There are hardly any streets in Rome that offer nearly as much in its half mile length as Via dei Fori Imperiali.
From controversy and fascism, to Imperial Forums, famous ancient and modern monuments, possibly the world’s first indoor shopping mall, one of the top must-visit museums in Rome, and a good ol fashion afternoon passeggiata with live entertainment. You can spend a WHOLE day exploring this area, its rich and colorful history, art and architecture and controversies…and that’s exactly what we’re doing in this episode.
BONUS FEATURE segment on the official A Road Retraveled Travel App: I’ll take you down to an ancient Roman prison, that although it’s officially part of the Roman Forum, it was built around 600 BC on the slope of Capitoline Hill….and according to legend, among the many high profile prisoners incarcerated here, were two of the most famous and influential catholic saints. If you haven’t already, you can purchase the A Road Retraveled app from the iTunes app store
Via dei Fori Imperiali is a half mile long highly controversial road, built by a extremely disliked dictator. in 1931, the leader of Italy’s National Fascist Party, the infamous Benito Mussolini, disregarded ancient Roman structures, churches, and homes as he demolished the area to build a road connecting Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Colosseo.
Did Mussolini have in mind to make it easier for future throngs of tourists to mosey on between these two famous piazzas comfortably on a wide boulevard? Hmmm, not exactly. This road was not built for a perfect passeggiata, but perfect for a triumphal march or parade…designed to imitate the Ancient Roman Emperors Constantine, Titus, and Severus, but lacking their triumphal arches located in and outside the Roman Forum. Mussolini did not intend to just connect the 2 famous piazzas, but symbolically connect the headquarters of his Fascist Party’s power established in Piazza Venezia… with the power of the Ancient Roman emperors in the Roman Forum, leading to the Colosseum, the ultimate symbol of Ancient Rome’s grandeur. And to satisfy his imperial ego, nothing stood in his way, not ancient landmarks and portions of the forums, not sacred churches and monasteries, not entire neighborhoods whose residents were displaced against their will.
The fascist aspiration to be more like Ancient Roman emperors was not limited to symbolically linking the two for egotistical gratification, but also aspired to follow the imperial model of colonisation. You can see this in the bronze maps lined along the wall of the Basilica of Maxentius that served as Mussolini’s imperial propaganda.
The 4 maps chronicle Imperial Rome’s stages of expansion starting with 8th century BC when Rome was founded, then the extended borders of Rome after the 2nd century B.C. Punic Wars, an even larger Roman Empire as it was when Emperor Augustus died, and finally at its peak during the reign of Emperor Trajan. Why did it stop there? Because after that, the Roman Empire began to decline. There was a 5th bronze map that was destroyed after the fall of Mussolini and his Fascist regime. It consisted of Mussolini’s dreamed up expansion of Italy into Middle East, Turkey and Africa. The destroyed map was eventually found, but nothing became of it. Some things, are better off left behind.
Just like his idol, Julius Caesar, Mussolini met a similar fate….Julius Caesar was assassinated by his senators on the steps of Rome’s Theater of Pompey after he declared himself dictator for life, and when Mussolini fell from power as the Allies moved into Italy during War War II, he was executed by Italian communist partisans by Lake Como as he tried to flee the country. Perhaps Mussolini should have NOT aspired to be a dictator considering the fate of the self proclaimed dictator before him. Some people just have to learn their lesson the hard way and don’t learn from history.
When we stroll along via dei Fori Imperiali, Mussolini doesn’t even come to mind like the ancient Roman emperors do…Mussolini, the unsung tyrant.
Let’s start off with Piazza Venezia…it’s rather chaotic with its large traffic loop and bus stops.
Although the piazza takes its name from Palazzo Venezia, the former embassy of the city of the Republic of Venice, it’s actually known for the imposing, yet ostentatious Monument to the first king of the unified Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II. It also goes by the name of Il Vittoriano….and an array of other colorful nicknames like the wedding cake, the typewriter and the false teeth due to its stacked and crowded architecture and blinding white frosting-like marble.
Controversy did not spare THIS monument either! In order for it to be built in early 1900’s, a large area of the Capitoline Hill and a Medieval neighborhood had to be sacrificed at the altar of progress…Combining this with a design that doesn’t fit into the architectural tone of its surroundings, helps explain the derogatory nicknames bestowed upon it.
But it HAS redeeming qualities!! The monument also installed the high profile Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after War World I with an eternal flame guarded beneath the statue of Italy. The body of one among the remains of 11 unknown soldiers was chosen in 1921 by Maria Bergamas whose only son was killed during the war and whose body was never recovered.
As you climb towards to top of the Vittoriano, you get a splendid view of the piazza before you.
NEXT EPISODE: In part 2 of this series, we’re going to mosey on next door to Capitoline Hill, one of the 7 hills Rome was built on and one of the richest sites of ancient history and architecture, especially some of the architecture designed by Michelangelo, an prominent ancient equestrian bronze that survived as a result of mistaken identity, as well as a treasure trove of ancient and more recent pieces of art and artifacts displayed in the famous Capitoline Museums.