The Palazzo dei Congressi
|The Palazzo dei Congressi as designed by Adalberto Libera|
The Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e Congressi was built between 1939 and 1954 after a design by Adalberto Libera. It was originally envisioned for the world fair of 1942, which was cancelled because of World War II. The Palazzo is located in the Esposizione Universale di Roma (EUR)district of Rome,which was originally designed to house this exhibition. The Palazzo was built to enhance the prestige of and legitimize the Fascist regime. This was desireable because of the criticism of the international community for the invasion of Ethiopia and the rise of Nazi Germany which threatened to outshine fascist Italy. To achieve this purpose the Palazzo was monumental in size to impress the viewer and contained multiple frescoes which detailed the glory of ancient Rome, the Rome of the papal state as well as fascist Italy. It thereby placed fascist Rome as the natural evolution of the empires of the past and thereby legitimized its aggression and used the past glory of Rome to enhance the prestige of the fascist regime.
|The mall of EUR, fotographed at EUR Spa|
The Esposizione Universale di Roma (EUR) is the world exhibition of Rome. World exhibitions are internationally prestigious events which showcase the latest technological advances as well as cultural aspects from different countries around the world. The EUR was also built to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the March on Rome, a pivotal event in the takeover of power of the fascist regime. The EUR was initially envisioned during the Second Italo-Abyssinan War, for which Italy faced harsh criticism from the international community, including sanctions. The EUR therefore offered the opportunity to respond to these challenges.
The three major objectives of the EUR were defined by the organizers as:
- Affirmation of the power and prestige of Fascist Italy in all fields;
- The realization of the Mussolinian project of the Rome of the sea;
- The creation of a new monumental quarter.
The first goal was primarily aimed at foreign visitors who had to be impressed by the exhibition and the organizer, Mussolini. This had to be achieved by an exhibition of a broad range of topics to achieve maximum effect. The EUR therefore had many themes, ranging from Italian civilization to autarchy. The second goal was to highlight the link between Rome and the Mediterranean and by extension the new Fascists conquests in the Mediterranean. This was achieved by extending the city of Rome towards the port of Ostia. The final goal showed that most of the quarter would be retained and used for other purposes after the exposition. This explains the use of the Palazzo as a congress center after the EUR and its planned use as a reception hall during the exhibition.
According to Piacentini the surpreme objective of the exhibition was "to reaffirm in a most authoritative, most expressive, most universal manner the prestige of Fascist Italy in all fields" and in particular as "courteous competition between the two hegemonic empires.", Germany and Italy. These two countries were both heavily involved in the Spanish Civil War as well as extending their borders, at the time that the EUR was planned. Thus the primary objective was to establish Italy as at least an equal of Germany.
Marcello Piacentini, Master plan of EUR, 1939,
showing axes and positions of major buildings
The EUR consisted of one central road, the via Imperiale. The via Imperiale connects the city of Rome to the port of Ostia. The road is intersected by multiple side roads (see fig 2.)which form axis with the central road mimicking Roman road design. These axis are from north to south:
1. axis of civilization
2. axis of empire
3. axis of society
4. axis of entertainment
The palazzo (A) is located along the axis of civilization together with the palazzo della civilita Italiana (B),commonly known as square coloseum. The name of this axis primarily originates from the square colloseum, whose official name is the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana. The axis of empire showcases the conquests in Ethiopia in the Piazza Imperiale in the centre (D). The Museo della civilta romana in the east showcases the Roman Empire, thereby comparing ancient and modern Rome. The axis is completed by the Teatro Imperiale. The axis of society represents the pillars of fascist society, the Church of Saint Paul and Peter (F) representing the church and the Autarchia e Corporativisimo complex (E) symbolizing autarchy and corporatism. Finally the axis of entertainment contains building dedicated to both entertainment and agriculture.
The Square Colosseum is opposite of the Palazzo dei Congressi. As its name suggests it is reminiscent of the colosseum, a resemblance which is further strengthened by the classicistic sculptures adjoining the building. The whole axis thereby reminds the viewer of the grandeur of ancient Rome. By showcasing Italian civilization, the visitor is reminded even more of the ancient past. The building thereby celebrates the past of the city and makes that past part of the new EUR. Just after entering the EUR, on the right side a relief can be seen on the side of the Palazzo della Uffizi, depicting numerous scenes from the history of Rome in chronological order from top to bottom. The relief starts with the rural beginnings of the city of Rome represented by ploughing, followed by some scenes about the early days of Rome including a representation of the early city with the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. After these scenes, Augustus can be seen, recognisable due to his resemblance of the Augustus Prima Porta and the Ara Pacis next to him. This is followed by the Pantheon, the column of Trajan and the Arch of Titus. The arch is the starting point of a scene depicting the scenes on the arch with an emperor leading a triumphal procession with the menorah of the temple of Jerusalem depicting the spoils of the Jewish war. This is followed by the colosseum which was built using these spoils. The vision of Constantine forms the smooth transition to the Rome of the popes, which is depicted using the raising of the obelisk next to Saint Peter, as well as more generic scenes. Finally after the monument of Victor Emmanuel, a scene of Mussolini, seated on a horse to increase his prestige is shown. He is surrounded by women and children, to show him as a man of the people. In addition soldiers and squadristi are shown as well as flags, to represent Mussolinis role as a military figure. The eagle standards further emphasize this as well as place it in the tradition of ancient Rome. This effect is strengthened as the scene is depicted after numerous scenes of the history of Rome, thereby making Mussolini appear as the rightful heir of Rome. The relief thus glorifies Mussolini as a new emperor and legitimizes his Rome as the logical evolution of the city from history.
|Relief Palazzo della Uffizi depicting early Roman history||Relief Palazzo della Uffizi depicting Ancient Rome||Relief Palazzo della Uffizi depicting Mussolini|
2. The Palazzo dei Congressi
The Palazzo was built to welcome international leaders to conferences and receptions. It is strategically placed within EUR, and located close to the grand Porta Imperiale. This is the main road where the guests would arrive in EUR. The Palazzo is one of the first buildings that is visible from the entrance of EUR. The purpose of this is to create the impression that the Palazzo is representational for both the EUR and the fascist movement. The building is 133 meters long and 75 meters wide and without much ornaments and decorations on the outside. Marble columns and arches characterize the building. This is typical fascist architecture, as it is spacious and symmetric (see par. 2.1). Both the Square Colosseum and the Palazzo are located on higher grounds compared to the main road, which creates the illusion that these buildings are bigger than they are. By doing so, Mussolini tried to make the fascist movement look more competent in the eyes of international leaders who would come to visit Fascist Italy.
The fascists commissioned Adalberto Libera to construct the Palazzo dei Congressi. Soon after Libera started there were several changes to his design. The original circular and indistinct plan for the main congress hall was substituted by a rectangular one. This integrated into the overall structure of the building, as it was more functional. Libera became increasingly displeased because of the several modifications to the Palazzo demanded by the fascist regime. He was determined to maintain some of the stylistic aspects of his project, so he refused the request of the fascists to add capitals to the columns on the front side of the Palazzo. Therefore the Palazzo would have had a different style when it was completed the way Libera intended it, as it would have been more decorated. The final version of the model could be described as "rigorously symmetrical". The introduced changes to the design of the Palazzo illustrates that the fascists wanted to create imperial architecture. This imperial architecture was a way to help build the vision Mussolini had of a unified fascist Italy.
In 1939 Vucetich, along with 33 other artist was invited to submit a proposal for a quadriga intended to be placed on the front-side of the palazzo. Because of World War II it was never realized. The appearance of the building would then have been more classicistic than it appears today (see fig. 3). The main reason that the fascists wanted a quadriga on top of the palazzo, was to link themselves in yet another way to ancient Rome. Furthermore the quadriga was a symbol of triumph.
Upon entering the Palazzo there is a monumental atrium leading to a grand reception hall with a congress space for approximately 3000 people. The atrium contains a fresco which was commissioned to Achille Funi and called 'all roads lead to Rome'. This fresco is painted in an academic and classical style and was meant to be a permanent signature for the building. It is made to legitimize the existence of Fascism. On this painting there are three Roman emperors depicted to the left- and three popes depicted to the right of Roma, who is crowned in the middle. The Tiber God is lying at her feet representing the city as the center of all cultures. On the left panel there are different episodes from the mythology of ancient Rome, the most prominent narrative is the sack of Troy. This is also linked to the foundation of Rome by the depiction of Aeneas and Romulus and Remus. Below is Apollo or Orpheus representing the arts. The subject of Funi's fresco perfectly summarizes the intended apotheosis of the Fascist regime, which was doing everything in its power to earn a secure place in Rome's glorious history. The title of Funi's fresco can also be read today as an ironic metaphor for the regime's attempt to dominate and centralize cultural activities during the second decade of its regime, a period during which 'romanita', the cult of medieval Rome, became dominant. The mythical status of the city and its symbolic resonance had been part of the Italian heritage since the time of the Roman Empire. The painting was never completed as can be seen below. It is unclear what Funi wanted to paint on the right side of the fresco. We know however that it probably also would have been related to ancient Rome as this was the intented purpose of this fresco.
|Left side of Funi's fresco 'all roads lead to Rome'||The centre of Funi's fresco 'all roads lead to Rome'|
|The mosaic panels in the main halls|
The square main hall of the Palazzo dei Congressi was meant to be decorated by four mosaic panels. The panels would have been arranged in chronological order with the theme 'origins' on the left upon entering, which would depict the foundation of Rome. The idea was to continue the thread of Funi's propaganda. The two foundation myths (Aeneas and Romulus/Remus) and the period of the Roman Republic would have been depicted on this panel. The sequence (continuing anti-clockwise) with the most important theme as last (The Rome of Mussolini) placed so that it was the first to be seen after the fresco of Funi (on the wall opposing the entrance). On the second wall there would have been the 'empire panel'. The Rome of Mussolini was also intentionally placed opposite of the Empire panel to make a direct connection between the Rome of the ancient Empire and the fascist one. This also continues the propaganda the fresco of Fruni started. The third panel was the 'church' and the last panel was the Rome of Mussolini. These four mosaic panels represent a cycle. This cycle would operate in distinct, but related ways. Firstly, because it was an integrated decorative element of the Palazzo's main hall, so each mosaic panel acted between art and architecture. This creates an effect that cannot be made with a painting for example. Secondly, their positioning creates both a temporal sequence and an oppositional relationship. This means that the subjects communicated with each other across the main hall. Finally, the subject matter of historical events were made to propagate upon the viewer's recognition of the Roman history. If it had been completed as planned, the Palazzo dei Congressi would be the example of the integration between art and architecture. Also Mussolini would be presented like he was the natural successor of both the church and the emperors, the relief also contains a similar message (see par. 1.4). With the social and historical context of fascist Italy this main hall was woven into its political program to present the permanency of the Fascist regime.
Adalberto Libera, Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e Congressi.
Plan showing location of mosaics, section, exterior photographs.
|Arrangement of mosaic panels for the main hall|
The Palazzo dei Congressi is currently used for all sorts of events, such as political debates, workshops and fashion shows. Technological services are also installed for ICT and other purposes. An exhibition is held annually with the subject "the more books, the freer you are", organized by the association of Italian publishers. On the rear end of the Palazzo there is also an entrance. At this atrium there are multiple paintings of modern art. The propagandistic aspects of the structure are still sensible for visitors, however some Italians see the Palazzo as ironical because they affiliate it with the events nowadays. Also the subject "the more books, the freer you are", inspired by Italian diaspora, is of course not really validating the nationalistic point of view that Mussolini had.
The palazzo was planned while Italy was faced with opposition from the world community for its war in Ethiopia and while it was engaged in a competition with Germany over the role as dominant nationalistic government in Europe. To alleviate these problems the EUR was planned, which would attempt to show the greatness of the new empire and justify its place as a new major power. The palazzo dei Congressi as a representative building had a crucial role in solving these problems. This can, despite the fierce objection of Libera, be seen in the architecture, as it is monumental in scale and was supposed to include a quadriga, a common symbol of power. These had the function of impressing the viewer upon first seeing the building. The fresco in the atrium reminds viewers of the Rome of the emperors and the church. This is even more obvious in the reception hall, where the Rome of Mussolini is shown in the same cycle as ancient and medieval Rome, as well as opposite the entrance and thereby the fresco of Funi. By this positioning, the Rome of Mussolini is legitimized as the logical continuation of the ancient Rome. By referring to the expansionist rulers of Rome in the past, the current expansionist policy is also justified. In addition, by comparing the new Italy to the Italy of old, the new Italy is seen as a continuation of the glory of the ancient Rome, thereby enhancing its prestige.