The Arc of Memory:  The Legacies of Mussolini and Fascism
“Every force evolves a form,” goes the Shaker proverb.  My work has been about how economic, political, cultural and social forces “take shape,” are inscribed in our physical environment.  I also trace the return trip – “every form evolves a force” – to show how our built environment itself shapes our lives. I have written and edited books about the destruction and rebuilding of New York City – in reality and in the imagination; the history of the preservation movement; the ideas of urbanist Jane Jacobs; the geography of terror of the 1970s dictatorship in Argentina. 
A thread that ties these books together is a confrontation with the fact that all people in all places face the dilemma of what of their physical landscape should be brought from the past into the future, and what stories they will tell about those places.  How different nations, communities, and individuals answer respond to that dilemma, according to a contest of ideas, values, and economic and social systems, constitutes what I like to call a politics of the past.  
In 2016 the United States will mark the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, which established the laws and policies that shape every aspect of preservation work in the United States.  This anniversary gives us an opportunity to reconsider how we think about preservation so that the historic preservation movement contributes to building more sustainable, meaningful, and just communities.
One way in which historic preservation can contribute to a better society is to help reveal the physical manifestations of our history, including events and episodes and structures that go against contemporary values.  Through historic preservation, we can literally “see what we have wrought.”  This, to my mind, most interesting effort within historic preservation, is often called the movement for “sites of conscience.”  I find that name too limited.  I prefer the broader and more blunt term “difficult places.”
The question I have been asking in recent years is:  Can we infuse new life into the preservation movement by creatively preserving and interpreting sites connected with our difficult pasts?   My Rome Prize project has been to ask:  How has Italy, in its capital city, preserved and interpreted sites related to its fascist past?  What places have leaders and citizens consciously or unconsciously forgotten?  What innovative efforts have been made, in art and politics, to remember?  And, finally, what lessons might we in the United States learn from this ongoing debate? 
If Germany’s memorial efforts can be called the “art of never forgetting” and Buenos Aires efforts to bring the perpetrators of state terror to justice “the art of memory for legal justice,” Italy’s engagement with its fascist past in the city might best be called “the art of forgetting.” While there is much that has been written by Italian scholars about the rise of fascism, there is a disturbing lack of effort by the city and nation to confront – with the help of artists and architects -- Mussolini’s legacy in the urban environment.
So much of contemporary Rome was shaped by Mussolini.  He made massive changes, including laying down roads, such as the Via Imperiali, which slices right through the Roman Forums, and the Via della Conciliazione, which created a wide axial road to the Vatican and necessitated the demolition of hundreds of homes).  He also tore down countless buildings to expose the Roman past.  The intervening two millennia held little interest; embracing “Romanità” was Mussolini’s goal. Finally, we still have several overtly propagandistic sites, the Foro Italico (once the Foro Mussolini) and the EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma), the former used as originally intended – a sports complex – and the latter repurposed as a center for business and residences.
There are numerous reasons for Italy and Rome’s recalcitrance in dealing forthrightly in the urban environment with the Mussolini legacy.  Others suggest that there is a commitment to the notion of Italians as “brava gente,” good people, and therefore hardly to blame for Mussolini’s “excesses,” and certainly in comparison to the Nazi’s.  There is no need for ongoing reflection, they argue. Silvio Berlusconi’s regime implicitly and explicitly encouraged a positive re-evaluation of Mussolini and has helped lead to an open celebration of Mussolini and his buildings. And, finally, there are many who decry the fact that despite their long history, Romans simply have little interest in reflecting on their history.
There are many reasons for the apparent blind eye given to a twenty-year period of Mussolini’s rule in Rome and Italy.  But the end result is that there is a huge and disturbing problem:  one of the central movements shaping Rome, and one that ultimately was closely tied to the fascist regime to the north, is represented in buildings and spaces all across this capital city, but without commentary or interpretation.  Seen and used by millions, from Italy and around the world, a controversial urban landscape is left mute.
The following photographs document a few of the diverse sites of memory of fascism in the urban landscape.

Max Page, Adachiara Zevi and a Stolperstein, in Trastevere, 2014

One of the innovative efforts to reveal the fascist-era history in the urban landscape is the use of “stolpersteine” which were pioneered in Germany. These small brass squares have been placed in front of the homes of people deported by the fascists and Nazis – Jews but others as well. Adachiara Zevi and her Arteinmemoria foundation have spearheaded this effort, inviting the founder of the idea, Gunther Demming, to Rome each year to install several around the city.

Max Page, Fasces, 2014

The Roman military “fasces” – a bundle of sticks with an axe – became a key fascist symbol and was affixed to public buildings, fountains, drains. And even door stops. Many were removed after the war, but unevenly. Throughout the city, it is easy to find this fascist symbol.

Max Page, The Name of Mussolini, 2014

Mussolini remade the plaza around the tomb of Augustus and was sure to include fascist symbols and his own name on the walls of the new buildings. Part of the name had been obscured, revealing only “musso” which is slang for “donkey.” But recently, perhaps in the midst of an avowedly fascist mayor, the cover was taken off and Mussolini’s name again looks out over the Piazza Augusto Imperatore he built.

Max Page, Foro Italico Mosaics, 2014

The mosaics of the Foro Italico (formerly Foro Mussolini) constitute one of the largest mosaic projects in Rome since ancient times. Walked over by thousands every day. The mosaics celebrate fascism’s achievements (including the brutal invasion of Ethiopia) and Mussolini’s glorious leadership, with the phrase “il Duce” repeated dozens of times.

Max Page, Stadium of Marbles, 2014

Adjacent to the large football stadium, is an outdoor track, the Stadio dei Marmi, ringed by statues of naked male athletes.

Max Page, Mussolini Dux, 2014

"Mussolini Leader" declares the words on the obelisk which mark the entrance to the Foro Italico.

Max Page, Via di Conciliazione, 2014

In honor of the 1929 pact between Mussolini and the Vatican, the fascist leader cut a wide swath through the dense Vatican streets, in order to open up a wide avenue connecting St. Peter’s Basilica to Castel San Angelo and the Tiber.

Max Page, Luigi Moretti’s Gioventù Italiana del Littorio, 2014

This youth center in Trastevere is an outstanding work of one of the finest architects of the time, Luigi Moretti. He was also one of the truest believers in fascism and Mussolini, thereby making the preservation and veneration of this building complicated. Anchored by an open-air tower for exercise, the building still displays the slogan: “It is necessary to win, more necessary to fight.”
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