Across the plaza – Fascist Rome

During last week’s Roman excursion I was able to make a brief visit to a part of the city I’ve wanted to see for some time, the EUR district located a few underground stops south of the centre.

EUR – or the Esposizione Universale Roma – was designed in the 1930s and 40s under the supervision of Mussolini for the 1942 World Expo, which the fascist regime wanted to use to showcase the 20th anniversary of its rise to power. EUR indicates how much of urban Italy might have looked had fascism survived: this is a stark space of plazas, ramrod straight avenues and austere buildings that strive for the imagined monumentality of ancient Rome.

The Second World War brought EUR’s construction to a sudden halt, well before any Expo could take place, but work was resumed during the 1950s when it was decided to re-purpose the site as a business district.

Explored on a bright spring day EUR seems quite a pleasant and prosperous place with its sparkling office blocks, wide green spaces, lakes, and open air coffee bars and restaurants. But the buildings that survive from Mussolini’s original blueprint have an alien quality that makes EUR quite unlike any ordinary out-of-town business park. The gallery below includes images – in sequence – of the three structures I was able to see.

The extraordinary Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is perhaps the best known, a rectangular slab of marble incised by clinical rows of arches. The Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi offers an imposing venue for exhibitions and meetings, and the Museo della Civiltà Romana, which with its giant doors, massive columns and bare brick walls forbids entry. A walk round EUR gives some indication of what Albert Speer’s ‘Welthauptstadt Germania‘ might have looked like, though EUR is a much more modest affair than Speer’s vision of a new Berlin.

I first became interested in EUR when I saw a BBC programme a few years back, A History of Art in Three Colours, in which the historian James Fox discussed the political dimensions of white-surfaced architecture, contrasting the fascist symbology of EUR with the use of white in classical antiquity and contemporary modernism. I’m glad to see it’s available on YouTube, if you’re interested.

Click the thumbnails to see the full images. This gallery is also available on Flickr.