Rome is a very interesting city. Having visited now a few times, I’ve observed there’s a chaos found in the Italian capital city. It’s uncomfortable. Busy. It seems disorganized and crowded. It’s overpriced and irritably commercial. Yet in spite of all these impressions I had, people still flock to this city like it’s the most attractive place in the world. This had me puzzled.
After returning from our school trip to Rome, many of us came back with a terrible impression, much like what I described. Mind you, 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’ve been living in.
Personally, I feel disdain towards crowded tourist areas and the whole city of Rome, or at least the very centre, 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 sensation of authenticity in the history and culture of the city was gone. The long lasting structures, monumental in the legacy of architecture out for display like a ride in an amusement park.
That being said, I’m trying to remain openminded. I think about Toronto, my home city, quite a lot when I travel. The centre of Toronto sometimes feels atrocious. It’s busy, stressful, noisy. Whenever I think of Yonge and Dundas Square, I’d go as far as even saying I hate Toronto, though I know this is not the case. 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, evidently occupied by various businesses. However, in spite of its placidity, it was absolutely spectacular from both a historic and architectural standpoint.
Historically, the area is 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. Erected as 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. In the Italian timeline and history of reign, it’s also widely considered 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 modeled 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. Visually, you can recognize the relationship between the two buildings. One which is incredibly ancient, even falling apart, like a great great grandfather of the sleek and vibrant descendant erected less than 100 years ago.
In spite of their connection, one cannot neglect the fact that they are very different buildings of very different times. 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.
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 positively fascinated by it. The unease that I feel when looking at this building is triggered by the imperial statues on the floor level, the harsh attitude of the clean-cut lines and geometric shapes, the overbearing sense of minimalism, and of course, the terrifying impact that is felt by Mussolini’s ego during his dictatorship. Nevertheless, I’m drawn to the building in the same way I would be compelled to go inside a haunted house.
Perhaps this 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. What happened, 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, fighting fire with fire, Italian culture wouldn’t be as poignant as it is. Nor as fascinating. The political and cultural tensions that have existed for centuries 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.