Text by – BIANCA NAVONE

 

It was the 26th of April 1937 when Benito Mussolini planted a roman pine in the area where a new quartier of Rome was about to be built: EUR.

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Only two years before, Rome’s governor Giuseppe Bottai, had proposed Mussolini to apply for hosting the World’s Fair of 1942, with the idea of building a new area that would both celebrate the 20th anniversary of the March on Rome and sanction the strength and affirmation of Fascism’s power and leadership.

Due to war reasons World’s Fair of 1942 never took place in Rome, but EUR was built and significant monuments raised, one above all the famous Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, also known as the Square Colosseum: originally conceived as a celebration of the invasion of Ethiopia and nowadays recognized as site of cultural interest.

The countless fascist monuments and sites still preserved today have opened up doors for huge debates and discussions on whether they have to be demolished as depositions of an oppressive political dictatorship.

A few days ago, on October 5th, an article by Ruth Ben-Ghiat published on The New Yorker got my attention, it was titled: “Why are so many fascist monuments still standing in Italy?”

The author, Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University, was presenting in the article an analysis of the numerous fascist monuments still standing in Italy, mainly in Rome, compared to other countries like France and Germany, where symbols of past bloody dictatorships have been destroyed. At the same time, potential consequences on political development and strength of some political parties, namely the right-wing Italian Social Movement Party brought by Berlusconi, were faced claiming an existing network between fascist sites and monuments and the rise of those political parties.

After reading this article, and many others published through the years regarding this issue, I felt the need to point out some arguments that would maybe help a better understanding and elaboration of the piece, as it has been published on a newspaper that mostly everyone can access and take information and opinions form.

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First of all I believe that the cross-field analysis often conducted in this issue that pairs up the artistic filed with political one should be tackled delicately: as far as it is clear that these buildings were raised as assertions of a political power and supremacy, with the time they became part of a common imaginary and daily horizon, hosting many national and international firms, corporations, banks and being a point of reference for many people living in that area.

We cannot, and we don’t, think at these buildings with the same mental attitude and set of values of those living under Fascism, even though they still stand there: huge, white and awe-inspiring.

So the question that I ask to myself is: would it be right to demolish buildings originally created as symbols of a past that we somehow want to erase, but that with the time have become valuable monuments and headquarters of roman’s daily life?

Would we really feel comfortable in tearing down Via dei Fori Imperiali, an artery of the city, as previous Major of Rome Ignazio Marino suggested few months after he took office in June 2013, because it is a way though which Mussolini signed his name across the city?

Erasing these buildings is hardly the answer to confronting the past I would say, their existence is a memento of a debatable past that, like it or not, it is the result of choices and actions committed by people who played their freedom in a way that we want to hide. But is in the daily struggle with the possibility of choice that we have to cope with as a collective, collective that I want to underline, is made as the sum of each single rational individual, and the presence of fascist monuments should rather be kept as a warning of a potential reality we could build again if we do not work, individually and further collectively, to defeat.

In Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s article, a quote by Rosalia Vittorini, head of Italy’s organization DOCOMOMO, is mentioned, and is about when she was asked how Italians feel about living among relics of dictatorship, her answer was: “Why do you think they think anything at all about it?”

Yes, I do.

I do believe in people living in societies and cities where the stimuli of the surroundings are important, I do believe in awareness and integrity as fundamental values of every day life, even before thinking of political ideas and movements, I do believe that something happens in people’s minds and hearts when they walk through fascist buildings, that architecture students need to see them and study them, because they are beautiful, true and fundamental parts of our contemporary aesthetics.

It’s hard to sustain this argument and to find a solution; the further I go with my analysis the more I find my self stuck in more and more questions and possible incongruities, but it stays as a fact that thinking of destroying fascist monuments because we fear a possible return of the horror happened in the past, sounds like a scarce argumentation to a question on our future.

Furthermore, I want to point out how violent and devastating would it be to assist the demolition of architecture like the Square Colosseum; how could you stand still, interiorly undamaged and fine with your consciousness in watching a part of your past, of the country you were born in and the culture that raised you being erased forever?

It is not that far from the terrible and excruciating images of the destruction operated by Isis in Palmyra and other cultural sites, as the manifestation of will to delete a population starting from the expressions of its oldest existence.

We cannot touch and destroy art and architecture without thinking of the meaning they embody for a population, and neither we can delete history through their demolition.
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As Heidegger’s philosophy suggests us: “The future is the origin of history. (…) The beginning is still. It is not in the past, it lies in front of us. The beginning, as it is the biggest of the possibilities we are given, precedes everything that is about to happen and in this way it is already gone, far above us”. (Lezioni del semester invernale 1937-1938)

You do not cut off your leg because of a scar, you rather learn how to walk again.

We do not destroy half of a city because it recalls something bad that happened and we fear the future, we rather learn from the past and behave differently today.

 

Paris, October 10th 2017

 

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