its course side by side with the ancient monuments. Until three years ago, the traveler arriving in Rome and proceeding from the station to S. Peter’s, although he crossed half the city, never encountered any of the classical monuments. But now, through the Via Nazionale, he can see the majestic ruins of the Hall of Trajan’s markets and from the Piazza Venezia he can have a view of the Basilica of Constantine and of the Coliseum. And half way down the Corso Vittorio [Emmanuele] he is suddenly confronted with the four temples of the Republican period in the Argentina zone, which have opened for us a new page in the topography of ancient Rome.9
Consistent with the regime’s presentation of such stupendous accomplishments, Dr. Calza pointed out the sheer volume and scope of a project that required the clearing away of forty thousand cubic meters of earth “during the work of pulling down and readjusting the Forum.” He also answered those critics who argued that the Via dell’Impero now covered up large portions of the newly excavated imperial forums. Part of the project, he reminded his audience, was to provide improved traffic flow in a modern city. “It is a modern street which also endeavours to give value to the remains of the Imperial Forums and monuments, and give a panoramic view of them which, in some particular spots, is superb.” What is certain, he concluded, “is that with the new street we have gained much more than we have lost.”10 The debate over that point continues to this day, but there was no doubt at the time that Mussolini had constructed a prime space for fascist celebrations and commemorations.
2.2 Military parade on the Via dell’Impero, c. 1937
The inaugural parade featured units of veterans wounded in World War I, the mutilati. In subsequent years the street hosted dozens of parades. Ceremonial events on these occasions might encompass the Victor Emmanuel Monument and its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or the space between the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. Here was the first major step in transforming the historic center of Rome into a setting for fascist spectacle.
THE MOSTRA DELLA RIVOLUZIONE FASCISTA
The next day, October 29, 1932, Mussolini and a host of officials opened the Exhibit of the Fascist Revolution, the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista, or MRF, as it was commonly known. It stood at the center of the Decennale, celebrating the first decade of fascist rule. The anniversary year offered the regime an opportunity to proclaim publicly its successes and to display fascism’s history, achievements, and bright future. Mussolini’s reputation stood high in Italy and abroad. Emil Ludwig’s conversations with the Duce that year revealed a confident leader expressing his views on a wide variety of subjects. Ludwig’s book, Talks with Mussolini, would appear in many languages. Public works projects gave Italians jobs and produced proof of the regime’s construction of a new society. Rome furnished the principal site of fascism’s celebration of itself for the entire world to see. The Exhibit of the Fascist Revolution was the centerpiece of the Decennale and the Year X of the fascist calendar.11
By then, Italians were used to seeing the fascist date for events in addition to the traditional date of the Christian calendar. Year I began on October 28, 1922. As fascism celebrated the end of its first decade with the opening of the MRF, a new year, Anno XI E.F., or Era Fascista, began.
The exhibit spanned two critical years, 1932-1934, of Rome’s development as the physical, historical, and architectural embodiment of Italian fascism and its aspirations. It demonstrated the fascist revolution while the city demonstrated fascism’s synthesis of past and present as the basis of the future “continuing revolution.” The setting for the exhibit was a city undergoing a fascist transformation. The new streets and buildings were part of the ongoing mostra, or exhibit, of the Roma di Mussolini. Mussolini’s sometime mistress and cultural advisor, Margherita Sarfatti, put it this way: “What opened in Rome is not only ‘the exhibit’; much more is it ‘the demonstration’ of the Fascist Revolution.”12
The exhibit’s site was the Palazzo delle Esposizioni on the broad, nineteenth century Via Nazionale that began just above the Piazza Venezia and ran up toward the Termini station. It had already served in May and early June as the site for a special exhibition, the Mostra Garibaldina, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s death. Mussolini used the occasion to incorporate the historical memory of the great hero of Italian unification into the presentation of his fascist movement as the fulfillment of the Risorgimento. The exhibit drew over 200,000 visitors, a demonstration of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni’s effectiveness as a site for major exhibitions. In addition, Mussolini presided at the unveiling of a new statue on the Janiculum to Garibaldi’s wife Anita, a hero in her own right during the short-lived Roman Republic of 1848-49. It stood near the huge equestrian monument of Garibaldi himself, overlooking Rome from the Piazza Garibaldi.13
Nothing illustrates better than the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista the way in which the regime created new settings and new events to convey its message. More than twenty of Italy’s finest artists and architects collaborated in designing an exhibit that Mussolini ordered to be “most modern.” A new, strikingly modern façade covered the 1882 palazzo. The clean horizontal and vertical lines featured four aluminum columns, each thirty meters high, in the form of the fasces, the ancient Roman symbol that fascism had adopted as its own.
Originally scheduled to close in April 1933, the exhibit’s success in attracting visitors led Mussolini to extend its life to a full two years. Nearly 4 million Italians and foreigners viewed the exhibit during that period. In Rome they saw not only the exhibit but also the many new buildings, streets, and monuments completed or under construction by the regime. The Papal Holy Year of 1933 meant that religious pilgrims would also see the wonders of the new Rome under the Duce’s forceful leadership. Here was a dynamic fascism that was rooted in the Italian and Roman past while simultaneously transforming Italy into a great and modern nation. Romanità and revolution were at the heart of fascism’s self-presentation from 1932 to 1934.
The fascist leaders Dino Alfieri and Luigi Freddi organized the exhibit and wrote the official catalog that provided a complete account in text and photographs of the exhibit.14 They attracted a variety of Italy’s most dynamic and talented artists, painters, and sculptors to design the exhibit’s twenty-two rooms. The architects Adalberto Libera and Mario De Renzi designed the façade; Enrico Prampolini, the futurist painter, contributed two murals; the rationalist architect Giuseppe Terragni designed the room dedicated to the March on Rome; and the painter Mario Sironi produced four key rooms.
2.3 The Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista, the Via Nazionale, 1932
Once inside the exhibit, visitors traveled through fascist history in a series of rooms that began with Italy’s decision to enter the war in 1915 and continued through the triumph of fascism with the March on Rome. The variety of modern styles, such as rationalism and futurism, were evident, and critics agreed that the forms were dynamic and engaging. The culmination of the exhibit was the sacrario dedicated to the fallen, or Caduti, the martyrs of the fascist movement. A huge illuminated cross in the darkened room was surrounded by rows of the word Presente, while the fascist hymn “Giovinezza” played softly in the background. Shrines to the heroes who had given their lives for the fascist cause became common in Rome and throughout Italy.
The exhibit subordinated the theme of the regime’s achievements to the major themes of fascism’s heroic history. The MRF authenticated the fascist revolution. Fascism, according to the official catalog, had overthrown the old order, unleashing the energy of the piazza and mobilizing the forces of the nation, which were guided by Mussolini’s thought and leadership. Fascism had saved the nation from a bloody, Bolshevik-style revolution that promised only to divide Italians through class warfare. The fascist revolution, on the other hand, had the capacity to unite all classes and regions of Italy, thereby freeing the nation from its fragmentary historical legacy and fulfilling the original Risorgimento. The modern style thus matched the revolutionary substance of the exhibit. Italians of all regions and classes could come to Rome and experience, in the MRF and in the city, the new Italy being created by Mussolini and fascism.
The writer and critic Barbara Allason recalled visiting the MRF with her sister. Allason was an active member of the antifascist underground in Turin at the time and so was hardly well disposed toward the regime. The two took advantage of the discounted train fares to make the trip to Rome, noting that some people beat the system by going to Rome with the discount, visiting the exhibit briefly to validate their tickets, and then enjoying a holiday in Rome. She conceded, however, that the exhibit’s style was impressive. The rooms dedicated to early fascism, the squads, the repression of strikes, and then the fascist “return to order” conveyed authentically to her the fascism she despised. Everywhere she saw “infinite” pictures, portraits, and representations of Mussolini. “Altogether it was a scene constructed by an ingenuous and very able director, ephemeral and spectacular as would be the Fascist revolution itself.”15
Only after going through the sacred space of the sacrario on the ground floor did the visitor move upstairs to the rooms dedicated to what fascism had accomplished after the March on Rome. Visitors to the exhibit, nevertheless, could see and experience the regime’s dynamic in the surrounding environment of the newly emerging fascist Rome: the events, the buildings, and the streets that together formed fascism’s self-presentation and self-definition.
The regime kept careful records of how many visitors came and who they were.16 Italians of all classes, backgrounds, and regions flocked to the exhibit. The royal family, party and military leaders, government officials and employees, factory workers, members of professional organizations, schoolchildren of all ages, members of the government-sponsored leisure organization known as the Dopolavoro (“after work”), and more attended. The regime made every effort to encourage groups and individuals to visit by reducing rail fares and subsidizing party organizations.
Fascist officials also made special efforts to attract foreign visitors and especially foreign dignitaries. In fact, foreign politicians, statesmen, and ambassadors could hardly avoid the exhibit, as their enthusiastic fascist hosts insisted on taking them on the mandatory tour. Franz von Papen, Josef Goebbels, Hermann Göring, Ramsey MacDonald, Sir John Simon, Èamonn De Valera, Austin Chamberlain, James Roosevelt, Engelbert Dolfuss, Anthony Eden, Sir Oswald Mosley, and the king of Siam were among those favored with guided tours. The fascist press always emphasized how favorably impressed these visitors were with what they saw. Anthony Eden, Great Britain’s foreign secretary, recalled his visit in February 1934: “In an interval during this visit I was taken to the Fascist Museum. I did not find the place congenial and I did not want to be uncivil to my hosts, so that I was glad when the embarrassing ordeal was over. All the same, Fascism as practiced in Italy at the time was less dragooning and pervasive than Nazi rule in Germany.”17
The exhibit attracted considerable attention on the outside as well as the inside. The site on the Via Nazionale was ideal: a wide, straight, post-unification street located just steps away from the historic center. Each day a different honor guard had duty at the exhibit, thus providing constant “changing of the guard” ceremonies that attracted the attention of hundreds of passersby. Often a parade up the Via Nazionale preceded the change of guard.
The site would work equally as well for the Exhibit of Augustus, La Mostra Augustea della Romanità, in 1937 celebrating the two-thousandth birthday of the emperor. In fact, the public announcement of that exhibit came out in September 1934, just a month before the closing of the MRF.18When it opened the Palazzo would have yet another new, temporary façade to attract attention. New versions of the Exhibit of the Fascist Revolution appeared in 1937 and 1942, relocated to the National Gallery of Modern Art in the Villa Borghese Park. In 1934 the party sponsored a contest for the design of a new party headquarters, the Palazzo del Littorio, which would provide space for a permanent exhibit of the revolution and an archive for the party’s history on the Via dell’Impero.19
The success of the Exhibit of the Fascist Revolution helped shape the regime’s policy with respect to exhibits in various parts of the city, and treated Rome itself as an exhibit or demonstration of achievement in the ongoing fascist revolution. The combination of history, propaganda, and tourism proved a valuable way for the regime to broadcast its messages to a popular audience. This exhibit furnished the model for the regime’s subsequent ambitious program of exhibitions in Rome and throughout Italy.
The American political scientist Herman Finer lived in Rome in 1933 and visited again in 1934 to study the fascist regime. He published the results of his work in 1935 as Mussolini’s Italy. Finer’s summary of the power and effectiveness of the Exhibit of the Fascist Revolution captures the success of the exhibit that, in turn, encouraged the regime in its subsequent use of Rome as a center of exhibitions, new buildings and complexes, and the constant ceremonies at key sites in the city:
To this exhibition millions have flocked, brought to Rome by reduced fares and by excursions arranged by the various associations of the regime. What a seductive gift to the poor workman or peasant who has, perhaps, never been out of a tiny village or town! To be given an excursion to Rome, in the company of his boon companions of the piazza or the local inn, headed by a more or less tuneful band, and preceded sometimes by home-made banners, carrying the name of the hometown, and then to be made a fuss of in Rome, perhaps photographed by the newspapers! And there, spread in front of him (and no one can deny it!) are these evidences of the stupidity of the rest of the world, the wickedness and malice of Socialism and Communism, the immaculate patriotic purity, heroism, and self-sacrifice of the Fascist, and the Duce, that good, big, but sometimes angry, father! Why, you can even see the original document drawn up by D’Annunzio for the Government of Fiume; letters to and from the Duce; portions of the bridge over the Arno from which the young manufacturer’s son, Berta, was thrown, his fingers cut off, bleeding into the river by the wicked “subversives”—yes, ecco! There are the bloodstains! Who can deny that Fascism is right? The Revolution ye have always with ye!20
During the two years of the Exhibit of the Fascist Revolution, 1932 to 1934, further changes took place in the area of the Piazza Venezia and the Via dell’Impero. The creation of the Via dei Trionfi, the makeover of the Circus Maximus, and the extension of the Via del Mare produced new spaces for Mussolini’s Rome in the very heart of imperial Rome. These streets functioned as “open-air museums of live history” for Mussolini and his regime.21
VIA DEI TRIONFI AND COLLE OPPIO PARK
In 1933, a visitor could walk from the Piazza Venezia and the Victor Emmanuel Monument to the Colosseum on the broad sidewalk along the new Via dell’ Impero. Turning right at the Colosseum, one could look through the Arch of Constantine down the Via di San Gregorio, a straight and rather narrow street that came out at the south end of the Circus Maximus. In late summer that year, work began to widen the street and transform it, and it was renamed the Via dei Trionfi. Running between the Palatine and Celian hills and past the church of S. Gregory the Great, this new street recalled the ancient triumphal route into the city that would now be a site for parades and special events sponsored by the regime.
Antonio Muñoz supervised the work to widen the street. He designed the fountain, near the Arch of Constantine, that remains today, although only stain marks indicate where the fascist symbol had once flanked it on both sides. The project preserved a fragment of the ancient aqueduct of Domitian on the side of the Palatine Hill that brought water to the imperial palaces, and the tram tracks were moved from the middle of the street to the side of the Celian Hill. Mussolini and the king participated in the parade and inaugural ceremonies on October 28, 1933. On the same day, the Duce also visited the completion of the work on the Via del Mare that fully “liberated” and opened up the Capitoline Hill. Muñoz wrote that both projects carried out aspects of the master plan of 1931.22
The Via dei Trionfi joined the Via dell’Impero at the Colosseum. Muñoz celebrated the access that the streets gave to archaeological sites in the area and four of Rome’s seven hills: the Capitoline, the Celian, the Aventine, and the Palatine. Equally, if not more important, however, was the modern character of these streets that opened new vistas joining ancient and modern. Here would march the legions of the new Rome of Mussolini. “It is not rhetoric to say that the spirit of the new Italy is reconnected to that of ancient Rome, whose stones acquire once again the life and valor of twenty centuries ago.”23
In 1936 the Governatorato, under the leadership of Giuseppe Bottai, opened the Parco Traiano on the area of the Esquiline Hill that included the site of the Domus Aurea, Nero’s Golden House, and the site of Trajan’s Baths. The park of 60,000 square meters provided an ancient site for modern Romans to promenade with their families. It joined the Colle Oppio park, which had opened in 1928 and had an entrance off the Via Labicana that overlooked the Colosseum.24 Together these two parks provided a large green space within the historic center.
Mussolini visited the site of the Parco Traino with Bottai and Antonio Muñoz in August 1935 and encouraged the completion of the work. Once the necessary demolition was finished, the work on the park got under way at the beginning of 1936. Mussolini returned to open it to the public on April 21, 1936. The Governatorato accomplished this work “following the orders of the DUCE and the directives of S[ua] E[ccelenza] Bottai, who assisted the carrying out of this great work from distant Africa . . . in order to contribute to the greatness and the beauty of the new Rome of Mussolini.”25
Muñoz quoted Mussolini’s speech to the Italian Senate about the Piano Regolatore of 1931 on the importance of “new parks, gardens, baths, gyms” in the more densely populated areas of the city that would provide “air and light: fundamental and necessary conditions of health.” That was why the government put so many resources into creating more open areas in all parts of the city.26
CIRCUS MAXIMUS TO THE PIAZZA VENEZIA
By 1934 the government had only to clear the Circus Maximus and to construct new streets in that area to link up with the Via del Mare, which took one back to the Victor Emmanuel and the Piazza Venezia. This project thus completed a circuit that began at the Piazza Venezia, ran down the Via dell’Impero to the Colosseum, turned right down the Via Trionfi, and then right again to the Circus Maximus and onto the new Via del Circo Massimo, to the two republican temples at the Piazza Bocca della Verità; it turned right once more to go along the Via del Mare past the Theater of Marcellus on the left and the Capitoline on the right, finally arriving back at the Piazza Venezia. This whole area would host major events throughout the 1930s.
Once the site of ancient chariot races, the Circus Maximus in 1934 was filled with a clutter of buildings for the city gas works and a miscellany of shacks and sheds. The government’s English-language tourist monthly described the area in the bleakest terms:
The district was left utterly abandoned and this wonderful zone of Imperial Rome, once so important and animated, was forgotten so that gradually it was covered with ramshackle squalid cottages, sheds, hayricks, small workshops, rag-pickers’ sorting dumps and factories of artificial manure. The entire area of the “Circus Maximus” was, so to speak, coverted [sic] into the city’s rubbish dump, shunned by the citizens and overlooked by the city authorities.27
The regime’s work in September and October completely cleared the space. A new street took shape on the Aventine hillside directly across from the Palatine Hill. In order to accomplish this change, the Governatorato had to remove the Jewish cemetery on the slope of the Aventine overlooking the Circus Maximus. The cemetery had run out of space in 1894, when a special section for Jews was opened in Rome’s main cemetery, Campo Verano. In 1934, the Governatorato made arrangements with the Jewish community and the chief rabbi of Rome, Dr. Angelo Sacerdoti, to exhume the bodies and transfer them to Verano. 28 A plaque with a Hebrew inscription stands on the site of the cemetery, which is now Rome’s municipal rose garden, the Rosa Comunale.
The new Via del Circo Massimo had at its summit and midpoint a semicircular Piazzale Romolo e Remo, today the Piazzale Ugo La Malfa, with a panoramic view of the Circus Maximus and the Palatine Hill. The regime planned a monument to Giuseppe Mazzini on this site, but it was completed only after World War II, when Italy became a republic.29 On October 28, 1934, Mussolini, on horseback, led the opening day parade of 15,000 athletes.
The Circus Maximus provided a premier site for fascist exhibitions in the 1930s. Four major ones took place between 1937 and 1939: (1) the Exhibit of Summer Camps, June to September 1937; (2) the Exhibit of National Textiles, November 1937 to March 1938; (3) the Exhibit of the Leisure Time Organization, the Dopolavoro, May to August 1938; and (4) the Exhibit of Autarchy of Italian Minerals, November 1938 to February 1939. Each exhibit had its own temporary buildings and pavilions. The central location made the site easy to find for foreign tourists as well as native Romans. Thus a visitor in the 1930s, gazing over the Circus Maximus, might imagine the chariot races of ancient Rome, but what he saw was a space filled with evidence of fascism’s efforts to construct a new Italy.30
The Via del Mare’s completion took several years. When finished, it provided another broad avenue for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic from the Victor Emmanuel to the Piazza della Bocca Verità and around the corner to the Circus Maximus. Along the way, just past the Theater of Marcellus, arose large new office buildings in the distinctly new style of Roman red brick, punctuated by windows with white marble borders and occasional upper story arcades. Buildings of these types, using ancient Roman models and motifs, are found all over the city. The largest one, on the Via del Mare, housed the Governatorato of Rome, the very agency carrying out so many of the demolition and construction projects of the period. It remains today as the Anagrafe, or main record-keeping division of Rome’s city government.
The emergence by 1934 of the new complex of streets and spaces south of the Piazza Venezia gave Mussolini the opportunity to make his balcony and the Victor Emmanuel Monument the heart of fascist Rome and the new fascist empire. He reconfigured the Victor Emmanuel, opened eleven years before the March on Rome, so that it had a new and thoroughly fascist context. Honoring Italy’s 650,000 fallen in World War I, the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the milite ignoto, provided the sacred, central point for numerous ceremonies. Here Italy and fascism became one.
2.4 New Governatorato building, Via del Mare, 1938
Between 1932 and 1934, foreign dignitaries and delegations, Italian groups of all sorts, and other visitors to the Mostra della Rivoluzione invariably were led by their fascist hosts to ceremonies at the Victor Emmanuel. Newsreels by the Luce organization featured both the ceremonies and the new construction in the vicinity. Parades in these years took place on the Via dell’Impero and the Via dei Trionfi and later along the Via del Mare as well. The historic center of the city became the center of fascism’s new romanità.Between 1928 and 1943, Luce cameras captured 249 events at the Victor Emmanuel that were seen in movie theaters throughout the country.31
The frequent parades on the new streets gave eyewitnesses and newsreel viewers a new and fascist perspective on the Victor Emmanuel. Now it often appeared in the background of parades and ceremonies in the new ceremonial fascist center created by Mussolini. The area provided a sacred space for fascist liturgy. Mussolini succeeded in reducing the huge Victor Emmanuel to a subordinate role in the ceremonial life of his fascist regime.
Demolitions in the immediate area of the Victor Emmanuel provided space for trees and benches that were integrated into the new, semicircular space adjacent to the monument. This provided more room for the many buses that ran through the Piazza Venezia to various routes throughout the city, and improved the flow of traffic generally. At the same time, the monument stood out more prominently, with buildings no longer boxing it in on both sides. These changes amplified the space available to fill the piazza with thousands of citizens flocking to hear Mussolini’s frequent speeches from his balcony on the Palazzo Venezia. The cleared area in front of the Victor Emmanuel became the Foro Italico and then, after declaration of the fascist empire in 1936, the Foro d’Impero Fascista.
Philip Hannan, future archbishop of New Orleans, lived in Mussolini’s Rome as a seminarian. His memoirs of that time offer frequent criticism of the fascist dictatorship, but he acknowledged the fervent acclamation of the Duce in the mid-1930s:
When he came out on the balcony, the crowd gave another roar—more salutes, then everything grew still. When he speaks, he takes a grip on the balcony railing and starts to throw his whole body into the effort of speaking. He uses powerful, sweeping gestures. After his speech he goes almost immediately inside—but he’d be furious if the people didn’t recall him with their cheers. He gets about ten encores. Ordinarily, before each speech, the people yell in quick, staccato fashion, “Duce,duce,duce,duce ...”32
The new streets stretching out from the Victor Emmanuel monument, the Via dell’ Impero and the Via del Mare, also provided easier access to the Capitoline Hill with its piazza and palazzi designed by Michelangelo. In 1938, the regime added the paving to the piazza that completed Michelangelo’s plan.33 The Museo Mussolini was the new name for the Palazzo Caffarelli, once the German embassy and reopened after restoration on October 31, 1925.34 This museum contained artifacts discovered during Rome’s rapid expansion after 1870.35
The full exposure, or “isolation,” of the Capitoline became a reality in 1939 with the demolition of the housing on the southern slope facing the Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione. This work opened up the Via Jugano coming off the Via del Mare and going up a slope to a newly opened Piazza Consolazione, with a winding street up to the Capitoline.36
Next to the Palazzo Senatorio, the seat of Rome’s city government, stood a monument, or altar, to the fascist “fallen,” the Ara dei Caduti Fascisti, which overlooked the Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum. The altar’s tomblike block of Egyptian granite had formed the base of the obelisk of Sallustiano in ancient Rome, which had fallen during Alaric’s sack of Rome in 409. Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) had plans for its use that were never carried out. The fascists discovered it and used it to construct this monument to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the March on Rome.37
The new monument provided a fascist counterpart to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Victor Emmanuel. The construction of the Via dell’Impero included a new street running up to the site, the Via dell’Ara Littoria, now called the Via San Pietro in Carcere. On one occasion Mussolini declared that just as the monument to the Unknown Soldier symbolized the sacrifices of the war, the monument on the Capitoline recalled the “Fallen of our Revolution.”38 This fascist monument quickly disappeared after the liberation of Rome in 1944.
At the same time that the regime constructed the Via dell’Impero, the Via del Mare, and the Via dei Trionfi, it isolated the Castel San’Angelo, which encased the original tomb of Hadrian. It accomplished this particular “liberation” of an ancient monument by constructing a large open park that exposed it from every angle. The installation of lighting allowed for the spectacular illumination of the site at night. “Via dell’Impero, Via del Mare, Via dei Trionfi, the isolation of the Mole Adriana signals four fundamental points in the development of Mussolinian Rome. These new streets opened among the sacred ruins have revealed hidden magnificence and have carried the dynamism of modern life among the glories of the past giving perhaps, an urban function to the ruins.”39
The Castel Sant’ Angelo now provided Romans with a surrounding park, the Parco Adriana, set next to the Casa Madre dei Mutilati and the nineteenth-century Palace of Justice. A new fascist building arose across the street from the park on the Via Crescenzio in 1938, Anno XVI, E.F. Designed by architect Attilio Spacarelli, the six-story red-brick building housed the provincial offices of the Fascist National Institute of Social Welfare, the Istituto Nazionale della Previdenza Sociale, or INPS.40
By 1934, this historic area had undergone changes that no one could miss. The regime, of course, trumpeted this transformation of the city, but foreigners noted the changes as well. Valentine Thomson’s article, “Mussolini Builds a Rome of the Caesars,” appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on March 19, 1933. She quoted Mussolini’s boast: “In a very few years Rome will seem a miracle to all people in the world—vast, ordered, beautiful as in the time of Augustus.” Antonio Muñoz took her on a tour of the newly opened archaeological sites in the area. Mussolini also put her in touch with the official in charge of relocating the estimated 98,000 Romans displaced by the recent demolitions. Mussolini emphasized the benefits of such removals from “the unwholesome hovels, letting in air, light and sun” to the city, while relocating the displaced persons to clean, new areas toward the hills or the sea.41 A similar article on Mussolini and Rome appeared in the Sunday magazine section on August 25, 1935, by Anne O’Hare McCormick. The author also met with Mussolini and was conducted on tours by Professor Muñoz. She concluded that “it was a great project of town-planning, now so near completion that the Rome of yesterday is almost erased in favor of the Rome of Augustus, on one hand, and the Rome of tomorrow on the other.”42
A week before the closing of the Exhibit of the Fascist Revolution, Mussolini initiated the project to isolate the tomb of Augustus. His picture appeared on the front page of Il Popolo d’Italia; in it he wielded the piccone to begin the demolition that would “liberate” yet another monument of ancient Rome. The article boasted of the achievements of “La Roma di Mussolini” and declared: “The Romans were great builders and soldiers, besides being colonizers and creators of the law. The Italy of Mussolini reassumes the strongest characteristics of the Race that spread the light of civilization in the world.”43
2.5 Palazzo Braschi, Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Elections,1934
By the middle of the decade, the fascist transformation of Rome was well under way and visible to any resident or tourist. A visitor from Prague described the change:
Anyone who has not seen Rome for some years has difficulty in recognizing it. Entire quarters have disappeared, without leaving the slightest trace, to give light to the old Rome, Imperial Rome which is full of surprise at finding itself in the very new Italian Empire. The double gesture of the Duce is of great interest. He redeems the remains of the ancient Empire and at the same time creates a new one. The present marches “pari passu” with the great traditions of the past.44
When the Exhibit of the Fascist Revolution closed on October 28, 1934, the regime made a point of announcing the imminent implementation of the fascist corporate state. Corporatism promised a “third way,” between laissez-faire capitalism and the state-controlled economies of socialism. It would provide “corporations” for various economic activities in which each had representatives of owners, employees, and the state. Through this mechanism the state could monitor conflict and seek resolutions in the best interest of the nation. An article, “From Exhibit to Corporations,” linked the emerging corporations to the carrying out of the “Revolution that is and the Revolution that is becoming.”45 Newspaper articles featured pictures of the huge new Ministry of Corporations, designed by Marcello Piacentini, which had opened on the Via Veneto on November 30, 1932. This imposing building symbolized the regime’s corporate nature and housed the bureaucracy that was now to make it a reality.
There is an irony here that suggests both fascist Rome’s achievements and its shortcomings. Historians generally agree that the much-vaunted corporate state never reached fruition. It did provide jobs for fascist bureaucrats, but it accomplished little else. Indeed the reform law of February 5, 1934 established a new, more complicated structure for the Ministry of Corporations that only upheld the bureaucracy at the expense of any effectiveness as fascism’s third way.46 The new building, still standing in its prominent location on one of Rome’s most fashionable streets, both housed the bureaucracy and concealed the emptiness of the promises and claims of the regime. It symbolizes the short-term success and long-term failure of Mussolini’s Rome.