An itinerary meant to discover Italian architecture in the capital during the fascist period
Palace of Italian Civilization (by indeciso42, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
The Palace of Italian Civilization, also known as the Palace of the Civilization of Labor and Square Colosseum, is a monumental building in Rome’s modern EUR district and probably one of the most iconic of both Fascist-period architecture and the EUR district.
The design of the building owns its shapes to three notorious architects: Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Lapadula and Mario Romano. They initially envisaged a building of cubic shape with four facades characterized by the presence of many arches, 77 per facade (11 in length and 7 in height). In the later practical realization of the project, however, the arches were decreased to 54 (9 in length and 6 in height).
Construction began in July 1938, and the site was still incomplete as early as 1940. During the war, the building served first as an encampment for German and then Allied troops. It was also the scene of a battle that took place on September 9, 1943, immediately after the Armistice: on the steps towards the Tiber, the German paratroopers, stationed near the old Magliana Bridge, and the Italian soldiers, engaged in an attempt to slow down the former’s advance towards the center of Rome, clashed.
In the postwar period, the building hosted the 1953 International Agricultural Exposition and was used as the headquarters of the National Federation of Knights of Labor and for other ministerial uses.
Architecturally, the Palace is seen as an example of regime architecture because it adheres almost entirely to the formal scheme imposed by the ideological, monumentalism spirit that had now emerged in Italy after fifteen years of fascism. The very choice of travertine, in addition to responding to the aforementioned need to return to the tradition of the Roman Empire, served to satisfy the autarkic (economic self-sufficiency) desires of the regime. With it, in fact, it wanted to show its economic self-sufficiency and the ability to construct a building of such dimensions using only stone, the use of iron and concrete being made difficult by their scarce availability resulting from the aforementioned League of Nations sanctions.
The structure is a parallelepiped with a square base 60 meters high and rests on a stepped base. On each of the four façades is carved in monumental Roman capitals the phrase, “a people of poets of artists of heroes / of saints of thinkers of scientists / of navigators of transmigrators,” a quotation from a speech Mussolini gave on Oct. 2, 1935, in defiance of the sanctions ventilated by the League of Nations against Italy following the Ethiopian War.
In the arches of the ground floor are 28 statues (6 for the fronts facing Viale Della Civiltà del Lavoro and the staircase, and 8 on the other two fronts), each allegorical of the virtues of the Italian people: clockwise starting from the first on the left of the front on Viale Della Civiltà del Lavoro are the allegories of heroism, music, craftsmanship, political genius, social order, labour, agriculture, philosophy, commerce, industry, archaeology astronomy, history, inventive genius, architecture, law, the primacy of navigation, sculpture, mathematics, the genius of theater, chemistry, printing, medicine, geography, physics, the genius of poetry, painting, and military genius. At the four corners of the base are many equestrian monuments depicting the Dioscuri, two characters from Greek, Etruscan and Roman mythology known as protectors of sailors during sea storms and associated with the constellation Gemini).
The palace today is the headquarters of the well-known fashion house Fendi and can be visited free of charge Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.