• Steven Heller

Don't Turn Your Back on History

What is disconcerting about the tour of Italian Fascist architecture in Rome I’ve been on for the past few weeks is that the buildings, signs, and symbols are still intact, more or less undisturbed, as monuments to the past. Mussolini may have intuitively understood that after his downfall and execution, his portraits and busts would be torn or toppled, but his massive structures would last in whole or part, and be appreciated as those from the Roman Empire. When you think about it, the ruins that historians praise as wonders of the ancient world include a fair number that represent the inhumanity that the Ceasars et al heaped on their fellows, enemies, and slaves. We admire the grandeur of Rome, while Mussolini imitated much of it to celebrate his own power.

The remnants of Fascist dominance, including the modernistic Fascist buildings and monuments (all over Italy), Fasci and “M” symbols (many chipped away, but lots still visible), and Fascist typography and epigraphy (preserved on various official buildings and columns), are as treasured among cultural and political scholars, archeologists, and history buffs as are the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and ancient lapidary signs have been for centuries. For some, however, the crimes of Fascism are still fresh in the mind, and the remains trigger nightmares; for others Fascist style is just plain cool.

Yesterday, I visited Foro Italico (also known as Foro (Forum) Mussolini), built between 1928 and 1938, inspired by the Roman forums of the imperial age and designed by Enrico Del Debbio and Luigi Moretti. It is one of the places where today Mussolini’s perverted vision of the ideal Fascist Italian is as vivid as any myth propagated under his dictatorial regime. The Foro is a sports academy and stadium complex that is quintessentially overpowering in every detail (from its massive doors to gigantic porticos), an example of Fascist ideology in dimensional form. It might be seen as akin to a modern Pompeii, but the disturbing thing is that Foro is NOT a ruin. The inscriptions praising Fascist victories are still intact, the pavement mosaics depicting virile Fascist athletes and Black Shirted militia look just like new, and the overwhelming sculptures of naked sportsmen (below) surround the the Stadio dei Marmi, where Mussolini would stand in review of the “New Fascist Man.” It is important to have these remnants and remains, in order to study and learn about our historical predecessors, but its also necessary to maintain perspective. As a new right wing is emerging in Italy—small but vocal—these monuments to an evil past should not be transformed into a rallying point for an evil present.

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