Mussolini’s fascist revolution promised the Italian people two major changes: First, Italians would achieve internal unity, experience a new identity as Italians, and fulfill the promise of the Risorgimento to overcome the traditional divisions in the name of the new national community; and second, Italy would become a powerful nation capable of gaining the respect of other great powers and creating a new sphere of interest—a place in the sun—worthy of the Roman imperial tradition. The themes and messages integral to Mussolini’s transformation of Rome spoke to both these goals. The regime brought Italians from every corner of the land to see the new city emerging and to experience for themselves the pride and strength of being Italian. Fascism produced results. Visitors could see it in the new streets and buildings, in the new vistas opened by wide streets and boulevards, and in the ancient monuments now liberated and integrated into the Roman landscape. In the constant parades, events, and ceremonies, the Duce beckoned Italians to play their part in the new Italy now poised to make its mark in Europe, the Mediterranean, and the world.

Rome would continue to play a central role in Mussolini’s definition of his regime, his empire, and his fascist revolution. Giuseppe Bottai declared in 1938, “The revival of the grandeur of Rome is the highest aspiration of Italian poets, who, from Dante, to Leopardi, and D’Annunzio, have prophesied the triumphal events of the Empire, in which—thanks to Il Duce—our generation can play a leading role.”1


Gauging the effect of all these efforts, including the impact of Mussolini’s Rome, is difficult for historians. Renzo De Felice argued the case in the 1970s that Mussolini had achieved a certain consensus between his government and the people, particularly from 1929 to 1936. The degree and nature of the consensus continue to generate debate, but it does appear clear that Mussolini faced almost no resistance to his rule and that most Italians willingly went along, some enthusiastically, others indifferently. Rome’s transformation, its use as the center of national attention, and its impact on the populace as a symbol of fascist achievement were certainly real and unavoidable.

Mussolini’s dilemma by the early 1930s was in determining where to go next. What, in fact, would the fascist revolution achieve? How would it deliver on its promises to produce a new generation of Italians and hence a new Italy? Corporatism promised a new economic and social order, but was it anything more than a new state bureaucracy? After all the speeches, parades, ribbon-cutting ceremonies, festivals, sports, and games, how much was really different? Fascism appeared dynamic, but could it ever settle down and bring economic prosperity and social cohesion? Answers were not forthcoming. In particular, it is not clear that Mussolini had long-range plans for Italy, although he was acutely aware of the short-term political consequences of his policies. Therefore, his policies kept changing to attract and maintain public support. Mussolini’s fascist rule seemed to possess dynamism and energy that manifested itself as a restlessness bordering on incoherence.

Whatever messages the fascist regime wished to convey, it continued to seek more effective ways to convey them. The example of Nazi Germany’s propaganda techniques had an impact, as did the formation of the Rome-Berlin Axis from 1936 on. Italy and Germany collaborated in helping Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. The other side in the Spanish struggle increasingly defined itself as “antifascist,” thus producing the idea of a struggle against a generic fascism that included Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, and anyone who sympathized with them. In a sense, it seemed logical to fascists and antifascists alike that Mussolini’s regime, like Hitler’s, would develop the tools of totalitarian control over education, cultural organizations, and the media. These were the strands coming together to form the “fabric of consensus” in fascist Italy.2

The fascist state press office underwent reorganization in 1934 under the direction of Mussolini’s son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano. By 1937, it had become the Ministry of Popular Culture, nicknamed Minculpop, and had under its control radio, film, newspapers, tourism, music, and theater. When Ciano became foreign minister in 1936, Dino Alfieri took over command.3 The ministry occupied an older building on the Via Veneto diagonally across from the Ministry of Corporations and near the Ambassador Hotel.

Those years saw new buildings appear in Rome that had important roles in the drive to control popular ideas and attitudes. The most spectacular new complex was the Cinecittà, the Cinema City, on the Via Tuscolana, six miles southeast of the historic center. It opened on April 28, 1937, and covered 600,000 square meters in an undeveloped area. It contained all the facilities to produce movies for the public, with room for expansion.4 A new law in 1938 restricted the importation of foreign films, which led to a significant reduction of American films in Italy. Known as the Alfieri law, it opened the way for increased production of Italian movies.5 Indeed, the number of films produced each year rose from an average of thirty to over one hundred by 1941. Luigi Freddi, director of the film division of Minculpop, boasted that “the new national film production is acquiring an international reputation and meaning because it expresses our time in history, which is truly Italian and Fascist.”6

The L’Unione Cinematografica Educativa began in 1923 and by 1925 had become the state-controlled Istituto Luce. It took most of the official photographs for the regime and produced the newsreels, the cinegiornali, that were required viewing in all movie theaters in the country. Its new building opened on November 10, 1937 adjacent to Cinecittà and across from the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografico.7 The latter, founded in 1935, had the express purpose of producing films for the popular market that conveyed fascist political messages. As its director Luigi Chiarini put it, the films produced by the young Italians attracted to the center “were to contribute to the ‘great work of human reclamation’ [bonifica umana] that the regime had undertaken.”8


Mussolini continued to believe that Italy could be a great nation and that the fascist revolution could fulfill itself only through war and conquest, for war brought human achievement to its highest level. “Better to live one day as a lion than a thousand years as a sheep” went the slogan. He chose Ethiopia as the object of conquest. Italy had suffered a humiliating defeat there in 1896, along with the shame of a European army losing to native troops. Now a fascist Italy could return for vengeance and conquest. The war would forge greater national unity and allow Italy to found a new empire. Against the counsel of advisers, both civilian and military, he went ahead. The gamble paid off, and by May 1936, Italy had its empire.

6.1 Mussolini laying the cornerstrone for the Istituto Luce, 1937


Here certainly was the turning point for Mussolini’s Italy. The British-led opposition of the League of Nations in the form of economic sanctions caused great resentment in Italy. Mussolini played the point for all it was worth in his propaganda. Who were the British, with their worldwide empire, to deny the Italians their rightful place in the sun? Against such cynical opposition, Italians rallied to the cause and sacrificed to gain their victory.

When the league imposed sanctions on November 18, 1935, Mussolini declared that it was a day history would recall as a “date of shame.” Resistance to the sanctions became a new rallying cry, as flags unfurled and rallies gathered throughout the country. The most dramatic and public response came on December 18 as a Day of the Wedding Ring, or Giornata della Fede, fede meaning both “faith” and “wedding ring.” Led by the queen and accompanied by members of the royal family, Roman women gathered on the altar of the fatherland to donate their gold wedding rings to the cause of the war.9

Italy decided it could do without the League and withdrew on December 11, 1937. Italy could also manage without the British and their friends. Germany alone of the great powers stood ready to help. The ideological affinity between fascism and Nazism now resulted in a diplomatic and military alliance. In 1931, before coming to power, Hitler had predicted a special relationship with fascism: “The spiritual relations existing on so many points between the fundamental ideas and principles of Fascism and those of the National Socialist Movement under my direction allow me to live with the inner hope that after the victory of my movement in Germany—in which I believe with unshakable faith—there will one day ensue between Fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany relations of the same kind for the good of the two great nations.”10


Mussolini’s trip to Germany in September 1937 was hailed as an historic event for Italy and evidence of its great power status. One headline in Il Popolo d’Italia proclaimed the Duce’s visit a “decisive event for the history of Europe.”11 At the great rally in Berlin, Mussolini spoke to the crowd, estimated at 800,000, in German, although some commentators said the listeners could not understand him between his poor accent and the pouring rain. “Mussolini did, however, return home proclaiming that he was now more sure than ever that ‘the future of Europe will be fascist.’”12 Not surprisingly, Mussolini invited the Führer to come to Italy and to Rome.

Hitler’s trip to Italy in May 1938 came just two months after the Anschluss, uniting Austria to Germany. His journey included Rome, Florence, and Naples. Hitler’s interest in art made it mandatory that he view the great artistic and architectural achievements of the Renaissance in Rome. Mussolini took him to Naples to review the Italian navy. Nevertheless, it was Rome, the Rome of Mussolini, which was the centerpiece of Hitler’s visit.

Hitler arrived in Rome on May 3 after a train ride through the Brenner Pass and down the spine of Italy, where thousands of Italians were assembled along the way to cheer and wave flags. His train pulled into the Ostiense station, just beyond the Porta San Paolo; the station was built for the occasion and brilliantly illuminated for the evening arrival. The German eagle and swastika were prominently displayed throughout the station.

Architect Roberto Narducci had designed the new station. Its grand proportions accorded with the new imperial atmosphere of Rome. Inside the main pavilion, two murals celebrated the achievements of the two movements, one for Nazism and one for fascism. The first represented the Germany of Hitler as the successor of Frederick II and of Bismarck, while the second mural of Mussolini’s Italy emphasized the ongoing victory march of fascism. Outside the main doors, mosaics, including a map of the Roman Empire, decorated the pavement.13 “The map is framed by a Roman triumphal arch and the figure of a victorious Augustus with the imperial eagle,” which was “designed to make a clear statement about Fascist pride in the idea of empire and in the importance, as they saw it, of linking the ‘vitality of the Italian people’ with the greatness of ancient Rome.”14 Pagano’s Casabella praised the advanced techniques used in the station’s roof as well as the speed and efficiency of construction.15

Beyond the new station’s style and techniques of construction, Ostiense represented Mussolini’s desire to have his own new grand point of entry for Hitler and subsequent high-profile visitors. It signified yet again the reshaping of Rome to suit the purposes of fascism. The Ostiense station “will permit illustrious guests to make an entrance into Rome within the impressive area of [new] construction: the Via Imperiale, the Via dei Trionfi and Via dell’Impero, thus being carried immediately into contact with the major monuments of Imperial Romanità” that were part of Rome’s development toward the sea.16

King Victor Emmanuel, Mussolini, and top fascist officials greeted Hitler and his entourage on the train platform. The newsreel of the event captures the many fascist salutes, except for the king, who used the traditional military version. The principals strutted about bowing, raising their arms, and putting on quite a show. The scene invited parody, which was exactly what it got in Char-lie Chaplin’s 1940 movie, The Great Dictator, with Chaplin as Hitler and Jack Oakie as Mussolini.

The motorcade made its way from the station onto the new Viale Adolfo Hitler, up the Viale Aventino, renamed that year the Viale Africa, past the Circus Maximus, up the Via Trionfi past the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum, then down the Via dell’Impero to the Piazza Venezia and, finally, to the royal palace on the Quirinal Hill. This route took Hitler right through the heart of the historic center newly transformed by Mussolini. It was, in the words of the New York Times, “a spectacle to remember.” “For Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s arrival a whole section of Rome, stretching across the city, had been transformed. Along the three-mile route that he traveled from the new railroad station built for him to the King’s palace, ruins of the past were floodlighted to enclose a modern phantasy of white pillars and gilded symbols of fascism and nazism. There were illuminated fountains, huge pylons spouting flames and everywhere flags without end—banners of Germany, of Italy and of Rome.”17

Protocol required that the king, as head of state, host Hitler, also head of state, upon his arrival. The head of government, Benito Mussolini left the station by private car for home,18 just one more annoyance of having to defer to the monarch. Protocol having been satisfied, Mussolini then accompanied Hitler for the remainder of his visit.

American seminarian Philip Hannan stayed indoors during Hitler’s visit “to avoid being one of the rabble welcoming Hitler.” Nevertheless, he and his friends had definite opinions about the reaction of Romans to the Führer: “The people are definitely ‘griped’ at the huge outlay of money for [Hitler’s] welcome. So whenever Hitler and Mussolini appear, they get a hand, but everybody knows that it is for Mussolini; the first time that Hitler rode into Rome he was accompanied by the King—Mussolini was not with him—and all the people yelled the old, familiar, ‘Duce, Duce.’ There was no individual yelling for Hitler.”19

On May 6 the great parade in Hitler’s honor took place. Hitler, Goebbels, Hess, von Ribbentrop, and other Nazi officials joined the king and queen, Mussolini, Ciano, and other fascist leaders on the flag-draped reviewing stand on the Via dei Trionfi. The parade took two hours, as youth, military, and party units marched by. Many of the military units used the goosestep, recently introduced by Mussolini and called the Roman step, passo romano. “Perhaps 50,000 persons watched the review. Hitler, when he appeared with the King, was received with cordial, but not overwhelming cheers and much of the cheering was for the King. But when Mussolini joined them there was a roar that completely drowned out the previous mild acclaim.”20

Following the parade and lunch at the German Embassy, Hitler visited the Augustan Exhibit on the Via Nazionale, “illustrating the various phases of the political, economic and social life of the Roman Empire.” The day ended with an open-air concert at the Villa Borghese Park given in Hitler’s honor, with 100,000 people in attendance.21

It had been a very special day for Rome, and the two leaders who were drawing their two nations ever more closely together. Two days later, Hitler and Mussolini reviewed youth and athletic groups at the Foro Mussolini. Here was fascist Rome, Mussolini’s Rome, on display to impress the Führer of Nazi Germany. The fascist regime boasted of a Rome bedecked with flags, Roma pavesata, which demonstrated the “consensus that surrounds and that sustains the totalitarian regimes, when they are solidly founded on social justice, on quiet and hard-working discipline.” The peoples of Italy and Germany stood united by two ideologies that in their different ways “tended toward a single end, the defense and empowerment of the civilization of Europe and the world.”22

As previously mentioned, Ettore Scola’s 1977 film Una Giornata Particolare, released for English-speaking audiences as A Special Day, dramatically captures this moment in the history of Mussolini’s Italy. It opens with newsreel shots of Hitler’s train greeted by great crowds as it moves through Italy, the arrival at the Ostiense station, a ceremony at the Victor Emmanuel Monument, and the motorcade to the Quirinal Palace.

The rest of the film takes place in an apartment complex recently built on the Viale XXI Aprile for state employees.23 Sophia Loren plays the wife of a minor fascist official and the mother of their six children. Early that morning, she rouses the family so that her husband and the children can put on their various fascist uniforms and go to the big parade in honor of Hitler. They and nearly all the residents of the apartment complex flood the courtyard and stream out for the special day. Left behind, Sophia Loren, as Antoinetta, has an encounter with a radio commentator, played by Marcello Mastroianni. The only other person around is the snooping concierge, who sits in the courtyard with the radio blaring the account of the parade. While portraying that day, the film artfully explores the weight of fascism’s repression and conformity, particularly for women, homosexuals, and “deviants” of any kind.

The day after the parade, Mussolini hosted Hitler at a rally before 35,000 people at the Stadio Olimpico in the Foro Mussolini. The occasion allowed the Duce to show off both the foro and the latest techniques of dramatic lighting that the Nazis favored in their own rallies in Germany. The show included massed formations of uniformed members of the Gioventù Italiana del Littorio forming a huge M and then a swastika in the Olympic Stadium.24


The Ostiense station was but one example of the many train stations constructed by the fascist regime. The passenger train, after all, symbolized modern, fast travel, and rail networks had played a key role in bringing economic and political unity to many nations. “Mussolini made the trains run on time” summed up the fascist claim that the Duce’s government had made modern efficiency part of the new Italy. Train stations, by definition, had no traditional architectural style, so a variety of styles competed for contracts. The Santa Maria Novella station in Florence, opened in 1935, had been a victory for a modern, rationalist approach that Giuseppe Pagano applauded.

The regime also initiated a plan, E’42, for linking the historic center from the Termini train station to the Lido and a new section now known as EUR, for the Esposizione Universale di Roma, originally scheduled for 1942 in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the March on Rome. The line from EUR to the Ostiense station would be above ground. From Ostiense to Termini it would go underground and follow a route from the Piramide, the Viale Aventino, the Coliseum, San Pietro in Vincoli, and the Via Cavour.25 The new rail line would accommodate the anticipated influx of visitors and tourists in 1942 and would continue to serve beyond that date because the universal exposition was not designed to be a temporary world’s fair but a new city with a permanent role in the development of Rome. The plan called for two stations in the EUR section. 26 Some construction began, but the war soon interrupted the work. The line completed after the war is now the Linea B of Rome’s metro system.

In Rome, the main station, Stazione Termini, awaited a decision for the design of a new and expanded version of the original. The Piano Regolatore of 1931 called for changing the location of the main train station and development of the city in northerly and easterly directions. Mussolini’s decision to develop toward the south with the E’42 project changed all that. Once the Duce decided on the “placement of the World Exposition of 1942 and the development of Rome toward the Sea,” he then called for the rebuilding rather than the relocating of Termini. According to the regime, this decision was “the most important in many centuries to be adopted in regard to the future of Rome.”27 The construction of the Ostiense station in 1938 fit into the new plan to develop toward the south and the sea. The next step was the transformation of the main terminal.

The origins of the Termini Station go back to the papal Rome of Pius IX. Work began in 1867 and proceeded at a slow pace. It came to a halt in September 1870, with the seizure of Rome from Pius by the new Italian state. Work began again in 1871 and was finished in 1873.28 Subsequently there were various plans put forward to develop a new series of railway stations to fit the development and growth of the city. After World War I, it appeared likely that Termini would be relocated to Porta Maggiore. The assumption behind such thinking was that Rome would expand toward the north and the east. The Piano Regolatore then foresaw two new stations, one north and the other south, with Termini becoming “an underground transit” station,29 but all planning now shifted to rebuilding Termini as the centerpiece of the city’s rail system.

Angiolo Mazzoni won the commission to design the new station. He held the position of head of the architectural section of the Italian state railway system, the Ferrovie dello Stato.30 Mazzoni had designed a number of railroad stations for the regime throughout Italy, including Montecatini, Messina, Siena, and Littoria (now Latina), as well as post offices in Ostia, Sabaudia, Littoria, and Palermo. His first design in 1936 featured a long horizontal structure with ample use of glass set on pillars over an open atrium that led out to the Piazza Cinquecento. This interesting and rather subtle approach did not, however, win favor, for it became clear that Termini would have to function as a gateway to Mussolini’s new imperial Rome. Mazzoni’s second plan in 1938 won acceptance. The glass disappeared, and the open atrium now had an imperial character constructed with Carrara marble stretching more than two hundred meters in length and supported by columns of eighteen meters each.31

Construction of the new station came to a halt in 1942 before work had begun on Mazzoni’s columned portico. Between 1939 and 1942 considerable work was accomplished on the arcaded sides of the station on the Via Marsala and Viale Principe di Piemonte according to Mazzoni’s design.32The plan included moving the entrance to the station about two hundred meters to expand the size of the Piazza dei Cinquecento. The adjacent streets grew wider as well.

These changes improved the flow of traffic, but the driving force came from Mussolini’s imperial vision of fascist Rome. He wanted fascist Rome to have large spaces, giving the impression of power and authority. Mussolini made the decision to design an exit from the station onto this new grand space. In Mazzoni’s plan, the entrance had been situated around the corner on the Viale Principe di Piemonte, today’s Via Giovanni Giolitti. Mussolini had in mind the effect on travelers as they came out of the station onto this “Piazza grandiose.”33

The Piazza dei Cinquecento commemorated the five hundred soldiers who fell at the battle of Dogali in 1887, an Italian setback in its initial campaign to conquer Ethiopia. The nearby monument dates from 1924.34 The streets and piazzas nearby bore names recalling the events and battles of the Risorgimento, unification, and the new Italy: Via Nazionale, Via Cavour, and Via Marsala, the seacoast town in Sicily where Garibaldi landed with his one thousand volunteers, an event also recalled by the Via dei Mille (Street of the Thousand). Via Solferino and Via San Martino were named after two of the principal battles leading to the declaration of the kingdom of Italy in 1861. The construction of the new Termini station and the reconfiguration of the piazza and the streets constituted another self-conscious effort of the regime to tie fascism to Italian nationalism and to articulate fascism’s fulfillment of the Risorgimento and unification.

Termini lay close to the new University City. Therefore it was important to connect the two with good streets that conveyed clear fascist messages. For example, the Via Solferino connected the Piazza dei Cinquecento to the Piazza Independenza. The latter had undergone its own reconstruction, which gave it an unmistakable fascist stamp. Several of the office and apartment buildings in the piazza arose during the mid-1930s. The most striking fascist construction was the building on the southwest corner, opened on April 21, 1938, as the House of the Marshals of Italy, La Casa dei Marescialli d’Italia.35 Its survival to this day serves as a remarkable testament to Mussolini’s Rome. Over each window on the second floor the helmeted face of the Duce looks out over the square. Although Italy had two Marshals of Italy, King Victor Emmanuel III and Mussolini, it is the visage of the latter that decorates the building. 36

Beyond the Duce’s countenance on the Via San Martino della Battaglia was the rather plain but unmistakably fascist Istituto Magistrale Alfredo Oriani. Oriani (1852-1909) wrote novels with nationalist themes and rhetoric favored by Mussolini. When Allied troops raided Mussolini’s headquarters on Lake Garda the day after he was shot in April 1945, they found among his private papers the manuscript of an unpublished novel of Oriani’s.37 The Via San Martino della Battaglia led to the Viale Castro Pretorio to the Air Force Ministry, the Ministero Aeronautica, and the university. Roberto Marino designed the Air Ministry, which opened in 1931. Its style is similar to the Ministry of the Navy, Ministero della Marina, built on the Tiber in 1929. These two ministries contrasted markedly with Marcello Piacentini’s more grandiose and “fascist” style Ministry of Corporations on the Via Veneto, opened on November 30, 1932.

The reconstruction of Termini and its reaffirmation as Rome’s central train station thus deviated from the Piano Regolatore of 1931 but followed logically from Mussolini’s decision to develop Rome to the south and the sea. The planners boasted that the new location offered the perfect balance for the city’s development: “The zone chosen, immediately outside the limits of the 1931 Town Plan of the City and already grazed by the urban expansion, lies about seven chilometres from Piazza Venezia, at about the same distance from this as the Mussolini Forum, and in this it represents the obvious balancing by the expansion of Rome on the seaward side.”38


Key to Mussolini’s new plan for the city was the development of yet another fascist “city” celebrating the Ventennale, or twentieth anniversary of the March on Rome, in 1942. The E’42 project for the Esposizione Universale di Roma (EUR) would build a truly fascist complex of buildings and spaces that would not disappear like the exhibitions in the Circus Maximus or such international shows as New York’s World’s Fair of 1939-40. From the beginning, the intention was to create a new quarter of Rome consistent with fascist Rome’s new status as the center of the new Italy’s new fascist empire.

6.2 La Casa dei Marescialli d’Italia (now the Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura), Piazza Independenza, 2000


Piacentini’s monthly publication Architettura spelled out the ideas animating the new project in a 1938 special edition that included text in English, German, and French as well as Italian. Mussolini, of course, took full credit for the original conception of EUR:

The idea of holding a General International Exhibition (that is, Universal, representative of all peoples and interests) in Rome in the year 1942 was not conceived by the Duce in June 1936, when, as it is known, the official request was made, but in the Spring of 1935-XIII E[ra] F[ascista], when the Abyssinian War was at its height, sanctions weighed upon Italy, and the future was very uncertain in the minds of many but not in that of the Duce. “It is in a letter dated June 23rd, 1935-XIII,” writes H. E. Giuseppe Bottai, Minister of National Education, “that the Duce gives the order to obtain a concrete international adherence to his idea. Victory in Abyssinia, the affirmation of the Italian will in the world, the Foundation of an Empire, are all certainties for him, so that he is able to anticipate the celebration of them with mathematical security.”39

The articles in this special edition went on to explain how the planners considered various areas of the city but concluded that only an open area that allowed for a wholly new start would be sufficient. “The sensation of the renewed Italian spirit could only be given by an organism created and realized as a whole, with a plan and vision of its own.” The zone to the south, known as the Tre Fontane, offered the best site for this ambitious plan. “From its birth it is essentially permanent in character, in contrast to all other world exhibitions, which have been ephemeral in character and have disappeared after the manifestation had attained its end.”40

Mussolini appointed Senator Vittorio Cini president of the E’42 corporation, and Marcello Piacentini chief architect. Piacentini included Giuseppe Pagano in his original group. Pagano expected a result similar to that of the Città Universitaria, which would favor his approach to modern architecture and avoid the monumentality he opposed, but he suffered a disappointment. Piacentini held a much stronger position in EUR’s development than he had in planning the university complex. The first plan, Plan A, for EUR did have Pagano’s participation and approval, but that plan was set aside for Plan B, which was much less satisfactory, from his point of view.

Piacentini supported an eclectic approach that allowed for the traditional and academic styles that linked the modern with Italy’s and Rome’s past. That approach included the more monumental direction that Pagano then criticized in vain in the pages of his architectural review, Casabella.41Pagano complained in a 1938 article that such monumentality risked losing contact with reality and falling into rhetorical and academic conventions that took art down rather than up.42 By 1941 he openly attacked Piacentini and his followers in an article entitled “Can we save ourselves from false traditions and monumental obsessions?”43

6.3 Mussolini views the model for E’42 (EUR), 1938


Despite this setback for Pagano and his sympathizers, Mussolini’s support for Piacentini did not mean that the regime explicitly repudiated any particular style. Nevertheless, Pagano’s dream of receiving the Duce’s definitive support for the modern style never became a reality. EUR demonstrated the regime’s latest version of aesthetic pluralism. Pagano’s Casabella continued publishing articles critical of the final plan for EUR, while Piacentini’s Architettura faithfully reported favorably on all the projects of the regime, including EUR.

Among the first buildings constructed was the Palazzo della Civilità Italiana, soon nicknamed the “Colosseo Quadrato,” the “Square Colosseum,” because of its six stories of arches. The architects were Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto La Padula, and Mario Romano.44It remains to this day as the signature building for EUR. The inscription running across the top of the building celebrated “A People of Poets, Artists, Saints, Thinkers, Scientists, Sailors, Explorers.” It stands at one end of an axis with the Palace of Congresses (Palazzo dei Congressi) at the other. Adalberto Libera designed the latter, completed only after the war, which today finds constant use for large meetings and exhibits. Artist Achille Funi painted a large mural for the atrium entitled All Roads Lead to Rome.45

From Capitolium, 1939, p. 374


6.4 Palazzo della Civilità Italiano, (The “Square Coliseum”), EUR, 1940


The headquarters building, the Palazzo degli Uffici dell’Esposizione Universale di Roma, designed by Gaetano Minucci, opened in 1937 and stood next to the Square Colosseum. The building included many of the elements found throughout Mussolini’s Rome: clean horizontal lines, columns in an arcade, a statement chiseled prominently on one side, mosaics in front, fountains and a statue of a large muscular athlete at the far end. The Palazzo degli Uffici provided the quasi-independent corporation with ample office space and large meeting rooms. Minnucci stated that he designed a building that people would recognize as “a palazzo of Rome, in the time of Mussolini.”46 A model of the original plan, Plan A, remains today just inside the entrance. The chiseled inscription over the arcade facing the fountains and mosaics speaks of the glories of the Third Rome, la Terza Roma.

The covered entrance to the L-shaped building contained a large sculpted tablet of travertine marble by Publio Morbiducci. It portrayed the history of the building of Rome, beginning at the top and working its way down to the door. The viewer saw Romulus and Remus at the top and various scenes of Roman history, such as the Roman Empire, the papacy and St. Peter’s, Garibaldi and unification, culminating in Mussolini’s Rome, symbolized by the Duce on a horse with his arm outstretched in the fascist salute. This remarkable piece survives to this day as a example of fascistromanità with Mussolini the triumphant embodiment of Roman and Italian history.47

Other state buildings constructed before the war included the National Social Security building and several museums, including the Museum of Folk Art and Traditions and the Museum of Prehistoric Ethnography. The largest of the museums was the Museum of Roman Civilization, il Museo della Civiltà Romana. The items in the museum came from the exhibit celebrating the bimillenium of the Emperor Augustus, la Mostra Augustea della Romanità, held in 1937 and 1938 in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni on the Via Nazionale. The pieces of the collection were reconstructions and copies of Roman art and architecture throughout the Empire. A large model, or plastico, on a scale of 1:250, depicted Rome during the reign of the Emperor Constantine. The museum and the collection remain open today. The plastico is periodically revised according the latest historical and archeological information. Photographers regularly use this fascist artifact to shoot pictures featured in tourist books showing what Rome looked like at the height of the Empire.

Another large columned building, just south of the Museo della Civiltà Romana, housed offices of the Italian army and today is the Archivio Centrale dello Stato, which contains the main historical collections of the Italian government, especially documents pertaining to modern Italy, including the fascist period. The building faces the long axis of the Viale Europa, culminating with the church of Saints Peter and Paul at the highest point of the zone. The centrally designed church is modest in size but with a relatively large and imposing dome easily visible for some distance.

The open space and the broad axial avenues of EUR were precisely what made it so different from the historic center. It exudes an architectural message of authority and power. The construction completed before the war represented only a fragment of what the regime had in mind. Plans called for an amphitheater, cinema, and additional museums. Nevertheless, the original buildings remain as primary historical artifacts of fascism’s projected image.

The original Plan A included a large arch, spanning the avenue that connected the historic center to the new zone, at the entrance of EUR. Designed by Adalberto Libera, it bore a striking resemblance to the one now standing in St. Louis, Missouri. The technical challenge of building the arch proved too great for the 1930s, and the planners eliminated it.48


The Viale Aventino ran from the Via Marmorata to the Circus Maximus and the Piazza di Porta Capena. The Governatorato widened it in 1934, and by 1938 new office and apartment buildings appeared. In 1938, the renaming of the Viale Aventino as the Viale Africa fit in with the regime’s wish to make this entire area a tribute to the new fascist empire. In 1939, Mussolini opened the new Cestio Park (Parco Cestio), named for the Piramide Cestio, behind the Aventine post office, at the Porta San Paolo.49 The space at the apex of the triangular park became the Piazza Albania to commemorate the incorporation of Albania into Mussolini’s empire in 1939. An equestrian statue to the fifteenth-century Albanian warrior hero Giorgio Scanderberg was designed by Romano Romanelli and unveiled by Mussolini in 1940 in the new piazza adjacent to the tram line. The monument thus took its place in “a zone exceedingly suggestive and important” for Mussolini’s Rome.50

The broad new street planned to connect the historic center with the new zone was the Via Imperiale. It began at the Circus Maximus, and continued past the Baths of Caracalla, through the third-century Aurelian Wall, to EUR and the sea. The point of departure was at the intersection of the Circus Maximus, the Via dei Trionfi, and the Viale Africa. It would be the “greatest road of Rome and of Italy and, if taking into account the historic area it goes through, the greatest street in the world.”51

In 1939, the regime held a contest for designing a new Ministry of Italian Africa. The winning design by a team of architects and engineers was announced in 1938, and construction began August 31. The location at this key intersection trumpeted the new fascist empire and its connection to “the complex monuments recalling the imperial pomp [fasti] [of Rome].”52 The entrance faced the new Via Imperiale and looked directly at the Obelisk of Axum, installed at the Piazza di Porta Capena. Taken from Ethiopia in March 1937 and shipped to Rome, it assumed its new place in October as part of the celebrations of the fifteenth anniversary of the March on Rome. The sixteen-hundred-year-old obelisk soared eighty feet into the sky and weighed about two hundred tons. The completion of the Ministero dell’Africa Italiana came only after the war. In 1950, it became and remains today the headquarters of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

On October 28, 1938, Mussolini opened the first stretch of the Via Imperiale, which extended to the Baths of Caracalla and through four arches cut into the Aurelian Wall a kilometer away. The new street would facilitate the plans to develop Rome to the south and sea. Right up to the outbreak of the war, the regime looked forward to a great influx of visitors for E’42. In order to provide proper fascist hospitality, the Via Imperiale would provide hotels, campsites, restaurants, and other facilities for those arriving by car and bus.

The first stretch of the Via Imperiale replaced the Parco Porta Capena, or Passeggiata Archeologica, created between 1911 and 1913.53 Guido Baccelli was the driving force behind this project. Baccelli (1830-1916) came from a prominent Roman family and gained a national reputation as a doctor, minister of public instruction, and an amateur archaeologist. Mussolini backed a successful campaign to erect a monument in his honor, which was unveiled in 1931 on the Piazza Salerno in the Nomentana quarter.54 The work on the Via Imperiale in 1938 required repositioning the street named for him, which now intersected with the Viale Giotto on the little Aventine and snaked down the slope, past the Campo Sportivo Guardabassi, to the Via Imperiale.55

A new airport at Magliana for both sea- and land-based aircraft would provide access to EUR for air travelers, and the proposed metro would bring visitors from the center of Rome. In February 1937, the New York Times reported that “Mussolini Starts Work On Italy’s First Subway,” with the expectation that it would be ready by 1941 to serve “the thousands of visitors Rome hopes to attract at that time for its world exposition. Five thousand workers will be employed on the project.”56 Once there, visitors to EUR would find everything from the latest technology in cinema, radio, and television, to entertainment for children. Above all, these thousands of visitors and tourists would experience the new Rome of Mussolini.57 The multilane Via Imperiale assumed its current name, Via Cristoforo Colombo, in 1948.


The metro, the Via Imperiale, and the E’42 projects, vast and expensive as they were, did not stop the regime from making important changes in Rome itself. Demolition and new construction continued. In 1940, to celebrate the twenty-first anniversary of the founding of the fascist movement on March 23, 1919, Mussolini inaugurated work on the new Via XXIII Marzo, today the Via Bissolati, which began at the Piazza San Bernardo on the Via XX Settembre, between the churches of Santa Sussanna and Santa Maria della Vittoria, and would end at the Ministry of Corporations on the Via Veneto, opened in 1932. Once again, many buildings fell to the piccone as demolition cleared the way for new streets and massive new buildings.58

This project took place within the city’s center but in a neighborhood largely built in the nineteenth century, after unification. The Via XX Settembre ends at the Porta Pia of the Aurelian Wall and then continues as the Via Nomentana. The street’s name commemorated the seizure of Rome by Italian troops who overwhelmed papal forces at the Porta Pia on September 20, 1870. The fascist addition came in 1932 in the form of the large monument to the Bersaglieri troops who stormed into Rome on that historic occasion. The architect Italo Mancini designed and sculptor Publio Morbiducci executed the monument of the running Bersagliere. The Historical Museum of the Bersaglieri, the Museo Storico dei Bersaglieri, opened there at the same time as did the monument.

In the decades following 1870, construction of new apartments and government buildings created the Nomentana neighborhood that symbolized the newly unified nation and the new historical role for Rome as Italy’s capital, the third Rome. The neighborhood also became the home of Mussolini and his family. Several blocks beyond the Porta Pia on the Via Nomentana stood the Villa Torlonia, built in the nineteenth century. The Torlonia family offered Mussolini the villa for his family residence. Here the Duce, his wife Rachele, and their five children lived during the years of the regime. Many photographs of the period depicted Mussolini as family man, husband, and father on the grounds of the villa. In 1930, it was the site of the wedding reception of his oldest child, Etta, and her husband Galeazzo Ciano, son and heir of Count Constanzo Ciano, an early supporter of Mussolini. The young Ciano went on to hold several positions in his father-in-law’s government, culminating in his appointment as minister of foreign affairs in 1936 at the age of thirty-three.59 The ample grounds surrounding the villa provided the backdrop for numerous photographs of the Duce playing tennis, riding his horse, playing with lion cubs, and engaging in other activities demonstrating his strength, courage, and physical prowess.

The Governatorato opened a park across the street from the Villa Torlonia on April 21, 1934. Creating parks was a continual activity of the fascist regime. It provided Romans with green spaces that would encourage outdoor activities in keeping with the emphasis on fresh air as a vital part of good health. In this case, the city acquired the run-down Villa Paganini Alberoni, which it then repaired, transforming the grounds into a public park. Shortly after the opening, it added a monument to soldiers from the neighborhood fallen in the Great War.60

What better way, then, for Mussolini to put his fascist movement on the same level as the Risorgimento, Italian unification, and mark Rome as the new capital than to have March 23 commemorated adjacent to September 20? Indeed, the regime made the claim that thanks to its efforts, “Rome has become the true capital of Italy that the great [leaders] of our Risorgimento had dreamed.”61 When the Duce inaugurated the new Via XXIII Marzo on the twenty-first anniversary of the fascist movement, he took another step in Rome’s transformation “according to the by now famous Mussolinian distinction, as a work of necessity.”62

The new street, according to the regime, vastly improved the flow of traffic from the area of the Termini Station across the city to the Prati district near the Vatican and the area of the Via Flaminia. The Piano Regolatore of 1931 called for such a street in this area for cross-town traffic. Of course, the project also created “12,000 work days” for laborers. This modern construction of “necessity” also managed to preserve historic pieces of Rome, such as some ruins of the old Servian Wall, and thus associate twenty-five centuries of history with the “new imposing Mussolinian Rome [that] will be by their contrast a testimony to the continuity of the City through time.”63

The Via XXIII Marzo began on the Via XX Settembre between the churches of Santa Susanna and Santa Maria della Vittoria, home of Bernini’s famous Saint Teresa in Ecstasy. The street pattern just to the north of Santa Maria della Vittoria remained unchanged, but several notable buildings arose in the late 1930s in that neighborhood. The Montecatini chemical company’s Rome offices stood on the corner of the Via Salandra and the Via Flavia. The triangular-shaped building incorporated a number of sculptured reliefs. In the rear, a fragment of the Servian Wall stood exposed in a space under the building. Across the street was the new Ministry of Agriculture.

The Via XXIII Marzo itself ran over to the Via Veneto. Branching off to the left was another new street, the Via Regina Elena, now the Via Barberini, which went to the Piazza Barberini. Both streets were lined with new buildings. The FIAT building at the Largo Santa Susanna has an unmistakably fascist look, although it was completed after the war. The new buildings beyond that point, with their windows, brickwork, and occasional arcades, bore the familiar marks of office and apartment buildings of the late 1930s. The National Institute of Insurance building, the Palazzo dell’Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurzioni (INA) on the Via XXIII Marzo, dates from 1928, and Marcello Piacentini’s Banco del Lavoro was built in 1934.64

These buildings had more floors, usually six or seven, than typically found in buildings in the historic center. Thus the number and size of these buildings stand out in this neighborhood that remains today as an obviously fascist-era area within the Aurelian Wall. The red brick of most of these imposing buildings mimicked the brickwork of ancient Rome. The windows were framed by travertine, and arcades were often located on the top floor. Piacentini used ancient Roman models to create a fascist and Italian modernism at variance with Pagano’s rational, functional modernism, which lacked any clearly traditional Italian models. These buildings exemplified the triumph of a nationalist over an internationalist style. The style typified fascist buildings throughout the city.

The Via Regina Elena led into the Piazza Barberini at the foot of the Via Veneto. Bernini’s fountain in the piazza faced the Hotel Bristol, dating from the late nineteenth century, a period despised by the fascists as a time of decadence and fragmentation in the nation. The new work provided the opportunity to demolish the hotel in favor of a new Bristol in the same style dominating the new fascist-era neighborhood. Just up the street from the Piazza Barberini on the sloping Via delle Quattro Fontane was the historic corner of the Quattro Fontane at the intersection with the Via XX Settembre. Borromeo’s quintessentially Baroque church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane faced the Via XX Settembre on the southeast corner. Even in this most Baroque of places in Rome there appeared a major building of the fascist era. In 1937 Vittorio Morpurgo designed the building diagonally across the street from San Carlo. He incorporated Renaissance elements in the two portals, one on the Via XX Settembre and the other on the slope of the Via Quattro Fontane.65


Even after Italy’s entry into the war on June 10, 1940, the fascist transformation of the Eternal City continued. Gradually the need to mobilize the war effort led to the cessation of construction on such major projects as the Via della Conciliazione, EUR, the Termini Station, the metro line and the Fascist Party headquarters at the Foro Mussolini. By 1942, virtually all work had stopped. Yet one project went forward that offers one last glimpse into fascist self-perception and Mussolini’s attempt to define his fascist revolution. Considerable effort and expense went into mounting the third and final version of the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista (MRF).

The first and second versions had appeared from 1932 to 1934 and from 1937 to 1940. As with the earlier versions, the exhibit embodied the messages Mussolini and his regime wished to send forth about the historical significance of fascism, the nature of its revolution, and the role of Rome and romanità.

The final version of the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution opened on October 28, 1942 in the National Gallery of Modern Art, la Galleria Nazionale dell’Arte Moderna.66 It celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the regime. The war prevented Rome’s sponsorship of the Esposizione Unviversale di Roma, but it did not stop this exhibition’s celebration of the anniversary and its meaning for history. In fact, the exhibit offered an opportunity to convince the public that fascist Italy would achieve victory.

Although occupying the same space as the 1937 version, this new exhibit had quite a different design. The second version had been a rather unimaginative recycling of the original 1932 show with some additions, whereas this final version had a fresh design. Rooms took various shapes and forms, many with curved and rounded spaces rather than flat walls, and the rooms possessed greater coherence of design elements. There were, for example, strong horizontal and vertical lines in some rooms, while others had circular or semicircular shapes, and in many, black and white contrasts stood out with added emphasis from strong, and no doubt expensive, illumination.

The messages of the 1942 exhibition emerged clearly enough. The war dominated, and all pieces suggested the theme that Italy would yet win the war. “We Will Win,” “Vinceremo,” was the military slogan reiterated in the show. Of particular interest, beyond the emphasis on victory, were the new rooms and the messages conveyed in them. Wartime conditions made travel to Rome nearly impossible for most Italians, so the visitors were mostly residents of Rome and Lazio as well as a smattering of foreign dignitaries, given the tour by party officials.

All the rooms were new in design if not in content. For example, the first large space beyond the atrium was dedicated to Mussolini. It had the strong horizontal lines in a black and white motif that characterized most of the rooms. Along the walls, brightly lit M-shaped display cases carried Mussolini’s messages. The following rooms, which covered the same subjects as earlier versions, such as World War I, the threat of bolshevism, the Fascist Party, Il Popolo d’Italia, the fascist squads, the fascist fallen, and the March on Rome, had similar new configurations. The room on the squads had white walls with black horizontal strips running across and stark white death’s head skulls repeated with them. It housed a huge painting romanticizing the squadristi carrying their trademark club, the manganello, going about their mission of saving Italy from chaos and subversion.

The second half of the exhibit not only had new design motifs but a number of new rooms as well. Here Romans saw, for the last time, fascism’s definition of itself and its place in history. The final section, called the “second time,” il secondo tempo, introduced the new rooms that both explained the significance of fascism and encouraged the belief that fascism must triumph in the current struggle against bolshevism and the plutocratic powers. Fascism at war meant an emphasis on fascism as revolutionary and totalitarian.67 In retrospect, the self-delusion of the regime is clear enough, but considerable time, talent, and treasure went into the design and execution of the final Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista.

Several rooms celebrated the new institutions and accomplishments of the regime. One displayed flags, banners, and weapons taken from the enemy in combat, while another tried to explain the reasons for the current war. Anti-Semitism had great prominence. It had first appeared in the revised version of the second exhibit in 1938. Now it emerged in full-blown form. The room dedicated to Judaism and Masonry, l’Ebraismo e la Massoneria, vividly depicted the Jewish menace in photographs, caricatures, and slogans. That menace was, of course, linked to the bolshevik threat as well. In case anyone had missed the point, the racial theme was incorporated into the new room on cinema and films.

La Sala del Cinema had a particular fascination for Americans because it juxtaposed still shots of American and a few English films on one side of the room with shots of Italian films on the opposite wall. Gary Cooper, David Niven, Broderick Crawford, Spencer Tracy, Fred MacMurray, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, and other Hollywood stars of the 1930s found themselves playing newly assigned roles in a fascist propaganda script. What the eighteen promotional stills had in common was military men—soldiers and sailors—looking silly, looking anything but warlike. To the Roman audience, such fools and clowns could not be taken seriously. Certainly these buffoons could not win a war in combat with the brave and resolute fascist heroes facing them from the other side.

Dick Powell in a West Point uniform faced Ruby Keeler in a white drummajorette outfit holding a rifle. The shot came from the 1934 musical Flirtation Walk, (Warner Brothers), which was “set mainly in West Point Academy and focused on the tentative, naïve romance” between Powell and Keeler.68 Spencer Tracy lay flat on his stomach, in army uniform, with a rifle under him and looking thoroughly confused on a firing range. The film, They Gave Him a Gun (MGM, 1934), had Tracy playing a young weakling who got drafted, learned how to use a gun, became a wartime hero, and then returned to civilian life as a gangster. Another photo showed Virginia Bruce tweaking the chin of a smirking Raymond Walburn, decked out in his dress-white naval uniform as Captain Dinghy in the 1936 musical Born to Dance. Captain Dinghy’s benign and bemused expression showed not a trace of the bellicose spirit it takes to win wars.69

The room may well strike us today as laughable, but less amusing are the dark racial themes present. A large photograph showed dejected, defeated black French colonial troops captured by the Germans in the French defeat of 1940. It bore the title “Grande Illusione,” no doubt an ironic reference to the famous film. At the far end of the room, a large panel featured four rows of five photographs each. The first and third rows showed Roman faces of antiquity and under each a photograph of a modern Italian who resembled the Roman face above it. The room thus offered a visual presentation of the regime’s 1938 racial laws emphasizing a newly discovered purity in the Italian “race,” descended from the Romans and now under threat from Jews, blacks, and other inferiors. It also fit the contemporaneous campaign to ban foreign films and the influence of Hollywood on Italian cinema. American films, according to the official view, emerged from a Jewish “ideology.”70

The exhibit closed with a large circular room dedicated to the “Current War” with the slogan Vinceremo running all the way around the circle. On the way out, visitors went through a small gallery dedicated to fascist war heroes. Although attendance was modest, it was greater than the second version of the exhibition. The Tourist Information Office in Rome claimed that seventy thousand visitors came in the first twenty days.71 Il Popolo d’Italia stated that about one thousand visitors a day attended.72 We cannot corroborate the numbers issued by the regime and its controlled press; nevertheless, newspaper accounts report a steady stream of school and party groups brought to the exhibit. It is also conceivable that wartime Rome offered few diversions and that a free exhibit housed in the midst of the Borghese Gardens would draw regular visitors.

This third version of the exhibit was intended to be permanent. When it opened in October 1942, Italians might still hope for a victorious conclusion of the war, but such hopes were dashed by defeats at El Alamein and Stalingrad. On the night of July 24-25, 1943, dissident fascists in league with the king ousted Mussolini, and the new government under Marshal Badoglio sought a way out of the war. The Mostra would close its doors amidst the fall of fascism and the defeat of Italy. Mussolini’s Rome now entered its final and most bitter phase. The dream of national unity and imperial power gave way to the nightmare of defeat, the humiliation of occupation, and the loss of and search for a new national identity.

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