Alice, Maguire Fellow in Italy

Alice is a graduate student in the Meadows School of the Arts’ Ph.D. program in art history, RASC/a (Rhetorics of Art, Space, and Culture). She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship for summer 2014 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU to conduct research in Italy. At archives including the Archivio Centrale dello Stato di Rome and the UN archives in Florence, she intends to investigate Mussolini’s aspirations for Rome and the changes he wished to make to its spatial structure.

Mussolini’s rhetoric of space: Locating discourse within the city

AliceSpace is key in shaping the bodies that inhabit it. The affective experience of space is formative in our understanding of ourselves and others, and it is central to the construction of the nation. In Fascist Italy these affective experiences were manipulated, resulting in tragic events. Unity, order, coherence and belonging were concepts associated with architectural projects.

The archives in Rome hold several documents regarding the changes in the city’s urban fabric throughout its history. The modern-era documents are held at the Archivio Centrale dello Stato di Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale in Rome, Archivio Fratelli Alinari, Istituto Luce (Gestione Archivi Alinari), American Academy in Rome, and the UN archives in Florence. I am exploring the architectural and urbanist projects of the Fascist government in Italy, particularly the physical changes to the city of Rome (focusing on the Master Plan of 1931) and the ideological discourse permeating these changes and the interest of Fascism in the affective potential of space.

It was in the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia that some of Benito Mussolini’s most iconic speeches were delivered. Mussolini stood facing the Piazza Veneza and at the right side of the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele, also known as the Altare della Patria. This “altar of the nation” stands at one end of the Via del Corso while the Piazza del Popolo, where remains of the ancient wall of the city are visible, stands in the other.

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II (also known as Altare della Patria), inaugurated in 1911. Photo credit: Alice

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II (also known as Altare della Patria), inaugurated in 1911. Photo credit: Alice

Palazzo Venezia, seen from the steps of the Altare della Patria. Photo credit: Alice

Palazzo Venezia, seen from the steps of the Altare della Patria. Photo credit: Alice

The large avenue catering to the gathering of a large crowd framed by two spaces already stamped in the populace’s imagination (the Altare and the Piazza del Popolo) was Mussolini’s preferred setting. It is no wonder since the place and its symbolism resonated with Mussolini’s rhetoric, creating an affective experience, which reinforced the idea of a united and strong Italian nation. Several rulers before, and many after Mussolini all over the world, have made use of strategies like these.

In the case of Rome, the objective was always to align the present with the Roman past through the unearthing of the ancient monuments and framing them through modern urbanist strategies. Nevertheless, it was also about what space and the affective experiences it engendered could do, and as Fascism has shown, it has much it can do.

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