The EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma) district of Rome is far from the most visited regions of the city, but it is home to one of my favourite buildings in the entire world: the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana.
It takes a twenty-minute train journey from Roma Termini on Metro line B to reach EUR Magliana station in the south of the city, and it instantly feels as though you are emerging into a quiet, largely forgotten suburb after the noise of the centre.
The EUR district was developed to be the venue of the 1942 World Fair––the intervention of the Second World War meaning the event never actually took place––and was completed in the 1950s and 1960s, to serve as an out-of-city business district. Nowadays, it is home to many fine museums, like the Museo Nazionale delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari and the Museo della Civiltà Romana, although at the time that I visited, like so much of the area, I found them practically deserted.
Directly across from the train station, beyond a small park and a line of stone pine trees, one building rises prominently above a host of other neoclassical structures: the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is a stunning white cube of perfection. It is sometimes referred to as the Square Colosseum. Each vertical side of the cube has 54 arched openings in a regular 9×6 grid, giving the allusion that it is composed of more thin air than solid structure.
I love it. But there is a problem.
The construction of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana was initiated by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The building, itself, was intended as an icon to Fascism. Is it possible to separate the aesthetic beauty of the structure from its political symbolism?
Perhaps, as with so many other things, Time is a healer? In the same way that the Roman Colosseum, which was a source of inspiration for the design of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, can now be viewed with a degree of separation from the barbarous entertainments, which once took place within its walls, maybe so can the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana be similarly rehabilitated?
Indeed, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana could be viewed as an icon to the collapse of Fascism, and the entire EUR district a tribute to the resurgence of the Italian state post the Mussolini period.
However, I fear that I may be guilty of ‘the lady doth protest too much’. No amount of spin can distract from the simple fact that the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is emblematic of fascist architecture. It also doesn’t alter the fact that I think that it is a truly beautiful building.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny attempts to compartmentalise her aesthetics and her ideologies.
E. C. Glendenny bangs on about some of her other Italian encounters in Easy Pickings: Selected Travel Writing.