Rome since World War II

Postmodern Rome?

There are not that many major monuments or works of art put in place in postwar Rome. The ones I know best are related to the war. These include the following tributes in architecture:

  • To those who fought to keep the Germans from occupying Rome
  • To those who became the victims of these same Germans
  • To those members of the resistance, who fought outside of Rome to help the Allies retake Italy

The largest concentration of such memorials is in and near the Park of the Resistance of September 3, 1943, adjacent to the Porta San Paolo. This marks the area of the greatest resistance to the German occupation of Rome, which occurred on this date.

Of special importance are

Other reminders of those who suffered during the German occupation turn up at scattered locations. Gypsies were hauled off to concentration camps, and a plaque records this event on the Street of the Gypsies (Via degli Zingari, near the Cavour Metro stop); and in the Largo of the 16th of October 1943, in the Jewish Ghetto, there is a touching reminder of those Jews who were taken to camps on that date. In front of apartments whose occupants were taken and sent to the camps there are bronze reminders, as in the photo below.


“Stumbling Stones” put in place over the last decade remember those deported to Nazi death camps.

This recent and ongoing effort to remember victims of the holocaust is not unique to Rome but has been undertaken in more than 1,200 cities and towns across Europe and Russia. More than 70,000 such memorial blocks have been put in place.

Other reminders of World War II in or near Rome include especially cemeteries for the soldiers killed in the war. These include

  • Il Cimitero di Guerra del Commonwealth di Roma: This small cemetery is for soldiers from the British Commonwealth who died fighting to liberate Rome in May 1944. It is near Testaccio, on Via Nicola Zabaglia, 50. (You won’t find it without this address!)
  • The Sicily-Rome American Cemetery: An easy one-hour train ride from Termini to the coastal town of Nettuno, which still has the character of a fortified medieval town. The cemetery is for American soldiers killed in the war from August 1943 to May 1944, especially from battles in Sicily and at Salerno, Monte Cassino, and Anzio-Nettuno. The beautiful cemetery includes a pavilion with maps and descriptions of the entire war. There is another cemetery for Americans killed later in the war just outside of Florence.
  • If you have car, Monte Cassino is reachable in under two hours and is worth visiting for other reasons. In addition to the abbey and other sites, it has several war cemeteries in the area. I might not think to single out the Commonwealth War Cemetery of Cassino, but I happened to be there on the 50th anniversary of the day the Allies finally broke through the Germans’ Gustav Line at Cassino. The cemetery is moving in any event, with tombstones for very young soldiers bearing such inscriptions as, “To all the world just a soldier, to us, all the world”; but it was then filled with teary-eyed veterans and their families. We should be able to learn from books alone, but I found such moments as this to be especially useful in stimulating serious conversation about World War II with my students.

Apart from monuments directly related to the war, there are minor reminders in Rome of moments in the history of the European Union. A plaque in the courtyard of the Capitoline Museums records that the Treaty of Paris was signed in the Museums in 1957, thus creating the European Economic Community (EEC). Another plaque in the same Museums announces that representatives of the countries of the European Union met in Rome and signed a Constitution in 2004, but it was not ratified and so never went into effect. These are at least minor reminders that Italy has long been involved in the experiment to foster increased unity among the European nations.

John Paul II, a sculpture by Oliviero Rainaldi in front of the Termini train station.

John Paul II, a sculpture by Oliviero Rainaldi. Rome’s ugliest?

Above is a large newish statue in a prime location, just out front of the Termini Train Station, and it is big, sixteen feet tall. It was inaugurated in May 2011, and it came with a label. Otherwise, it might be difficult to tell that this is supposed to represent Pope John Paul II on the occasions of his birthday, May 18, and his beatification, May 1. Its many critics say, among other nasty things, that it looks more like Mussolini than the pope. That Rome has allowed a special place for a statue of a pope is a sign that the radical anticlericalism of the Risorgimento and aftermath has subsided, unless perhaps this way of representing the pope shows something other than respect.

And speaking of the pope, Pope Francis has made the first really novel addition to the artwork in St. Peter’s Piazza in 400 years. It too is a sign of the times, as we will discuss in the pod devoted to the Piazza. Above the colonnade are statues of 140 saints; the new statue represents 140 immigrants.

Angels Unawares, sculpture by Timothy Schmalz added to St. Peter's Square in 2019

Angels Unawares, sculpture by Timothy Schmalz added to St. Peter’s Square in 2019

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