I began by speaking of Three Romes, as if each of the three never changed. We have deepened this simple initial idea in several ways and now it is time to add Mussolini, who had contempt for the democratic liberalism that has so far defined modern politics in the West and who was able to nurture a similar contempt in his large following. Politically, he invites the question of what weaknesses there were in Italian liberalism that allowed it to be suppressed for the twenty years of Mussolini’s rule. And had Mussolini not allied with Hitler and brought Italy into a disastrous war, might he have lasted longer?
Mussolini also changed the look of Rome, and our podcasts will focus on his changes and the reasons behind them. The most striking are those at what is now known as the Foro Italico. (It was built as Foro Mussolini.) We will discuss also the new roads he carved through old Roman neighborhoods, his “rescue” of the Ara Pacis, and his excavation of the Mausoleum of Augustus, which had been serving as an opera house until Mussolini thought some archeological work might make it an impressive reminder of past Roman greatness.
The huge obelisk dedicated to “Mussolini Dux” in the Foro Olympico.
Apart from its massive size, the obelisk is noteworthy for its use of the Latin, Dux, for “Leader.” Mussolini encouraged the use of Latin in schools and out, which was one way he tried to connect his regime with the power and the glory of Ancient Rome.
Mussolini’s rebuilding within Rome was sufficiently aggressive that he was given the nickname “Il Piccone,” “The Pickax.” Generally speaking, he sought to show off the monuments of Rome’s more imperial and powerful past by clearing away accretions that blocked lines of sight or compromised the grandeur of more monumental structures.
One way of doing this was to build ceremonial boulevards that would make more prominent Rome’s greatest monuments. The two most dramatic examples of this effort are the broad road that leads directly to St. Peter’s, the Via della Conciliazione, and the one that connects the Colosseum with Piazza Venezia, which he called “The Street of the Empire,” but whose more accurate and less offensive name is “The Street of the Imperial Forums.”
Mussolini “The Pickax” begins the demolition of an old neighborhood to make way for his “Street of the Empire”
The photo above shows a neighborhood being demolished to make way for the Via della Conciliazione, which now opens our view to St. Peter’s all the way from the Tiber River. It was an important part of Mussolini’s plan to show off the greatness of Rome and required the destruction of a church dedicated to St. James.
Far greater, of course, was the destruction Mussolini brought to Italy by his involvement in World War II. Since the Allies fought their way up the long, narrow, and mountainous Italian peninsula, collateral damage was widespread, and whole cities were destroyed. If charming medieval hill towns are one of Italy’s chief characteristics, shoddy and rushed construction in the immediate postwar period is another.
As for the cost to Rome, there was bombing damage especially near St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, and the Jewish Community suffered especially but not only following the raids of 16 October 1943, which sent many to Nazi death camps.