Living in Rome
Like many people, I have a fascination for the futuristic EUR district on the outskirt of Rome and its landmark, the famous Palazzo della Civiltà, also known as the Square Colosseum, built under Mussolini. It is said that the number of arches on the building was calculated to fit in the letters included in Benito (vertically) and Mussolini (horizontally). Unfortunately for his ego, the arches are short of one space to fit in the name Berlusconi!
The area was built in preparation of the 1942 Universal Exposition (EUR= Esposizione Universale Roma), which was to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Fascist regime. Mussolini had a grand vision: to display to the world the greatness of his new Italy, direct heir to the Roman empire. As we know, his grand scheme was cut short with the outbreak of WWII.
In December 1936, as soon as the International Office for the Universal Expo gives its go-ahead for Rome, Mussolini decides to repossess more than 400 hectares in the Tre Fontane suburban area, south of the city. He appoints a team of architects led by Marcello Piacentini and Giuseppe Pagano, who represented different streams of modern architecture, the former being more reactionary and the latter more progressist.
Together, they design E42, as the project was also called, which beyond the Expo, was part of a wider urban plan to expand the city towards the south west, connecting it with the sea. Work starts immediately and large sums of public money are diverted towards the ambitious scheme. Talking about the Palazzo della Civiltà, the highest of all buildings there, Mussolini is quoted as saying: “It will be built very high, like an ideal tower towards the sky. For that, the genius of architects and engineers will have to accomplish miracles of style and technique.” A whole new village is built on the nearby Via Laurentina to shelter the many workers, mainly immigrants without their family, and a majestic road is open to link the new area to the city: the Via Imperiale. It is today the via Cristoforo Colombo.
The district is widely admired today for being one of the best examples of rationalist architecture, which thrived in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s to become the official architectural style of the Fascist regime. Inspired by classical Roman architecture, it is based on strong geometric structures, following the principles first developed by 1st century Roman architect and engineer, Vitruvius, who was rediscovered during the Renaissance. The Rationalist movement gives it a more sober and modern twist, removing all sorts of ornaments and focusing instead on the purity of lines. It is those qualities that make the EUR architecture so distinctive today.
It is also a kind of ghost of the fascist regime, forever reminding Roman of a less glorious past their city witnessed. Some of the inscriptions, revealing the arrogance of the regime are eternally engraved there, one of the most famous one being La Terza Roma, or the Third Rome, often referred to by Mussolini in his speeches: “La Terza Roma si dilaterà sopra altri colli lungo le rive del fiume sacro sino alle sponde del Tirreno” (The Third Rome will expand beyond other hills, along the sacred river banks to the Tyrrhenian Sea).
As film director, Federico Fellini -a great admirer of EUR- said, the area is even more fascinating because it is futuristic but it is a future we already know. We know what happened after, it changes the psychology of the area. Listen to him in the following interview (in Italian only):