BEHIND FASCISM | E42, the relationship between regime and architecture

The E42 project represents the most important episode of the fascist will; with its construction the relationship between regime and architecture is given a turning point. The Duce identifies the “Mussolinian city” with the architecture that recalls Roman classicism. The project was born from the idea of Giuseppe Bottai, Governor of Rome who proposed in 1935 to Mussolini the intention to organize a Universal Exhibition in Rome. The idea was to create the “Olympics of Civilizations”, which would formalize the arrival of Italy to peace and cultural confrontation with other nations. The Exposition is called E42 because the end of the work was in 1942, the twentieth anniversary of the seizure of power by the fascists.

The seat of E42

The E42 is a project consisting of permanent buildings, with the exception of the Palace of Water, Light and Tourism, which were to make way for further expansion of the city. An area of about 400 hectares was chosen, located in the southern part of Rome, near the Abbey of the Three Fountains, thus intensifying the connections between the city and the sea.

The project team

Mussolini appoints as commissioner Vittorio Cini, a man from industry and finance, and personally chooses the six architects to whom he entrusts the realization of the project: Pagano, Piacentini, Piccinato, Muzio, Rossi and Vietti. The construction of the E42 involved everyone, not only the insiders. The Duce on this occasion speaks of peace and collaboration between nations, but in reality he aims at economic success to strengthen the coffers of the State and cope with the war effort, not expected before 1943-1944.

The Roman Castrum

The E42 was conceived with the typical Roman castra scheme, with glass and steel palaces, all referable to a single style, the “E42 style” of the XXieth Fascist Era. An expression that revealed the trends of an era, therefore classical feeling, monumentality and grandeur.

Urban project of the E42

In the second version of the project, produced in 1938, Piacentini took direct control of the operation. The architect used classical styles such as the arch, the colonnade and the exedra. You were faced with an almost suspended atmosphere, tending towards solemnity. Much of the surface area was occupied by parks and gardens.

The entire project was based on the system of the cardo and decumanus maximus: the cardo was via Imperiale, which would connect Rome to the sea, while the decumanus was the axis that connected Palazzo dei Congressi with Palazzo della Civiltà e del Lavoro. At the intersection of the two streets, the Piazza Imperiale, the scenographic heart of the entire project, is grafted onto the four symmetrical buildings that were to house the Museums of Arts and Popular Traditions and the Museum of Science. This type of system recalls the acropolis of Selinunte and the agora of Miletus, while the pentagonal shape of the plant is inspired by the plan of Versailles by Blondel; lastly, the green areas recall those of Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati.

The Imperial Gate and the Sea Gate

The monumental entrances were the Imperial Gate and the Sea Gate, which led to the entrances of the Exhibition. For the Imperial Gate, the architects initially thought of an aligned sequence of towers, but then they opted for a line of fountains. Unfortunately, the interruption of work due to the war prevented its realization. The Sea Gate, on the other hand, was a monumental arch that was to cross Via Imperiale, south of the artificial lake. Among the various projects presented, the one that was approved was by the engineer Covre, with two aluminum alloy arches of 200 and 320 m of light. The final project was completed in March 1941, too late to carry out the work.

Project of the Sea Gate of Adalberto Libera, 1942
INA and INPS Palaces

The final structure of the Exhibition involved several changes in the arrangement of the first entrance square, with the introduction of the two opposing exedras that gave shape to the two buildings of the INA and INPS, in the area of the large artificial basin of the lake, where one can see a reference to the Trajan’s Markets. The double colonnade of the exedras did not have a static function, but only a decorative one and it was made of marble. In addition, the two buildings were adorned with four colossal bas-reliefs of square shape.

INA Palace, EUR
EUR in the fifties

In 1940, due to the outbreak of the Second World War, many monuments of the E42 were not completed and the immense building site was abandoned, taking on an almost ghostly appearance.

The works were resumed, under the guidance of Virgilio Testa, Secretary General of the Governorate of Rome, only in the ’50s. The entire area, renamed EUR, was transformed into a district for offices and residences and became the site of the Olympics in 1960.

The EUR area in the 1950s
The architecture of the E42

The architecture of E42 addresses the masses. It represented an instrument for their education in the fascist sense and a testimony to the mission of civilization. The architecture of the Empire symbolized the myth of Romanity, immediately grasping the link between the modernity of the present and the ancient Roman tradition. In ancient Rome the Duce saw the model of a relationship between the individual-artist and the community, to be taken up and framed in the totalitarian conception of the State.

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