Roads and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome

Article excerpt

Roads and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome. By Paul Baxa. [Toronto Italian Studies.] (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2010. Pp. xvi, 232. $55.00. ISBN 978-0-802-09995-2.)

Baxa argues that fascist urban planning in Rome - the sventramenti (gutting) of whole quarters of the old city and the building of new roads - was determined by the experience of World War I and, in particular, the horrors of fighting on the Carso, the eastern front line against Austria-Hungary that now is the border with Slovenia. The fascist veterans of that terrible front allegedly refashioned Rome to reproduce the shattered, ruined landscape of the battlefield and the open spaces of the zone between the Carso and the river Piave, behind which Italian forces regrouped following the catastrophic rout of Caporetto in October 1917. In this way, they could both punish Rome, center of "legal Italy," for its equivocal attitude to the war and reshape the capital according to the experiences of Italy's most recent and important history.

This is not entirely implausible - historians of Italian fascism over the last twenty years have sought to understand its actions by closer reference to its ideologies, passions, and prejudices, and fantasies. But Baxa takes his argument too far. Another part of the explanation might be that the fascist conquerors of the "March on Rome" of October 1922 that enabled Benito Mussolini's rise to power, were overwhelmingly 'northerners' by virtue of their provinces of birth - such as Mussolini (Forlì), Dino Grandi (Bologna), Italo Balbo (Ferrara), Giovanni Giuriati (Brescia), and Cesare Maria De Vecchi (Turin). Like the Piedmontese who seized Rome from the pope in September 1870, the fascists despised Rome and sought to bring it under their control, in both cases by radical town planning.

In their reshaping of Rome, the fascists were inevitably influenced by notions of modernism. The result was the disappearance of many of the "picturesque" smaller streets and squares, and the opening up of the remains of the various forums and the creation of wide, often ceremonial, roads worthy of a twentieth-century capital city. …