Built to the glory of Mussolini for a universal exhibition that never took place, the EUR neighbourhood of Rome provides a unique testimony to the extravagance of Italy’s Fascist past.
Far from the well-trodden tourist paths of Rome’s historic city centre, the EUR district is spread over 400 hectares/1,000 acres to the south of the Italian capital. It was built to house the universal exhibition of 1942, hence its name, an abbreviation of Esposizione Universale di Roma.
Benito Mussolini nurtured a dream of an immense modern district that was to be a glittering showcase that Fascist Italy could exhibit to the rest of the world. The 1942 date was chosen to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Fascist dictatorship. The project’s code name was E42, an abbreviation of Esposizione del 1942. By offering Rome a new district that would embody
“the definitive style of our era : the style of the Fascist era that will not look old-fashioned in 50 or a 100 years’ time”,
Mussolini also sought to make an old Roman dream come true, by extending the Italian capital down to the sea shore.
The plans for the EUR district were drawn up in 1937 by architects and urban planners Giuseppe Pagano, Marcello Piacentini, Luigi Piccinato, Ettore Rossi and Luigi Vietti. The monumental style endeavoured above to all to impress rather than appeal. The design of the edifices, a dozen or so “palaces” devoted to the arts, science and sport, linked together by wide avenues, called upon numerous historic references to the Roman Empire, in an effort to position Italy as the cradle of Western culture.
Work began in 1939, but was interrupted three years later when the Italian capital capitulated before the German troops. World War II felled Mussolini’s dreams of grandeur and the universal exhibition never took place. Unfinished, EUR slowly fell into neglect to such an extent that by the 1950s the district resembled a huge field of ruins.
An eye witness of the era described it as :
“a dead town, both astounding and unsettling, over which a lava of horror seemed to have poured”.
It had also become a bootleg shopping mall for Roman citizens who salvaged abandoned marble, stone and building materials from the ruins. The work was finally finished between 1952 and 1954 and EUR found a new vocation which it continues to enjoy today, that of a business district, also home to several government institutions and a few museums.
While Federico Fellini’s depiction of the famous Trevi fountain is definitely more memorable, the film director also shot a great deal on location in EUR. One scene of La Dolce Vita was in particular shot in the Saint Paul and Peter’s Basilica starring actor Marcello Mastroianni.
The Italian film director said that this neighbourhood was :
“like a studio set that is both real and unreal, where even the people who live here seem to have an impersonal, new, unknown psychology”.
Whilst adding that the neighbourhood’s beauty is also due to its close vicinity to the historic centre of Rome :
“One kilometre away lies the oldest and most gut-rending and chaotic city of the world.”
Getting there : Take underground line B (blue) and get off at EUR Palasport or EUR Fermi station, both located on the edge of the artificial lake in the heart of the district. While most of the emblematic edifices are located close to each other, the distances nonetheless remain quite substantial, so renting a bicycle or a car to get around might be a good idea.
Not to be missed :
- Palazzo della Civilita' del lavoro
Quadrato della Concordia, 00144 Rome
Dubbed the “Square coliseum” due to its 216 arcades along facades that are reminiscent of those of the coliseum in the historic centre of Rome, this 68m/223ft-high edifice was closed for decades before being bought and restored by the prestigious fashion house, Fendi, which established its headquarters here in 2015. The ground-floor is open to the public and stages exhibitions.
- Basilica parrocchiale dei santi Pietro e Paolo
Piazzale dei Santi Pietro e Paolo, 8, 00144 Rome
This minimalist edifice is crowned by an impressive dome.
- Piazzale delle Nazioni Unite
With its porticoes and semi-circular edifices, the piazzale was designed on the model of the market squares of ancient Rome.
- Museum of roman civilization (Museo della civiltà romana)
Piazza Giovanni Agnelli, 10, 00144 Roma
Can only be admired from the outdoors as the museum is sadly closed.