Foro Italico, Rome
A unique ensemble in Rome
of well-preserved relics from Italy
's fascist Mussolini
era. These are mostly of the masculinity and sports glorification type in the form of statuary and mosaics, but there's also some typical architecture of the time as well as the infamous Mussolini obelisk.
More background info: The complex was built as the “Foro Mussolini” between 1928 and 1938. It was both an ideological statement and a genuine sports complex. The Academy of Physical Education was part of it, housed in an imposing building next to the sports venues.
The centrepiece of the latter is the Stadio dei Marmi (see below), but there are also elements that serve no utilitarian function but are pure propaganda, especially the mosaics (some celebrating the taking of Ethiopia by Mussolini in 1936) and, most grandly, the Mussolini obelisk.
This nearly 20m (55 feet) high monolith was in fact the largest single piece of marble ever cut at the famous marble quarry of Carrara. Getting it to Rome and into its upright position was a major undertaking.
even entertained his German counterpart Adolf Hitler
here in 1938 with a typically fascist show involving athletes and torch-bearers forming the shape of a swastika.
the gigantic fascist expressions in stone remarkably were left in place here, including the obelisk and all the fascist symbols in the mosaics. Imagine the Olympic Stadium
still bearing swastikas!
But this is Italy
, not Germany
(where “Vergangenheitsbewältigung”, 'coming to terms with the past', has by and large been a success). Here in Rome
it seems that simply looking the other way was the preferred option. You also have to remember that in Italy the old fascism never completely went away. A granddaughter of Mussolini's (Alessandra) even made it into the Italian and European parliaments!
On the other hand, it is argued that Mussolini
's ideology was not the stone's fault and if you leave the Colosseum
standing (a site of brutal organized bloodbaths, after all) then why not this relic from a more recent chapter of history? It may be a fair point, but still seeing the inscription and mosaics with Mussolini's name here does feel a bit disconcerting.
The 300-tonne marble obelisk was even laboriously (and expensively) refurbished in 2006 to make it shine as white again as if it was new.
The sports complex remained in use as such and was even expanded to now include a swimming stadium and a tennis centre. In 1960 the area hosted the Olympic Games. The main Olympic Stadium was rebuilt and enlarged for the 1990 football World Cup and is still the main venue for Roman matches. It is also used for large-scale pop concerts (such as British neo-prog-rock giants Muse in 2013).
What there is to see: The largest original element of the complex by area is the Stadio dei Marmi, or stadium of marble (statues). The 60 or so marble muscle-men that ring this race-track stadium were of course intended to inspire a cult of hardened, fit and battle-ready masculine bodies in the typical fascist fashion, and in this case borrowing heavily from antiquity too. So lots of naked males in powerful poses, marching purposefully forward or wielding rackets and other sports gear.
From today's perspective, though, many of these statues look rather more comical than awe-inspiring and it's hard to take them seriously. Some of the sports depicted also remain rather obscure so you're often left scratching your head for several reasons at once. Images say more than words – so instead of any verbal descriptions take a look at the photo gallery below
And then there are the mosaics, especially on the Piazzale del Foro Italico between the obelisk and the Olympic Stadium. Apart from encountering more sports glorification you can also see phrases such as “DVCEANOI” set in black stones into the pavement. It's a pseudo-Roman spelling of “Duce a noi”, i.e. 'our leader' in Italian! Often the phase, or just the word “Duce”, is repeated over and over again – just like the chanting in unison at mass rallies at the time. It's creepy!
You can also find references to Italy
's occupation of Ethiopia in 1936, celebrated as a great imperial achievement, but of course without mentioning any of the atrocities committed against civilians or the use of chemical weapons (mustard gas) in that war.
The single grandest monument to Mussolini
still standing, however, is the huge marble obelisk that marks the entrance to the whole complex. When you first see it you have to rub your eyes twice … but it does indeed say “MUSSOLINI DUX” in big carved letters on the front!
Beyond the obelisk the bridge across the Tiber, Ponte Duca d'Aosta, that leads to the district of Flaminio is also worth a look. At the ends of the bridge you can see several stone reliefs on military themes, including one with a figure that looks uncannily like the Duce himself …
When I was there (in November 2014), the whole scene was additionally given background drama by the thunderstorm clouds that had just blown over and were backlit in deep red by the setting sun. It just enhanced the whole surrealness of the place.
north-west of the city centre of Rome
, in the bend of the Tiber River opposite the district of Flaminio, a good two miles (3.5 km) north of the Vatican
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: out of the centre but not too difficult to get to, some walking is required; freely accessible most of the time.
Details: To get to the Foro Italico it's easiest to take the tram line 2 from the bottom of Via Flaminia just north of Piazza del Popolo in the northern corner of Centro Storico. Get out at the end of the line at Piazza Antonio Mancini and walk in a westerly direction towards the Ponte Duca d'Aosta bridge. You'll already see the Mussolini Dux obelisk on the other side.
The Piazzale del Foro Italico is just behind it, reached by a marble road lined with mosaics, ending in a large circular space with a fountain in the middle and more mosaics ringing it. The Stadio dei Marmi is just behind the circular square to the north.
The area is freely accessible at all normal times. Non-normal times are when there are large-scale sports events or concerts held at the site. It is particularly to be avoided on football league match days when the whole area can be filled with tens of thousands of “tifosi” (fanatic football followers) and cordoned off by the police.
Time required: one to two hours, depending on how long you can marvel at all the marble.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Rome
Another ensemble of architecture from the fascist era can be found in the far south of Rome, the EUR
(short for Esposizione Universale di Roma). This was planned as the site of a World Fair in 1942 – which because of WWII
The prime bit of real estate in this area is what is known as the 'Square Colosseum', a huge marble-clad cube with arched colonnades that do indeed look reminiscent of the ancient Roman Colosseum
. That's no coincidence, of course, as Mussolini
and his fascist architects did indeed borrow heavily from that era of the Roman Empire and even dreamed of recreating a 20th century version of it.
Thankfully that never happened, but these architectural relics of the era's megalomania are imposing reminders of those times. The EUR is now a business district, and there was a recent controversy about plans to sell off the 'Square Colosseum' to private investors.
You can actually see the 'Square Colosseum' in the distance from the train to the airport. To get up close to it you'd have to take the metro (line B to EUR Magliana).
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Rome
- Foro Italico 01 - building now used by RAI
- Foro Italico 02 - Stadio dei Marmi
- Foro Italico 03 - next to the Olympic stadium
- Foro Italico 04 - relics of the 1960 Olympics
- Foro Italico 05 - still in use by amateur athletes
- Foro Italico 06 - stony professionals in fascist masculinity
- Foro Italico 07 - marching forward
- Foro Italico 08 - showing muscle
- Foro Italico 09 - racket-wielding
- Foro Italico 10 - what is he holding there ...
- Foro Italico 11 - somewhat fishy
- Foro Italico 12 - obscure symbolism
- Foro Italico 13 - tight-arsed
- Foro Italico 14 - ball games
- Foro Italico 15 - view from the other end of the Stadio dei Marmi
- Foro Italico 16 - the winner of the sheep-beheading championship perhaps
- Foro Italico 17 - other obscure types of sports
- Foro Italico 18 - bodily engagement
- Foro Italico 19 - maybe an Olympic flutist
- Foro Italico 20 - stern Roman Big Foot
- Foro Italico 21 - Piazzale dei Foro Italico
- Foro Italico 22 - mosaics
- Foro Italico 23 - more glorification of sports
- Foro Italico 24 - bored boxer
- Foro Italico 25 - our leader, our leader, our leader
- Foro Italico 26 - his name is on the other side of that obelisk
- Foro Italico 27 - seen from the front
- Foro Italico 28 - it does indeed still say Mussolini the leader
- Foro Italico 29 - more Duce allusions
- Foro Italico 30 - military glorification
- Foro Italico 31 - cannon loading
- Foro Italico 32 - red sky backdrop