Impossible Capital

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<p>The Impossible Capital: Monumental Rome under Liberal and Fascist Regimes, 1870-1943 Author(s): John Agnew Reviewed work(s): Source: Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, Vol. 80, No. 4 (1998), pp. 229-240 Published by: Wiley-Blackwell on behalf of the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography Stable URL: . Accessed: 04/11/2012 17:36Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p> <p>.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p> <p>.</p> <p>Wiley-Blackwell and Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography.</p> <p></p> <p>THE IMPOSSIBLECAPITAL: MONUMENTALROME UNDER LIBERAL AND FASCIST REGIMES, 1870-1943by JohnAgnew</p> <p>Agnew, John 1998: The impossible capital: monumental Rome under liberal and fascist regimes, 1870-1943. Geogr. Ann., 80 B: 229-240. ABSTRACT. Every nation-state has a capital city from where the central government's institutions operate and where the past of the nation is remembered monumentally. Following unification in 1870 Rome became the capital of the new Italy. Turning it into a singular site to represent the aspirations of the regimes that came to power, however, proved an impossible task. Not only did the Liberal and Fascist regimes of the period 1870-1943 have contradictory intentions and goals, they also ran up against the complexities of Rome's own history in trying to establish their own. This paper contends that there are important similarities between the two regimes in their approaches to making Rome a capital for the new state and that contemporary cultural analysis of the Fascist regime misses this continuity when it takes the regime's claims to aesthetic novelty and architectural innovation at face value. In the end, Rome resisted attempts at using its monumental space to symbolically unify a country that remained materially and culturally divided. Key words: Italian unification, Rome, capital city, monumen-</p> <p>tality. National identity requires a common memory that is shared by people who do not know one another, but who think of themselves as having a common history. This identity relies on forgetting as much as remembering; reconstructing the past as a trajectory to the national present in which to make a radically new future (Gillis, 1994, p. 9). At one and the same time, therefore, new nations require ancient pasts that can be mined for commemoration yet which do not totally obscure the achievements of the present. This is the burden borne in part by the "monumentality"of capital cities and other sites of national commemoration or lieux de memoire such as key battlefields, the birth- and resting-places of national heroes, and other national shrines (Nora, 1984). They replace or challenge the myriad milieux de memoire in which people's daily lives are saturated with particular place memories that do not privilege "national"events or history. In particular, a capital city's physical layout and the scattering of monuments celebrating national history proAnnaler- 80 B (1998) - 4 Geografiska</p> <p>vide not only a legibility to the city itself but also a physical means of representing the nation in the city as the city represents the nation. To Moshe Safdie (1984), for example, monumentality refers to the spatial and architecturalarrangementof sites designed to convey the political meanings embedded in the location and iconography of the specific sites both separately and taken together as an ensemble. The architects of monumentality endeavor to impose on the spatial form of the city a singular set of meanings, a perceptible order and sense of hierarchy among sites and connecting routes, that both commemorates and celebrates the common history and evolving brilliance of the nation. The past is thus represented geographically as coeval, without any necessary historical sequence or chronology, within the capital city. After the occupation of Rome in 1870 by the forces of the risorgimento, one of the challenges facing the new regime was to turn the ancient city into a capital worthy of their project. With an incredible heritage of buildings, ruins and artefactsto draw on this might seem to have been an easy task. Surely establishing places of memory to commemorate the achievement of a united Italy would require only the token ritualization of already familiar and beloved sites and scenes? This was not how it worked out, however. On the contrary, it proved impossible to turn Rome into a capital on a par with other European capitals such as Berlin, Vienna and Paris. There were too many different memories encapsulated in the city to effect a successful transition to just an "ordinary"capital for an ordinary country. In the end, Rome defied all attempts at turning its historic center into a site of commemoration and ritual for the new Italian state.</p> <p>Making a capital for a nation?When Rome was annexed to the new Kingdom of Italy in 1870 it was only the fifth city of the new</p> <p>229</p> <p>JOHN AGNEW</p> <p>state, exceeded in populationby Naples, Milan, GenoaandPalermo.Followingthe collapseof the RomanEmpire,Rome had shrunk bothpopulain tion and political-economicimportance. The city survivedlargelyas a resultof its ecclesiasticalrole in Christendom as the seat of the Pope's terriand toriesin centralItaly(thePapalStates).As the new capitalcity it grewvigorouslyfrom212,000 inhabitantsin 1871to 660,000 in 1921.By thenonlyNaples and Milan were larger.It overtookNaples in 1931andMilanin 1936.Withwell over2.5 million inhabitants Romeis easily the largestcity in Italy , area is second in today, thoughthe metropolitan size to that of Milan. Unlike Paris or Londonin theirrespective states,Romeis by no meansa dominantmetropolis withinItalyas a whole. Norhas it everbeen. Milanis still moreimportant economically.As Italy's self-namedcapitalmorale,Milan has also been seen by manyItaliansas a clearother or totalalternative Rome;untilthe crisis of tanto Rome gentopoliin 1992 it represented everything was not. Only in its immediatehinterland in and partsof the southhas Rome ever been politically andculturally predominant. Italyhas a diffuseand urbansystemthatreflectsthe long hisfragmented in toryof politicalfragmentation the peninsula. As Italian political unificationproceededbetween 1859and 1870,a criticalquestion concerned the selectionof a capitalfor the new kingdom.As not earlyas 1861,although yet partof thenewstate, Rome was declaredthe capital.The annexation of Romeandits surrounding regionnotonly provided the lastchunkof the national then territory claimed by Italianpatriotsbut also a "neutral city" not associated,as were Turin,Milan andFlorence,with the local elite groupswhich had takenhold of the (Caracciolo,1956,p. processof Italianunification 16). In otherwords,as Birindelli(1978, p. 23) puts it, Rome "becamethe capitalnot for the qualities thatit had but for the ones it was missing".This, plus the obviousassociationwiththe gloriesof the ancientRomanEmpire,gave Rome a crucialadRome'sinternational vantageoverits competitors. unification more was visibilityalsocounted.Italian theresultof international thanof nationdiplomacy alist revolt. Consequently, outside supattracting uniGerman portwas crucial.By way of contrast, ficationduring sameperiodwasmoreinternally the oriented.The choice of Berlin as a capitalfor the new Germanyreflectedboth Prussiandominance of the new stateandthe Prussian state'spriorcommitmentto economicandmilitarygrowthas manifestedin the growthof Berlinitself. Rome was so 230</p> <p>different.Ratherthan being a center of national Romewas widely viewedas a prestigeor strength, thatconsumedanddid notproduce "parasitic" city (Scattareggia,1988, p. 43). But the choice still made considerable sense. In the firstplace, in the movements unification city of Romewas itfor the self a unifyingforce.If therewas a singletradition that the populationof the peninsulaheld in commonit wasthatof ancientRome.Acrossall theideof this ological currents Italianunification was the one integrating element.Themythof a unifiedpast a imunderwriting unifiedfuturewas particularly to whichtookcontrol portant theliberalaristocracy over the processof nationalunification underthe auspicesof the Kingdomof Sardinia.Rome presentedthe image of a strongcenterfor a powerful groupworriedthatthe new Italymightbe too decentralized theirpoliticaland economicinterfor ests. Second,as notedabove,Romewas notseenas a threat the interestof dominant to groupsin existFlorenceandNaples.Its ing capitalssuchas Turin, to rulingclass was subservient the Pope andit was weak. economically As Italy's political-symbolic capital, Rome threat Turin's to administrative posedno immediate functions(as the seatof the dominant politicalunit, the Kingdom Sardinia), Milan'seconomicimof to portance,to Florence'sculturaland geographical or centrality to Naples'sdemographic weightin Italy as a whole.Yet very quicklymost roadsonce to againled to Rome.ThenewItalyproved be anexstateas the royalcourtmoved tremelycentralized into the RomanQuirinale palace,the military high the and command, Parliament, ministries, thehighest courtsof law took over formerpapalandother in ecclesiastical As properties the historiccenter. a result,by 1890Romehadbecometheplaceof work and residencefor a nationalgoverningclass. The city was now the fulcrumof nationallife undera As stronglycentralizedgovernment. Scattareggia the (1988,p. 45) expresses newrole:"Through mayorsandprefects directors central the of loauthority, catedin the capital,imposedtaxes on the smallest andmostdistant of provinces the kingdom". The new government founditself in a city without muchof an economicbase otherthanits ecclesiasticalfunctions.Industrial growthwas next to this nothingandremained way formanyyearsafter unification. The new governingclass found some commongroundwiththe local papalaristocracy in without classconflict the keepingthecity "tranquil" thatthey associatedwith manufacturing activities. basedon housBureaucracy, property speculationAnnaler- 80 B (1998) - 4 Geografiska</p> <p>ROMEUNDERLIBERAL THEIMPOSSIBLE AND FASCIST 1870-1943 CAPITAL: MONUMENTAL REGIMES,</p> <p>and and ing ministries residencesfor civil servants, somebanking activities werequicklyestablished as Rome's main economic functions.Initially,most came from the north,particularly the immigrants Piedmontregionaround Turin,but from 1900 onwards the civil service progressively "southernized"and most otherjobs were also filled by fromthe surrounding poorerimmigrants regionof Lazioandregionsto the south.Onelong-term conthe sequenceof this shifthas been to reinforce imin as age of Rome(particularly thenorth) a southern rather thanan all-Italian city:the seatof a bureaucand racythatexists for the bureaucrats theirclients andnot for the national as population a whole. Fromthe outset,the new rulerstriedto makethe city a symbolic center for their regime. Initially, there was an attempt,underthe patronageof the Piedmontese Sella,to establish politicianQuintano a new centerof gravityfor the city to the northeast, beyondits 1870core.But thislargelyfailed.It was easier and more profitable certainintereststo for concentrate officesin the historiccore government of thecity.In thistheylargelysucceeded,expropriating convents, monasteries,palaces and other buildings from the ancien regime. Another and symbolically more important method was by meansof "patriotic building": locatingmonuments to celebratethe new regimeand thus to challenge the singularassociationof the Churchwith the most sacred sites in the city. From one point of a view,mostof theplansforestablishing new monumentalRome in the years 1870 to 1922 came to nothing.As BrunoTobia(1991) has argued,ideodebate producedlittle physical logical-rhetorical of changein the landscape the city.Withinthe historiccenter(Figure1) perhaps only the subversive of to Emanuele II placement themonument Vittorio (the firstking of the new Italy) on the edge of the Hill (thehistoriccoreof the city,nextto Capitoline the seat of the communeandthe imperialforums) andmidwaybetweenthe Pope'stwo seats, as universal pontiff, at the Vaticanand, as Bishop of Rome, at San Giovanniin Laterano,provideda powerfulsymbolfor the new Rome.UnlikeMilan, whose centerwas transformed a monumental into of celebration a unitedItaly,Romewasreshaped by and only a few streetimprovements associated public buildings beauxartsstyle (suchas theViaNain zionaleandthe Bankof Italy,respectively) by and interventions such as the "Passeggiata Archeologall ica",finishedin 1911,whichcontained themain sites of ancientRome between the archeological CapitolineHill andthe Termedi Caracalla.Annaler- 80 B (1998) - 4 Geografiska</p> <p>Fromanother the pointof view,however, changes canbe seenas moreconsiderable, nevertheless if relativelymodestcomparedto the transformation of centralParisby Haussmann. The problemwas thattherewas no powerfulconstituency urban for of investors theirpoand planning anykind.Private liticalalliesneutralized mostinitiatives limitand to directthe growthof thecity (Fried,1973,p. 22). To the extentthattherewas any"success" planning for in the Liberalera, it lay in the placing of monumentsto unification thereorientation thecity and of fromits historicaxis. In particular, white the away Brescian marblepile that rose in PiazzaVenezia of and againstthebackdrop the Capitoline theruins of ancientRome (1885-1911) provideda new visual anchorfor the city.Via Nazionaleandits westin ernextension,CorsoVittorio, the 1880smadePiazzaVeneziathecentral fortraffic well as the hub as at symboliccenterof the city.All laterattempts rethe orientingthe city to represent intentionsof the new statetook off fromthis pointof reference. The greatmonument PiazzaVenezia(theVitin the toriano)is undoubtedly single most important elementof monumentality the celebrating new nation in the new capital.It is the Romanequivalent of theBrandenburg in Berlin,Admiralty Gate Arch and the facadeof Buckingham Palacein London, and Garnier's OperaHouse in Paris.Even though builtat different timesin thelong archof European capitalbuildingfrom 1820 to 1920, each is an ornate neoclassicalmonumentto nationalprideand the status,announcing modemnational metropolis as a centerof aspiring realizedworldpower.The or Vittoriano followedthe pattern alreadyestablished elsewhere: Marbleand white limestonewere the favored and Corinthian Composite buildingmaterials, orders defined the decorativestyle of grand arches,pedimentsand columns,whi...</p>