Rome is a treasure trove of architectural marvels that chronicle Italy’s rich history. One era that left an indelible mark on the city’s landscape is the period of fascist rule under Benito Mussolini.
Whilst controversial, fascism left a distinct architectural legacy, combining classical grandeur and modernist ideals. Let’s dive into the best examples of fascist architecture in Rome – the EUR and Foro Italico – examining the historical context and the artistic expression that defined this period.
Rome’s EUR District
The monumental white buildings and wide avenues of Esposizionale Universale di Roma, abbreviated to EUR (pronounced “ay-oor”), are Mussolini’s vision of an ideal fascist town. It’s a far cry from anything else you’ll see in Rome.
EUR was conceived as a part of the planned expansion of the city for the 1942 World’s Fair to symbolise the achievements of fascism. Marcello Piacentini, who designed the lower town of Bergamo, headed the project and became the regime’s official architect.
The design of the district blends the ideology of fascism with classical Roman urban planning. Its monumental, square buildings, faced with marble and travertine, were built to remind visitors of the temples and buildings of Imperial Rome.
World War II put paid to the World’s Fair and the original project was never completed. In the 1950s, the original structures were restored and new ones were added. Today, EUR is a business and residential district.
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, or Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro, is an iconic symbol of fascist architecture. Its façade of six rows of nine arches earned it its nickname, the Square Colosseum. Beneath the lowest arches, there are statues symbolising the arts.
Palazzo dei Congressi, or Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi, was completed in 1954 to host fencing competitions at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. It is home to works by noteworthy Italian modern artists of the 20th century, including decorative panels with an agricultural theme by Gino Severini.
Today, the Palace hosts exhibitions, congresses and conferences.
Originally conceived as the Foro Mussolini, Foro Italico is a sports complex designed to host the 1940 Summer Olympics. The games were eventually cancelled due to the war.
Located on the banks of the Tiber River, it includes the Stadio dei Marmi and the Stadio Olimpico. Designed by Enrico del Debbio and completed by Luigi Moretti in 1936, it was one of the most impressive building projects carried out by Mussolini in imitation of ancient Roman Imperial architecture.
Its architecture is marked by colossal statues, imposing arches and extensive use of travertine. Collectively, these provided a sense of grandiosity that befitted the fascist regime’s desire to exalt the nation.
Stadio dei Marmi is surrounded by 59 of the original 60 life-sized marble statues of athletes in classical poses. The Stadium of Marble Statues is still used for sporting events (when I last visited, locals were using the track for their evening run).
Don’t miss the mosaics on the floor as you exit the stadium.
Outside the entrance, a marble monolith inscribed Mussolini Dux glorifies Benito Mussolini’s leadership. Whilst controversial, the Mussolini Obelisk offers a glimpse into the propaganda-driven aspirations of fascist architecture.
Why Visit this Fascist Architecture in Rome?
Mussolini’s buildings aren’t an obvious addition to your Rome bucket list but bear with me.
The fascist era left an indelible imprint on Rome’s architectural landscape. While the political ideologies behind these structures are controversial, their grandeur and ambition cannot be ignored and they tell a story of a tumultuous period in Italy’s history.
From the Ancient Romans to modern times, Rome’s architecture serves as a testament to the city’s ability to transform even the most politically charged structures into integral parts of its cultural heritage. In understanding the best examples of fascist buildings in Rome, we gain insight into the complex interplay of politics, ideology, and art that shaped the Eternal City.