The Street of Reconciliation, the Via della Conciliazione, honors an agreement that welcomed the Church back into Italian society and recognized it as a legitimate sovereign state. Along with the contrasting statue of Giovanni Bruno, it raises the questions of the relationship between Church and State, and Reason and Revelation.

My reading of the statue of Bruno is influenced by the speech which inaugurated it, which was given by Giovanni Bovio. The statue and the speech announce a radical break between the New Italy, and even a new age, and the previous ruler of Rome, the Catholic Church. The Street of Reconciliation stepped back from this radical break and announced a restoration of relations between the Church and the new Italian state.

The Via della Conciliazione is also an example of a particular kind of street: streets that take aim at something to rivet our attention on them.

A dozen streets converge on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and put it in squarely in view. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway takes direct aim at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Mall in Washington DC also uses streets, paths, and bridges to call attention to its architecture.

The channeling effect of the Street of the Reconciliation in Rome is more obvious than in most other cases, for it takes direct aim at the center of St. Peter’s Basilica. But there are also other cases in Rome. The Via Nazionale has large “targets” at both of its ends. There is a “trident” of streets that converge on the obelisk in Piazza del Popolo.

“The Trident” of three streets that converge on the obelisk in Piazza del Popolo, in a drawing by Piranesi

In facts, the obelisks in Rome are generally placed in relation to streets, or streets created to show off existing obelisks. Pope Sixtus V erected four obelisks in four years, from 1586-89. Three of them were aligned with streets from the get-to; the fourth was not. This is the one in front of St. Peter’s, and Mussolini added the street of reconciliation to show it off, too and, of course, the basilica that stood behind it.

As for Rome’s most central street, the Via del Corso, it had a focus but not much to focus on. The new Italy took advantage of this opportunity and built the huge and boastful Monument to Victor Emmanuel the Second.

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