Rome's Other Colosseum
Sunlight through the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Source: (gettyimages.com)
Rome’s ancient Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum, is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. It has stood for almost two thousand years, and stories of events that unfolded there have shaped Western art, history, and even religion. But just a few miles to the south, in the EUR neighborhood largely overlooked by tourists, lies one of the most fascinating buildings in the entire city: the Square Colosseum.
The World Fair
Shortly before the outbreak of World War Two in Europe, Fascist Italy was chosen to host the 1942 World Fair. The year was significant because it marked the 20th anniversary of Mussolini’s March on Rome—the bloodless coup that led him to power. In his mind, this was a perfect opportunity to modernize the infrastructure of the Italian capital, contribute to his propaganda efforts, and showcase the alleged superiority of fascism to the world.
In December of 1936, an independent agency was formed to oversee construction of the site for the Esposizione Universale Roma, and the eponymous neighborhood EUR was born. Several plans were considered and modified, but the master proposal from lead architect Marcello Piacentini was finalized in 1939.
Conceived as a new business district with wide geometric streets, modern offices, and new monuments all sharing the austere rationalist style favored by the Italian Fascists, the neighborhood would allow Rome to expand away from the tangled lanes and cramped quarters of the historic center.
Palazzo Della Civilità Italiana
The centerpiece of EUR is the Palazzo Della Civilità Italiana, built to house the main exhibits for the World Fair. Its sheer travertine marble façade stands nearly 200 feet tall and is studded with a grid of arches, six by nine, that allegedly symbolize the number of letters in Benito Mussolini. It was designed to celebrate the ancient Colosseum, and praise the greatness of Roman civilization.
Atop each of the four faces, a quote from Mussolini is carved into the marble. It translates to “A nation of poets, of artists, of heroes, of saints, of thinkers, of scientists, of navigators, of migrants.” Surrounding the structure, statues symbolizing workers and industry stand taller than life and glorify virtues, trades, and sacrifices of the Italian people.
It was designed in 1937 and construction began the following year. It was inaugurated in November of 1940, but the outbreak of war cast doubt over the future of the World Fair and the entire EUR project.
In 1941, the World Fair in Italy was canceled, but work on the project continued well into the waning days of the war. By 1944, Axis forces were beaten back by the Allied advance northward through the Italian peninsula, and declared Rome an ‘open city,’ demilitarizing it to spare it from total destruction.
After the war, work resumed on the abandoned and partially completed EUR neighborhood. The grand Square Colosseum stood empty for nearly a decade, and it wasn’t until 1953 that it opened to the public. During the Italian economic miracle of the 1950s and ’60s, EUR’s population grew and new businesses finally occupied the office buildings and retail spaces that had been conceived almost a generation earlier.
In 2015 the building was inaugurated as the new global headquarters for Fendi, a luxury Italian fashion house. The building underwent an extensive 18-month renovation that saw it restored and updated to meet the needs of 450 staff members. The ground floor of the building was converted for use as a gallery space and is open to visitors from around the world. The EUR neighborhood has also expanded significantly, and today houses a fascinating mix of architectural styles, award-winning bars and restaurants, and some of the most expensive real estate in Italy.
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