Benito Mussolini is a name that still haunts Italy and Rome. As the Head of Government in the 1920s and 1930s, he made the trains run on time, finalized the Lateran Treaty that enables the Vatican and Italian State to live harmoniously together, and created jobs. He also created Fascism. Having a fairly high opinion of himself, Mussolini retitled himself Il Duce and a slew of other titles including Founder of the Empire. Every empire founder needs a city built to their glory – Mussolini decided to create Roma Moderna, his 1935 vision of a city within a city.
These days it’s a bit of an embarrassment, an unfinished statement of when politics got out of control. But it’s also quite a fascinating journey into an important part of Italian, and indeed world, history. Looking back to the Roman Empire as his example, Mussolini wanted to make Italians proud world-conquerors and one way to do this was to reinvigorate Rome as the most amazing city in the world. Many of us arrive in Rome at Termini train station, an ugly building out of step with how we expect Rome to look; it’s one of Mussolini’s Fascist era buildings. We approach St Peter’s along the wide straight Via della Conciliazione, another of Mussolini’s grand schemes for which he tore down lots of workers’ housing. Similarly the Via dei Fori Imperiali leads to the Forum and Colosseum.
But to see Mussolini in all his glory you need to head to EUR (Esposizione Universale di Roma) built for the (cancelled) World Expo of 1942, which was going to show off Italy’s renewed greatness to the world. The monumental buildings we see today were just the beginning. Palazzo della Civilta di Lavoro is the centerpiece, a huge square arched building styled on Ancient Rome. There are also museums, a congress center modeled on the Pantheon, and a church modeled on St Peter’s. The sports complex, Palazzo dello Sport these days often hosts concerts. There were also many, many monumental size sculptures of Mussolini himself but they’re hidden away in the basements.