Italians have a black legacy

Mussolini's buildings : The black legacy

This year Italy, a little undecided, is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding. But the year forces another memory: 75 years ago, on May 9, 1936, Italian fascism reached its dark climax. On this day, Mussolini proclaimed the new empire in front of the enthusiastic masses from the balcony of his official residence, the Palazzo Venezia. It has been hailed as the resurrection of the ancient Roman Empire after nearly 1,500 years. This was preceded by the capture of Addis Ababa by Italian troops - the official "victorious" end of the attack on Ethiopia. What hardly an Italian knew at the time: Victory had only been achieved after the illegal use of poisonous gas.

Italy was now the center of an empire, the King of Italy, Emperor of Ethiopia and Rome again the capital of a world empire. This had serious consequences for the eternal city. "Great leading statesmen have always turned their main attention to the promotion of architecture, we see that above all in the Rome of the imperial era, in the Rome of the Popes and in the Rome of Mussolini." This was the name of an exhibition in Vienna at the end of 1937 in imperial intoxication has been. At the same time Albert Speer was working on plans for a new Berlin that would put Rome in the shade.

The fascist regime in Italy has been doing everything possible since the 1920s to increase the urban prestige of the capital and to draw attention to the splendor of the history of Rome. But today's visitors to Rome rarely notice this. This is due to the structural changes, especially in the old town. The exposed evidence of antiquity is now perceived as natural. Hardly any travel guide points out that the Capitol, the Roman Forum, the Imperial Forums, the Castel Sant'Angelo, the Marcellus Theater, the four temples of Largo Argentina and the two temples on the Piazza Bocca della Verità were not until the Mussolini era in their present day Shape were made visible. Hardly a tourist notices that the entire northern building front of the wonderful Piazza Navona was built in the time of Mussolini.

Even the large new buildings of the fascist era in the center are subordinate to historical monuments. The palaces of the fascist avenue Via della Conciliazione bow to St. Peter's Basilica, and the buildings of the Piazza Augusto Imperatore form the framework for the Augustus Mausoleum. The new buildings on the Tiber Island are picturesquely adapted to their location. The fact that the famous Via Veneto is flanked by large representative buildings of the regime is also often overlooked.

Even the Via del Teatro Marcello and the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the boulevards of Italian fascism, seem almost natural today. Nobody knows that the large panels showing the expansion of the Roman Empire were put up there in the Mussolini era. So it doesn't matter. At least the fifth plaque, which was erected in 1938 and shows the fascist empire, was removed. The urban development projects from the time of fascist rule have become an everyday part of the Italian capital.

The reason for this type of fascist urban development was an exuberant cult of antiquity. The uncovering, yes, “the liberation of ancient Rome” became Mussolini's guideline. That is why archeology also rose to become a dominant profession in urban planning. One of the largest clear-cut restoration projects in European urban development was carried out around the Capitol in particular. In the course of the demolitions, the little-valued evidence of medieval Rome in particular disappeared: the archaeological horizon only extended to the year 476, the end of the reign of the Western Roman emperor Romulus Augustus.

In addition to ancient Rome, homage was also paid to Holy Rome, the great Rome of the Renaissance and Baroque popes, who in turn claimed worldwide influence. Indeed, the work of these popes was a model for Mussolini: the popes disregarded medieval buildings when it came to staging their architectural deeds. They broke new streets through the old city, created new squares and improved the city's technical infrastructure. At the same time, they used the evidence of antiquity for their own purposes.

Urban development projects of central importance were also implemented in the greater Rome area during fascism, for example the Lido di Roma (Ostia), the most important leisure city in Italy, and the film city of Cinecittà, the largest film production facility in Europe. Above all, however, the quarter, later known as Esposizione Universale di Roma (EUR), of the no longer held World Exhibition E 42, which marked the end and climax of the regime's urban planning efforts. Other large-scale projects emerged in a somewhat more central location, such as the university town ("City of Knowledge") in the east and the sports town (today Foro Italico) in the north of the center. Almost all of these large-scale projects were not implemented until the 1930s - until then, mainly residential buildings had been built in the urban expansion areas. The fact that all these projects were also of great economic importance should not be forgotten, especially in Rome as a city without its own economic basis. Mussolini's Rome was hailed as the third Rome, after the Rome of the Caesars and that of the Popes. Indeed, in Mussolini's two decades, the metropolis was rebuilt like never before or since - to the glory of the regime.

The dictatorship competition has played an important role, and not just since Mussolini's visits to Berlin in September 1937 and Hitler's to Rome in May the following year. Who has the most impressive university town, who has the greatest sports grounds, who has the most magnificent north-south axis? Above all, the plans for the world exhibition grounds competed with Albert Speer's triumphant plans for a new center in Berlin.

In Italy, the black legacy of the Mussolini era is viewed favorably today. The testimonies of the interwar period are often admired for their beautiful shape or even invoked as proof of the “greatness” of the regime. An example of the Italians' impartiality, which is hardly believable from a German point of view, is the small brochure “La Roma di Mussolini” by Armando Ravaglioli from 1996, aimed at a wide audience, which is still sold for one euro in tourist locations.

There the author celebrates most of the fascist urban development projects, sometimes almost exuberantly. He calls the sports city the “best result” of the fascist urban development in Rome, the EUR district, a “grandiose exhibition area”. Even the major demolitions in the historic center are not portrayed particularly critically - with a view to the unsanitary conditions and the traffic problems.

In Germany very little is known about this time in Rome, its architects and its legacy. We may not want to know exactly, so as not to tarnish our image of Italy.

Harald Bodenschatz teaches the sociology of planning and architecture at the TU Berlin. In the architecture building of the TU on Ernst-Reuter-Platz, room A053, he will speak on Monday, May 9th, at 8 pm about “Urban development under Mussolini”.

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