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of Rome by Philip Greenspun, 1995


Most of Tourist Italy is old and beautiful. It is worth going to EUR, on the southern edge of Rome, to see something new and ugly. Mussolini started work on this huge complex of office buildings and apartment blocks in 1939. It was supposed to host a big exhibition (Esposizione Universale di Roma) in 1942 but the war intervened. Olympic Games were held here in 1960 and now the place is a bit like La Defense in Paris, home to trade shows and miscellaneous companies.

A model of Ancient Rome at the time of Constantine in the Museo della Civilta Romana (Museum of Roman culture) in EUR My favorite part of EUR is the Museum of Roman Civilization (Museo Della Civiltà Romana). It is huge and grand, just the kind of place the Fascists would have liked. It is also incredibly uncomfortable. I was there on a cold December day. Rain came through the roof in spots and fell into the unheated galleries. There are no bathrooms. There are no public phones within a quarter of a mile. You get a good idea of what the world would have been like if the Fascists had prevailed in WWII.

The official highlights of the museum are scale models of Ancient Rome in the 5th century BC and at the time of Constantine (306-337 AD). They are impressive but they are without explanation (the rest of the museum has reasonably good signage in English and Italian).

Don't be deceived by the modern architecture of the apartment houses in EUR into thinking that the inhabitants lead spare modern lives. I was invited for lunch at one of these apartments and the interior was richly decorated with Oriental carpets and antique furniture.

Go to EUR after you've spent some time in Italy and feel how the scale of the place is dehumanizing. Then reflect that major parts of America are built in a very similar manner.

Article created 1995

Readers' Comments

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Joseph LoPresti , June 27, 1998; 02:42 P.M.

L'EUR is modern fascist Rome and not exactly what most tourist come to Rome to see. After having lived 15 years there my only comment is that Viale Europa is still more lively than most North American centres. I now live in Orlando Florida where I only wish our downtown looked like L'EUR !!!!

henny helmich , August 12, 1999; 08:34 A.M.

Dear Philip Between 1985 and 1989, I worked in the Palazzo Civilt` del Lavoro (the unity of labour!), the huge "square colosseum" building which towers over this Roman neighbourhood. The site of EUR is really stunning in its impact it had, and still has on people. It provides a good image of how urban Italy and most of Europe would have looked if the fascists would have won. The organisation for which I worked was an international non-profit, supporting dialogue between people caring about world poverty. It brought regularly together people from the Global North and from the Global South. This international organisation was given hospitality by the Italian government for free in this building because nobody else wanted to use it, and - being international - board members were not sensitive to the reputation of EUR in Italy. Actually some of the leaders, not only from developing countries, were indeed including it happily into their 'canon'of modern western architecture, and liked to come to this "modern" palace. There is one thing which really compares with American architecture and which worries me a lot. Trying to imitate the Romans, the italian fascists wanted to build for history. The Palazzo was supposed to look like the real Colosseum after 20 centuries, and impress the citizens of the world throughout history. However, it was built on the cheap and most of the used building material was glued on the outside of bricks which were already falling apart in the 1970s. What looks like a solid marble building is actually just a facade; for what? It will unfortunately(?) not last many more years... The builders, by the way, did not call it fascist architecture but "idealistic" architecture. Building dehumanising architecture is not limited to fascist regimes. The dehumanising aspect is not only in size but in the intention to imitate past (non-existant) glory and project only a facade. We find this in many moderns civilizations. The inscription on the top of the Palazzo reads: "A people of builders, navigators, poets, heros, artists etc.." and this is a true statement about the Italian people and of many other peoples in the world, and you can see that visiting many of the beautiful cities and countrysides of this stunning beautiful country. Now I am living in Paris, not far from la Defense, the site that you, somewhat unjustified, compare with Roma-EUR. Why do Parisians call la Defense "Manhattan on the Seine"? Philip, I have enjoyed reading your on-line travel stories and a am deeply impressed with your pictures. The real value of these stories and pictures - for me - are the underlying meaning that the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen by the eye but only by the heart, as French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupiry writes in 'The little Prince'. best wishes Henny Helmich Paris, 12 august 1999 henny.helmich@oecd.org

Rae Stiening , March 02, 2000; 01:48 P.M.

The main building at EUR bears a striking resemblance to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

David Wright , August 17, 2002; 12:07 P.M.

Don't be silly; that isn't how the world would look if the fascists had won the war, for any number of reasons (not least of which the likelihood of model/prototype architecture catching on in the mainstream) - and as I remember (I'm sorry if I'm wrong) Italian Rationalism (see also the Casa Del Fascio) wasn't a product of the fascist state, it merely enjoyed Mussolini's favour. Hitler liked Wagner, thats not to say that thats what music would be like if the Nazis had won.

H. P. , February 14, 2003; 03:51 A.M.

E 42 Poster with proposed Arch

Yes, it's probably more accurate to think of Fascist architecture as either the product of Italian Rationalism (a kind of cool, minimalistic modernism) or a variant on the Art Deco style (in this case a stripped down classicism). Granted, much of it is monumental, cold, and uninspired. Part of that is due to the fact that so much of it was in the form of public buildings. They were often built on large undeveloped (or newly razed) tracts over a relatively short time frame, which tends to encourage architectural monotony.

In recent years, there has been some re-evaluation of the qualities of the architecture of this period. It is not entirely fair to dismiss it with the evils of Fascism. Buildings may certainly convey a sense of power and become dehumanizing, but qualities like these are not exclusive to architecture built under dictatorships. There is an understandable natural tendency to project a dark symbolism into Fascist architecture. There is also a remarkable tendency to reinterpret such symbolism when the same forms appear in a democratic context.

For example, do you recognize this structure in the photo I've attached? No, it's not Saarinen's St. Louis Arch, gateway to the American West. It's an unrealized Fascist project for E 42 (now called the E.U.R.).

The U.S. capitol dome was based on a Russian Cathedral. How's that for a separation of church and state? What about its Roman Imperial forms, sanitized and adapted for a new government? Even the city of Washington D.C. shares some of the same urban planning principles that the Nazis and Fascists employed when reshaping their own capitol cities.

How about the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago? The great white city. Classical architecture, on an overpoweringly monumental scale. It helped inspire the City Beautiful movement. But it could have just as easily been the model for an Imperial city.

Some find modernism and minimalism in architecture dehumanizing. Others take pleasure in its clean lines and sleek forms. One may find it all over the world, regardless of political system.

If the Fascists had taken up Art Nouveau (which had some Socialist roots), the Italian Futurists (who inspired the Italian Rationalists), or even Post-Modernism for their preferred building style, what would we think of those styles today?

Joline Kallis , July 31, 2004; 04:09 P.M.

i went there not long ago now maybe 5 days or something and i felt as if i was being watched all the time, cctv cameras on every corner, the tall buildings lookin down over you as if mussolini himself is trying to use you in some facist regime. his idea of tryin to rebuild ancient rome is somewhat of an understatement, he seems to think that he is an emporer and wanted to show that in his buildings. the buildings that represent this are his museums and other government buildings with ugly pillars and horrible design, it is one of the ugliest scariest places i have been to in the sense that ths buildings were built with such evil intent. the square colluseum is laughable and the ugly obelisk is a disgrace to all types of architechture. anyone who says that this is a great place to be or that this is fantastically made needs to understand that these thoughts were of the man mussolini too, and that he was such a megalomaniac that he has street names named after countries in the world, wanting to own everything. it puts rome to shame and shows how such people with such uncontrolable power can and WOULD have done if it wernt for the allies. just think what the area that you live in would look like if hitler prevailed, would you feel safe to go out?

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Tom Adkins , October 15, 2007; 06:50 A.M.

Can anyone tell me what the letters EUR stand for?

Julio Fernández , June 05, 2011; 07:02 P.M.

Universal Exposition of Rome (in the Italian order of wordsit is E U R)

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