In ancient Rome, for those convicted of particularly serious crimes, it was a common practice for post-mortem by the removal of all written and any existing monuments of the individual in question. This happened to many Roman emperors, such as Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Maxentius, Didio Giuliano. There were, then, other men and women who suffered such penalty: famous is the case of Geta, the son of Severus, whose name was deleted from the Arch of Septimius Severus.
This is called “damnatio memoriae”, condemnation of memory. Those policyholders who were affected, saw erased all traces which could hand down to posterity their memory.
This practice continued in later periods. During the medieval period, damnatio memoriae struck even some popes, including Pope Formoso, after an attempted coup.
And yet, during the twentieth century, damnatio memoriae has befallen many characters and political ideologies, in many countries and areas in the world. Among the best known examples, the cancellation of the symbols of Nazi Germany or the removal of monuments erected in honor of Francisco Franco in Spain. Same fate for the many statues of the personalities of the Soviet Communist Party, which were also removed or destroyed. With the fall of the Soviet Union the previous names were returned from those changed after the Revolution, such as Leningrad, named in honor of Russian authorities.
Immediately after the war, with the birth of the Republic, a similar fate befell Fascism in Italy. In Italian history, deeply influenced by the rampant anti-fascist rhetoric that has been attributed to Benito Mussolini and his Movement, there has given rise to a distorted and artificial, functional to a false vision and partial truth, boundless in a real damnatio memoriae. A fundamental role had which many historians have dubbed “Vulgate Resistance” of Italian contemporary history, imposed from above to the sound of silence, distortions and omissions. A vision, we might call “dogmatic” and “unchangeable”, which originated from the ideology that legitimized the existence, or anti-fascism that had permeated every sphere of civil society.
Faced with the large number of studies, analysis and research, gradually and laboriously, allowed to enter other significant pieces in the complex ideological and cultural mosaic of Fascism, it seems incomprehensible the lack of a single view of the validity of that political conception -dottrinale, universally approved – even praised – in some of its peculiarities. The forced oblivion to which fascism succumbed since the war has meant a progressive destruction of that culture which, for over twenty years, an entire nation was informed and enriched. A theme, that of culture, on which, for too long, we paused awkwardly and entrusted to a reductive vision and illogical, that Fascism could not, by definition, have had an intellectual elite capable of transmitting a innovative vision, constructive and refined in the field of politics, economy and even in art.
And it is the theme of art, and especially architecture, on which, over the decades, have risen fuss of controversies and disputes of all kinds, some of which are grotesque, almost comical. We still remember distinctly the statements, a couple of years ago, the President of the Chamber, Laura Boldrini, that it was necessary to “delete the word” Dux “obelisk erected in 1932 in the Foro Italico. An “iconoclastic” vision, that of the Boldrini, worthy of the worst Islamist group. Lately, however, something seems to be changing. In today’s cultural context, in spite of the barren and censorship controversies that we have mentioned, the debate on architecture during the Fascist period has probably reached a turning point. Aided by the keen interest resulted in the international arena, which made the Italian Rationalism and, in general, the period between the wars in our country, one of the most contemporary architectural chapters studied in the major universities of the world, today we are witnessing a slow but inexorable appreciation of this priceless heritage.
Because the fascist architectural styles, whatever people may say, have produced elegant and artistically valuable architecture: both rational that the monumental styles prevalent during that time: an absolute, probably perfect, architectural synthesis able to blend in a unique symbiosis, functionality and aesthetics of lines, colors and shapes. A union unknown to the concept of urban planning of the time and completely divorced from utopia architectural proposal from socialism, capable of creating gray and anonymous concrete monsters. At the same time, this example of architecture, which admirably combining the efficiency and speed of a modern metropolis with ancient and glorious imperial splendor, wanted, also, to contrast the style of bourgeois life to the heroic individualistic and collective. Nothing short of brilliant!The architecture of the Fascist period, in short, in addition to being an expression of the magnificence of the regime, has produced works of architectural and engineering value.
Maximum Fascist architecture ideologist was without a doubt Marcello Piacentini, the great director of all the intense architectural and urban activities that characterized the Fascist Italy. Among his most important works and projects stand out the EUR district in Rome (where we can admire the wonderful Palace of Civilization and Work), Piazza della Vittoria in Brescia (dominated by the Tower INA) and the Palace of Justice in Milan. Marcello Piacentini is a name that stands out in the history of Italian architecture and more. Of course, he also underwent its “damnatio memoriae”: for several years, Piacentini you could not speak nor exalt his artistic figure. However, during the post-war period, his works continued to speak for him and Fascism, until it was impossible to omit and ignore its merits.
Well, in the light of what has been said, the hope is that there is greater awareness about the historical and artistic merits of Fascism. But not only. What I want is to be delivered a judgment more faithful to reality and, above all, free from that aura of hypocrisy which for years has characterized the reading of facts and events that occurred in our country during the Fascist period. Historical criticism on the events, even architectural, of Fascism must necessarily get rid of the ruthless grip of damnatio memoriae that grips the conscience for too long.We believe that the analysis proposed in this article put unequivocally highlight the need to give to Fascism and its work an even clearer legitimacy on issues of art and architecture, which, no doubt, deserve analysis as free as possible from ideological preconceptions whatsoever. In 1941, Marcello Piacentini wrote: “In twenty years of Fascism has built what no other people in the same period has even remotely thought of doing.” And that is why we are hoping for a radical change of direction: from Eur to the farmhouses on the Adriatic Riviera, from Carbonia to Littoria, the architecture of the fascist period to be safeguarded and valued, not canceled!