Rome is a very interesting city. Having visited now a few times (and having watched the Lizzie McGuire Movie countless times), I’ve observed there’s a chaos found in the Italian capital city. It’s uncomfortable. It’s busy. It seems disorganized. It’s crowded. It’s overpriced. Yet, people flock to this city like it’s the most attractive place in the world.
After returning from our school trip to Rome, many of us came back with a terrible impression. It was an extremely hot day. We walked from attraction to attraction and were barely able to hear our professor’s voice. We returned to Cortona with such appreciation for the relaxing city that we’re living in. I still hear my friends casually throw around how much they dislike Rome.
I felt the same, in all honesty. I hate crowded tourist areas and it feels like the whole city of Rome is exactly that. I also found myself feeling incredibly underwhelmed. I’ve had so many people in my life celebrate Rome like it’s one of the greatest cities out there. They tell me the history and the culture in Rome are incredible. This is true - Rome is rich of Italy’s culture and the city’s map is definitive of the country’s history.
Nevertheless, there was a buzz around the city built up in my head and so when I got there, it didn’t quite live up to the expectations. I saw the Colosseum and the Roman Forums and even though these were structures from Ancient Rome, the crowds and street sellers and barricades around the monuments felt like I was entering an amusement park. There was a sad artificiality suffocating these impressive historic relics. As much as I hate to admit it, this mass cultural commercialization across the city ruined it for me.
That being said, I’m trying to remain openminded. I consider Toronto, my home city. The centre of Toronto is atrocious. It’s busy, stressful, noisy. Whenever I think of Yonge and Dundas Square, I’d go as far as saying I hate Toronto. Then I remind myself how big Toronto is and how as soon as I leave my school campus or work, I am immediately welcomed to its charm. Perhaps this is the same with Rome.
From my field trip, I had one highlight. We visited the EUR District, which is halfway to downtown Rome and halfway to the sea. This area is beautifully quiet yet absolutely spectacular from both a historic and architectural standpoint.
Historically, it’s important in its recognition of Italy’s Fascist era. The district was built for the 1942 World Fair, which coincidentally celebrated 20 years of the Fascist empire. Entitled the Esposizione Universale Roma, the exhibition never took place because of the second World War, however this part of Rome is still known today as Mussolini’s Rome. It’s also widely considered in the Italian timeline and history of power that Mussolini’s Rome is the 3rd Rome, with the Rome of the Pope being the 2nd Rome, and the Roman’s Rome being the 1st.
A prevalent building in this district is the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, otherwise known as the Colosseo Quadrato or the Square Colosseum. It’s a commanding building and at first glance, I was speechless. There’s an eloquent silence and strength it exudes as one looks up at the big white structure against the deep blue sky. Today it acts as the headquarters for Italian fashion brand Fendi. As the name suggests, it is modelled after the Roman Colosseum, even using the same travertine stone that the Colosseum is built out of. It bears a resemblance in its use of arches, materials, and imperial dominance. However, it is a very different building of a very different time. Fascist architecture and art was very much a compilation of the past and the modern world. Although it did reject Baroque artwork, being deemed too feminine, it idolized the Classical ideals of art. With that in mind, this style was never recreated but instead used as a source for inspiration, which is especially evident in this building. The Square Colosseum is a perfect example of art monumentalism. It’s also essentially a big dedication to Mussolini. There are six arches going up and nine arches going across - this spells out Benito Mussolini. Talk about a big ego….
Fascist Italy and this district exudes a level of discomfort in me. The dictatorship is a part of history that seems very dark in Italian culture. And yet, I’m fascinated by it. It also puts into perspective that in spite of the bad that came out of Mussolini’s time, it’s a part of history we cannot erase. It happened and the art and architecture still remains. Fascists removed artwork and architecture of Italy that wasn’t deemed “purely Italian” or aligned with the Fascist ideals. If contemporary society were to do the same to these Fascist monuments, this type of fighting fire with fire, Italian culture wouldn’t be as poignant as it is. Nor as fascinating. The political and cultural tensions are the flames of the country.
So to conclude: Rome, I am going to give you another chance. I know you have a lot to offer and I’m sorry for judging you so quickly.