Mussolini promised to bring about a fascist revolution that would produce a new and powerful Italy led by a new breed of Italian men, who would be physically fit, imbued with a martial spirit, disciplined, and always ready to fight and, if necessary, die for fascism and the fatherland. Women supported the men as wives and mothers but also participated in sports, physical training and a thoroughly fascist education. Fascism came to power as a youth movement and promised that through youth a new Italy would emerge.

Fascist Rome devoted considerable space to sports facilities, large and small, and schools. Education was a matter of training the mind and the body in keeping with classical ideals, now in the service of the fascist state. Mussolini boasted that the perfect fascist youth carried both book and gun: “Libro e moschetto, fascista perfetto,” as he put it. No resident or visitor could miss the stadiums, fields, and buildings devoted to training and educating the city’s youth and the incessant propaganda proclaiming fascism’s missionary zeal in raising a new fascist generation. Giuseppe Prezzolini stated the goal in his book on Italy for an English-speaking audience, written in the late 1930s: “It has been said before, but it bears repeating, that a sweeping revolution has taken place in the social life of the Italians—the home has given the young to the State. A new political and educational technique has been introduced, designed to mould not only the intelligence and memory, but the child’s whole being, body and soul alike, and involving not merely his scholastic record but his entire character and future.”1

Prezzolini’s statement manifested the totalitarian pretensions of Mussolini’s state. It is consistent with the oft-quoted declaration in the Enciclopedia Italiana of 1932 that “[f]or the fascist, everything is within the State, and nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value, outside the State. In that sense Fascism is totalitarian, and the fascist State, the synthesis and unity of every value, interprets, develops and empowers the whole life of the people.”2


The regime built its new “sports city” in Rome to demonstrate its commitment to training youth in sports and physical fitness. This new complex required the development of new spaces outside the historic center. The regime chose a spot north of the Vatican, just below Monte Mario. Here arose the Foro Mussolini, today’s Foro Italico. The forum, or foro, suggested once again Mussolini’s imperial image, for only emperors had forums built and named in their honor. A modern, fascist forum evoked the connection to ancient, imperial Rome while providing facilities for “the spiritual and physical education of new generations of Italians.”3 At the forum, images of ancient models of physical prowess mixed with modern sports and modern notions of physical vigor and health.

The chief architect for the project, Enrico Del Debbio, chose the site between the river and Monte Mario. It was a low-lying, swampy area that hunters favored for marsh birds. Del Debbio and Renato Ricci, leader of the youth organization Opera Nazionale Balilla or ONB, managed to overcome opposition to using the spot. For Del Debbio, the new project would help fulfill fascism’s promise to improve the health of the nation by providing much-needed facilities. He saw the endeavor as part of the modern effort to fulfill the ancient ideal of Greece and Rome “of strengthening the mind through a healthy body.”4

Work on the Foro Mussolini began in 1928 under the direction of Del Debbio. 5 Following Del Debbio’s death in 1935, the rationalist architect Luigi Moretti took his place. The first nucleus of buildings opened on November 4, 1932, as part of the Decennale, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the March on Rome. Work continued on the complex until the early years of the war. Changes followed World War II, especially the rebuilding of the Olympic Stadium, but most of what remains dates from the fascist period. To explore Mussolini’s “city of sport” today is to explore a major monument of Mussolini’s Rome.

The Duke of Aosta Bridge, Ponte Duca d’Aosta, provided the access to the foro from the Parioli section across the river. The regime announced a contest for the bridge’s design in 1935. Vincenzo Fasolo’s plan, chosen from among eighteen entrants, won. The bridge had the capacity for a far larger flow of traffic than the ancient Milvian Bridge. The modern design of the bridge only reinforced the overall message of modernity inherent in the design and purpose of the Foro Mussolini.6 Work began in 1936, taking advantage of the latest techniques of construction, and the bridge opened in 1939. It had clean, simple lines, with a long central arch spanning the river and two smaller arches covering the embankments. The sculpted reliefs at both ends depict scenes of World War I.

The obelisk dedicated to Mussolini dominated the entrance to the forum facing the bridge. It stood more than sixty feet high and was fashioned from a three-hundred-ton block of Carrara marble, which the fascists claimed was the largest piece of marble in history. It left Carrara in late 1928 and took months to reach its intended site in Rome. The regime spared no effort in telling the dramatic story of the obelisk’s journey from Tuscany to its new home overlooking the Tiber.7

The base of the column bore the inscription DUX, Latin for duce, or “leader.” The letters spelling “Mussolini” ran vertically up the shaft. Constantino Costantini designed this tribute to the Duce that became known simply as “il Monolito,” the Monolith. American troops occupied the site after Rome’s liberation in 1944 and saved the obelisk from the destruction taking place throughout the city as Romans sought to erase the most obvious remnants of fascism and its leader.8

The building on the north side was the Academy of Physical Education, originally the Istituto Superiore Fascista di Educazione Fisica that provided a home then and now for Italy’s Olympic Committee, or CONI. Del Debbio designed the building, and the four statues of athletes were the work of Silvio Canevari and Carlo Veroli. When the building opened in 1932, it contained a chapel, or sacrario, in memory of Mussolini’s brother Arnaldo, his closest adviser and confidant as well as editor of the fascist daily newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia, who had died the year before.

The first section of the building on the other side of the Monolito housed the Center for Political Preparation. The next section held an indoor public swimming pool and the personal gymnasium of Mussolini, the Palestra del Capo del Governo. Del Debbio’s original plan included two indoor and three outdoor pools, although only one indoor pool was completed before World War II. The regime recognized the scarcity of swimming pools in Rome and had ambitious plans to rectify the situation. The goal was to provide pools open to the public, as were the baths of ancient Rome.9Mosaics and frescoes with appropriate athletic scenes adorned both the indoor pool and the Duce’s gym.

Directly beyond the Monolito between the two buildings lay the Piazzale dell’Impero, designed by Luigi Moretti.10 Skateboarders make free use of it today, but originally it served as a path to the two stadiums and other facilities. The path doubled as an open-air display of fascist symbols and history. At the lower level are a series of mosaics that depicts fascist and imperial themes, including references to the Duce and slogans of the regime such as “Many enemies, much honor,” “Duce, we dedicate our youth to you,” and “Better to live one day as a lion than a hundred as a sheep.”11The mosaics were the work of artists Angelo Canevari, Achille Capizzano, Giulio Rosso, and Gino Severini.

One mosaic is a map of the Via del Mare with its ancient sites: the Theater of Marcellus and the two ancient temples. Across from it is a map of the Foro Mussolini. “What the pair of mosaics presents through myth, then, is a foundation analogy, suggesting that the new empire of 1936 celebrated by this Fascist forum is equivalent in its greatness and portent to the foundation of Rome by Romulus and Remus.”12 Another mosaic quoted the words Mussolini spoke to the crowd on May 9, 1936: “Italy finally has its empire.”

A few steps above the pavement’s mosaics are marble tablets lining each side of the Piazzale dell’Impero. Each tablet or block is about five feet high and eight feet wide. Each has an inscription commemorating an important event in fascism’s history from the decision to enter the war in 1915 to the 1930s. The founding of fascism after the war, the March on Rome, the Lateran Accords, the conquest of Ethiopia, the declaration of the new fascist empire, and more were all there. Here was a fascist history lesson laid out in a very public space.

3.1 Mosaics, “IX May XIV E[ra] F[ascista] Italy Finally Has Its Empire” Foro Mussolini, 2000


Today the final tablets give the postscript to this fascist version of history. All the messages from the fascist period remained after the war, but the postwar government added tablets to commemorate the fall of fascism in 1943, the national referendum that abolished the monarchy in 1946, and the inauguration of the new Italian Republic in 1948.

Between the Piazzale and the Olympic Stadium lay the Fountain of the Sphere, Fontana della Sfera, completed in 1933 and suggestive of the symbol of New York’s World’s Fair in 1939. The sphere sat in a basin below ground level with a surrounding fountain spewing water toward the globe that evoked ancient examples found in the Roman Forum, Pompeii, and Herculaneum. Architects Giulio Pediconi and Mario Paniconi did the design. The sphere weighed forty-two tons and, with the Monolito, its transportation from Carrara to Rome made a good news story. The mass of the sphere “symbolizes the strength of Fascism.” Giulio Rosso designed the mosaics surrounding the fountain with scenes of “movement in contrast to the static beauty of the [sphere].”13

The two stadiums stand just beyond and to the north of the sphere. The first, and larger one, was the Olympic Stadium, sometimes referred to as the Stadio dei Cipressi. Today it bears little resemblance to the original, as it was considerably altered in the 1950s in preparation for the 1960 Olympics and again for the World Cup in 1990.14 To its right is the Stadium of Marbles, or Stadio dei Marmi, which in contrast, remains in its original state. The name comes from the sixty marble statues of muscular male athletes in various poses. Each statue came from and represented a different city in Italy, another reminder of the importance of Italian unity under the Duce.

The Stadio dei Marmi opened in 1932 as part of the original nucleus and functioned as a centerpiece of activity throughout the 1930s. It had steady use for all sorts of party and youth groups. Pictures from the period feature muscular athletes in motion; fascist boys and girls performing precision gymnastics; and party leaders, led by Achille Starace, leaping through hoops of fire. When members of the Hitler Youth came to Rome, they made an appearance in the stadium, whose seating capacity was 20,000. The regime boasted of its up-to-date seating and equipment: “It is justly considered as one of the most imposing and important [stadiums] in the world.”15

Flanking the Olympic Stadium to the south stood a complex of facilities and buildings constructed between 1933 and 1937. The Olympic tennis stadium designed by Costantino Costantini and the tennis training area, Campo di Tennis, appeared in 1933-34.16Standing between the two tennis facilities loomed the monumental Statue of the Balilla by Aroldo Bellini. The well-proportioned young male figure strode with confidence and carried a rifle over his shoulder, embodying the fascist virtues of strength, power, physical prowess, and military readiness. Mussolini inaugurated the monument on April 5, 1936, as part of celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the Balilla organization, the Decennale of the Operazione Nazionale del Balilla, or ONB.17

3.2 Mussolini reviews military and youth formations, Stadio dei Marmi, Foro Mussolini, 1939


At the end of the complex there was a youth hostel, the Foresteria Nord, designed also by Costantini and still in use today. Luigi Moretti designed the striking building across from the hostel that housed the fencing academy, known as the Casa delle Armi, considered by many architectural critics as “certainly the building of greatest architectural interest in the whole complex.”18 Its clean lines and streamlined design make it a prime example of modern architectural style in Mussolini’s Rome. Finished in 1936, the Casa delle Armi registered a victory for the modern, rationalist style championed by Giuseppe Pagano in the debate over what constituted appropriate fascist architecture.19 Pagano’s sometime opponent in the debate, Marcello Piacentini, edited the Architettura, the official publication of the Fascist Syndicate of Architects. An article in 1937 praised Moretti’s building, declaring that although Moretti was “modern,” he himself would reject being understood as a “rationalist” architect. What he brought to his work was a balanced sensibility that sought to unify the form and content of his buildings, and so “he is without doubt a classicist.”20

3.3 Athletes in the Stadio dei Marmi, Foro Mussolini, c. 1932


Recently architect Robert Evans commented: “I admire [Moretti’s building] for its combination of functional modern sculptural forms clad in subtly detailed white marble, referencing classical Roman buildings.”21 Unfortunately, the building became a fortified courthouse and the site of “maxi-trials” of Red Brigade terrorists in the 1980s. Today it serves as a police barracks for the army’s national police, the Carabinieri. It is in deplorable condition in an unsightly setting. Visitors today can get glimpses of it only from various points along the surrounding fence and by the main gate. Until it is restored and opened again to the public, Moretti’s masterpiece can be appreciated only in photographs from the period.

Del Debbio designed the Sun Therapy Camp, the Colonia Elioterapica, which opened in 1934. It sat atop Monte Mario just above the stadiums and overlooking the whole of the Foro Mussolini. It provided treatment to strengthen frail or sick youth with a combination of sun and exercise. This therapeutic institution fit in with fascism’s plan of open-air schools and outdoor summer camps, which all reflected the belief that physical health was part of a proper fascist education.

For the fascists, the Foro Mussolini as a sports city represented the “biggest experiment in state education that history records.” It had scientific, artistic, historical, and political purposes. It was a “monument that is linked to the Roman imperial tradition, that wants to perpetuate for the centuries the memory of the new fascist civilization, tied to the name of its Condottiere.”22 The vast space between Monte Mario and the Tiber provided a “city populated by youth and dedicated to youth that is here hardened physically and politically, and is prepared . . . to form the ruling cadres of the great sports and military phalanxes that are expressed by Fascism, renewed by the flow of the generations.”23

The construction of the final fascist addition to the Foro Mussolini began in 1938 and was suspended during the war. It arose as the Casa Littoria, or headquarters for the National Fascist Party, the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF). In the 1920s and 1930s, the PNF occupied the Palazzo Vidoni on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, next to the Church of San Andrea della Valle. Following the Decennale of 1932 and the very successful Exhibit of the Fascist Revolution from 1932 to 1934, Mussolini sponsored a contest for the design of a grand new party building that would sit on the Via dell’Impero near the Colosseum and across from the Basilica of Maxentius.

The contest attracted more than a hundred entries. The committee to evaluate the projects included the governor, Prince Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi; three architects, Marcello Piacentini, Cesare Bazzani, and Armando Brasini; the administrative secretary of the Fascist Party, Giovanni Marinelli; and the secretary general of the party, Achille Starace. In 1934, Mussolini still publicly favored a modern style of architecture, but the bitter divisions over what constituted proper fascist style prevented a decision for this most fascist of all buildings. Mussolini revived the project in 1937 and suggested a new site on the recently widened and redesigned Viale Aventino, behind the new post office facing the Via Marmorata. The pressure for a more monumental and imperial style had grown since the war in Ethiopia and the declaration of the new fascist empire the year before, and “in three years, the consensus had moved dramatically away from Modernism.”24 In addition, the challenge of placing such a grandiose structure in the heart of the historic center proved a daunting task. The final decision in 1938 led to the site at the Foro Mussolini, just beyond the Stadio dei Marmi.25

The winning design by Del Debbio, Arnaldo Foschini, and Vittorio Morpurgo presented a huge building of 540,000 square meters in volume. It provided offices for all the hierarchy of the PNF, including a two-story space for the Duce. The building, 200 meters long, faced a piazza defined by arcades stretching out from both sides and designed to hold 600,000 people. The plan also included a memorial to the fallen fascists, a sacrario dei caduti fascisti, in front of the building on the main axis. The space, without the arcades or the sacrario, remains today, and the building, completed after the war, is substantially the original design minus a portico projecting over the central entrance.26 Referred to today as the Palazzo Farnesina, it has been the home of Italy’s foreign ministry since 1958.

One grand object planned for the Foro Mussolini never reached completion: the huge Statue of Fascism that was to soar 150 feet into the air. The site for it was beyond the stadiums on a direct line with the obelisk at the entrance. Work got as far as the head of the statue, which bore a striking resemblance to Mussolini. The war put a stop to this piece of megalomania, which was melted down for the war effort.

Taken as a whole, Foro Mussolini provided a fascist showpiece that linked fascism’s cult of the body and physical strength with the traditions of imperial Rome. It claimed to bring together scientific, artistic, historical, and political purposes in one huge complex. For the regime, the very wordforo recalled the glories of ancient Rome, but it also stood for the same sort of political program that engaged the ancient forums as centers of training and education. The forum, dedicated to fascism’s Duce, provided for the physical and spiritual education of the new generations of Italians. Therefore, what more appropriate place could there be for the Palazzo del Littorio, the fascist headquarters sometimes referred to as the Casa Littoria, including the permanent Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution?27 In the words of Renato Ricci, the leader of the Balilla, “The Palazzo del Littorio, the seat of the final Exhibit of the [Fascist] Revolution, will find in the Foro Mussolini a center of fascist life, its natural site and I would say a predestined one.”28

3.4 The Casa Littoria during construction, Foro Mussolini, 1940


The importance of the Foro Mussolini to the fascist program of propaganda and spectacle was reinforced by plans that would allow thousands to enter and leave the complex with relative ease. Great attention went to the flow of traffic to the foro. The Duca d’Aosta bridge fulfilled that function, and there was talk of adding another bridge running directly into the Palazzo del Littorio. City buses would bring many citizens, and plans also called for an automobile parking lot.

The Foro Mussolini thus gave the Opera Nazionale Balilla a magnificent sports city to train and showcase youth. In 1937, all the youth groups were unified and consolidated under the Gioventù Italiana del Littorio, or GIL. The large new administrative headquarters for the GIL, also designed by Costantino Costantini, arose on a site just beyond the Foro Mussolini and the Milvian Bridge.29


The fascist regime planned another bridge, the Ponte XXVIII Ottobre, to the east of the Milvian Bridge, which led into the area adjacent to the Parioli section and the Villa Glori park, home to several stadiums and other sports facilities. The regime both developed the facilities and made use of the open space available for the annual rally of fascist youth known as Campo Dux.

The principal stadium in Parioli was commonly known as the Stadio Nazionale; it opened in 1911, the fiftieth anniversary of Italian unification, with a seating capacity of 30,000. Marcello Piacentini supervised expansion and alteration in 1927, which increased the number to 40,000.30 The name changed to the Stadio del PNF, the Partito Nazionale Fascista. The enlarged stadium had facilities for soccer matches, track meets, fencing, indoor and outdoor pools, and a gymnasium. Four new statues of athletes by Amelto Cataldi graced the entrance. 31 Just beyond it was a smaller stadium, the Campo di Rondanella, and tennis courts, the Tennis Parioli. In addition, there was the horse racing track, Ippodromo di Villa Glori.

The open space between these sites and the Tiber provided ample space for the annual Campo Dux. Up to sixty thousand members of the fascist youth organizations throughout Italy gathered for a week in September. For those boys who were fifteen years old, the event was a rite of passage as they moved from the Balilla to the Avanguardisti. The event began in 1929. “The provincial ONB delegations paid the expenses of the young men attending the camps, and each year participants included thousands of Avanguardisti from all over Italy and from fasci abroad.”32 Their activities combined military exercises, sports, and discipline. Participants also visited sites in the city that demonstrated Rome’s importance as Italy’s capital, now undergoing fascist transformation. In 1933, they saw the Exhibit of the Fascist Revolution, and a contingent of Avanguardisti took a turn as one of the daily honor guards.33

The program of Campo Dux emphasized “the new education of Italy’s youth.” It was the “greatest manifestation of the [national fascist youth organization] Opera Balilla.” The military discipline and sporting exercises attempted to channel youthful instincts into positive social and political education. Various sporting contests taught a healthy spirit of competition. It was not “without significance that Campo Dux takes place in Rome, the city that completed Italy’s unification and that was now fulfilling Mussolini’s revolution.”34

The culmination of the week came in the shadow of the Colosseum on the Via dell’Impero, as the masses of youth, typically 25,000 in number, paraded before the Duce. They represented “the flower of the new generations and were the image of the new power of the fatherland [and] offered a magnificent proof of their preparation and their potent maturity which the Opera Nazionale Balilla has reached . . . in the task assigned to it by the Regime.”35 The Luce organization filmed the rallies every year and included excerpts in the newsreels shown in movie theaters throughout the country.36

After World War II, the Italians further developed the whole area for the 1960 Olympic Games. The Stadio del PNF, now the Stadio Flaminio, underwent further rebuilding and expansion. A new, covered Palazetto dello Sport, designed by Paolo Nervi, arose on the site of the Campo di Rondanella. The Olympic Village stood where fascist youth had once gathered for the Campo Dux and where squatters had camped out in the years immediately after the war.37


In 1935 the Opera Nazionale Balilla, or ONB, obtained a new educational and recreational facility on the historic Aventine Hill, overlooking the Circus Maximus. It was the right place and the right time for the ONB’s new complex. The work to clear the Circus Maximus and construct the new Via del Circo Massimo had been completed the previous year. Mussolini had inaugurated the new street and the Piazzale Romolo e Remo, overlooking the Circus Maximus, on October 28, 1934.

The new Balilla building had been a restaurant, the Castello dei Cesari, which fell on hard times and faced going out of business. The owner gave the property to Mussolini as a personal gift. It was and is a prime piece of Roman real estate with a view of the Circus Maximus and the Palatine Hill. Mussolini might well have worried that if he used it for personal purposes, its location on the Aventine Hill might remind people of the last organized political opposition he faced in 1924 during the Matteotti crisis, when antifascist members of parliament withdrew to what they called the “Aventine Secession.” The Duce decided to make it over for the ONB.

Mussolini employed the architect Gaetano Minucci to reconstruct the facility. The shell of the building remained, but “the whole ground floor ha[d] been ‘reclaimed’ [bonificato]” and given a complete transformation. The two floors contained a small theater, a refectory, a locker room and showers, a library, classrooms, a large game room, and offices. Outside were courtyards, terraces, a garden, and ample open space.

Accompanied by Renato Ricci, president of the ONB, Mussolini opened the building on August 3, 1935. Cheering fascist youth, male and female, greeted him. Here was a facility “worthy of the fascist youth organization.” To commemorate the event, a chiseled message from Mussolini ran along the wall of the courtyard between the two floors of the building: “On this hill, given by the Duce, the youth of Rome will grow to new destinies. Ever a remnant of a glorious past, they will see the promise of a more splendid future.”38 The building today, complete with these words, houses the National Academy of Dance.

Another Balilla structure was built from 1933 to 1936 in the Trastevere neighborhood. Luigi Moretti’s new youth complex opened at the time of the incorporation of the Balilla into the newly organized Gioventù Italiana del Littorio and thus became the Casa della GIL. The location was just over the Tiber, across from the Aventine Hill and the Testaccio neighborhood, steps beyond the Porta Portese. Compared to his Foro Mussolini and exhibits in the Circus Maximus, the youth complex afforded Moretti relatively little space. His solution was to build up. The tower section of the complex on the Via Induno rose six stories, and the adjacent section on the Via Ascianghi had three levels.

The facility contained three types of spaces: 1) health assistance services, 2) sports and recreation facilities, and 3) offices. Each had a separate entrance. Altogether it could service up to two thousand people at the same time.39 On one side by Porta Portese there was a theater sponsored by the Dopolavoro organization, and on the other side, near Viale Trastevere, a cinema was built. The regime had thus provided a wide variety of social and recreational services in the heart of one of Rome’s best-known neighborhoods. Moretti’s design had a decidedly modern, rationalist look about it, but Piacentini’s journal, Architettura, again took the opportunity to classify Moretti as a “classicist” for his attention to symmetry, balance, and harmony in this and other recent projects.40

The GIL complex has suffered alterations and deterioration over the years. The Via Aschiangi is now closed to traffic and blocked off by large gates, making it difficult to view the building as originally planned. The fascist slogan “Credere, Obbedire, Combattere” (Believe, Obey, Fight) is still visible over the main entrance.

Across the river in Testaccio was another sports area, or campo sportive, which provided space for soccer and other games. It predated the fascist period but was maintained by the regime and disappeared after World War II. The regime did build a Campo Sportivo Guardabassi in the mid-1930s just south of the Circus Maximus adjacent to the Baths of Caracalla, and it is still very much in use today.

3.5 Building for the Gioventù Italiano del Littorio (GIL) by Luigi Moretti, Trastevere, 1999


The regime’s efforts to transform Italy’s youth into a new generation of fascists did not go unnoticed by foreigners. Facilities all over the city attested to how important sports and physical training were in fascist Italy. One American resident of Rome pointed out to a visiting journalist the Campo Sportivo Guardabassi and even articulated the moral message put forth by the regime: “Look to your left. See those young Fascists on the athletic field. Beyond them lie ruins of Caracalla’s Baths. Vast in size and equipped with every luxury then known, they marked beginnings of Rome’s fall. Here men accustomed to hard campaigning grew soft on enervating pleasures.”41 The author went on to state how impressive it was to have a modern running track beside the grand ruin that so eloquently spoke of ancient “opulence and physical decay.”

Athletic events could also take place in traditional spaces such as the Piazza Siena in the Villa Borghese park. The oval-shaped space worked well for equestrian events. It also furnished a site for annual awards to Italy’s top athletes. On July 5, 1936, for example, Mussolini decorated “those who in the year XIV had won the highest sports awards” in the eighth gymnastic competition of the Dopolavoro organization.42


Fascist educational policy vacillated during the years of the regime. The initial reforms of Giovanni Gentile as minister of education favored a traditional humanistic curriculum, whereas Giuseppe Bottai, in the same post in the mid- 1930s, was a proponent of a more modern system emphasizing professional and technical education.43 Nevertheless, the public emphasis consistently touted the importance of education and the construction of new schools for the new generation. Schools of all types, from vocational to classical high school, or liceo, appeared prominently in government press and publications. “The means [in the past] were always inadequate for the needs, and only since the advent of Fascism has the development of elementary, secondary and higher education begun to keep abreast of the growth and distribution of the population, as well as of the social, intellectual and national requirements.”44

Rome had a generous share of schools of all types. Sometimes, the programs as well as the buildings were new. The outdoor school, or scuola all’aperto, stressed the benefits of outdoor education for children from ages six to twelve. An early example was built on the Aventine Hill in 1925 by the Governatorato, across the street from the church of Santa Sabina, and dedicated to Rosa Mussolini, the Duce’s mother and Italy’s most celebrated schoolteacher. Students received the “benefit of air, light, sun, exercise and proper food” that would make even the physically weakest students strong and healthy. The school’s 185 students performed physical exercises every day under the guidance of their teachers, which prepared the boys for membership in the Balilla and the girls in the Piccole Italiane. A picture of a school outing in 1929 showed the students raising their arms in the fascist salute as they paraded around the Altar to the Fascist Fallen, the Ara dei Caduti Fascisti, on the Capitoline.45

Summer camps, or colonie estive, were manifestations of the stress on outdoor physical training outside the cities. The Opera Nazionale Balilla ran the camps, which were found throughout the country. “Formidable propagandistic machines for the fascist regime’s pledge to the working masses, they nevertheless provided a testing ground for those young architects who wanted to measure the efficacy of their ethic[al] and aesthetic ideals against reality.”46 Rome, of course, was not a site for these camps, but they were featured in the mammoth exhibit of 1937 in the Circus Maximus, which was dedicated to summer camps and state welfare for the young.47

New schools often occupied prominent sites to give them maximum visibility. The new working-class suburb of Garbatella, south of the historic center between the Porta San Paolo and the basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura, arose in the 1920s and ’30s, with an abundance of public housing.48The notable growth in population meant that the existing school facilities fell short of needs. The Governatorato responded by planning a major new school for the central piazza in the neighborhood.

The Piazza Domenico Sauli, built in the 1930s, had truly monumental fascist proportions, with a large open space and a church in the middle. The new school, named for the fascist leader Michele Bianchi, dominated the south side of the piazza. It had a central tower and four imperial eagles perched over the main entrance. The facility provided fifty-one schoolrooms divided into two sections, one for boys and the other for girls.49

The Governatorato built one of its first vocational schools on the Via Taranto, just to the east of the Lateran, in the Appio quarter. It opened in 1931 with fifteen hundred students. Boys made up two-thirds of student body, and they studied a variety of subjects in the practical arts, such as wood and metalworking, electricity, gardening, and various forms of applied engineering. The girls took subjects in domestic arts, such as sewing, cooking, and weaving. The program included trips to appropriate businesses, industries, and shops, as well as museums and other sites of public or civic importance. At the end of the 1933 school year they paid homage to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Victor Emmanuel Monument, the Ara dei Caduti Fascisti, and the monument to Anita Garibaldi recently erected on the Janiculum Hill.50 One of the city’s four new major post offices appeared a few years later, several blocks west of the school, and by the end of the 1930s the neighborhood had numerous new apartment buildings of five and six stories.

A major new classical high school, the Liceo Virgilio, occupied a central location along the Tiber across the street from the Ponte Mazzini. The four-story structure opened in 1937, replacing housing that the regime characterized as “unsanitary.” Its ample space included fifty-six classrooms, a gym, and a large auditorium. The original sloping walk to the main entrance is now behind locked gates, but the statue of Virgil still stands guard by the door.51

The Liceo Ginnasio Giulio Cesare also opened in 1937, designed by Cesare Valle. The new neighborhood between the Via Salaria and the Via Nomentana provided ample space for a large and prominent site on the Corso Trieste. The school’s design, according to the Governatorato, was modern, functional, simple, and harmonious. The school had first-rate facilities: an auditorium seating fifteen hundred people; a gymnasium with a surface of three hundred square meters; ample classrooms; faculty offices; facilities to teach physics, chemistry, natural history, and art history; and a fine library.52

The neighborhood just outside the Aurelian Wall at the Porta Latina and the Porta Metronia also underwent dramatic neighborhood growth in the 1920s and 1930s. The regime constructed a new elementary school in 1932 on the Via Vetulonia, within sight of the Porta Latina, designed by a young architect Ignazio Guidi for the Governatorato. The original name honored Mario Guglielmotti, but today it is dedicated to Alessandro Manzoni, Italy’s most important nineteenth-century literary figure. The modern exterior enclosed thirty-eight classrooms and other facilities carefully designed for the school’s educational functions. Wide corridors and staircases could accommodate heavy student traffic, and attention was given to proper insulation and ventilation as well as ancillary facilities such as a cafeteria and showers.53 Guidi designed a similar but larger school on the Lido, which opened in 1934.54

Mussolini’s Rome thus provided the facilities and the programs to train and educate the new generation of Italians who would someday fulfill the promise of the fascist revolution. Romans and visitors saw throughout the city these tangible examples of the new Italy that charted a modern course for an ancient land. The sports programs in particular aimed at a mass audience. As one American put it: “In former days Italian gentlemen fenced and rowed, while the peasants indulged in games of bowls in tavern yards or streets. No sport is a closed book to the young Italians who are growing up today; at the same time participation in these sports is compulsory.” She also pointed out that the Italian girl “participates in athletics as freely as her brother.”55 That was just the message Mussolini wanted to convey: that Italy under fascism and his visionary leadership meant the emergence of a new and vibrant nation.

The educational and sports program of fascist Italy certainly had the goal, as stated by Prezzolini, of molding the child’s “whole being” for the state.56 Children learned the fascist oath at any early age: “In the name of God and Italy, I swear to carry out the orders of the Duce and to serve with all my strength and, if necessary, with my blood, the cause of the Fascist Revolution.”

3.6 Alessandro Manzoni Elementary School, Via Vetulonia, (originally named for Mario Guglielmotti), 1999


Beginning in the primary grades, text books incorporated political, and specifically fascist, themes into their lessons. The political and historical messages became more numerous and sophisticated in the higher grades. After the conquest of Ethiopia, the quantity of propaganda in texts increased perceptibly. Attractive color pictures featured the accomplishments of the regime, the military, youth organizations, and such leaders as the pope and the king. Both Mussolini and Rome received great attention. By 1934 teachers were required to wear uniforms in class. “Militant fascism became dominant everywhere.”57

One book used in the early years of primary school, Piccolo Albo di Cultura Fascista, or Little Album of Fascist Culture, introduced students to many of the standard fascist themes: Rome, the Duce, the fascist symbol, the redemption (bonifica) of the land outside Rome and the founding of new towns, the reconciliation with the Vatican, and the myriad services offered to the people by fascism.58

School texts reveal part of the reason Mussolini’s regime failed in its totalitarian aim of producing a new generation of Italian youth wholly devoted to the Duce and to fascism. As much as the Duce and fascism permeated the messages and demanded loyalty, rival objects of loyalty appeared: the king, the pope, the church, the Catholic faith, the armed forces, and the family. “Family life and mother love are central to the life of the society portrayed in all these texts. . . . However much the children might dress in fancy uniforms, sing songs and march around, they still came home to their families whom they never learned to desert, denounce or dislike.”59

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